When Michael and I traveled to Australia in 1990, I became acquainted with the Australian version of “big things.” Australian big things are roadside attractions of a man made sort and I have photos of myself: Looking for mountains of ice cream to go with the big banana; standing by the big pineapple; milking the big cow; leaning on a leg of the big spiny lobster; and holding the tail of the big trout. I know about big things.
But African big things are of another magnitude and they hardly ever stand still long enough for you to stand by, milk, lean on or hold the tail of one . . . even if you were so inclined.
I’m not very familiar with African big things. Growing up in Fairbanks, Alaska, the opportunities to see elephants, hippopotami, giraffes, rhinoceroses, and cape buffalo were pretty much nonexistent. We didn’t have a zoo and we weren’t on the circus circuit. However, I did have books about African big things.
I grew up hearing the story of the baby elephant in The Circus Baby, written and illustrated by Maud & Miska Petersham. The book had a bright orangey-red cover, wonderful illustrations, and told the tale of a baby circus elephant whose mother wanted it to be more like humans. Needless to say, her efforts to get it to sit in a chair and eat with a spoon (with a family of clowns, no less) were doomed from the start. And, there were the Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling: “How the Camel got his Hump,” “How the Leopard got his Spots,” and, more importantly for this post, “How the Rinoceros got his Skin.”
So, as you can see, I had some background on African big things before we went on this safari but not much and most of the information I did have was of the misinformation variety.
Well, it turns out that you don’t need to know anything to marvel at the size, diversity, power, and beauty of elephants, hippopotami, giraffes, rhinoceroses, and cape buffalo. We saw them all, oftentimes up close, very close. One day, we came upon a lone bull cape buffalo. It was standing under a little tree a bit over a hundred feet from us. Our driver, Joyful, stopped the LR and turned off the engine so we could look at it as it looked at us. One of the passengers in the car, who shall remain nameless, kept saying things like, “come on, charge us, charge us!” I asked Joyful what would we do if the buffalo did, in fact, charge us. He replied, “Move the truck.” Okay, yet another stupid question; but, is it really as bad as “do giraffes eat meat?”
We saw lots of mother elephants with their babies and I am happy to report that none of them were holding spoons. I also suspect that dried cake crumbs had nothing to do with the wrinkles and folds on the rinoceros’s skin. Live and learn.