Tuesday, October 4, 2005

A murder of crows

Even with our two guides, Dylan and William, there were multiple names involved. In fact, tall, blond William was also known as “Jim”. All of us were like, “Jim”? How do you get that out of “William”? He grinned shyly (well, not that shyly) and said, “It’s a nickname the other guys gave me, because all of me is double jointed.”

And then to demonstrate, he flared his fingers out, and all ten of his digits were bending in four different directions at once. Gasp!

a pickup line! The group fell silent for a moment, and you could imagine all the women thinking, “Mmmmm hmmmm ... all of him is double jointed...... wonder what one could do with that?....”

Oh hang on. Back to the animal life. Sorry, kids.

But no, I won’t. Because really, the rangers are quite interesting. (And c’mon, they’re mammals too!!) Every one of them is about 23 or 24 years old. Apparently, it’s a career choice, for a time. Do guiding for a bit, then move on. I think all the old guides just eventually crawl off into the bush to die, like an old bull elephant past its prime.

Anyway, there are numerous lodges in any one park, and each lodge employs its own guides. So these boys are driving around for 3 hours every morning (Jim actually wore driving gloves, poor sweet baby!) and another 3-4 hours every evening, looking for creatures wandering around in the veldt (high grasslands).

And it’s not like the animals are standing around at bus stops or calling in their locations. So the guys are looking for animal tracks and animal poo (we saw a LOT of that!) to give them a clue. When they come across another vehicle, everyone stops and compares notes, with friendly greetings all round. Very sociable, just waiting for the teapot to come out with some biscuits! That “pause that refreshes” actually came to pass later, at sunset, but instead of tea and bikkies it was cocktails and biltong (dried meat, way better than it sounds!)

Next up? Rhino. We saw a little family of white rhino, some grownups and a baby. Sooo cute, munching away in the tall grass! But you wouldn’t want to run over and pet them, as they can be very aggressive. They really do have little birds sitting on their backs, grooming their skins. A bit later we saw black rhino (so named because they were first discovered [by white people] along the Black River in the Natal.) Black rhino and white rhino are actually the same physical color, a light grey. Go figure.

And? What else? Giraffe, lovely animals. They have a 45 cm long tongue, and use it to eat leaves off the prickliest trees I’ve ever seen in my life. As a matter of fact, I think every single bush or tree in the bush has thorns. And a lot of the thorns have some poisonous stuff on them, so they also burn and sting when they poke you.You wouldn’t want to go prancing around naked out there! (As one is wont to do elsewhere, perhaps in a moonlit garden in England..? Mmmm, no, too chilly tonight for you all...)

The giraffe have a lovely coat and apparently they all are patterned just alike, although they can differ in shade (blonds, brunettes, and redheads, I suppose). This is unlike zebra, where each has a unique pattern to its pelt. Zebra stripes are like our fingerprints... every one is different.

The giraffes and zebras are so lovely to look at, and so much fun. They tend to stand amongst particular types of vegetation, and when the Land Rover approaches, they move just a wee little bit into a tree or bush... and they simply disappear. There one second, utterly camouflaged the next. It’s like those hidden pictures in a kid’s magazine. You wouldn’t think something so exotically patterned could become invisible, but it really happens. And do you know what a group of giraffe is called? A “kaleidoscope” of giraffe. Too cool! There’s also a “crash” of rhino, and a “dazzle” of zebra. Someone must have had a blast thinking those up. I had only ever heard of a “murder” of crows.

We saw some catfish (it doesn’t sound especially thrilling, I know) and those babies are big, like everything else in Africa. You could see the water roiling as they churned round and round in a small watering hole. And, if the waterhole dries up, they climb out of the mud and walk off looking for more water! No kidding, they really can move across land! That is one ugly (creepy, really) fish!

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