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The Taming of the Shrew

Avatar of inke inke - 20. May 2016 - Discover Namibia

Mule trekking in the Fish River Canyon. (Photo: Fabian von Poser)

The pioneer mule trekking tour in the Fish River Canyon had a few hiccups – in the end the animals actually deserted us.

It was a clear September morning when we set off to find out how the mules would manage in the canyon. Mannfred had invited me to join the pioneer tour: Four days trekking across country, drinking from waterholes, eating at the campfire, nights spent under the star-studded night sky. Awesome! But from day one it was clear that quite a bit of work was needed to prepare the mules for their new job.

It took the pair, called Bushman and Kaiser, just a few minutes to remember their donkey heritage. Bushman refused to budge even an inch, and Kaiser also seemed to be rooted to the spot. No amount of pulling or pushing, whispering or yelling could induce them to move forward. Bushman and Kaiser had already had enough.

Amazing how a small ledge of rock can affect the behaviour of two adult mules. Normally they clamber up steep gravel slopes in no time at all and they are used to negotiating even the most difficult trails by sheer tenacity. The reasons for the sudden refusal to move are beyond an ordinary mortal’s grasp. Bushman and Kaiser were intent on having a break and their manner of getting it seemed like extortion: Let us graze or we won’t continue.

This went on for several days. But they really outdid themselves during the last night of the tour. It must have been around half past midnight when Bushman and Kaiser were spooked by something or other. Perhaps a dassie? A springbok? Or even a leopard? Frightened they broke loose and disappeared into the darkness. The next morning they were nowhere to be seen. Their hoof prints became lost in the rocks just a few metres from our campsite.

Plodding uphill on steep zebra trails in the blazing heat of the canyon with mules to carry the luggage is one thing. The same without mules but 15 kg on your back is quite a different matter. After several hours of marching on we started to feel like pack mules ourselves. Stolidly we trudged uphill and stumbled exhaustedly across stony plains. The laws of gravity came to mind. Einstein and Newton. We resented the mules, silently cursed them.     

But we were really annoyed when we had made it back to the lodge and biologist Telané Greyling notified us by radio that the mules had been found, grazing peacefully just a few metres from our last campsite. They had returned to the farm without any problems along the way. Of course – they didn’t have to carry any luggage. Apart from the grudge at having to lug my belongings from the canyon myself, I have above all come to realize that mules are neither obstinate nor stupid but simply darned intelligent.

FABIAN VON POSER

This story and other reports on Namibia by Fabian von Poser are available as a book entitled Durch die Augen des Geparden, published by Picus Verlag in Vienna (ISBN 978-3-85452-975-0, 132 pages, EUR 14.90)

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