Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

How Not To Go On Safari

A couple weeks ago, two of my Canadian friends (dubbed “X” and “Y” in this post) and I did one of the South African musts: a safari at Kruger Park.

We had a great time!  We saw four of the big five (the 5 hardest animals to hunt: elephant, leopard, lion, water buffalo, and rhino) and lots of other animals as well.

There are a few lessons, however, that I feel I should pass on.  If you ever go on safari, don’t repeat our mistakes.

My first lesson is limited not only to safaris, but pertains to traveling in South Africa in general:

1.  Don’t trust maps

Within the first 20 minutes of leaving Joburg, the three of us realized we were lost.  It was fine – we turned around and found our highway exit.

Once on the right path, X, our fearless navigator, looked at the map and said, “From now on it should be straightforward.

Y and I both burst out laughing. “You have a lot to learn about South African maps and road signs. Nothing here is ever straightforward.”

And we were right.  We had to pull over and ask for directions a couple times.  It’s a good thing South Africans are so friendly!

2.  All-nighters are rarely a good idea.  Safaris are no exception.

We made a terrible tactical decision right at the beginning of our trip. On Saturday morning we had booked a sunrise drive that last at 4am. How should we deal with such an early morning?  The obvious conclusion: get completely wasted Friday night and pull an all-nighter.

Seriously, what were we thinking?

We ended up passing out at 3am, getting up at 3:30am (still drunk), and being totally obnoxious on the safari drive.  At least, the boys were obnoxious.  I passed out.

It was such a trippy experience. I woke up each time the truck stopped and the guy beside me (who took pity on me) pointed out why we were stopped. Would doze off, wake up and see a giraffe in my face, fall asleep again, wake up and see a lion – repeat for 3 hours.

Needless to say, we were all tired for the rest of the weekend


3.  Don’t approach lone male elephants

And if you do, ear flapping is a sign of hostility; it doesn’t mean he’s saying hello.

Our first “Big 5” sighting was an elephant.  We laughed and cheered as we peered at him in the distance.

Y stopped the car. I urged him to go forward. He told me, “You’re not supposed to approach a lone male.”

The elephant wandered off the road and we couldn’t see it anymore.

I pleaded, “We’re not directly approaching it anymore! C’mon… go forward. Now we’re coming from an angle. Plus there are so many trees, it won’t even see us!”

Y cut the engine and we coasted closer. Always a super smart decision – sneaking up on a wild animal.

The elephant was so close! I hung out the window, trying to take photos, and saying inane things like, “Hey gorgeous. That’s right. Look at me. C’mon, beautiful, turn this way.”

Suddenly it reared up and charged at us.

X: “Y! DRIVE!”

Thank goodness Y was driving the car. I definitely would have stalled it under pressure.

We drive to a safe distance, the boys gasping and swearing while I laughed hysterically.

“See Bethany? That’s why you shouldn’t get out of the car!!”

Me: “We were fine.  You two are taking this too seriously.

After being almost attacked by an elephant, the rest of the trip seemed tame in comparison.  Not that I’m complaining – my life could generally use more tame.


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