Aaron is embarking on a month-long journey through parts of Africa and the Indian Ocean. In true Peirsol style, he is detaching from most of technology and spending time with the people of Africa which will include swim clinics with the local youth. His updates are below:
January 25th, 2012
At the event in Swakopmund last night a young man attended with an altogether different objective than those who swam. Jock, a marine biologist in the process of attaining his PhD in the field, wanted to sit down for he had heard prior to my arrival of my involvement with OCEANA. This fairly serendipitous for I was hoping to get a good understanding of Namibia’s coastal conditions but had no idea who to turn to; he found me; so bizarre. An Australian company already expelled from its own country for similar practices is looking to mine phosphates from the ocean floor off the coast which would undoubtedly effect the local environment is not such a good way. The local fisheries have gathered together along with Jock, his mother, another marine biologist, and other Namibian environmentalists to put pressure on this project. From what he has said, it has been hard to gain support and be heard, and no doubt money speaks volumes in a matter such as this. I will take this with me and will help in any way I can.
January 24th, 2012
It’s been a minute since I’ve updated the online journal; there has been no Internet where I’ve been but the written journal has stayed diligent.
I sit in the Erindi Lodge, a good pace from Windhoek, Namibia, having just eaten and conversed with another solo traveler, a Romanian woman hailing from New York, seeking conversation to now take time to reflect and record. Red wine is front of me, my book tommy right, the camera, still hot from shooting voraciously, above it, and of this in the middle of Namibia; it’s an interesting thought to grasp. Just outside is a water hole where, just before dinner, I spied some absolutely gigantic hippo with a couple of very newly born young and crocs resting. I ended up making it just in time for this afternoon’s safari and as I said goodbye to Nico and put my bags in my camp the rovers were warming up. Firstly, the rovers are awesome. The sound of their diesels and the noticeably slow, steady burn (the staff of the lodge currently serenade those in attendance with native song. Is it ok for them to sing traditional African song in modern western garb? No I clap with them as they sing along) makes them feel strong and capable for the currently muddy roads due to recent rains. I sat on the right, middle row of three and same wide. It looks like I’ll have the same game truck tomorrow as well. Warren, our guide, is a nice fellow who, I can tell, really likes his day job.
So the tracking began. First, we came across some wildebeest and next some marabou storks with their enormous beaks and legs painted white from their urinating on them to keep them cool in the warm heat and one of the ugly five, a pun on the big five. Soon thereafter, in the middle of the road was something that stopped the rover; an incredibly large and deadly snake, a black mamba. It started to move aggressively forward, unintimidated by the truck holding fast in front of it, which I thought was a bold move and pulled out my camera to look through the viewfinder to see it was actually hunting a mouse directly in front of it. It struck the mouse hard which in turn moved incredibly quickly about five feet ahead only to stop moving completely and fall to its belly. The venom was taking effect and the mamba sat there waiting for its kill to be of no effort to eat at all. As if to keep an even better eye on it or to intimidate the truck sitting in front of it it reared itself about three feet in the air and presented its underbelly for the next few minutes, putting on quite a display. Some cries rang out in the truck as the snake moved toward the mouse Warren, obviously fascinated with the turn of event was given to iterate, “you don’t see that everyday.” I saw a black mamba strike a kill in wild Africa! Damn…
Once the mamba business was finished and we were all satisfied, feeling somewhat blessed, we continued on. We moved and looked left while the breeze and ominous incoming clouds told of an obvious change in weather soon to come. Soon it started to rain and rain quite hard at that. The rains had only showed up one week prior to my arrival, and being where I was in the middle of a very arid climate, this was a gift from the heavens. Sylvia, from New York and to my left, began to get wet and soon the right side got its share as well; never-the-mind.
We continued to drive further into the bush. What we found next, sitting under a tree together taking respite from the by now light rains, were two beautiful male lions; brothers. We continued to see oryk, springbok, kudu, giraffe, ostrich and more. I’m now getting quite tired. Tomorrow the drive is at 6:30. Room is nice and I feel good. Night.
January 23rd, 2012
Private game ranches are nice. Everything is here, no doubt, but in that same token they are easy. The element of actually tracking an animal or, by chance, running into one in the wild are is is slightly dulled by other game trucks, a maximum area to be explored, no matter how large, and antennas picking up signals from collars around the animals’ necks. Don’t think too much of this criticism, these animals are still fighting for their lives. But what really intrigues me is an open savannah, the Serengetti or the Kalahari, where the natural element of migration, for example, is in full effect and the animals are truly in their natural state of existence. Game parks are somewhere between a zoo, where the animals have little to no interaction with each other, and the true wildly, with the scale leaning far to the side of the latter to be sure. I suppose it is my wish to see the TrueType wild, unhindered by man. I wonder if it is still possible. I picture the days of the British man with the safari hat and outlandishly intricate mustache in his khaki walking with bushman into the unknown. No doubt the bushmen, the San people, understand this better than anyone. As opposed to viewing it there is something about being a part of it; to view it at its most base.
Also, the wild dogs today were nothing if not fascinating. I had a question, no doubt one asked often; “can these dogs be domesticated?” “Nope,” was the reply, “not even close.” These animals are far removed from my two docile pups at home; Judo less so than Guapo. For one, they have the strongest bite per body weight of any mammal aside from the wolverine and their teeth resemble more a shark’s visage than the canines of your everyday house dog; these dogs are wicked. Their ears are also huge. But boy can they hunt. Their success rate is about 80%, better than just about any other animal in Africa; the lion is something like 36%. Their trick is to simply run their pray into the ground.
Another worthy note is the giraffes around the water hole today. I suppose they did come here with their devices to be here at this particular time and, yes, to a degree it was chance they happened to be there when I was; that was nice.
January 22nd, 2012
Drive through Namibia
This morning my alarm decided to sleep in and I missed Ryk for a run but went out alone soon thereafter. I ran the streets and hills of Windhoek as the sun was rising in the sky and the altitude made itself fairly noticeable. A car drove by twice, the first time a child staring through the back window as he drove on, the second he peeked out the window and yelled, “hey Aaron;” it was a local Windhoek swimmer on his way to school from practice. There is nothing like an experience like that to make one feel at home no matter where.
Ryk, Nico and I drove to Swakopmund, a coastal community which is, I believe, a 450 km (roughly 250 miles) of dirt road and dramatic, empty landscape; my kind of drive! I watched as the geography changed from bush and good ranch land to drier and decidedly more desolate desert. Kudu, a particular mountain zebra and her inquisitive young, and other game could be seen amongst the landscape and, occasionally, the sky the sky would open up over a steady climb to share its relationship with large valleys and vast savannahs. The savannahs, predominated Namibia’s landscape prior to the large brush that over-grazing brought, is that Africa I know from old photos taken at a different time. In not much time we entered a parched landscape void of most life. The sand dunes that liye on the water and mark the skeleton coast eventually appeared and Dune 7, the largest in the area, reared its pointed, sheer face. The salt road led to Swakopmund where the Atlantic soon came into view. We rested in our accommodations for an hour to soon be in front of the local swim teams. Ryk spoke first and I followed. The sky was shining bright and the sun felt rejuvenative as I spoke to the small but attentive crowd.
Swimming in Swakopmund is a growing sport, but one with much history. There is a pool on the water that shows striking similarities to Belmont in Long Beach, one of my favorite pools. But much like Belmont, this pool may soon too come down. Coaches and parents iterated how difficult it can be to swim where every other weekend one must travel to Windhoek or another far off destination in order to compete. Fortunately I had seen how those Montana deal with their distance from each swimming town and retorted that if the will was there, as it is in Montana, it just becomes a part of it. Yes, it’s a different experience from the way I grew up in California, but it is a special one unto itself. We had dinner that night and we were all tired. Much had been accomplished.
January 21st, 2012
Quest for the Walveecha
There are few better ways to start a day than how this morning began. Nico, Ryk and i awoke early to run along the water line and get a workout in. The run, aided by the wind tour backs our up the coast and vice-versa on the return, allowed me to see the likeness of this part of the Atlantic to California’s Pacific. After the run and having developed a needed sweat we ran in the water, surprised at how warm it actually was having been warned
it would be cold (I’ve learned perceptions of what is hot and and cold vary everywhere around the world), we swam around and Bodysurfer a little point with perfect, small peeling waves rolling through. After breakfast Ryk had to get taken to the airport to go back to normal life and Nico and I would continue our journey onwards. Ryk has to be thanked for making this trip happen. On top of it being nice to spend some time with an old friend, he really went through some good trouble to make it possible for us to spend some time in front of some kids and for me to really see some beautiful parts of his home continent. Thanks man.
The goal for the morning thereafter was to hunt down the elusive native, national plant of Namibia known for living hundreds of years, being extremely scarce and surviving in the desert where it can rely on the incoming fog to get its meager share of water, the Walveecha. Apparently there is an insect that can only be found on the Walveecha which is itself the sole pollinator of the species. Much of Africa exudes the importance of the balance of a healthy ecosystem. Along the side of the road pipes traveled with us that would eventually lead to the oldest uranium mine in the country. We drove this way and that, following roads and not, looking for this plant people said I must find. Eventually, after rounding an unbelievable moonscape and righting ourselves and discovering an ominous uranium mine sign, I spotted one. From there we probably spotted five or six others, that’s it. This was just as much about the journey as it was about the plant itself. We saw some beautiful land and Nico continued his stories.
It took us such a while to hunt these down there was no longer time to drive further north along the skeleton coast and see a colony of seals apparently tens of thousands deep that local fisheries complained may actually be hurting their livelihood. As Nico hilariously stated, “we can’t relocate them, who wants a seal? Do you a want a seal?” That brought some laughs, as his unhindered humor often did.
So we began the drive east toward Erindi and the rest of the trip was conversation interlaced with events. Apartheid was explained in depth from a man who actually lived it. Nico’s father was a missionary and was extremely involved in the black communities. Because of their sympathy to blacks at the time his family found themselves outcast as well; not an easy life for a kid. Blacks needed signed permission slips from a white fellow to enter the parts of a town, usually the center, where whites lived. When Mandela was released, Namibia was the first to transition out of apartheid, leaving a South Africa still a haven for those still racist. Namibia’s government, as it was explained, transitioned over a matter of twelve years, slowly developing a sub government to its ruling government which instituted blacks along with whites in its occupations; soon it was that government that took control with a peaceful vote. So, as Nico explained further, many of the racists retreated to South Africa for hopes it would remain in apartheid. His belief is that is why South Africa is still having trouble transitioning, there is a lot of backlash and not a complete acceptance as Namibia had. I also finally learned a bit about the sport of cricket; no one had ever been able to explain it to me until then. Even then, however, I was still a bit lost. “It’s all about the wickets,” I was told.
January 21st, 2012
I’ve been introduced to a most interesting Namibian, a man of unique character reminiscent, I think, to the unique country in which he was born and bred. Nico is my guide and host for my stay in this beautiful country. The story begins in Windhoek, which includes a visit to two different teams, NSA and the Dolphins, and a dinner that same evening where I talked to the children and their families. The talk last night was the last of five here on this trip; I really felt like I’ve gotten around quite a bit with a week and a half of time to reflect on. The children here are quite inquisitive and interested and seeing the face of a swimmer so far from home brings a little home to me.
Ryk, Nico and I soon went to a local hotspot of incredible character called Joe’s where, if I were to live in Namibia, I could picture myself living with similar taste. Ropes hung on the wall, along with other large and used farm equipment. The place had a sense of humor as well, for some of the seats at a bar were old toilets – excelling place. There, Nico’s stories began. The man loves his sports and, despite having not traveled much or far, is keen on sports around the world. By day he is a farmer and an accountant, both professions he went to extra school for (I’ve noticed People in this part of the world really the pride and see value in education, and they go all over for it). I soaked up wisdom about the cattle he uses and how Namibia has the best standards for beef around; there are no hormones allowed in the country and it is all technically organic. No doubt it was good stuff. The gemsbock I had was incredible; Namibians, I am learning, eat a lot of meat and there is little wonder why.
January 20th, 2012
I awoke this morning in the wine country inland from Cape Town on the Val de Vie estate to head out for my first real workout since I’ve been in Africa, and it felt so good. Its not every day I do a run around a polo field and it felt so nice just to stretch out in the water. I learned a little bit about polo last night: you can only play with your right hand, so if you’re left handed you’re out of luck; you need at least four horses; there are four players per team and the field makes up about four football fields.
It was reminiscent of Glacier National Park being surrounded by dramatic, sheer-faced mountains on all sides, only the weather was much warmer. Right now there are fires in parts of the mountains which lit up the sky at sundown with bright reds and pink mountainsides. It was a beautiful place but I knew that it wasn’t the whole story of South Africa. Right when you land in Cape Town you are greeted with a squatters’ village that stretches for some way. In a way, it’s a good first glimpse of the country, for it shows where South Africa has come from and where it is still heading. It’s so important to see that how we live in the US is somewhat paradylic and not real for so much of the people on this planet.
Now I’m off to Namibia which I’m REALLY looking forward to. Oh, and I learned my lesson; Namibia has a lot of German influence so I can expect to hear quite a bit of German as Portuguese was, unbeknownst to me, Mozambique’s. Danke
January 16th, 2012
This twin prop plane from Maputo to Vilankulo moves easily from side to side in the wind, and if I were writing instead of typing this would hard to read. I’ve been in Mozambique now for two days and have been active since I arrived. Immediately after arriving in Maputo my two hosts took me to my hotel to drop my bags off and thereafter headed north through the suburbs. What I saw was a beautiful part of Africa I had not yet been able to see in Pretoria or Johannesburg.
Women were perfectly balancing everything from firewood to oranges on their heads, some carrying on full conversations with people they know along the the road. Children were playing barefoot soccer with surprising control on a field that had not a hint of grass on it. The colors of the buildings and shacks along the road were bright, the town was alive and the people were happy and the sun was hot.
Where we were going was to a pool not more than a year old built for the All African Games just outside of Maputo where, coincidentally enough, the Mozambican nationals were finishing up their last day. This was a part of the trip I had been looking forward to; I wanted to see the sport of swimming in a part of the world very different than mine. The pool, as I came to see, was a beautiful, outdoor twin 50 meter complex that I could see they were very proud of. The atmosphere was not unlike what one might see at a US nationals, loud and alive, only the number of people in attendance was considerably less. Swimming here is a small sport, but those who do it enjoy it. I was there wanting to meet and hop in the water with those in the meet, both to give a clinic and to play around. The coaches were inquisitive and the children more so. I remember from World Championship in Shanghai I helped hand out awards and trophies. Coming all this way, to be in such a beautiful country and to share something that the Mozambican children and I had very much in common was a very special experience.
January 14th, 2012
Today was a nice full day, my last day in Pretoria before I spend a minute in Mozambique, and I have earned the tea I am sipping and the feet I have up on a chair while not speaking a word for the next hour or so. Today’s clinic with Ryk’s team, the Players, was an excellent clinic; partly because it was fun to do it with Ryk but also because of the engaging children that made it memorable and humbling. One precocious girl, Michée, was attentive and bright-eyed enough to make it fulfilling in and of itself. Soon enough I was privileged to have Lyndon Ferns there; I haven’t seen him in some time and it’s always a pleasure.
I enjoy talking with Ryk about the sport we spent so much our lives devoted to. At a certain level, it’s easy to point out those who do what they do because they truly love it and have a healthy perspective toward it. The man had such a wonderful career and looks upon it as nothing more than it is; that he may as well have given it everything while he was at it. That and we lamented a bit on how parents or outside forces can convolute the purity of the sport. Ultimately, you have to keep in mind what it was that got you started in the sport and maintain it; easier said than done but necessary.
Tomorrow I head to Mozambique where I hope to get a bit more physical and get out on the water. Those six shots I got in my arms the day before I left have hopefully kicked in by now. If not, that why I have antibiotics.
January 13, 2012
I woke up this morning to an alarm, an experience I wasn’t expecting for I thought I’d be up early due to jet lag. Instead, I awoke in one of the heaviest dazes from perhaps the deepest part of my sleep to wonder for about ten seconds where in the world I actually was. The water here tastes different, and the air has an altogether unfamiliar smell to it; I know this is a different part of the world. Nonetheless, the surrounding plains of Johannesburg have a similar feel to Texas.
Already the hospitality has been great here. One thing that helped my jetlag yesterday was a swim practice with a local team. Prior to that I couldn’t tell the difference between my calves and my ankles. Tomorrow I’m doing a clinic with Ryk Neethling’s team in Pretoria, South Africa and did a local radio program in Johannesburg this morning.
Setting off (January 12, 2012)
As on I sit on the tail leg of the long journey from Austin to Johannesburg, currently in Cape Town, I can feel this trip settling in and the life of yesterday truly feeling a world away. For so long I have seen my South African friends make the trek back and forth from South Africa, always understanding the undertaking as something of a devoted experience. I’m now happy I can empathize with the life of a South African swimmer; it requires a devotion unique unto itself, and the best part is, I’ve never heard them complain about it which perhaps made me want to experience it even more.
It has been some time since I have been able to land from a plane with wonder in my mind as I looked out the window at a part of the world still very much a frontier to me. Already I have felt the need to be humble and respect customs unknown to me and accept that it is me making a mistake. Only one more small flight to Johannesburg and I will be settling for a few days gathering my wits once again and enjoying the summer I have just entered into. Which gets me thinking, will I even see snow this season? Maybe, maybe not.