To jump off from where we ended last blog, today was our first game drive of the safari adventures. We hopped in an open air van with our driver Mike to head into Kruger Park, which is a national park. Shindzela, where we stayed the rest of the safari for game drives, is a private game reserve. A national park is government owned, while a private game reserve is privately owned. Also national parks do not permit off-road game viewing, meaning unless animals are viewable from the paved roadway, you are not going to see them. This was different for the rest of our game drives in the private reserves, where we could go off-road to track down some amazing animal sightings. No matter what, both the national parks and private reserves work to conserve and protect the wildlife, which is most important.
The drivers within all these places would communicate so that everyone had the best chance of viewing wildlife. I will try to include as many animal facts and photos as I can. My hand could only write notes so fast and legible on the bumpy safari rides. I do it for the fans!
The number one animal you will see on safari is the impala. They are known as the McDonalds of the bush, mainly because there are so many and they end up making a lot of meals for other animals. Think of them as the basic bitch of the safari, the Starbucks. Only 25% of their liters will survive because so many of them will get killed. The cute black marks on their butts are not targets, but follow me signs for other impalas. The water buck, which is also pictured below with the adorable black heart noses, has a follow me sign on its butt, but instead it is white. We moved from poop appreciation to anal appreciation real quick on this blog.
Also pictured below is a kudu, whose horns grow another spiral each year. We actually ate Kudu the following night, and it is hunted a lot for its meat. While bucks and deer lose their antlers every year, the antelope does not. Please enjoy the many photos below.
Did someone say poop? Hippopotamus use their defecation to mark their territory. When pooping they will swirl their tail around like a fan to make sure bits of poop hit a large area of surroundings. It’s giving shit hits the fan. They actually kill the most people in South Africa, second to the mosquito. Just imagine an animal weighing tons running directly at you. Plus it could bite you in half in one chomp. Pretty dramatic for an herbivore. The male hippos will fight pretty much to the death for mating rights with the females. Ladies if he wanted to he would. The winning male hippo will then go relax with the female hippo who will nurse him back to health in the following days. All of this to say, there is a reason most of our photos are from far away from Hippos, so we could view from a safe distance.
We got to see our second of the big five, elephants, during our first drive through Kruger. Even better, we got to see a family with a BABY ELEPHANT. I could cry. I did cry. You may notice that baby elephants are now being born with no tusk or smaller tusks. This is due to poachers killing off the elephants with bigger tusks. After that sad fun fact, please enjoy the myriad of elephant photos and videos below.
The most adorable viewing (in my humble opinion) was a group of four baby hyenas. My only knowledge of hyenas coming in was from the Lion King, so I pictured the most ugly and heinous creatures to be emerging from the den. Instead, we were greeted with four round ear fuzzy cuties. Do not be fooled by these faces that are screaming for a boop of the snoot, they are vicious and could easily tear your arm off. I know if cute, why dangerous? I ask myself the same thing about the baby elephant. Since you know I will be asking about the “Lady Parts,” did you know that female hyenas have a false penis? The clitoris is so large that it looks like a penis, and until later years, you cannot tell these two apart from genitalia alone. Big slay for female hyenas! We also saw some adult hyenas later on the trip, so adding some pictures of these cuties below as well.
After picking up a copy of “Skatolog ” at the Kruger gift shop, it was time to head deeper into the bush to our new lodge at Shindzela. This was also a glamping situation, but more of an outdoors feel with outdoor showers. Truly it was one of the coolest experiences just even staying at this private reserve. The campsite had an electric fence surrounding it to keep us safe, but in viewing distance from the pool was a watering hole, where our friend Harry the hyena would come for some sips. We stan a hydrated king.
Now that we were at a private reserve, we could go off roads. Our safari vehicle now had no roof, seatbelts, or really anything keeping us in. It was us and the wildlife. A big shoutout to our safari guide at Shindzela, Ruben, who kept us safe driving around, and made it such a wonderful experience. Fun fact, Ruben has attended an Auburn football game. Of course I am Roll Tide till I die, but it really is a small Alabama world out there. He posts amazing photos of wildlife on his Instagram, go check it out: https://www.instagram.com/rubenc_smith/
At the front of the vehicle is the tracker, Oxide, who looks for tracks, smells, or sounds to track down the location of wildlife for viewing. He also keeps us safe. Keep in mind that Oxide was born and raised here and has been tracking for 27 years. He was so good that he could hear a lion breathing and zig zag us to the lion napping under a tree. When I say zig zag, I mean driving over trees and bushes, and leaning in to avoid branches to the face. It was fucking awesome.
You may notice the rifle on the front of the vehicle. That is there for emergencies only. There are laws in place about how far the animal needs to be from the vehicle and such. Luckily we never came close to having to use the rifle and according to our guides they have never had to use it.
Every safari game drive included a break in the middle for wine or coffee, depending on the time of day. Since I know everyone is curious, yes, I did have to pee in the bush. I did it quickly and on the road with no grass or bushes for things to be hiding because I still have an overwhelming fear of a snake biting my clit. Anyways, I will never forget our sunrise and sunset stops, taking in the beautiful surrounding bush, and laughing with each other.
On our first sunset game drive we saw the remainder of the big 5. First it was a sleeping lion that Oxide tracked down. Remember when I said he heard breathing? There were actually 2 lions napping near what used to be a kudu, but was now just bloody bones. We saw multiple lions throughout our safari journey, hence the many photos below. Although the female lions are the main hunters, male lions can hunt too. Male lions leave the pack from ages 4 to 6 to go out on their own, finding a mate, hunting and surviving. Although they sleep most the day, they do not have deep sleep like humans, but instead more of a trance of semi consciousness. While sleeping, you will notice its tail and mouth working to flick away bugs. Also the male lion’s penis has hooks in it. Before you even have to ask, yes it does hurt the female lion to have sex and there is no other way for mating to take place. Supposedly the spikes rake the walls of the female’s vagina, which is thought to be a way of inducing ovulation. It can be so painful that the female lion will swing and punch at the male lion during mating. The patriarchy lives on my friends.
You may be asking, why aren’t these animals attacking us? The animals perceive the entire vehicle as one creature. This is why we are told not to make sudden movements or stand up, since an animal will then be able to differentiate the person as an individual. Predators will attack the smallest or weakest looking prey in a group, and go for the slowest. This means you just have to be the second slowest to survive. A win is a win.
Soon after, we were driving fast for a rare sighting: 3 rhinos including a BABY RHINO. These fuckers are so fast and I was lucky to snag the videos and photos I did. The reason why these sightings are so rare is because of how endangered rhinos are from poaching. Although poaching of the animal is illegal, the horn can be worth half a million dollars on the black market. It is worth more per pound than gold. The horns actually grow back, just like fingernails, so some protectors will pre-cut them off. Since poachers are coming in illegally they will kill anyone and anything in their way. Lots of times they will tranquilize the rhino while they remove the horn, but if the rhino wakes up mid-way it will die of shock. Poaching is terrible, but we need to also remember that the heart of the problem is that many people are living with no other choices to make enough money to survive. It is never crime that is the problem, but instead the institutions and systems in place that prevent people from getting their basic needs met, hence they need to turn to crime to survive. Regardless, poaching is a huge problem and soon these amazing creatures will be extinct.
After seeing the rhino, our safari car started whipping around for a leopard sighting. This completed our big five all within 24 hours. We came across this spotted male cutie napping and playing with a branch. We also saw a female leopard the next morning strutting across the road. Unlike lions, leopards are solitary creatures and spend most of their time alone. The male and females will only cross each other’s territories to mate. Male leopards do not help in any of the baby raising, leaving all responsibility to the females. They are essentially dead beat dads.
We came across a ton of termite mounds, including this giant one you see pictured below. A mound this big would have taken the termites about 2-3 years to build. The holes are made by the termites to allow certain amounts of sunlight and heat depending on the position of the sun to regulate the temperature inside. The termites are actually ahead of their time when it comes to regulating temperature without the use of air conditioning. Engineers and architects are actually observing these termite mounds to look for more creative ways to build and maintain livable temperatures while using less energy. The bush truly holds the answers to all life’s questions.
After our sunset game drives, we would have candlelight dinners outside by the fire. Again, there was dessert served after every meal, so I was in heaven. We also had the opportunity to try kudu. I found it very lean and not my favorite, but also keep in mind I am not a huge meat eater. We ended our first night with Springbokkie shots. The name refers to the springbok, which is an antelope found in South Africa, and also the country’s national animal. It is composed of crème de menthe (a bright green mint flavored liquor) on the bottom layer, and Amarula on the top layer. Amarula is made from the fruit of the African marula tree, and is a cream liquor. When made properly the colors of the shot are green and gold, or the colors of the South Africa national rugby union team with the springbok mascot.
On our last night, I had suggested that we all write down some manifestations for 2023. As you know from my previous post, we were leaving 2022 with the sharks. Manifestations can come in many variations, but for this exercise we were writing down things we were leaving in 2022, things we wanted to accomplish in 2023, and then things we were grateful for. After sharing whatever you were comfortable sharing with the group, we threw all our papers into the fire to symbolize a new beginning. Thank you to our amazing group for being so open, honest, and vulnerable with each other. It made the night unforgettable and so special.
If you think manifestations are dumb, that is okay as long as you respect others who enjoy the process. For myself, writing down my goals or what I am grateful for each day really helps keep my mind on track and organized. Sometimes we get so caught up in the day to day that we forget the real reason why we are working so hard. Also, being honest with yourself about things you need to improve upon in the next year along with things you need to leave behind, really make a world of difference when it comes to taking action.
Enjoy some more animal photos below before we get to the part where I look deeply into myself to see what I learned from this trip other than hyena clit fun facts.
Sadly after one last morning game drive, we had to go back to Hoedspruit airport for a flight to Johannesburg. The airport was so small, that my boarding pass was hand written. I was even able to take a water bottle on the flight through security. I always knew that this trip would be special, but I never imagined just how special it would be. Watching the bush fade into the clouds back to the city, I was completely depressed. Although we had a full day ahead of us in Johannesburg (you can read about that in my earlier blog post: A Complex and Colored History), I knew that this next phase meant saying goodbye and going back to our realities.
I soon found myself landing in London Heathrow the next morning at 7am, ready to find a napping spot before my 3pm flight back to New York. When I went to scan my boarding pass at security, I realized I was at the wrong airport and my connection was at London Gatwick, about an hour away. I pleaded with British Airways to place me on a flight out of Heathrow, but was told there were no other options. Due to maintenance on the tube, the only way to Gatwick was a one hour bus ride. This also meant going back through security, meaning I had to throw many of my alcoholic souvenirs in my morning cup of coffee for a magical bus ride. As I lugged my bags into Gatwick, my phone buzzed. Flight canceled. Rebooked out of Heathrow at 6pm. I looked up to see my bus driving beyond the curve of the terminal. Good thing I was now tipsy and had 10 hours to kill. Luckily I finally made it back to New York.
My randomly assigned roommate from South Africa actually lives 20 blocks away from me in Manhattan and won the Hamilton lottery for the day we got back. Jet lag who? We were seeing Hamilton! We were not throwing away our shots.
Then suddenly you are alone again for the first time in weeks, staring at your ceiling, wide awake at 4am from jet lag, and unsure why you can’t shake this feeling. Why must all good things come to an end?
Good things must end so they can create space for even greater things to come. Every time a phase ends and dissipates into the clouds, I am too naive to even see the giant sky of possibility surrounding me.
As with any travel, I came back to my routines filled with dread. Post-trip depression is very real and especially with this trip I am feeling its effects profoundly even a week later. Although we were across the globe, seeing animals and sights beyond our imaginations, we never truly left ourselves in any of the travel. Coming home is a reminder that no matter where you venture, your mind is always with you, thinking, problem-solving, adapting, and changing. It makes you question what you are so sad coming back to? What about your reality isn’t sitting with you anymore?
I find myself more lost than usual this past week. Sitting down to type out an email or make a simple phone call seems strange after shark cage diving. What about my routine at home needs to change? Am I looking for beauty in my everyday life instead of trying to escape? Have I taken the lessons I learned abroad and applied them to my life in New York? My mind has stayed with me through the whole journey. It is only natural to fear when it is changing with new revelations. Just as we left 2022 with the sharks, I need to embrace 2023 with the confidence of African Bush Bonnie, romanticizing my days as if every day is a safari game drive.
It is hard to calculate the intangible things I will take away from this trip since they don’t hold material value. Once you find your confidence, and conquer your fears, like education and knowledge, there is no one that can take that away from you.
Thank you again to all of the wonderful people who made this trip possible and exceeded my expectations at every turn!
“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
Until next time, please enjoy this photo of me posing with what some call (just me) the “Charmin of the bush.”