by Alyssa Ramos
The Dramatic Departure
“Hey so, listen to me OK? I..eh..love you, and…I will miss you, a lot.” Mr. TDH said meaningfully as he hugged me tightly in the cold, misty, dark, early hours of that last Saturday morning in Muizenberg. My response was nonexistent since my face and arms were buried in his chest as I tried to keep warm and ignore the fact that I had to leave him and the IVHQ volunteer program in South Africa already.
‘This does not look like a safari vehicle,’ I thought, peeking a judgmental eye out from under his muscular arm to observe the dark tinted windows while the seemingly sketchy-looking tour guide loaded my luggage into the weird cargo pod behind the van. I thought I could see people moving inside but wasn’t particularly wary of it. I was too focused on my nose freezing off and the fact that in a few hours, I would be hanging out with lions and Crocodile Dundee while Mr. TDH was on a plane back to Istanbul. Sigh.
“Err, um, you guys almost ready?” Safari guide asked awkwardly, trying not to stare at the scene of The Notebook we were re-enacting in Muizenberg. I pulled away finally and looked around, “Dan’s still inside.” I said, noticing that Miami guy was finishing loading his stuff but my GBF (Gay Best Friend) was nowhere in sight. “Oh, I thought it was just you three?” He replied glancing from me to Mr. TDH to the automated gate of Albertyn House. “No, I am not going.” Mr. TDH said morosely in his deep Turkish accent. Ouch. I buried my nose back into his chest for the last few moments I knew it would ever be there. And by ‘there’ I mean on my face and on his chest.
“Hey, uh, nice meeting ya man,” Miami guy said as he shook his hand firmly with the apologetic look of someone who knew how it felt to have to let someone go unwillingly.
“Sorry! I’m so sorry!” My GBF said from behind the gate as it slowly opened to reveal his perfectly styled blonde hair and all black ensemble. He rushed to throw his designeer duffel bag into the cargo pod, making sure to check that his hair was still as styled as it was before he left the mirror inside. “Nice meeting you! Have a safe trip home!” He said sweetly to Mr. TDH, following Miami guy into the vehicle.
After they both climbed into the potential murder van, we gave one last depressingly, heartbreaking goodbye before I boarded the van in what seemed like slow motion. I couldn’t see anything except for the empty seat next to my GBF and took it willingly, leaning on his shoulder for comfort. It seemed like I was literally living in one of those old fashioned movies where one young lover is forced to watch the other stay behind through a rain-stained window. Wait, wasn’t that Casablanca or something? How cliché.
“You totally just broke his heart.” My GBF muttered next to me with a sarcastic smile as we pulled away. I shoved him hard with my elbow, and for a moment almost felt a tear in my eyeball as I watched Mr. TDH wait until the van was far out of sight to turn back into the volunteer house. I held my breath for a moment to gather my composure and took a sip of water out of the self-filtering water bottle I had somehow managed to not lose the entire time I was in Africa. Normally I’m never so emotional but it’s not every day you fall in love after a week of volunteering with someone in South Africa, then have to leave them to go on a safari. Could be worse.
After I finally got my shit together, I took a look around the packed bus. Oh my god. My cheeks burned with embarrassment as I realized the bus was full of highschoolers with a very wide and clear view out of the windows to the left of the bus where I had been Casablanca-ing. You have got to be kidding me. I thought to myself, wondering what the hell I had managed to get myself into this time.
“This is not a safari,” my GBF grumbled next to me as we bumped around in the open safari vehicle, “this is like Lion Country Safari in Florida.” I laughed and rolled my eyes, “It’s a faux-fari.” I joked. The excursion company we booked our “Safari” with called Cape To Addo had done nothing but disappoint us the entire trip. First they cancelled our shark cage diving trip due to weather, even though it ended up being sunny, then almost cancelled our safari because a bigger group was considering doing it which would mean more money for them.
They also had a complete douche bag of a guy come to our volunteer orientation to explain the excursions although he, “didn’t have time to go into detail” about the safaris (i.e. the tiny detail that by safari they meant driving around a private game reserve). They also claimed to have wifi on their buses, which was non-existent, and there had been rumors that their tour guides tend to get fresh with the females. Naturally I assumed this would be the case with ours but he seemed fairly quiet from what I could decipher in the dark van.
We drove along the famed Garden Route, which, would have been amazing to see if it were actually light outside. I slept most of the way, waking up only to take the opportunity to buy unnecessary candies and energy drinks at the two five-minute rest stops that we were allotted. ‘
When we finally got to the “safari”, we realized it was not the safari we had in mind. The fine detail that the company and lovely representative declined to inform us of was that it was at a private game reserve…meaning some rich guy had decided to buy lions, rhinos, and zebras (oh my!) to hold captive on vast area of land. It was still too early for me to function, not to mention complain about the misguided information, so I followed orders like the rest of the children and boarded the Disney-ride-looking safari vehicle that safari guide had led us to.
“To the right you’ll see our elephants, including the new baby one.” The younger-looking tour guide who was driving announced. The baby elephant was pretty damn cute. It would have been cuter if I could have gotten out and pet it but, whatever. After the elephants we drove around to see some weird looking wildebeests (what I thought were called wildabeasts like from the Lion King) and a giant antelope that I thought was fake because it wasn’t moving. Next we drove past the gorgeous, luxurious-looking safari lodge that made all three of us immediately give each other looks of “why are we not staying there?!”
“To your left you’ll see our three White Rhinos.” The tour guide said as he pulled up to three lounging dinosaurs. “How many do you have total here?” Miami guy asked. “Uhhh, we’re not allowed to say.” He replied. “Why?” Miami guy shot back. “Uhh because of potential poachers.” He stuttered. We all looked around for potential poachers amongst the highschoolers and for any sign of more rhinos. “So three.” Miami guy said flatly.
We rumbled away from the unbothered rhinos and back along the dirt road of the faux-fari route. “Look! A zebra.” I announced as I nudged my GBF, purposely pronouncing the word zebra like a South African would (“zeh-bruh”). “Oh my god! Look, a zebra!” He announced to Miami guy next to him, copying my action and annunciation. “I think zebras are my favorite animal. Their pattern is just so beautiful.” He continued, admiring their stripes. There were tons of antelope in the same area and another one of the Big Five, the scary looking Cape buffalo.
The Big 5 are the top 5 game animals in South Africa that are considered hardest to hunt on foot and most dangerous. They are the African Lion, African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, African Leopard, and White/Black Rhinoceros, although anyone who tries to hunt them should get Ebola and die.
We pulled up to a Jurassic Park looking gate, which I knew meant that we were about to see some dangerous lions or something. But nope. The two females and one male African lion were also lounging lazily on the hillside getting their tan on. I couldn’t decide if I felt bad for them being in captivity or happy for their hand delivered meals once a week. Oh, they only eat once a week because their bodies are made to withstand long periods of time without food since in the wild they don’t always catch their prey. I also learned that when they mate, it only lasts like five seconds because it’s so painful for both of them and they have to do it every fifteen minutes for however many weeks the lioness is in heat. I’d Google that to verify but I’m too scared of the search result images. Ouch.
When we got back to the lodge, our makeshift “safari van” was already waiting for us to take us to the area where we would go on the optional (additionally fee-ed) excursion to walk with the lions. But after that faux-fari we were all a little skeptical about what the fine print on “walking with lions” would be.
“Alright guys so if you haven’t already signed up and paid to walk with the lions, please go inside, otherwise feel free to use the restrooms while we wait.” The safari guide announced from the drivers seat of the van. Since we were in the back row I couldn’t really see him besides the bulky outline of his dorky ‘Cape to Addo’ sweatshirt and an occasional glimpse of his eyes and forehead in the mirror. Is that a moustache?
All of the highschoolers ran to the bathrooms so I decided to wait and take a look around the safari-themed lodge first. I leaned out over the back wooden deck and scanned the dry, grassy landscape for any signs of lions (or any wildlife in general) but saw nothing. It had gotten hot somehow which was a drastic change from the freezing wind on the safari, so I took off my jacket and one of my layers and turned to go back to the van to put them away.
WOAH. I froze like a deer in headlights as my brain tried to figure out who the tall, muscular, dirty-blond haired, green-eyed hottie was walking towards me. Safari guide?! “Yeah, it’s getting a bit warm, had to take off my jacket myself, the bus is still open if you want to put that away.” He said in his now-sexy South African accent. I managed a sheepish smile and stumbled back outside towards the van, still trying to comprehend how he suddenly became so attractive. Maybe it was the heat, or the lack of water, or the lack of Mr. TDH, or maybe he really just was really hot in real life. Am I thirsty?
I tried to wrangle down the ferocious butterflies in my stomach as I rushed to my life-saving Harvey’s bag to reapply my MAC Studio Fix makeup and check my appearance for the first time all morning. How was I supposed to know our safari guide would be one of the hot South African guys everyone talks about in the States?! I leapt from the van, now a little more motivated for the safari, and slipped into the bathroom to fix my hair.
“Oh my god, you’re not going to believe this,” my GBF said excitedly as he rushed into the girls’ bathroom, “our tour guide or whatever took off his sweatshirt and he’s actually like hot!” He said, sounding like a giddy schoolgirl. “Um, I KNOW, why do you think I’m doing hair?!” I squeaked, trying to get my hair into a perfectly messy bun. “You should totally hook up with him.” He said casually as he reshaped his eyebrow in the mirror. “What?! No!” I hissed. “Why not, I would.” He said with a sly grin.
I half scoffed and half laughed at his blunt honesty and looped my arm through his as we half skipped out of the bathroom. I could see two of the highschool girls sitting on the bench outside the bathroom give us a puzzled look and tried to remember if it was normal to see a gay guy in a girls’ bathroom at that age.
“He’s totally starring at you.” My GBF whispered as we rejoined the group on the patio. “Well yeah probably because I’m the only female over the age of 18 here.” I shot back sarcastically. I could obviously see him starring at me, and hoped our sunglasses were dark enough to make it not as obvious that we were looking at him too. I had that shy feeling again that I had had the first time I tried to figure out how to talk to Mr. TDH in the volunteer house. Oh wait. Mr. TDH! How could I possibly be thinking of hot South African safari guides when my one week fling was on a one way flight back to Istanbul?!
I turned away and went to pick out one of the walking sticks we were being instructed to take in case we got attacked by the lions. Because a stick would do a lot against a lion. Supposedly they are trained to respect the person with the stick, which made me wonder what types of training they did to achieve that.
“Keep the stick in front of you at all times, don’t make any sudden movements or noises, and whatever you do, do not turn your back to them or sit down. Follow me!” The short Nigerian man warned us how to not get attacked by a lion like it was completely normal and unavoidable. We looked at each other with looks of “what the hell are we doing?” and followed closely behind the lion guide so that we could get the first pictures before the little highschoolers took over. How mature.
I’m not sure if I’m a badass or I just really love animals, but the moment that I saw the adorable, furry, 400-pound lions I wanted to run up to them and squeeze them like giant teddy bears. “Stay behind me.” The lion guide instructed, holding his stick out so I couldn’t hurdle past him. I had no idea how big they really were in real life, but they were as beautiful as any National Geographic picture I’ve ever seen. They were positioned on a rock and surrounded by six other lion tamers, all with sticks, and one with a pointed stick that he kept sticking chunks of meat on and feeding to them when they would start to look at us. I seriously wondered what would happen if they just decided to attack someone…besides me.
“In groups of three, you can walk behind the line and stand to the left of the lions, but DO NOT fully turn your back to them. Who would like to go first?” Everyone looked around at each other in silence. “I’ll go!” I blurted, yanking my GBF and Miami guy behind the line. I handed my GoPro and iPhone to one of the highschoolers that seemed capable of taking a picture and crept up to the spot they had indicated.
After a few shots I took a moment to glance over at Simba who looked back at me with his wild yellow eyes. It was slightly terrifying being that close to something that eats zebras for lunch but for some reason I couldn’t convince myself that the giant kitty cat would really attack me. But maybe he’d want to cuddle?
Next was the walking-with-lions part, which actually was exactly what it sounds like. The lion tamers walked ahead of and beside them while we walked fairly close behind them like stalkers. Every time they would stop and turn around to look at us, we would all slam into each other and freeze as if they really couldn’t see a group of people following them. The lioness was not amused by the leisurely stroll and photo shoot and kept running off into the bushes to hide. #unbothered.
At one point they put a piece of meat up in a tree and she climbed it effortlessly in three swift movements, even though they said lions never climb trees. They stopped in a few more spots for photo-ops, one of which allowed me to walk behind Simba by myself and crouch down to get a photo behind him, even though one of the warnings was not to bend down near them. It’s an amazing picture aside from the two giant lion-balls that are very visible on Simba.
We were all pretty much over walking after the final photo stop, plus I wasn’t trying to hang around some agitated lions, so headed back towards the lodge . Of course I had started to sweat since I decided to keep my long sleeved shirt on, expecting it to change back to freezing with one gust of wind, but just as I began to consider peeling it off we caught sight of the lion lounge…and hot safari guide. “Oh my god.” My GBF whispered as we both giggled and nudged each other, trying not to make it obvious that we were watching him watch us all walk back.
“How was it?” He asked with the most adorable dimpled-grin when we finally climbed back up to the deck. “Goooood.” We both chimed in unison. I couldn’t believe how shy and awkward we both were acting. Why can’t this happen in LA?
“Alright so everybody back to the van and we’ll head off to go ride the elephants!” He announced, trying to sound somewhat authoritative without sounding like a complete dork.
“So while you’re waiting for each other to ride the elephants you can hang out on the patio or get a bite to eat.” Safari guide said as we walked over the wooden bridge to the main “safari” lodge. “Is there a bar?” I mumbled sarcastically, not expecting the empty lodge to offer alcohol. “Yes, actually, so you can grab a glass of wine if you’d like.” He said with a smile. Perfect. What could possibly be better than sipping a glass of Chenin Blanc while waiting to ride an elephant in South Africa?
It definitely was perfect. The sun was setting over the jagged rocky mountains in the distance and the dry, hilly plains were starting to look more golden than grassy. There were two sitting areas opposite each other on the wooden deck, one that the three of us occupied with our chilled white wines, and the other that the ten highschoolers piled on top of each other on. I felt a little old, but was not mad about it, at all. This time I let them all go first, since tipsy elephant riding sounded like a fantastic idea, especially since the temperature was dropping drastically by the minute.
Watching the elephants walk back towards us from afar was like watching an episode of an African safari on Animal Planet, except I really was in freaking Africa. When it was finally our turn, I rushed over to the loading zone and picked up the ugly black helmet from the table, “Do I really have to wear this?” I said suavely, expecting the very tough looking man from Zimbabwe sitting on the front of the elephant to let me get away with it. “Yes.” He said sternly. Dammit.
I tried to swing my leg over the elephant’s back strategically, expecting to exemplify my past skills in horseback riding, but he was way too wide and I ended up crawling on top of him to get in the awkward strattled position behind the elephant guide. Since our elephant was bigger, my GBF came on ours while Miami guy went on the smaller one with another guide. “We look like such dorks.” My GBF muttered behind me, clanking his helmet against mine.
It was true. We looked like huge dorks. But embarrassing elephant selfies was a small price to pay for how incredible it was riding the giant gentle beasts around the game reserve, especially during sunset. By the time we got back the sun had fully reclined behind the mountains, making the temperature drop down to about 50 degrees fahrenheit. There was no one left on the patio deck besides safari guide…the last person I wanted to see me in the dorky helmet.
“Hey guys, so everyone else is already on the bus, so whenever you’re ready we’ll head out.” He said, trying to nicely tell us to hurry up since we were always the last on the bus every time. “Oh and a few of the other guys asked if we could stop and get alcohol for later tonight, so we’re going to stop in a little town on the way in case you guys want to get anything.” He added casually. YESSS!! He was a hot AND cool safari guide!
When I walked back to the van I noticed that the front seat was empty, probably due to its previous inhabitant wanting to continue the cuddle sesh with the rest of the kids in the back of the van. I immediately took it, thinking it would be a prime opportunity to talk to safari guide, but was reminded the second we came in close proximity that he had seen me Casablanca-ing earlier that morning outside of the volunteer house. Awkward.
“So where are you from?” He asked routinely. “I live in LA but I’m from Florida.” I replied even more routinely. “Oh nice, what do you do?” He continued. “Freelance PR and I have a blog,” I said quickly, “is this what you do full time?” I decided to shift the spotlight to him before having to explain what that entailed. “No, I’m actually a freelancer as well, I have my own tour company called Roaring African Adventures so I do that normally and then when I’m in town, Cape to Addo will hire me as a freelance guide when they need one.” I was actually really intrigued. Here I was making my money from doing boring tasks on my laptop while meanwhile, Mr. Hot, Young, South African Safari Guide was making money guiding people all over Africa! Note to self: start a travel company for young people who work.
We continued with the small talk until we got to the random liquor store in the middle of a teeny tiny little town called Wilderness. How creative. “Ok guys, seriously, you have 5 minutes, maybe 7.” He said as he hopped out of the van. He had tried to give us a time limit at every pit stop we made but everyone was always late. The highschoolers went straight for the beer, Miami guy went for the liquor, and I was the only one in the wine aisle. When I went to check out I noticed safari guide buying a 6-pack of beer for himself and overheard him chatting with Miami guy about going to the bar at the backpackers or a local one nearby. Maybe the backpackers would be fun after all?
On the way to the backpackers we had bombarded safari guide with questions (more like demands) about how we could upgrade our rooms since there was no way in hell we were going to stay sorority-house-style with the teenagers. Having never stayed at a hostel or backpackers before, we were all imagining a cramped and crappy building with bunk beds and potential serial killers. But when we walked up the wooden steps to the backpackers that was literally called “Wilderness Beach House Backpackers“, we were shocked to see the tropical wooden deck that was hidden behind the jungle fauna surrounding it.
Safari guide had informed us that dinner would be pizza, which we weren’t surprised about at all, but we definitely weren’t expecting it to be handmade, wood-fired pizza, made to order and cooked in the brick oven that was built into the wall. While the rest of the group placed their pizza orders, we followed safari guide inside to find the Innkeeper and find out where the EDM music was blasting from. The kitchen? Really?
“So we do have two other private rooms with their own bathrooms,” Oh thank god. “The only thing is that one is 250 Rand extra and it’s inside the main house, and the other is 350 Rand extra because it’s in one of the privates up there.” She said pointing up behind her to what seemed like cabins in the trees. We stared at her for a moment while we calculated the conversion…she had sounded worried about it so we expected something more expensive but it translated to only $25 and $35 extra.
“We’ll take both.” My GBF blurted without even considering the price. “I’ll take the one for 350 and you guys can share the cheaper one!” Miami guy offered quickly, obviously knowing that it would be nicer. She looked at us in confusion, probably because most people that stay in backpackers stay because it’s dirt cheap and usually only expect to pay around $5 a night and share a room with twenty other people. But after safari-ing and riding elephants all day followed by a severe temperature drop, we were desperate for a private shower and warm bed.
The Innkeeper kind of reminded me of the plant teacher from Harry Potter mixed with Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus. She showed us to our room and handed us our super cool old-fashioned key (the kind that I’d wear on a necklace and claim as vintage) after showing us how to open the ancient lock on the door. The room was definitely haunted. It had a single full-size, four post bed with a stale looking quilt neatly laid on top of it, and at its foot was the creepiest looking rocking chair I’ve ever seen in my life. There was an old wooden dresser against the wall to our right with an antique mirror on it that was actually quite pretty.
“I’ll shower first since my hair takes longer to dry.” I told my GBF as I lunged for first dibs in the bathroom. It was the first long, hot shower I had taken all week after the time and heat limited ones I had to take in the volunteer house in Muizenberg. I would have kept my hair in a bun but decided to wash and blow-dry it for obvious reasons. But when I went to go plug in the travel sized hair dryer Miami guy had bought in Muizenberg after mine blew a fuse I realized a problem none of us had remembered to consider. Shit! The outlet was for South African plugs only, which wasn’t included in any of our international adapters (how you gunna be “international” and not include Africa?!). We had used the ones in the volunteer house that were left behind from previous volunteers, but forgot to get one of our own before we left.
There was no way I was about to catch pneumonia so I bundled up and took the blow dryer to the front of the inn to try to find a plug. Everyone was outside on the patio eating, drinking, and chatting, leaving the entire backpackers eerily empty. I spotted a surge protector behind the unattended front desk with European outlets so plugged in my adaptor then the blow dryer, and blow-dried my hair as fast as possible, then half-ran back to the room.
When we were both finally as ready as we’d ever be, we headed out to the patio area as a bunch of the highschoolers were leaving the adjoining bar. “Leaving already?” I asked safari guide, who was also freshly showered and now wearing a very fitted baby blue Tshirt (even though it was freezing). “No, they just can’t drink their beers in here so they’re going to drink them in their rooms.” He said as Miami guy nudged him with the pool stick. They were playing pool against two extremely tacky-dressed women who 100% had to have been gypsies. My GBF and I slid onto two barstools and ordered our wine from the bartender…who also happened to be the Innkeeper.
“We’re gunna walk to a place in town for a drink if you guys want to go.” Miami guy said as if he were just inviting us to be polite. “Walk?! It’s raining!” I snapped, almost spitting out my wine. Miami guy shrugged and turned to aim his next shot. “It’s not that bad, come, it’ll be fun.” Safari guide said with a sweet, hopeful look. Well don’t twist my arm.
While we waited for the Guys vs. Gypsies pool game to end, we befriended an innocent little Justin Bieber looking kid sitting at the bar next to us. He was like 20 years old and was literally backpacking through Africa alone and with no money, which was why he was currently still at the backpackers. We decided to buy him a drink and drag him along with us into town, much to the dismay of the younger looking gypsy in the blue pant, top, and hat ensemble.
The walk wasn’t that bad, especially since the company made it bearable, but we were still walking down a dark, empty street in the middle of a jungle in South Africa. When we got to the bar, I was surprised yet again since I had set the bar low for what to expect. It was a tropical, outdoor bar called Cocomo, similar to one of my favorite island bars back in Jupiter, Florida called Guanabanas. There was even live music in the small, surprisingly busy jungle bar. We ordered drinks and took over one of the tables that a couple was getting up from, causing a scene as usual with our loud “American” behavior. Since they had stopped serving food already, Miami guy decided to go off on a mission by himself to find somewhere that did, leaving the seat next to me wide open for a certain safari guide to take.
“Don’t worry, we’ll get you back to your lover-boy soon,” he said, side-glancing at my accidental yawn. I had heard loud and clear what he said, but for some reason had no response. I wasn’t sure whether it was because I didn’t want to (or know how to) explain to him about my one-week love affair with a volunteer I met in Muizenberg who lives in Istanbul, or because I was slightly embarrassed that he had seen our dramatic departure. Instead I gave him an inquisitive look like I had no idea what he was talking about and turned away to take a sip of wine.
“Got us some food!” Miami guy said appearing out of nowhere. He placed four different Styrofoam to-go boxes on the table in front of him. They were all meat dishes. “I can’t eat any of this?” I squeaked as my stomach growled once again from not having eaten all night. “You had pizza!” He also squeaked, strangely sounding like my own voice. It was true that I had pizza five hours ago, but it was the only meal we had all day, so I was a bit hangry. I scoffed loudly. “Why do you have to be such a f*cking bitch?” He squealed again, this time causing the rest of the table to gasp. I felt a stabbing feeling in my chest, not only did the words hurt and offend me, but it also humiliated me to be called them in front of a bunch of people. Dick.
“Hey man, don’t talk to her like that.” Safari guide said sternly, standing up to face him. “Well she’s being a bitch for no reason!” He rebutted, completely missing the point that a guy should never speak to a girl the way that he was. “Hey! If you’re going to use that language here, you can leave.” I glanced over at my GBF who had the same wide-eyed-pink-cheeked-emoji expression I did. I was beyond mortified.
Luckily Miami guy aims to be liked, so he brushed off the unforeseen confrontation and continued eating and talking as if it never happened. But my decline in conversation wasn’t fooling anyone. “Do you want to come meet some of my friends over there?” Safari guide asked me, nodding to a table behind me. It wasn’t ideally what I wanted to do after I had been drinking wine and feeling emo after getting yelled at, but I quickly reminded myself that helloooo I was in South Africa and should be experiencing as much of the culture as possible.
Well. It turned out that his friends weren’t exactly fun to be around either. They were all couples and the guys seemed to be picking at safari guide about his job. Oh hell no. “What is it that you do?” I asked suddenly, locking my eyes on the chubby one with the Cheshire Cat attitude. “Me? I’m in banking, a little different then being on safari all the time.” He said sarcastically, continuing to chuckle as if he were the funniest person in the world. “Yeah, a little more boring.” I said sweetly with a smile, batting my eyelashes at him and wiping the annoying grin right off of his face. “Well it was nice meeting you all, hope you have a fun night!” I continued politely, taking safari guide by the hand and leading him back to our table before the guy could say anything else.
“Sorry about that,” he said solemnly. “They’re just jealous that you can do cool stuff all the time and meet pretty girls and they’re stuck doing boring shit.” I huffed, feeling a little more protective than I thought I would. It was because I was used to people questioning how and why I’m freelance myself, but luckily I’ve learned that the people who question me are the Type B personalities that make up the 90% of people stuck in nine to five office jobs. Some people can’t understand how I can make money working from anywhere from a computer, and I can’t understand how people don’t understand how lucrative web-based marketing is. But I digress.
The music had stopped playing and the place began clearing out, “Shall we head back to the bar at our place? It’s open late.” Safari guide announced to the table. “Sure,” I said with a shrug, thinking more about the idea of finally going to sleep. “You guys go ahead, I saw a bar down the street that said they’re open late too that I want to check out.” Miami guy said. We all looked at him strangely, realizing he had been plotting to go off on his own the whole time. Sketchy.
We walked out to the front of the bar where the rest of its patrons were trying to figure out how to get home as well. “Hey! You guys need a ride!” A woman said, waving to us from the inside of a small van. It was the petite lady who was making the pizzas earlier at the backpackers. We were more than happy to pile on top of each other in the van since it had suddenly started to rain in the freezing cold night.
When we got back, the only people still at the bar were the two horribly matching gypsies (we couldn’t figure out if they were sisters or mother and daughter), and the Innkeeper/bartender.
“Well it’s about time, you owe me a game!” The all-pink-ensembled one grunted, handing safari guide a pool stick. “Err, Ok,” He mumbled awkwardly, “should we play teams?” He asked, looking at me with a pleading look. I was struggling to even take a sip of my wine, there was no way I’d be any good at pool, but before I could respond, pink gypsy blurted, “Nope! It’s you and me Blondie!” I felt my GBF squeeze my arm and we both slowly turned to look at each other with pursed lips, trying our hardest not to die laughing.
I noticed Blue gypsy and our little Bieber backpacker slip away so decided it was the perfect time for an “I’m going to go to the bathroom” sneak away. The inn was terrifyingly quiet, and the dimly lit staircase with old creepy paintings that was right outside of our door didn’t help. Neither did the door directly next to ours that led outside into the pitch-black darkness. I started to feel my spine tingle as I nervously tried to figure out the ancient key and lock, like a ghost was going to attack me soon if I didn’t get the damn door open. I finally did and slipped inside, shutting the heavy wooden door quickly behind me.
After I inspected the room for ghosts and made sure the curtains were completely shut and the window was blocked by the creepy rocking chair, I attempted repacking my bags so they’d be ready in the morning. That lasted for about twenty minutes before I gave up and headed to bed, again fully clothed because it was so cold. I left the lights on for when my GBF got back, just in case he was scared of ghosts too, and immediately dozed off.
“Oh, my, gosh, you are not going to believe this!” I shot up in bed almost as fast as my heart shot up into my throat, “You just scared the shit out of me!!” I choked as I tried to catch my breath. But he just giggled as he quietly made sure the door was shut and locked. “Ok so you know that little Bieber looking kid?” He started quietly as he tiptoed over to the bed. “Yeah? Did you hook up with him?” I mumbled, assuming that’s what he was so excited to tell me. “Ew. No. He’s like twelve,” he said rolling his eyes and shooing me with his hand. “So I went to like go find the bathroom because I didn’t want to walk all the way back here, so the Innkeeper lady showed me where those like outdoor ones are by the surfboards, but when we got there she like heard a noise coming from one of the shower stalls, ah-hee-hee-hee,” he had to stop to giggle, “so she goes and pulls the curtain back, hee-hee-hee, and that little Bieber kid was having sex with one of those gypsies!” He said, collapsing onto the bed in a fit of laughter.
“Eeeeww! They were like, old! And he’s so little! Eeeeww!” I cringed at the thought of the large, haggard woman on top of the skinny, starry-eyed twenty year old. “I know, it was so terrible, I almost died.” He said seriously, sitting up to take off his jacket. “The Innkeeper lady like yelled at them, it was so embarrassing.” He got up and tossed his jacket on the chair then checked his hair in the mirror. “Why’d you leave? Safari guide kept asking about you.” He said casually, giving me a sly look in the mirror. “No he didn’t.” I tisked, secretly hoping it was true. “I swear! You should just go like sneak up to his room and hook up with him.” He said as if it were completely normal to creep around the jungle in Africa at night to go find and seduce your safari guide. Now THAT would be a wild safari.
“Wakey, wakey.” I had heard the heavy boot-wearing footsteps coming down the hall towards the room, but had expected them to belong to Miami guy, not safari guide. My GBF and I both looked at each other in the mirror with wide eyes. “We’re almost ready!” I sang back, rushing to finish my mascara while he was finishing shaping his eyebrows. “Come on, you can’t possibly look worse than I do.” He said from the other side of the door. Well, duh.
I stepped over our mostly-packed bags to open the door. We had gotten up at 6am like everyone else, but took all morning to shower, pack, and get ready while everyone else was eating breakfast. #Priorities.
“Hi!” I piped, opening the door to reveal a tousled-haired, unshaven safari guide. It was a good look for him. A very good look for him. “We’re almost ready I swear.” I said finally after we stared at each other for a moment. I swiveled around and started shoving the travel sized space bags I had used to shrink my clothing into my suitcase and sat on top of it to make it all fit. My GBF didn’t budge from the mirror, making safari guide look worried as he glanced around our messy room. “Don’t forget your toiletries.” My GBF said casually as he cat-walked into the bathroom.
“We have to get you back to lover-boy.” Safari guide said over me as I bounced up and down on my suitcase in an attempt to close it. He knelt down and started pulling the sides together so I could zipper it while still squatting on top of it. “He’s not-“ I huffed as I yanked the zipper as hard as I could, “my-“ he pulled the sides down harder, “lover boy!” I had yanked the zipper so hard that it flew shut, causing me to lose my balance and tumble into him. It was exactly like the awkward moment in The Proposal when Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds accidentally bump into and fall on top of each other naked…except we were fully clothed in winter apparel, which made it even harder to get up.
“Everything Ok in here?” My GBF said sarcastically with his sly smile as he watched me struggle between safari guide’s legs as I tried to get to my knees without kneeing him. “Sorry! Oh my god, are you Ok?” I blubbered, finally getting to my feet as he easily rose to his. “I dunno, I mean, you’re so heavy, I think I might have broken something.” He said with a smirk. “Seriously though, we need to leave in like five minutes.”
“FIVE?!” I went into panic mode as I tried to gather the last of my toiletries and makeup and shove them inside my already full Harvey’s bag. I yanked my flat black boots on that I had bought in Muizenberg because it was so cold and had worn every single day I was there, and tucked my black skinny jeans into them. I rolled my black luggage to the door then continued layering on my black zip-up hoodie, followed by the Prada windbreaker jacket Mr. TDH had forced me to take so I wouldn’t freeze to death (or forget him). I looked more like I was glampacking than backpacking, even though the majority of my clothes were dirty.
“Are you ready?” I asked my GBF as I pulled my Harvey’s bag over my heavily padded shoulder. “Ugh, no. I’ll meet you out there.” He scoffed as he slowly began putting his things away. I shrugged and wheeled my stuff down the hall of the vacant hostel.
I rolled out onto the deck where we had been the night before, except now in the early morning sunlight, I could actually see just how beautiful and tropical the area we were in really was. Lush and vibrant green plants tangled and twisted around and above the area, and I could now see the wood cabins that were tucked into the side of the cliff where Miami guy and safari guide’s rooms were. Definitely should have shacked.
But the one thing that I didn’t even realize was there since it was so dark and I had no idea where we were, was the ocean that spanned the entire horizon below the backpackers! We had a beachfront room and didn’t even know it! I tried not to trip and fall down the wooden stairs as I continued to take in the enchanting jungle and ocean views around me, wishing now that we could have stayed a little longer.
As expected, we were the last ones to the van again, and of course one of the sleepy little highschoolers took my front seat so I had to awkwardly climb into the back with the rest of them who seemed to have been waiting for a while.
“If he’s not down here in one more minute I’m leaving him.” Safari guy said, sounding seriously irritated for the first time. I knew I shouldn’t have left him alone with no one rushing him, so leapt from the van and ran back up the steps to find him.
“Oh my god, did you see how beautiful the view is?!” My GBF said casually as he posed for another selfie with the ocean in the background. Of course. “We have to go! Everyone’s waiting for you!” I snapped, half amused and half annoyed that he was taking his time taking selfies while everyone else was waiting. “Ok, ok, good grief.” He mumbled, putting his phone in his jacket pocket and strolling towards the stairs.
The drive was awkwardly silent until we pulled up to our next location. “Are you kidding me? This is a zoo.” My GBF gasped as we jumped out of the van. The entrance was through a giant plaster hippo’s mouth that was too tacky to not take a picture with. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all but decided to just go with it since at that point, as long as there were animals I could pet and a safari guide I could stare at, I was happy.
Since we missed breakfast, we meandered over to the concession stands to try to get something quick to eat before the “tour” started. Of course everyone got their meat sandwiches right away yet my cheese sandwich took an unnecessarily long amount of time. “Its fine, we can just go,” I kept saying to safari guide, who was the only person still waiting with me. “No it’s fine, I think you need to eat.” He said with a smile, eyeing my body suggestively.
“So what is it that you do for freelance PR?” He asked finally after we stopped awkwardly making eye contact. “I write content for people’s websites, and do their social media. Do you have Facebook?” Was I seriously about to use social media to flirt again? “Yeah, add me,” he said, taking out his own iPhone to accept the request. After taking turns looking at each other’s photos, the one that I didn’t want him to see popped up; me surfing with Mr. TDH.
“So if he’s not your lover boy than what is he?” He teased me as I quickly scrolled to the next picture. “I dunno, we met a week ago.” I shrugged, deciding that using my terminology for a trip-boyfriend would probably sound absolutely ridiculous. “Are you serious? He looked like he was about to cry when you left!” He said in shock. “He was in love!” I proclaimed, completely expecting that response. “It’s two days! He can’t be without you for two days?!” He continued, completely flabbergasted.
“Huh? OH!” I realized how dramatic it would have been if I were going to see him when I got back, “Nooo, I won’t see him when I get back. He left for Istanbul yesterday and when I get back I go to Thailand.” I said morosely, trying to avoid eye contact with his look of guilt.
Ding ding! Thank god I was Saved By The cheese-sandwich-Bell. I took the hot, melty sandwhich that looked like something I could have made in five seconds, and started picking at it as I started for the area we were supposed to be in. “I am not going into that snake cave without you.” My GBF declared as he walked back over to get me.
We caught up with the rest of the group after walking very swiftly through the dark, humid, purposely-scary manmade cave that had all of the snake cages in it. At the end of it there were two layers of thick plastic curtains that we had to go through to get to an even more humid walk-through enclosure. It was supposed be an example of the jungles in South Africa so it had the native plants, birds, and butterflies flying around everywhere. I recognized the adorable little animals running around that look like miniature deer but are actually a species called Muntjacs that I had to take care of back when I interned at a zoo in college as part of my pre-veterinary program.
“Don’t do that!” Safari guy whispered with a laugh as he grabbed my shoulder from behind to prevent me from throwing another piece of crust to the Muntjacs. “What, they look hungry!” I defended. He pushed me along to catch up with the group to see the animal in the next enclosure…a massive vulture. For some reason, the ugly, unexciting bird was the zoo guide’s favorite animal, and he went on and on about the ridiculously wide wingspan that it has even though no one was listening…cool story bro.
After that we saw hippopotamuses, which were actually quite cute considering that they’re considered one of the most dangerous animals (I could definitely run faster than one of those things). I zoomed in at the perfect angle to get a shot that made it seem like I was actually seeing one in the wild in Africa instead of at a zoo in Africa, but the main point was that I was still in Africa so it still counts either way.
The crocodiles looked fake and we may or may not have thrown a twig at one to see if it moved (it didn’t), but I guess I really can’t blame them for not wanting their tanning session to be interrupted. There was an optional “crocodile cave diving” excursion but, nope, don’t know who in the hell would ever want to A) Go in gross, murky, crocodile poop-water and B) Go in water with crocodiles in general. Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope.
After the zoo guide spent another unnecessarily long time talking about uninteresting animals we shuffled back to the main area to wait for our turn to go see the animals everyone actually wanted to see. I saw Miami guy talking to safari guide but didn’t want to be a part of that conversation after the night before, so pretended to be interested in some ducks waddling around a random bush. “This is so lame.” My GBF muttered as he leaned his back against the metal railing I was hanging over to try to pet the ducks.
“I just want to pet the cheetah.” I huffed, swinging myself back up right. I could see safari guide looking at us in my peripheral vision but decided to be a mature adult and completely ignore him. “Oh, I think we’re going.” I said, noticing our group starting to move towards the tall outdoor cages. We started walking in their direction when suddenly safari guide strode in front of us.
“I’m going to go get some coffee, do you want any?” He said as he turned to keep walking backwards. “Sure!” I stammered even though I don’t even drink or like coffee. He smiled and kept back paddling, then realized there were other people in the area, “Do you guys want a coffee?” He said, finally acknowledging that he had just blatantly only asked me. “No thanks,” they both grumbled, one with a smirk, and one with an eye roll. “Ok, Alyssa do you want sugar or cream?” He asked as we both lingered a few meters apart. “Uh sure.” I said, not that I was going to drink it anyway.
“How much sugar do you take?” He continued. “Um like a scoop?” I said, holding my index finger and thumb up in what I thought resembled the shape of a teaspoon. He burst out in laughter and so did my GBF. “Oh my god. What the hell is that supposed to be?” GBF snorted as he smacked my hand out of teaspoon formation. “A scoop, like a scoop of sugar! I don’t know, I normally have Splenda packets!” I retorted, smacking him in the arm and walking away towards the baby cheetahs. Whatever, he’s getting me coffee.
“They’re like, not even that cute. Like their kind of scraggly.” GBF muttered as we both examined the two cheetah cubs in the first enclosure. “I think they’re cute,” I objected as I attempted to zoom in to get a faux-wild photo of them through the fence (fail). “You think everything is cute.” He teased with his sly smile as he carefully adjusted his Ferragamo aviators on his face. “Not true. Did not think the crocodiles were cute.” I argued, although I knew perfectly well what he was inferring, “Only the cute baby cheetahs, hippos, and South African safari guides.” I laughed, dramatically flipping my hair over my shoulder and walking away.
We walked along an elevated bridge that looked down into the outdoor pens of animals on either side. The first pen had two beautiful tigers that were taking turns running and pouncing on each other, which made me feel bad about their lack of play space. “Do they like get to run around in a bigger area?” My GBF asked, thinking the same thing I was. “Nope.” I replied. “Yeah they definitely do, see that track that goes behind all the cages?” Miami guy butted in as if he knew everything, “I think they like let them run around it like a track.” I turned and glared at him, “You think they let wild animals just run around then catch them after play time’s over?” I questioned him sarcastically. “I mean yeah, they have to let them run around somewhere right?” Ugh. You can’t just make up solutions to questions you don’t know.
“No, look-” I pointed to the smaller holding cages that I knew were for feeding them. “The track is for the zoo keepers to walk on to bring the food to them, they don’t leave these cages.” They both examined it for a while, seeming to understand what I was saying. “Well. How do you know?” Miami guy questioned again, refusing to be corrected. “I interned at a zoo remember? That’s how we fed the panthers.” Finally, my Bachelor of Science degree in Biology came in handy.
“She’s right. You can’t really put a tiger on a leash and take it for a walk.” I spun around to see safari guide standing behind me smiling with the two cups of coffee. “Biology eh?” He said, handing me the steaming cup. “Oh, yeah, I was pre-veterinary in college.” I said nonchalantly. Why did I not think to tell the guy who works with animals about that tiny detail? “Nice.” He said, smiling down at me.
“Come on you guys.” GBF sang in faux-annoyance. I turned around and realized the rest of the group had continued walking while safari guide and I were flirting over coffee and college degrees. #nerdflirt.
The next enclosure housed the cheetahs, who were pacing around their enclosure as if they had severe anxiety, which, they probably did considering they’re freaking cheetahs who are known to be the fastest animals, and they were trapped inside of a fence. Then there were the “White Lions” that looked pretty beige to me, and also like chubbier versions of the ones we saw at the game reserve who had lots of space to work out.
There was a White Bengal Tiger who decided he wanted to take a nap behind a giant rock so we couldn’t see him, not that I blame him, and a few Leopards next door. Finally we looped back around and saw a cute little Ocelot in an even smaller enclosure before ending in the “animal education” area where they stop and ask you to donate money either directly into the bucket, or by paying to do one of the animal encounters. We chose the animal encounters.
“I think I want to do the cheetahs and the lemurs,” I thought aloud, reading the descriptions for each animal encounter. “Ew I do not want a monkey climbing on me, I think I’m going to do the tigers, they’re really pretty.” My GBF said lazily. “Why don’t you do an animal that’s actually from Africa so it looks like you pet it in real life?” I asked him. “Wait, tigers don’t live in Africa?” He said seriously, holding his palms up as if it were the craziest thing he’s ever heard. “No, they’re native to Asia.” Safari guide said with a chuckle. “You guys are such dorks, why do you even know that?” GBF teased as he gave us both the sly grin.
Of course, the only other person who ended up doing the encounters was Miami guy since the highschoolers couldn’t afford it, safari guide had to go monitor them, and my GBF opted out when they told him he had to take his hat off and he refused to have hat hair in a picture. I’m not exactly great at acting fake so I wasn’t about to be all BF4L with him after our little tiff the night before, but decided to at least attempt being nice. “Do you want me to take your picture with my GoPro then we can switch?” I mumbled, knowing that all boys love tech toys. “Sure! You can go first if you want!” He piped, immediately perking up. And peace was restored in the universe.
We followed the zoo guide through two gates to get to what Miami guy thought was the “tiger jogging track” earlier, where I tried my hardest not to smirk]for being right. Then they led us into the large lemur enclosure and indicated a large rock for me to sit on for my photo. The second I sat down, three ring-tailed lemurs jumped on my lap and shoulders, completely catching me off guard. I had never pet a lemur before so wasn’t exactly sure what I was supposed to do with them as they climbed on and around me. The zookeeper gave me some food to give them and they stood up like the ones in the movie Madagascar do, and took it from me with their adorable little human-like hands.
After making sure plenty of photos were taken, I switched spots with Miami guy so that he could go next. But as I was taking his photos with the ring-tailed lemurs, three brown lemurs kept leaping from the tree to my left onto my shoulders and head! There was one very curious one who had one eye that was bigger than the other, that kept trying to chew my ear and sniff my face to figure out what I was. At one point he even grabbed my mouth with his little hand like he was trying to open it, while kissing my cheek and nose. Luckily I took a selfie with my iPhone just in time to prove it. I wonder if that’s how you get Ebola?
It only got worse (and by worse I mean better) when Miami guy came and sat down next to me to let the next people go, adding on to the brown lemur jungle gym. Now they had two people to jump on and examine, not to mention a very enticing bun of hair on my head to grab on to. The zookeepers kept trying to shoo them off of us but they would run away for a second then jump right back on us for more selfies. It was definitely the highlight of my day thus far.
They finally forced us to leave the cute little critters and took us to our next encounter with the cheetahs. We walked in slowly, expecting it to be way more dangerous to just be walking in the same enclosure as a freaking cheetah, but when we finally found one of them, she was just laying lazily in the sun by a tree, completely unbothered by our existance. I figured it would be the same process as it was with the lions the day before where they let us stand near them to take a picture, but when I crouched down and smiled for my picture, the zookeeper said, “You can pet her!” I CAN?!?!
Maybe I haven’t fully expressed my undying love for animals…especially ones that are wild and that you’re not supposed to touch. When I was a little girl, I had every pet from gerbils to horses, and my dream was to become a veterinarian. My first grade birthday was a dream come true when my mom hired Bush Wild Life to bring a boa constrictor and a leopard to my birthday party, and from that way forward, I knew I was destined to be a vet. That idea quickly demolished when I entered middle school, but after my weird blurr of adolesence, I then grew up and reverted back to my original calling, and graduated from Florida State University with a B.S. in Biology and Animal Science…which, I used for about a year out of college before accidentally moving to LA. Anyway.
After I gave the long lanky cat a few scratches I moved to the side and turned to face her when who should I see behind her watching us from the viewing bridge? Safari guide. After everyone was done we snuck one more scratch and a few selfies in then headed back to the front to pick up our cheesy cardboard-framed photos. I was highly amused when I opened my cheetah picture and saw safari guide had made it in the background.
“Ok great, we will see you soon.” Safari guide said into his phone as he walked towards us. See who soon? “I’ve made a lunch reservation at a really nice place, I think you guys will really like it.” He said with a sweet smile. Just kidding. “Thank god.” My GBF said over-dramatically as if he had been roughing it all weekend. I scoffed loudly and rolled my eyes so safari guide could see that I wasn’t as big of a princess as my GBF was. “Nice photo bomb by the way.” I said, opening the cardboard photo holder so he could see. He blushed then tapped at his phone, “I took some photos for you as well,” I looked down to see the extremely zoomed in photo of the back of me bending down to pet the cheetah. Creepy or cute?
We were a little skeptical about what safari guide considered “a really nice place” when we pulled up to the nearly empty dirt parking lot. Safari guide dashed off to set up the reservation with his little highschool ducklings following close behind while us oldies took our time stretching and observing our surroundings. And by surroundings I mean dry grass and dirt.
“Oh oh! Take a picture of me!” I gasped as I spotted the unattended real safari vehicles parked along the entrance. “Oh my god. You’re going to get us kicked out of Africa.” My GBF muttered sarcastically, checking to make sure no one was around. But I climbed in anyway and posed for my faux safari pic. “Oh wow,” The height of the safari truck gave me a much better view of the surroundings, including the gorgeous brown and white lodge and glistening lake that was at the end of the wooden pathway in front of us.
“What? Did you see a lion? Did safari guide take his shirt off?” GBF semi-joked. “I wish,” I snorted, “it actually looks really nice!” With that we hustled a little more eagerly to get to the chic and luxurious game reserve lodge that looked like it could have been a lakeside restaurant at the Ritz Carlton in Georgia. I felt extremely grungy and underdressed amongst the well-tailored staff and the few nicely dressed guests sipping wine at the tables near the water, but I embraced my thirty-year age and budget difference with as much grace as humanly possible.
The highschoolers were already sitting at the long twenty-person table to my right, that had a crisp white tablecloth, and was set properly with water and wine glasses and two-course silverware. I was still taking in the view of the lake while Miami guy and my GBF explored the rest of the amenities to my left.
“Alyssa, come look,” Safari guide said to me as he nodded his head towards the water below him. I walked over willingly and leaned against the warm wooden railing to see a school of fat grey fish rolling around at the surface of the water. I shot back and gave him an accidental look of disgust and confusion.
“Look,” he said finally after he was done laughing at my reaction. I turned my gaze to follow where his finger was pointing in the air. “Swimming is Strictly Prohibited – Hippos Are Dangerous,” I read the sign aloud, “is that like, serious?” I asked him, feeling like it sounded a bit silly and unrealistic. “Nah they’re super friendly, wanna go in?” He suddenly swooped down and grabbed me by the waist, hoisting me up in the air like he was about to throw me over the railing.
Bad idea. I screamed so loud that everyone in the vicinity turned to stare and I’m pretty sure all of the birds in the surrounding bushes flew away. To make matters worse, my physical reaction was to latch onto him with my arms and legs, so when everyone looked, they saw me strattling my safari guide. Classy. I quickly jumped down and pushed him as hard as I could, smoothing my shirt and hair and looking around as if nothing had happened.
“Hey can one of you guys take a picture of us in front of that gazebo?” Miami guy asked, handing his phone out to us and pointing over his shoulder to a beautiful wooden gazebo that was branched out on the lake. I went to take the phone and giggled at the fact that he didn’t realize he was about to take a picture with my GBF in front of a wedding gazebo. “Thanks,” he said as I went to grab it, “Oh wait, why don’t you get in it, two guys might look a little gay.” He said, finally realizing what I had already been thinking. I gasped at first from third party offense, and looked to my GBF to see if the comment had offended him. But he just rolled his eyes dramatically, giving me the green light to start hysterically laughing at the accidental insult.
After the adorable three person, lakeside pic, I decided to go to the bathroom to wash my hands so I wouldn’t get Ebola, and of course when I got back to the table, the only seat left was the one at the end, flanked by my GBF and safari guide on one side, and Miami guy on the other. I would have preferred to sit next to safari guide but it made more sense the way it was since we were the only ones at the table to not just order drinks, but to order an entire bottle of red wine plus my had-to-have glass of South African Chenin Blanc. Such great role models.
“So guys, if you haven’t tried it before, you have to get the Ostrich, it’s beyond amazing.” Safari guide announced to the table. “Ew.” I responded immediately, flipping past the entire menu page of every possible way to eat a giant bird. “Ew,” I involuntarily said again realizing the next page was all dead baby cow dishes.
“Oh here look, there’s a cheese platter for you Alyssa, that’s perfect.” My GBF said sweetly, flipping the extensive menu in front of me to the last page. “Nooo, there’s an entire page of veggie dishes on the third page,” Safari guide interjected, assuming my GBF was being facetious by offering me cheese on an all meat menu. “She doesn’t like vegetables, wine and cheese is like her main diet.” My GBF said matter-of-factly, cocking his head to the left to bat his eyelashes at safari guide. I looked at safari guide with a guilty smile as he seemed to furrow his eyebrows in confusion about what my life was really like back in LA.
One cheese plate and three glasses of wine later and I was as happy as a single girl on safari in South Africa with a hot safari guide. Pun intended. Once again, the rest of the group had headed back to the van as instructed while we lingered around to take pictures of the exotic little yellow and orange birds that were flying around their pod-like nests that hung from the branches of a womping willow tree over the lake.
“Come on guys, and don’t forget your chargers inside.” Safari guide yelled from the doorway before disappearing inside. The wine had made us almost forget the portable chargers and Mophie we had plugged in to charge inside, which would have been a tragic mistake. #firstworldproblems.
The sun was just beginning to set behind the lake, casting a fiery golden glow on the placid surface, which, by the way, had zero hippopotamuses in it. I walked slowly on purpose, not wanting to leave the beautiful setting, and the last place I’d get to use wifi for another six hours.
I would have loved to have sat in the front next to safari guide for those six hours but being the last one to the bus has its consequences, and I wasn’t about to call shot gun to a group of teenagers. I could tell that safari guide was thinking the same thing by the amount of times I caught him glancing back at me in the rear view mirror, or maybe that’s just safe driving. Luckily the journey across the Garden Route is quite scenic, so we had that to look at for a while before the sun went down. When it got dark, we couldn’t sleep since it was still so early and we were still a little buzzed, but thank god my GBF has a strange obsession with the Golden Girls and had about twenty episodes for us to watch on his laptop on our way back to the volunteer house.
“I think we should just stay in Cape Town tonight since our flights are early in the morning.” I whispered.
“Yeah but the volunteer house is free and we can just get a cab in the morning.” Miami guy whispered back, clearly devising another sneaky plane on his own since we all knew damn well money was not an issue for him.
“Yeah but like, I don’t really want to stay in that freezing cold ass house again, especially if I have to travel in the morning.” My GBF muttered.
“Well how are you going to get back this late?” Miami guy justified a valid point.
“Maybe safari guide will take us since he lives that way anyway.” I tried to sound like the idea had just came to me but I had obviously been thinking about it for a while.
“No Alyssa, he like has to return the company van probably.”
We were about a half hour away from Muizenberg when it dawned on us that we didn’t know where we were sleeping and had to be at the airport by 11am. Well, it dawned on my GBF and I, we already knew Miami guy was secretly plotting to stay in Muizenberg a few more days instead of going home or to Thailand. Although my GBF was probably right about safari guide not being able to drive us, I had envisioned this perfect scenario in my head where we ended up hanging out in Cape Town.
After my dreams were crushed, I started thinking of options but none of them sounded appealing. We could go back to the volunteer house and try to get a cab into town to get a hotel even though it would be almost 11pm, or we could sleep at the volunteer house and get up at the crack of dawn and then try to find a ride to the airport. Both seemed like terrible ideas.
Of course I kept thinking about asking safari guide for a ride, and hoped he would decide to drop us off last so I could have the guts to ask him without everyone hearing me. But of course he announced that we were getting dropped off first. Fail.
“Hmm,” he said suddenly, leaning forward to look around at the neighborhood in front of him, “I thought I was taking a short cut, but I just realized that’s a really dangerous area,” he announced, making a U-Turn. “Guys in the back, we’re dropping you off first.” I tried to contain my excitement to avoid being made fun of by my GBF.
After we dropped everyone off, the four of us made small talk as we finally headed for our final destination. I casually mentioned our flights in the morning a few times just in case one of the boys wanted to jump in and ask for the ride, but of course it didn’t happen. I sulked as we pulled up to the volunteer house and my idea had come nowhere close to fruition. I waited for the boys to get their things and get off the bus so I could have a last lingering goodbye moment with safari guide.
“So uh, what’s you guys’ plan?” He said suddenly as I began to slide across the seat. Just freaking do it. “We don’t really know.” I admitted, hoping he would get the hint. “Miami guy wants to stay because he’s secretly planning to stay here longer but GBF and I want to stay in a hotel in Cape Town but I don’t think we’ll be able to find a taxi this late.” I blurted finally. “Oh, well, where in Cape Town?” He replied immediately. “I dunno. Anywhere? We stayed at a place in the V&A Waterfront last weekend that was pretty nice and cheap.” I tried to sound open to suggestions since the V&A Waterfront was the furthest area of Cape Town from where we were. “Oh, well, I could take you guys?” No effing way!!!!
“Seriously?” I piped, trying to sound more surprised and grateful than excited. “Yeah no problem, I live up that way anyway.” He said casually, smiling at me with those light green eyes. My plan worked? How the hell did my plan work?! “That would be so amazing! Thank you so much! I just need to grab my other bag and grab Dan!” I shifted my bag off of my shoulder and into the corner of the seat so that he knew I was coming back and jumped out of the van. “Just don’t be too long,” he said loudly, for a moment making me think that he’d leave me if I was, “I don’t want to get robbed and murdered by a machete out here.” I smiled, realizing his reference to a story I had told him earlier about how dangerous the neighborhood was.
I ran inside the volunteer house to find five of the girl volunteers excitedly hugging my GBF. “You’re back!” They squealed. It should have been a happy moment, but the house felt foreign to me without Mr. TDH there. Pun intended. My smile faded and my excitement turned gloomy as I walked into the boys’ room to get my second bag and saw Mr. TDH’s empty bed. Womp womp.
“Hey, so what are we doing?” My GBF said behind me as two of the girl volunteers trailed behind him. “Safari guide’s going to give us a ride into town, but we have to hurry.” I said quickly, avoiding eye contact with the girls who I knew would be disappointed that he left. “Really? Ok!” He said, sounding surprised and shocked. Betch don’t doubt me.
I lifted my unintentionally heavy second bag over my shoulder, and turned to face Miami guy who as expected, was not grabbing his second bag. “So uh, I think I’m going to stay.” He said uneasily. “I know,” I said wondering how he possibly could have thought that my GBF wouldn’t tell me his secret plans, “have fun, thanks for coming.” I smiled and gave my frienemy a quick and unbalanced hug before bumping my way out of the crowded room.
“We seriously have to go like right now,” I threatened GBF as I hugged the girls goodbye for a second time. “I know, I’m trying!” He chirped as he attempted detaching his biggest fans from around him. I didn’t want to stay and chat, I didn’t want to feel the sadness of having to say goodbye again, and I definitely didn’t want anyone to ask me about Mr. TDH. I was about to slip out when I noticed one of the girls who volunteered with me at the primary school and remembered the gifts I had forgotten to give before I left.
“Hey, are you going into school tomorrow?” I asked quietly, kneeling down next to her. “Yeah, why what’s up?” She said sweetly. I quickly unzipped my duffel bag and started digging around for the box and bag. “I brought this watch with me from LA,” I said, holding up the leather banded Aldo watch, “do you think you could give it to the teacher named Sandra?” She looked at me in shock, not expecting me to be the gift-giving or name-remembering type. “Sure, of course, that’s so nice.” She replied as I handed her the small box. “And then this is for a little girl in the class to the left of hers named Kohtah, I couldn’t find her before I left.” I said glumly, handing her the bag of candy I had gotten the little girl after she gave me a collage she made for me out of magazine clippings. “Aw, yeah, of course.” She said again. “We’ll miss you!” She stood up to give me a hug, which completely caught me off guard and brought back the sadness. It was crazy how attached we all got to the program, the kids, and each other in just one week.
“Ok, I seriously have to go, bye you guys!” I huffed, twisting my lip down to make a sad face. “Dan, let’s go!” I yelled down the hallway that he still was not walking down. I hit the button for the gate to open and slipped back out onto the dark, wet street and into the waiting van.
“Oh good you’re still alive,” I teased safari guide. “Barely. Where’s Dan?” He asked as the gate slowly closed. “All the girls like love him so he’s taking forever to say bye.” I felt kind of bad making him wait, but I really didn’t want to go back inside again. Finally I could hear voices on the other side of the gate. Shit! I also did not want the other volunteers coming outside to see who was giving us the ride considering the fact that they were all friends with Mr. TDH.
“She’s out here!” One of my favorite volunteers said poking her head out from behind the gate followed by one of the guy volunteers. “We wanted to come say bye again!” She said, coming to give me a hug. I’m an asshole. When we were all finally done saying goodbye, we finally drove off into the darkness the same way we had the morning before.
“Sorry, they wanted me to motorboat her.” My GBF said casually. He wouldn’t stop talking about how big the girl’s boobs were that she always purposely hid, so they thought it would be funny if he finally motorboated her, which is funny since he’s gay.
We made more small talk on the thirty-minute ride to Cape Town, but this time it was actually more personal since he was no longer our hot safari guide but now a hot South African guy. When we finally pulled up to the self-catering apartments we had stayed in the week before, the dreaded departure depression crept back up except this time it was even more ridiculous since we had only known each other for two days.
“So uh, I had fun with you guys.” He said as we all stood in the parking lot. “I know, I wish it was longer!” I admitted, going in for the kill with a full contact body hug. It was the first time we had purposely been that close to each other and clearly made a statement since he didn’t let go. “It’s weird, I feel like I’ve known you guys for a lot longer than two days.” He said, finally letting me go. “Yeah, we have that affect on people.” I joked. Not joking.
“Ugh, we can’t even get wine because everything’s closed!” I complained, realizing that it was too late to do anything at all. “Well, I still have my beer from earlier, you can have it if you want.” He offered, swinging open the door I was knocking at. “Well, do you want to hang out for a bit or do you have to get the van back?” I asked innocently. I could see my GBF rolling his eyes and giggling in my peripheral vision.
Safari guide looked back at the van then checked his watch, “Yeah, I can drop it off whenever, I guess I could stay for a bit.” I was happier than a bag of Skittles and started eagerly wheeling my luggage to the door to check in. “Here I got it,” safari guide said with a smirk, easily swinging the heavy duffel bag I was struggling to carry over one shoulder and carrying the beer in the other hand.
When we finally settled into our room, we got the really fun laundry and re-packing party started right away. It definitely was not the fun night I envisioned but he didn’t seem to mind and even offered to help. No, you cannot touch my underwear. The longer he stayed, the sadder (and more distracted) I got, until finally we attempted saying goodbye again. That lasted another hour and ended up with another two minute long hug and a mutual promise to stay in touch.
“You’re an idiot, you should have hooked up with him.” My GBF scoffed from behind his laptop on the bed. I picked up the fluffy white pillow at the foot of the bed and launched it at him, then pulled my own laptop open to check in for my one way flight to Bangkok.