August 11, 2011


4:30am

There were animals in the campsite again last night. And this time, I definitely knew they were there. 

Sydney came out to see that they were giraffes, browsing the trees above my tent. He then scanned the area, and saw a leopard prowling about a hundred feet away. Also, the hippos, while not in our campsite, were very close. And they were talkative. Huh huh graaaaaah huh hahuh graaaaaaaah huh. Graaaaaah huh huh. 

Whoever goes on safari and stays in a place that has four solid walls is a YELLOW-BELLIED PANSY-ASSED WUSS. 

Graaaaaaaah!!!


5:30pm

SO! MANY! ANIMALS!

You know the opening scene in The Lion King when all of the animals gather around Pride Rock to meet baby Simba? That was what it was like today.

I seriously could not stop singing "The Circle of Life," especially the part with the key change (ahem... quietly and to myself).

(Yes, I'm aware I just mentioned The Lion King again.)

Kruger National Park, located in the northeastern part of South Africa, is an area roughly the size of Wales. (That's "Wales," Amaya, not "Whales.") It hosts thousands upon thousands of animals, and is the best place to see wildlife in South Africa. If you haven't seen "Battle at Kruger" on YouTube yet, go watch it right this second.   

There is much to write about, but I can't do so now. I'm off for a night drive through an animal reserve. More soon. 


9:30pm

I am so deliriously happy and so totally and wonderfully unnerved. Just got back from a night drive. Lots animals. In the dark. Really close. 

We drove to the reserve in the van, and then got into an open-air land rover, piloted by two guys who were basically Afrikaner versions of the Crocodile Hunter. They were totally irreverent, obviously enamored with all of the animals, and delighted to be doing their job. 

A seat was welded to the hood of the vehicle, where sat a tiny little silent guy with a really big flashlight. As we started down the dirt track, he began swinging the light back and forth, looking for the reflection of eyes.

After about ten minutes of driving in anticipatory silence (well, we were silent... the guides were enthusiastically bantering in Afrikaans), the tracker picked up a pale grey shape in the bush. "Ah, guys, here we go guys," whispered one of the guides. "A white rhinoceros.  Ooh, you are lucky tonight. One of the Big Five, guys, one of South Africa's most dangerous animals." And with that, he accelerated off the tracks and into the bush, putting me about five feet away from two enormous white rhinos, grazing under the moonlight. Seeing how I was the person closest to the animals, I asked, "Um, you said they were dangerous?" The guide laughed, hushed. "Oh, yeah, they've killed plenty of people. But don't worry. You're safe in the truck." 

Deciding to just completely trust the guide's expertise, I swallowed my fear and really looked at the two creatures, taking everything in. They were big and grey, with tubby middles and thick legs. Their horns protruded well past their large square mouths, which were pressed to the ground, munching up the grass. Their watery eyes sometimes looked our way, but mostly stayed focused beneath them. They were truly beautiful, in an odd kind of way, so enormous and docile. 

After a time we drove back to the tracks, and I cuddled into my wool blanket, enjoying the wind in my face. The moon was waxing full, and everything was bathed in a cool blue light, trees and scrub and grass. 

We came to a T in the tracks, and the tracker silently pointed left, illuminating a shape on the sand. The shape moved, and I saw that it was an animal's head, lifting from sleep. I knew it was a cat, but I didn't know what it was until it stood up, its long body offset by its relatively small head and long tail. Yellow, with black spots. A cheetah. 

The Afrikaners whispered excitedly and idled the vehicle closer, illuminating the cheetah in the glow of the headlights. She was shockingly beautiful, slender and elegant, and she began to trot down the road, her pregnant belly swinging gently back and forth. We followed her for a bit, but not too long -- cheetahs are diurnal and have poor night vision, so the guides didn't want to blind her, or keep her from sleep for too long. 

Next up was a giraffe, his silhouette comic above the trees. And then a whole herd of buffalo, the males with giant horns curving up on either side of their stern faces. Again the guides told us how dangerous they were, and again drove us right beside them and began mooing in their direction. The buffalos looked at us, bored, chewing their cud. Someone tentatively said, "they don't look very dangerous," to which the guide replied, "why don't you step off the truck and see what they can do?" They then laughed happily, moo'd some more, and continued on. 

We saw several more giraffe, some zebras, impalas, and kudu, and then the tracker shone his light through the savanna to reveal many, many eyes. "Oh, fantastic!" said the guide at the wheel. "Hey, hey, the pride's all here." He then drove right up to an entire pride of lions. Like, really, really close. Really close. A matter of feet close. 

Several females lay sleeping in the grass, one lioness gently licking the blood off of another. "Oh, looks like they've eaten already," said one of the guides. "We should be OK." He then pulled the truck up to a male, who was looking right at us, his mane massive around his unconcerned face. "Shine the light right in his eyes. We don't want him to get a clear view of us! Ha ha ha!"

Even though I knew the lions were full, even though I knew they had no interest in the vehicle, even though most of them were sleeping, a very strong and primal instinct came upon me, and I inadvertently leaned away from them, my heart pumping oxygen into my muscles, my senses acute. There is nothing like looking a wild lion in the eye from a mere ten feet away. Magnificent fear. 

After a few minutes of largely ignoring us, the male yawned (the teeth!), rolled onto his side, and put his massive paws over his eyes. Lying prone like that, he looked like a giant, cuddly house cat.

I'm back in my tent now, listening to the snorting of a leopard and the deep and swallowed roar of lions, feeling a little bit scared and a lotta bit lucky. 

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