Manchester – Johannesburg – Kruger NP
A tale of normal blokes looking for fun and adventure
“What the bloody hell is this thing Blair?”
“That’s a chickpea Dean.”
“A chickpea,” I answered, inspecting the golden orb balanced on my friend’s silver fork.
“Is it chicken or a pea?”
“Erm, a bit of both possibly,” I said, knowing if I told the truth he’d more than likely leave his dinner.
“Champion!” replied Dean, eating my little white lie and the rest of his curry in four hearty mouthfuls.
The Emirates flight from Manchester to Dubai had been a treat from start to finish. The initial trepidation shown by my two travelling companions and me as we splattered along a soggy
motorway to the airport had all been left behind in gloomy England. Nervousness and fear was washed away by the airline’s regular supply of wine, and in its place developed a much welcomed sense of joviality and excitement.
Arriving at the sparkling Dubai International Airport things took a turn for the worse. The long wait for our connecting flight to Johannesburg was miserable. Hungover and groggy from our greedy alcohol consumption on the plane, the three of us needed greasy food more than a bratty child needs a good slapping.
Drifting in the direction of Burger King, we each placed an incorrectly named value meal on our visa cards. The flame grilled offal filled a gap that the chickpea curry evidently couldn’t and once our bellies were completely satisfied we made our way to the boarding gate.
While Dean was lacing himself with aftershave samples in a duty free shop, I joined Danny – the second of my two travel companions – in making the acquaintance of a girl we’d spotted tinkling on her laptop.
The amiable young lady was a South African national called Irene. She was returning home after working on a cruise ship for a year in the Caribbean. I really enjoyed talking to Irene for those first few minutes. She seemed bubbly and energetic, and had a sharp sense of humour to boot.
As we spoke, I struggled terribly to avert my gaze away from Irene’s chest. I literally had to concentrate on maintaining eye contact at all times. For once in my life however, this bosomy interest wasn’t due to being a class-A pervert. Although a finely shaped pair of breasts they appeared to be, I was in fact ogling Irene for far grislier reasons. The poor girl had huge areas of scar tissue spanning from the top of her neck, down both arms and deep into her cleavage. It looked like some sort of burn rather than birthmark, most probably from scolding. Whatever it was though, it had made a mess of an otherwise attractive girl.
One generally tries to avoid asking people they meet in airport terminals what exactly had disfigured them. And Irene wasn’t overly forthcoming in enlightening us on this particular subject either. She was pretty keen, however, on showing us that she was an ardent admirer of inebriation. Asking us all to join her for a drink, Irene claimed to have a stash of miniatures in her bag she’d nicked from the previous flight.
Following her lead, we purchased a can of coke at a nearby bar and watched Irene top up her can with the pilfered liquor. Dean and I sat waiting with thirsty expectation. We hoped the hair of the dog would chirp us up a tad and bring back some of the happy banter we’d shared earlier.
Unfortunately, we would be waiting a long time, as it soon became apparent that Irene preferred keeping her alcohol all to herself, just as she had the tale of her skin mutilation.
“Are you guys not getting a drink?” she asked as we observed her downing the whiskey and coke.
“We’ve got one?” responded Dean, pointing to his ready and willing can.
“I didn’t mean just coke when I asked you to join me you know. I really dislike drinking alcohol on my own.”
“Share your free booze then you tight cow,” I said under my breath, annoyed our new pal wasn’t in much of a benevolent mood.
“We can’t afford airport prices,” we hinted, but it fell on deaf ears.
“You guys are boring.”
“And you’re a selfish bitch,” muttered Dean.
Not keen on paying over a fiver for a drink, we sat at the bar sipping our cokes as Irene steadily got pissed. Not having to act all grateful and courteous now she wasn’t willing to share her stash, we began guiding conversation from sociable chit chat into a more preferable set of topics.
“Did you get much on these Caribbean cruises then Irene?”
“Much of what? Money?”
“Cock,” answered Dean bluntly.
“Do you mean sex?”
“That’s a bit of a personal question, don’t you think?”
“Come on Irene,” I said, too slow to realise the incredible quip I could have sung from it. “We’re all friends here.”
“Erm, I would say I got my share then. Why?”
“We are just curious. What type of lads do you usually go for?”
“I don’t really have a type. But not South African I can tell you that,” she stated sternly.
“Why not? I bet there’s loads of decent looking lads in South Africa.”
“They’re all dirty players. You can practically smell the AIDS on them,” she spat. Not literally, but it wouldn’t have been any less offensive if she had.
“Fucking hell. You can’t say that,” I responded, dribbling coke all over the table as I attempted to suppress an inappropriate laugh.
“Why not? It’s true. I’m a black woman from Free State. All of the guys I know around there just fuck and fuck and fuck without ever using a condom. They don’t care what they pass on, so why should I care about them?”
“Fair enough I guess. You obviously know the place better than we do. It just sounds a bit harsh that’s all.”
“So is getting AIDS off some sleazy guy who can’t keep his dick in his pants.”
She had me there. One nil to Irene.
From the sexy little conversation that had turned slightly sour (it’s all that dashed AIDS’ fault) Irene strangely warmed to us. She was pretty drunk by now, clearly having caned a few whiskey’s before we’d begun chatting. And in her growing drunkenness it seemed as if Irene’s affections for me were evolving at a similar pace.
My hangover was in full swing at this stage, and since she’d been too tight to alleviate it with one of her pilfered drinks, I was in no mood to humour Irene’s advances. Having found a much fitter South African girl to socialise with, we attempted to fob her off once on board the plane.
The flight to Jo’burg proved nothing like the earlier journey from Manchester to Dubai. Gone was the bonhomie and mirth. Insomnia, back pain and headaches were the predominant factors this time around. Couple this with fighting off the affections of a drunken, judgemental black woman and the flight soon become an experience I couldn’t wait to end.
Before embarking on my trip to Africa I’d had the bright idea of watching a variety of films on the region. I’d hoped to get a better perspective on what to expect upon my arrival and this form of media was the most accessible. It just so happened, the majority of this unwise selection ended in a spot of genocide. With such a pursuit being something very few of us are keen on being a part of, I was a little disturbed to say the least.
Another slightly less aggressive, yet still utterly terrifying programme in my pre-arrival viewing was a documentary by Louis Theroux. Set within Johannesburg, the show focused on the panic and despair afflicting many parts of the city due to poverty and gang culture. Watching this a few hours before setting out for South Africa really wasn’t the cleverest thing I’d ever done. It had completely the opposite effect to what I’d hoped. I wanted to be put at ease by my new surroundings. Not panicked that I was going to get robbed at every turn by a machete wielding madman.
I was genuinely scared about the initial section of our trip. Perhaps it was the not so welcoming locals on Louis’ documentary threatening to cut someone’s wife’s face off. Or it could have been their intent on putting a baby in the microwave should a parent not hand over their valuables when requested. Whatever the reason, it was fair to say that upon arrival into Johannesburg International Airport I was considerably ill at ease.
Another worry concerning this particular segment of our new adventure was the fact that I’d had no say in its organisation. And for a control freak like me, this was not comforting whatsoever.
In normal life – or should I say in everything except travelling – I do my utmost to avoid any form of responsibility. I hate it. Responsibility is just another word for burden in my book. Conversely though, when it comes to my trips abroad, I like to be in full control for the majority of the time.
My pal Danny had taken the reins for the first section. He had organised for us to stay with an old friend of his for a few days in one of the city’s northern suburbs. All I knew was that the guy’s nickname was ‘Trigger’ after the Only Fools and Horses character. When I’d asked why this was, I was told to just wait and see.
Having collected our backpacks – Dean’s festival going sleeping bag receiving a thorough sniff by a drug hungry beagle – the three of us then made our way into the airport’s arrivals hall. For ten minutes we stood in a tired and confused state, doubting the reliability of Trigger actually showing up. Or I did at least – Danny on the other hand seemed quietly confident.
“Do you think he’ll definitely have remembered us mate?” I asked tentatively, trying not to sound too much like an ungrateful arse.
“He’ll be here sooner or later. Knowing Trigger he’ll have got lost in the car park,” answered Danny. “Here is now, look. That big, numb sod over there who looks like Postman Pat.”
Sure enough, a six foot four version of my childhood’s favourite postie bound towards us, smiling warmly as he approached. Manly handshakes exchanged all round, we set off towards the car park Trigger had just been lost in.
Arriving at Trigger’s truck, we threw our luggage into the back. The thud of our bags as they hit the corrugated metal was shortly followed by a loud slap of skin against skin. Turning around, Trigger was stood with his head in his hands looking distressed.
“Fuck!” he uttered, shaking his noggin in disbelief.
“I’ve locked the bastard keys in the truck.”
“I told you.” said Danny, looking at Dean and me with a big smile on his face. “Now you know where Trigger comes from.”
Twenty minutes of farting around later and Trigger finally managed to break in. He’d opened a small window with a piece of plastic removed from the roof racking before forcing his large self through the tiny cavity with a succession of grunts and heaves.
It was a forty minute drive from the airport to Trigger’s house in the suburbs. The ride seemed to take far longer however. I was on edge every time we stopped at a set of traffic lights and feared something dangerous may suddenly occur.
Large groups of Africans congregated at the lights, doing nothing more harmful than trying to hawk their wares. Yet I was adamant that one may pull out a gun or grab our gear from the back of the truck at any second.
Had I not watched the aggressive documentaries regarding Johannesburg’s dreadful crime statistics then I wouldn’t have been like this. Trigger assured me there was nothing to worry about, and he was right, but I was still relieved each time we pulled away and eventually rolled into the garage of his well secured bungalow.
The house Danny had organised for us to stay in was fantastic. Each room of Trigger’s lovely abode was spacious and very nicely decorated. The bungalow had a huge garden too, complete with specialised barbecuing area and even its own swimming pool.
The four of us had a quick brew together before Trigger went back to work for the afternoon, kindly giving us the run of the house. We didn’t do much running mind. Dean and I went and crashed out on our big shared bed, whilst Danny snuggled up on the sofa for a few hours of well needed rest.
That evening – our first in Southern Africa – Trigger and his lovely wife Kerryn drove us to their local pub. The ridiculously cheap beer flowed in abundance. Every time our sweating glasses of crisp Windhoek lager looked as if they were likely to expire, an efficient waiter would glide over and drop another round onto the table. It was unusual for us Brits to experience such service, what with having to endure the drudgery of going to the bar for oneself and all. It certainly made a welcome change being looked after so well.
Trigger’s local pub proved to be great fun. We became well acquainted with our gracious hosts that evening, receiving a glimpse into the lives of South Africa’s more affluent residents at the same time. Some of Trigger and Kerryn’s friends had joined our party midway through the night, although they’d acted responsibly by heading home before they became totally plastered. We, on the other hand, weren’t so astute, with Trigger driving us back to their place in approximately half the time it took to get to the pub four hours earlier.
Drink driving in South Africa, we were soon to learn, was a lot less frowned upon than in many other western countries. The locals claimed driving under the influence to be a much safer option than taking a taxi. This was due to the likelihood of the cab driver subsequently mugging them. Whether the countries road safety statistics would concur with this precept I don’t know. But nevertheless, drink driving was something South Africans readily seemed to accept.
Stumbling into the kitchen, we attacked the household’s stock of booze before some bright spark decided it would be a great idea to go in the pool. Just so I wasn’t the odd man out I had a quick splash, but being of sensitive stock I found the water far too cold for my liking. Standing back instead, I watched the other plonkers back flip and wrestle into the night as I shivered my little tits off under a towel.
When the rest of the boys began feeling the chill we ventured back into the kitchen. The five of us then began warming ourselves up, starting with our throat and lungs first by tackling a giant bag of weed. None of us smoked regularly, and consequently, just as many could roll a decent joint. Trigger’s overflowing bouquet was the most acceptable effort, and before long we were all well and truly buggered off it. Although some of us were more reluctant to admit it than others.
“It’s not done anything to me,” slurred Danny. “Its shite is this weed lark.”
“If it’s shit then why have you got that dopey smile on your face?” asked Kerryn through the smoky haze.
“What smile?” replied Danny, trying his best to suppress a Cheshire cat like grin stretching lazily from ear to ear.
“That one you daft fucker!” said Dean, pointing at his beaming countenance.
The rest of us were in stitches at this point. The marijuana and Danny’s denial had well and truly given us all the giggles. He too followed suit soon after, rolling around on the floor in fits of uncontrollable laughter whilst still trying to profess his resistance to the drug.
For a good quarter of an hour none of us could stop laughing. I’d tried weed before, and only once had it had a similar effect. The other occasions it had made me feel like a paranoid sociopath, so this shared joviality was a welcome change.
Eventually we dragged ourselves into the living room and put on some music. Trigger and his Mrs passed out on the sofa shortly afterwards, closely followed by a still grinning Danny. Dean and I sneaked back into the kitchen at this point in order to sate our newly arrived hunger. Feasting on roast chicken and salad cream sandwiches, seasoned with what was left of the bag of weed, we filled our guts before thinking it best we head to bed also.
The next day I awoke feeling terrible. Trigger had somehow managed to crawl out of bed in order to oversee the guys working for his construction company. Dean, Danny and Kerryn had also surfaced and were discussing the plan of attack for the day ahead.
“We’re fancying the Lion Park Jord’, are you up for that?” asked Danny.
“It’s a park with lions in it.”
“Not really then, I’ll wait here for you,” I replied, groggily. “I’ll hold the fort and keep an eye on the housekeeper for you.”
“That’s not happening. The housekeeper’s fine and you’re coming with us,” said Kerryn forcibly enough for me to know she meant business. “We’re setting off in quarter of an hour, so go and get ready.”
It’s highly unlikely I would’ve shown any enthusiasm at the idea of visiting a glorified zoo even if I’d woken up feeling tip top. Considering my brain felt as if it had just been punched by a kangaroo then, it’s fair to say I really didn’t fancy the Lion Park whatsoever that morning.
Pulling into the car park of the enormous grassy complex, we bought our tickets before proceeding on foot into the grounds. Having checked out a few hyenas that looked about as happy to be there as me, the four of us then made our way to the giraffe enclosure. A solitary old man was hand feeding the beautiful critters as we approached. Witnessing the animal gently lap at the food from his upturned palm, I instantly perked up.
Although I’m not overly enamoured by most animals – quite unlike Dean who loves the tempestuous bastards – I do really like giraffes. Giraffes, goats and the occasional dog. The rest are either boring, annoying or dangerous. There’s a look of confused serenity in giraffes that I love and can certainly relate to. They’re so wonderfully amiable it’s impossible not to like the lanky buggers.
Danny bought a bag of giraffe food from a nearby vendor. It looked like Shredded Wheat mixed with rabbit shit, and smelled rather similar to the latter too. We each grabbed a handful of the stinking feed and made our way to the fence. Tentatively handing some of the brown mixture to a gorgeous youth with its head stuck through the posts, we quickly moved on when a greedy ostrich started sticking its powerful beak in.
Climbing atop a wooden platform, the four of us cautiously held out lumps of shredded excrement as a lure. Once they saw what delights we had for them, the graceful adult giraffes gently lumbered over. They were magnificent beasts, far bigger than I’d expected. Their massive heads alone were the size of my torso. The beautiful animals slowly took the food from our palms with their customary easy going style. Emboldened by their lack of aggression – and wanting to show off somewhat – Dean and I then placed some of the coveted feed on our tongues for the giraffes to tenderly lap off. As their foot long black tongues tickled against our own it was a struggle not to recoil in fear. We were a long way from any teeth though, so we maintained our poise until the giraffes had eaten the lot.
Getting French kissed by a local on the second day of our adventure was something we were both exceedingly proud of. Travelling is all about new experiences, and we gleamed from that brief encounter that bestiality is a totally underrated pursuit.
An affable young attendant invited us into the enclosure she was cleaning once we’d had our fill of snogging the giraffes. Within the fenced environment lay six young lion cubs. They were awesome little creatures, although slightly overzealous with their playful biting. Even when they were attempting to lacerate our forearms, the cute cubs were far nicer than the nasty garden shitting felines adored by women with loneliness issues back home. All they are fit for is testing out a new catapult.
Meerkats and a pit of sad looking crocodiles were also features of interest within the park. We didn’t hang around long at either of these enclosures mind. Our priorities lay with the big boys that gave the park its name.
Heading back to the car we began our drive into the lion’s den. It was all a bit eerie within the fenced arena. It wasn’t a huge space, just enough room for a car to do a comfortable circle before heading back out to safety again.
All of a sudden I became incredibly nervous. As we approached the resting cats, a male lion the same size of Kerryn’s car yawned directly beside my head. All that separated us from this terrific mass of teeth and muscles was a thin pane of glass. The knowledge that one small swipe from its dinner plate sized paw and the lion could open our vehicle up like a tin of sardines was more than a little disconcerting.
The lions we inched by were magnificent looking creatures – utterly terrifying and breathtakingly handsome at the same time. You really wouldn’t stand a chance with one of these monsters. Hence the reason I wasn’t overly keen on spending too much time in the enclosure.
After an unexpectedly enjoyable day in the Lion Park, our second evening in Jo’burg was to be spent continuing the gaiety with a couple of Trigger’s friends.
Rowan was our host Kerryn’s older brother and a really nice bloke. He was very down to earth and chatty, and had a way of making you feel well at ease with him.
Luke, who was engaged to one of Kerryn’s cousins, was an absolute mountain of a man. He made Trigger, Danny and Dean – who were all pretty well built lads – look like three malnourished refugees from a Sudanese village. As for myself, Luke made me feel about as manly as a used tampon. Despite his intimidating bulk, he was an incredibly nice guy too. Both Luke and Rowan were extremely interested in our forthcoming trip, firing off question after question with affable curiosity.
The Monte Casino complex was a giant Spanish themed mall, hotel and casino. It was a stunning place, much like the rest of Johannesburg we had seen to date, and was to be our first port of call for the evening.
Trigger had borrowed his father-in-law’s fancy BMW convertible and sped us through the quiet northern suburbs and down into the Casino’s claustrophobic underground car park. Luke and Rowan were in hot pursuit, racing in behind us before we all made our way to The Meat Co’ – a popular franchise of restaurants for the carnivorously inclined.
After our giant rump steaks we strolled the complex a little. The European feeling resort was lovely to walk around, although it couldn’t have felt any less African if it tried. This wasn’t exactly what we’d come to the vast continent for, so I was glad to climb back into the swanky BMW and break most laws of the road until we reached a supposedly more local bar called Billy Bums.
Billy Bums, it transpired, wasn’t a particularly African experience either. The blue neon lighting and the arrogant bar staff weren’t much to our taste. And the same could be said for the sexual orientation of the majority of its clientèle. We must have arrived on a gay night or something as there were dudes kissing each other on most tables.
We shouldn’t have all been so surprised at this revelation. The pub’s name ought to have been a bit of a giveaway really. Any bar with the word ‘bum’ in its title should automatically be a cause for doubt. I’m not homophobic, and have no issues being in gay bars, but Billy Bums felt seedy and lacked any sort of character whatsoever. Drinking up quickly, we soon departed and said farewell to Rowan who had work in the morn. The remainder of us then headed over to Manhattans, a massive club a few miles away which Luke just happened to manage.
Avoiding all queues, we weaved our way into the colossal nightclub and straight to the bar. Luke, our now courteous host, provided us with complimentary beers and told us to go nuts on whatever we liked.
I was stuffed after the steak and struggled to take advantage of Luke’s generosity. Preferring to substitute my drink for a less gassy beverage, Luke returned with a couple of vodka Redbull’s. Two more of these caffeine pumped babies in my guts and I was rocking, hitting the dance floor with Dean while the others chatted to Luke’s fiancé who worked behind the bar.
“Have you seen these two?” I shouted in Dean’s ear, referring to two bouncing beauties flitting around us. “I can’t work out whether they’re keen or not.”
“Aye, I’ve clocked them,” replied Dean, shimmying to the beat. “Fit as fire. Go in for the kill Blair.”
“No chance,” I said, trying not to look too desperate with my creepy sex stare. “I’m not pissed enough yet. Give it a while and we’ll see if they show more interest.”
Dean and I danced to the terrible cocktail of music, waiting for a sign from the two local sirens to show that a move from our party wouldn’t be rebuffed.
I hate rejection. It sucks. Some people can get spurned twenty times in a night and still keep plugging away for a little romance. If I get turned down once then that’s my confidence down the plug hole for a good three weeks. Not being the most self-assured in these situations then, we struggled to pick up the kind of confirmation we were looking for and spent most of the night dancing together like a couple from Billy Bums.
If I had been a betting man, I would say the two sexy little crackers were quite keen on Dean and me. Their firm little arse cheeks bounced and bobbed very close to the vicinity of our crotches for most of the night, just neither of us had the balls to do anything about it.
Trigger and Danny joined us all on the dance floor a bit later on. Trigger’s enthusiasm soon waned however and suggested it was time to go home. He had work in the morning and understandably wanted some rest.
Dean and I couldn’t help but look disappointed at the idea of calling it a night. This in turn caused Trigger to suggest we stay in the club and Luke would arrange us a taxi back later on. We were both very eager to do this, yet at the same time we would have felt like prize twats deserting our host on the second evening. Therefore we followed Danny and Trigger out to the car before remembering the sweet behinds on the two unapproachable nymphs back on the dance floor.
“What do you reckon mate?” I asked Dean as we stood beside the club entrance.
“I think we should stay,” he replied eagerly. “We need to find some testicles and get stuck into them birds.”
“I would feel a bit of a prick on Trigger though. Plus how would we get in? His house is like Fort Knox.”
“Hmm, I dunno. I could definitely do with a bang though, I know that.”
“It’s a toughie. That short lass in the blue dress was incredible, and I’m sure they both liked us a bit.” I added, weighing up the options.
Dean mused also, yet knowing him as I did, I was certain his party spirit wouldn’t allow him to be the one to say ‘let’s definitely go home’. He knew fine well that the most sensible thing to do would involve getting a lift back with Trigger, but until I suggested it, we were at a stalemate.
“Here,” said Dean. “Does this help make your mind up?” and with these words he inexplicably stuck his fingers down his arse crack before wiping them under my nose.
“You filthy twat,” I said in disgust, trying to wipe the sour poo smell out of my moustache. “As it happens, yes it does. I’m certainly not going back in there smelling like your anus. Come on dickhead, we’re gonna have to go home now.”
Dean’s only way to call it a night was to give me a horrible Shitler moustache, forcing my hand into making the boring decision to retire early. At that moment I genuinely wished he was a more normal human being. Six more months of this palaver at the end of a night out was a very daunting prospect indeed.
The five of us wedged ourselves into Kerryn’s tiny car, sharing the already limited space with mountains of equipment and supplies. A cooking pot up your arse and a cool box smacking against the back of your head is hardly the most comfortable way to travel Africa. Yet that was to be my plight during our long drive towards the Kruger National Park.
All three of us lads had over packed considerably for the trip; an idiotic feat which I always manage to achieve. Gradually I’ve become better at reducing the amount of unnecessary crap I take travelling, and maybe by my twentieth trip around the world I’ll have finally mastered what I do and don’t need to bring along.
Danny had taken the over packing to a different level though. His backpack made mine and Dean’s look like the book bags of a couple of primary school children. He had absolutely everything in there – a gadget or tool for all occasions. Not that he knew what to do with it all, informing us quite openly he had ‘all the gear, but no idea’. My legs had buckled trying to lift the big, black army style backpack onto an airport trolley, let alone carry the bastard on my back around Africa and beyond. It was like trying to give a piggyback to Ray Mears – potentially very handy in a time of need, but fucking torturous on the spine. If we’d crash landed somewhere inhospitable I’d have praised Danny for being so fantastically well equipped. But when a full set of army mess tins are jabbing you in the ear for six hours, unnecessary implements can start to get on a person’s tits pretty quickly.
Despite it being uncomfortable, as we left the elevated Highveld on which Johannesburg lies and approached the escarpment – a relatively steep descent into the Lowveld – we were rewarded with incredible views. The car cruised down huge valleys of lush verdure and jagged rocky precipices before arriving on the vast, arid plateau below.
Making a pit stop to fill the tank which had been straining under our considerable weight, we took the opportunity to load up our grumbling bellies also.
The burger chain Wimpy was omnipresent throughout South Africa, especially the roadside services, and it was here that the five of us piled in and stared confusedly at their non-too appetising menu. Being a tight fisted miser I opted for their cheapest meal before standing back as Danny and Dean subtly took the piss out of a guy serving us named ‘Farter’.
Receiving my food from the cheerful Farter, I then took the brown bag of warm goodies outside and sat in the hot Lowveld sun.
Kerryn and Trigger – clearly Wimpy connoisseurs – had chosen very tasty looking toasted sandwiches to dine upon, whereas Dean and Danny played it safe with fries and a milkshake apiece. Both of these were choices I was very soon to envy.
My burger had the texture and pallor of a drowned sailor. It was basically a grey, sweaty patty of death and as appetising to eat as Popeye’s arsehole. I was starving though, and ate half regardless of its foulness before throwing the rest away in disgust.
Forty minutes later, as the car gently chugged along a quiet stretch of motorway, I began to feel an all too familiar gurgle in the pit of my stomach. Before long this worrying rumble evolved into irregular summersaults and contorting spasms deep within my guts. This was shortly followed by hot flushes and cold sweats. I felt panicked and weak, and was barely able to answer Kerryn when she asked if I was ok.
“Pull over Trig’, Jordan doesn’t feel well at all.” she shouted from the back seat.
“I can’t pull over here, can I? We’re in the middle of nowhere.”
“I didn’t mean right here, just when you can.”
“Ok, just stop barking orders at me.”
“Jesus, I was only saying. It’s not nice when you feel shitty is it.”
“I know that Kerryn, just give me chance to find somewhere decent. There’s a pub coming up soon, we can pull in there.”
The realisation I was merely half a fart away from shitting in my knickers offered me no end of humiliation. And the fact that my dodgy belly had caused a minor disagreement between our hosts incited even more discontent.
My shame was alleviated slightly when we finally pulled into the country pub car park. I rushed through the bar to the gents toilets like a cheetah, making it just and so to the lavatory before exploding.
My hatred for having weak bowels is immeasurable. Ever since I got food poisoning on a night bus in India and had to stick my bum out of the window and let fly I’d been paranoid about crapping myself on long journeys. Mostly it was a psychological pressure I brought upon myself. But in this instance, it was definitely Farter’s rancid burger that had got me.
Three trips to the little boys room later and I was suitably empty. I didn’t feel particularly great, but there was nothing left in me to be squirted out. So, ready to hit the road again, we set off towards to Phalaborwa, home to the northern gate of the Kruger National Park.
After a long day of driving in the cramped little car we arrived at Phalaborwa around half past five in the afternoon. My untimely poo stop had held us back slightly, yet we’d made it to the park before the gates closed for the night.
Or so we thought.
Kerryn entered the gate’s reception to buy our passes alone. As she was the only South African national amongst us she hoped to get our tickets at local prices.
Returning to the car ten minutes later Kerryn was visibly flustered.
“That bitch in there says we’re too late to go into the park.” Kerryn whimpered as she approached the driver’s side window.
“What?” said Trigger, beginning to share his wife’s concern, “They said we were ok until six o’clock when we called?”
“I know. I said that to her but she wouldn’t listen. She says it’s going to be too dark and dangerous to enter the park now.”
“Did you show her all the reservations and stuff?”
“Yes. I even rang the camp in front of her who said it was fine. It’s just her being a jobsworth cow. Will you come and have a word Trig‘?”
Answering in the affirmative, Trigger stormed into the reception with Kerryn while we three lads sat in the car like their useless children.
I felt responsible. If I hadn’t been on the brink of shitting myself two hours earlier then we would have arrived in plenty of time. Danny and Dean appeased my guilt slightly by saying I shouldn’t feel bad, reiterating that we had still got there well before the time the park rangers had advised on the phone. It helped, but I still felt like a giant tit.
Ten minutes later the couple returned. Trigger informed us that the only way we were going to be able to enter the Kruger that evening was if we paid a thousand Rand – the equivalent of about £80 – for a ranger to give us a guided escort to our riverside camp. It was either that or we cancel the booking and stay somewhere in the town of Phalaborwa, missing out on an early morning game drive.
Opting to pay the money, we were ushered towards a special section of the car park whilst waiting for our escort to arrive in his truck. The night soon drew in. The five of us sat alone in the desolate space, sipping on warm bottles of cider and kicking stones around to quell the ennui.
“You cannot be here outside your vehicle,” urged an armed guard who sprung from the darkness.
“We’ve just been told to wait here?”
“It is not safe,” warned the guard, “leopards have been seen stalking this area for the past two nights. Please, follow me.”
Moved elsewhere, our guide to the camp arrived an hour or so later. Kerryn joined the guy in his truck so we in the back could have a bit more breathing space.
Just as both vehicles were pulling out of the wired compound the guide’s truck came to a hasty stop. A giant elephant, illuminated in the hazy glow of the truck’s spotlights, slowly trundled from one side of the road to the other before disappearing into the blackened bush. It was an immense sight. And we hadn’t even entered the park at this point. I’ve seen and ridden on plenty of elephants in all my travels throughout Asia, but they were nothing in comparison to this monolithic beast. It was huge. And utterly terrifying too.
We hadn’t been driving to our lodge for ten minutes before the guide’s truck ground to a halt again. In his beaming headlights this time was a Scooby-doo sized hyena stood looking at us in the middle of the road. Head down and jaws open, the angry looking creature oozed aggression. A few seconds passed before it too slinked into the darkness.
More elephants crossed our path later in the ride, as did large scorpions and a few other not so impressive creatures. Each time one made an appearance our guide, whose sole purpose was to escort us safely to our camp, stopped for a few minutes to give information to Kerryn who would then relay it back to us over the phone.
The rate the darkness enveloped us, and the unchanging, monotonous confusion of narrow roads within the Kruger would surely have resulted in us being lost for the night. This was a scary thought considering the abundance of killer animals the national park housed. As well as saving our party from a night of bewildered terror then, the guide had basically given us a night safari too.
Arriving at the camp an hour after setting off from the gate, we picked up the keys and drove to our two bedroom cabin. The food and drink which had been sweating in the boot all day went directly into the fridge, before Trigger and Kerryn cooked dinner as Dean, Danny and I sat out on the porch drinking cider.
Looking out into the darkness we listened to the sounds of the park at night. It was a wonderful feeling out there amongst so many of the world’s largest animals. Being close enough to hear them call out to one another was a very humbling and surreal experience.
After dinner the five of us sat enjoying Trigger’s tales of previous Kruger visits before deciding to crack open the red wine. Just as Danny was heaving the reluctant cork from its snug hollow an almighty roar filled the darkness around us. Looking at one another in wide eyed horror we listened again as a second low pitched growl clattered into our ear drums.
“What the frig was that?” I asked, feeling another loose stool brewing all of a sudden.
“A lion I think,” answered Trigger.
“It could have been a leopard or a…….” added Kerryn, before being interrupted by a third spine chilling cry from the shadows ahead of us.
“That one was a hippo. I’m sure of it,” said Trigger looking confident. “The first two sounded like a lion, but I’m sure that’s a hippo. Let’s go and have a look.”
“No thanks,” I replied, inching back towards the door.
“It’s alright you soft fucker. We’re fenced in.”
“You say that Trigger,” commented Kerryn. “But didn’t Dad say that last time they were here a leopard had gotten into the grounds and killed one of the resident dykers?”
“It did what?” Dean asked incredulously, before learning a dyker was a sort of small deer and not a local lesbian.
“It killed a dyker. That was ages ago though. Come on, grab your torches and we’ll go for a look. There’ll be nothing in here so don’t worry.”
All of us collected our torches and tentatively edged towards a hide at the bottom of the camp. A low, flimsy looking electric fence was all that separated us from the life filled river. As we neared the hide I pushed myself to the middle of the pack, not wanting to be picked off at the back by a ravenous cat of sorts. I didn’t get too close to the front either, just in case there was something equally deadly lying in wait.
Another blood curdling roar filled the night sky just as we neared a felled tree that’s flaying roots looked terrifyingly like the ragged mane of a daddy lion.
“Nope. Bollocks to this. I’m off!” I said, scurrying back up the banking and into the heady sanctuary of the red wine. The others laughed at me like I was a coward, but sod that for a lark. They could get mauled all they liked, I much preferred the idea of staying in one piece and getting tanked up.
The shrill cry of my cheap alarm filled the wooden cabin at four in the morning. I had slept soundly once the sheets and underneath my bed had been checked three times for spiders and other nasty critters. Had anything actually been present it would have been destined for a flip flop to the head. Yet I wouldn’t have slept a wink all night for fear of reprisal attacks from their pals.
Languidly we streamed out to the car one by one, clutching our pillows and blankets as we went. Trigger had lowered the seats down in the back to produce a bed like viewing deck. It was a fine idea, but one that didn’t work unfortunately. Within ten minutes of setting off, everybody in the back had neck ache from straining to see out of the windows in our reclined positions. It was too late to amend it though – we were out in the inhospitable wilds at this stage so we simply had to grin and bear it.
The reason why we’d set out so early was to hopefully catch sight of some nocturnal feeders. Predominantly lions, as they usually slept all day having returned from a kill, hiding beneath the shade of trees out of sight from the road.
As it happened, we saw no lions, or cats of any kind for that matter. What we did witness a vast amount of though were very repetitive impala, springboks and other deer like creatures. I was awful at spotting these still, however boring and pervasive they were quickly becoming. Dean was great at finding the wild animals mind – the majority of which I couldn’t even see after having people point them out to me. My ineptitude was embarrassing.
I fared a little bit better on the animal sighting when I decided to put on my spectacles, feeling a grandiose sense of achievement when I made my first spot.
“There’s something!” I said, pointing in between two large trees off in the distance, “It looks like a giant camel. Hang on though, it might be a tree actually.”
“No, that’s a kudu,” Trigger confirmed. “Good spot.”
Good spot indeed. Filled with smugness I was desperate to locate more animals, the more dangerous the better. Sadly I didn’t achieve this – not before anybody else anyway – and consequently felt a touch retarded for being so completely useless.
Thankfully nothing was spotted within close proximity when Trigger took the small Toyota up a steep incline and got it stuck on a protruding rock. No amount of wheel spinning would set us free so there was only one option. Get out and push.
We managed to break free without being stalked by either an animal that wished to maul us or by a park ranger who would have enjoyed fining us. Ploughing on past enigmatic baobab trees and the iconic flat topped acacia’s we continued our morning safari.
On the way back to camp Danny saw an elephant up ahead with a stick hanging from its mouth. Legs widely spread, the beast looked like a toothpick chewing mafioso. As we neared, we realised it was a mother elephant with a calf nervously playing behind her knees. The mother was clearly uncomfortable with our presence, flapping her ears and raising her trunk wildly in our direction as if flipping us the finger.
The two elephants had the makings of a beautiful vision – a sight filled with maternal majesty. Unfortunately, the only maternal thing I had in my mind was when I found myself screaming “MOTHER FUCKER!!” over and over again.
What could cause an expletive at such an exquisite display of nurturing love? Twenty stampeding elephants hurtling through the bushes would be the answer to that little query.
Just as Trigger had killed the engine for us to take photographs, the rest of the herd arrived to assist the mother who saw us as a camera wielding threat. All of them besides the mother and calf charged at our tiny car with menace, knocking down trees and bushes like they weren’t even there.
“Go Trigger, fucking reverse!” cried Kerryn from the back.
“I’m trying” replied Trigger, stalling the car on his first attempt.
“Shit, shit, shit.” I whimpered, watching as the cloud of orange dust and elephant muscle poured forth.
“Get a bloody move on!”
At this point the herd were rapidly making ground on us. Five ton elephants spewed from all angles of the dry shrubbery intent on crushing the silver car with their enormous mass. Our only option to avoid getting trampled and gored to death by their fearsome tusks was to retreat the way we’d come.
Trigger finally managed to start the car and we steadily began to get some distance between us and the angry mob. One enormous angry elephant would have been bad enough. But times that by a herd of twenty and I think you will agree my terror wasn’t without foundation.
“Faster, please faster!” I urged Trigger, honestly fearing that if my bottom got any slacker through unprecedented fear then my underpants were shortly going to become a very unpleasant environment again.
Eventually, enough of a void between us and them was created before the elephants were suitably satisfied. We were no longer a danger to the calf, so they swanned off to do whatever it is giant African elephants do at that time of a morning.
The relief I felt was immeasurable. I’d genuinely felt my days were numbered.
Unfortunately, the only way back to camp was to pass where they had all charged from. Not knowing how far away they would be, Trigger put his foot down and sped us along the narrow paths and into the sanctuary of our hopefully safe resort, happily all in one piece.
Once settled back at the riverside camp, it was unanimously decided that the best way to celebrate not dying was to have a boozy barbeque for breakfast. Sipping on chilled bottles of Windhoek lager, Trigger cooked up perfect steaks on the barbeque while Kerryn fried eggs and mushrooms in the cabin’s kitchen. It was a fantastic breakfast – a textbook way to go about a manly morning of big game hunting. It was all very Hemmingway like, except in this instance, we were the ones most at risk of spewing blood and not the wild beasts.
Having made good headway through our stock of alcohol, the five of us set out in the car again for another game drive in the early afternoon. I would’ve quite happily not gone out for a second time. One, because I was admittedly petrified of another Jumanji like episode. Two, because my guts were still going ape-shit from Farter’s Wimpy burger the day before. And three, due to the fact I was pretty much over the whole safari thing. There’s only so many deer and zebra a person can see before it becomes dull. And as much as it had been quaint in the morning, at this point, the idea of searching for more fluffy tailed critters in the hot savannah filled me with nought but irritation.
We did end up seeing some lovely giraffe and wildebeest on the drive, but it was a long, tedious, hot afternoon in the cramped car all the same. One positive that sprung from the afternoon game drive was visiting one of the bigger Kruger based camps. Our booze stocks had depleted dramatically after our excellent breakfast so we took the opportunity to stock up whilst at the exclusive resort and enjoy a few on the drive around.
I was pissed by the time we’d driven back to our own camp, as were Dean and Kerryn. Unlike those happy souls though, I felt dreadful along with it. The previous day’s food poisoning had flared up somewhat and I was reduced to a drunken, stomach holding mess as I dashed into the cabin.
We’d brought from Jo’burg all the ingredients for a South African delicacy known as a Potjie. This included chicken, bacon, garlic, onions, cream and a whole load of other equally delicious items. Sadly, with my belly becoming more rebellious than 18th century France, I spent the entire evening sat on the toilet. I don’t know what was more painful – my cramping sickness, or the fact I was missing out on the wonderful smelling stew being devoured by all on the veranda.