When you contemplate a trip to Africa – especially East Africa – you think about the Big Five – the Lion, the Leopard, the Elephant, the Rhino and the Buffalo and of course I was thrilled to spot these on my recent trip to Tanzania – all except the elusive leopard.
Our guide however opened up a whole new world of “game spotting” to us in the most unexpected way. We spent a fascinating twenty minutes watching a dung beetle rolling and pushing its dung ball round and round. Periodically he would climb on top of the ball just to check out the terrain. Who is the dung beetle’s enemy? Well birds for one as well as bats, reptiles and other insect eaters who would just love a juicy dung beetle – a bit like us during lobster season on the East Coast.
Such patience … watch …
And what about the safari ants? We have all had ants in the house and what a nuisance they can be. We stopped and watched columns of ants – thousands and thousands of them – marching across the road. You have heard the story about elephants being afraid of mice – well it is actually these safari ants they are really afraid of. They can climb up an elephant’s trunk and hang on with their pincers and there is nothing the poor elephant can do to shake it out. Our guide had seen elephants bashing their trunks up against tree trunks in an attempt to get rid of this pesky intruder. They are so scared of ants that they can smell them and avoid them like the plague and as always in Africa there is a way to make nature work for everyone. Local villagers who farm water melons have a terrible time with the ellies who just love the sweet taste of watermelon and when you bear in mind that elephants consume between 400 and 600 pounds of vegetation a day. That’s a lot of watermelons. The villagers know the elephants hate the ants so a few bags of sugar sprinkled around the field attract the ants and voila! You have an instance elephant proof security fence!
The best small thing about Tanzania – the children! Our visit to a local kindergarten was heart warming and entertaining.
Bugs can be a deal-breaker. Just as you have that tropical package all sewn up and ready to go THAT question jumps up. “Er, do you think there will be bugs there?”. Well, it’s Costa Rica. Pretty good chance of there being bugs. Same thing in Belize, or Mexico or Africa. Bugs kinda like hanging out in hot tropical humid destinations.
What is it about bugs that most of us don’t like? Is it because they are small or that they scuttle (shudder) or just that they look so strange? Maybe it is because we don’t like the idea of them creeping up on us and looking for one of those warm humid places they like so much! When you see them in the jungle that’s no so bad. After all that is their natural habitat. But when you see them in your natural habitat – well that’s just freaky.
I once had people come back from Anaheim telling me how their vacation was totally ruined because the room was full of bugs. Upon examination it turned out that the bugs were actually ants – and I agree that is annoying. When I asked if they had advised the management they said they sorted it out themselves by plugging up the ant holes with toothpaste….. mmmm – novel approach. I wonder if the mint in the toothpaste made the ants’ eyes water.
And I must admit having been guilty of bug-fear too (before I was cured that is). I spent an entire two nights at Umgazi River Bungalows on the Transkei Coast in South Africa just petrified of falling asleep in case one of the geckos on the thatch ceiling fell on me. I learnt very quickly that you can get used to anything in time. It’s so tiring being scared all the time, really!
And ignorance is bliss – young children haven’t learnt to be scared yet but copy our reactions. So when I found my young son sitting on the doorstep in Africa with the remains of a huge millipede scattered over his bib I just had to merrily say “Oh dear – what have you been up to?” while I got rid of the debris.
We call the millipede a Shongololo in South Africa
2.14 am …….I can’t believe I am camping out in a small two man tent in the middle of the African bush and there isn’t even a fence between us and them … the predators. How did I talk myself into this? Even more curious… how did I talk my sister into this. She hates spiders and creepy crawlies so much that she sprayed our tent with DDT and now we can hardly breathe.
This wasn't what I had in mind
2.35 am ….. Holy cow! What is that noise? Sounds like hyenas. Oh… there goes the garbage can. They must have found the leftovers from the barbecue. Ugh, I hate hyenas – I know that sounds irrational but they look so primitive and evil.
3.05 am….. Hell’s teeth. What’s that shouting. It sounds like Peter. He’s in the other tent with the kids. What should I do? He’s banging on the side of the tent and shouting “Voetsak” (get away in Afrikaans). Is someone trying to break in. How do you break into a tent anyway? Shouldn’t I rush over there and save my babies….. mmmmmm …. where’s that Tiger Mom in me? Oh yeah – we’re in Africa, not India. So where is the Lion Mom in me? Hang on a minute. It’s gone quiet again. He must have scared them away. I’ll be brave and stick my head out of the tent and shout over to him. zzzzzzzip zzzzzip – “Are you ok Pete?” “Yes, go back to sleep”. Sleep? Who is he kidding?
3.15 am ….. so what happened to the Ranger. He said he was going to take the rifle with him and if we needed anything in the night just shout. He must be as deaf as a post. Shame such a young man too! Just hope we don’t get a herd of marauding elephant through here.
3.45 am …… I wonder how Trish manages to sleep with her hat on. She’s had it on all night. Says it keeps the spiders from falling on her head. Yawn….
4.15 am….. Oh how lovely – an owl in the tree over us hooting away. At least it will keep us company.
4.50 am ….. Wish I had the rifle. I would shoot that bloody owl.
5.10 am….. Hang on.. I think dawn is coming. I can see a pinky light through the mosquito netting of the tent. Maybe we can get up now. zzzzzzip zzzzzip – Oh wow look it IS daytime. And here comes our trusty ranger with his rifle. “Hi! What a night hey?”…. He looks puzzled “Really? I dunno. I had my wisdom teeth out yesterday so I took two percocet and slept all night. What’s wrong? Why are you looking at me like that?”
I’m homesick. That’s weird … because I am home. Canada is my home now. So why am I homesick and for where? I was born in England ……. nah…… not homesick for England.
I grew up in South Africa – and that’s the problem. I have this sudden longing for the bush. They say you can take the girl out of the bush but you can’t take the bush out of the girl.
There’s something healing about being out in the African bush – and yet it can be a harsh place. Nature rules and there are the hunters and the hunted, the victors and the victims. To see a lioness stalking her prey is thrilling and yet some part of you always wants the poor antelope or zebra to get away. Run! Run! You feel like shouting as the poor buck zig zags across the veldt in panic. The lioness is clever, fast and strong and the antelope seldom wins.
On my last trip to the bush in Sabi Sands Game Reserve we came across a huge pride of lion after the kill. The huge black-maned male could barely move he was so full. He lay with his belly distended, his paws flopping in the air, right in the middle of the track, dozing in the midday sun.
Oh I ate too much
His pride lay around him licking and cleaning and grooming and you could still see the traces of blood on their whiskers and chins. It was a hot day and our ranger knew that they would not move for hours but they would be thirsty later on. We would return after sunset.
Sure enough once the sun had gone down and that strangely fast coldness had descended on the bush we found the pride again – this time stirring from their slumber. As if in answer to an unspoken signal they slowly made their way to their feet and one by one ambled off down the track. Our ranger told us there was a water hole some way in the distance and we followed in the landrover with the large floodlight on the front. The light did not seem to bother them. From time to time one of them would stop and turn back, gazing at us, eyes lighting up in the headlamps of the vehicle. More curious than threatening.
Finally they reached the water-hole. All the females lined up – like a Radio City chorus line – along the edge of the waterhole. With beautiful symmetry they hunched down on their powerful forequarters and daintily lapped up gallons and gallons of water.
We sat in the landrover – speaking in whispers – thrilled and awed by Nature’s beauty.
Heads down ladies
Oh yes – I AM homesick for the bush.