Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What I learned in Africa:

                                          Or go straight to the pics, and read later:

                                                 What I learned in Africa:

People on safari want to see lions, especially the guides. You do see them. We saw one stalk and kill a zebra, rip it open and then she had her cubs eat it. It was exceptionally cute. She, a male relative and the two cubs, happily played with each other right after the kill. Like house cats that just proudly killed a mouse. A lion kills her prey by clamping her mouth over the nose and mouth of her future food until it smothers to death. The lady lion does the hunting. The male lion protects the perimeter. So really, he’s not doing nothing at all. Pics at link at the bottom. (Or above)

Cheetahs travel in pairs. Often two boys. They are the fastest land animals. They have a long black tear that runs under each eye. They are sleek, gorgeous hunters. We saw three of them. Pics below and above link.

Elephants have terrible digestion. They only digest about 40% of what they eat. So they have to eat about 18 hours each day. One night, we had elephants right outside our camp knocking down trees and eating their leaves. You know when elephants are visiting. They are noisy and destructive. And you’ll never forget it. We saw hundreds of them. Pics, yes.

There are so many kinds of antelopes. The largest is the eland. (Almost like a yak.) The smallest that we saw was the Dik-Dik. Dik-Diks mate for life. Very sweet creatures with a circle around each eye. The Steenbock is a small antelope, too, larger than the Dik- Dik. The Thomson gazelle has a black stripe along the side. The Impala, which is so lovely, has amazing horns (the male) and vertical black stripes on their white rumps. They are all over the place. Lovely. The Hartebeest is another great antelope, with its horns forming a heart shape. Similar to the Topi (which has dark upper leg splotches) and just a bit smaller than the Waterbuck, an antelope that lives, you guessed it, always near water. There is also the smaller Reedbuck, another hydrophilic antelope, smaller than the waterbuck. And the Klipspringer, which is a smallish antelope that has round ears and behaves a lot like a goat, living and jumping around rocky areas. We saw them in the morning before breakfast at our last place.

The larger mongooses are mostly out at night. Smaller ones are out during the day. A bunch of them can eat a python. We saw all these.

We also saw Hippos having sex. The man mounts his lady, in water, keeping her head pushed down, occasionally letting her up for air. The sex can go on for two days as it is hard for the male hippo to keep his erection planted inside the female. And once in, it can easily slip out. Hippos live in their own filth. I used to think they were amazing…now, they just seem like enormous pigs to me. They feed all night long, because the sun during the day would fry off their skin. They crap in their water and live in it. You can watch the big blobs of hippos shit float up to the surface while they wallow. When they “yawn” it is really a dominance game in order to show off the size of their large molars.

Zebras, no matter how many you see, and you see a lot of them in Tanzania, are so pretty. Wildebeest, they say, are made from leftover parts of other animals. These two travel together because the Zebras have great eyesight, just enough memory to know where to go for grass each year and they eat quantity of all kinds of grasses. It is not picky. And so it ends up being a big mammal, great for a meal for a lion. The wildebeest is rather dumb, a type of cow, really, and it needs the Zebra for memory and for its eyesight. In return, the wildebeest has a fabulous sense of smell. Wildebeest eat low amounts of high quality grass. These two animals are the staple of the great migration.

We saw storks, flamingos and pelicans. A funny large bird called the Kori Bustard, (largest bird of flight). Eagles, love birds, hawks, vultures. Birds are magic.

Warthogs, no matter how many you see, are always funny. I love them.

Giraffes, no matter how many, are so lovely to watch. We watched a baby giraffe run around near its mother, practicing its hoof work. Female giraffes have much lighter spots than males. Spots on the male giraffe are practically black. The females, more orange. I have movies which will be posted at some point.

The African buffalo is enormous and they live in herds. They are intimidating and ornery and the older males are kicked out of the herd to live on their own. This makes them even more ornery.

Hyenas, after a big meal, get extremely hot from the digesting of bones in their stomach so after a big meal they will sit in a puddle to cool off. Female hyenas have fake penises they use to establish dominance. Not unlike a glorious lesbian with a dildo. Though lesbians can digest bones in their stomach without a rise in body temperature. I don’t know what I love more, lesbians or hyenas, but does it really have to be a competition?

Baboons travel in huge packs. They mostly eat plants, but are not above eating your face.

Black faced Vervet monkeys are super frigging cute.

Not many rhinoceros left. We saw one in the Ngorogoro crater, where this is possible. It just lay there.

If you get a flat tire, consider yourself lucky as it is changed and you are standing on the side of the road watching giraffes go at it with the acacia trees.

The spring hare (no pic of that worth showing) is also called the African Kangaroo for how it jumps along. It really does ambulate like that marsupial. But it is a rabbit.

The crocodile and the hippo live in harmony. They don’t bother each other too much. They are an even match.

The civet cat, which we did see one night, is almost never spotted.

The hyrax, which looks like a ground hog, can be domesticated.

The termite mound becomes home to all sorts of animals, especially snakes, warthogs and mongooses. Once an animal invades, all the termites leave.

The Maasai, who we spent a lot of quality time with at our camps and lodges and also at one of their real bomas, are gorgeous. The men wear bright robes. (The lions are terrified of the Maasai and stay away.) Every fifteen years, any boy who has not been circumcised goes through a ritual (including from weeks to months, depending on how rich their father is, of wearing dark clothing and white face paint to scare away demons), that ends in the circumcision ceremony. After that, he must wait to become an elder before he can marry. He becomes an elder when the next load of boys goes through their circumcision. So it takes some time. A man’s wealth is measured by his number of cows and children. Since he may have many wives, from two to two-hundred, he can easily amass a huge family. All he needs to increase his wife-load is some cows for trading. Traditionally, a woman gets her clitoris removed before marriage. (Though currently the government is cracking down on this practice, a traditional marriage still requires this mutilation. But as one guide told us, “A Maasai woman does not enjoy sex anyway.”  He meant with or without a clitoris.) A man cannot marry until after he has been circumcised and becomes an elder. A woman can marry anytime after she has been circumcised. This leaves many young men single for a long time. I witnessed men holding hands. I also witnessed an incredible languid nature that was very much connected to the earth. They are smiley and present. I have the video. Stay tuned for an eventual movie of this. Though, overall, Tanzanians are a bit formal and any display of any kind of sexual feelings, we did not see.

Do not try to video a lion killing a zebra. You will miss the exact moment of “The Grab” when the lion bites that hind flank of the last zebra up the hill, flips up on that horsey back and then swings down around to the face to clamp and smother. Even if you see all the stalking and then all the clamping, you will regret, for the rest of your life, that you were fumbling with your stupid little Canon Powershot video option during the most exciting moment of your life. You will have to rely upon your husband to tell you again and again exactly how it happened. You will then have to watch on YouTube lion on zebra kills, just like everyone else who has never been on safari.

You will survive in a tent even if it has mice. If you have power bars of any kind in your knapsack, they will chew through many layers of anything at all to eat those bars. Then you will have to throw out the swiss cheese looking zip lock and all the half eaten bars. When this happens to your husband, all you can tell him is, “Make sure you throw out that mess far away from this tent.”

It is always fun to take a private safari. Add to that a few other people in their own private trips run by the same company who you run into more than once here and there at camps and lodges for dinner, and you make instant friends because the whole experience is so incredibly enlivening.

Do not drive from Ngorogoro Crater to the Serengeti. It is punishing, bumpy, long and dusty. Take a bush plane. It is worth it.

What to do that we did, when you go:

Bring ivory soap and a portable clothesline for laundry.
Bring a head lamp.
Bring great binoculars.
Bring Purell Wipes.
Pack as lightly as possible, buying up all those super light pants and shorts at R.E.I.
A Tilley hat, though unoriginal, is your best friend.
Make sure everything has a case.
Bring guide books.

Take pictures, but don’t try to video the lion-on-zebra-kill, as I mentioned, for you will miss “The Grab.”

We were “in the bush” for ten days. Seven days is probably enough. Go away somewhere lush and pampering when you are finished. Safaris are rough. Bring Pink Bismuth tablets for your stomach, Benedryl for sleeping. And anything else you may require for your body parts that tend toward any vulnerability.

Though the climate is much like Southern California, don’t count on a film career in Tanzania.

You can’t save all the poor people in Tanzania, most of who seem to spend their days in transit in search of water. A society cannot modernize while its citizens spend most of their daylight hours fetching water.  Polygamy seems anti-productive, too. A man would be much richer with fewer wives and fewer children and the same number of cattle. But if you start pulling on strings of the Maasai culture, the whole thing could unravel for good. They are holding onto their past, firmly, with both dusty fists. I do not understand any kind of tribalism. It puts culture ahead of the individual. Blech. Let it go, old timey types. The Enlightenment has happened.

Ostriches are solitary birds and can easily outrun a lion. Plus, they don’t make for a good meal.

If you look due north from Boundary Hill Lodge, our last lovely place, you can see Kilimanjaro.

Tsetse flies can bite through a light pair of jeans and underwear to get at your scrotum. Particularly enjoyable on the last day of your trip. They are zig zaggy zippy things. And it seems like they bite with a very long proboscis. I hope I do not get sleeping sickness or elephantiasis. Wearing no shoes at night can get you stung by a bee, in your tent. Another fun experience. But at least the bee was half killed before it stung so it was only half a sting.

Jackals are cool.

Aardvarks, though rarely spotted, are all over Africa. We did not see one.

Leopards, of which we saw three, like to hang out in trees and are hard to spot. They look like cheetahs, but they are larger, with bigger heads, more defined spots and they do not have the long black tear coming down their face.

Everyone in Africa loves you, as long as you are tipping.

Just because it took twenty-four hours to get to Arusha, don’t think it isn’t going to take thirty-six hours to return via Dar Es Salaam.

There is no greater delight than watching a little Maasai girl giggling as she rubs the hair on your arm, something which is so unusual to her. There is nothing sadder than a Maasai woman, who still has her eyesight (unlike some of her older sister wives), yet haggard beyond her years from living in dirt and dung, in a midnight blue wrap with almond shaped eyes, who looks at you deeply with a desire to connect and a desire to flee. And you can’t help her. So you just go back to your fancy lodge and cry.

No matter any inconvenience, physical pain, or cultural freakishness, it is worth the effort to see this amazing diversity of so many animals in such great numbers. Africa: I give it two paws up. Roar.

The Pics:


Charlie said...


You saw everything. Even the Hilary Clin ton shop.

Mkm said...

Oh my God, Don, what a vivid account of your trip! Simply amazing is right. thanks for sharing. Glad you made it back safe and sound to the wilds of New York!

Etue said..., I am a Wildebeest looking for a Zebra. Thanks for the excellent travel tails. What's next? xoxo

* said...'s all about the animals. So glad they have a place to be!

Anonymous said...

Don, I had missed this link when you first sent it to me! Loved your account of being on safari. I'm with you about tribal cultures. Put your past in a museum, I say, meticulously, yes, but come into the now! AND I do think it's amazing that so many mindsets can live on one tiny planet all together at the same time. Loved reading this. Loved the animal chat. Thank you! Joy