StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

Greenhorn of Africa (Part Four)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on October 20, 2009

A New York Navel-Gazer Looks at Botswana, South Africa

and Mozambique by Way of London

By Kyle Thomas Smith

Part Four

August 26, 2009 – Tubu Tree, Botswana; Savuti, Botswana

Pt 4 Lioness on Prowl

Morning/Afternoon

Julius goes on morning safari.  I stay in, read, write.  All come back w/ news that, ~ 1 mile from camp, carcass of impala hung from tree.  Lioness hunted it, tore out jugular, dragged it to tree & hung it up for stripping.  Also, saw rhino, which we saw yesterday.

Amsterdam Prostitute

Graham discusses how mating season w/ lions goes.  Lion mounts lioness, she allows sperm deposit but then whips him to ground.  2 mins later, he’s on another lioness and, 2 mins after that, another.  Sounds like trip to Amsterdam to me.

Garry Fisher Blood Moon

Graham gives me copy of mystery he’s finished reading, Blood Moon by Garry Disher.  Says it’s set near Melbourne.  No contender for Booker Prize.  Just good holiday read.  Also mentions liking work of Australian crime fiction writer Peter Temple.  Never heard of either.  Want to read more crime fiction, again, to learn plots.  Want to learn how to write better fiction.  Julia mentions book group favorite, The Slap by Greek writer named Christos Tsiolkas.  Coming away from Tubu Tree w/ extensive reading list that includes Booker Prize winner whom Graham regrets telling she couldn’t write.

Christmas in Australia

Lunch is on.  Buffet-style again: beef stew, rice, beans=basic.  Spend last few minutes @ camp observing Giles.  He talks about how Australia commemorates wintry aspect of Xmas with July 25 celebration, which coincides w/ subequitorial winter.  Hope he had happy Xmas last month and will have another in December.  Newlyweds from England (guy) & Australia (woman), both living in Singapore, sit on own side of table.  We don’t interfere w/ honeymoon – those always end too soon.

tubu tree outside jpg

Julius & I say goodbye to Jacky, Justin, Giles, Graham & Julia.  Julius has Graham & Julia’s email.  Both want us to keep them apprized of when my book will be in print.  Well, gotta get a publisher first, but Tubu Tree was enough to take my mind off anxiety around that.  W/ 6” of sunscreen on skin, clap safari hat on head, climb in jeep, where bags already waiting, & drive off to Okavango Delta airstrip w/ Johnny.

Okavanga Delta Airstrip

Once there, we wait for plane to Savuti Camp.  Plane is late.

Waiting around in shade but hot out.  Julius takes out iPhone, clicks on iPod, turns on Exile on Main Street, my favorite album, which he downloaded.  Asks Johnny if he likes this kind of music.  W/ most pleasant smile he can muster, Johnny says, “I like softer music.”

La Boheme

Julius puts on La Boheme. Johnny likes it.  I say La Boheme = one of stupidest plots in opera – Rodolfo confesses everlasting love for Mimi (chick he met 10 mins ago), she leaves him next day & comes back to his garret dying of tuberculosis many mos later & Rodolfo says he’ll never love again.  Julius insinuates that I’m a churl/cad for thinking this.

Charter flight arrival

Charter Flight arrives.  Say goodbye to Johnny; show our appreciation for his stellar hospitality & savoir-faire around game parks.  Don’t know how any camp will measure up to Tubu Tree.  Board plane, bracing myself slightly but not so scared of flight after chat w/ Alan.  12 passengers going to/from various camps on board.  Pilot gives pre-flight instrucs.  Mentions “comfort bag” in front of each seat.  Euphemisms never cease, do they?

Plane over Okavanga

Doing pretty well on way to Linyanti Marsh.  Only close eyes through ~ ½ trip as plane sways aboveground.  But woman next to me reaches for “comfort bag,” sticks head in.  Fear chain reaction, praying plane lands soon.  Prayer answered & turns out woman never needed to puke in comfort bag.

Savuti Jeep

S. African guide named Ant picks us up on way to Savuti Camp, located @ confluence of Savuti Channel & Linyanti River.  B/f leaving Linyanti Marsh airstrip, Ant mentions has surprise for us.  Says we’ll be meeting special guest.  Gets on CB, asks colleague, “Is she still there?”  Colleague says, yes.  Ant says, “Can you tell us who we’re going to see?”

Madonna in Africa

Julius and others answer, “Madonna?”  Even Ant says = reasonable guess in this phase of pop singer’s life but, “No,” he says, “Better than Madonna.”

lioness with cubs

Jeep pulls out, travels ~ 1 mi. over to brush, where lioness sleeps w/ her cub.  Snapping pix all around her, she doesn’t flinch.  Amazing how animals not in least intimidated by jeeps.

No natives greet us w/ song upon arrival @ camp, except for non-singing woman named Carrie, native Botswanan who’s whiter than I am.  Don’t know her story, except she says Afrikaans parents settled in Botswana ~ time of her birth & she’s never lived anywhere else.  Camp appears to be 3 Xs size Tubu Tree w/ log ramps gliding for city block in network of deluxe cabins.

Savuti Common Area

Staff takes us to common area, overlooking Savuti channel, where few dozen guests from America & Europe congregate, drinking Iced Tea, munching on lemon cookies & baklava.  We sign indemnity form like we did @ Tubu Tree, tho don’t fear mortal injury since having experienced no incidents when driving right up to wild animals.  Woman who was about to use comfort bag has just arrived, finds me, introduces herself as Jane from Seattle; says I looked ready to grab my comfort bag too.  I deny it.

Linyanti River

Savuti Cabin

Our cabin looks out on to Linyanti River, which reflects moss-green marshes & weeping willows.  2 Xs big as Tubu Tree cabin.  Canopied bed w/ mosquito netting, looks like accessory in sultry moment in old French-Indochina, tho danger of mosquitoes this time of year = minimal.  (Mosquitoes = annoying in America but often disease-ridden in Africa.)  Open shower on concrete floor.  Must keep valuables in safe, tho.  No danger of thieves, but squirrels get in through slats & gnaw thru bags.

Afternoon Safari

Before embarking on afternoon safari, I have a chat w/ guide-trainee from neighboring village named Tony.  Says being accepted to guide program = competitive.  Out of the 4 applicants, only 2 made it.  Tony obviously hasn’t experienced NYC-style competitive.  He must be ~ 19 yrs old.  Farthest outside Botswana he’s been = Zimbabwe.  Wants so much to go to America.

botswana money

Says will lose most of $ to $-changers when comes to exchanging Botswanan pula for US dollars.

In jeep w/ 3 people from D.C. – Frank, Ann, Mike.  Frank = lawyer, Mike’s friend.  Mike = lawyer, Ann’s husband.  Ann = lawyer-cum-executive coach.  Ask re: her practice.  Says focuses heavily on Myers-Brigg.  I’m an INFJ.  She’s the opposite – an ESTP.  We spend rest of ride discussing theories of personality.

Savuti Leopard

savuti singular elephant

Savuti jackal

Savuti Wildebeest

See leopard, rhinos, jackals, elephants, wildebeest (stay hunched all day long).  Most engaging of all, tho, our jeep & 2 other jeeps pull up to lions feasting on buffalo:

Savuti Lion Feasting

Savuti Lion Feasting 1

Pix snapping all around them & couldn’t care less.

Savuti Lion Feasting 3

Savuti Lion Feasting 4

Then there were the hippos.  They can dunk their heads under water for 8 to 10 minutes at a time:

Savuti Hippo

Savuti Hippo 2

And the Savuti sunset:

Savuti Sunset

Dinner

Buffet-style dinner @ Savuti.  Hummus w/ pita, beef stew, chicken, pork dishes (latter I ignore).  Drinking hulking glass of Merlot.  Sit w/ Ann & husband Mike.

Bernie Madoff

Discuss Bernie Madoff.  How could he get away w/ it for so long?  His sons turned him in.  Why?  Was it family arrangement?  Madoff taking whole sentence to clear rest of family?  Another Botswanan guide named Chet hasn’t heard news.  Wants to know who Madoff is & what he did.

Seems shocked that one can make so much $ in America like America.  Talks about how he wants to come to America, just like Tony.  Some former guests from LA invited Chet.  He’s saving up.

Fleet Street London

Meet Loku, a camp employee from just outside Sheffield, England (birth name: Nick).  Comes up in conversation he doesn’t understand American obsession w/ always having to get more degrees/letters after one’s name.  Turns out, tho, he graduated from Oxford.  After college, went to work in mktng dept of London Times.  Couldn’t’ve been more miserable, so logged on to Internet to look up jobs in Africa.  Found NGO that worked to preserve rhino population of Africa.  After lil back-&-forth, found himself on plane bound for Botswana & got job.  In course of working there, he met people @ various camps, who asked him to help out w/ some work here & there.  Work accumulated to the point where Savuti asked him to come on staff.  Been in Botswana 13 yrs, doesn’t know what’s next & doesn’t care too much.

Savuti Fire

So nice to meet successful rat-race refugee.  Julius & I drink champagne w/ him till about midnight, talking about favorite areas of London & naughty things that naughty Brits get up to.  Too stunned by Botswana’s beauty to discuss it right now.

August 27, 2009 – Savuti Camp, Botswana

Savuti elphants watering hole

Lunch

Let Julius go ahead w/o me on morning safari.  Wrote journals, read Elegance of Hedgehog instead.  Saw squirrel in cabin.  Don’t mind.  Just want make sure it has way out, don’t want going crazy & tearing things up w/ sharp lil claws.  @ lunch, jump in jeep w/ Loku.  Driving out to lunch site miles away.  Had to change lunch site @ last minute.; herd of elephants showed up & might upset balance b/t man & nature if we sat @ tables & ate w/ them.

China Flag

Loku says China ~ dominant in world economy.  Chinese taking over Africa.  Telling local governments they’ll build hospitals, schools & highways in exchange for land.  Many questions if they’re making good on their part of the bargain.  America’s economy still in recession, tho.  Is America a crumbling empire?  We discuss, don’t know, maybe.  Whatever happens, our old way of doing business = untenable.  Both applaud ourselves for eschewing corporate culture.

elephant with kid

As we speak, herd of elephants marches into a gigantic mud puddle to our left.  2 are young & injured.  Both have severed trunks & bandied legs.  Hyenas probably got them.  Loku has seen them out here before, didn’t think they’d last this long.  Older elephants form circle around them, feed them branches & leaves from trees, ensure safety in herd.

Elephant Mudhole

Several elephants roll around in mud, let it bake on to their hides in sun.

savuti picnic

Loku & I drive to new picnic site.  Others pull up in jeeps, including Julius.  Lunch buffet much same as yesterday, except for addition of beef kebabs, chickpeas, & omelet option.  Again, I opt for St. Louis Lager.  Julius & I sit @ end of table.  As we eat & talk to many of the other 20 or so guests, the elephant herd from mud puddle crosses over hills & marches w/i only a dozen or so yards of us.

elephant and baby

The matriarch sounds her trunk-horn.  Trees shake.  Sensing we’re just picnickers, not hunters, she gives signal to our guide Ant that we’ll get along fine as long as we stay on our side of the mud lake next to us.  10 or so elephants tumble into mud, roll around, frolic, stand in sun.  Avoiding incident, we clear away from table, give them space.  No incident.  Herd goes about its business, takes last stand in sun, & walk over to other hill, injured young in tow.

Series continues with Part Five: Johannesburg

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Greenhorn of Africa (Part One)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on October 3, 2009

A New York Navel-Gazer Looks at Botswana, South Africa

and Mozambique by Way of London

By Kyle Thomas Smith

Part One

P1013630

Today I heard on a podcast that Boyd Varty, son of the Varty family who owns the Londolozi Game Park in South Africa, is writing a memoir. I don’t know the book’s title. All I know is that the opening line is something like, “Come sit by my fire.”

From there, he launches into harrowing tales of walking away in one piece from multiple plane crashes, saving ingénues from crocodiles’ jaws in Brazil, and fending off starving lionesses on his treks through Africa, all before pursuing a career as a boxer in Thailand. At age 20, he fell into a deep depression but came across a sangoma, a witch doctor in an African village, who made some magical incantation that spurred Boyd’s dispirited soul on to a protracted vision quest that would later become the subject of his forthcoming autobiography.

2nd Image Ex-Oficio Clad White-colar

Let me say straight out that this blog post is bound to be less fascinating than the Varty boy’s life. First of all, I was only in Africa for two and a half weeks, most of which was spent in game parks where the chardonnay flowed in rivers every time our jeeps full of retirees and Ex-Officio-clad, white-collar warriors returned to camp from our two daily photographic safaris.

3rd Image Tea LoungeTea Lounge Union

Second, I’m writing this dispatch in the throes of jetlag from my Brooklyn watering hole, the Tea Lounge, which reeks more of Quattro Breves and Turkish Lattes than it does of wild savannah perils.

4th Image Malarone

I’ve also been popping Malarone for the past three weeks, so I can’t even recount fever dreams that I might have otherwise had during bouts of malaria. Besides, late August/early September is winter in the subequatorial regions of Africa and the mosquitoes were either dead or too flaccid to fly when I was out peering at pachyderms. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t hot. Holy shit, the sun could burn right through your binocular lenses, at least in mid-afternoon, but there too, I can’t even bring back field reports of sunburns since I shellacked my pasty Irish skin with enough 50+ SPF Sunblock to shield myself from the greenhouse effect for life.

Cheetahs Julius Kyle

(I’m hardly the danger-seeker Hemingway was. Rather than picking up muskets, Julius and I found ourselves paying a few hundred South African Rand—the equivalent of about 20 US dollars, each—to pet a trained cheetah cub at the southern tip of South Africa.

6th Image green_hills_africa_450h

Papa Hem would have boasted about staring that endangered creature down and laying it low with a single shot, but I have never, will never, and could never hunt a living thing—especially one so (deceptively) adorable. I mean, I can’t even bring myself to preorder flounder from a Long John Silver’s aquarium.

Leopard One

Unlike my fellow spectators at the lodge, I cheered when I watched an impala near Simbambili Lodge outfox a slow-witted leopard. I hope to God my tenderhearted disposition doesn’t ruin my writing career.)

8th Image Londolozi

But one thing I do have in common with the Londolozi author is that I was in the general vicinity of his family’s park when I was on the airstrip en route to Nelstruit and then Cape Town. By sheer coincidence, my hot minute near Londolozi coincided with my guru Martha Beck’s Starlight Safari at the game park, but, alas, she was nowhere to be seen before our four-seat propeller jet took off. (BTW, if you’re a Martha fan too, please note that her beloved beagle Cookie recently passed away, so you might want to send your sympathies to her website.) Anyway, this morning’s podcast inspired me to throw down some notes from our trip, which Julius has been bugging me to post. So here goes, warts and all (almost unabridged):

Kyle and Julius Capetown

****These are only notesraw notestaken straight from a travel notebook I kept. Please forgive the shorthand (e.g., @, &, tho, ~, thru), grammar lapses and paucity of possessive pronouns (e.g., “their,” “mine,” “his,” “hers”) and articles (e.g., “a,” “an,” & “the”).****

Kyle and Julius C. Good Hope

****Many photos are mine & Julius’ but at least as many are lifted from Flickr & other websites. Many images are filler for what we failed to capture as amateur/often inattentive photographers.****

Kyle and Julius Nelson MandelaLion Over Kill

August 21, 2009Soho & Trafalgar Square, London

11th Image Hazlitt's

Arrive @ Heathrow @ 9 am. Still sliding on last night’s Ambien. Mysteriously arrive @ Hazlitt’s—favorite hotel in all my years of slipping in & out of rented rooms. Can’t even recall passing through customs or taking taxi. Staff fixes me pot of Darjeeling tea, seats me in one of their many ground-floor libraries. I munch, red-eyed, on biscuits while gazing @ old, crumbling books on shelves. Too blitzed to get off ass & check if pages on The Voyage Out are authentically yellowing or just plain blank.

12th Image V Woolf

Rest ruddy cheek on palm as I wonder if V. Woolf ever stayed @ Hazlitt’s (est. 1718) but am awake enough to know it’s a stupid meditation. She was already living a couple neighborhoods over in Bloomsbury, tho it’s true she wasn’t known for her frugality & might have splurged on a Hazlitt’s room while up-cycling.

Noon

13th Image Hazlitt Room


Room ready. Can’t hit sack ’til nighttime, not unless I want jetlag locked in its infernal place.

14th Image Hazlitts Bathroom

Take shower, rubbing soap in zombielike slow-mo over body. Ablutions so automatic, eyes so heavy, am not even sure if I undressed before stepping into tub. Satisfied I’ve done so by time I step out, reach for towel & notice I’m in front of full-length window as lunchtime crowd marches by, taking time out of busy schedules to snicker. Close curtains, happy to have harvested at least some admiring glances.

1:00 pm

15th Image Cafe Boheme

Meet Rachael for lunch @ Café Boheme. Have long prided myself on moving beyond mainstream gay identity. Still, first thing I do is hand Rachael program to her all-time favorite musical, South Pacific, which I saw last week @ Lincoln Center. (In my defense, I only went to show b/c Julius promised to spring for pizza afterwards. Wasn’t moved by outdated depictions of race relations in Polynesia; thought blonde was being ridiculous – kind of like watching Giant in the 21st Century, but not as good). Order bottle of something red. R has salmon omelet; me, salade nicoise.

Rachael & I email 1 to 2 x/day but still find loads to catch up on in person. R tells me BBC laughs @ American wingnuts & evangelicals. UK & liberal Americans like me not amused now, tho. Furious over ignorance & ultra-partisan opposition to Obama’s healthcare plan. Am equally outraged @ WH for seeking consensus w/ right, bargaining over public option & letting right run debate. Conservatives say: “We don’t trust government.” Why the fuck weren’t they screaming that when Bush launched unholy war? & why didn’t media cover Iraq protests anywhere near as much as town-hall riots? & did Republicans deign to give us town halls before going ahead w/ Shock & Awe? That was Big Government at its baddest. And Dems were all too quick to capitulate, as usual; hope they don’t this time. (Mention to R that am glad to also have EU passport, thanks to Irish Grampa.)

17th Image Dog & Duck

~ 5:00 pm

Move on to drinks up road @ The Dog & Duck. Still chattering but look @ watch, see it’s already 7 pm. Am full to bursting with Fosters Lager but have only 15 minutes to claim ground-floor table for 7:30 show @ Playhouse Theatre near Trafalgar Square.

18th Image La Cage

The show: La Cage Aux Folles, another wrecking ball to non-cliché gay status. (Must admit: bought ticket just to hear “I Am What I Am.” Also smitten by antique, feather-boa camp.)

19th Image Playhouse Thea

7:20 pm

Arrive @ Playhouse Theatre late but still time before curtain call. Didn’t realize would be occupying 1 of few tables. Rest of audience in regular seats behind me. Am right up against stage.

20th Image Rent Boy

Sitting w/ 3 muscle boys who wink @ & flirt w/ me. Guy w/ them looks like Col. Sanders in an ascot. Must be rent boys. Play it off w/ them but am thankful they don’t later extend invitation to orgy that I’d have to spend awkward 20 mins or so turning down. (Heard all about London boys.) Couldn’t explain that one away to Julius, who is due to arrive @ ~ dawn, nor would want to besmirch unblemished record of fidelity.

8:12 pm

Sinuous can-can dancer from cast jumps on table, gropes me as stage lights flash. All above waist, tho, so = okay.

22nd Image Soho @ NightSoho at Night (ii)

10:30 pm

Soho erupting w/ nightlife. Even more jam-packed than Manhattan due to narrower streets. Unabashedly drunk mobs. Can’t justify going to bed.

23rd Image Bertorelli

Opt for Margherita pizza half a block away @ chi-chi restaurant called Bertorelli. Fashionista waiter acts like my table’s not worth his time. Won’t even get me another Peroni. Have to wave down his buddy for a check. Leave no tip. Tips are To Insure Proper Service, & where the hell was that?

24th Image Hazlitts

11:20 pm

Back @ Hazlitt’s. Log on to Bertorelli website. Tell them to tell their waiters to get over themselves. Say I come from city where restaurants are 2x as full & wait staff at least as gorgeous & infinitely politer; say, in NYC, servers know it’s to their financial & karmic benefit to be nice to customers. Website has extensive Comments & Suggestion protocol, tho. Have to go thru ~ 12 screens; takes 1/2 hour to rifle off complaint. Worth it, tho. Plus, am automatically registered for raffle for all-expenses-paid trip to Italy. Prob’ly be disqualified once they read my Comments & Suggestions.

Soho Morning (ii)

August 22, 2009London: Soho, Belgravia, Picadilly Circus, & Islington

Morning

Can’t sleep; wake up @ 4: 25. Write, meditate, shower. Hope to see J by time I’m done but no sign of him. Roma Espresso only place open on Greek Street. Order espresso and Peligrino. Woman in layers of raggedy 80s clothes sits outside; egg yolk dripping from hair (don’t know how that happened); manila file folder on lap,

26th Image Woman Escapes Jack the Ripper

mumbling to herself in cockney flourishes like strumpet from Jack The Ripper movie; making random scribbles on corners of papers in file. Besides Roma Espresso owner, she & I = only ones out this early. No call from J. By 10:30, checking world news & American Airlines websites for plane crashes.

Afternoon

J turns up @ Hazlitt’s @ ~ noon. Both his bags weigh ~ 500 lbs. Concierge helps carry. Hope she’s eligible for worker’s comp. J says had to sit on JFK runway in rain for 4 hrs. Surprised plane could take off w/ his bags in back.

27th Image Pimlico

Go to Pimlico, Belgravia to look @ houses. Both locales sterile & dead cf. Soho. Has Buddhist Center, tho, w/ Theravada & Mahayana teachers. Closed for next month, tho. How will people keep in practice? Also, band of Cambridge-looking elite on white-pillared balcony drinking champagne & listening to Gnarls Barkley’s St. Elsewhere. What street cred! (I know, I’m a fine one to talk!)

28th Image Picadilly Circus

Julius realizes he didn’t bring Malarone. No Malarone, no Africa. Need Rx. Call everyone we know in London. All say go to Public Health Dept. We go, waiting room’s full. Boots Pharmacy @ Picadilly Circus (equiv., Duane Reade, NYC) doesn’t offer help on where to find self-pay physician on Saturday. Tough bollocks, they all but say.

29th Image Harvie & Hudson

Before having nervous breakdown, we decide to buy socks at Harvie & Hudson. Salesman overhears us discussing dilemma.

MMayfair

Suggests we go to London Clinic, a self-pay physicians office near Mayfair. We hail cab, walk out w/ Malarone Rx 20 mins later. Boots of Picadilly has to fill it – more egg on their faces now than in schizophrenic woman’s hair.

31st Image IslingtonIslington

Dinner

Meet friends Matthew & Neil for dinner @ gastro-pub called The Draper’s Arms in Islington. Rachael joining us. Matthew & Neil want to meet her, vastly intrigued by specter of oft-referenced penpal. Thank God, instant rapport b/t all parties once R arrives. (R & husband Adam had trouble finding babysitter for Mimi, so Adam had to stay home.) Turns out, Neil = good friends w/ R’s society journalist sister Emily. Conversation steers itself now. J & I both enchanted by Islington houses. Might move into one if/when we relocate. Lucky to have ready group of friends if/when we do.

(Continues w/ Part Two)

Coming Up

56th Image Tubu Tree GroundsTubu Tree Camp, Botswana