Saturday, 3 August 2013
The Other Africa
I now understand why tourists spend millions of dollars every year to go on safari in Africa. Because it is worth every last shiny cent.
This is what I've been up to for the last two days:
Wake up at 5.30 am. Those of you who know me know that I'm often just turning in at this hour, so this is the only thing about the experience that is less than stellar.
6 am coffee and muffins.
6.30 am: game drive in the bush. And I mean the bush. Our stalwart driver Herold actually drives over bushes and deadfall - some as tall as 5 feet - in the converted land rovers that drive like tanks. But for all of you conservationists, don't you worry - our path is virtually invisible within minutes of barreling through - the growth is that thick. The elephants make a much bigger mess than we do.
The morning drive lasts 3.5 hours, which I thought would feel long, especially in the cold of the early morning. But it's over in a blink, and it may just been the most exciting 3.5 hours of the day.
To quote our lovely Kayley, "I'm pretty sure this is where they shot The Lion King." The countryside is gorgeous - autumn colors, even though it's winter now, low scrubby brush, tall grass, deep sandy river valleys, rolling hills, forest, twisty Halloweeny trees, occasional palms and spikey acacias. You can't help but say to yourself in awe: "It looks like Africa!"
And then there are the animals. Giraffes, zebras, elephants, rhinos, hippos, monkeys, baboons, buffalo, a million different kinds of antelope and deer. Gorgeous, colorful birds - the sound track is just as engaging as the view.
But best of all, for me anyway, are the cats. Two leopard sightings yesterday - one, a young male fishing in the river (his name means courage in the local language because he isn't scared of anything - hyenas or land rovers alike). This fella actually caught a fish, but spent more time grooming his feet - they don't like water any more than a housecat, and he couldn't wait to get his feet dry. The other leopard we saw was a watchful mother with her two cubs. The cubs wrestled like kittens and rubbed heads and groomed each other - no more than 10 feet away from us.
And then there were the lions: four females and three big males. Again, we were able to watch them from not more than 8-10 feet away. Totally relaxed around us, they lolled and ate and groomed themselves. It was amazing to see their similarities to my kitties back home. I love that my girls are just like mini-lions in their habits.
Today we saw four shy rhinos, and tons of elephants and buffalo and zebra and giraffe. And we drove through (literally through) some of the most remarkable country you could possibly imagine.
So, imagine doing this in the morning, getting back to the camp - and when I say camp, I actually mean luxury villa - for 10 am, eating a huge breakfast, relaxing for a few hours, and then going for another 3.5 hour drive around 3pm.
Then dinner in the BOMA (British Officers Mess Area - so very, very colonial). And dinner is a fancy four course affair - with five star food and great company.
Then sleep, rinse and repeat.
Today I got back to camp after our early morning drive to an urgent text message from the family I was staying with in White River. Their youngest boy has come down with the measles. I was supposed to stay with them for tomorrow night - my last night in Africa.
But one quick phone call later, I rearranged my plans to stay with my new friend Jaclyn from my Hands team instead. We're going to have a slumber party for my last night.
It feels pretty great to be more than half the world away from all my friends and family, and yet have someone to call for a last minute couch-crash. It's amazing how little time it takes to make good friends.