Just deserts in South Africa
Usually, I prefer to spend my birthday drowning in decadent desserts. Because everyone knows that calories don’t count on birthdays. And special occasions. And days the Earth orbits the sun. That’s just science.
Claire, a longtime blog reader in Cape Town, graciously invited me to drop in on her life, and because I apparently have no inner voice that cautions me against taking three flights totaling 10,000 miles to meet strangers from the internet, I was more than happy to accept. To commemorate my seemingly irreversible onward march into my thirties, she booked us an overnight at Inverdoorn Game Reserve, where we embarked on a private safari in hopes of catching glimpses of hippopotamus, antelope, buffa— OK, totally not fooling anyone. I was just in it for the cats.
We set out at sunset in a 4 x 4 to cover the vast and gorgeous expanse of the park. A few minutes into our once-in-a-lifetime adventure, during a creepy conversation about Claire’s crippling fear of snakes, a cape cobra sprung up on a rock to our left. The safari guide — rastafari is the preferred term, I’m pretty sure — stopped the vehicle and told us to get out. Claire froze, then shoved me toward the serpent in a shameless attempt to sacrifice me and save herself, as if to say “Take the American!”
Undeterred, Rastafari again implored us to exit the truck. Which seemed totally safe, with our slippery fork-tongued new friend slithering close by. So we hopped out and into harm’s way. Because yes, when someone tells me to jump, I say “How high?” followed by a disclaimer that my legs are unnaturally squat and stocky and watching me leap pathetically is unsatisfying for all involved. However, I have no issues with authority. We can’t all be independent thinkers.
But it was all worth Claire and Rastafari taking my life into their hands, because also nearby on the other side of some thorny bushes we came face to femur with Shorty.
Mocking my stature and nationality in one fell swoop, Claire instructed me to get my short self in front of Shorty the giraffe and wave like a tourist. I do what I’m told.
The blind agreement didn’t stop there. It’s a good thing I wasn’t being led to slaughter — except for the part about being thrust into the cross hairs of a killer cobra — because I just kept obliging without resistance. It’s my gentle nature.
In the midst of being in the majestic company of, among many others …
… white rhinoceros …
… gemsbok …
… black-maned Barbary Cape lion (squee!) …
… and cheetah (squee times infinity!) …
… Rastafari pulled up alongside a tree, rocketed from the truck, ripped a few leaves from the branches and handed us each a green gift. Licking the leaf and remarking on its salty taste, he looked to his captive audience to follow his lead.
After observing Claire and I hesitate with suspicion before sampling the snack, he said rhinos often favor that plant when marking their territory — yes, what we’d just lapped up was pungent rhino piss.
We spent the next several minutes spitooing and scraping our tongues, until Rastafari, rolling with laughter, revealed the plant’s just naturally high in sodium. Kind of a let down.
You’d think that would have been enough to lose our trust, and yet. Spying some springbok droppings, Rastafari explained how spitting contests are common in certain circles with the round pellets. Then he devilishly peered at Claire and me.
And that’s how I ended up eating shit on my 31st birthday.
Not quite the cherry on top I’ve come to expect, but oh-so-much sweeter. Unless we’re talking about the actual taste of the chocolate-colored diminutive desert dung. In which case it was odorless, with a hint of grass.