Thought of the Day

I don't believe in morality, but I believe in ethical conduct as set out by His Holiness the Dalai Lama: "Ethical conduct = a way of behaving that respects others’ right to be happy".

Saturday, 1 August 2009

South Africa Chapter 5: il topo e l'elefante

Our alarm clock went off at 7am. It was the last day of our self-drive tour, and we had some time to *kill* before meeting a representative from Garonga Safari Lodge for our complimentary transfer to Makhalali Game Reserve. later that afternoon. After an outdoor shower, overlooked by a frog, and breakfast with sparrows trying to steal our sugar, we visited the Elephant Sanctuary in Hazyview where we learnt tons of curiosities about elephants, their physiologic structure and their multiform personality.

We stroke, fed and rode them! Their tongue is very soft, and their toned muscles are covered by a thick and rubbery skin. They are ticklish and have chewy feet. Their tail’s hair looks like plastic and is often used to make bracelets.

What really struck me was to learn that they don’t die for organs’ malfunction, but starve to death when their teeth fall off, or if they lose their trunk. They keep growing up to the age of 40 and are very emotional creatures. If they are happy, they produce a liquid secretion between the eye and the ear; if they are in a bad mood, they release an oily solution.

A dog has got an olfaction 7000 times more developed than a human being an elephant 14000 times more than a dog. In Zimbabwe and Angola elephants are trained to sniff mines. They could even be trained to smell cancerous cells, but this is not a common practice in South Africa yet.

It’s true they are scared of mice because they can sense their presence but cannot easily identify them due to their poor sight. And it’s true they have an acute memory, that’s why they are relatively easy to train despite their mole and temperament.

Our last stop was the visit to the tribal village of Shananga, where we were greeted by the Chief and two of his three wives. We also visited the Medicine Man (or an impostor with a wig?) who gave me a tree extract to fight migraines. You have to sniff the powder and sneeze it out until you also sneeze your headache away. I tried it one day in Mozambique with tragicomic effects, chronicled in The Children of Guludo (still to come)…

On route to Kruger, women in their Sunday best protected by colourful parasols cheerfully waved at us. Something Steven and I noticed is the high number of people standing on the road's sides. Some of them walking to a defined destination, their feet being their only means of transportation; others chatting under a tree as if they were waiting for Godot; others just lazing around.

We were travelling undisturbed (no traffic, wide roads, lovely scenery) when a policeman stopped us. We were above the speed limit, he said. Moreover, he claimed that Steven’s driving licence was invalid because it didn’t have a photo, which I also found strange, but Steven insisted that, if shown with a passport, it is perfectly legal. We had heard so many stories about police corruption and bribery that we expected to be asked for money. And he did: 300 Rands. We started begging him to let us go saying that we were on honeymoon and had to be in Hoedspruit by 2pm. He was a jolly big man who facetiously compared himself to Mugabe (oh dear!) and laughed at Steven’s passport photo saying he looked 12 years old, which was true. Hi hi hi! He eventually let us go without paying. Thanks God he missed to notice that our number plate was missing. It had fallen off a couple of days before and was never glued back on!

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