Sunday, May 11, 2014

Watching a Rhino Poop & Other Tales at Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park reminds me of Jurassic Park. Not because we were staring at T-Rexes or because the dude sitting next to me kept saying "hold on to your butts" - no, the reason for the comparison is actually the process. That sounds like Nick Saban talking.

South Africa's most famous national park, Kruger is home to 336 trees, 49 fish, 34 amphibians, 114 reptiles, 507 birds, and 147 mammals, according to its website. It's about 3 hours northeast of Johannesburg in the province of Mpumalanga. The drive over includes a scenic trek through mountains, cornfields, and a disproportionate amount of poor conditioned '80s and '90s BMWs, easily the most common car I saw being driven out there. The countryside features some third world aspects one might expect: people hitchhiking, fruits stands, lots of Coca Cola signs. I did see a fitness gym in a room half the size of a Jamba Juice. I stole a quick glance inside and saw a single bench press and squat cage.

I forget the name of that mountain, but I know Simba was held by a baboon up there.

So back to Jurassic Park. We entered the Numbi entrance of Kruger in a large jeep that could seat 9 or 10 if you include sitting shotgun. The jeep is reminiscent of the Jurassic park SUVs and if you recall during the early part of the tour, Jeff Goldblum, in full snark mode, asked if they were ever going to see dinosaurs on the dinosaur tour. On these safari tours, you'll go through extremely long stretches, hours, without seeing any animals. You will see plenty of the trees that Kruger's website advertises, but this ain't Ferngully - nobody cares about trees when you're looking for lions. This is a carnivore tour, herbivores need not apply. Our guide started pointing out birds at one point, and the only bird I'd find fascinating then would be Toucan Sam. It wasn't him.

Not Toucan Sam

Also not Toucan Sam

Toucan Sam in the turtle form.
Also in Jurassic Park, the jeeps follow a designated path, that's the same here. There are hundreds (thousands?) of dirt roads where the jeeps can roam, but I imagined going off-road to race cheetahs and intrude on private elephant pow-wows. Instead, you stay on the marked paths and stare into the wild hoping to spot something. It's very much like the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, which I thought was the Wild Animal Park until googling it. Disclaimer: I haven't been to that park in around 25 years, but if my memory serves me correctly (which is rare) they are alike, but you end up seeing a whole lot more animals in San Diego! I'm not looking forward to any "Blackfish"-style documentaries about the SD Zoo, that would be depressing.
The road. Not by Cormac McCarthy

Mom's eager to see some shit!

Considering the nature of the safari spotting, you need a tour guide who can spot something mischievous from 500 yards away, like an Asian mother. The safaris are only as good as your guides. The first night, I went on a sunset tour with an amazing female guide. I forgot her name but it started with an "A." So ask for her when you go. She was able to spot a rhino that looked the size of a bobblehead in the distance; then had the rhino whispering wherewithal to realize it would walk toward us. When it was a good 100 yards away still, she started backing up the jeep and sure enough, the rhino crossed the road about 15 feet in front of us... and took a gigantic shit! Clutch. And on video. She said she noticed the rhino had been in that area before using it as a toilet. After marking his territory, the rhino stepped in it, and walked around to show all others he was boss. If another rhino wanted to challenge his authority, he'd take a dump on top of the dump, and rhino face off would presumably go down. Our super guide also spotted an owl, and some water buffalo eyes in the night. At least she said there were eyes. I couldn't see a damn thing. Anyway, she was rad.

The best shot I could get of hippos. #NotGoodShots

Rhino walking #duh

Rhino is actually shitting. My mom wins!

Now rhino is stomping around in his shit. His feet now smell. Stupid rhino.

Notice tiny birds on top of him. They love this shit!
Hey! Look at me, jerk!

Thanks, bruh.

Unlike our other guide, Chris. This dude was super nice, so I feel somewhat bad that I'm going to totally bash him now. In fact, he was too nice, as he would stop on the roads and ask others how they were doing, what they saw, and where they saw it. I understand asking other guides, but asking Randy Random Dude where the wild things are? If I'm driving thru this park on my own and a guide asks if I've seen things over yonder - I'd look at the tourists in his jeep and laugh. 

They're sleeping.

Oh snap! He's awake. #FooledYou

They call these the Chevy Impala, minus the Chevy.

This antelope is known as Kudu, not to be confused with Kudos, the candy bar. #EasyMistake
Not to be racist, these dudes are definitely white with black stripes.

The rarest of the rare: the mythological two-headed whatever-this-is... born with only one head!
Chris also helped push another jeep that stalled, while no other guides bothered to stop. So Chris is going to heaven and all, but since I'm a selfish American tourist, I wouldn't have minded if he let another guide helped out that person. We lost 30-minutes or so, when Chris tried pushing the other jeep with our jeep, then getting out to physically push the other vehicle. Turns out, I'm a jerk. Whatever. I wished he was more aggressive on the base paths. 

So precious. 5 minutes later he was hit by a car. #JustKidding! #IGotProbs

This was almost framed really cool. But the jerk walked too far.

This was almost framed really cool, too, but the focus was a jerk #OperatorError

Other people in our tour on a separate jeep talked about seeing far more animals than we did, including giraffes, which I would imagine would be among the easier animals to spot because - you know - they're tall as shit. Chris is what I would call a casino lurker. You know the people who watch other spend hundreds of dollars at a slot machine, and as soon as they leave, that lurker jumps in. That was our spotting style. Rarely were we the first to spot an animal. Instead, we'd see a bunch of other cars stopped in the road with people taking pics, then we'd join the fray, but he wasn't good at positioning us to get the optimal photo.  

Those trees are soooo Africa.


How come no elephants played key roles in "Lion King"???

However, the safari was also like Jurassic Park in that the moments we did see animals, like when Sam Neill first saw the wounded triceratops, it was majestic. After a day-and-a-half of searching, we saw three of what's known as the Big FIve - elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards, and buffalo (the last two which we missed). In addition to those animals, we saw zebras, impala (antelope), hyenas, a warthog. In my Lion King tour, I missed Timon the meekrat, zen baboon guy, and Simba. Would've been good to see that guy, instead we spotted his girlfriend, who's name I don't even remember.

Pumbaa. Such a pig.

This hyena had the voice of Whoopi Goldberg.

Simba's no-named girlfriend.

Got you! Remember when she gave Simba "sex eyes"? Don't look at me weird, y'all know what I'm talking about!

So lazy.

You win.

The entire experience is cool, but not transforming. There was no life lesson I took away from the safari and the search to be closer to nature. If you go, prepare for patience. It's a virtue I've tried to incorporate in all facets of my life, albeit without as much success as I'd like. It's a trait I noticed my mom has developed over the years that helps put her at peace with her surroundings. It's incredibly zen and just another thing I admire about my mom. But it's not 24/7, she was annoyed by Chris, too. Maybe that's hereditary. 

Out of Africa selfie.


Hansa - light pilsner, Dos Equis-esque. They get better the more you drink. Motto is "Dream Big, Hustle Hard." Down with that.
#DreamBig #HustleHard #DontHustle&Flow #ThatDidntWorkOutWell
Anvil - blonde ale brewed locally. Bought it at quaint restaurant named Pickles and Things in a touristy strip town called Dullstroom. It's basically the Solvang of South Africa.
Looks like the BumbleBee Transformer is eyeing this beer.

Castle - lager, heard somewhere that this is one of South Africa's oldest beers. Ho hum.
Castle? More like... I got nothing.
Amarula - a local cream liqueur. Very sweet, uses some marula fruit from an African tree. 

Bain's - single grain South African whiskey. Tastes like whiskey.

This is some kind of weird meat. But I forgot what it is 'cuz my memory doesn't go past a few weeks.

Simba selling out and earning that paper. I thought Disney's 401K's were pretty good, so don't know what happened.

When in doubt, it's best to just zappit in the ziblbin. My motto in life. #wtf?

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