When attempting to plan the outline of our "safari-based" blog, it was quite difficult to find any substance beyond the all-inclusive "we drove around and saw a lot of animals." Such a write-up would inevitably result in an immediate scroll to the photos (which may have already occurred for most by now), and all my previously discarded drafts of this blog would have been in vein. Thus, I decided to take a slightly different approach, and attempt to learn you all a little "something something" about the traditional South African safari experience.
In order to understand what your average safari newbie has in terms of expectations, I decided to google "safari" and see what images popped-up. The first one that arises is a picture of your standard safari vehicle, with camera-toting tourists popping out from the top, sporting their newly-purchased-just-for-our-first-trip-to-Africa $10K lenses. The second is none other than an extremely photoshopped image of an elephant family -- all of exact same proportions - walking along the horizon at dusk. And the 3rd is a more realistic combination of the two, as two male lions sit in the foreground to their viewers delight.
Now, while all these situations are definitely probable to occur on your typical safari, a little substance is required first to establish the "off-camera" context of how these images were captured. Before commencing of course, I did want to establish two quick ground rules:
1. For any of you who feel that "Coming to America" is a fairly accurate depiction of African life, it is best you cease reading immediately, as your reality is amazingly hilarious, and better left unchanged.
2. The below lesson will focus primarily on your "middle-class" safari experience. For those willing to deplete their life savings for an authentically-unauthentic "trip to the bush," I shall include a few notes on the variations that can be purchased for the small price of curing world hunger.
Onto the lesson:
Safari Vehicle - While images of a gun-toting African, decked out in a khaki vest with no less than 78 pockets, driving an old roofless green 4x4 may come to mind, many would be surprised that any vehicle (enclosed or not) can be used on a safari, and even driven by oneself! As Kruger NP falls in the category of an "easy drive" game park, your best choice is going to be any automobile with at least 4 wheels, and more importantly, solid reverse movement capabilities as to avoid the inevitable "pissed-off elephant" (it does not take much to anger these "gentle giants"). In addition, all said vehicles encompass a radio, enabling safari goers to set the ambiance with their favorite Miley Cyrus tune while watching Zebras graze the grassy plains abound. While Land Rovers and other 4x4's offer a slightly higher vantage point to peer over the grassy roadside in desperate need of weed-whacking, nothing says "up-close-and-personal" than staring a lion eye-to-eye from a trusty low-riding Ford Fiesta -- Our vehicle of choice for the trip. For those with $$, please see "man with gun and khaki pockets" (who no doubt has no bullets in his gun, nor objects in any of his 78 pockets).
Game Viewing - For those of you picturing a leopard in a tree, or quite possibly a face-painted monkey holding a lion cub at the top of a mountain bluff, I will first state that yes, these moments are possible to capture. But by god are they damn impossible to find. Approximately 95% of time on your typical safari day is spent scanning the horizon in mind-numbing/eye-blinding fashion, only to see the occasional herd of "dime-a-dozen" easy-prey animals (e.g. impala) or the heart-stopping tree stump or boulder that is shaped almost exactly like an animal. The other 5% of the time is where 99% of the photos arise, after finally finding the tree stump that is truly a sleeping lionness, or in most cases, a traffic jam of other vehicles all waiting to capture their turn at photographing the hell out of whatever feline-based animal strolls past their viewfinder (i.e. lions, leopard, cheetahs). For those with $$, you are escorted around Miss-Daisy-style, with radio-based contact setting the course. Eye-straining / sense-of-adventure need not apply.
Accommodation - While the playing field may have been relatively level up until now, accommodation options are where the separation of "classes" truly comes into play. From a $20/night campsite to a $5000/night all-inclusive-open-your-wallet-and-we-will-put-a-leopard-in-the-tree-in-front-of-your-cabana, the options are honestly as endless as the money in your savings account. While Julie and I opted for a more "mid-range" safari experience (it seemed best not to force her to wander around a moonlit campsite in search of "facilities" during our honeymoon), the temptation to splurge was by no means put off very easily. But at the end of the day, whether you spent your life savings on an "authentic" experience, or a much smaller amount for an actual authentic safari (no quotation marks required), the animals are gonna eat, sleep, piss & sh*t for your viewing pleasure all the same. : )
Meals - The final aspect of the safari experience is to quench the appetite created by aimless staring at empty tree branches and lonely bushes. While pre-prepared snacks are a must (the South Africa version of jerkey - Biltong - is almost like crack in a bag), every evening must end with some sort of fire-based meal. For us, some delicious lamp chops, boerewors (i.e. sausage) and potatoes comprised the meals. For those in the "upper-echelon" category, your authentic African experience no doubt includes caviar shipped in from Russia.
In the end, whether cruising around in an oil-burning Ford Pinto, or a gold plated Land Rover, animals will be seen, memories will be made, and you most definitely will piss off at least one elephant.
Onto the pics: