(Retro- blogging)

Wonder- boom! A fitting name for a gate through which I was to make my first foray into the wonderful world of African safari. It was early September, almost 2 weeks after I got here, and Leslie and I drove up to Madikwe game park, which is situated in northern ZA, just south of the border with Botswana. And I would have gone to Botswana and had a coffee there with Brian and Jenny when they went at the end of the weekend, but I brilliantly left my passport at home. Smart, driving around a foreign country sans-passport. Go me.

But the trip was still great. We drove most of Saturday morning - I took a few pictures along the way, but the one thing my camera couldn't really capture were the literally hundreds of people we passed on the trip that were thumbing rides. Probably thousands is more accurate. Its just part of life here, they don't have cars, so they stand out in the African heat and try to get a ride. And here we zip past in our air-conditioned Toyota with an empty back row of seats. But you can't pull over and help them, because a) its not safe, b) it would be totally out of the ordinary and who knows how they might react to a white person doing that, and c) its not safe. People just don't do that here. Not one of the people we passed trying to get a ride was white. I resolved then and there on that drive that if I ever live here, I will own a pick-up truck, and I will give rides.

So, yeah. We arrived early afternoon at the gates to the park, and then took the poorly-kept dirt/rock road back to the particular resort that Jenny had booked us at. Saw a lot of stuff on the way in - the first wild thing I saw up close was the springbok, fittingly, followed soon by a kudu, up real close.

Then a joey, standing right by the road.

Then some zebra (I've learned its properly pronounced "zeb-ra" not "zeeb-ra"). Then we were at the lodge, and Brian and Jenny pulled in a couple minutes after us, in the ugliest car in the whole of ZA.

We were greeted with moist towels and champagne (or juice, I can't remember which), had a nice light lunch of fish cakes and salad, settled into our rooms (which were extravagantly 5-star African bush-lodge awesome), and marveled over what is my new favorite thing that I will have someday - a shower that opens via sliding glass door out onto the deck with an incredible view. So its kind of like showering outside, except you're enclosed enough by the way the building is designed to have sufficient privacy. If you don't mind some animals watching you bathe.

Checked out the pool and the view of the valley a bit, and then it was time for our first eveing game drive.

This is basically what I saw for the majority of the gamedrive. This is basically what you see for the majority of any gamedrive - the rest of the people in the Land Rover in front of you (if you're smart enough to sit in the highest row, in the back, where you will get the best pictures and also run the risk of being gored to death through the seat by an angry elephant tusk, which I later came to find happened a couple weeks before we got there to some poor dude), and the general landscape. Actually most of the time you're searching the landscape for animals, but it takes a while to find some.

This was our guide. He is holding a piece of crap and explaining the wonderful world of the dung beetle to us. He was very knowledgeable about the terrain, wildlife, plantlife, and everything else, right down to the crap.

The first thing of any significance (read: not springbok) that we saw was a crazy looking bird (that's its actual, real, scientific name, I kid you not).

Then we pulled up right next to a family of lions. Because, apparently, this is what people do every day in places like this. I was sitting, literally, 5 feet away from a small pride of wild lion. Me: wow. Lion: yawn. Needless to say we took a lot of pictures / footage. That was pretty much the high point of day one, and the trip so far, for that matter.

This is him about to pounce and devour us as we lie twitching and screaming in pools of our own blood. Or yawning. You decide.

MMMbeeeer. Or, as they call it on safari, a "sun- downer." I still call it MMMbeeeer.

Dinner was tres awesome, as the French say, and I will allow it to speak for itself:

There was one couple off having dinner in a secluded area of their own, they were on honeymoon or it was the wife's birthday or some such nonsense, but anyway it meant that after dessert we were treated to some real live tribal singing from the local kids who worked the kitchen / tables, which was pretty neat. I caught some of it on my camera's video function, but the light was pretty poor. Then we sat out on our deck and saw stars I've probably never seen before that night. That was a nice evening.

WAKE UP ITS MORNING ALREADY. Time for morning game drive. Now its me doing the yawning, but only until we cruise up next to mother elephant and her extended family. She looked not very happy with us, but didn't make signs of a charge, so we got some good shots. There were maybe 30 of them or so altogether, and unlike how you normally find elephant (eating, eating, and then stopping to eat, after which they eat some more), these guys were on a mission for something or other - we followed them for a few km across the plain, maybe they were headed to water, we never found out because we ran into another family of lions that had just finished a delightful breakfast of wildebeest.

Hi I'm a wildebeest.

Hi, we're lions. That red stuff around our mouths? That's the wildebeest.

Saw a few more zebs, wildes, joeys, and other stuff on the way back but nothing much new. Once back we had a late, oboxiously large breakfast - basically they serve you all this food - cereals, muffins, meats, cheeses, fruits - and then they come out and ask you what you'd like for breakfast - eggs, omlette, ham, toast, fried tomato, etc..

So you can get some idea of the main lodge...

Where we ate

Stairs to main lobby

One of the decks

Stairs up to the pool

Another deck

Then it was time to pack up and go. On our way out of the park, we came RIGHT up on a family of elephant trying to find some shade in the trees next to the road. I mean we were very close, but they didn't seem to mind, probably because it was too darn hot to be chasing away any smallish shiny silver human mover things.

I drove Leslie to JNB where she hopped on her flight back to the states, and then I was alone here in SA, which was an interesting feeling. Brian and Jenny, meanwhile, drove up to the Botswana border, had coffee in Botswana, and then drove back to their place in Joburg.

But at least I didn't have to bribe the police after being caught speeding.

(Editor's note: I've been going through all kinds of hell and high water trying to get this stupid spacing right on posts with pictures lately so that it actually appears half decent in FireFox. Need to figure out a way around that, but in the meantime, if the post looks all funky to you, its probably b/c you're viewing via Internet Explorer. Which is your loss.)

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