A week or so ago I got back from South Africa after successfully completing the NESA World Explorers Paleoanthropology Expedition. It was a great experience and I learned more about South African culture and the Rising Star Cave System and Malapa Excavation Site than I ever could have imagined.
Perhaps the most common question I received regarding the expedition was "What was a typical day like?" This post, and a second one to come, will address that by describing a day at each of the excavation sites we visited.
The first part of the expedition involved what the researchers referred to as caving and exploration. This essentially involved driving the buggy into the South African bush, hiking off trail, looking for undiscovered caves or revisiting older caves with outdated GPS information. The day outlined in this post was a bit more exciting than the other two days since an extremely large number of hominid (a primate of a family ( Hominidae ) that includes humans and their fossil ancestors and also (in recent systems) at least some of the great apes) fossils were discovered, and continue to be discovered, in the Rising Star Cave System, but all of the days were jam packed with intellectual stimulation.
So, on to the day:
We (Ethan, my fellow Eagle Scout and World Explorer) were picked up from our hotel around 07:45 and driven to the Rising Star Cave site. Then, we donned some coveralls and headed into the cave with Rick Hunter (caver), Dr. Marina Elliott (researcher), Maropeng (caver) and Mathabella (caver). We started out in an easier section of the cave and worked our way up to more difficult sections such as the Superman Crawl and the Postbox. We attempted the upside down turn around, but decided to call it a day without making it through that extremely awkward section of cave.
Along the way, we also saw the Dragon's Back, a particularly treacherous, exposed, 15m climb, and the Berger Box, so named due to renowned scientist Dr. Lee Berger getting stuck in that particular section for multiple hours.
After touring the cave and helping the researchers collect water bottles which recorded the amount of sediment in the cave water, we headed for lunch at the Maropeng visitor centre. I had a chakalaka salad (a mix of beans, cabbage, and spices made into a relish) burger before touring the museum about the Cradle of Humankind.
Above is a photo of the Homo naledi bones, currently on display in the Maropeng Visitor Centre museum.
After the museum, we were dropped off at our hotel where we showered before dinner at the hotel restaurant with our exploration team (usually we ate lunch and dinner at the hotel restaurant by ourselves). Dinner was a buffet, but some highlights included snails (which we originally understood to be snake), ostrich cold cuts and extremely spicy curry.
After dinner we went to bed and prepared for our next day of exploration!
The cover photo is of Ethan and I in the Rising Star Cave at the base of the Dragon's Back climb.
We sat in the tiny passageway, exhausted. Our muscles were fatigued from overuse. We were over a mile deep into the cave, hours away from the surface, hours away from food, and hours away from water. Had our curiousity finally gotten the best of us? For the first time ever, I was worried for my life. I couldn't imagine dying, but making it out of the cave seemed even less likely.
It started months ago. After exploring the small caves at Enchanted Rock, we were eager to tackle something a bit more challenging. A search on the internet led us quickly to Airman's Cave - perhaps the most well known cave in Austin. What we didn't know at the time was that it was also an advanced level cave. Few members of the caving community in Austin would attempt the cave. With an average ceiling of 18", Airman's cave was a full 2.5 miles long. But we didn't really know that either. In fact, we knew nothing of caves or caving.
To access the cave, we had to take a hike down a dry creekbed and search for it. After wandering around for a while we spotted a large opening on the hill. That was it.
Sometimes we find ourselves battling against the clock on our travels. Either we pack too much in or don't even have the time to spare in the first place to get everything checked off of our proverbial travel "to-do" list. With some careful planning, you can capitalize on some of the world's best cities in less than a day without feeling rushed or as if you missed too much.
24 Hours in Napa Valley
This weekend I found myself with 24 hours to spare in the Bay Area of California and decided to head up to the Napa Valley to enjoy the best time of year for wine enthusiasts, grape harvest season or better known as Crush. Crush begins in September and extends through October and is the busiest time of year in the valley. Rightfully so, the weather is almost perfect with the marine layer from San Francisco burning off around 10:30 am to reveal a beautiful blue sky and 75 degree weather. Not to mention a bustling wine making industry with all hands on deck preparing to bring in some of the best grapes the region has to offer.
5:00 P.M. Arrival