Christine and I once again are trading the winter chills of Canuckistan for some far-flung adventures abroad. Seeking to put a little extra flash in the dash between the dates on our tombstones, we’re traveling via Amsterdam, to explore the Republic of South Africa and the enigmatic Kingdom of Swaziland.
We land at the below sea level Schiphol airport, hoping the Dutch kid is plugging the dyke with his finger. After a train into Amsterdam we’re soon disoriented amid a labyrinth of streets and canals while trying to locate our 1780 built B & B on the corner of Herengracht and Keizersgracht – a mouth mangling spew when trying to ask for directions. Our first impression of the harrumphing Dutch language is that it sounds like these ‘tulip treasurers’ are suffering from either a bronchial infection or a dragonfly lodged in their throats!
Having a membership with IBDOM (International Brotherhood of Dirty Old Men), I talk Christine into checking out the legendary maze of alleyways forming the carnival of vice; the notorious Red Light District. The world’s oldest profession has been exercised for hundreds of years, and this area of ill-repute serves as a magnet for visitors on the prowl from abroad; or perhaps I should say FOR a-broad!
The sex saturated scene is home to a plethora of live porn shows, haze-filled marijuana ‘coffee shops’, and bountiful sex shops with erotica and anatomically correct dildos on display. Scarlet red lights illuminate ‘window brothels’ rented by prostitutes in various stages of undress and wearing smiles of pornographic promise while promiscuously promoting enjoyments of the flesh by provocatively parading their naughty.
Scantily clad and heavily painted hookers clad in silk and lace ‘John-fish’ from their windows and men with lust-fueled eyeball-lock blatantly leer at them like a dog eying a pork roast. Those opting to lust wrestle are busy negotiating a fee to lease the ladies lips and loins. I now have a whole new perspective on ‘window shopping’, and doggone it; I can’t help but think of a new version of an old song: ‘How much is that lady in the window, the one with the waggly tail’.
We are startled as a door bursts open right in front of us, with one of these carnal creatures jumping out clad only in her G-string. With her hands posed to imitate claws, the fleshy fem-fatale aggressively growls at me like a wild tigress. Yikes, talk about delivering a seriously ‘titillating’ start to the city!
The city has some 1,200 bridges, and rather than drive a car most folks opt to ride a bicycle or ‘fiet’. They pump through the narrow streets straddling their heavy bikes with big-ass seats, upright handlebars, and often an assortment of box-like additions for carrying kids or cargo. It’s obvious that cycling is a way of life in A-Dam, and it’s taken so seriously that cyclists even rate their own bike lanes and traffic lights!
Renting a couple of the Dutchie style bikes, we pedal a path next to the Amsel River out to the village of Ouderkerk. Stroking rowers glide silently past and the background is painted with a smattering of scenic old windmills and verdant fields of green enhanced by bountiful magpies and pheasant.
Marijuana is as readily available as a quart of milk, and the pungent aroma so rampant you can practically get high just wandering around! Grocery shopping for a joint is an interesting new experience, which not surprisingly puts me in the mood for food. For happy hour we stop in at an organic market for some cheese, dates, and figs to accompany a bottle of tasty rum we kidnapped from Canada.
Passing a young girl sitting in a chair with her feet in the air, a young man is busy lathering them in peanut butter! Thinking perhaps they’ve both been hit upside the head with a wooden clog, stop to chat, and learn it’s a silly old Dutch game, where the girl must be carried across town by friends without her feet touching the ground. To us it looks rather repugnant, much like she’s been walking barefoot through a dog park!
Heading to the airport at 6 a.m., when most hookers have long since closed their legs for the night, we notice a mistress of the mattress in leather and lace, sitting in a window and displaying a wealth of womanly epidermis. At this odd hour we’re unsure if this eager beaver is just ending her nocturnal naughtiness and holding out for a Johnny-come-lately, or optimistically trying to get the jump on any horny early-birds.
Checking in at the airport for our flight to South Africa, security is so damn tight I learn that I don’t have prostate cancer! As our flight nears touchdown we acquire a niggling case of the Johannesburg jitters, knowing it’s the second most dangerous city in the world. According to police reports, in and around Jo’Berg last year there were 4,216 murders, 7,900 attempted murders, 12,000 rapes, and 8,884 car jackings equaling 23 a day every day of year!
It is almost midnight by the time we collect our rental car to commence our African adventure, and leaving Johannesburg airport we search for the road to take us to for our pre-booked accommodation. With the night as black as a raven’s rump, I grip the steering wheel in a knuckle-busting squeeze while driving on the opposite side of the road, shifting with the left hand, and mistaking windshield wipers for turn signals. Struggling to decipher unknown road signs and knowing about the possibility of getting jacked, I am thinking we might be better off sandpapering a lion’s ass while wearing a pair of pork chop panties!
Damn, only five minutes outside of the airport and we’re already victims of our erroneous directional decisions. Being lost with this time of night trouble prime time, we’re as nervous as a couple of chickens in a pillow factory! After what seems an eternity and several botched attempts, we find the proper turnoff, and with all senses on alert, follow directions to the guest house. Not a moment too soon, we arrive at a tall electrified barbed wire fence. Stabbing the bell with my finger, and vigorously shaking the locked steel gate, we awaken a coal-black security guard who groggily permits us entry. Halle-fucking-luiah, we’ve made it!
We ask him about the safety of drinking tap water. ‘Oh ya’ says he, ‘we half da turd best drinking vater in da vorld’. We take a big drink, brush our teeth, and call it a night. Next morning at breakfast, a white manager tells us to be careful to not drink any tap water as there’s been a Typhoid outbreak in an underground reservoir nearby, with nine locals already dying from it! Perhaps the guard was pissed we woke him up?
We begin the long jittery journey across the country, quickly noticing the aggressive foot-to-the-floor drivers on SA’s roads. I’m doing the speed limit of a buck twenty, but drivers still race up behind us flashing their lights, before screaming past in their metal missiles as if we are parked. Oh lovely; a nation of flashers!
We anxiously maneuver the slender roads towards Swaziland’s Oshoek border crossing, dodging on-coming lumber trucks, pedestrians, goats, and numerous kamikaze cattle. After showing our passports and the car documents at the border, and of course paying some ‘taxes’, the shifty uniforms let us pass.
We are now in the Kingdom of Swaziland, the smallest country in Africa, land-locked between Mozambique and South Africa. Conditions here are a hair above desperate, as reflected by the country’s statistics; 80% illiteracy rate, 40% unemployment rate, and 40% HIV infected (highest in the world). Also, 70% live on an average daily income of $1 or less, and 1/3 of the people need food aid for survival. These are the appalling kind of numbers that have us wondering if perhaps we should have opted for Switzerland over Swaziland!
The Kingdom is run by King Mswati III, a corrupt to the core despot recently voted as one of the ten worse dictators in the world. While his people starve, this waste of skin enjoys a ludicrously lavish lifestyle, including the purchase of private jets and a fleet of high end Mercedes automobiles for his many wives.
The King is also subject to sweeping criticism for his support and practice of polygamy, as each year he chooses a virgin teenage bride at the ‘Reed Dance’ to marry. This event was held last month, with more than 50,000 bare-breasted virgins vying to become the 13th wife of this dickhead, who actually stages the gala to add yet another little coco goddess to his stable. Obviously into screwing more than just the country, he is a textbook example of someone who ought to be neutered to prevent any further spawn!
Not surprisingly, a dearth of foreigners travel to this catastrophic country, and with our white skin we’re standing out like flamingos in a coal mine. People we pass never wave or say hello unless we do so first as apparently it would be a sign of disrespect. Nonetheless, we always make an effort to initiate a greeting, and are almost always rewarded with huge smiles leaping from the harsh looking black faces.
As part of our fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants approach to traveling, we have no hotel booked and need to hunt down a bed to lay our head. On Mhlambanyatsi Road in the town of Malkerns we stumble across a sweet place called Malandela’s, that functions as both an inn and restaurant on a large sugar cane plantation.
After unloading our backpacks we head to Mkhaya to book a land rover for a game drive for tomorrow. We are informed that it will be our lucky day, as of their five vehicles ours will be the only one in use, and even better, we are going to be the only ones in it! Sounds like the perfect plan; a private safari in Swaziland.
Before leaving to get some dinner, we have our first sighting of a warthog; an inelegant oddball suffering the daft indignity of being constructed with a horrid head so massive the beast has to dine while snuffling about on its front knees. This helps the neck muscles support the heavy boar-like cranium and protruding tusks on a critter that clearly got a bad roll of the dice in the looks department! Nearby, an ostrich sashays toward us with its wings open and begins hopping about with its dreadfully ugly two-toed feet scratching about in the dirt. We decide to name the flightless fowl Patrick. Yep, ‘Patrick Swazi the Dirty Dancer’!
On the drive to Mkhaya today for our safari we try slaloming around as many potholes as possible, but our tires are still a-thump when we finally exit at the laughably named village of Hhelehhele. After a couple of quick strokes of the pen absolving the camp of potential injuries or death, we are introduced to a Swazi tracker named Siprakeen who is to be our driver and guide.
Our decrepit transport is crudely wired together. Half the dashboard is missing; as are the door handles and panels. There are wiper blades but no windshield, and the sloppy jalopy looks like it’s been attacked by a can opener, as its roof has gone missing! Oh well, at least there will be nothing to impede our view!
On the dusty tracks we first spot the usual suspects; wildebeest, antelope, and zebra. Then, using ‘bush eyes’, born of long habit, Sip spots an amazing sight. A rare black rhino and a large Cape buffalo stand nose to nose in what appears to be some sort of stare down! Sip thinks they may both be old loners, as black rhinos are solitary animals and older buffalo get banished from the rest of their herd. Perhaps having found each other alone in the bush, the undainty odd couple is merely craving companionship.
The two seemingly love-struck beasts inch closer and closer to each other, and actually touch noses. With a snort, the rhino then gives the buffalo a mighty shove knocking it backwards, before they come together once again. Maybe this is their foreplay? What a sight; even Sip is captivated, having never, in his many years of tracking, ever seen this cross species drama before. Quite an auspicious start to our Swazi safari!
Siprakeen next spots elephants, and proceeds hither and yon over the lumpy landscape in pursuit, while we tightly hang on to the vehicle to minimize the chances of being thrown out of our frontier-era seats. Suddenly we’re feeling as insignificant as gnats when stopping within 2 to 3 meters of these ‘Gods of Girth’. Being close enough to actually hear the 13 foot high, 13,000 pound behemoths breathe, I can assure you, rates seriously high on the scareometer!
The jeeps engine is switched off to help keep them calm, but we’re nervous as a worm in a fishing derby, and our hearts are thumpty-thumping with concern about a potential squashing should the ‘Ellys’ decide to throw a tantrum. While the voracious feeders are tugging at thorn trees branches and stuffing the needle sharp twigs into their mouths to munch, their schnoz is already back in the tree ripping off their next mouthful. It seems the humongous herbivores are naturals when it comes to multi-tusking.
The portly pachyderms focus their beady eyes on us and we return the gesture. Fortunately they don’t seem overly concerned and eventually lumber off in search of fresh twigs; bringing an ease to our faces as their wrinkled rumps increase the turf between us!
Our bucket of bolts continues rattling over the parched ground, and then with waves of adrenaline we stop beside a herd of Cape buffalo. With horns perfectly mimicking a flip-style 60’s hairdo they look docile, but are in fact, responsible for about 200 fatal attacks on humans each year. The unpredictable testy beasts prefer to charge first and ask questions later, and my ruthless analysis of the situation has me wondering if my darling wife may also possess some Cape buffalo DNA in her genes!
Being within spitting distance, we can clearly observe Oxticker birds hoping about the buffalo’s faces as their jaws slide side to side chewing grass. The little birds have more guts than a slaughterhouse floor and actually crawl into the animal’s ears, nostrils, and even their mouths in search of little birdie edibles.
What makes our day so special is being alone with nature, and having the luxury of spending as little, or as much time as we want at any of our sightings. Around midday we stop for an arranged picnic lunch at a rugged place called Stone Camp and are greeted by screeching blue crested guinea fowl clearly in a flap over our arrival.
A solo table has been set up on a dried river bed, and our nostrils seize the tantalizing aromas of wildebeest sausages grilling over an open fire pit. Sleek and cautious impala graze nearby, but when spooked, they pronk away across the plains as if on pogo sticks. I suppose these lovely and plentiful creatures have reason to be justifiably anxious, being Africa’s perfect predator snack food.
Rumbling along in the jeep while continuing our game of ‘I Spy’, our eagle eyed tracker glimpses the caramel spotted coat of an Alp-tall giraffe. Stoked to see it, but not quite close enough for a good picture, Siprakeen says to me, ‘you want closer’? I tell him ‘sure’, figuring he will drive the vehicle a bit closer. ‘OK, come’ he says, and jumps, since none of the doors open, out of the vehicle.
Christine and I might be sticking our necks out, but we put our faith in him and climb out to follow him into the bush. At least 50 meters from the vehicle, we patiently stalk the stratospheric animal with quiet legs like herons on the hunt. Sip suddenly thrusts up a hand and says STOP! The assumption we’re in no danger is shattered on hearing the snap of a branch, and in an ‘uh-oh’ moment we realize our perilous predicament. With our blood pumpin’, heart thumpin’, and knees abumpin’, we turn our heads to find ourselves face-to-face with two tons of raw menace, in the form of a mother rhinoceros and her calf!
A mere 6 or 7 meters apart from the horny herbivores with only air between us, I assume they are less than pleased with our trespass. I glance at Christine, staring back with big brown ‘omigosh’ eyes and eyebrows vanishing into her hairline. Our moral mandate is to flee back to the jeep, but Sip tells us NO!
I am armed with only a journal; and oh yes, a ballpoint pen. It’s just that, well, apparently these ‘hornery-looking’ bad tempered goliaths have yet to familiarize themselves with the intimidating power of a small, hand-held writing instrument!
Sip tells us to very slowly back up towards the vehicle and not make any sudden movements, which I suppose means other than our involuntary knee knocking. We are almost back when nature’s armored tanks start to lumber toward us, perhaps thinking our battered transport a long lost relative!
You know, it’s actually quite amazing how fast you can get in a vehicle with no doors if you have the right motivation! Gentlemen, start your engines. Our deodorant gets a serious workout today, having now had the true, heart-in-the-throat, sweaty-palms, hoping-that-I-don’t-die safari experience. Whew!
After a day sprinkled with magical ‘remember-when’ moments, we bid a most fond farewell to Sipraken, and begin our 75 km drive back to Malkerns. Along the way back I acquire an afternoon urge to bang back a bevy of barleys, so we make a pit stop in a questionable looking enclave.
Christine locks herself in the car as I optimistically wander into an impoverished food store looking to buy beer which they do not have. However, a dreadlocked guy standing nearby overhears my request, and says ‘You want beer; I help’. The first guy in the store says ‘you go with him’, so I follow the guy around behind the store and down a dirt path leading to a shack. The door opens, and over the shoulder of the two people inside, I can see a big crusted iron door that is padlocked. ‘Come in’ he says.
Attempting to assess his character I frisk him up and down with my eyes, concerned about the possibility of either being robbed or having internal organs sold on the black market. My intestines clench as the hinges squeal in complaint when a woman in a filthy dress opens the locked door, revealing only a mattress on the dirt floor and fridge. However, to my relief she opens the fridge and removes three large bottles of beer!
With barleys in hand I get back into the car, and Christine gives me Hell for disappearing out of sight. After relating the story to her she just shakes her head, before begrudgingly joining me in a small chuckle. As we later learn, it is illegal for most stores to sell beer, and what I visited is a place to purchase bootlegged booze called a ‘Shenee’; purposely hidden away from the Swazi police.
Back at Malandela’s we order wine, an appy of Brie with black cherry, and chicken camembert mains. Sitting in the cheery atmosphere in front of a mammoth crackling fireplace, I propose a toast to what’s been one of our most fantastic days ever! Christine, my little supplier of awesomeness, agrees and ever the politically correct gem, purrs in unabashed adoration; ‘except of course my darling, for the day I married you!’ Ahh yes, that’s my baby – Sugar in Shoes. There are days when I just love dat woman to the marrow!
We awake to a chorus of croakomaniac frogs voicing their pleasure in the nearby cane fields, as for the first time in months rain is falling, with the deluge leaving newborn ponds. Rain is also welcomed by locals as the thirsty ground in this parched country desperately needs it in order for farmers to plant their crops.
Both day and night I’ve been hearing what sounds like a large grunting pig, and at breakfast I ask the staff about it. This draws blank stares as they do not understand the word pig. I give my best snorting pig impersonation and they proceed to the fridge and pull out some bacon, thinking I want to put more pork on my fork. OK, we’re getting there. Gesturing, I query if pigs are outside, but receive negative head shakes.
The next day I hear the noise again, but I’m still disgruntled not to see any pigs. Finally, just before leaving, my pig-ignorance comes to an end when I learn my mysterious pork chop in waiting is nothing more than a rumble strip on a road hidden by bushes out behind of our cabin! My face radiates a scarlet pig-mentation, as much to my chagrin; Christine cannot resist persistently heckling me about my mysterious ‘Swazi swine’!
Our time in Swaziland passes quickly, and we’re bound for the South Africa border post at Jeppes Reef. Ascending the mountain road we are greeted by a frustrating weather menu of rain and cold, with a side order of fog. A mud and stone hut displaying soapstone carvings draws our attention, so we pull over and meet an old guy with perhaps the gnarliest pair of hands we’ve ever seen. We buy three of his beautiful pieces and take the opportunity to warm our hands over the hot coals in his open burning wood fire.
One last unforeseen stop is made when stumble across a group of tykes wrapped in skirts made of leaves doing a little dance to the beat of an older fellow whacking a hide-stretched drum. We leave them enthusing over a supply of new pencils before continuing our drive to the South Africa border. Thankfully, after all the driving we’ve managed to avoid the sleazy Swazi police, who are noted for being as crooked as a barrel of fishhooks and preying on any foreign visitors to try and fleece them of their cash.
Once in South Africa our first stop is Komatipoort, a town marking the border with Mozambique. After spending a night at a funky little B & B called ‘Trees Too’, we stock up on food supplies for our upcoming four day sojourn in the renowned Kruger National Park.
Along Lower Sabie River we spot a ‘bloat’ of hippos appearing to be in grave need of a consult with Jenny Craig! The blubberites may seem docile, but in fact, have a real bad ‘fatitude’ along with a reputation for occasionally going psycho and killing more humans in Africa than any other animal. Males can weigh up to 7000 lbs., but surprisingly, the hurried heap of hostile cellulite can outrun humans on land! The twitchy-eared river horses also possess cavernous jaws with massive canines up to 20 inches in length, so not daring to venture any closer to the enormous enamel, we quickly say bye-bye to the hippopotami.
After a belly-bulging breakfast it’s time to get intimate with the Kruger, and our excitement surges as we immerse ourselves in the vastness of a five million acre wildlife park; studded with horns, tusks, antlers, and claws. We slather on Mozzie repellent as the area can be prone to malaria, the ‘silent tsunami’ in Africa taking over 1.5 million human lives per year; about three deaths every minute!
While out roving the roads today we’re treated to an encounter with some mammals we have always looked up to. The beautifully patched camouflaged fur and non-stop legs and necks of the lofty giraffes make them such a pleasure to watch. Their movie star eyelashes, awkward elegance, and modelesque manner makes us think the top fashion models must undergo ‘giraffe training’ for their leggy struts down the runways.
Apparently the nubby-headed, knobby-kneed giraffes love eating leaves of the tasty but clever Acacia tree. When nibbled on, this tree releases a chemical into the air to ‘warn’ other trees, which then create a yucky taste to discourage the hungry herbivores. Now the giraffe is not stupid either, and in a nifty nuance of nature, it actually eats in a certain wind direction so the smell is not carried to other trees in its eating path!
While watching a troop of gangster-like baboons, they angrily flash their ivories at us in a simian grimace, so I give them the finger and close the window. Another stop for a herd of Elleys causes even more anxiety as a massive ornery bull begins flapping his mattress-sized ears, and aggressively false charges toward us. With the car in gear, my foot pops the clutch, quickly putting distance between the incredible bulk and ourselves to avoid a possible tromp-n-stomp. Quite a wild first day with nature in the incredible Kruger!
In camp we’re sequestered away behind a high electronic fence to keep out the cult of critters prowling the perimeter in search of a two-legged dinner. It’s like a reverse zoo, where we are the ones in the cage and the safety fence prevents what might otherwise be an open invitation to a human flesh-tasting event.
Our bare-bones hut has no shower, only hot and cold taps. This requires splashing ourselves with water before soaping up; then, using the dexterity of contortionists in a game of Twister, stuffing as many body parts as possible under the tap to rinse the African day off our skin.
Not feeling like cooking tonight, we mosey over to the camp’s only makeshift restaurant which is simply a few tables on the platform of an abandoned railway station; with the train still in it. I try to order a hamburger but the African waiter, a character named ‘Doctor’, won’t hear of it. He keeps saying ‘Man must have rump’, referring to a rump steak meal on the menu. I can’t help but snigger at his comment.
Now, derrIere on the side of caution and ass-tutely ass-ess the ass-ets? I ass-ume you won’t be ass-tounded to learn that I am indeed a ‘rump man’; and in fact consider myself somewhat of a’ rumpologist’. Butt, rather than get behind in my musings about colossal cabooses, I ass-ure you I’ll stop being such an ass!
Seeking to make the most of our pilgrimage in the park, we rouse ourselves at 4:30 a.m. and grab a bite to eat before zooming out of camp. I pass the only two cars ahead of us and it soon pays off as we’re the first to approach two fierce and bloated male lions swaggering down the road wearing goatees of blood.
The ‘Lords of the Land’ do their grocery shopping at night, and these big bellied bad boys are likely headed home to crash for the day. Our pulse quickens as we pull up beside them and roll down the window to shoot them with a camera. Obviously, being made of meat, there’s no getting out of the car in a landscape that can kill. It’s definitely a dog-eat-dog world here, and we’re the ones wearing the Milk Bone underwear!
Today is yet another flawless day, with a canary yellow sun radiating from a robin’s-egg blue sky. Luckily our car has air-con, because by late morning the African days get griddle-hot. On the positive side, the heat means we will likely remain unmolested by any mosquitos possibly carrying a snootful of malaria.
On a muddy river bank a few crocs lounge in the sun, wearing a perpetual grin from their overlapping teeth. During our sentinel of these shoes and handbags in waiting several fur-bearing animals warily wander past the prehistoric lizards for a drink. Driving back to camp along a seemingly emptyish looking stretch of road our peepers are propped open looking for the next sighting. Glancing in the rear mirror we notice we’re now being tailgated by a tower of loping giraffes; another highlight taking our day to a new level.
Partaking in our now habitual ritual of rehashing the day over a few ‘sundowners’, we decide that tonight we are doing the cooking. I’m convinced last night’s dog-toy tough rump steak was none other than a fried flip-flop, and the rest of the food on offer looked about as appealing as a three finger prostate exam!
After my journal jottings, I get the bird-brained idea to scatter around some bread to try and entice a few crumb-snatchers. Sure enough, my bread spread soon gathers an array of fancy feathers, including my favorite; a yellow-billed hornbill with a jumbo yellow beak that makes it look like a giant flying banana!
Tonight we’re off on a sunset safari with a few others in a large open-sided vehicle. Regular vehicles are simply not permitted in the park after dark, with the bush becoming even more dangerous than during the day. By the light of the setting sun and an awakening moon, our vehicle cruises by a gnarly dead thorn tree filled with a committee of vultures silhouetted in black against a fuchsia sky; a timeless depiction of Africa.
As the drooping sun bids the day farewell we sight a large herd of Elleys. Others in the truck are gushing, but by now this is now old hat for us. For some reason a big male trumpets a warning and the entire herd quickly close ranks around two baby elephants for protection. The ranger says this happens when they catch the scent of danger which may be due to a lion or leopard; or perhaps in this case, a whiff of my socks!
The so-called ‘Big 5’ (lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, elephant and rhino) are so named for being the most dangerous beasts to encounter on foot. The night has been productive, and we’re elated with our ocular achievement in spotting all of the fearsome five-some, and especially pleased with the rare sighting of a lithe leopard languidly lounging up in a lofty tree.
At sunrise we’re again off Kruger cruising, this time from Satara Camp north to Oliphants; an area called the ‘killing fields’ due to the carnage of the big cats. We’re delayed by a living road block of cantankerous Cape buffalo standing across the road and sniffing the air aloofly. It’s quite clear the black-eyed, blunt-brained behemoths are in no hurry to move so we just wait them out with a healthy dose of patience.
Soon, we come to a place where the law of the jungle has prevailed. Right beside the dirt road is a huge male lion with one of these same Cape buffalos recently taken away from life. We can’t believe our good luck, and stop within a few meters of this magnificent beast. With the car window down, we have a perfect voyeuristic view for a mesmerizing lesson in felinology. The complete under belly of the buffalo is torn open, and the apex predator is lying beside his kill resting his head upon the cavernous cadaver as if it were a pillow.
Suddenly, the gazers become the ‘gazees’ as the big cat turns his massive, shaggy maned head and looks straight at us with a predatory stare; appraising us like we may be tender prime rib in a four-wheeled display case. His golden eyes are enormous and his salivating mandibles hint that we too could quickly qualify as organ donors! This killer’s ‘catitude’ is frightening, and since we don’t much fancy him picking his teeth with our rib bones we leave him be. The spellbinding sight makes for an ‘un-fur-gettable’ encounter, and convinces us that when it comes to killer critters, the Kruger is definitely the ‘greatest show on turf’.
Leaving the jaws and claws of Kruger, we enter an area called Mpumalanga at the start of a scenic Panoramic Route through the mountains. After a few hours driving we stop at a B & B called SerINNdipity in the curious little town of Sabie. We want to do some exploring, but as we’re about to head out for a morning run the owner cautions us that the trail we’ve chosen is well known black mamba territory! Now, I’m always up to try a new trail, but with a possibility of pre-breakfast injection of neurotoxins, the run is overruled. Mountain biking to a waterfall sounds like a much improved option with greater longevity!
Huffing our bikes along a trail with unabundant shade, we’re scolded by a raucous group of monkeys, and the relentless fiery sun is taking its toll as we absent-mindedly forgot to bring along drinking water. The trail worsens, becoming rock strewn and impossible to ride, but having come this far, an impromptu decision is made to carry the hefty bikes up the steep terrain. Almost at the falls, Christine’s dehydration catches up with her big time, causing her to faint and face plant on the dusty trail. Luckily she avoids hitting the rocks, and a rare hiker passing by kindly offers some of his water. This seems to revive her, and after a brief rest, she calmly dusts herself off and the two of us slowly cycle back to the Inn.
Tonight, in Sabie’s bizarre restaurant, I make the erroneous decision to order steak with ‘monkey gland’ sauce; which for reasons unfathomable seemed like a good idea at the time. It is, in fact, a thought that needed a longer incubation, as this alien ingredient is an inferno ambush lurking on a plate! It’s like I’ve just swallowed an ignited blowtorch! With my eyes pumping tear-water, I vow that in the future I will most certainly approach Africa’s devil condiments with a whole new level of vigilance!
After a couple of days slither by we’re on the road again. Severe fog with near zero visibility hovers in the steepest parts of the canyon, making for some nerve-jangling driving as the road climbs past appropriately named places such as Misty Mountain, The Staircase, and The Devils’ Knuckles.
Thanks to a malfunction of my internal compass, we end up lost in some poverty stricken township outside a small town called Lydenberg, which worryingly translates to ‘place of suffering’. Concerned about our safety in these surrounds, I roll my window down to ask for directions. A nasty looking one eyed woman, looking like she’s just dismounted from her broomstick, points a bony black finger at us and rasping like a bullfrog with emphysema, croaks out ‘you – back town’. We’re not sure if this is meant as a threat, but the old skank is glaring at us with a cloudy evil eye so we opt to seek answers to our logistical woes elsewhere!
Correcting our error we arrive in the high-altitude town of Dullstroom in the mist-belt, but uneasy with the feel of the place, push on to Belfast; the next town on the map. This too is an unmemorable and dislikeable mining town, but with fatigue now fogging my judgement we decide to halt for the night.
Belfast is one of the coldest towns in all of South Africa, and just after finding a room the power goes out. The room is gooseflesh cold and we’re sadly missing our fleece jackets accidentally left in Johannesburg. Deciding the prevention of hypothermia shall be rum sundowners; one leads to another, and then another, and soon we find ourselves getting bombed in Belfast by the IRA (Inflicted Rum Alcohol). So, in an atypical moment of maturity, we cap the bottle and call it a night, as we can’t afford to be pinned to the sheets tomorrow from excessive ‘rum-and’ decisions tonight.
Joyful to see the town rapidly diminishing in the rear view mirror, we head for Pretoria on drive certainly fatal to boredom. Coming to shantytowns of corrugated tin shacks bleeding rust, my foot gets rests a little heavier on the gas pedal noticing bold posted highway signs reading ‘Danger – Hi Jacking Hot Spot’!
Elatedly we arrive in Pretoria, also called ‘Jacaranda City’ because of its 70,000 trademark Jacaranda trees. Our timing is perfect as the trees are now absolutely drenched in purple blooms. We’ve been invited to stay at a friend’s 1930’s built estate house, and immediately notice the obvious safety concerns. The place is barricaded with protective cement walls studded with jagged broken glass, adorned with razor barb-wire and electrical fencing, and the owner informs us she also sleeps with a loaded gun under her pillow!
Keen for a further fix of fur, we drive to a wildlife reserve an hour out of town, for the exciting opportunity of an up close and purr-sonal visit with some tiger and lion cubs. People are taking pictures from outside, but after signing an indemnity form and paying a token fee, I’m given permission to venture inside the cage.
These monster mousers are only 5 to 7 months old, and it’s a thrill to pet and wrestle about with them. During a game of rope tug-o-war with a gorgeous Bengal tiger cub it impressively drags me across the ground. I cannot possibly contemplate the strength of fully grown tiger! I am totally smitten by these over-sized kittens but soon learn just how quick the cuddly carnivores can be, as one of the playful lion cubs springs towards me, ripping the flesh on my hand and drawing blood. Mauled by a lion in Africa; I love it!
Driving from Pretoria back to Johannesburg, where our Africa adventures all began, we’re met by our friend Wiggy, with whom we will stay. We pass the sprawling township of Soweto, a proliferation of shacks looking like very undesirable real estate! Our keenness is further diminished when learning he’s now headed into the bowls of Jo’Burg; bravely taking us for a wander through the city’s fascinating market. From a couple of interesting looking characters we purchase a bone necklace and Angola Chokwe mask as mementos.
We invite Wiggy and his wife out for a unique dinner at the appropriately named ‘Carnivore Restaurant’. Boasting a massive circular fire in the center, it hosts 52 converted Masaai tribal spears adorned with sizzling Fred Flintstone inspired racks of exotic flesh; including ostrich, kudu, wart hog, crocodile, zebra, and other items that might cause vegetarians to lose consciousness. The bounty of the jungle is carved onto our plates until we can eat no more, and lower a white flag on the table to terminate the beast of a feast.
It is now time for our flight to Capetown, with the low-cost, high-humor Kulula Airlines. The friendly staff is dressed in jeans, and below is a sample of the humorous in-flight announcements before takeoff:
‘Welcome Kulula fans, and a special welcome to all our brand new super heroes. Here at Kulula we pride ourselves on having the best crew in the industry, unfortunately due to staffing problems..…’
‘In case of an emergency, masks will drop from the panel above. Once you have stopped screaming, put the mask over your nose and mouth and for God’s sake, breathe baby breathe! Then put masks on to any children that you are traveling with. If you have two children, decide which one you love most now.’
‘For those of you who can’t swim, please move to the right side of the plane. To the rest of you, thanks for flying with us.’
‘Smoking is forbidden, including in the toilets which are fitted with smoke detectors and cameras for our in-flight entertainment’.
‘When you leave the aircraft please take all your personal belongings with you except for the expensive stuff – cameras, laptops, etc. which will be divided up among the crew, although this doesn’t apply to children – they will be sold as slaves’.
‘We’ve sure enjoyed taking you for a ride today, and remember Kulula fans, nobody wants your money more than kulula.com’.
Seeking an invigorating day in Capetown, we opt to ride a controversial, graffiti-splashed coastal train to the end of the line at the old naval hamlet of Simon’s Town. Purposely we leave our valuables in the hotel, as this gang-tagged train has a lousy safety record due to sporadic muggings. After purchasing our tickets, we begin to question our decision. It’s hard to believe, but in all seriousness, printed on the bottom of the tickets is an advertisement for funeral arrangements!
After a look about, we retrace the tracks from Simon’s Town on the same train, dismounting at Muizenberg to walk the beach to Kalk Bay. A couple of hours later the train again returns, and we are followed aboard by three threatening looking black characters that assuredly are not citizen of the year material.
Just as the train is pulling out, two burly armed security guards jump into our train car, causing the thugs to rapidly bolt out the back door of the car! The security guards, aware the thugs were stalking us with dishonorable intent, ride with us until we get back to Capetown. Ever so grateful, we sincerely thank our saviors for their diligence and protection, recognizing that once again we have been fortunate.
Our four days in Capetown evaporate quickly, with visits to the vineyards of Stellenbosh, Kirstenbosch Gardens, Chapman’s Peak, Blouberg, the Cape of Good Hope, and taking the cable car up to the pancake flat top of Table Mountain. We conclude our trip with a 100 km drive out to the remote Betty’s Bay. Why? Well to see the penguins of course. Penguins in Africa; you think I’ve been into the rum again, right?
Actually, this area is home to a waddle of hundreds of ‘Jackass Penguins’ with seemingly no fear of humans. The unfortunate handle of these well-grounded little fellows comes from the tendency of the males to bray like a donkey whenever they want to get laid. It is uncanny how similar they sound to a Jackass, and we can’t help but chuckle each time we hear one of the cute little guys making an ass of himself!
And so ends our unforgettable escapades on the adorable, deplorable, and explorable continent of Africa. We’ve absolutely loved it, and now secure in the knowledge that our adrenal glands are fully functional, we can return to our tamer Canadian turf to unwind; before we ponder, pick, and plan our next year’s escapade.
Mark Colegrave October 2005