I turned to my fellow hikers and said solemnly: “I want to introduce you to a time-honoured tradition of African safari.”
It was the last day of our Shamwari Explorer walk-in experience. It was still early morning and we were standing in the middle of a grassy plain. American newly weds Syki and Spencer Wells looked at me expectantly. Trail guide Gèran Ellish just rolled his eyes.
“It is time,” I said, “for a bokdrolverspoeg competition.”
I was standing over a pile of springbok droppings, neither too fresh nor too old. If this had been the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, they would have been “just right”.
“The object of the competition is to see who can spit one of these the furthest.”
“You’re shitting me,” said Spencer, a wildfire-fighter with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. His wife, a doctor of South Vietnamese descent, said nothing but her eyes mirrored his astonishment.
I said nothing but bent down, put one of the little black pellets of digested grass into my mouth and spat it as far as I could. “That’s how it’s done.”
They lined up and soon a corner of the Eastern Cape that will forever be a corner of the United States underwent an aerial bombardment of springbok dung pellets. Look at the picture: you can see some undertook the contest with more competitiveness than others. Syki won hands down, but downed almost a whole bottle of water afterwards.
Frankly, I prefer the South African tradition where you have a slug of witblits for every turd you spit.
Unsurprisingly, both Spencer and Syki chose beer instead of juice when we got back to Explorer Camp half an hour later.
“The beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad, so I had one more for dessert” … who remembers the song?
It was the Wells’s first visit to Africa and they took to it with an avid eagerness. To say they were awed – without being over-awed – would be putting it mildly. Everything was a revelation but nothing more so than being no more than 20m (fortunately not on foot!) of nine very hungry lions that were in the process of ripping apart a female warthog and two piglets the previous …so hungry that they were snarling and lashing out at one another as they fought over the still-hot flesh.
That night started low-key and breathless but got interesting after a delectable braai by camp manager Zola Quesheke. First Spencer told us that he was an avid rugby player – had even played club rugby in the East European nation of Georgia – and followed the Springboks keenly.
Then Syki said she understood the game well, having supported her husband from the touchline for years before they married. When Zola told them he’d also played rugby, well, then it was game on …
Later, as the flames burned lower, Spencer got more reflective. He’d been working in Washington, DC, for the past few years and hated it to the extent he never wanted to live in a city again: Hated it so much that he and Syki had decided to relocate to Hawaii even though he didn’t yet have a job.
And so it went on for the weekend, getting up close and personal both on foot and in the game-drive vehicle with Spencer asking Gèran about the veld and me about South Africa in general.
Tellingly, one of the last questions he asked me was about residential property prices and job opportunities for experienced bushfire-fighters in South Africa.
By : JIM FREEMAN