There’s a contingent of women journalists scratching themselves in Damaraland. Though women are “supposed to be” sugar, spice and everything nice, the reality is sometimes a mosquito has bitten us square on the ass and we have our hands down our pants.
Kirsty has reached a state of Zen about the whole thing.
She tells us as much as we lounge in Wilderness Safaris’ al fresco lounge clawing manically at the results of being the previous evening’s mosquito buffet.
“You know when you’re just so itchy, you stop being itchy altogether?”
Nobody knows what Kirsty is talking about.
A mixture of the white hot heat and about 500 bites are clearly messing with her head and Tanja and I share a look before returning to our individual tearing at flesh.
Tanja is particularly astonished by the red welts on her leg.
She’s the tough, bundu-bashing sort and about four days after we’re back in the city, a WhatsApp message cuts through the afternoon confirming her continued scratching with hopeful plans to acquire coconut oil after a course of ‘Stop Itch’ has left her for dead.
Annelien and Marita don’t say much about their bites but they scratch at them all the same. Marita in-between delicate page turns of books she found in the camp library and Annelien after a few fortifying sips of whiskey and lime. I join her in the latter while Annabelle annoys me beyond belief.
Look, she’s a lovely woman, a photographer and a darling but while we’re out there doing our utmost to refrain from tearing our skin right off, she sits pretty without a single bite drinking gin and tonics, remarking about how her “temperature is broken.”
While Annabelle tries to fix her thermometer, Nirvani’s mosquito bites are divided into countries.
On her left arm she has the slightly raised bumps more commonly found in Botswana while her right ankle is riddled with fiery, incessantly itching molehills courtesy of Namibia.
As Wilderness Safaris’ PR manager tasked with visiting various camps like some sort of travelling mosquito meal, Nirvani has it the worst.
From the looks of things, mosquitoes seem to know when she’ll be coming and thus send out a widely read mosquito gazette with headlines announcing the anticipated arrival of a woman who has been sampled all over Africa.
Somewhat luckily for us, Nirvani is the main attraction, her body a strange map of where she’s been, how well she slept and the level of witchcraft inherent in the country’s mosquitoes.
It’s a wonder she’s still standing.
Malaria is real, her bites are prolific and mosquitoes take to her like I take to cake.
Like the lot of us, Nirvani perseveres.
We’re there to experience the wonders of Damaraland, track rhinos and eat during every minute of every day and we’ll all be damned if we let something as minuscule as a mosquito derail our plans.
So we itch.
We wander, we track, we eat and we itch.
Me like never before and Annabelle not at all.
By the end of our five-day safari from Windhoek through Damaraland via the Doro Nawas, Desert Rhino and Damaraland camps, we’ve seen giraffes, gemsbok, steenbokkies, Twyfelfontein and two desert-adapted black rhinos named Top Notch and Troy, but the truth is we’ve been plagued throughout.
It’s an oft neglected story but I’m telling it now.
Yes, there are sunsets, there is wildlife and there are the wonders of the world but what never makes it to the travelogues and the Instagram posts are the bites.
Just once I would like to see someone post the truth.
A mosquito bite…or 20.
Red, nasty and itching for days with a caption as simple as “Kill me.”
That’s the real story.
That’s the real triumph.
Venturing out into the wild knowing you’ll be bitten more times than you can count and going anyway to wonder, track, eat and confirm that Damaraland’s mosquitoes are on another level.
Annabelle dubs us the “Women in the Wilderness”.
It’s a beautiful moment on our last night in Damaraland. We’re toasting to our experiences and general survival in a rustic boma outside camp and it’s not ten minutes later when a delegation of mosquitoes launches their farewell attack.
Naturally they get Nirvani first and everyone except Annabelle falls soon after.
Arms itching, legs on fire, wondering how soon we can sell Annabelle off to a research facility.