I went to Africa with my mother a few years ago. We got to Newark airport and checked our luggage. The guy who checked it was extra nice and very polite. We went to the gate, sat down and I looked at my phone. I had an email from someone named Felix.
To: Pam Gaslow
Reply To: FELIX MUNOZ
Sent: Dec 18, 2009 10:38 AM
Hi how are u princess this the guy that was working with the bags earlier i just want to let you know ur a beautiful woman and god bless u and ur mom and have a good trip and enjoy ur vacation . . . I saw ur email in ur bag if anything this is my email have a good one
I was dating a cop at the time so I forwarded it to him.
When we got on the plane I took a Xanax and watched as the stewardess demonstrated all the safety procedures for flying. I can’t believe they still show you how to buckle your seat belt. I’m sorry but if you don’t know how to buckle your seat belt, you deserve to fall out of the plane.
4500 hours later we landed in Johannesburg, then met our connecting flight to Zambia where we were going to see Victoria Falls. If you don’t know what Victoria Falls is, Google it. I’m not a fucking geography teacher.
According to our itinerary that evening we were supposed to “Enjoy the Sundowner Cruise on the Zambezi River above the Falls. Glide lazily down the river looking for hippo, elephant or buffalo coming to drink at the water’s edge. Absorb the quietness of the African bush as sunset brings the day to a close, sometimes in a fiery departure, sometimes in a myriad of blended colors.” Seriously, who writes this shit? An African romance novelist? I can’t.
This was the reality in a nutshell: We saw three hippos, but they were mostly under water. And that was for about five minutes of the two hour ride. Then I fell asleep. You know the expression “Slow boat to nowhere?” That describes our ride to a T.
The next day we saw Victoria Falls. It’s kind of like the Grand Canyon, except you stare at it for much longer because of the rainbows.
Next morning we took a tiny plane to Botswana. It was a fifteen minute ride but it felt like 15 hours. I was terrified. After what seemed like a little while I asked my mother how much longer and she said, “Fourteen and a half minutes.” When we landed I asked how long the drive would be if we had driven instead of flown and the pilot said eleven hours. Oy.
We got to our camp and were on our way to our tent when I saw a picture of Oprah hanging on a wall. It wasn’t clear if it was there because she had stayed at the camp or because she was black.
The tent was fine. Two beds, bathroom, windows, a roof, but it had no air conditioning and no phone. It did come equipped with an air horn that you were instructed to use to notify the “front desk” in case of an emergency. I considered it an emergency that night when there was a Tarantula on the ceiling directly above my bed. A little later on there was another emergency when a lizard was running around the room. I’m about as outdoorsy as Woody Allen. Or maybe I just like blowing air horns.
The next morning we went on our first game drive. We saw a lot of warthogs. They’re ugly but cute.
As we drove around the driver explained a lot about the animals and their habits in the wild. He used phrases like “Sexually mature male” and “Excited State,” and I couldn’t help thinking about the cop I was dating back in NY. “Musk,” “Heightened State,” “In heat.” It probably wasn’t normal that I was getting excited by those terms. I mean there wasn’t a lot to think about out there in the wild. We saw a lot of giraffes, elephants, and some zebras. I asked the driver if we were going to see any Leopards. He stopped the jeep, turned around and showed me the only place we were going to see them . . .
Amazing. I could have just stayed in New York and Photoshopped one on my lap.
Then I got a text from the cop. “Are you awake? Whatcha doin? Was the guy that sent that email the TSA guy or just the skycap? If he is the TSA guy I’m gonna have a chat with his boss about uninvited contact.”
Loves. I had been dating Mark the cop for almost three months. It was interesting and different. I mean no one had ever showed up at my apartment with a loaded gun before. He kept it on top of my cupcake display case. One of my dogs was scared of him.
We had a lot in common. He had been in the military and served in Desert Storm in Iraq. I had gone to one of the Jappiest schools on the east coast. He had killed 17 people in the war; some with a gun and some with a knife. I had once killed a goldfish by accident after filling its bowl with hot water instead of cold because I was drunk. He had been stabbed and shot. I had been stung by a bee in sixth grade. His cousin had asked him to have sex with her. I don’t have any cousins, but I used to fantasize about sleeping with a step brother, who I also didn’t have.
He was an Italian Catholic, had four tattoos, and wore a small cross around his neck. I’m Jewish and have no tattoos. He was a ranked triathlete. I was the laziest person on the face of the earth. He was funny and angry and we both hated everyone. He was the silent but deadly type. Literally.
My friends were concerned that because I could be such a wise ass that I might be the 18th person he killed. One of my wittier friends said, “Well, if he does ever kill you it will be quick and efficient.”
Anyway, back to the leopards that we weren’t seeing . . . We started talking to the driver. I asked him how many wives he had and he said one. He told us that his friend had a golden retriever and one day they went outside and a baboon was petting it! We saw birds land on giraffes. They landed on their asses and ate the shit while it was coming out of them. Our driver told us that one time a birds head got stuck in the giraffes ass and died. Seriously???? What an educational experience this was turning out to be.
This is how you find the elephants:
This is what you drive through to find them. . .
There’s a lot of downtime on safaris with absolutely nothing to do. My mother and I were sitting at the pool one day (in about 98 degrees) when she started telling me about one of her friends son. The guy was inventing disposable gloves to wear on the subway.
“Wait a second,” I said. “Doesn’t he know that disposable gloves have already been invented?”
“They’re different,” she said.
“I don’t know.”
“What did he do before this?” I asked.
“He was an investment banker.”
“I don’t get it,” I said. “So he woke up one day and was like ‘I really need to quit my investment banking job to invent already invented disposable gloves?'”
“He got tired of what he was doing,” she said.
“So he quit his job and decided to invent something that had already been invented?”
She just looked at me.
“And what are people gonna do in the winter?” I asked. Wear disposable subway gloves over their regular gloves?”
“I don’t know!”
“I can’t,” I said. “This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”
You go on two game drives a day -one in the morning and one in the evening, to avoid being out there during the hottest time of the day. The night drives felt like we were paparazzi – constantly stalking the animals. The other drivers would radio us and tell us where they were and that they had spotted lions or cheetahs or whatever, and we would immediately rush over to that spot hoping they were still there. Then the driver would shut off the jeep and we would get really quiet and sit there and watch them. We were stalkers and we were invading their privacy, but they didn’t seem to mind.
The game drives were like doing drugs. Once you saw a zebra you wanted to see a leopard. Once you saw a leopard, you wanted to see a lion. Once you saw two lions having sex, you wanted to go home. The jackpot is seeing a “kill” which we didn’t get to see. When I watched the lions walk they reminded me of Mark the cop, lean and trim and quietly menacing.
The night drives were cold and since there was no windshield in the jeep bugs flew in your eyes if you didn’t wear glasses. I complained to the driver about these things, and he asked if anyone had ever called me a prima donna. Umm, obvi.
“Do you have any candy bars?” I once asked out of nowhere.
“Nope.” he said.
“Why are there no candy bars here?”
“You’re very demanding.”
Like I said there is a lot of downtime on safaris when you’re not on a game drive and there’s absolutely nothing to do. And it was too freakin hot to even sit outside. There’s no shopping and no town and nothing to do or see. I even asked our guide if there were some natives we could go visit, or a village we could check out. “Like the ones they have on TV,” I said. “But not a fake village. I don’t want to go to one of those places where they’re singing and selling shit.”
“Why, do you want to play with native kids?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “I hate kids. And I don’t want to touch anyone.”
“There is a village about an hour from here.”
“Is it a real one? I think a lot of those places are fake and staged.”
He told me there was nowhere at all to go, and yes the village was fake.
It was excruciatingly hot in Botswana. I had no idea exactly how hot it was until I asked one of the camp managers what the temperature was and he said 108. Umm, that’s normal. There are also A LOT of bugs. When we walked from the tent to breakfast in the morning flies swarmed us. I began putting a towel over my head when I walked. It was horrific.
I know those are bees, but you get the idea. I mean every single surface had some sort of bug on it. I looked for bugs everywhere and was always expecting something to jump out at me. I expected there to be lizards in my hand bag, snakes in my path and frogs in the shower. I was never at ease. My nerves were shot. I started to panic that we were running out of Xanax. I asked my mom how many she had left and she said nine.
“Are u sure?” I said. “Where are they? Should I hold onto them?” She gave me a look. “How many more flights are we taking? I started going through the itinerary counting how many more planes we would be on. “Oh my god there’s a lizard!!!” I said, as I picked my flip flops off the floor. UGH! I could see the headline now: