Thursday, February 3, 2011

Running for our Lives: A Tale of Bovine and Beaches

    Last night--the first time in my twenty-one years that, in the absolute presence of the moment, I feared for my life. It was fleeting, but it left my pulse like a machine gun for the entire night. I mean this with honesty. This if fucking Africa.

    Star studded, moonlit nights on the Wild Coast are transcendental, in a very Emerson-esqe sense. The sky, the sea and the forest melt into one dark, musical mass that suspend your momentarily weightless matter within a rhythm and outside of time. This is the kind of night in which I found myself, on the beach with my good friend JQ, tossing about in a conversation, on the look out for shooting stars and UFO’s. We were heading back to the Haven, along the beaches of the Eastern Cape. As we approached the tide pool crossing, which essentially functions to split the beach in two, several things become apparent: my torch is inadequate, we are covered in sand, and we are not alone.
    Ahead of us are silhouettes, embedded in the black backdrop of the sand and the forest. We pause. I flip my light straight ahead. It hits its target. Six sets of yellow eyes are staring back at us, about 20 meters ahead. We freeze.

        Before I continue, I feel as if I must clarify to my audience what exactly is     meat when I say the Wild Coast. This is a part of South Africa, notoriously     secluded, remote and untouched. It is a place of limited development and limited     infrastructure. It is a place that is often fenced off and put aside as nature     reserves, often with little knowledge of what wildlife actually exists within these     areas. Still, today, estimates of present species biodiversity and biodensity are     poorly researched and at times, unknown.
        In this reserve Dwessa-Cwebe, there are many animal species--white     rhino, jaguar, several large antelope species, alligator, baboons, vervet monkeys,     zebra, smaller predatory cats, green and black mambas along with an entire     slew of others, some big and some small but all wild. Of course, the terrestrial life     is one thing, but with the reputedly shark infested waters offshore, it becomes     fairly evident: this place is on the edge of the map. The nearest hospital is 2     hours drive along a single pockmarked and punched-out road. Helicopters     cannot land here. Needless to say, it is in one’s best interest to tread softly and     cautiously.

    With that in mind, we now return to our story.

    Our minds race for an explanation, and one that will allow us to ignore our already rising heart rates and get home. Our first thought is horses, we know there are some on the reserve. No dice, the glowing eyes can’t be horses, for the coloring and brightness is caused by a tapetum lucidum (a shiny covering on the back of the eye ball that assists with night vision), which horses lack. It can’t be the local jaguar for these animals are solitary and reclusive. As for being baboons, this is unlikely because otherwise, we’d probably already be running for our lives. The shadows remain mere shadows.
    We quickly realize our options are limited as this is the only way to get back home. I draw my pocket knife and with it, a false sense of courage and security (note: the sarcastic presentation of my faux-manliness is meant to belie the actual fear in my mind). I am an idiot. A pocket knife against some of these animals would be like trying to kill a gorilla with a toothpick. Either way, hats off to a bravery born of ignorance--we started walking forward. My flashlight is fixed on these creatures, which slowly become slightly more defined as we get closer and closer. Its funny, even as the picture of these animals became clearer, the racing of my mind obscured my rational ability to actually discern what I was seeing. At one point, I could have sworn it was a pride of lions. Shortly after, it seemed more likely to just be some driftwood. Finally, I was convinced that it must be a dragon of some sort. The point is, we still had no idea, and now we were within 10 meters.
    What happened next is still up to debate--it was sudden and our actions were purely a reaction to a potentially false stimulus. It is at this moment that JQ exclaims,     “Holy shit, its coming toward us.”
    Wether this was actually the case or not, I have my reservations, however, in the moment, this was more than enough to send us sprinting headlong in the opposite directions. We were trapped, between this terrible shadowy creature, a shark infested ocean and a long, long beach. Surely, we would be overtaken and inevitably eaten by something. It was only a matter of time.
    Luckily, it wasn’t long before we realized that whatever it was had not decided to follow us. We glanced nervously in their direction. Between our heavy breathing and occasional holy-shit’s, we devised a plan to walk along the opposite side of the tide pool, cross it up stream (as it was only a few inches deep at max) and make our way back. This plan, carried out with fear and fervor, was successful and we soon found ourselves safe and sound on our cozy roundeval porches. Both of us, scared for our lives just moments before, calmly recounted our story to JQ’s half-awake roommate. Of course, the news of unidentified monsters on the beach just a kilometer away did not help her get back to sleep anytime soon. I assured them both that I would get up early and head back to the tide pool in an attempt to identify these mysterious animals.

    6 am: I woke up from what was otherwise a poor excuse for a good night’s rest. I got on some sandals and headed back to the beach, hoping to find some tracks, some poop, or any other type of evidence that might help us identify the cause of the previous night’s panic. Upon reaching the beach, however, no clues were needed, as our would-be-assailants were still waiting in the sand beside the tide pool. I walked up next to the group, took off my sandals, and started running through my morning yoga routine right next to them. I burst out laughing.
    Lounging lazily on the beach next to my was a small herd of cattle, chewing their cud in a manner that seemed to mock the absolute fear of the night before. Apparently, my laughter seemed to annoy them, so they stood up and strolled away down the beach, leaving several heaping piles of well digested grass in their stead. Just the night before, these innocuous, beef wagons had sent us, in all reality, running for our lives. To be fair, all of these cattle were bulls with a few descent sets of horns between them. Not that they would consumed us whole, but the thought of sneaking past these guys in the dark is still not entirely appetizing. Regardless, I have lived to tell the tale. And JQ will forever know that, when frightened, I scream like a little girl.

still alive,


  1. You know, between this and all of my stories about rhinos and ostriches, I'm convinced that South Africa is (somewhat ineffectively) trying to finish off all of the Machado clan.

  2. I am glad it was only cows but it could have been meat eating, hungry animals also. Don't forget that you are in a dangerous part of the world and you are on the food chain with little defense. Be Careful!

    I can remember as a little girl, having to stand blocking a spot so Dad could get the cows in a pen. I was so scared of those cows and frankly screamed (like a little girl but I was one) and realized that they were more scared of me than I was of them of course I knew that they could only trample me because they only ate grass.

    Grandma says: Mario be safe because we love you and I want to hear, in person, about all your adventures. I don't know what you are researching but hope it is valuable to you in the future.

  3. Grandpa May is smiling down from Heaven with this story, He loved all of you children so much and is now your Guardian Angel. He was watching this unfold and he knew you were not in any danger with cows but wanted you to have a reminder that you need to be careful and come home to your mother safely.

    Remember his favorite poem:

    They strolled down the lane together
    the sky was studded with stars
    they reached the gate in silence
    and he lifted down the bars
    she neither smiled nor thanked him
    because she knew not how
    for he was just a farmer's boy
    and she a Jersey cow.

  4. hey mario, this is sydney your cousin from marshfield. africa sounds amazing even the scary parts.

  5. Dear Mario,
    This is Aunt Monica, I am immensely proud of you and I pray for your daily growth as a human being and your safety in that amazing corner of the planet.

  6. From your cousin Leah:
    Hey dork. I didnt know you were such a good writer. I was impressed. Needless to say, I am proud of you and hope you have the time of your life, even if that cow returns and eats you alive. On my end, I think I have decided about what I am going to do with my next few years and where (wink wink :)) but before I speak (or type) the words to anyone, I have to get a few more things in order. All my love and I can't wait to brag that you're my cousin!!!

  7. Brilliant, my brother, just brilliant. I could seriously read about your adventures all day and never bore. I will be praying for you over there and if it means anything, know that you just made my night/day/week with this story haha I love cattle.

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  9. I just want to say, this would have been a really good story if there weren't so many typos. Proof-read your stuff, jeesh...also, "Emerson-esque"? Really? Just because you did better than me on that book report in Mrs. Haines's class doesn't mean you're an English expert. Stick to fancy science talk.

    Glad you haven't died yet, miss you a lot buddy.

  10. 'tis a beautiful life young machado

  11. haha, life is good for sure. I miss you all and love you very much. Africa is amazing, but hardly something to be put adequately into words.

    To Mom and Gradma: I love the story of Ferdinand, what a great poem to remind me of. P.S. I am being safe.

    To Leah: Awesome, but to be honest, I knew you would think of something great, I mean, you are pretty smart (I guess). Good luck with everything, talk to you when I return.

    To Carmen: I have had a few more brushes with the dark side in my days here other than just cows, but I would have to agree, Africa has it in for the Machado's.

    To Jack: Keep being a theater major, you'll totally be successful. By the way, Emerson-esque communicates the point quite well, but you wouldn't understand much about trascendental writings would you, too trying to write screen plays. But in all seriousness, you're an alright writer yourself, see you soon.

    To Tom: yes, yes, and yes.

    And to all: Just to clarify a few issues brought to my attention by my mother in our first phone call in a month...Yes, my friend JQ in this story is a girl. No, she is not a distraction (not too much of one anyway). And, as a book worm herself, she approves of my use of the term "Emerson-esque".