Saturday, August 25, 2007

My first game drive!

We had lunch around 1pm, which was one course – we got to choose between steak with peas and mashed potatoes or calamari salad. They both sounded good, but of course I got the steak. It was sooo delicious! It was incredibly tender and had great flavor, and the sauce that it came with was good too. The salad also looked very good, and people said the vinaigrette dressing was great. Steve stayed for lunch before he left, so with such a big group, we didn’t finish until about 2:45 pm. And they told us that we were going to meet for high tea at 3:30 before setting off on our first game drive at 4pm! So we were going to have half an hour before we were supposed to eat and drink again! But not to worry – it was just tea and these super buttery small cookies/biscuits. I tried only one, but they were so good I grabbed another for the road as we set off for our first game drive.

We all piled into this huge 4WD car/truck that seated 11 people, including the driver. So it was perfect for our group since we had 10! This car was super heavy duty, and it was really good we had it, because some of the dirt roads were pretty uneven, and we did a little off-roading as well. The way the game preserve works is that there are probably about 10 different lodges that have access to the preserve. And there are more traveled dirt paths that are pretty even and stamped out, and there are more private dirt paths that are often pretty small and uneven. The driver/guide, whose name was Hein (he was a pretty cute Afrikaan guy), told us that during the wet season, even these heavy duty trucks get stuck in the muddy ruts sometimes. And these trucks can go off-roading as well, although the drivers have to be careful of course, because there are all sorts of incredibly thorny shrubs and trees in the way, not to mention the uneven terrain.

So the game drive started out with a bang – the first animals we saw were two lions who were brothers. Lions sleep 20 – 24 hours a day, so we didn’t see them active or anything, but just lying curled up against each other on the ground. We got really close, and our guide told us that of course, the lions know we’re there – they have super keen senses – but don’t perceive us as a threat. They were breathing really fast, so Hein told us that they probably recently had a meal – they eat until they’re bursting, but they only eat once every 3 days or so. They eat so much that they don’t have room for their lungs to expand so they have to breathe really fast. It’s so funny! Sounds like me when I eat too much. :) Apparently close by, other trucks saw a mother and 5 lion cubs, but we didn’t get to see them. Hein told us that 3 of those cubs were hers, and 2 were her sister’s. Her sister died, leaving 3 cubs. One of them died, and just when the other 2 were about to starve to death, they were found and sort of adopted by their aunt. Kind of a cute story. We tried to find them again the next morning, but it was sort of cold and windy, so she was probably hiding them away in some shelter.

The next things we saw were two bull elephants. All the female elephants stay in a pack, but once male elephants reach about 13 years old, they get kicked out. So they often stay solo or keep company in small bull packs of 2 or 3 animals. They can get pretty aggressive though and charge at the truck, like they charge at each other. One of the bull elephants started getting a little aggressive, and our guide backed the truck up a little bit, which the elephant took as a sign of us backing down, and stopped being aggressive. I was a little worried, because those elephants can go pretty fast – Hein said up to 30-35 km per hour. But he didn’t charge us, so it was okay. We also saw them using their trunks to drink water and eat – they were pretty impressive. That snout has a lot of flexibility and strength!

Then I saw far off in the distance two giraffes! Everyone congratulated me on spotting them. :) We couldn’t get any closer, but my camera was able to get some questionable pictures of them. If you look closely, you can just see their shadowy outline. Apparently giraffes have the same number of vertebrae in their neck as humans do – 7 cervical vertebrae. Their vertebrae are just huge! They also have this sensor in the back of their head that monitors their blood pressure. Normally, like when they’re eating, they have to maintain a very high blood pressure so that enough blood gets to their head. Because their heads are so high, if they lower their head to drink from water, the blood pressure could shoot up as the blood flows downward, and they could pass out! What this sensor does is monitor when the giraffe lowers its head, and decreases the blood pressure while the head is lowered. This makes me wonder if there are mutant giraffes out there with malfunctioning sensors, who are passing out every time they try to drink some water. That’s probably selected against in evolution. :)

Then we saw some white rhinos. There are two types of rhinos – white and black, although I was told that because of political correctness they have renamed them to something like wide-snout and horned-snout. I’m sure I’m not getting those correctly. Compared to black rhinos, that usually eat from trees and keep their heads up (and have the correct type of snout/mouth to eat from trees), white rhinos tend to keep their nose to ground because they eat grass, and also have wider snouts, ideal for eating off the ground. They also are supposed to have different horn patterns, which I know nothing about. Black rhinos are supposed to be more skittish too – we certainly didn’t see any during our safari.

By this time, it was getting pretty dark and we saw a beautiful sunset. Hein stopped the truck and we all got out and took more pictures - we all climbed on top of the truck canvas too and took a good look around. It was pretty cool. He set up drinks and snacks, and I had some biltong – that’s beef jerky – and it was amazing!! They told me you can’t take it back with you to the states due to regulations, but it’s the best beef jerky I’ve ever had. We drove around for about an hour more after this, with Hein shining this huge penetrating light around to search for animals, but we didn’t see too much more.

We did see some really cool insects. There are these huge termite mounds everywhere, and at some point, Hein stopped and showed us these huge African ants. These ants go en masse to a huge termite mound, kill all the termites, and bring them back to their ant mound for the rest of the colony. We saw a huge line of incredibly large ants (and they can sting!), each carrying a dead white termite on their back, going back to their hive. It was somewhat scary.

We also saw a dead rhino skin. It apparently died about 6 months ago, and was immediately eaten up, leaving only the skin. It looked like leather, and Hein said around their neck, the skin can get up to 3 inches thick – pretty tough for animals to eat or chew through.

We got back around 8pm, and I finally could pee. :) Then we had a few minutes to freshen up, and then basically went straight to dinner, which was delicious! The appetizer I chose was smoked salmon on top of a potato cake on top of smoked kudu, on top of another potato cake. And there was this good sauce spread all around it. The entrée I chose was roast duck, which also had this really good tangy sauce all around it. And for desert I got a cheese plate with 4 or 5 different cheeses, some jam and some honey. Yum!!!! I left feeling very full and satisfied.

After dinner, we went upstairs, and some of us checked email, some of us just hung out, and some of us played pool. Only Kristy, Hein and I kept drinking, and I eventually played pool with them. My partner, the bartender, had to leave to settle up, but I beat them even though I was down by 3 balls! There was definitely some big-time flirting going on between Kristy and Hein, so eventually I left them alone and went to bed. Everyone else had already gone. Apparently that night, he took her on another midnight game drive! But he had to leave his gun because he was a little drunk – but I guess not too drunk to drive the 4x4 truck. :)

1 comment:

Mama said...

Great pictures, Joanne!

Keep the stories coming!