Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"Look! A Animal!!"

Yes, I went on safari again!! This time it was with all three of my students’ entire families and Matt and Grace Hangen. Bethany was having back pain so she stayed at Chez Kennell for the weekend. She and Buster (the Kennell’s dog) sat looking on while Sarah and I climbed into one of the three stuffed vehicles going to Benin.

This was a very different experience from the last safari we went on. I didn’t ride on the top nearly as much- I think I had more of a desire to be clean. A couple of times, I just couldn’t resist seeing the animal kingdom without the frame/confines of a window. On this particular safari, we saw:

*“One million and four” cob (as I told Tiffany yesterday) (cob are the African version of deer)
*Two lions (two different times!)
*Multiple elephants, but only about five up close
*Abyssinian Rollers (the most beautiful birds in the whole wide world. No, really.)
*Hippos galore!
*Baboons (one, “Scarface”, a little too close for comfort. Keep reading for details.)
*Lots of crocodiles
*Water buffalo
*Roan antelope (which always make me think of Scott McEndree’s son, Rhone.)
*Countless numbers of countless species of birds
*A “Jesus” crane (a bird standing on an underwater hippo’s back as the hippo walked along the bottom of the lake, making the bird appear as though it was gliding on the water. Also, this bird isn’t really a different kind of bird, but it has a great description!)

There are probably other things, but I’m not going to strain trying to remember. I am, however, going to tell you some of the more entertaining stories from this particular safari.

Safari #2 Story #1: The First Lion- the Saga

On the second day, after our first night of camping, we ate at the hotel. As we were getting ready to leave, a guide with a group of tourists talked to Matt and told him that they had seen a few lions. They told him where to find it, and we started off down the correct road. We had all just had showers and lunch and spirits were high. It was too warm for the kids to get on top of the car, so there were three of them in the back seat, Sarah, Asher and I were in the middle row, and Matt, Andrea, Abby and AnnaMarie were in the front. As we’re driving down the road, Asher looks at Sarah and says, “Can I have something? I don’t feel good.” Sarah then asks Andrea for a bowl, and Matt pulls over so Asher can get out and throw up outside. I pulled him out and he leaned over for a few minutes, but didn’t do anything, so we got back in the car and start driving again. Abby decides that Asher should be in the front middle, with the air conditioning blowing right on him. They switch seats, climbing over the front seats to do it. Less than three minutes pass before Asher is vomiting into a plastic sack one of the cars following us had given to him. We pull over, get him cleaned up (I’m out of the car, because of my very sensitive gag reflex), then continue on our merry way. Less than ten minutes after that, AnnaMarie was drinking some water, and she starts coughing which leads to more up-chucking in the front seat. Oh yes, the joys of carsickness- poor kids.

After Andrea got herself and AnnaMarie cleaned up, we started off again toward the lion(s). We drive to “the place across from the baobab trees, where there used to be a village” and start peering intently into the brush. We drive past the place where we are supposed to be looking without a sighting, so Matt turns around and we head back. As he’s driving, he randomly looks underneath a tree, stops the car, grabs his binoculars and stares off into some very thick brush... Where he finds a (notice the singular article here) lion. We all get out and start looking, taking pictures, and passing around the binoculars. I was a little nervous, however. If you remember, on our last Pendjari visit, as I was looking at one lion, another jumped out of the very tall grass next to the other, growling at us. I think I now have a built-in fear of only seeing one of two reported lions- I made a few visual sweeps around the other side of the road, just making sure the lions weren’t in cahoots, “luring in” the safari goers for a little afternoon snack.

Safari #2 Story #2: Scarface

Since I got here, the kids have been talking about a particular baboon who isn’t afraid of people. He will come up to you and take things out of your hand, like food and pencil bags (I know, it’s strange, but pencil bags are a big deal!) Well, after Lion Sighting #1, we went to a lake called Mare Bali, which has a lot of different animals. I’ve yet to go there and not see at least three hippos and a million crocodiles. Our car drove up last (everyone else was already at the lookout point, which is a little bit of a walk from the parking spots), and I got out. As I walked toward the lookout deck, I was looking at our friends who were already there. Then, something to my right caught my eye- it was a baboon. Now, you must understand something. Baboons aren’t just cuddly little fun animals who come up and pick things out of your hair. Brett, on our first safari, kept saying, “I don’t want the baboons to rip my face off,” and Nicole had told me earlier, “Have you seen their fangs? They’re huge!” So, seeing this fully grown baboon between me and the rest of the group was far from comforting. Everyone told me he would be ok, though, and Nicole came to walk with me, so I made it safely to the deck. 

Scarface (so named by the team because of a scar he has on his nose) hung out with us for a while. He climbed on some branches, and I got some good pictures/videos. I did some running commentary on what he was thinking, and we all got a good laugh out of him. The kids went and got some snacks to much on, in Tupperware (a fact which will soon be very important), and brought it up to the deck.

After the snacks came out, I relocated to a position fairly close to them to get some good video of a hippo that had just climbed out of the water. I was also videotaping a crocodile that kept randomly thrashing, hoping to catch it doing something cool. As I was focusing the video camera on the crocodile, I heard some crunching leaves, and looked down, thinking it was the lizards under the deck making all of the racket. I look down to see what’s going on with them, then realize there are screams and kids scrambling toward me- it took me a second to get my bearings, but I did realize that I needed to relocate VERY quickly to the other side of the deck. I slammed my video camera shut (still recording, however), and hustled kids away from the noise. As I turn around, I see Scarface sitting on the bench holding the Tupperware (I think he was at least. Even if he wasn’t holding it, he wanted it), and Dave throwing something at him and shouting. The kids are in hysterics, and my heart is thumping loudly in my very shaky body. Scarface leaves, but the kids are really stressed out, so Nicole and I take them back to the cars, where we all get in and drive away from Scarface and his friends, retelling the story and how we all felt for the remainder of the afternoon.

Andrea, Nicole, Grace, and I decided he just wanted the Tupperware. When you live in a wildlife park in Benin, West Africa, you have to get it where you can. Real Tupperware is hard to come by.

Safari #2 Story #3: The Campsite

We finished out the day with another lion sighting, then drove back to our campsite, which was right next to a lake. When we got there, Sarah and I needed to go to the bathroom. It took us a while to find toilet paper, and by the time we were headed back to our “potty place,” Nicole and some of the girls had already gone, and were telling us that they thought there might be a hippo out of the water back where we went, so we should stay close to the path. Sure enough, when Sarah and I started down the very short path to the “business bushes,” we heard what sounded an awful lot like growling. When you’re in a safari park where you’ve just seen two lions, you don’t really stick around growling noises, so we quickly headed back toward the tents, the fire, and the loud children. There, we went straight to Andrea, who then acted as our counselor and kept us safe as we went about twenty feet away from the tents and utilized the darkness rather than bushes for security purposes. It’s hard to convince yourself to walk into tall grass where you’ve just heard growling, whether it was a lion, or that hippo, it really doesn’t matter in the end.

*FUN FACT: Hippos are very dangerous- they kill more people than lions. Granted, that’s usually in the water, but still, do you want to come face to face with a massive hulk of an animal whose territory you’re in? No, you don’t, and neither do I.*

That night, Nicole heard multiple baboons calling to each other (which she knew, because she heard an NPR documentary on baboon calls. Yeah, she’s that cool). And the next morning, after we left for our early (EARLY) morning drive, Mark (who had stayed behind), looked up to see a lion stalking out of the woods right behind our tents. It looked at him for a few minutes, then stalked off- thankfully. 

It was a great campsite.

Safari is fun. Animals are great. Road-trips with toddlers and kids are interesting. I don’t like jumping off of high rocks- and in my next post, you will hear about the waterfall we went to where the team was able to experience my fear... For about half an hour.

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