StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

Greenhorn of Africa (Part Three)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on October 14, 2009

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

and Mozambique by Way of London

By Kyle Thomas Smith

Part Three

3:00 pm – 6:30 pm

old elephant

3 ½ hour safari.  King-sized elephant w/ penis dragging like gimpy third leg.  Johnny informs us elephant = old.  Says male elephants kicked out of herd to wander alone in old age.  Nature has it that they roam slow & alone, chomping on trees; gradually, molars fall out, can’t masticate; die of starvation – all nature’s plan.  Elephant moseys in front of jeep.  Barely notices us.  Drags trunk, sways head, plods along, outcast from herd after all these years.  Looks like he accepts lot, tho, along w/ imminence of own demise – unlike us humans (hell, I’m even wearing Neutrogena Age Fighter hydrating lotion).

Herd of Zebras Tubu Tree

Drive along.  Roll over more bushes.  Sidle up to herd of zebras, standing in fan formation so if lions spy, they can stump them by running in separate directions in alluvial black and white.


See baboons share same space w/ them, as do impalas.  Buffalo &  wildebeest too.


All potential victims, strength in #’s.


Only, young impalas safe.  Baboons might decide to kill for kicks.  Johnny relates torturous story of young impala cornered by chimp who terrorized it for hours before killing it.  Ask him to stop imitating impala’s fearful cries.

sunset tubu tree 1

Wonder how Johnny does it, living here all his life.  Knows nothing else.  Crickets & frogs sound like thunder.

sundown almost down

Seriously detoxing from NYC now but don’t miss in least.  Exquisite African sunset flames across horizon @ ~ 5:30.  Johnny pulls over into grassy patch, scouts out region.  All clear.  All exit jeep.  Some excuse ourselves behind bush to heed nature’s call.  Funny how same behavior would spring us into police station in Manhattan.  Can take off jungle hat now sun’s going down.

drink with Julia

Johnny opens jeep’s grill & takes out mini-bar stocked w/ beer & wine.  Julius, Julia, Graham & Giles have chardonnay.  I opt for St. Louis Lager from Kgalagadi Brewery in Gaborone, Botswana.  When you thank Johnny for drink, he says, “Pleasure.”  (No, it’s more like, “Plesherrrr…” like Cat Woman.  Quite sexy.  Been hearing that a lot around camp – heard it in Jo’burg too.  So much more sensual than “You’re welcome.”)  All standing w/ drinks now as sun goes down b/h African wilderness, where grass looks like parched stalks.  Graham says he’s lawyer, not barrister.  Didn’t know there’s difference.  Lived in England briefly, taught @ University of Warwick before returning to Australia, finishing teaching career & opening private practice.  Julia volunteers @ Melbourne Zoo; a biologist by training but takes lots of Continuing Ed classes @ U of Melbourne – far-flung courses like Paleontology, Ancient Greek Culture & Civ, & History of Mesopotamia. Renaissance lady.

Discuss American politics.  Still feeling everyone out.  What do they think of Obama?  Offer praise, see if they nod.  They do.  Graham says all Australia was hooked on 2008 U.S. electoral campaigns – & even before that, when Barack & Hillary were in blood feud.  Sarah Palin’s absurdity was plain as day to whole world, couldn’t fathom her appeal in US.  Tell them we’re stuck w/ her now; wish we could just have Tina Fey’s impressions instead.

Julia & Graham speak of enormous relief that fell over Australia when Obama won.  Told them I’ll never forget where I was, watching CNN on tenterhooks w/ Julius in our library, historic!  Easily one of the highlights of my life.  Both Julia & Graham’s sons recently graduated from U of Melbourne; like many Australians, lived @ home while in college; one would come home from school every afternoon, run to turn on CNN to see new dev’ments in US politics.  Am always fascinated by how every event in American life becomes world news.


Talk about attacks from right.  Tea Parties, for instance.  Boston Tea Party was re: “No Taxation Without Representation.”  These people have plenty of representation in congress.  No president since Lincoln has incurred this amount of fury, not even Nixon, who got out while the gettin’ was good.  Could it have something to do w/ Obama’s color?  Most on right are smart enough to deny it, but nothing rings truer to me.

Gay Wedding Homer

Still more feeling out to do.  Time to bring up marriage equality & cast out any doubts re: whether Julius & I are partners.  Must get this est’d if we’re to make friends.  No one seems fazed.  Say Australia has marriage equality.  As natural as sunset/daybreak to them.  Wish same for us.

Drink with Julia and Giles

For however dynamic our conversation w/ Graham & Julia, Giles captures my attention most.  He barely speaks word unless we direct our ?’s/remarks to him.  Late 60s, white walrus mustache, puts on dapper windbreaker as temperature chills.  Like elephant, lost molars too; jaw not as dexterous as used to be, takes long time to answer ?’s, also seems to stutter – wonder if this stunted Giles’ social life.

Eleanor Rigby 1 Lonely

Turns out, tho Australian, Giles didn’t know Graham or Julia before coming to camp.  Came alone, dreamed of going on safari for decades; saved up for it.  (Me: opportunity just fell into my lap.)  Retired from job as accountant for shipping co.  Born in India, father = British official, but family moved to Australia.  Has distinct “Eleanor Rigby” vibe.  Comes out in course of conversation, he never married.  Don’t know if he’s “confirmed bachelor” of yore (w/ all attendant implications) or if he was just too shy to talk to women or too unconfident to feel he had anything to offer.  Has 2 sisters living near where Graham once taught in Warwick, England, but doesn’t like England, so he doesn’t go see them; only went to London once & found it gray, depressing.

Again, when we don’t address him directly, Giles hangs his head & seems to fade into grass behind him, so we all do our best to include him.  Comes out Giles used to go on lots of trips by himself.

Humpback Whales Alaska


Went to Alaska & Antarctica to see birds, penguins & whales.  Wants to travel more but economy hasn’t come back & hasn’t recouped losses from modest retirement investments.


Watching Giles, I’m inundated w/ waves of sadness.  I know loneliness, know how much it hurts; before Julius, I knew all too well what it was to live solitary life; sometimes worry, if something were to happen to Julius and/or to us, would my only option be to wander off like old elephant until legs buckle & I expire?

old elephant

Giles & Graham = ~ same age but Giles doesn’t look to have as much time left.  Maybe b/c he’s found less to live for: doesn’t have life companion or 2 sons like Graham.  Will his funeral be like E. Rigby’s?  (Sometimes worry mine will.)  Will his 2 sisters come down for it from England?  (My siblings prob’ly wouldn’t bother.)  Or will they not visit him in same way he doesn’t visit them now?  Earth swallows people like Giles up in time.  They pass thru anonymously & vanish.  Still, I’m glad they’re alive.  Been long time since seen such self-effacement.  Not everybody has to be fame-seeker.


Tubu Tree at night

Candles & torches blazing all around camp.  Justin calls me over, points out hyena on nighttime hunt.

hyena at night

It looks up @ us, scurries into thick of trees.  Go behind bar, pour myself glass goblet of Malbec.  Stand @ edge of deck.  Full campfire burns in stone circle below.  Look out over fields.  Impalas gone.  Must’ve scurried away when saw hyena; am sure they know other predators on way to dinner too.

Shaman Third

Justin & Jacky ask us to come to dinner table, announce surprise.  Lights go low.  Singing, stomping, clapping emanating from log ramp off to side of dark dining-room entrance.  Language is prob’ly Zulu.  (At least, I think that’s tribal language here.)  Enter main room.  Long tribal dance ensues, chanting & call-and-response, all that, imagine it’s anthropologist’s dream.

Shaman Surreal

Soon shaman in heavy mask, frippery – frightening as faces of Tibetan protector deities – dances in front of us w/ staff decked w/ feathers, beads & seashells.  Lots of yelling, stomping, cackling.  Gets rise out of us.  Singers & dancers file out.  Presenter explains, in local tribes, when a man (says, “a man,” but might/might not apply to women) is afflicted with illness, he will dance full-out until he reaches state ecstatic enough to let in healing spirits.  What if he’s too sick to dance, tho?  Presenter leaves before I can ask.

Tubu Tree dining room

Host explains we’ll be following Botswanan tradition in camp tonight: women must serve men dinner.  Julius & I look @ each other in terror!  Guy’s lucky no American women heard him say that!  Remembering my former boss Aurie Pennick.  Tradition or no tradition, if she heard guy say that, he’d be wearing dinner! Yet Julia & Jacky comply w/ “just-this-once” kind of ceremony.  Julius & I thank women profusely, fearing for necks as our culture has taught us.


Dinner consists of Bogobe (porridge); Seswaa (meat dish); Chicken Stew; cabbage; sweet potatoes; lamb; lots of rice and lethodi beans.  Ask dietary restrictions b/f meals (come to think of it, so do Canadian restaurants).  Told them no venison (feel bad for poor deers); no pork (don’t like); no lamb (poor lil lambs); no rabbit (cute as cats, can’t have it).  All well-prepared, tasty.  Dessert: Flan & vanilla pudding.


Learn a lot re: Jacky & Justin over dinner.  Both in 20s, been married 18 mos.  Met working cruise ship sailing both American coasts.  Jacky = from Afrikaans area of Pretoria, S. Africa.  Justin = from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; of Irish/English descent.  3 wks after meeting @ work, both got assigned to separate ships, separate routes.  Both tried negotiating w/ co.; couldn’t get terms accepted, both resigned to be together.  Following wk, Justin proposed in JFK airport, Jacky accepted.  Flew to S. Africa.  Say they eloped, but Jacky’s parents = witnesses @ ceremony, so have to check definition of “elope.”  Went back to Canada.  Tho known for open-door immig. policy, wouldn’t let Jacky into country even as Justin’s wife.  Had to prove 2 or 3 yrs. of marriage.  Went back to S. Africa.  Gov’t wouldn’t recognize marriage, even after legal ceremony few months before.  Had to prove more time t/g to live there too.  Went to Mozambique.  Got bad jobs in hospitality industry.  Quit.  Heard re: Botswana.  Work @ camp 7 ds/wk; get 1 mo. vacation every 3 mos.  Meantime, meet fascinating guest from all over world, like us!


Find out from Justin that Edmonton = only city in world w/o rats.  I’m from Chicago & live in NYC, so don’t know rat-free feeling.  Told him we were in Alberta, Canada in July.  Met up w/ Julius in Calgary where he was working for 5 days.


Not impressed w/ Calgary, where stores close by 5 on wkdys, but then went to Banff & Lake Louise.  Some of most spectacular sites on earth!  Showed pix on Iphone.

banff landscape

Lake Louise

Justin said Banff & Lake Louise = popular tourist destinations.  Said I never heard of either before going.  Americans don’t hear a lot re: Canada & it’s damned shame.  Incredibly impressive country: people kind, gentle – not bent on “making it” like we are in NYC or LA – no gun problems,


the Toronto police dogs are beagles for Chrissake!

Nighty Night

Hearts Champagne

Only 9:30 pm but we’ve seen all sights for day.  Rest of guests turning in.  Julius & I head back to cabin.  Complimentary champagne bottle sits waiting w/ 2 champagne glasses w/ sugar-frosted rims & sugar-valentines on front.  Julius & I dim already dim ceiling lights & uncork champagne.

August 25, 2009 – Tubu Tree Camp, Botswana

African Sunrise Use

Morning – 3:30 to Noon

Wake up @ 3:30 to get writing/meditation done b/f 5:30 wake-up knock on cabin door.  (No big deal.  Don’t have to report to work, so…) Julius wakes up w/ knock.  Both shower & I rub sunscreen even on unexposed parts – not taking chances.  All gathered round bkfst table ~ 6 am.  Choice of wheat biscuits; Oatmeal; Wheaties; Special K; Strawberry Yogurt; Peach Yogurt; Granola; orange juice, papaya juice, milk, coffee, tea.

Johnny already @ camp for while.  His home’s nearby, left late @ night, back to work @ 5am.  Same w/ rest of staff.  Hospitality = huge work but still better than 80 hr/wk in Midtown law firm.

Jacky & Justin eat w/ us.  Justin is learning Afrikaans in case they ultimately settle in Pretoria.  Watches Afrikaans soap opera to learn.  Wretched but useful show.  Not much TV reception in Tubu Tree but sometimes get DVDs of TV series.


Graham & Julia suggest Madmen.  Julius & I have been renting Madmen discs.  Characters such despicable, sexist, hypocritical assholes but can’t stop watching.

Betty Draper

Talk about my grudge ag. Don Draper’s WASPy wife, Betty, who somehow got thru life w/o learning words “thank you.”  Julia feels Betty =  far more anguished & complex character than I do.

Salvatore Use

Oh, and gay character, Salvatore Romano, so unpersuasive!  Tell everyone, “He walks around like Liberace & he doesn’t think people are gonna notice?!”

Liberace Use Instead

Jacky tells me she’ll remember me forever for that one line alone. Just calls ’ems as I sees ’ems.

safari jeep

Head out on 3 ½ hour safari w/ Giles, Julia & Julius.  (Graham stays behind to read mystery novels & unwind before presentation he’s giving @ labor conference in Sydney next wk.)

giraffe with tick birds

See giraffes that have tick birds feeding on them.  Giraffe chomps on leaves, never minding birds.  See wildebeest, impalas, baboons, zebras, elephants.


Have to admit, patience wearing thin.  Fail to see why we have to stop 20 mins. to observe elephant that’s same as last one.  But everyone else  = enraptured.  Am to some extent but keep thinking should be more.  Wish I was more like Julius.


He looks up every one of 10,000 birds in Sibley Birds of Africa book. We see fish-eagle, storks, ostriches, herons, ibises, African darter, & malachite kingfisher.

fish eagle





African Darter

malachite kingfisher

Hard for me to stay glued to nature after lifetime focus on modern media and self-analysis.

picnic botswana

Am grateful when we head back to camp.  Roaring through crackly sun-bleached grass.  Stop @ shady picnic area where Botswanan staff greet us w/ another song.

Graham also standing there w/ glass of guava juice.  Came along w/ Justin after putting good dent in book he’s reading.  Lunch set up.  Omelet option, bow tie pasta, chickpeas, green salad w/ peppers, sausage.  I choose pasta, chickpeas, salad.  Have another St. Louis Lager.

mj hyland

Ask Graham re: mystery novels.  Says they’re light reads, entertainment, welcome distractions.  I used to have high standards for lit.  Now I see even writing a book as creditable feat – unless your name is Rush Limbaugh or Anne Coulter, in which case, don’t bother.  Graham tells me he was once supervisor of associate named M.J. Hyland, said he used to tear up her law briefs & tell her she couldn’t write.  Says joke was on him, tho: she ended up getting shortlisted for Booker Prize for Carry Me Down.  Made me feel better.  I once had colleague who impugned my writing abilities.  He got fired but still want to hear he’s licking latrines in hell.

Mention that I read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Outliers. Gladwell contends that one only achieves proficiency @ craft after 10,000 hrs of practice.  Mozart started @ 7 but didn’t begin writing great symphonies til 20.  Most compelling, tho, Gladwell talks about how Beatles went to Hamburg as somewhat mediocre musicians.  Hamburg strip clubs, where they played, made bands play for 8 hr shifts.  Gave Beatles ample practice: over period of 4 yrs in Hamburg, they did 1,200 shows.  By time returned to Liverpool, they’d developed unprecedented sound.  If they’d stayed in Liverpool, tho, they wouldn’t have had as much practice.  Without Hamburg opp, they wouldn’t’ve become gods they were, acc to Gladwell.

Julia talks about how she’s part of 3 book clubs.  Keeps her in practice as reader.  Unlike so many book clubs, members in her group finish & discuss books in minute detail.  Asks if I’ve read Steve Toltz.  I cringe in bitterest envy.  Yes, I have.

Kings Canyone

Graham starts saying we should one day go to Kings Canyon in Australia, whose valley is accessible only by helicopter.  In fact, when they went, helicopter had to do all sorts of Evil Knievel stunts to make it down narrow cleavage.  This = enough for me to decline; say had hard enough time on charter flight to Okavango Delta.  Graham goes on re: Kings Canyon.  Waterfalls = luscious but w/ crocodiles.  In 1960s, American actress visited, got drunk & decided to swim from one bank to another, giggling & hiccupping as she did her strokes.  Crocodile nabbed her=end of her career/life & forest ranger’s license.  Vacation spot sounding less desirable by minute.



Done w/ afternoon safari.  Someone new @ camp, reading novel called The Gargoyle in lounge area.  Introduce ourselves.  Olive-skinned man named Alan.  Says he’s a pilot who brought honeymooner couple in on one of the propeller crafts we flew in on; too dark to fly out, so has to spend night.  Ask what book’s about.  Says it’s about porn star who finished shoot & drives along California mountainside, blind drunk.  Bottle of bourbon on lap falls to car floor; reaches down to pick up & drives off cliff.  Car thumps all over jagged rocks, catches fire, which spreads w/ help of dribbling puddles of flammable bourbon.  Rescued from wreck, covered head to foot w/ 3rd degree burns, paralyzed from waist down.  Porn-star looks gone (turns out it was str8 porn, tho, where guys = seldom attractive), has death wish (as if he didn’t have one right before accident).  Plans to hoist his wheelchair on ledge of one of top floors of L.A. hotel, climb back into chair & get slobbering drunk; put his head through noose suspended from window-cleaner hook outside window; stick shotgun in mouth; light another bourbon bottle on fire on lap; & pull trigger after budging chair off ledge.  This way, sure to die dramatically; looks grotesque as gargoyle, so might as well fall like one from ledge, plus, while on fire = bound to commit posthumous arson & take others w/ him, which = one in eye of meaningless universe.  Only, he meets woman outside hospital who claims to be clairvoyant & past-life regressionist & says she’s had many lives w/ porn star.  The Gargoyle explores her putative memories along w/ her attempts to nurse amoral pornographer back to health & moral sobriety.  After giving rundown of book, Alan politely excuses himself & goes back to reading w/ wolfish relish.  Says all pilots in region are slavering over Gargoyle & passing it around.  Doesn’t sound like book for me, but still want to read since feel need to develop wilder storylines in my own fiction.

Tubu Tree dining room


Camp no longer risking Amazonian attack by asking women to serve men @ dinner.  Now all go up buffet-style.  Spread similar to last night: steak, lamb, Bogobe (porridge), spinach, steak, carrots, zucchini, celery.  Every now & then, Botswanan woman does shrill tribal call.  Wish she would stop.  Drinking more Malbec.

miracle on hudson

Talk more to Alan.  Says was pilot for Continental Airlines in Houston.  Wound up in same trick bag as most pilots in this economy.  Fewer fliers = fewer flights & less intriguing routes.  Felt call to come to Africa to fly.  Came on vacation, asked around re: pilot jobs, got one in Botswana.  Fiancée = flight attendant, still in Houston.  Salary in Botswana doesn’t cover cost of mortgage back in Texas, so had to sublet.  Fiancée cashes in discount ticket & frequent flier miles & meets up w/ him every couple months in Jo’burg.  Somehow make it work.

Confess to Alan fear of small-craft planes.  I’m no aviophobe but I’m only used to large commercial carriers.  Alan looks down, nods, can’t tell if he’s annoyed or sympathetic or both.  Refer to Miracle on Hudson & how I flashed back to it when our own pilot mentioned having to negotiate bird traffic.  He responds by giving detailed account of how that kind of twin-engine failure = extremely rare.  Also, of all emergencies pilots must prepare for, that is last on list & not enough hrs in day to learn.  Reassures me worst could happen in such scenario on charter flight = windshield bathed in bird blood; wipers would slap away.  Also, chance of engine failure & crash landing = chance of bottom of car falling out on routine drive down highway.  Also, most pilots for safari camps = highly experienced & used to work for major airlines, but, for whatever reason, came to live in bush. Feel better re: next series of flights.

Back in Cabin

scrabble win

Kick Julius’ ass in Scrabble, mostly b/c I spell “ox” & X is worth 8 points.  Fanciest word I use in whole game = “agog.”  Sleep soundly after whoop-ass.

Greenhorn of Africa (Part Two)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on October 9, 2009

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

and Mozambique by Way of London

By Kyle Thomas Smith

Part Two

August 23, 2009 – Flight from Heathrow to Johanesburg

32nd Image Steve Toltz

8:00 am flight to Jo’burg. Wake up @ 3:30 to get morning pages & meditation done. 11 hr flight. Reading Steve Toltz’s Fraction of the Whole. Genius. Total fucking genius. 320 pages into it, realize author is 7 or 8 yrs younger than me. I despise upstarts/wunderkinds. I live in a city full of them. Put book down forever.

33rd Image Plane over Morocco

Plane cruises over Morocco.

34th Image Judy Dench

Watch Notes on a Scandal. Like movie better than book – much less bombastic. Judie Dench’s character = such a freak. I grew up around inordinate # of sociopaths & narcissists. Know the type.

35th Image Van Gogh Bandaged Ear

Read Barbara Ueland’s If You Want to Write. 80th Anniversary edition or something like that. She hated braggadocio writers almost as much as I do. States disdain for zingy copywriters & precious mag columnists of her day. Loves Van Gogh, Checkhov – sensitivity makes them consummate artists in her book. Thinks D.H. Lawrence a dirty bastard. I happen love them all. Van Gogh’s letters to Theo = heartrendingly exquisite. Will read them again when get back to NYC.

Last couple hours of flight, watch The Who live @ Isle of Wight, 1970. Don’t understand why Isle didn’t get same att: as Woodstock & Altamont. More people were @ it. Documentary not as good, tho. Bored by Who performance until Tommy medley. Come out swinging then. Worth the watch.

(Side note: Excellent Who clip of “Quick One While He’s Away” on The Rolling Stones’ Rock N’ Roll Circus (1968). Variety show reflects Stones’ proclivity for shooting themselves in foot @ height of career, but Who’s performance = stand-out.)

After Nighttime Landing

38th Joburg @ night

Coming to Africa w/o expectations. Jo’burg has one of highest crime rates in world. Waiting for shuttle to Mondior Concorde. Mountain Travel Sobek guide has to ward off encroaching parasitic/unlicensed drivers. Hotel = high security. Told most residential areas = gated = understandable, given theft/murder rates but = tragic, given gates = artifact of apartheid. Room is notch above Spartan; has TV but mostly only S. African variety shows, all in Afrikaans.

J & I go to pizzeria next to Emperor Palace Casino (attached to Mondior) for late-night dinner. Drink wonderful bottle of local Merlot called Fat Bastard – can’t get it in States. Pizzeria playing Queen’s “Bicycle Song.” Never understood Queen’s appeal. (“Under Pressure” = brilliant, but mostly Bowie.) Knew woman who said that, in 70s, her libido went ballistic whenever she saw Freddy Mercury live. Said not even handlebar mustache threw her off. Whaa?! To me, he’s indistinguishable from Village People. Also know African-American woman in Chicago who loved Queen but stopped listening & threw out tapes when she discovered they played Sun City during Apartheid. Will never forget being 11 y.o. & watching them rock Wembley @ Live Aid. But, even back then, didn’t understand why crowd went wild.

40th Image S Af Casino

Walk through Emperor’s Palace Casino – faux marble/plaster Greek & Roman replicas; glinting gold roulette tables; people of all colors, many visibly down-on-luck, growing unluckier by minute @ craps tables. Not joining them.

August 24, 2009 – Botswana

41st Maun Airport

Morning/Early Afternoon

Take early flight on Botswana Airlines from Or Tambo airport in Jo’burg. Exit plane via rolling staircase on arid strip of sand & dust. Trees in distance look like deadwood w/ gnarled branches. Again, coming w/o expectations. Carry bags to customs.

42nd Image Irish PassportPresent Irish passport, just like I did @ Heathrow & Jo’burg. J’s suggestion. Says if we run into terrorists abroad (think, Mumbai), they’ll seize Americans but let Irish go. But J only has US passport. What’s he expect me to do? Just wipe my brow & say “Bye!” while stands @ gunpoint? Won’t happen in Botswana, tho. Customs is nice here. Everyone files thru w/o incident. Still, it’s clear we’re not in Heathrow anymore. Walls look like they’ve been cracked & graying for centuries, taking on tincture of dust & desert landscape.

43rd Image No. 1 Ladies Detect

Passing thru metal detectors, Julius asks yawning customs officer if she likes No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Guard & I both cock heads. Where hell did that come from? J says show’s set in Botswana. Ah, makes sense now. But in Jo’burg airport, J & I looked up Botswana on Wikipedia & saw has only 1.2 million people. Capital city, Gaborone, has ~ 187,000 people; Maun has ~ 45,000. How much mileage could No. 1 Ladies get out of places that small? Wonder how long show’ll last before runs out of plotlines.

44th Image Charter Flights

Rickety-looking, propeller-driven craft w/ only 8 seats awaits. A 1st for me. Have no idea where we’re heading or what we’re in for. Is this another one of J’s adventure travel schemes? When we first met, he told me that, before becoming lawyer, he wanted to be war correspondent. Added, “I like travelling to parts unknown…places where I can get shot or catch plague.” Shit, he knows I don’t want in on his Deliverance fantasy! Still, he suckered me into it. To top it off, shaven-headed Dutch pilot in green fatigues tells us, “I need everybody to please wear your seatbelts. We’re experiencing a lot of bird traffic & I might have to swerve a lot to miss them.” Fuck! Miracle on Hudson wasn’t that long ago – & that kind of precision landing can only happen once! & that was New York, not the fucking Kalahari Desert! Board small charter flight, strap myself in b/h pilot & close eyes, chanting “Om Mani Padme Hum” the whole way.

45th Image View Plane Flying Over Africa

Now & then, my peepers open & spy vast tracts of Africa many thousand ft below. Sometimes J looks over & smiles sheepishly @ me. Am in no mood to smile. Plane hangs in air like string-bound toy mouse, battered by antsy cat’s paw. My wincing face presides over silent Tibetan chant. Try remembering story Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg tells of friend Sylvia Boorstein on moribund plane; she started doing loving-kindness mediation…and shit! Can’t remember rest of story! Of all times to forget! Must be saying this shit out loud. Botswanan woman next to me, who’s probably been on same plane 100 x’s, looks @ me like I’m craziest white man ever.

46th Image Buddha

40 Minutes Later

Land on wilderness airstrip. Open eyes. Still alive! “Thank you, angels, protector spirits, & totem animals! I know this was an ensemble effort!” Botswanan woman laughs @ me. Lean forward & thank pilot who’s been watching me in rearview mirror whole time & got good sense of my faith in his abilities. Gives stone-cold, you’re-not-welcome glare. Don’t care. Just glad to still have all my parts attached.

47th Image Johnny tubu tre

Smiling Botswanan man (~ 5’11”, muscular build, green safari fatigues) on dusty airstrip approaches J & me, introduces himself as Johnny. Helps w/ bags, takes us in jeep.

Kyle Hat Sunglasses Dylan

I reapply copious amts of 50+ SPF sunscreen over face, neck, arms; don wide-brimmed safari hat from bag & tie strings below chin – can’t take chances, am Irish. Johnny looks @ me in much same way as indigenous woman on plane, but, unlike pilot, understands I’m not from these parts.

48th Image Tubu Tree Arid

As Johnny drives us to camp, his jeep fells bare-branched bushes. Goddamn, this jeep can mow down tree-sized bushes!

Elephant maleAntelope Tubu Tree

Passing mastodon elephants, chimpanzees, warthogs & water buffalo. None even care we’re there. Johnny exhorts: “Stay seated in jeep. Don’t stand up.” As long as stay in jeep & don’t stand up, animals won’t view us as predator or prey. Dusty, sandy roads have jeep tracks but wind sweeps dust/sand over tracks every few days & Johnny must make his own way. No prob, he’s from here, knows drill.

20 Minutes Later – Tubu Tree Lodge

Arrive @ Tubu Tree Camp on Okavango Delta. Staff of 5 or 6 natives sings tribal welcome song upon jeep’s arrival. I look down; am not type who digs being fussed over. 2 camp directors stand behind staff, introduce themselves – Justin & Jacky. (From here on out, there are so many J names, I’ll have to reference Julius by full name instead of just “J”.)

Bird Tubu Tree Marsh

56th Image Tubu Tree Grounds

Camp bldgs span ~ an acre. Located in remote region w/ next camp ~ hour away by jeep/boat. Roofs = thatched. Floors = logs. Walls = decked w/ tribal masks, cotton throes, low-hanging talismans.

57th Image Common Area

Common area = spacious; generous spread of sliced breads, iced tea, guava juice, Roibost tea, & plump, floury scones (mouthwatering).

jim_beam_whiteJustin & Jacky take us down deck toward bar area, stocked to rafters w/ Jim Bean, Tequila, red/white/rose wine & spirits. Tell us we can help ourselves if no one’s behind bar. No hard-liquor drinker myself, but still nice to know.

Point to communal bathroom (toilets in cabins too) & tell us, “Monkeys might jump in & join you. What can we say, we share this space w/ them.” Let us know we have to stay on wooden & stone paths @ all times – general rule for camps – lest we wander off into wilds & meet our match. Also let us know hyenas might giggle, lions might roar, elephants might graze, baboons might knock on cabin door or shake coconuts from trees above roof while we sleep. No need for alarm. Nothing more natural. Any probs: blow blowhorn & either Justin or Jacky will come running.


Justin walks us to cabin. At least 3 x size of Mondior Concorde room in Jo’burg. Deep Woods bug-repellent incense burns – surprisingly pleasant & meditative. Comfy king-sized bed with 5-star white beddings & plush pillows. Deluxe furnishings belie treacherous landscape, spanning infinite terrain w/ food chain in full swing. Ceiling lights always dim, maybe to create suspenseful jungle feel. Whatever suspense might lurk in fields beyond cabin screens, bet sweet ass I’m sticking to wooden & stone paths.

20 – 25 Minutes Later

After unpacking & settling in, Julius & I wander into common area. 3 other guests – Julia (matronly woman, early 60s, from Melbourne); her husband Graham (retired law professor, now practicing Melbourne attorney); & Giles (taciturn retiree from Sydney). Meeting genteel bunch calms & emboldens me. If they can survive flock-dodging propeller jets & prowling hyenas so far from civilization, so can I! How much danger could there be @ lodge w/ 200-ply sheets?

Coming Up

Tubu Tree Afternoon & Sunset

Tubu Tree Afternoon & Sunset

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


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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