My First Day in the Bush–A Dream Come True

My First Day in the Bush–A Dream Come True

Today I entered the Bush for my very first time in what I know will be the first of many over the course of my life. I am lucky enough to be a part of a beautiful group, Youth 4 African Wildlife, that is spending 6 weeks deep in the South African Bush filming our majestic and perfectly orchestrated wildlife for the purpose of animal conservation. This is my dream. Hyenas are opportunistic hunters, and I am a completely opportunistic opportunity taker.

As the clock stroke midnight on January 1, 2014, the vivacious party I attended was in full swing: kisses, cheers and hope abounded. I however, snuck out onto my friend’s balcony in his castle-esque Hollywood Hills home and prayed for what my next year would bring. In 2013 I fully took advantage of my wanderlust and traipsed along 5 continents including my own, North America. So, as I stood on the balcony and pondered my next year, I knew that travel would be a crucial part of it; I decided that this was the year that I finally went to Afrika. I didn’t know how, and I didn’t know where, but I knew that I wanted to do some type of a service trip. I contacted many groups working in various countries throughout Africa and for some reason, nothing worked out. By May, I was entirely frustrated and eventually said F-that, and I released my goal into God’s hands. Not three days later, I received a life-changing email from my Mom via my Step-dad… The email laid out the tempting fruit of a 6 weeklong internship in the South African Bush filming animals, classes in social media/leadership/cameras and ultimately creating a short documentary for the purpose of animal conservation. Needless to say, I am Eve. I ate the fruit. And oh, how yummy, juicy and special that fruit is.

Not two days ago, I met my interesting and accomplished young group and my inspiring, passionate and simply astonishing group leader, Dex Kotze. What a privilege it is for me to be a part of this talented group. Oh, yes!

Back to the excitement at hand: my first day entering the Bush.

This morning we woke up early and made our way from Jozi (Joburg aka Johannesburg) to the Bush a few hours away. One of my absolute favorite pastimes is putting on my headphones, gazing out the window and enjoying the experience of new terrain. Whether I was using my walkman, or then my CD player, and now my iPod, I have loved doing this since I was a young girl. Today, with my iPod playing my post-Coachella playlist, I enjoyed watching the city and highway slowly transform into the very countryside that I associate with AFRIKA. We stopped at a small meat market out in the country to get some fresh Biltong, South African spiced beef jerky laden with hardened fat. I am a gluten-free vegetarian in normal life, but I eat any and everything when I travel. So fresh biltong…oh, it was on. Party in my mouth.

Back on the road and tuned into my music, we turned down a country road and it immediately felt different; we were getting into the animal reserves. The first thing I saw could’ve been a weird tree, could’ve been a crouched over human, or it could’ve been some type of spotted cat like a cheetah or leopard—I’m going to go with cat. Then I put my glasses on. Shortly thereafter I saw a giraffe snacking on a tree. Oh my!




I quickly turned to my iPod, scrolled through my albums and found it: The Lion King Soundtrack. (the musical, not the film–I’m classy and cultured) There was no better introduction into the Bush than that.

With the Grasslands Chant existing as my auditory sense, the savanna was a luscious treat for my eyes. I eagerly looked for any animal that I could find! I saw cows…but then I saw a white monkey chilling on a tree! It was Vervet monkey! (I figured this out later via a gift-shop postcard)

As we drove deeper and deeper into the Bush, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” began playing on my iPod, and that’s when I lost it. I was so unbelievably overflowing with emotion that all I wanted to do was bawl for joy; however, I’m from the West, and we don’t cry. We sniffle, we purse our mouths and we tear. So that’s what I did. I TEARED. Like, I really TEARED. (I so wish it was acceptable to wail in our culture. I’m so jealous of the freedom that African women have to show and feel all their emotion)

As we entered the gates to the park (due to poaching there is very strict security), we pulled up right behind a game drive vehicle and guide. He was our guide, so we jumped in! There is something called the “bait seat,” aka a seat stuck on the front of the vehicle by the headlights where your feet dangle and you have really nothing to hold onto. That seat is highly coveted. I got into the seat and I felt like I was flying. I held my arms out and our guide promptly teased, “this wasn’t the Titanic, Kate.” But that didn’t let the wind out of my wings, I could not stop smiling.

We passed some more giraffes, who looked at us with their big giraffe eyes and floppy lower lips, and continued to our camp to put our bags away. We came to our camp, and our camp is in the middle of the reserve. Animals will grace our camp at night while we’re tucked away in bed, sniffing us out. We shoved our bags in our tent/cabins and rushed out for a late game drive.

With giddy excitement, we started down the road in search of some of the animals we are here to raise awareness about and protect: rhinos. Rhinos are critically endangered. There are less at 26,000 in the world, and in South Africa one rhino is poached every 9-12 hours for its horn; Chinese medicine believes that rhino horns hold secret medicinal powers for virility, can be used as a cure for cancer and to get rid of a hangover (because apparently water and advil isn’t suitable). Not to mention that a kilogram of Rhino horn goes for upwards of $80,000 on the black market; it is more expensive than gold or cocaine. There are no medical records proving any health benefits to rhino horn. So, this is total water buffalo droppings. Rhino horn is made of keratin—the same stuff as our fingernails and hair. One conservationist held a rally where people clipped their fingernails, stuck them in envelopes, and mailed them to the Chinese government to make a statement. Brilliant.

Personally, I hadn’t seen a rhino since I was a child at a zoo. Driving through the Bush, we finally happened across this giant, strong, butt with armor all over it; we found our first rhino. As we pulled our car up, the male rhino (called a bull) continued grazing for food and pretty much ignored us. Not too far from him was a group of rhinos, run by females; he was trying to holler. When the females go into estrus, which happens about 4 times a year, the males catch the scent of the females’ yummy hormones and they get…excited. This is when courtship begins. Typically, courtship involves a male following and harassing females—what else is new? This guy had his eye on the lady-prize and was basically stalking.

The male finally worked up his tough guts to approach the females (rhinos have extremely heavy and think intestines, so vets have to be highly skilled and use metal wire to patch up a rhino). Despite his confident attempt, he received a loud snort from a she-rhino (called a cow). He stopped dead in his tracks. The lady said, “oh, no you don’t. Back that booty up.” He continued chewing his grass (rhinos eat an eighth of their body weight in a day), and after another few snorts from the females, he backed up. Then he turned around and looked so rejected and embarrassed. I have to admit, it was kind of adorable, and made me feel a bit more pity for guys at bars. Well, kind of…

It was amazing. I’ve been researching and studying rhinos for the past couple of months, and I got the chance to see a few today. They were so gentle, relaxed and all I could feel was pity. I looked at them and saw these thick, powerful, mammalian dinosaurs and felt so bad for them. Their horns are craved. There are people hunting these animals, slashing their faces apart and murdering them just for their horns, and it is happening right now as I write this. These animals are sitting ducks. I don’t want to think of them as being brutally hacked away at. Unless the Chinese and other Asian countries change their cultural ideas, these animals will all be dead in the wild within 10 years.

Last year, in the Andes Mountains I truly became a conservationist. I read, “Ishamel,” and truly understood that God is in everything and we are all the same. Then came the realization that animals look at us with contempt, disgust and sadness. We break their hearts. I feel that animals look at us and say, “Why? Why do you do this? Why do you kill, plunder and destroy?”

I picture a rhino sitting in the savanna, enjoying the day when it suddenly gets shot with a gun or tranquilizer dart and falls weak. The rhino is still alive when humans ruthlessly and brutally hack of the rhino’s horn, creating a bloody gap in the rhinos face. The rhino can’t react, yet feels all the pain. When the rhino finally wakes, it wanders around for days with half of its face cut off. The rhino must be feeling and thinking, “why? Why do they do this?” This truly breaks my heart on behalf of a member of the human species. I don’t want to be associated with that! That isn’t me!!! Things like that make me ashamed to call myself human.

So, seeing the rhinos was bittersweet for me. It was glorious and then it was painful.

As I type this now, tucked in bed underneath a heated blanket, I’m going to end on a fun note, because I need it for my sanity. After dinner, I got into my raised cabin/tent and grabbed my flashlight. I stood on my porch and shined the flashlight into the distance. I saw a pair of glowing blue eyes. My heart immediately pounded a mile a minute. My body went all warm and tingly inside. I moved the flashlight around and around, watching the eyes to see where it went. Something was watching me. I am not alone out here. It finally ran away, but I still feel life all around my tent. Every little sound makes my ears perk up. This is so cool.

I am here.

I am deep in the Bush.

And as I am truly figuring out: T.I.A.

This Is Afrika.

Roar, Kate Bowen

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