Trip to South Africa, Part 5 – The Pilanesberg

Resurrected, appropriately, on Sunday morning we headed off to discover the great new land that surrounded us. Being in the middle of a wild life preserve larger than Spain makes one think one obvious first thought: how do we get online? It turns out that there are a couple of viciously flakey hot spots around the place that cost $20 to access per 150 megs – which amounts to daylight robbery. Begrudgingly I paid, and then proceeded to deal with as many client complaints as I could stomach. I even told one client to find a new dev, because I couldn’t deal with them anymore… something I should have done a long time ago.

For lunch we found a great little Indian fast food place that had vegetarian food for Andrew and I (the two fags) and curry hot enough to satisfy Rob. After that, we watched rob hit the Black Jack tables for a bit and then went for a walk around the grounds. We met up with two Australians who had driven up for the day, and told us they were staying in the Parktonian Hotel in downtown Johannesburg. I said it had been nice meeting them, and if there was anything I could do for their families once they were gone.

Still looking for trouble, we booked ourselves on a night game drive, but still had some time to kill. It was suggested that we try the local Shabeen. Now a real shabeen is a township (read shanty town), informal bar. They normally server cheap beer and fermented milk products, along with food that is designed to be inexpensive enough for people who live in some of the worst conditions in the world to be able to afford. Sun City, in their infinite quest to provide the ultimate African experience, has built their own shabeen (which Rob insists on calling “The Shabang”.) Its actually very nice, clean, full of white people and the jukebox is stocked full of Kenny Rogers (like 10 CDs) and Afrikaans classics with lyrics that went something like this (translated as best I can) “We need back the home of my grandmother, where the flag waved proud and the springbok kept its head high”… so basically nothing at all like a shabeen, but exactly like a shabang.

Time passes very quickly when exposed to pool tables and 750ml beers, but it probably has something to do with gravity. Soon it was time for the game drive. Due to the massive drop in night time temperatures, night drives are apparently not particularly popular at the moment, so the three of us got an exclusive. Our ranger was a black guy named Israel, who didn’t seem to have any opinion on the Middle East, but knew a lot about the reserve, so that was good enough for me. The park was basically empty as only rangers can enter at night, and we were the only tour group from Sun City. In fact, we only passed one other vehicle the entire three hours we were out. Boy did we get lucky. We saw pretty much everything you could hope to see short of the big cats. We saw a giraffe laying down to sleep, which is pretty unusual (propping his head up against a tree), owls standing in the road for warmth, baboons sleeping on dam walls, zebra and gnu still out grazing and even a lone bull elephant who followed us for about two kilometers down the road, which actually got a little weird and the ranger was clearly worried at times. The highlight of the evening was an easy choice. Coming over a hill, we found two male rhinos squaring off in the road. We watched them strut and grunt for a while, which is pretty usual posturing over territory, but Israel said that never in his six years had he ever seen them fight. Tonight was different though, and they went at each other. Seeing two creatures like that actually try and kill each other is somewhere between sad and amazing. They didn’t seem to be at all bothered by our presence and let loose on each other. Their horns clapped as they rammed each other, but the sound of their feet and the rocks moving out of their way as the push each other in and out of the road was what stood out the most to be. They were pretty evenly sized and matched, and both came out of it worse for the wear. The one closest to us, who looked like he was leaving first, had a gash almost two feet long from his snout to the neck, and was bleeding pretty badly; the other was covered in blood under his horn and mouth. When they walked off in two different directions, they almost seemed embarrassed. Our guide said that if he was anyone else seeing this he would cry… I’m not sure if he meant that he was tougher than the average person, or if he could drop his professionalism for a minute he would break down, but it seemed even more moving to him than it did to us, and we were stunned.

The drive became colder and colder, and although if Israel had kept going there would be no complaints, we were all pretty happy to get back home and into warm beds.

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