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the love of a lifetime: South Africa

SOUTH AFRICA | Monday, 25 October 2004 | Views [463]

cheesy firehouse 80s rock aside, i have found the love of a lifetime. South Africa. this is the only place i have ever traveled that feels like a place i could live. every moment here, every stop is even more incredible and beautiful than the last.
after cintsa i followed the rambling mountains down the coast to cape town. huge mountains overshadow the city, san franscisco in it's dreams of clean friendly tranquility. the cape malays, i believe a ethnic grouping that long ago mixed polynesian with african genes, are the most lively interesting and friendly people i have met. conversations start in a store i was only browsing by and continue for half an hour. the smiling faces, the shouts of "cheers" as you walk away. i really do feel warmed by the cheer they wish me. i walked the entire town in a day, as far up the hill as i could get without having a full day for the climb. to see the city foggily smiling back at me in the hazy colors of the setting sun soothed the sleepless nights of bus travel. i went out to a fancy restaurant, mama africa. they made me sit at the bar because they were so crammed. but the busboy came over with a napkin folded over his arm and lit a candle on the bar for me. i felt special and fawned over. i smiled to myself in that way that your thoughts roam over the happiest places of your life and in reflecting upon how perfect every moment of living can be, cracks of dimples and teeth peek through the stoic stranger face that you normally hold for public places. unfortunately this was an invitation for men to think that i wanted company. it took a bit of haggling between each course, but i managed to keep my peace and make an escape before the band played a kareoke tune dedicated and sang to me by the bloke who was bothering me. it was good eating though. game platter- ostrich, kedu, crocodile, springbok, and mixed game sausage.
the next day i woke at an ungodly hour and headed out to see the great whites. it was freezing and foggily raining. we chummed out the fish juice and sacrificed our rubber seal decoy "sammy" and soon enough, the sharks appeared. huge six feet long killers of the sea. viciously grabbing at sammy asd i screamed "run, sammy, run" while the crew reeled sammy closer to safety. after about two hours and four sharks, it was my turn to get into the freezing ocean waters and see if i had a date to the prom. sure enough, the minute i slipped down into the water, my beautiful pugnosed beast came for me. he smoothly glided by, bracing the cage slightly with his tail as he left me to find a better meal. i can remember every tooth in those blood red gums.
i got back from my adventure to rainy blustering cold, so i headed out for a movie and felt as though i was lost in chicago in my disorientation upon leaving. i had to leave capetown too early. everywhere in south africa too early. i am thinking that i might need more time here after madagascar. more time, the prayer of the traveler.
so i headed back to jo'burg to go for my tour of kruger national park. thank you thank you thank you to my mom and sister robin for convincing me not to be a cheapskate and skip kruger. this was by far the most amazing four days of my life.
i chose a walking tour, one with an armed ranger. (by the way, i was warned very earnestly by the british girls i have spent quite a few days with that there is nothing that brings out the girlish sighs of harlequinn romances come to life than being in the african bush with an armed ranger. i would have to second that fully. i thought i was stronger than those stereotypical damsel in distress sighs, but the daydreams do carry you away for a good hour when you first start hiking out there beneath the stares of predator eyes surrounding you.) our first night out, we walked in a single file line, rotating in a fashion for everyone to be at the front behind the ranger for about five minutes time. we found some rhino tracks, learned about the following of tracks, the freshness of dung (called scat if the animal is carnivorous!) and other soundless stalking techniques. i must admit. elmer fudd was preying in my brain singing "Kiw tha wabbit, (or in this case kiw the whino) and shhhh! we're hunting whinos". we returned to the car a bit unsuccessful only to spot a rhino by driving a few hundred meters (oh, by the way, i am now fully adapting to the metric system. forget feet, meters all the way, man)
we slipped one by one off the side and ranked into our line to stalk crouchingly closer to the calmly dozing rhino. so beautiful. he could twitch his ears, hearing us but unable to see us with his failing eyes. we got to within fifty meters of him, then my stupid flash went off on my camera and suddenly he sprang to his feet and leaped away in surprisingly graceful hops. thus we went back drinking beers under the sunset and starting our nocturnal hunt under the cover of the breaking moonlight. first off, we find lions lounging by the dam. we get within three meters of them in the car. the lions see the car as a solid object and never actually associate it with humans inside. thus we are safe as long as we are in the car. that philosophy fine and good, but when a lioness stares you straight in the eye from five feet (hee hee feet) away, your heart stops in its will to pump the frozen blood through your veins and you know what it would be like to be that deer in headlights unable to move as the car careens towards you with murderous intent. after the lions we returned to camp for dinner, coffee by the fire, and a night of trying to convince yourself that there is no hyena waiting to pounce on you as you walk from your tent to the toilet at night.
back on the trails in the morning. this time we find some buffalo (about 100 in one herd), springbok, impala (the mcdonald's of the bush, having a black M shape on their butts and being the favorite lunchtime snack for predators) and some giraffes. my favorite is definitely the giraffe. how can something so awkwardly self conscious of itself be so delicate? we walked back to the lions and they were less inclined to let us approach them on foot, so we only got about 150 meters away before they ran further in the bush. the night drive yielded a genet, a small leopard-like relative of the mongoose, and a chameleon that did NOT like life in the spotlight of the tourist flash. poor fellow.
the next day we moved camp to the other side of the private reserve. this camp is called tuskus. we soon discovered why. after an hour in camp, we spotted a herd of elephants roaming in the riverbed below our camp. the herd turned out to be a huge gathering of several herd, we are talking easily a hundred huge bulky elephants all playing in the reeds not 100 meters from our camp. we got in the car and drove all of 150 meters before we ran into elephants right out on the road from our camp. we turned off the engine while the hundred friends from the riverbed below came to munch on the green goodies closer to our camp. a huge bull, probably about 40 years of age, decided he did not like the look of our car (it is mating season and horny males tend to not like much of anything i guess) so he started to flap his ears and approach within three meters of the car. he pawed the ground, preparing for the charge. at this point, most of us tourists were frankly pissing our pants. our ranger, bret (isn't that the perfectly stereotypical ranger harlequinn romance novel name? hee hee. i love life like fiction) so anyway, our ranger then shouts "hey big boy, behave yourself" to this we get a full on trumpeting growl that means serious business. bret then slaps the side of the car so forceful we are all shaken, and shouts "F* OFF" and thus the elephant backs down, leaving us to gather what is left of our wits and puddle ourselves off of the jeep floor. luckily, elephants understand english. we returned to find camp surrounded by elephant. there was even one in the shower! it was the scariest moment of my life. i never imagined i would be more afraid of elephants than lions or buffalos or rhinos, but good god, there are so powerful, so fearlessly aggressive. the night was a tense one after they moved on. we went for a night drive, viewing hippos in the moonlight to the sparkling accompaniment of fireflies. magical, this place. completely enchanting. we returned to camp to drink lots of beer and huddle in a quaking mass by the fire as the elephants did a ballet between returning to our camp, munching over our tents and then retreating off to lull us into thinking they had finished with us. i drank a total of one beer in the three days previous, seven in the night of elephant's trumpeting in the not so distant darkness. that was a long night of no sleep. but the most exhilarating sleepless night one could have. we awoke to see the elephant accompanied by vultures on the other side of the river. the ranger said that this was the signal of an elephant birth, the vultures eat the placenta. that was the commotion of the night before. the noise that ceaselessly interrupted the silence. towards light, the lions started to growl in response. one of the other campers started taking light tranquilizers. valium and the like. we went for our last hike. indiana jones scenery, jumping across steep ravines and viewing the savanna in flowing as far as the eye can see into the horizon from the top of a mountaintop while refreshing mists of chilling rain clean the sweat from the face. i learned about plants, trees, surviving in the bush with nothing but the earth to live on. did you know there is bush soap (devil's thorn when wet produces antibacterial soap), bush toothbrush (stalks of bushes) and even bush toothpaste (we were looking but couldn't find it). i spent the week with brits and kiwis, being forever the strange american who dances alone in her tent while everyone else in napping. and says strange jokes that no one understands (alright, so that happens at home to me too...)
i never want to leave. but i want to see madagascar too. so tomorrow we are off to madagascar for three weeks. rain forest, diving in the indian ocean, lemurs, desert. what is there not on the island that is a world to itself. some of the most rare and unheard of plantlife and animal species found nowhere else on the planet, and only three weeks to fit it all in. so this has been a longwinded journey, and i am getting carpeltunnel syndrome from all the excitement. i love you all, i will be home (eventually) (hee hee) and my heart though split in two, still has a residence in chicago. so i will see you all on the other side of the indian ocean, i miss you and love hearing from all of you, emily

Tags: cape town, elephants, emily predny, great white shark diving, kruger park, predny, south africa



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