Back in reality, so distant from hyena calls at night, glorious purple beach sunsets and slow- morning sleep- ins. Life is accelerating into needing a weekend after the weekend; “should I really eat another piece of cake?”; early nights for early mornings.
The lazy holiday feels have evaporated and I find myself arguing with my student, “I know your mom said you can eat when the food is ready, but I said you can eat when your work is complete.” Unfortunately my anger levels never reach above a 2 out of 10, and I can’t stop laughing at her death stare that she so kindly and perfectly shares with me.
We do have a lovely relationship with lots of giggles and disses and hard school work, and after our little tiff she walks me to my car and asks me to stay a little longer.
Even in the busy mundane of working days, there are moments of true hilarity where water snorts out your nose, true understanding where you watch the animated light bulb atop their head ‘ting’ on, true friendship where a secret is shared with you that you promise to keep safe.
I’m so corny, it’s face flushing. I always get sentimental when the holiday comes to an end.
If you happened to be situated near a river on Saturday, heard high pitched squeals, saw a boat continuously spinning in circles, and watched as a man had to keep coming to the rescue of the only two- girl boat… you might have seen us.
We take birthdays very seriously in our house. The morning must contain some type of delicious, calorie- laden breakfast and bottomless cups of tea. There must be noise and smiles and tearing wrapping paper, and shrieks of, “Oh no, I’m going to be late!”
We took the celebrations to a new level, by chucking streamers and balloons all over the beams in our lounge, and leaving multiple cards around the room, each one holding a reason as to why we love the birthday girl.
Each birthday person in the house gets the question, “Would you like a really nice birthday present, or would you like an experience?” We’re not rolling in money, so there has to be a choice. We all know what the decision will be, but we ask it anyway.
It took us about thirty days to come up with our genius plan, but we were pretty proud of it once we had it.
On Saturday morning we told our birthday girl to outfit herself in gym clothes and old takkies. “If you feel like wearing a cap or some sun cream, we won’t stop you.” Five people then piled into the car, with some great tunes pumping, and we drove a little roadtrip to our surprise destination.
“We’re white river rafting in winter?” was our victim’s first question when she saw the sign to her experience. Our hearts plummeted a little, as our skin was tickled by goose bumps. Maybe there was a flaw in our perfect plan after all.
Luckily the lady of the company was highly professional and highly convinced that we would soon forget about the winter winds and would prefer not having jerseys on. We got all geared up in life vests and Powerpuff Girl helmets, and bounced along in the back of a bakkie to the river.
Our instructor didn’t take much nonsense, except for the moment where he was teaching us how to help someone if they accidentally fall in…Maybe it was a joke, maybe he was daydreaming out loud, I won’t go into too much detail.
The obvious “Paddle Puff Girl” was taken by our resident male and then everybody paired up into teams of two for a harrowing ride. One of my housemates declared that she couldn’t possibly go with me because my reaction time is slow.
Yes. You can be offended with me.
Nevertheless, my other housemate said she’d happily go with me, and we started the paddle with a weir. Approach it head- on, make sure the canoe is straight and watch out for rocks at the bottom. We, and everyone else, crushed the first weir. The second weir was a little steeper, and we all plunged canoe nose- first into the water, only to bob up again a few seconds later, drenched.
The rest of the paddle had our one instructor continuously speeding up to our canoe to get us out from between the rocks, or out of the quicksand. Poor man!
Birthday girl was beyond happy, with laughs and highly awkward moments, and tons of photos (Thank you dry bags!), and she even forgot about the cold as the blinding sun and the exertion from paddling played a collab part in warming her, and everybody else up.
As we sat side- by- side in our ‘bundu- basher’ car on day three, all walls had finally been torn down. Secrets had been shared, poops had been described, mean words had been exchanged. Gross, I know, but this is just what happens when relatives are squished into cars together for four days.
After a bit of a dry spell on the animal hunt, my cousins found some old, crackly CD that used to entertain my baby brother in the car. We near- fishtailed along the road, blaring ‘Ronnie the rambunctious Rhino’ and scaring away any potential sightings.
Once the CD had run its course, and half the car won over the other half who wanted to play the album again, a British voice piped up and asked one of the passengers, “Didn’t you have a boyfriend who dumped you because he didn’t like your boobs?” Debate time went down where everyone else in the car begged her to tell them where she heard such a story, and the victim desperately defended herself to deaf ears.
We finally got the story, where a boyfriend left his girl for another girl who had bigger boobs… or that’s how the story went. The narrator is happily married, and the one teenage girl responded, “Well luckily your husband doesn’t really like boobs.”
Crickets. And take two:
“I didn’t mean it like that! I meant that you’re lucky he really likes your personality.”
Obviously this was met with more amused stares, and the second British voice came in rescue of her sister, “No guys, what she’s trying to say is that you have nice boobs, you just don’t have big boobs.”
The conversations you will have when you spend your holiday searching for animals with your extended family will horrify and delight you all at once.
To end off my most lovely, wild, too- much- food, hysterical Kruger holiday, we sat by a water hole watching ellies fight over the best spot to drink water, baby ellie calves chasing buffalo, jackals hunting birds, and sable in the veld close by. In the silence of the bush (you will never experience such silence anywhere else), three female lion stealthily walked towards our animal show. In unison, they all bowed to the ground and waited for a buffalo bull to make his way in their direction. The lion playfully pounced on him, and more lion ran out of shrubs and bushes to play around as well. What we thought was a well- planned hunt was instead some mom lions teaching their overgrown cubs how to hunt. No one was harmed in the process, although the buffalo bull was extremely peeved at having his Tuesday evening stroll interrupted.
We were lucky to have my two British cousins in our car. The big old Prado bounced around the Kruger roads while the inhabitants laughed and blasted music and fought within. The other car completely contrasted ours, somber and serious, searching for African creatures hiding in the bush veld.
Our first full Kruger day held eight hours with these two contrasting cars zooming about the roads at a whopping forty kilometers an hour, stopping every now and then when a passenger shouted “stop!” All other passengers would magnetize to the side of the car closest to the creature of interest, a picture or two was taken, and then we would continue on with our journey.
We were kept highly entertained by the little British voices next to me. One comment that came from the young teen was, “imagine if a guy lived on his farm and had to help his wife have their baby because they can’t get to the hospital in time. He would see a lot more of his wife than he’d ever bargained to.”
We saw a jackal, a hyena, hippo and some birds of prey. Other than that, we came across a momma ellie (might even be scarier than a momma bear) eating leaves hanging over the road with her two little babas next to her.
An infantile bakkie driver (bakkie is a pick up truck in South Africa) roared past in his haste to get to wherever he felt necessary to roar off to. Momma elephant flapped her ears, desperately wanting to protect her calves, while our cars desperately reversed backwards to get away from momma ellie.
My cousins and I, who aren’t much in the way of brave hearts when it comes to elephants in their best moods, lay as low in our seats as we could. What you can’t see, you can’t fear, according to us.
Squeaks and squeezed tight eyes happened behind my parents as they tried to assess the situation, deciding when the best time to pass the elephants would be.
Eventually momma and baba ellies crossed the road and headed further into the bushes, and we were able to get out alive and tell this near death story to others.
We, again, ended our first full Kruger day with GnTs with the sun setting over the quelea- munching crocs in the dam below us.
Post awkward reacquaintance with my overseas family, we were woken early by our parents, squashed into our respective cars filled to the brim with holiday food and luggage, and hit up a young convoy- type road trip.
We stopped in a small town with quaint restaurant, and my “I’m not really hungry” was squashed by the array of delicious breakfasts, I spent the time picking bacon off my little cousin’s plate.
The closer we got to Kruger, the more layers of clothes we shed, as it got hotter and hotter the higher into South Africa we drove.
By the time we got to Phalabowa gate, temperatures were reaching 35 degrees Celsius- disclaimer, it’s winter this side of the hemisphere. In the park, on route to our camp, we came across tons of ellies grabbing partial tree branches, steenbok hiding in the tall grass, and the usual impalas grazing all along the road.
When we arrived at the cabins, we didn’t even go inside, we all (adults included) ran to the main deck. Sipping GnTs, we stared at the massive dam in front of us, accessorized by crocs, water buck and the African sunset. My near- hypochondriac mother went around spraying everyone with mozzie spray, fearing malaria around every corner.
Out of nowhere, the Kruger silence was broken by millions of flapping wings overhead. Little birds known as quelea flew down to the water in synchronized movements. They danced as a unit along the surface of the water, every so often being disrupted by hungry crocodile (who felt like a tiny snack) leaping from the water to catch two or three.
It’s always awkward in the beginning. Last time we saw each other was last year, and phone calls have been kept to birthdays and Christmases.
There’s blood connection, but there’s no friendship connection in the beginning. It comes, it always comes, but it’s always awkward in the beginning.
We hug each other lightly and exchange the expected pleasantries. How are we supposed to act around one another?
My cousins are whisked away to get their make up and done, and I am whisked away to do their hair.
Bride runs around in curlers and gown, bridesmaids run around with gorgeous make up and zipper jackets to prevent smudging.
My cousins are so beautiful and adorable and we walk away from each other, still sussing out the relationship.
We’re cousins with mothers who love each other but live very far away from each other. We only see one another once a year and there is always a holiday away involved, lots of food, and enough catch ups to reform old cousin friendships.
Our reunion began a few hours before a wedding and we hadn’t yet found our footing, but we would find each other throughout the day to check-in, share a joke or two and then head off again to our respective parents.
Family weddings are usually a little confusing, you know the family, who are too busy running around to chat much, and you know none of the friends. Your parents become your Velcro partner because you hate standing alone.
It was an incredible wedding though, and I started my cousins and I back on the path to rediscovery. Just kidding, but it began the ‘refriendship’ that is often lost with distance.
Saturday was slow and lazy, filled with good friends, good food and good coffee. South Africa played New Zealand, and the girls played with the happy baba running around dropping sips of tea all over my best friend’s home. Who cares though, when you’re that cute?
Everyone went home, except for me, who made herself comfortable on the couch with tea and a blanket and an episode of How I Met Your Mother.
Eventually bff coaxed me off the couch with promises that if we left the house, we would be able to have scones when we got home.
We had to buy birthday presents, braai meat and scone ingredients; prepped for the rest of the afternoon.
Our scone- eating slightly coincided with our friend’s braai, and my friend, her husband and I pecked at our overloaded plates, trying to look enthusiastic about the excess food in front of us.
Bff and I eventually have up on the eating thing and turned to the wine glasses we had placed next to us. It wasn’t excessive, or strong, and we really didn’t let ourselves go.
We may just have had enough to lose our sense of compassion.
Our slightly sensitive friend was butchering his braai meat (no pun intended), and we took it upon ourselves to point it out to him… multiple times.
After observing that he wasn’t taking the jokes so well anymore, I turned to friend and shared my observations with her. “We push him until he cracks.” And crack he did.
He scooped up his parts of meat and stormed off to the kitchen, having had enough from the two peanut gallery imbeciles on the bench nearby.
We lost a friend that day.
Just kidding. This dance is repeated many times. It’s not okay, but it’s still a little funny. Luckily he is a forgiving soul who returns to the friendship time and again.
And don’t think that he doesn’t give it back. Past shameful memories are embellished and told to strangers, thanks to him. He tunes us solid and can make the most cutting of remarks.
It’s a give and take kind of relationship. Beautiful and messed up at the same time, and sometimes we let each other reach their snapping point, just for lols.