Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


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Like my brownhouse:
   Khoka Moya
Saturday, March 29 2003

setting: Rushworth's Trackers Lodge, Northern Province, South Africa

Breakfast at the lodge wasn't exactly continental. In Africa, it seems, there's an expectation among the tourists of a big greasy breakfast. Even the tomatoes are fried. Given my aversion to eggs, my choices were few and Gretchen got to see me eat bacon.
Since our location was remote and the roads lightly-traveled, Dina let me try my hand at driving on the left. Given the paucity of obstacles, I didn't exactly take to it like a duck to water. When I drove up to the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve gate, I instinctively went rightward, even though on that side the stop sign was facing away from me on the far side of the lowered metal rod.
We walked on trail through a picturesque part of the park above the water's edge of the canyon's reservoir. Here in the lowlands the day quickly grew hot, so at the first opportunity Gretchen took off all her clothes and went swimming in the blue-green water, Bilharzia and crocodiles be damned.

Our next destination was the Khoka Moya lodge within the Manyeleti Game Reserve (adjacent to Kruger). Our directions were bad and the signage on the roads bore little resemblance to any of our maps (what turns out to be a common problem in South Africa), so we had difficulty finding Khoka Moya, but eventually we were there. We even saw a family of warthogs on the drive in.
Khoka Moya resembled the set of Survivor. There was a centralized open-air meeting/dining shelter area set behind an open fire pit, and wooden catwalks led off in various directions to private thatched huts for the guests. There was also a swimming pool, but it was an unappetizing pea green color. I had trouble finding a power outlet in my room, so I did as we'd been instructed and took my camera to the office hut to have one of the Khoka Moya employees charge it for me. I was loathe to do this, because I prefer to be control of every aspect of my equipment. An important aspect of my psychology is fiercely independent streak - based on the irrational view that, outside of me, the world is a cereal bowl of flakes and flailing incompetents. This an anti-cooproductive, antisocial mindset and I've tried to cure myself of it over the years, but it keeps being reinforced.
The employee who handled my camera charging was a blond girl who looked like she might still be teenager. I had all the things I needed - a travel transformer to convert 240 to 120 volts and a special adapter to allow European-style equipment to plug into South Africa's unique super-bulky three-prong outlets. The employee took one look at my camera power supply (a black box with two conventional prongs suitable for plugging into American-style outlets) and said it would just plug into her power strip without any adaptation necessary. I assumed immediately that mine was familiar equipment and she'd dealt with 120 volt American electronics before. But just to be safe, I asked, "You sure that's 120 volts? You sure?" "Oh, it will work," she insisted, taking it from me and immediately plugging it in without concern. There was an instantaneous electrical popping sound, followed by a small cloud of greyish smoke. Suffice it to say, I no longer had a power adapter for my camera. In the game drive to follow, I would have to rely on whatever charge I had remaining in my camera's battery.
The employee was apologetic and others on the staff tried to find me an adapter I could bush-rig into a functional replacement, but nothing had the right combination of volts and amps. I was thrown into immediate despondency. Not only would I run out of battery power well before I found a way to recharge, but Gretchen would probably have a nasty altercation with the Khoka Moya staff when the time came for us to collect reparations for the destroyed charger.
The evening's game drive did much to improve my mood. We three, along with a British couple, all piled into a Toyota Land Rover and set off for the bush. Our driver/tracker was a man named Jules, the first black person we'd met with a skilled - even somewhat enviable - job. Nonetheless, part of his job description included carrying our bags and fetching our drinks. There was also another man playing Robin to Jule's Batman; he sat on a little chair on the hood of the Land Rover and his job was to spot wildlife. Sometimes he'd also be sent off on foot armed with a walkie-talkie.
On this first drive, we saw waterbucks, a hippo, giraffes, zebras, and various species of antelope. There were also many hornbills flitting about and periodically we'd pass under the webs of large colorful orb spiders. For some reason it was both more and less than expected. I was amazed by how close we could get to animals without disturbing them at all. And there they were, with every scar, scratch, clump of dirt, and oxpecker. It almost seemed as if they preferred to frequent the bush in areas adjacent to the road. But on the other hand, our exposure to them seemed somehow superficial and contrived. It felt less wild and dangerous than it should have. Was this wilderness, or just a big farm? Where was the Africa that could make brave, healthy men shit their pants?
At sundown Jules sopped the Rover and we all got out and celebrated the South African ritual of the sundowner. We'd pre-ordered our drinks, and, based partly on the fact that Gretchen and I had packed insufficient malaria medication, we three had gin & tonic (a very British "solution" to this scourge of their empire).
Though we drove around in the bush for at least an hour after sundown, there were no more animals to be seen. I perfectly content looking at the night sky instead. I only recognize a handful of constellations even in the Northern Hemisphere, but there arrangements are nonetheless familiar to me. It was great looking up at stars I'd never seen before in my entire life. Possibly because of the incredible darkness (but also because of peculiarities in its Southern Hemisphere half) the band of the Milky Way was particularly intense.

Back at the Khoka Moya camp, the flickering lights of fires made it look even more like the set of Survivor. Dinner was a buffet and unexpectedly good. The dinner conversation, however, was somewhat poisoned by the macho bluster of one of the Khoka Moya head honchos. He was one of those excessively outdoorsy types the British Empire was so good at breeding. Whenever anyone had an idea for a place he or she wanted to go see in Africa, he always shot back with ideas for how to increase the testosterone content of the experience.
After dinner, a hyena wandered right into camp and walked right up to the buffet spread. The front of his body was so tall that he could have just reached out and served himself, but he never got the opportunity; after pointing him out and giving us the opportunity to marvel at the wildness, Khoka Moya staff shooed him away. We could hear him off in the bush cursing at us in his crazy language.
For some reason I started stewing again about my camera charging predicament, and the only thing I wanted to do was go to bed. The Khoka Moya camp is unfenced, and one of the staff felt the need to accompany me back to my hut to ensure I wasn't dragged off by a lion.

See some photographs from the South Africa trip.

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