August 10, 2011

I said farewell yesterday to my tiny little safari family. Nick and Kathy were really fun to travel with, and David was a fantastic guide, so it was sad to say goodbye. They dropped me off at a backpackers in Hartbeespoort yesterday afternoon. I was picked up this morning for the second leg of my safari (Kruger National Park).

The place I stayed last night was in a rural area, with many different kinds of antelope all around. I had a little cabin all to myself with a bed and a bathroom. Such luxury! I spent some time on the internet, reading many new business-type emails, which got me feeling all preoccupied and frustrated. After about an hour of fretting over a few things, however, I reminded myself that there's not much I can do from this side of the planet. I also reminded myself there's no need to get frustrated, that I don't have to engage with matters in a way that leaves me emotionally drained. This is a huge challenge for me, as I imagine it is with most people.

My alarm went off at 4:30 this morning, and I was shocked into hyper-drive as I threw on clothes, packed up my things, and went outside to meet up with Sydney, the guide for Kruger. After about an hour's drive, we picked up an Italian named Camilla and a Spaniard named Mark. I'm only just starting to get to know them, but they seem very nice. They both work in the film industry in Barcelona. This is something like their third time traveling through Africa. (Sometimes I feel so very provincial, but then I remember that America is really really big and also really really far away from away from many other countries. Still, I am resolved to travel more.)

After a truly beautiful drive through the high and rugged Blyde River Canyon, we arrived at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center, a rescue, rehabilitation, and breeding facility for rare animals. Getting on the safari vehicles and heading out into the enclosures, I was so epically happy, with a big dumb grin on my face. I find so much joy spending time with animals, and the animals at the center were truly magnificent. The cheetahs and wild dogs were definitely the highlight. It is amazing to see a cheetah move, as they are so obviously built for speed (a cheetah can go from 0 to 100kph in 2.5 seconds). And the wild dogs, exceedingly rare, were of great interest to me for obvious reasons. African wild dogs are the most efficient killers in Africa, eating about 80% of their kills (for comparison, cheetahs eat only about 30% of their kills, with 70% stolen by other animals). The reason why the wild dogs are so successful is that, when the pack makes a kill, they literally eat it alive, fully ingesting over half of their pray while it's heart is still beating. Aaaaaawesome.  

I'm camping tonight -- and for the next three nights -- in a game reserve right outside the park. There were giraffes hanging out just a little while ago. Right by my tent. No, seriously.

A braai tonight (BBQ) and then a full day in Kruger tomorrow. We'll be at the Orpen gates before sun-up. (Don't the Orpen Gates sound like they belong in Lord of the Rings?)

~ * ~

Hokay. So. I'm in my tent now, getting ready for bed. Before I turned in, I jokingly asked Andre, one of the guides, if I should keep my eye our for leopards if I had to get up in the middle of the night. I don't know why, but I kinda thought that since this is a more permanent campground, there wouldn't be, you know, leopards. So I was a little surprised when Andre nodded. I laughed, trying to suss out whether or not he was serious. He looked at me grimly. "If you have to get up, scan the area for eyes first, and then stick to the light." I realized he wasn't kidding around. "But leopards don't want to eat people, right?" Andre looked confused. "Why wouldn't they?" Taking a deep breath and trying to sound casual, I asked, "So... what's to stop them for coming into my tent?" 

Andre paused, thinking. "A zipper."

OK, well, ho hum, goodnight.