Abseiling in Africa (Sans Instructions)
"Just lean backwards, and walk very slowly down the rock." Right, I thought, one foot behind the other. Only my legs wouldn't go backward, my knees wouldn't bend, and my feet wouldn't move from their landing strip. I was glued to my rock. My rock was a 100-foot boulder on top of a lion's den called "Escort Park". It was so named a couple of decades ago for the necessity to take along a local guide to avoid deadly mambo snake and lion predators. The last person to ignore this rule was a young man on a motorbike in the late 80's (or so I'm told) who drove his whirring noisy bike into Escort Park and was summarily escorted out by a lion's teeth. Only his whirring bike motor and his head were left as evidence of his demise.
"Patreesha," Yami and Patrick, my Malawian guides, said in unison, "just...walk...backwards." I steeled myself, gritted my teeth (again), and leaned back against what felt like a very loose cable attached to my waist. I'd never abseiled before, and now was the time for explicit instructions. Instead of instructions at all, I was told to simply lean back and walk against the grain of my best intentions. Inch by inch, I gained confidence. Patrick explained to me that the knots around my waist were a combination of crotch pinchers (I'm sure I heard this wrong) and figure eight's (pretty sure I heard this right). I would have struggled to care less; I just wanted to know that all the knots were tight and secure.
As I picked up a little bit of speed (from wheelchair to crutch speed), the gravel started to shower beneath my step. Scary and invigorating. I sampled a jump and catapulted no more than a few inches from the rock face. I was far too timid to have sailed outward from my safety, which was the rock itself. Finally, I landed on the floor of the Escort Park, not particularly caring what combination there was of lions and/or deadly mambo snakes. I was just glad to be perpendicular and alive.
Heady with the rush of adrenaline from doing stupid things without waiver forms, I asked Yami and Patrick to join me in purchasing mushrooms from the roadside markets. We drove off from our abseiling boulders, and headed for the mushroom markets. We didn't bother haggling with the local family for the bright technicolor orange mushrooms; they were just $1.
Back at our lodge, we sipped Malawian brews, and ate African (for the first time in weeks): roasted meat in a light curry sauce, chick pea stew, and braised cabbage with peanut butter. The chill in the air was surprisingly crisp, so we lit a fire and warmed our feet and wool socks around the flames. I retired early, only to find a mouse on my nightstand, munching on a hard-boiled egg. It barely fazed me. Little does, after the spiders.