Faithful readers of this blog know by now that I spent two weeks on a safari vacation in Kenya. It was eye-opening and heart-warming for many reasons. Last week's post showed the more poignant and reflective side of my sojourn; this week's showcases the more ridiculous.
Most of my days were spent on "Game Rides" where a rugged, three-level truck (two seats on driver's level, with two more levels of two behind) takes you on even more rugged roads in search of wild animals like zebra, lions, elephants, giraffes, baboons et al to shoot...with a camera.
Now calling the terrain on which we drove "roads" is wishful thinking; they were directional guidelines that were pitted, muddied, rock-strewn and were reminiscent of the lunar surface in their un-eveness. The ensuing result was a bone-jarring, inner-organ jolting voyage that tossed the heavy duty Toyota Land Cruisers about like a rubber duck on a tsunami. No wonder that every driver called each foray an "African Massage."
Needless to say, the sights were majestic...but I won't bore you with the standard pix of landscapes and/or wildlife.
What truly knocked me out were the human reaction to the above, particularly the wilder side of the wildlife, which is why I found the Game Rides to be a cross between the mad paparazzi of TMZ and the fan base of NASCAR.
For Exhibit One, check the photos above and below. In the one above, to the extreme right, you can find two cheetahs enjoying a nice supper of freshly-killed antelope or impala or some other poor soul that could not out-run them. Like any fine celebrity couple, the two were trying to enjoy a nice meal together...until they were discovered by a Game Ride truck. Now a stopped Game Ride truck multiplies like rabbits in heat; rapidly and exponentially. These mechanical beasts keep moving until there's something to see, which in turn, attracts other moving vehicles, which results in a simple meal exploding into the type of media attention usually reserved for A-List stars or Great American tragedies (see photo below).
As for the NASCAR analogy, I take you to the great Wildebeest Migration, where millions of the creatures (by the way, they could really use some re-branding, because they are kind of regal and strangely cute) make their way from Tanzania to Kenya from July to October. One of the hurdles on this voyage is the Mara River, which most of these beest can cross with limited difficulty.
But as any great reality show programmer would have it, on the banks of said river are hundreds of snarling, starving crocodiles. Once the wildebeest start to make their way across, the crocs spring into action, and unbridled carnage ensues.
Now despite my cries of "Turn back!" and my lobbying to build a modest pedestrian bridge for the wildebeest, I understand that this is nature's way, and part of the inevitable "Circle of Life" that many of us first learned of in the animated feature The Lion King.
But here's what I don't understand--the people who travel for miles, for hours, to watch this cruel, gladiator-type mismatch of a slaughter (well not just "to watch," but to capture it on film and video)...and are then crestfallen, heartbroken and disappointed when the wildebeest decide to postpone inevitable death and delay their crossing for a day or two. Put another way that strikes closer to home, "I don't care who won the race, but man, you should've seen those multi-vehicle pile-ups!"
Ironically, just after arriving from Kenya, I headed off to Toronto to take in a few days at TIFF, the city's start-studded, over-the-top film festival. In the end, the parallels between the two were ironic and obvious.
So this week's lesson is more puzzling than profound, but what I've learned is that my four-legged African friends are very much like anybody else in the limelight--they're gawked at, they're exploited and they attract some pretty weird followers.
Ahh, it was fun to be away, but It's good to be home ;)