June 26, 2016 – Celebrating in Plain Sight

June 26, 2016 – Celebrating in Plain Sight

“He’s right there!” Adam says. “Near the Y-shaped tree!”

“I don’t see him,” I say, scanning the South African savannah in front of the Land Rover.

“Do you see the tree?” Gibson the ranger asks me.

“I see A LOT of trees,” indicating the bush before us, literally resplendent with grass and trees and, well, bush.

I’m in the back row with Mom and I suspect our angle on the cheetah is just off kilter, with the vantage point obscured by intermediary flora. There are, as I said, a lot of freakin’ trees and the cheetah’s coloration is by its nature designed to camouflage him.

I zoom in using my camera — 5x, 10x, digitally maxing out at 20x magnification. I still don’t see him. They hand me binoculars. To my eyes there’s nothing but bush and trees and I’m frantically and frustratingly searching every “big yellow tree trunk” they tell me he’s lying down beside. There are a lot of big yellow tree trunks in this neck of the woods.

It’s like having a jumbo Where’s Waldo? book before me and over my shoulder an overly sugared eight year old who has memorized every page is jumping up and down shouting, “He’s right there!! Right there! Don’t you see him?!”

Or it’s like those old stereogram gobbledegook images that if you stare at long enough cross eyed a picture of a sail boat suddenly appears; I never saw the sail boat either. Just got a splitting headache and a lot of frustration.

Finally, the cheetah looks directly at me, licking himself clean, as if to say, “I’m right here you idiot! And do you mind? I’m trying to take a bath!”

I thanked my fellow passengers for their help and advice and refusal to let me give up the hunt. And yes, when I located him, he WAS near one of the Y-shaped trees before me and he was lying down near A large yellow trunk. And yes de I saw him it was relatively easy to see him; and yet even knowing where he was now, his color DID enable him to blend in with the background and I’d lose him if I looked away at the wrong moment.

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Based on my knowledge of TV commercials, cheetahs should eat Cheetos; they apparently also eat wildebeests, Impala, and various other wildlife. Still, if he had recently snacked down on some orange puffy snacks, I bet I would have seen the nacho cheese dust on his snout and paws long ago.


During this morning’s game drive, which was once again a chilly descent into the lower escarpment, we did spy a number of animals.

Just outside the Ravineside Lodge, we spotted some guinea fowl, and also got a pretty good view of a male ostrich pecking away at the ground, Entabeni glowing in the rising sun.

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Down below we had a great encounter with a pod of hippos. A school of hippos? A herd? I need to see what a group of hippos is called… Suffice it to say, a group of hippos lead by a large male cow and surrounded by a harm of hippoettes and cub were sunning themselves on the shoreline. They usually do this at night but I gather the water temperatures were too cold and given that I could see my breath the outside air was sufficiently cool for the to venture onto land. They can hold their breaths for up to 6 minutes under water and at night whilst roaming the land they can travel up to 40 kilometers from their watering hole, attaining speeds of up to 35 km/hr. Or, ya know, just under a marathon distance at a pretty good clip. And as I learned from my youth, they have a penchant when very, very hungry, to eat marbles at a furious pace.

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Amidst the majestic splendor of the valley, I snapped a few pics of the landscapes, including one of the visible moon during daytime. As long as I’m googling things, I should look up if there is a technical term for when that happens – Moon Daze or Celestial Sunshine Moonrises or some such.
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A close up crossing with a herd of zebras soon followed. I love how the Southern Hemisphere pronounces zebras. It’s ZEB-ras. I’ve always said it ZE-bras. You say tomato and I say tomatoe. Let’s call the whole thing off…

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Heading back up once again the infamous Big Five Marathon hill, we did a few last minute game sightings.

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A late breakfast and we were off waiting for a bush walk. Unfortunately, the Lakeside Lodge had a game walk earlier in the day and were running late. They had the rifles our Rangers needed to carry with them as we walked the reserve so we were stuck waiting for them to return. The 11 am bush walk got pushed to 11:15… Then 11:45… Before we finally got started around Noon. TIA – this is Africa! Or perhaps This is Airline times… They’re the only other ones I can think of that so incrementally push times.

There was a lot of dung discussion on the bush walk. The basic takeaway was that it’s all a shit of a different color. But the scatalogical highlights included:

Rhinos defecate always in one spot to mark their territory. The dominant male kicks the feces with his feet to illustrate dominance. He will let other rhinos defecate there but only if they do it with respect; if the visiting rhino dares to kick his feet, it’s a challenge of rule and a rhino fight ensues immediately.

Zebra droppings are kidney shaped.

Rangers are allowed to pick up and show the droppings of grass eaters as they wont have rancid meat excrement that could have harmful bacteria.

Elephant dung is like duct tape — it’s got 1,001 uses. It’s a curative for stomach aches; can be used as a mosquito fumigation device when lit in your cabin (just don’t be inside when you light it up); and in extreme cases you can squeeze water from the dung if you’re really, REALLY thirsty.

As we trekked through the bush, I was surprised we hiked side by side. That’s a clear sign of our being tourists.


Any crazy old wizard knows that sand people always march single file to hide their numbers, so I was glad to see the Rangers eventually had us reconfigure ourselves:


We learned a bit about plants too, from an invasive species called the bankrupt bush that sucks up nutrients and water and kills surrounding plant life without offering any real benefit; it can devastate an eco system and is poisonous to wildlife that ingests it. South Africa is in a campaign to kill it off but it’s a tenacious weed that most attempts to kill only seem to make it breed more. The only way is to rip it out manually by the roots and then kill the roots still in the soil. Even that is so labor intensive and potentially seed spreading that they’re not sure it’s going to work. No wonder Australia and Hawaii are both so hellbent on controlling foreign contaminants to their lands!

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Finally there’s the bushman’s candle. This fibrous seed can be rolled with dung or used on its to be set afire and burn for a long time, providing illumination aplenty when out of electricity.

Returning to the lodge, with nary a shot fired to protect us from rampaging wildlife, we grabbed an overly large lunch… And the staff of Entabeni came out singing with a cake for a fellow traveler’s birthday. Happy birthday, Ike!

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Tonight was the celebration dinner for the Big Five Marathon. They posted the results and I apparently came in 18th overall, out of 145 finishers. I was the 12th male and sure enough the top three finishers were all women (good on ya, ladies!). Based on this figures, I passed 127 runners after my phone mishap. Veronika mentioned 11 people didn’t finish the race so I suppose technically I passed 138 runners. I figure as a tribute to that I may donate $138 to either rhino protection or maybe that library project the father and son runners were doing for the local elementary school.

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As we watched a presentation on the rhino orphanage and the anti-poaching efforts of Entabeni, I decided that when I get back to the USA, I’d make a proper donation to them. They were selling purple save the rhino bracelets to raise money at 50 rand apiece but I thought I didn’t need 42 bracelets to get to the $138 equivalent… Although thinking about it now, maybe I SHOULD have done that! One bracelet for each kilometer. Nah… I’ve got enough junk in my life. Better to just make a tax deductible donation.

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The race video that Albatros put together featured Mom and her cowbell! I’ll try and put a screengrab here once they upload it to YouTube. As Lars said, they’ll do it once they have a consistent internet connection… Nice to know EVERYBODY was struggling with the elephants trampling connections.

And because the dinner always includes a bit of marketing, the commercial for the five world wide Albatros Adventure Marathons elicited plenty of excitement and “what if…?” thoughts for the next big race. I’ve done three of their five events. I really want to do the Bagan Temple run but their Polar Ice Marathon looks far too cold and extreme for this sunshine state boy.

Still, maybe some day. Some cold day in hell.

Addendums (4)
Big Thanks to Big Five’s Race Director Lars and Ravineside Tour Leader Veronica, as well as everbody at Albatros and Entabeni, for making our African Adventure happen!