Bushwise Field Guides

Very few people have not heard about the mighty baobab tree. A tree that impresses both by it’s huge size, and it’s ability to live thousands of years. Etched into our history and standing tall before man was around, these trees are indeed a wonder of the world. Lately they have become very popular with their fruits attaining a “Super fruit” status, basically meaning they are awesome with huge benefits to the consumer thereof! I have eaten a lot of these fruits in my life, so I’ll share two ways of how you may experience it.

 

 

Lets start with the romantic way. The cool crisp air of the African morning is something even the hardiest field ranger can appreciate, and in this time of day before the blistering heat sets in, it’s a good time to find a fruiting Baobab. There is something mystical about sourcing your breakfast from a tree thousands of years old, firstly you get some of the fruits, a beautifully ornamental fruit that is, about the size just big enough to fill a soup bowl, light green with a soft velvet covering. You break it open in the most natural means by cracking it against a nearby rock, quite possibly that rock that has felt these fruits being opened on it since the very first humans came past this giant tree many hundreds of years back. Inside is no mess, no juice splattering everywhere, no stains all over your fresh Khaki clothes, just a bunch of white fluffy, polenta looking blobs tied up in strands of brick red fibres. Perfect for a morning’s nibble. You sit under the shade of the mighty baobab and feast, sharing a moment from when humans and mother nature first met… life-changing in every way.

 

Now although many a traveler has had this pleasure, it is not always this way, and from my experience those times are far and few between, in fact there is another way of experiencing such a humbling breakfast in the bush, and you may yet discover this experience should you find yourself lucky enough to be under a giant fruiting Baobab. On this occasion, you’ll realise that all the beautifully nice fruit that had fallen from the tree was soon gobbled up by all the other animals passing by, and the only way to get your breakfast is to climb for it!

 

 

Now a baobab is no small shrub, standing up to 30m tall, and the size of a small house, climbing one of these giants is harder then you may think… No thorns, no spines, nor even a rough bark, it has a smooth, soft touch, inviting the less experienced to take on the challenge. Back in the lovely human/baobab honeymoon phase people would simply knock pegs into the sides, as the wood is soft and fibrous, these pegs made scrambling up and down the baobab as easy as climbing a ladder. In today’s far more ethically inclined times, it would be heavily frowned upon should you try hammering in any sort of pegs into a multi thousand year old organism! One also soon discovers that the smooth bark has an interesting way of repelling any form of traction with rubber, so your fancy hiking books are useless in getting a grip! So off with the boots, and up you scramble in a quite undignified manner, a sort of mix between a series of hugs and stretches and shuffles and you are in the canopy at last! Now 30m does not sound like much horizontally, but vertically you do start to notice the small things below, glistening quartz rocks, that old leadwood stump you used to gain the first bit of traction, and a few thoughts of “I hope I don’t hit that on the way down” may develop! One soon realises that between the hunters and gatherers of bygone days, the gatherers job was not as easy as it may have seemed. Now you have at last collected a fruit or two, the even more awkward downwards climb starts!

Did I mention how slippery the bark of a Baobab is? Hugging on and sliding down is also not an option on a tree with a girth of a Rondavel, but lets presume somehow you made it down without falling. Now you get to that age old rock which looks perfect for the job, and it probably has served its purpose in the past, but on the first hit, you notice that this seed pod is something to be reckoned with. It is HARD… you could probably do better cracking open the rock with the fruit than the other way around, but you try again, harder this time, and again, and again, and eventually you feel the only way to get a result is if you fling the fruit at the rock like pitching a baseball, you aim, and if you’re lucky enough you get that golden spot and…bam! The fruit splatters open sending all those nice little white fluffy bits described earlier in every direction! Now if you’re lucky those brick red fibres have managed to hold onto a few of the white bits and you (now exhausted) finally get to enjoy the Super fruit for breakfast… the texture, well… since we have the white polenta in mind, imagine it raw, mixed with a bit of tasteless beer and left in the sun for a little too long. A powdery, fizzing, chalky taste and texture await your pallet. Not a bad taste, but certainly not a black forest gateau either… Now you can start your day out in the bush, battered and bruised, hot and sweaty, and with a new-found fear of heights. Even the most hardened vegetarian at this point wants to hunt something, anything, as long as it is not nestled in the crown of a mighty Baobab tree…

 

 

Blog by Vaughan Jessnitz