Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Trip I: Zimbabwe’ Category

Monday, September 14

So, I’m on an 8 P.M. flight to Heathrow from Boston. Twenty-nine years old and I leave the country for the first time. And I’m including Canada.

But I’m making up for it. Most people don’t go on a safari until they have grandkids, white hair (if any left), and not nearly enough strength to fight off a thrashing crocodile. Thank goodness I am quite capable of doing just that.

Anyway, two nights ago, I dreamt someone unzipped my tent in the bush, threw a large, raw steak on my face as I lay on my cot, and left the tent open for lions and such to enter. Then last night I dreamt that my fellow safari-goers (whoever they’ll be) and I were canoeing on a river. A hippo began surfacing just to the right of my canoe; I sat in the rear, steering. The person sitting in front decided to be cute, and purposely pounded the hippo’s back with the thin, bottom edge of his paddle. The hippo retaliated by capsizing the canoe violently. I retaliated by waking up.

But, uh, I’m not worried about the trip at all.

What would Freud say?

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Tuesday, September 15

I have a 13-hour layover in London. My American friend Susan shows me the city and a little of how the British think. (Again, remember, I’ve never been out of the United States.)

Trash is “rubbish.”

Water is sparkling or still.

Exit is “Way out.”

“Everyone in America owns a gun.”

We squeeze the city into five hours after I take a short nap. I am…Tourist Boy! Nothing is safe from my camera! Ha ha!

Okay. People are staring at Tourist Boy. But Tourist Boy has a defense against all of these jealous onlookers: I will never see them again in my life.

9 P.M., London time. British Airways is whisking me off to Johannesburg, South Africa (Jo-burg).

A screaming baby nearby—which I’m sure will be all right, since the flight’s only 10 1/2 hours long.

What’s the movie? Damn it. Tell me the movie, or I start taking pictures of everyone. I mean it.

Ooo. It’s starting…Paramount Pictures…Dreamworks…

“Deep Impact.”

Hmmm. Meteors. People dying. And it’s free! I shall watch.

Just woke up. Okay, I’m not even sure what time it is now. I think 9 A.M., Africa time, and I just realized I’m 30,000 feet over the Dark Continent.

Ooo. Way down there. I think I see a giraffe.

Read Full Post »

Wednesday, September 16

During all the preparation for this safari, I have not feared the lion. I have not feared the crocodile. I have not feared the hippo. Nor the hyena. Nor the charging bull elephant.

I fear the tipping.

How much? Which currency? Is U.S. okay? No, no. I’ve got my bags. No, I, uh, okay, you take them. Here, this is for you. I wasn’t going to use that money anyway.

This morning I got taken for the first time. I tried to tip a man who said he was a porter at Johannesburg Airport. I offered him $2 for two bags, but he insisted on $5, the minimum he needed “for exchange.” Tourist Boy’s hand did not want to take more money out of his wallet for someone who basically carried his bag 100 feet and without permission, but Tourist Boy gave him $5. Tourist Boy knew this was bullshit, and Tourist Boy felt like he had a great, big neon sign floating over his head that said, “Tourist Boy. Kind. Naïve. Innocent. Suck ‘im Dry, Boys!” (The ‘Suck ‘im Dry’ part would blink.)

The big flights are over. Internal clock is screwy, like rats have gnawed on and peed all over the gears.

Today I sleep.

Read Full Post »

Thursday, September 17

I finally emerged from my room this morning. Johannesburg Airport Holiday Inn. Might as well still be in Boston, I thought, since nothing so far has been too foreign. Except there’s soccer coverage on TV.

Had breakfast alone. Hadn’t done that in a while, and it was a little awkward. But then again, I won’t see any of these people again.

Two couples sat at the table next to me. They had to be at least 70 years old. I’m pretty fortunate to be able to come to Africa at my age. The couples were American, and for a second I thought about introducing myself. But then I decided to let them wonder about me.

“Look at that young man at the table next to us.”

“He must be French.”

“No, no. He seems very polite. He must be Swiss.”

“Why is he eating alone?”

“The Swiss get a lot of women.”

“He must be tired from last night.”

“All that sex. He needs some time alone.”

On my way up to my room, I stopped in the hotel gift shop. But I didn’t buy anything. African souvenirs from here would be too easy, like going to Pier 1 Imports or something.

This morning I fly to Victoria Falls. I do not think I will be bored.

Oh, I forgot. Heard a cool phrase from one of the gift shop ladies: jolly sure.

I’ll be jolly sure to use that.

I’ll be back soon with more…Adventures of Tourist Boy! (An Aaron Spelling Production.)

I am bread.

I am a scrap of bread, torn from a slice of bread and thrown to the ducks.

The young men trying to sell you carvings are the ducks. And as soon as they see a little piece of bread thrown in their pond, they furiously paddle over.

“How much?”

“You like?”

“I give you good price…good price.”

“It is very beautiful, no? Make offer to me. Make offer.”

“No thank you,” I say.

“You from America? Michael Jordan. I give you good price.”

“No thank you,” I say.

“This carved from root. Tonga people.”

“No thank you,” I say.

“This man in the carving, he is king. His name mean ‘Always Something Found.'”

“No thank you,” I say.

“The woman. Her name mean ‘Born at Christmas.'”

“How many times do I have to say ‘No’?”

“Michael Jordan. Mike Tyson. Michael Jackson.”

(What’s with all the Mikes?)

The ducks pecked at me for a few minutes, then I told them, “Maybe on the way back.” They swam away.

Then I jumped off the Victoria Falls Bridge.

Was my first ‘bungi’ jump ever. (That’s how they spell it here). As a bonus, I walked across the border into Zambia to get there. Huzzah. Another passport stamp.

I wasn’t scared at all while the bungi folks were tying me up. And everyone was really nice. The people here are very nice unless they’re hounding you to buy something.

The only scary part of the jump—when I said to myself, “Oh. I’m going head-first, over 300 feet down. Is this a wise course of action?”—was when I first leapt off, then looked down. The rest of the fall, then rebound, then rebound again, was a blurringly fast, “screw you, gravity” rush. I confidently rate it a big “yee-haw.”

A very high bridge. An extremely frayed rope. Hey, let's jump off.

Then I bought the video of my jump. And the pictures they take of you in mid-rebound: human doll in thumbs-up pose on big rubber band. Studying the photo was the first time I noticed the bungi cord was extremely frayed. Um, okay.

Then I bought an elephant carving, but don’t worry. The salesman “really liked Americans.” And he gave me a “good price.” He wore mirrored-lensed sunglasses and looked like he was auditioning for the Zimbabwe Top Gun. I paid about $20 U.S. for the elephant, and found similar ones in a gift shop later for about $3.

Then I gave $40 ZIM (a little over a U.S. dollar) to four kids selling frozen pops. I let them eat the pops. After all, they needed the energy to carry the books they said they were going to buy for school tomorrow.

Then I crossed back into Zimbabwe, only to be met by a duck.

“Remember me? Eagle. Fighting eagle. You like?” the duck asked as he held up an eagle carving. He told me that earlier it was chaotic with too many salesmen, that, “it was corruption.”

He followed me a ways, then he signaled over to his friends. (I turned around and caught him waving his wing or quacking or something to bring them over, since I was trying to avoid them.) They pestered me for over ten minutes. So much for avoiding corruption.

They used the strategy of “Pester until exhaustion.”

But Tourist Boy was not defeated.

Note: I actually think I made a big mistake. About 20 yards before the flock I gave a deaf man $50 ZIM in plain view. Mistake. It was like waving a big flag with a picture of the U.S. mint on it.

Didn’t have time to actually see the falls today. Now I’m off to see tribal dancing.

Okay. Just got back from traditional tribal dancing. Total tourist thing, but the dancing seemed pretty authentic. War dances. Fishing dances. Circumcision dances. Sell-the-tourist-good-price-American-Michael-Jordan dances. You know.

Just ordered room service. The sandwiches here are $30.00 ZIM. About $1.00 U.S. I got two.

A lot of what I’ve seen in Victoria Falls has been sobering. No one has money. I saw a woman and her four small kids sitting in the dirt begging for money. They had collected about 3¢ ZIM in an old, white, metal bowl. That’s, uh, 1/90th of a U.S. dollar. I remembered that in high school, I begged, too. I begged my parents a year straight for a car. It wasn’t fair, I told them. I would be a geek if I rode the bus my senior year.

I gave a little change to a boy for him and his absent, blind mother (that’s what he told me, and I didn’t want to think about it too hard). But I can’t feel guilty, spending so much money on this trip. I can only look at it as if I’m helping, bringing dollars into the economy.

A real Zimbabwean village.

Traditional, windowless huts in a Zimbabwean village.

Okay, I admit it. I’m not a fully fledged, one-with-nature bushman yet. I have the TV on. “Platoon” is airing. Uncut (cuss words and everything), but with commercials—which are just as bad as the ones in the U.S., except spoken with a cool accent.

By the way, tipping is easy in Zimbabwe. Just give a lot. With the exchange rate, you’re still making out.

I know tomorrow and the first half of Saturday will be fun here, but I am still anxious to get into the bush. (Say that with gusto. “Bushhh.”) I mean, the first animal I saw in Africa was a donkey.

I’m adjusted to the time now; I think it’s six hours ahead of Boston. But I need my sleep. Got to get up at 5:30 tomorrow morning. (I’m on vacation?)

Read Full Post »

Friday, September 18

Damn it. I’ve been in Africa three days now, and no one’s called me bwana.

Got up for a 6:20 A.M. pickup from my hotel—the Impala Lodge. Nice place. Good decor. I want to steal an Old World map of Africa (L’AFRIQUE) off the wall. (Room #7, far corner, don’t trip the alarm.)

My driver met me and—Ahhhhhhh! Wrong side of the road! You’re driving on the wrong side of the!—Oh. Heh heh. Whoops. Why yes, I’m from America. How did you know?

We drove about 45 minutes, seven others and I, to the elephant camp. I was feeling a bit guilty about using these beautiful giants for my tourist fancy; and it didn’t get any better when I saw them chained up.

But then our guide, Rob, told us that these four elephants were pulled from a culled herd. Culling is a controversial population control method they use in Africa. Basically, when the elephant count becomes too great for the vegetation and land to sustain, the park services kill them, usually by shooting. So since these saddled elephants were spared from culling, it me feel a whole lot better. Like getting your dog from the pound.

It was two riders per saddle, and I was teamed up with Sally. Ah, Sally. Cute. Young. Born in South Africa. Living in Zambia. Yes, she will make a fine wife. Especially because she liked to responded to questions with “mmmmmmm” instead of “yes.”

“Do you like the ride?”

“Mmmmmmmm.”

“Comfortable?”

“Mmmmmmmm.”

“What’s your favorite letter in the alphabet?”

The ride itself was quiet and gentle, with a slow rocking motion from side to side.

Sapi was the dominant male, but only 19 years old; that put us in the back. Because in the wild, the matriarch leads and the bulls bring up the rear to protect the babes in the middle. Sapi was the eldest here.

Elephants walk unbelievably quietly, like 10,000-lb. ninjas. And when they step, their feet look like giant, grayish-brown marshmallows. Big. Soft. Squishy.

The ride itself was fun. Not spectacular, but fun. We saw a few kudu, which are beautiful and small-deer-sized antelopes with thin white stripes that looked like dripping paint going down their sides. Tried to take some pictures, but I think my living, breathing platform made the ride too bumpy for anything clear to come out.

Oh, I forgot. It’s not always easy for me to understand people here. I am very glad and fortunate they speak English, but I find myself often saying “Sorry,” “Excuse me,” and “What?” I attribute this to my just not being very worldly, not being exposed to many different cultures and accents. It just doesn’t make sense, though. I’ve watched so very much Carol Burnett Show re-runs, and they do accents all the time. Save me, Tim Conway. You’re my only hope.

Two quick tales about traveling to and from the elephants. On the drive to the elephant camp, the driver pointed out various animals as they appeared.

“Buffalo.”

“Pheasant.”

“Impala (a common antelope).”

“Traveling vulture.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t see it,” I said.

“Traveling vulture.”

“By the tree? On your side? Flying?”

“Can I see your traveling vulture?”

“…”

“Hello?”

“Oh. My travel voucher. Sorry.” (Stupid, stupid, stupid.)

After the elephant ride, on the way back to the lodge, the driver told me he knew seven languages. And he was driving tourists around? Well, that seems not so right.

Actually, compared to many of the jobs I’ve seen here, the driver seemed to have one of the better ones. It so far seems like the more educated Zimbabweans have the better jobs, which makes sense. They also have the Anglo names. Peter. Phillip. Debra.

And so far, the top jobs—head elephant guide, head bungi-jump guy, microlighting pilot (I’ll get to that later)—are all held by Caucasians.

So I had a microlighting appointment at 3:00, but it was only 11:00. So I went to see the falls. Seemed right, being in Victoria Falls and all.

Took the long way, away from the duck pond, and only got pestered a bit by the ones selling Cokes and water.

I escaped with “I’m not thirsty. Just had something.”

Victoria Falls. Kind of not ugly.

The falls were incredible. A mile wide. Over 400 feet high. Roaring with incredible force. And this is the dry season. Even so, 20 yards from the viewing path, and stepping behind trees, the spray still found a way to sprinkle all over me. And starting in November, the flow is supposed to be increase many times over. I know. I saw a postcard.

When I left the falls, I got pecked by Huey, Louie, and Dewey. Hmmm. The bottled water with the label torn off, or, the factory-sealed Sprite? Sprite, please.

“How much Zim?” I asked.

“50. 50 Zim.”

Whatever. Didn’t feel like haggling. Later, I realized how much I was overcharged when I bought a Fanta Orange at the hotel bar for 15 Zim.

The older ducks spied me taking the long way back, and waddled through the woods to peck.

“No. No. No,” I told them.

I tried to stand fast, but I broke. But only a tiny bit. I bought a something-stone necklace for $23 Zim (about 80¢ U.S.).

This time I found the haggling could be fun, once I accepted it and played along. But you have to have the energy.

Got back to the hotel with about 1 1/2 hours till I got picked up for microlighting.

I started reading a brochure in my room, which was on the ground level. I caught, out of the corner of my eye, someone walking past my room. A little later, I glimpsed something else running by. I continued reading another brochure:

“Animals
Wild animals such as Buffalo, Warthog, Baboon, Monkeys and Mongoose, as well as the occasional Elephant, may from time to time be seen on the lawns. All wild animals are known to be DANGEROUS and NO attempt should be made to approach them.”

A blur. I looked up. A striped, weasel-like creature scurried by my sliding glass doors. And another. And another.

Banded mongoose. Can I keep one, Mom? Please? I won't kill him like the gerbil. Or the goldfish. Or, um, the dog.

Banded mongoose. Cute, cuddly, and good with snakes.

Oh, look. A now a baboon. Oh look, a baboon, one-inch from the glass, peering in at me. He sees nothing of interest. He keeps going.

Oh. My. God.

Camera!

Where the hell is my camera?!

Clean lens. Load. Zoom. Open sliding door? Open sliding door! Zoom. Zoom. Zoom. Snap. Snap. Snap. Snap. Snap. Snap. Snap. Baboon comes close. Dylan closes door. Baboon moves away. Dylan opens door. Snap. Snap. Snap. Snap. Snap. Snap. Zoom. Zoom. Snap. Awww. Look at the baby baboon. Snap. Snap. Snap.

Honey, something's in the backyard. Honey, it's eating the dog.

Got picked up for microlighting.

Saw my first wild elephant on the way. Massive. Awesome. Wow. Snap. Snap.

Found out—oh, sorry. What is microlighting? It’s basically a glider. With a motor.

Found out I could be up for 30 minutes, not just my scheduled 15, so I paid the extra $35 U.S.

Helmet. Check. Mic. Check. Safety straps. Check. Herr German pilot. Check.

This. Was. Cool.

Just being up there was amazing. Over Africa. We went over the falls. Circled. Then headed to a game park.

Then the engine died.

Then we started falling.

Then the engine started again, and I realized the pilot was just dropping altitude. At least I didn’t say into the mic, “Omigod! We’re going to die! Die a horrible, horrible death! You bastard! You stupid, Nazi bastard!”

At least I didn’t say that.

We saw hippo. Elephant. Rhino. Wildebeest. Zebra (pronounced with a short “e” here). A town. Boats. All teeny. It was pocket-sized Africa.

We landed. I loved it. Tomorrow I’ll have a half day till the bush.

Hungry. Yawning. Room service.

It's fun to risk death even before you go out into the bush.

Read Full Post »

Saturday, September 19

Met some fellow Yanks this morning, Lori and Phil from San Francisco. They’re actually booked through my company, Africa Wilds, and are on the safari I initially wanted to go on, but was fully booked-with Lloyd Perry, one of the best Zimbabwe guides three is, according to my safari company.

It was cool talking to some young Americans, and we all had the same questions and fears. They’re on almost the same itinerary as me, but in an exclusive group. Maybe we’ll meet again.

Then I set out to kill the morning. Once you pass the invisible line under the lodge’s gate, you become white bread that’s promptly assaulted. The ducks hound you to exchange Zimbabwe money for U.S. dollars (mistake). Or attempt to sell you carved canes and animals. They all flocked to me, first one then two then five. As soon as one gave up, another two replaced him.

“Hello. Hello, my friend. U.S. Hello.”

Lori gave me advice on this. She had lived in New York.

“Just say ‘No thank you’ and keep walking. If you keep talking, they’ll keep trying.”

Okay. ‘Acknowledge and ignore.’ Got it.

Well, it kind of worked. I got to a craft village of authentic local huts, kitchens, game traps, etc., and the attendant said I might want to take a camera in. But my camera was in my hotel room.

Was it worth braving the ducks two extra times? Groan. Okay, I will. Groan.

Quack. Quack. Quack.

Got camera.

Quack. Quack. Quack.

And, blah. The village was pretty much a dud. I took no pictures.

Tourists must all look alike to the Zimbabweans, too. Because one guy selling a cane gave me the same speech each time I passed him going and coming from the village. But he kept forgetting either that he’d approached me already, or how much he offered to sell the cane for.

First $20. Then down to $15. Then down to $4. Then next time I walked by, he had forgotten me and it was up to $20 again. Then down to only $10.

Ugh.

But I must say Victoria Falls has been fun overall. And everyone I’ve met who wasn’t trying to sell me something on the street has been warm, welcoming, and overwhelmingly genuine.

My only regret is I wish I’d done the whitewater rafting. Supposed to be some of the best in the world. Something like eight class 5s. I just wonder if you fall out of the raft, do the crocodiles help you back in?

The town is pretty small, all walkable. Although there are taxis everywhere. The drivers should use “guaranteed to avoid ducks” as a selling strategy.

The place seems pretty touristy. It must be 95%+ of the town’s economy. And I’m glad I’ve started out here, easing into the real reason I came to Africa.

I get picked up for my plane to Hwange National Park in an hour. I cannot wait to go into the bush. I mean, bushhhh.

Gulp.

I’m here.

No, really. I’m here. In the bush.

Took a flight from Vic Falls to Hwange. Then a teeny, single-prop airplane took me on a 15-minute ride to Taka Plains Camp.

I was rushed through orientation by the lovely, talented, and very capable Sue—Oh, shit. I totally forgot…On the drive here, Jack introduced me to my first close-up of real game. Five minutes into our twenty-minute drive, an elephant—a lone bull—faced us in the road, not 75 yards away.

Awesome.

We stopped, then the bull moved on. A few minutes later, another lone bull appeared. (Females never travel alone, so it was easy to tell this was a bull.)

Then a couple of female giraffes.

Some birds.

More elephants.

Then camp. And now back to Sue. (Sorry about that, Sue.) Sue gave me a quick orientation, then Jack took me on a solo drive for 1 1/2 hours.

We went to the main watering hole. This park has no fences, just invisible boundaries. So elephants, wildebeests, zebras, warthogs, baboons, lions, leopards, wild dogs, etc., come and go as they please.

But for the most part, this is elephant country.

I shot a whole roll of film in less than ten minutes, easily.

The elephants were huge and would dwarf the one I rode. I even witnessed a mock charge right at us (a bluff charge usually of a few feet or yards, basically the elephants telling us not to screw with them). But no worries. We are a giant, white beast not to be trifled with—the ever-present Land Rover. (White, I’m told, because it is easily spotted. Don’t want game to be oblivious to us, get too close, then panic upon realizing we’re there.)

Hundreds of elephants. A hippo. Zebra. Termite mounds everywhere—they resemble giant, hard-packed ant hills, many taller than a person. The only unnatural piece of landscape was a man-made water pump which fed one of the main water holes. But I can deal with that.

Hello. Welcome to Africa. Here, have an elephant.

It got dark.

But we didn’t go in. Jack drove me for another half hour or so. It wasn’t pitch-black, but you wouldn’t be able to see without a flashlight. And if I were alone out there, I’d sure monkey up a tree. Yes, indeed.

(Have to interrupt my account of yesterday to say I’m sitting on my private front porch, with the national park as my front yard. A couple zebras just passed about 50 yards in front of me.)

We saw, as best as our eyes let us, more elephants that had broken into separate herds after mixing at the water hole.

We also spotted some springhares, but far away. Not sure what they look like, as we saw just pairs of eyes flashing in the headlights for a second at a time. I’m guessing they’re hares. With, um, springs on them. Yes, that must be it.

Got back to camp and had about half an hour before dinner. Met the other guests. It’s a permanent camp, so clients come and go and overlap as they have different schedules.

A young couple from Southern England. Friendly. An older couple from Alabama. The husband hunts, although not here. This is a photographic concession of land. (But if he gets eaten by a lion, I won’t feel bad. Unless I don’t get good pictures of it.) Also, a Swiss couple, Fritz and his wife, both in their 70s maybe. They’ve been to Africa over 20 times. And I didn’t meet the other two couples. I am the only guest traveling alone.

Dinner was “splendid.” (That’s all the English/South African rubbing off on me, chap.) Then a campfire and more beer. The Alabama couple and I were the only campfire participants, along with four of the guides. Although, we were joined by a few elephants eating in the dark, only 20 or so yards away. I was told they infiltrate the camp often, occasionally blocking your path. Note: Do not run away or turn your back. Slowly walk backwards.

Oh, forgot to mention something about elephants earlier. When Jack and I were parked, watching them take their evening drink, I heard my first wild-elephant speak.

But it…(hold on a sec, need to take my shoes off)…But it wasn’t the stereotypical trumpet. It was a low growl. Like what I thought a lion sounded like.

A little later, I heard the classic trumpeting. But mostly the elephants growled. Low-pitched, drawn out, rumbling moans.

Trumpeting = warning or distress.

Moan/growl = everything’s okey dokey.

Argh. Flies pestering me as I write. I’m going in my tent. Lots of flies here, but they’re merely a small nuisance. No huge deal.

Anyway, um…uh…oh, yeah. Campfire. We had nothing to fear from the animals at the fire, for it keeps them at bay.

After a while, the only ones still sitting around the fire were Terry and Rex, both very cool guides from Zimbabwe, and me. We ended the night with an interesting talk on language differences, mostly slang in English-speaking countries.

What they say that’s weird: jolly good; jolly sure; longs (pants); job (good/cool); job job (very cool)-it comes from “good job.”

What I say that’s weird: cool; right (meaning “okay”—this was pointed out when I kept saying “right” every once in a while to acknowledge I understood a point Terry was making); underwear (they say “jockeys,” like we say the name brand Kleenex, or “pants”); pissed (this means “drunk” to them); acclimate (they say “acclimatize”).

We we both say: hello; good-bye; thank you; there’s a lion in my tent, would you mind getting a broom or something?

Read Full Post »

Sunday, September 20

5:15 A.M. Footsteps clip-clopped on wooden boards up to my tent. A voice: “Knock, knock.” Pause. “Knock, knock.”

“Okay!” I called back, my tone indicating how happy I was to be woken pre-dawn.

The verbal knocking is how you’re woken here, as one can’t really rap on a tent flap.

Ugh. I’m paying how much for this? But we have to rise before the sun does to get good game viewing in. The animals are active now.

It’s 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

The tent’s battery lanterns didn’t turn on, so getting dressed was virtually a blindfolded affair. At least what ever khaki shirt I put on would go with whatever khaki pants I put on. I had brought my own flashlight, but holding it in my armpit while putting contacts in my eyes was a bitch.

After a quick breakfast, the British couple, the Alabama couple, and I got into the roofless, doorless Land Rover that would take us to our walk in the…yes, you know it. Bushhh.

In five minutes, we were at the main watering hole and had spied lions. Binoculars! Where the hell are my-! Oh, here they are.

Three young males, brothers, and a female, most likely their sister. Rex and Rod were our guides this morning, and Rex sat in the driver’s seat next to me.

“They are covered in mud, from attacking an animal,” Rex said. “See. There. Buffalo.”

Alone, mid-shoulder deep in a water hole to our right, a water buffalo stood frozen.

“It is a bull,” Rex added.

The four lions sat about 50 yards from the buffalo on a termite mound. Black, wet mud matted down the three males’ manes, so they looked like females from a distance. Rex told us that it was too difficult for the lions to get a grip in deep water.

Another Land Rover sat a couple hundred yards up on the sandy road with its passengers watching. This is an exclusive concession of the park, so it was the only other vehicle we would see. Yea.

After maybe ten minutes, the lions got up and slowly walked off as if they couldn’t care less. Rex told us that as soon as they were gone, the buffalo, which I noticed had visible claw marks and a little blood on its back, would try to escape.

We slowly and quietly drove after the lions until we couldn’t see the buffalo, and the cats came to rest atop a termite mound of dry gray sand.

They were baiting the buffalo with false freedom.

The buffalo bit. The cats moved. The buffalo had poor eyesight, and was downwind from the small pride, so the lions approached within ten yards before being detected.

(Hold on. Parched. You get parched quickly and easily and often here. Ah. Water. Better.)

The four lions surrounded the buffalo, then attacked. They leapt from behind, tearing into its hind shoulders with claws, simultaneoulsy digging in with their teeth. They grabbed its tail and tore. Blood streamed down its back and out of its backside.

The water buffalo turned, but was too exhausted to kick backwards, its usual defense.

The lions kept jumping, ripping with claws and fangs. The tail was soon torn completely off.

I knew the buffalo was going down. Rex told us that some people vacation in Africa every year for a decade and don’t see a kill. This was my fifth day.

The buffalo turned quickly on the lioness and lowered its horns. It jerked its head up and made impact square in the lion’s chest, sending her flying about ten feet backwards in the air.

Snap! Snap! Snap!

Oh, yes, I was taking pictures. I was a bit farther than an ideal distance, but I believe I got some mid-action.

Suddenly, someone spotted another lioness approaching.

“If it is a mature one,” said Rex, “the buffalo will go down quickly. She will go for the throat, to strangle it.”

But one member of the original pride gave her a warning growl and charge, and the new lioness simply ceased any attempt to attack. She ended up plopping down peacefully a few yards from the profusely bleeding, but still very much alive buffalo.

Yet another lioness entered my binoculars’ view.

The lions all stood there, a few yards from the buffalo waiting. For what?

The buffalo stood there waiting. For what?

Um, hello, somebody kill somebody.

Rex said that if the lions were more mature, the buffalo would be dead by now. But the lions merely sauntered over to another termite mound and lay down exhausted.

The buffalo headed back towards the safety of the water. But everyone in the truck was in the mood for death, so we hoped it wouldn’t make it.

The first four lions just continued to lay there.

But we still had hope.

The first new lioness began after the buffalo, but was turned back by the threat of horns when the buffalo swung around to face her.

Disappointment.

The same lioness tried to make it up to us by crouching down and moving slowly toward some zebras. One foal looked like it was made out of wood, standing completely still by its mother with stripes so perfect they looked painted on.

But the zebras, four in all, easily caught sight of the prowl in the open plain, and quickly gave themselves safe distance.

The buffalo reached the water hole, but never entered. It continued on without dipping in. I guess it knew the lions were too exhausted, so it didn’t have to play the stand-off game again.

Ouch. Ooo. Ow. Owie. Stop it! Get off!

We then drove off to the starting point of our walk.

Rex and Rod both carried heavy rifles and belts of ammo. (I’m going to steal a bullet later. Shhh.) But I don’t think they’ve ever fired a shot at this camp.

We got our instructions, the main rule being: Never run.

“If you run, you are seen as prey. We may have you climb a tree, but never run.”

We spotted some elephants and headed towards them, downwind. When we were about 100 yards away, we crossed through some thick bush—tall, wheat-colored grasses.

Downwind. Camouflage. Elephants’ poor eyesight. It all allowed us to stand 30 or 40 yards away.

Cool. I mean, job job.

We had only an hour or so for our walk because of the time spent watching the (almost) buffalo kill.

Rex also pointed out footprints, noted which animals they came from, and called attention to some long scrape marks on tree trunks from antelope dulling their horns, as well as elephants their tusks.

On the way back, I pointed to a large antelope, dark with two short, slightly backward-curved horns. Rex stopped the truck and said they were Roan antelope. A rare sighting.

Being fenceless, this park is great. Random animals always passing through. No “The lion is always under this tree, next to the souvenir shop. Oh, look. He is here again today. Can you stand the excitement?”

At lunch, 10:30 A.M., I was asked if I heard the elephants last night.

“No.”

There were several wandering around camp as we slept.

This is a permanent tented camp, meaning most everything stays year round, with the soft parts of each tent taken down during the off season. Each tent has wooden floors, and canvas and screened walls and roof. The entire camp is raised on poles, maybe five feet off the ground, and connected by a river of wooden walkways. Tents are separated by about 50 yards, each off its own little tributary.

En suite toilet, shower. Hot water. Bed. No electricity. Civilization? 2 1/2 hours by Land Rover.

It’s the middle of the day. Hot. Animals just lie there, if you can find them. We’ll meet at 3:30 for an afternoon drive. Two more hours. I want to go now.

Must be 85 or 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Right before the afternoon drive, I learned something that disappointed me about my lodgings. A guest asked where the logs in our “authentic” lodge came from. He hadn’t seen any straight trees in the area, and the lodge was built with straight poles.

“Oh. They’re imported. They’re pine,” a camp worker said.

Let’s just ignore that, shall we? Close eyes. Repeat to self: We’re in Africa, not Maine. We’re in Africa, not Maine.

We set out in the Land Rover. Same group as this morning, with Rex as our guide.

Saw an amazing giraffe, a towering bull with incredibly stark markings. Took many a picture, but I felt my hands and the camera were shaking the whole time.

Please, God, don’t let my pictures be blurry, oh please.

(Just heard an elephant groan as I write this. They go on all night. Job.)

Got more great elephant pictures. They would be elephant pics #3,842 through 3,897.
I need to stop photographing elephants. Maybe.

Saw antelope called something-bok. Many colorful birds. Dwarf mongooses. A baby giraffe (where was mommy?). A giant beehive.

After just over a day here, I feel like I’m pretty good friends with the guides and other guests.

I like the bush. Bush very good to me. Would you like me to clip your bushes? No, wait. That’s not right…

We drove back to camp after stopping for a drink. (The guide brings a cooler of everything.) It was dark now.

Headlights can panic elephants, often on or beside the road, so as soon as we spot an elephant, the truck lights go off.

(Just heard more elephant growling.)

I sat up front with Rex again, and he asked me if Greyhound buses would be a good way to tour the U.S., because he and Terry, another guide, were planning to.

I said yes, and we got into a discussion about New York. I began listing dangers about the city, and realized it was clearly more treacherous than the bush.

A comparison:
Like the bush, New York is not safe at night.
You know how animals will act if threatened, but not how people will.
Elephant dung is a lot cleaner to handle than a New York hot dog vendor’s wares.
Baboons won’t try to take you for everything you’ve got.

Rex suddenly turned off the road and cut across a dried-up water hole.

“Do you know why I went off the road?” he asked.

Silence.

“If we’d passed under that tree, with the baboons, all hell would’ve broken loose,” he said. “We wouldn’t have gotten rid of the smell for weeks. The baboons lose all control of their sphincter muscles if you scare them.”

Back to camp. Dinner at 8:00. We all arrived smelling good.

New guests. Much, much older than I. All couples.

I learned that one section of the camp’s boardwalk dipped all the way to ground level because it crossed an elephant path.

The camp had built it high, on a level with the rest of the camp, but the elephants tore it down.

Camp built it up again.

Elephants tore it down.

Camp built it low.

Elephants happy.

I also asked Sheri if my being a lone camper was unusual. She said yes. Only one a month, maybe.

Must sleep now. Up at 5:15 again tomorrow. And tissues have been collecting blood whenever I blow my nose. What gives?

(Oh, shit. There’s an elephant maybe 15 yards from my porch, munching leaves in the dark.)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »