Game-spotting at the Kruger
Finding a leopard was problematic. We (my South African team-mate extraordinaire and I) had tried almost everything – an early morning safari, an evening safari, a self-drive on trails where the cats were spotted. This was our second last chance – a full day safari with the target of seeing the Big 5.
“Leopard, leopard. We want to see leopards,” we told the guide. “We saw lions yesterday, but a leopard is where it’s at.”
And so we set off for the next 8 hours, trying to find the spotted feline. But instead of the Big Five, the only animals around seemed to be Impala.
But oh boy, are they the most common deer in Africa or what? (The answer is yes…). After the 6th hour of saying leopards and meeting impala chewing furiously and a few more of these:
So we fell asleep. At the end of the safari, we wended our way to the guest house and were told that there was a leopard sighting at the entry gate. Ugh.
And the next day, we woke up for another early morning safari and decided that we would want to meet impala the whole day.
And the first thing we saw was –
And there she was sitting…
Amnesia in the Namib desert
I was lying flat on my back looking up at the harsh blue sky on top. I had no idea where I was, what I was doing and how I was now, currently, lying on my back looking up at the sky.
A concerned face was floating somewhere in my line of sight.
“Shruti, are you okay?”
“Yeah… I think so. But where are we?”
…Namibia is one of the most wildly beautiful countries I have been to. To get from Windhoek to Swakopmund (a distance of 300 odd km) will take you around 5 1/2 hours on national highways and roads on which you will see no car come the other way. Google Maps shows you as a dot in a long windy dusty road that will occasionally go into something that resembles rock formations and sandy dunes.
Till you reach Swakopmund and realise that it’s mini Germany. And of course, the only German you are capable of saying starts and ends at “Bitte”, “Schon”, “Vielen Danke”, “Zwei bier bitte?”. Yes, very useful.
It makes you happy that you are travelling with zuh Jermanss, it does!
So, the first thing we decided to do was to go quad-biking in the oldest desert in the world. The dunes here are reddish due to the high Iron content and the air is a bit nippy due to the cold currents from the Atlantic. It was a marvelous experience though the guide and the German boy had too much fun speeding and doing lazy loops up and down the dunes. I gathered I am not as adventurous as I thought (though my family would disagree) and I was positively scared of some of that dune surfing.
Anyway, we stopped at a point and the much-too-adventurous-for-my-good German boy asked me if I wanted to try his geared quad bike. I shook my head preferring to stay put on the relatively safer gearless option.
“Come onnnn Shruti. I want my friends to experience everything I do. I’d feel bad if I don’t let you do this.”
So I, sucker for emotional blackmail that I am, let myself be talked into learning the gears on the 200 cc quad bike. And I took one loop without problem.
Woohoo! “Can I do one more?”
The guide nodded his head and I did one more loop. And then my memory is blank.
… I sat up and saw this.
“Where are we? Why are we in the middle of the desert?”
“Don’t you remember?”
I was getting panicky now. The German had raced right ahead to desperation.
“Do you know who you are?”
“Shruti. Shruti. My name is Shruti. But what date is it? Which country is it?”
“We flew from Jo’burg yesterday, Shruti. We drove to Swakopmund. This is Namibia.”
I spent the next ten minutes figuring out what had happened. But there’s still 10 seconds in my life that are a mysterious void.
Chickens, ATM machines and badly skewed sex ratios at Mozambique
So, there we were at Maputo one fine evening, in a poolside restaurant that wafted half-remembered snippets from bad Bond movies.
You know? The ones where the hero is sitting under some bougainvillea in a banana republic in an unnamed Dark Continent, sipping his vodka martini delicately, with a grip on his Browning’s hair-trigger, eyes flitting from one person to another, searching for the arms suspect he has come to talk to.*
You just expect someone to sidle down opposite you and tell you that the business is to be done outside.
Of course, what the movies don’t tell you is that hero has to occasionally swat a big fat mosquito off his shin. And you are more likely to get a 2 gallon keg of beer as much as a vodka martini.
After feasting off all the prawns you can eat, you understand that Mozambicans party late. And you wend your way to a party that has barely started at 1 AM in a super posh club and you discover to your heart’s content that there is a pool outside that has been emptied of water and now you can sit on a deck chair in the sand and contemplate the vastness of the Southern sky. Till you fall asleep happily.
And wake up, dance a bit, and go back and sprawl in the deck chairs.
The next morning, we were going on a ferry to Inhaca Island, which might be the most beautiful little place of which any pictures you can see will not do justice to it. (I had my camera, but not my memory card, so I was stuck not taking pictures!)
In any case, the intrepid travellers decided to take the government ferry. The government ferry covered the distance between Maputo and Inhaca (35 km) in around 3 1/2 hours. This was the fast ferry. It, of course, instantly conformed to all preconceptions I had about Africa. It was a floating bucket of bolts that was held together by rust. Little chickens clucked around and women holding immense baskets of mysterious contents jostled for space with white tourists. A brown woman stuck out like a slightly sore thumb.
Three and a half very glorious (and alternately spent laughing and sleeping) hours later, the ferry stopped. Right in the middle of the sea next to a small boat bobbing merrily.
And the gentlemen asked us to jump. I had a shortish dress as well as a horrified expression on and finally mustered the courage to drop as delicately as I could while preserving the last vestiges of my dignity.
Bam. That was my suitcase effecting a landing next to me.
After overloading the little bob-boat, we set off to the island, which was around 1 km away. I peered into the water and it was crystal clear, the temperature of slightly tepid tea and absolutely glorious.
I sighed happily in anticipation of 2 great switch-off days.
The motor sputtered and came to a standstill in the middle of the sea. I looked up, a little alarmed.
The boat man leered and asked us for 15 rand. I looked puzzled.
He enunciated clearly. “15 rand for going to Inhaca”
“But we weren’t told about this. We are still at sea!”
“15 rand madam. We take you to beach”
Ah! Extortion. Indians are used to this. So we paid up.
The boat stopped 15 m before the shoreline and we walked in water (wetting our shoes) to the beach. Whereupon three forest rangers fell upon us for the 200 R “forest conservation fund”
We paid that too. Well, I didn’t, because as usual I had no money. But at the hotel, I was absolutely sure they would have an ATM.
No ATM. No shop-to-sell-me-memory-cards. No cell-phone signal. This was going to be fun. Yessiree.
We lazed around the whole weekend, going to Portuguese Island, swimming lazily in the warm Indian Ocean, hopping from one foot to the other in the hot sand and generally being the beach bums that we wanted to be. Much fun, twas.
In the evening, we decided to go to a shabeen to experience raspberry brandy for ourselves at Inhaca town. And, unbeknownst to us beforehand, observe courtship rituals.
First up, we got our green coloured drinks in front of us and sipped it gingerly. (Sidenote: Horrible)Then I looked around and felt slightly alarmed at
1) the fact that I was with three very white boys
2) I raised the gender ratio in the bar by around 30%. (There were only three other women there in a highly testosterone driven bar)
The doubts were quelled by the simple observation that noone was looking at us.
And 25% of the female paragonhood sashayed past a table filled with men who all immediately wolf whistled. One pulled her down to his level. She slapped his hand away.
The other one walked to her and whispered into her ear. She giggled.
I got the dynamics here and I blushed (as much as an Indian could – apparently noone can tell the difference)
Ladies of negotiable affection, I believe they are called.
India, South Africa and Cricket
My clients loved cricket. So much so they installed TV reception in the team room and beamed all the SA-India matches on the projector.
Come match day, they were beaming it live and peering through the Venetian blinds.
They also loved discussing cricket at the top of their voices. And I think they hit payday (in their heads) when their Indian consultant told them exactly what she thought of Hansie Cronje and Shaun Pollock.
She loved them. Of course, Graeme Smith was a shithead.
Silence while everyone mentally concurred. And went back to work.
While on South Africa, this is the worst joke I have heard…
“What links Hansie Cronje and a former president of the USA?”
Ans: The former president was George Bush, and Hansie Cronje crashed in a bush outside George.
I know. I cringed too.
Medicine women in Lesotho
Lesotho is the second poorest country in the world. We were doing a day trip there and one of the things on the agenda was to visit a medicine woman.
I need to show you her store room.
This would be, in Internet parlance, termed an epic #WIN.
For more pictures of Africa, please click here (Humongous self promotion)
* Super fertile imagination. Kindly excuse.