This man with the sadistic grin who’s about to (mockingly) gobble an otherworldly insect that escaped from Jurassic Park is Daan Joubert, owner of Okapi Shuttles and Tours and my guide for a three-day South African tour/safari last year. This photo was taken minutes after he’d finished changing our truck’s blown-out tire on a lonely stretch of road between Johannesburg and Kruger National Park, where cars zoomed by in an 80km zone at what seemed like an 100km-per-hour clip.
As anybody who’s been on safari knows, game drives are not all action and adventure. In between the pinch-yourself-to-make-sure-you’re-not-dreaming moments, like when a herd of languid giraffe amble past your vehicle so close you could reach out and touch them, or when you glimpse the elusive leopard bouncing from one boulder to the next along a narrow riverbed, there’s a lot of downtime. Hours go by without seeing more than (another f’ing) impala, a few stray warthogs, maybe a handful of birds. It never gets boring (at least it didn’t for me), but I went to bed every night with eyes that ached from scanning, scanning, scanning the bush for signs of life from sunrise to sunset.
It’s possible to tour public parks in South Africa by yourself in a rental car, but you’re missing out if you don’t go with a seasoned safari guide, like Daan, who helped pass the time during those warm afternoon hours when many animals were off napping in remote or otherwise well-camoflauged corners of the bush. Most of what I learned about Jo’burg, Kruger, and the mood of modern South Africa came from him.
We talked about a lot of things. Some of the topics were heavy, like his stories about what it was like during South Africa’s dark days of apartheid (he’s a retired cop, actually) and his anecdotes about the tough everyday lives of so many black South Africans. Others were lighter, like the “friendly” ongoing rivalry between residents of Cape Town and Jo’burg, particularly when it comes to sport.
“People from Cape Town always say ‘what do you have there? Nothing. It’s barren, dirty, and full of crime,” he said. “I always say, ‘what does Cape Town have without the C [sea]? Nothing: it’s just Ape Town. Do you get it? Without the “C”?”
I heard that one more than once during the trip.
He’s a quick-witted, likeable guy, that Daan, with setups and punchlines that rolled off his tongue as easily as they did Rodney Dangerfield’s (with some of them just as, ahem, lewd). When it came to the wildlife, it seemed like he had one-liners for every animal we saw the first morning. Here’s a few of my favorite ones–all educational, in their own way.
+ Hyenas (which Daan admitted is one of his favorite animals): “There’s just something sinister to them; satanic little creatures, aren’t they? I’d kiss them, but they bite.”
+ Impala: “You see that McDonald’s logo on his back? That’s the fast-food symbol for the lion.”
+ Blue Wildebeest: “They make nice jerky.”
+ Warthogs: “They are the religious animal: always on their knees to eat.”
(Warthogs kneel down to graze.)
+ Waterbuck: “After they painted the toilet seat, they were the first to sit down on it.”
(Waterbuck have a horseshoe-shaped ring around their butt.)
+ Vervet monkeys: “They have the biggest, most beautiful blue testicles you’ve ever seen.”