66. Safari

I’m back. I interrupted my 100 posts in 100 days in order to go and sit in an unpowered bungalow out in the wilds of Africa for a week with two small children. As one does. I’ve actually been back for a day, but I didn’t post yesterday because it was Christmas. Again. I’ll explain tomorrow.

What kind of person would blog on Christmas Day?

What kind of person would blog on Christmas Day?

We were out in an unfenced wildlife area in the Lowveld next to the Kruger National Park. It really is a wild place. There are lions and hyenas and elephants and (last week at least) my children walking around. And giraffes.

I talk about the Lowveld a lot on this blog, so I thought I would just explain a little about what we do there. Or rather, I thought I would explain what we don’t do. We don’t “go on safari”.

The place we go to is a small, privately owned place called Ntsiri. It is surrounded by places where you can “go on safari”. I thought I would tell you how they work. And how Ntsiri doesn’t work. If I sound like I’m mocking “going on safari” at any point, I apologise. I am absolutely doing so. But with a degree of fondness. I’ll stop writing it in inverted commas now.

Our holiday had more children and less champagne than this.

Our holiday had more children and less champagne than this.

Things you need to know about “going on safari”. Sorry. That was the last time. I promise.

1. Rob a bank.

Going on safari is not cheap. It can cost upward of $650 a night, per person. Sometimes quite far upward. And that doesn’t include getting there.

The longest journey begins with the smallest step.

The longest journey begins with the smallest step.

2. Go and buy some clothes.

When you go on safari, you have to dress like you are auditioning for a lead part in “Out of Africa”. To start with, you are going to need some khaki pants. If you’re the conservative type, simple khaki slacks will suffice. If you’re slightly more rough and ready (as one is at $650 a night) you can wear those cargo pants with nineteen pockets.

Check your other pocket, Ponceby. We need another 200 Dollars

Check your other pocket, Ponceby. We need another 200 Dollars

You can get away with a khaki t-shirt, but a long sleeved khaki collared shirt is better. Top this off with a khaki jacket or, at the very least, one of those natty little sleeveless photojournalist jackets with even more pockets than your cargo pants.

You also need to get yourself a wide brimmed hat. In khaki. And boots. Khaki boots. With khaki socks.

All this khaki will enable you to nip through the undergrowth like a stoat. Which you won’t do. There are lions out there.

This is not a game ranger. This is an insurance salesman from New Jersey.

This is not a game ranger. This is an insurance salesman from New Jersey.

It is vital that you should dress like this. You don’t want all the other safari-goers to turn up their noses at your jeans and red shirt. Just pretend that I never told you that the Lowveld routinely gets up to 40 degrees Celsius (104 in Fahrenheit), and if you pass out in the undergrowth from heatstroke, no one will be able to find you in all that khaki. You’d be better off in a thong. A khaki thong.

Don't forget to pack lots of sunblock.

Don’t forget to pack lots of sunblock.

Right. Now prepare to meet the locals.

3. Your guide.

When you reach your destination, you will be introduced to an earnest young man (or less often woman) in tight khaki shorts. He (or she) will be your guide. This is not an easy thing to do. He will be younger than you, and trying to earn a large tip, but at the same time, he has to keep you in line. There are big scary animals out there, and you can’t have a bunch of tourist in khaki wandering around unsupervised.

Your guide has been on a guiding course. He will know all of the animals and birds, and many of the plants. He will also have a list of things to show you when he can’t find any animals. Come hell or high water, he’s going to show you a pile of rhino poo. Do not try to stop him or he will cry. He will also show you which tree you can use as toilet paper and how to make a toothbrush from a twig. Just in case you forgot yours at home.

Your guide is not simply a guide. He is also a vital part of the safari experience. This means that he needs to spend a fair amount of time looking steely eyed and ruggedly handsome, and ever so slightly sexually available. He will also spend a lot of time conducting mysterious conversations on his radio, littered with African words like “tshukudu” and “ingwe”, and standing like this.

When not on duty, guides sometimes gather for fiercely competitive "pose-offs".

When not on duty, guides sometimes gather for fiercely competitive “pose-offs”.

4. The other guy.

With your guide there will often be another guy. An older man. A man who has not been on a guiding course. He is there because he really knows the bush. He grew up there, and knows how to track and find the animals. He will not show you any poo. He usually won’t show you anything at all. He’s there to guide the guide, not you.

To maintain the balance of power between him and the guide, he is occasionally made to sit in a tiny chair on the front of the vehicle when out on a game drive. This is ostensibly to let him spot tracks in the road, but is really there to add a certain frisson to the experience of driving through a pride of lions.

Damn! I knew I should have taken that bacon out of my pocket before we set off.

Damn! I knew I should have taken that bacon out of my pocket before we set off.

5. And more.

You’re going to be roughing it in the wilds of Africa. You will need a little support. And you will get it. You will have a five-star chef, wait staff, room attendant and pool attendant. Which is fine. You’re at an expensive hotel.

Every now and then, however, these people will gather in front of you as you sit around a roaring fire to play the drums, sing, and dance. Which is all very picturesque, but it pays to bear in mind that not a single one of these people would ever have done this at home. At home they watch satellite TV and update their Facebook accounts.

The one with the tallest feather is the lodge's accountant.

The one with the tallest feather is the lodge’s accountant.

6. The place.

By law, all safari lodges have to be thatched, and decorated with drums and masks in case you become disoriented and forget you’re in Africa. These places tend to be a little remote, so they can be a bit spartan. Your Wi-Fi signal can be a bit patchy, and sometimes you find insects in your private pool. Just look at this hovel.

How much does this suck!

How much does this suck!

And this one.

There isn't even a tennis court!

There isn’t even a tennis court!

And this one.

This one doesn't even have walls!

This one doesn’t even have walls!

7. The animals.

This, then, is what it’s all about. The lodge, the staff, the food, the wine, none of it would matter without the animals. And it’s all about the big five. Rhinos, lions, leopards, buffalos, elephants. Without those, these places would be nothing. And that could be a massive problem. Because there aren’t very many of them.

99.9% of the bush looks like this.

99.9% of the bush looks like this.

Lions are territorial. A single pride occupies a large area, and they can only be in one spot at a time. And they blend in with their environment. Leopards are even worse. They’re territorial too, but solitary. And sneaky. And the rhinos are almost gone.

99.9% of Africa's rhinos look like this.

99.9% of Africa’s rhinos look like this.

When you’re paying a small fortune to come out to see the big five, you kinda want to see the big five. I can go years without seeing a leopard. But these guys have a solution. The guests all wake up, have a cup of coffee and head out for a drive. As far as they’re concerned, they’re off to explore Africa’s trackless wastes.

I'm exaggerating. This waste has a track in it.

I’m exaggerating. This waste has a track in it.

But they’re not. Someone was there before them. They will stop out in the bush for breakfast. The guide will whip out a little table, complete with linen table-cloth and silverware at some or other stunning viewpoint. There will be champagne.   And while they eat, trackers go out and find the animals, and radio their locations back to the guides. That’s what all that “tshukudu”ing and “ingwe”ing on the radio is all about.

Some places take things even further. When they find that a leopard has had cubs, they send a guy out in a safari vehicle just to sit with them. For weeks. The cubs grow up completely habituated to vehicles, and the guests can cheerfully watch them go about their natural business as if no-one was there. They do this with other star animals too.

Damn diva!

Damn diva!

Then there’s the planning involved around special sightings. If you’re staying at an exclusive lodge, exclusivity is one of your expectations. You don’t want to sit with twenty other safari vehicles watching a single leopard. So the guides have become the equivalent of wildlife air traffic controllers.

When something special is spotted, the word goes out. A complicated holding pattern of vehicles is formed. Vehicles circle around the area, pretending to look for game or discussing rhino poo in excruciating detail. As each vehicle leaves the sighting, the next one goes in. It’s like a well-planned SWAT operation.

If you look over to the left, ladies and gentlemen, you will see some rhino poo.

If you look over to the left, ladies and gentlemen, you will see some rhino poo.

There’s nothing wrong with any of this. The animals are not disturbed in any way, and the guests get to see their big five. But the bush isn’t really like this.

If you go to the Kruger Park and drive around in your own car, it’s all down to luck. You can see the big five in a day or you can see nothing in a week. But you don’t have to sell any of your kidneys.

It might not be an exciting week, but at least you'll hold onto your internal organs.

It might not be an exciting week, but at least you’ll hold onto your internal organs.

So that’s it. Now you can mortgage your house and “go on safari”. In khaki.

And us. I’ll tell you more through the week, after I explain about Christmas, but here’s a quick rundown.

1. I’ve never robbed a bank. I hate waiting in queues.

2. Shorts and t-shirts. In any damn colour we please. Shoes are optional.

They do, however, need to be huge shorts.

They do, however, need to be pretty big shorts.

3. Your guide? Some guy in shorts and a t-shirt, and no shoes. He does have a bush hat though.

And huge shorts.

And huge shorts.

4. The other guy? The same guy. And all he can tell you is that a lion or elephant walked down the road at some point in the last week. And he still doesn’t have any shoes.

Vast. They are vast shorts.

Vast. They are vast shorts.

5. And the others? That would be Mr no-shoes guy and Mrs 23thorns. The children treat us like staff anyway, but they tend to get embarrassed when we haul out the drums and do a song and dance. Philistines.

Nice one, dad. Can we go now?

Nice one, dad. Can we go now?

6. The place? I want to die there. Failing that, Mrs 23 thorns has been instructed to take my body there and dump it into the bush for the hyenas. She doesn’t seem keen, for some reason. She wants to burn me, which seems a little wasteful.

7. The animals? I can never find the bastards. My sisters were there for a week before us, and saw wild dogs three times. There were lion tracks on every second road. Other people saw leopards around every corner. We saw lots of giraffes. Hormonally balanced giraffes.

Although that one at the back looks a little dodgy.

Although that one at the back looks a little dodgy.

I’ll tell you more over the next week or so. But it might all seem a little sad. Mrs 23thorns is off to New Zealand for a week or two, so I will be pining. Stick with me. I’ll need the company.

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61 thoughts on “66. Safari

  1. This is marvelous! You are very funny and original, I love your writing and your take on a trip that is so popular we can’t bear to go. And thank you for liking Newbie Writers Guide, we appreciate your support!

  2. ssoldjasper says:

    Poor man’s safari-In High School English the assignment was, “What I did this summer.” Since I did nothing but watch TV is farbricated a Photo Safari with my dad. Boy did I get a tongue lashing-and an F.

  3. Oi! Could you try not to get into too much trouble while I’m away 😉

  4. The Rider says:

    Ah- you capture the spirit of Africa so beautifully! :I love the rhino pics!

  5. Welcome back, Mr 23thorns 🙂

    Having read this blog, I’m now picturing a mix of Carry on films, such as Carry on Camping, mixed with Carry on Follow that Camel, along with a slight touch of Carry on Up the Jungle!
    I’ve got no doubts at all that, as the week goes by, and you tell us more of your adventures, that it will definitely have shades of the Carry on team – just as well I loved the films! Lol

    P.S: Thanks for the thoroughly crazy laughs 🙂

    • 23thorns says:

      🙂 I haven’t seen a Carry On film since I was about ten. I wonder if you can still get them out here. Although I’m sure they would be horrifyingly dated.

  6. albertine says:

    Wow – some interesting reactions here! Thanks for your view of the homelife of the guards. Have you seen the movie ‘Crocodile Dundee’ – where the aboriginal guide says to the American reporter: ‘You can’t take my picture.’
    She answers ‘Why? You’re afraid it will eat your soul?’
    He: ‘Nah, love, you’ve got the lens cap on.’
    There’s also a memorable scene about bush tucker (‘Yer can’t live on it.’)

  7. Oh my gosh, this is brilliantly funny! Well done!

  8. narf77 says:

    Not so much “Out of Africa” and more Indiana Jones. I love the pith hat in the first image, that and you taking the pith out of the Safariist elite. Isn’t “The Safari” the epitome of where all good rednecks want to go just before they head to that great shooting range in the sky? Sort of an ultimate potluck bucket list item for the nouveau riche? The problem with pucka gear like this is that it has a crossover appeal to the reclusive lesser spotted I.T. geek. They tend to love all of those wonderful pockets for putting notepads, pens, batteries, tiny lit microscopes and anything else that they are currently working on at the time and the LAST place that they want to go is “On Safari” ;).
    A khaki thong would also make you less of a choke hazard to the lions. Good point. Those young masculine guides appear to have watched Zoolander recently and at least 90% of them are proficient at “Blue Steel”. I would be complaining about that second safari lodge, someone appears to have made it out of bent poles…tsk tsk…99.9% of your bush looks like the Australian outback. If anyone wants to go on a frugal safari you can come to Australia. You can drive yourself around, you might occasionally see a camel or a kangaroo or an emu (most probably splattered all over the front of your windscreen) and by the time you get to anywhere civilised you will STILL have just about every single one of your tourist dollars littered between your safari pockets to spend at the nearest tourist shop. Thank me later Australian Tourism, you owe me one…Love the red undies Mr 23Thorns. Are they so that Mrs 23Thorns can instantly identify what is left of you because you somehow forgot to wear something with enough pockets in it? Most considerate.
    If I ever lose my senses and decide for some reason to spend my children’s inheritance and head to Africa and do “Safari” to a tee, I am going to be the one wearing the rainbow safari suit and several GPS devices strategically placed in at least 10 of my 40 pockets so that should any of my limbs ever be recovered (say in a large pile of generic dung) my children would be able to read my will and divide up the spoils poste hast without the hiccup of having to wait. I am a MOST considerate mother.
    P.S. we will look after him Mrs23 Thorns…in our own special way. By the time you get back his going to NEVER let you go again 😉

  9. Art Brûlant says:

    Glad we didn’t lose you to a giraffe! Welcome back.

  10. ginasa says:

    Take my word for it…the bush is ALWAYS an incredible experience! Whether you ‘rough it’ like the locals or pay ‘top dollar’ for your trip, you will appreciate what it does for your soul! And to “Diamond Dee”, I can only feel sad for you! Stop focusing on the negatives of our country and come home and be part of the awesomeness instead of expecting other passionate South Africans to do it for you!

  11. johnjroberts says:

    Welcome back but s**t (or poo), we were going on safari down there next year. Seriously. Now what are we going to do?

    • chowanyau says:

      Go to Kruger instead, it’s wonderful!

    • 23thorns says:

      Do it! It will be one of the greatest experiences of your life! As I said, if you have a limited amount of time to spend in the bush, this is the only way you”re (almost) guaranteed to see it all. They give you access to the animals without interfering with them. And the luxury won’t hurt, either.
      And I couldn’t help noticing you already have a khaki hat.

  12. Diamond Dee says:

    I’ve been a rabid fan for a long time. But after this post – not so much. I’m seldom critical but this post made me sad. Or disappointed in you. Or maybe just pissed off.
    I’m a South African who has lived in the States for over 20 years. During this time I have introduced many Americans to the country of my birth. But the list of things South Africans have to be proud of is ever-decreasing. Our politics are a joke, our crime rate terrifying and as costs escalate so quality declines.
    But then there is “going on safari”. Expensive indeed, but the one South African experience that Americans leave the country celebrating. And share in glowing terms on returning home. In the midst of the pervasive negativity there is the “safari” experience that leaves positive memories, engenders positive PR for our sad country and injects foreign currency into an stressed economy. And you just trashed it!
    You are the guy who told my 5 year old there is no Santa and the Easter Bunny died from chocolate-poisoning.

    • 23thorns says:

      Oh, well. It was never my intention to knock the industry, just tease them a bit and comment on the yawning difference between my experience of the bush and the safari experience. I actually thing thing places are pretty cool, if a little out of reach for us locals.
      I would have said you had read the post the wrong way and were overreacting, but a see that a few other people had the same perception. Oops.
      I’ll have to try and redeem myself later in the week.

      • NIDS LOVE BIG EYES says:

        Thanks for deleting my comment 121/2 thorns. You can read this one and delete it too. Two pieces of advice for you :
        1. Never explain 2. Never apologise. If you’ve got people sitting on your shoulder while you are writing, your writing will end up bland and uninteresting. If you delete controversial comments your blog will be bland and uninteresting.

      • 23thorns says:

        Oh, well. I’ve been doing this blog for just over a year, I’m amazed I got this far without pissing anyone off. 🙂
        I used to post things on news24. every single article on that site ended up as an ugly bun-fight in the comments section, usually about god or race. When I started this blog, I decided that I didn’t want that here. I am, after all, doing this for fun.
        You are, for what it’s worth, allowed to say whatever you please about me or what I write. I won’t delete any of those.

  13. Welcome back and glad you only saw the hormonally balanced giraffes.
    I coulda sworn you rpicture of the road (or is that 3 pictures) was a road through outback Australia, not that Ive actaully been to outback Australia but even so. Mind you, our roads contain less large and carnivorous footprints and more highly deadly snake tracks instead.
    I hope Mrs 23 enjoys her trip around the southern hemisphere and I look forward to hearing about Christmas in July tomorrow (even though the 25th is next week 😉 )

  14. Glad you’re back. Been the lonely one myself for the past week, happy my own family returns home on Friday. Enjoy your time alone.

  15. Martina Wald says:

    NOW I want to go on Safari. I wasn´t thinking of that but you make it sound so hilarious. I have to see the big five poo.

  16. smallpebbles says:

    Well glad you caught us all up – sounds like “the Big Five” know when not to show up just to satisfy those $650 a night taste buds. And by the way, when do we get to “hear” from Mrs.23thorns? Oh yeah, maybe after New Zealand?

  17. janelily7 says:

    Exciting post welcome back. I loved Kruger, Tara can’t remember the other one.

  18. Buzzwordz says:

    Welcome back, I missed you. Sounds like you had a wonderful time. When I was in SA that is exactly the type of un-safari I took. Driving all day through Kruger, and enjoying the bats and bugs over a braii in the evening. Such simple pleasures. That is what I enjoy here in Ontario, Canada, although very few things can eat you here (other than the mozzies), there is nothing better than sitting by the fire, listening to the sounds of nature and hoping none of those sounds is a bear!
    As for the wild dog sightings…did it ever occur to you that your sister told you that just to make you crazy? It’s what we sisters do best. Unless you see an actual picture, well, lets just say that it’s possible your sister has as good a sense of humour as you do!

  19. joanfrankham says:

    brilliant, as usual. looking forward to the Christmas edition tomorrow!

  20. Jocelyn Hers says:

    $1300 a day for two?! I knew there was a reason for camping at Punda Maria. Not to mention being late for gate closing because of being stuck in the middle of a herd of wildebeest crossing the road & wanting to stay as still as possible just in case.

  21. kokkieh says:

    You should have added that most South Africans can’t afford to “go on safari” in any case, not that it really bothers us. Very entertaining post. Your kids look adorable. Where’d you buy those shorts?

  22. menomama3 says:

    Why spend $650/day when we have you, our very own, virtual “going on safari” guide?

  23. duncanr says:

    Good to have you back, and in fine form, too – a gem of a post !

  24. chowanyau says:

    We went to Kruger Park in 98; it was a fantastic experience.

  25. kelloggs77 says:

    Glad to have you back. I was a little lost without my Lowveld animal lessons. I had to actually pay attention to the less exotic animals around here, like my dog.

  26. syrbal says:

    I think I will save the $650+ per day and just settle back with a cold drink and re-watch “The Gods Must Be Crazy”….

    • chowanyau says:

      I was lucky enough to see the Big Four at Kruger in 98. My daughter was only 5 and after one too many elephants she was yawning ha ha. Shame she was too young to appreciate what a cool experience it was. She had a barbie pink shiny camera and attracted the unwelcome attention of an aggressive baboon which reached into our hired off road vehicle to grab it. It freaked the young guide out big time and between my ex and him somehow managed to send it packing. That was truly a hairy moment.

      Was the best family holiday ever. Even this didn’t come cheap Mr 23 thorns. The locals told us they could never afford it which is a shame because it is on their doorstep and the wildlife belongs to them. We slept in these cosy huts with our very own BBQ out front. It was heaven sitting out drinking cool beer and th smell of bbq meat wafting into the heavens.

      Those were the days. Your blog brought back good memories, thanks, 23 thorns. Btw why 23? Gorgeous x

      • 23thorns says:

        They are, you’ll be glad to hear, making much more effort to include the locals, both with jobs and with organised tours.
        Baboons are pretty scary buggers. I hope she wasn’t put off for life!

    • 23thorns says:

      Why not compromise. Watch the movie and send us the money by post.

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