Travel Journal: Kruger National Park, South Africa

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March 2002

Going on safari was probably the most exciting thing I've ever done. It was great. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, you all should. Once you get to South Africa, which is very expensive to do, nothing costs anything (especially with the rand as it has been since the Zimbabwean elections–but it's horrible and selfish to see a silver lining in another country's unrest. I just slapped my own wrist.)

Anyways, I saw a ton of animals really close, most notably a leopard, several rhinos and elephants, hundreds of my favorite giraffes, and a wild dog (which is one of the rarest things to ever see–there are only 280 in all of Kruger National Park, which is the size of New Jersey). From the safety of a vehicle or the vicinty of an armed
ranger, I thought even the most ferocious of animals were totally cute. "Oh, look at that leopard taking a nap and cleaning blood off its fur! Hi, kitty!"

I was on a tour with 9 other people: 5 Britons, an Aussie, a Kanuck, and two Germans. At first, everyone else in the group was really quiet and blase about the experience; "more bloody impalas," was a common complaint. Then, I warmed them up with humor like this: on a night game drive, you are given huge spotlights which you scan the landscape with and then you're supposed to shout what animals's eyes you've seen and on which side of the jeep, like "Eyes right: baboon!" or "Eyes left: wildebeast!" So, once, when our guide got out of the truck to show us something, I yelled, "Eyes right: ranger!" And finally, everyone laughed. These foreigners are a tough crowd, I tell you, a tough crowd.

I've been to neither Yellowstone nor Yosemite, which I suppose are the key national parks in the states, but Kruger was amazing. Each campground had not only showers and flush toilets, but a party store and a pool. You can stay in tents, private huts, or larger chalets. And, of course, each campground is electric feced to prevent large animals from busting in. But you still hear hyenas and jackals all night. But for camping, it was quite civilized. The only drawback to the campsites is that they are full of mischevious monkeys. At first, I thought they were cute with their fork-stealing and jeep-rearview-mirror-unscrewing, but then one perched in a tree above me, looked down and crapped on me. Yeah, I got deliberately pooped on by a monkey. If only I had worn a safari hat.

I have two other fun facts about poop in the bushveld ("the veld" is what the locals call it; "the bush" is strictly for tourists, but leads to funny things like a luxury safari company named "Execubush").

Poop story #2: leopards mark their territory by pooping on top of high things like ant hills, but when the park installed beautiful new stone podiums for signposts, leopards started pooping on top of them, too.

Poop story #3: male dung beetles roll two-inch-diameter balls of poop and then roll them up to a female. If it meets her approval, she will climb on top of it and he'll roll her to a location that she will select. Imagine the pick-up lines: "hey baby, do you like my ball of shit? Do you want to ride on my ball of shit?"
Besides the guides, drivers, and rifle-armed rangers, going on safari entails the hiring of an expert tracker. Our tracker, Frank, was a third generation tracker. He could jump off the jeep, look at the ground, and pronounce "The hyena she hunt the zebra here." And, sure enough, in a few hundred yards, we'd come upon hyenas chowing on zebra.

On the final night of safari, we stayed in a swanky private game preserve lodge. I can't even guess which expletive I would have selected if any of you had ever asked me whether I would ever pick up a phone and utter the phrase "Robbie, do you think you could have my landrover pick me up from the pool bar and take me back to me room?" But there I was at the pool bar and needing a ride accross some crocodile-infested land and Robbie was the manager, and what was I supposed to do?

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