Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Africa 2012--Tubby's Perspective

Because I can't begin to match the creative talents of my African journey benefactor (yes folks, he called me months ago and said, "you pay for your flight and the rest is on me"), who I unfairly called a "half pint Hemingway" on camera, I will have to rely on giving my spin on many of the points that brother B brought up in his travelogue.

The Author of This Post
1.  Getting There and Back.   I opted for a less direct route because it allowed me a 10 hour layover to spend an afternoon in one of my favorite places in the world, Bavaria. Instead of spending the time riding the S-Bahn into Munich, I spent an afternoon in Freising, just north of the airport. It is home to the oldest brewery in the world and a spectacular cathedral. I would always apologize "auf Deutsch" for my poor German but my waiters seemed to appreciate my effort and mercifully switched to English. A couple at a table in the beer garden next to me also appeared to appreciate my efforts, toasted me when my first beer arrived and we spent some time enjoying great conversation and the product of the local brewery. I noticed that Germans relaxing on a sunny afternoon in a beer garden are a lot less likely to drink their beer in liter steins. They save those for the tourists at the Hofbrauhaus and for Oktoberfest. Note to those connecting through the Munich airport, it costs 30 euro to use the shower facilities in Terminal 2, while one can wash the travel stink off for only 5 euros in the Terminal 1 showers. I too, loaded books and movies on to my iPad at B's suggestion, but due to many hours of conversation with my seatmate down to Jo-burg (that's how we adventurer types refer to Johannesburg) I only watched "The Lives of Others"; a good choice when lacking noise cancelling headphones (subtitles used). For those who have seen the movie, you might  appreciate the point I made to my Ukranian seatmate that in America we protect our right to own guns so that we will never have to fight for the right to own a typewriter.

2.  My Travel Companion.   I would comment on Bryan's personality, but hey, this isn't about Bryan, it's about me. My wife read his comments and scratched her head in disbelief. But then she also did the same when I told her about a friend of mine once remarking to me that he had never met someone who was always in such a good mood. Though we spent over a week joined at the hip, Bryan and I were talking on the phone on our drives back from the airport and I pointed out that I didn't spend any extra time at all chatting up the convenience store clerk when I purchased a can of Monster energy drink for the ride home. I guess I do see myself as representing America when abroad and try to be as friendly as possible. When I walked back to our SUV after finding out from the border guard the process for entering Swaziland, Bryan asked, "That took  10 minutes of conversation?" He was none too happy to discover that THAT information only took about a minute to discover, but I now know more about the job of a border guard on the South African border than about 99.9999% of the rest of humanity. And knowledge is power. But to Bryan's other points, he was pretty much a pain in the ass as a child. He didn't become interesting until about his senior year in high school. He's right though, there was never a dull moment in my company, and the more he complained and resisted, the more over the top pain in his ass I tried to be. Bottom line: I spent much  time and money purchasing souvenirs for my wife so that she would be more favorably inclined to allow more such trips in the future.

3.  The Lodge.   The only disagreement I would have with Bryan is referring to "European" cuisines. Don't want to scare anyone off thinking that it's haute cuisine, nouvelle cuisine, or any of those other Frenchy-French styles. Chicken-a-la-king, chicken kabobs, stir fried warthog, grilled steak, a carving board selection every night with a collection of sauces made one able to keep it is simple or fancy as they desire. Full salad bar and no skimping on the desserts. Though it was pretty much eat, ride, eat, ride, eat, and drink at the bar (repeat daily) for me, it's funny the appetite one gets bouncing around in the back of an SUV holding on for dear life. I was able to escape the compound one night for a walk down the road and due to the lack of any artificial lighting, was able to see more stars than I have ever seen in my life, including the Milky Way. 

4.  The Animals.  I know, by now you've probably heard that we became known as "the elephant guys" to those at Zulu Nyala. Bryan got more disgusted every time somebody pointed me out as the guy who just kept on filming while the angered beast approached. I have to admit that the elephant grew in size each time I have recounted the tale and the age of the young lady who Bryan used as a human shield has gotten younger with each telling. But in all honesty Bryan is correct when he points out she was 20 and not 13. I guess I looked at our elephant encounter the same way I look at a Manhattan taxi ride, it isn't my car that's going to get crushed. Plus, I was watching everything on the screen of my video camera, so to me it was only as if it were happening on TV. The real treat was getting so close to a cheetah mother and her cubs.  Any zoo I have been to has the large cheetah enclosure and they always seem to be laying in the shade of a bush or walking along a distant fence line. Plus, they rarely (if ever?) breed in captivity, so seeing the adorable cubs was a highlight. Another highlight that Bryan doesn't mention (because he was napping while I took the SUV out for a solo adventure) was seeing a zebra stallion jump on and start to "get busy" with a mare.  A note to future wildlife photographers, do not exclaim "OH YEAH" while raising your camera for the shot. It spoils the moment for everyone.  I have never had an animal looked at me with such an annoyed look before. Funny how the herds of zebra and other such animals were so fascinating at the beginning to the week but as we were leaving the last morning they were an annoyance, hogging the road.

5.  The People.   Bryan has already mentioned our Zulu Nyala ranger, Amon.  I owe my life to the man as he saved my life more than a few times out in the bush by reminding my brother that life is hard in a South African prison and that would surely be his fate should he throw me out of a speeding jeep as he threatened to many times. I would advise anyone experiencing such a trip in the future to spend more time video recording your guide. You will have more than enough animal shots, but the explanations and knowledge imparted by Amon was priceless. As B pointed out, so many of our interactions were with staff at our lodge and they are expected to be nice to us. Unlike one of the lodge guests who was no doubt a Swarthmore educated social worker practicing her Zulu with people wanting to hone their English skills in order to insure a successful future, I am not big on celebrating diversity. I'm more interested in what we have in common. I thoroughly enjoyed my time discussing cooking with our chef, laptops versus tablet type computers with the bartender, and pointing out to the clerk at the convenience store who talked me into buying two Red Bulls because they were on special, that it was just the same way back in the US. Engaging in ordinary activities like driving into Hluhluwe (go ahead, I dare you to try to pronounce it) allowed me to chat with the grocery store managers about their business, which was a business I started my career in.
I wish I had my own photos to post as Bryan did on his original post, but most of my effort was with the video camera. I do appreciate that he pictured me in the outfits I had chosen that made me look more like a bad ass mercenary and less like a Boy Scout leader. If he has a pic of me wearing my African action pack, perhaps he will post that.
But as Bryan concluded, it's one to put on your bucket list. It was never on mine as my interests are more in European castles and cathedrals, but it surely was a trip of a lifetime, much in part due to the company of brother Bryan.


Doc Milnamo said...

Nice job Tubby! I especially liked, " America we protect our right to own guns so that we will never have to fight for the right to own a typewriter." And yes I did see the film and it was excellent.

"The Hammer" said...

Well whatcha waiting for? Post some video Tub. Oh, one more question. Were these critters so used to seeing humans that they were maybe not necessarily tame but certainly not Tarzan movie ready?

Tubby McG said...

Hammer, your suspicions are probably correct. The animals are used to humans, but certainly not tame. Our rangers always kept us far enough away so as not to pose a threat to us or the critters. But if things got dicey with the lions at Phinda, the rangers had quick access to big ass big game rifles. Plus, I always carried my Action Sack™ strapped to my side.

"The Hammer" said...

My "Action Sack" ain't what it used to be so I guess I woulda been S.O.L.

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