Friday, April 20, 2012

Not so Good Friday

This was the sound of my wheels spinning.

It was fast approaching midnight, and I was lying on my stomach on
a precipice struggling to manipulate a tyre jack into an impossible position.
I’d been at it for more than three hours and I was on the edge of despair.

How did this happen?
Well to explain, I need to wind back a bit.

“No... I don't smell bacon.”
Good Friday started out strangely. I guess one should expect this of a religious holiday.

Driving to my study site I’d met two black-backed jackals accompanied by a small warthog piglet (the lion lies down with the lamb?). All members of the threesome seemed remarkably relaxed, so I guess the piglet was too big to eat. Presumably she’d misplaced her sounder and wanted for company.
Still, two big jackals, one small piglet...

Now, perhaps unwisely, I didn’t perceive this transposition from the Lion King as an omen of ill luck, so I wasn’t prepared for what was to happen that afternoon.
Since it was a holiday, I decided to walk my dogs at the local mine where mica is gouged from a 300 ha (740 acre) patch of jungle. Of course under the tangle of lush greenery lurks a century’s worth of mine shafts, tailing dumps and sharp, rusty implements. Oh yes, and the place is also peppered with brand new snares (the handiwork of peckish miners).
But, in a realm of game farms and private reserves, it’s the only place my dogs can romp off-leash without incurring major collateral damage.

Situated on an outcrop of ancient rock (4 billion years old), the local mica mine enjoys lots of thunderstorms and a spiffy view.

If – like me - you thought mica consists of glinting flecks in river sand, think again. Here it loiters in massive chunks made up of many layered sheets, rather like an overflowing in-tray.

Mica is the secret ingredient in metallic paints, glittery make-up and soaps that ‘leave your skin sparkling’ (for wannabe vampires?).

Leaves of mica are transparent,
and the chunks sop up water
to become black and rubbery.
Half way along our walk I noticed that Magic had disappeared.
But this was nothing unusual.
She’s compulsive obsessive about hunting, racing off into the bush after the merest whiff of antelope or blissfully engrossed for hours trying to excavate some hapless creature from the rocks.

When Wizard and I returned to the car, Magic wasn’t there to meet us (as she usually is). So we sat down to wait.
And wait...
And wait...
My irritation rose to fury and then gradually metamorphosed into alarm.
By nightfall I was imagining the worst: Magic choking in a wire noose or lying crumpled at the foot of a mine shaft.

My dogs (Magic and Wizard) gallivanting at the local mine.

The mine's resident baboons keep a wary eye on anything that gallivants.
As a massive full moon rose, transforming the bush to silver, Wizard and I set out to search. Without a torch and wearing shorts and sandals, I was ill-equipped for bush-bashing; thank Heavens for the moon!
Now ever since I foolishly calculated (in a moment of middle-aged angst) how many full-moons I’m likely to live to enjoy, I’ve greeted the waxing of the moon with a certain anxiety.
Time is precious!
I should be out there doing something to appreciate the spectacle.
But this was not what I’d had in mind.

To the accompaniment of roaring lions (the mine nestles on the border of the Greater Kruger Park), Wizard and I scrambled through the thorny undergrowth, stumbling over boulders and peering blindly into plant-choked mine shafts. I tried not to contemplate the many nocturnal biting beasts (cobras, puff adders, boomslangs) and struggled valiantly against the hopelessness that engulfed me each time a passing cloud plunged us into darkness.

After a couple of futile hours - calling and straining to hear a muffled whimper - I decided to give driving a try. But it was while negotiating the rough, overgrown tracks that I became ensnared.

Without warning my car suddenly lurched sideways and the rear wheels began to spin. Leaping out, I discovered that I’d driven into a large sinkhole (where the track passed over some old mine workings that had been covered with gravel and dirt). Beneath the deceptive covering of grass, the sunken earth - broken by huge cracks - fell away abruptly to my left, where rocks and pebbles were still merrily cascading down into a half-filled mine shaft. It was over this shaft that my left front wheel was dangling.
Oh f#*@!!
Of course - at Easter - the mine was deserted.
I was going to have to get myself out.

Over and over, I jacked up my car and heaved and shoved boulders beneath the front wheel. Unfortunately, this involved crawling about on the very edge of the crumbling mine shaft; each insecure foothold creating a landslide of gravel. Time and again I tried moving the car. No go. So then I painstakingly did the same with the rear wheels (to give them more traction). But all the while the ground around us was continuing to subside, and my car was listing further and further to the left. I envisioned it slip-sliding down into the maw of the tunnel until only its rear bumper stuck out, like in those improbable car insurance ads. Meanwhile, Wizard just lay on my bakkie/ute/truck's bench seat; head on paws, softly whimpering as if his world had come to an end.

By midnight I finally concluded that I’d never get out alone; I needed to be towed.

And that meant waiting for morning. Either I could sleep (??) the night on a small seat with a large husky, or I could hike 12 km/7.5 miles home (mostly along the main road which – in South Africa – is not a safe venue for a solitary, midnight stroll).
Of course there was another option.
One I’d been steadfastly refusing to consider for the last three hours.

Up until now I’d been trying to reverse my vehicle out of the sinkhole; but I could try driving forward.
Yes, this did mean going further down into the depression and would almost inevitably result in the vehicle sliding left, down into the actual mine shaft.
But if I could just keep the rear wheel on the disintegrating edge of the shaft, there was a flicker of a chance I’d gain enough momentum to scale the far side of the sinkhole.
And heck, I was going to have to be towed out anyway...
One might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, right?

Ordering Wizard out of the car (so we both didn’t end up underground), I put the car in gear. Slamming on the accelerator, the car lurched forward. With a whomp and a judder and a loud susurration (as large quantities of earth and stones poured own the mine shaft) we managed to crawl to the far edge of the sink hole.
Oh my God!
We were OUT.

Now trembling from head to foot, I couldn’t face resuming the search for Magic.
Wherever she was – dead or alive – she was going to have to wait until morning.

Driving back along the rough, broken tracks, through the on-again, off-again moonlight, we met Magic at the mine’s front gate.
She was standing in the middle of the road, wagging furiously.
I’ve no idea where she’d been or what she’d been doing.

But all’s well that ends well, I guess...

Magic: the source of my woes.


  1. Who in the entire world needs "Reality Television?" Everyone should read your blog. (Once again harrowing yet victorious.) They would learn a lot too. Awesome tale, Lynda. Glad everyone was safe, including mini-warthog. Take care.

  2. Good heavens, woman! I'm grateful that in addition to being an adventurer, you are such a fine writer, and take us along with you. Stay safe, for cryin' out loud!

  3. Hey what a frightening experience but don't you just love dogs the cause of the all trouble wagging a tail and looking at you as if to say where have you been I've been waiting for you?
    One small correction Mica isn't the same as Iron Pyrites


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