Friday, July 09, 2010

An Indoorsman on Safari in South Africa

I was very excited about going on a safari at Pilansberg National Park in South Africa, although I admit I was a little worried. I'm not exactly what you'd call an outdoorsman. I'm more of an indoorsman.

Plus, I had this vision of a safari that was from the 19th Century. I pictured Rudyard Kipling riding an elephant, holding his rifle in his hand, waiting for the natives to point out where and when he could shoot a lion.

The 21st century reality is a little different. No more riding elephants. Now you ride in an open air jeep or mini bus. No more rifles. Most of the animals on this land are on the protected list.

But you still have a native guide, and you still see wild animals in their natural habitat, and you still better be careful. There are signs all over the place that remind you not to exit your vehicle. These animals won't hesitate to injure, maim or eat you if you tread on their turf.

The first thing that struck me when we started traveling through this area was how breathtakingly beautiful it was. This was a national park, but it was nearly untouched by man. There were no paved roads at all. We were in the bush. And the scenery was spectacular. Here are a few examples of what I mean...

Our guide asked us what animals we wanted to see, and of course, I said lions. He sighed when I said it, because they are the hardest to find. After lions feed, they can sleep for days at a time. He didn't point this out to us at the time, but his car had also been attacked by lions just a few days earlier. When we stopped for lunch he showed us the claw and teeth marks on the bumper.

The rumor at the gate was that the lions had freshly killed an elephant--so we headed to the spot where the elephant corpse was rotting in the African sun. It wasn't hard to find, we just followed our noses.

Sure enough, hiding in the bush, protecting her kill, we found a lioness. I'm posting the picture of the lioness and not the kill, because that was a little gruesome. We were no more than twenty or so yards away from her.

The rest of the morning, we saw a parade of other animals. Some moved too fast to photograph, and others went into hiding when they saw us, but I did manage to snap a few shots of the other animals we saw.

Here are a few more...

This antelope (called a springbok) was just a few feet away from us. We had some for lunch our last day in South Africa. Yummy.

The hippos were not thrilled to see us. They started making this loud bellowing noise that scared the crap out of me.

The Wildebeast stared us down too. You can see how close we got. An entire herd was about a hundred feet away.

We had the most difficult time finding the elephants. They had headed up to the hills. I never really pictured elephants up in the mountains, but sure enough, we spotted them in the distance--about twelve of them. It wasn't until an hour or two later that we came up close.

We knew not to spook them, because a bull elephant had charged the car of a fellow American the day before (he showed us pictures back at the hotel...he said it was the scariest moment of  his life), but this mother elephant was too busy eating to care.  Sorry for the butt shot, but I didn't think it was my place to tell her to turn around.

When we stopped for lunch at a little restaurant near the gate, we made a few monkey friends. The signs said not to feed the monkeys, but there was no need for the sign. The monkeys helped themselves. This monkey jumped onto several tables and took the food right off the plates of the diners. Another monkey grabbed a ketchup bottle, climbed a tree, and drank it like a water bottle.

After lunch, we saw many more animals along this beautiful lake.

Here are a few more photos. We got pretty close to all of them, but we never left the safety of our vehicle...

The safari was an all-day experience, and one of the highlights of my trip to South Africa. If you ever get a chance to check one out, I highly recommend it.

On Sunday, my Father Knows Nothing column will be about another great adventure in Africa...

African bathrooms.

In the year 2525

One of the most inexplicable hits of all-time was #1 on this day in 1970, exactly forty years ago. The song is "In the year 2525" and the artist is "Zager and Evans." I even hated this as a seven year old.

Not so fast, Seaver...

...first you have to retire Cubs reserve outfielder Jimmy Qualls.

He didn't.

It would have been a no-hitter if he did...on this day in 1969.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The stadiums of South Africa


This is a shot from outside Royal Bafokeng Stadium just outside Rustenburg, South Africa. This was taken the night the U.S. was defeated by Ghana. It was a chilly night, the crowd was pretty pro-Ghana (although the U.S. did a nice job of representing), and the atmosphere was positively electric, but I have to say it--the stadium is a dump, and the security situation was a disorganized mess. It took us three hours to get in, and three hours to get out, and after a ridiculous bus ride back to Johannesburg, we didn't get back to our hotel until 5 A.M.

Soccer City

As much as I was disappointed with Rustenberg, I was blown away by Soccer City in Johannesburg. It's a palace. I took this picture the night of the Mexico-Argentina game. We just showed up and scalped some tickets for about $100 a head, and we were not disappointed. (Argentina beat Mexico 3-1). The stadium holds 80,000 plus, and will host the finals between Holland and Spain.

Ellis Park

Ellis Park is located right in the heart of Johannesburg, in a very scary neighborhood (although for reference, probably no worse than the neighborhood around the Chicago Stadium in the 1970s and 1980s). As you can see, we had tremendous seats for this game. Brazil beat Chile that night 3-0. What an honor to see such gifted players, and what an atmosphere. We sat right between a Brazil section and a Chile section, and they were singing and dancing all night. Lots of drums and vuvuzelas. (My sister wore ear plugs, but my hearing is shot didn't really bother me.)

Cape Town

We saw the Germany-Argentina game here, and that was probably the highlight of our whole trip. The stadium was pristine, although it was a little chaotic going in and out of the place. Still, it overlooked one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen, and the Germans had their best game of the tournament. (Don't talk to me about yesterday...) We had to scalp tickets for this game, and we paid a little more than we wanted to (about $300), but it would have killed me to miss it.

I have to say this about the Argentinian fans. I hate to paint with a broad brush, but wow are they pushy and aggressive. They have a definite modus operandi. They push people out of their seats so they can form an Argentinian block, to make more noise for their team. I had heard rumors of this, but didn't believe it until I saw it with my own eyes. Some Argentinian jerk actually pushed two ten year old kids out of their seats right next to me, and I stepped in to stop him. He started yelling and threatening me (as if I was the one being a dick), and the police had to come in and escort him out there. Over the next half hour or so, they stopped another thirty or so Argentinians from doing the same thing. It made the win extra sweet for me.

There was no question what team we were supporting. This is my sister Cindy, my brother Peter, and my cousin Martina wearing their Germany uniforms and face paint. It was the last game we saw live.

Tomorrow I'll share some pictures and stories from my safari.

Kevin Bacon

Kevin Bacon is 52 years old today.

If you're one of those people that likes to play Six Degrees of Separation with Kevin Bacon, and you know me, you have two degrees of separation.

I met him once about ten years ago.

Just One Bad Century

Thanks so much to Mike Davis, my webmaster at Just One Bad Century. He held down the fort there while I was away, and posted all of the scribblings I wrote before I left town.

You can catch up here and here if you're interested.

Oh, and Steve Garvey gets it World Cup style today too.

I'm glad to see the Cubs surged into first place while I was away. 

All Star Game at Wrigley

On this day in 1947, the All-Star Game was played at Wrigley Field.

That was just two years after reaching the World Series, and the Cubs were a sixth place team. They finished twenty five games behind the pennant winning Brooklyn Dodgers.

I'm back

I'm finally back on American soil. (Photo: My fellow travelers--my brother Peter, my sister Cindy, my cousin Martina, and me in front of front of Ellis Stadium in Johannesburg before the Brazil-Chile match)

South Africa was fantastic, but my trip home was a bit of an adventure. My flight from Amsterdam to Detroit was canceled and I was stuck in Amsterdam for twenty four hours just as Holland was playing in the semi-finals...although, I must admit, that was actually kind of fun. I watched that game along the dams and locks in Rembrandt Square.

When I finally got to Detroit, they confiscated my carry-on bag because it contained a snow dome (I kid you not), and then lost the rest of my luggage. Our airplane had to deplane because it was sweltering inside (the air conditioning broke), and then the engines wouldn't start up correctly. After an eleven hour flight from Cape Town to Amsterdam, and a nine hour flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, wouldn't you know it--it took nine hours to get from Detroit to Chicago!

But I'm home, and I'll be posting pictures and stories from my great adventure over the next week or two.