I think it’s fair to say that part of what made this safari so extraordinary for both Shannon and me was the people we met. Toward the end of the trip, Dave asked G if he’d ever had a group as tightly knit as our crew. G admitted that there had been only one, and that most of the groups he took out had rifts and spats and cliques.
Before embarking on our safari, Shannon and I ventured a few guesses as to what sort of folks would be accompanying us on this trip. I was certain we’d have a family of four, an older worldly couple, a young couple, and a creepy loner. I was equally certain that Shannon and I would spend much of the trip isolated from the rest of the group, simply because nuclear families and creepy loners do not make fast friends.
As usual, I was wrong about almost everything. (Except that creepy loners don’t make fast friends. I’m right about that one.)
In fact, our group was comprised of some of the most intelligent, compassionate, inspiring, hilarious, and wonderful people I have had the pleasure of meeting. In seven days, they quickly became some of my favorite people and, I can only hope, some lasting friends. I know this because I shed a few tears when we parted ways on a street corner in Zambia, and I never cry while saying goodbye to people.
Before delving into some of the more poignant stories of the trip, I think it’s necessary to provide a sort of dossier for some of the bigger players* in our group, appropriately named “Badass Rhino Badgers.”
Known For: Creating African Bush Mocha, a refreshing morning beverage now found everywhere from Wimpy’s to the Botswana/Zambia border crossing.
Invaluable Safari Skill: Vocal interspecies communication. John can also spot all types of wildlife with the naked eye, even if said wildlife is immobile, camouflaged, and miles away.
Contribution to the Group: Strong vocabulary, clear enunciation, laser.
Nickname: DJ Squared
Known For: “Sounds like my first time,” a 2.0 version of the old “That’s what she said.” Also, a love of near-death experiences.
Invaluable Safari Skill: Telepathic interspecies communication. Aside from vocalizing his desire to ride all types of untamed and vicious animals, Dave is capable of being an “animal whisperer,” or at least he can mentally keep bull elephants at bay.
Contribution to the Group: Team spirit, GoPro, meaty forearm.
Known For: Being the only member of the team not to fall into or swim in the Zambezi River.
Invaluable Safari Skill: Identifying various animal footprints in the bush and maintaining casual conversation with white water rafting guides while entering Class 5 rapids.
Contribution to the Group: Random useful facts and statistics, a pleasant attitude, good morale.
Known For: Perpetual excitement in the face of danger, as evidenced by her willingness to stop and photograph the sunset while standing in the path of an angry rhino. Also known for eating walkie-talkie without looking at it.
Invaluable Safari Skill: Spotting sleeping owls from the inside of a moving vehicle.
Contribution to the Group: Practicality, optimism, Detol wipes.
Nickname: Pearly Whites
Known For: Apologizing to nurses for wearing “revealing” clothes as they plucked at his hair while he was hospitalized with both malaria and typhoid in Ghana.
Invaluable Safari Skill: Identifying any and all types of bird life.
Contribution to the Group: Smile, politeness, graceful raft-departing technique.
Nickname: Rhino Spotter
Known For: Her moving rendition of ‘O, Canada’ on a boat in the Zambezi. Also, for being thoughtful and giving extra food to locals.
Invaluable Safari Skill: Spotting irritable rhinoceros when no one thought it was possible.
Contribution to the Group: Serenity, animal species identification, videography.
Known For: Traveling to more countries than anyone else, save for her husband.
Contribution to the Group: Relationship advice, humor, pointing out constellations.
Nickname: Aussie John
Known For: Fighting some guy at a bar in a successful attempt to woo his wife.
Invaluable Safari Skill: Wildlife photography and a riveting “Hey Cow!”
Contribution to the Group: Good stories, lessons on being too gullible, Night Sky ap for iPhones.
Known For: Feigning a tough exterior while secretly loving being a part of the Badass Rhino Badgers.
Invaluable Safari Skill: Navigation, seemingly limitless knowledge regarding wildlife and politics, knowledge of how to survive animal attacks, everything.
Contribution to the Group: South African accent, cooking, everything.
*There were a few other lovely people on our trip as well, but I don’t feel that I got to know them well enough to write about them in a blog entry.
Categories: South Africa