South Africa Trip Update and the Black Rhino Story

Originally uploaded by Jeff Carlson.

I originally intended to write up travelogues as we progressed through this South Africa adventure, but a lack of Internet access and spare time has prevented me. Well, truthfully, there’s been plenty of time. But when the options are to sit and type or take a walk through the bush and spy wild elephants, the choice becomes easy.

Kim and I are in the winding-down phase of our trip, spending time with family in Pretoria and dreading the long flight home in a few days. I’ve struck out with good Internet access here; today was the first day I had access to a car, and we ran other errands instead of indulging me to camp out in an Internet cafe for a few hours. So, I apologize for the lack of photos. Believe me, we’ve taken a couple thousand, but the bandwidth required to upload even one at full resolution is prohibitive for now. (To give you an idea, I had to do a bit of work and finish creating handout materials for one of the talks I’m giving at Macworld Expo next month; it took one and a half hours to upload the 8 MB PDF over the connection here.)

Speaking of photos, I want to point out two things that happened while I’ve been out of town. In this week’s TidBITS, I published an article (written on the flight from Seattle to Chicago) about my experience buying a Canon PowerShot S2 IS, the camera I’ve been using, and enjoying immensely, for this trip. That coincides with the release of Laurence Chen’s "Take Control of Buying a Digital Camera, version 2.0"e;. This ebook is the update to last year’s edition, and even if I wasn’t the editor I’d highly recommend it. Laurence has beefed it up with a new section on buying a digital SLR, added some camera model comparisons, and included several case studies based on feedback from readers of the 1.0 version. If you’re looking into buying a digital camera — it is the holiday season, after all — this ebook is $10 extremely well spent.

With three weeks’ worth of activity, it’s hard to jump in and start writing about the highlights. But I’ll start where I left off before, a close encounter with a black rhino.

While the rest of the family enjoyed the beach at St. Lucia, Kim and I headed off to Imfolozi for a two-day walking tour through the bush. Unlike the game drives we had gone on the previous week at Hilltop Camp, this trip involved us setting out on foot with a two guides carrying large rifles.

Before we embarked on our first hike, the guide gave us a primer on what to do if we encountered any big animals up close. For lions, you stand your ground, even if they "mock charge" you to test your resolve. For leopards, you do the opposite, continue walking and don’t make eye contact. And for rhinos, which have poor eyesight, you hide behind a tree and remain still.

So, only about an hour into our first hike, one of the other walkers points out a nearby rhino. We’re all very interested, of course, until the guide quickly tells us to turn around, walk away, and get behind some trees. We watched the large beast sniff around and look in our direction for a minute or so as he tried to determine what was making noise (we had all gotten very quiet, but rhinos have excellent hearing). I could see a dark red gash on its left shoulder, evidence of some recent encounter with another rhino or other animal. As he plodded closer, our guides both picked up rocks, and when he was within about 25 meters, they started making lots of noise. Fortunately, we became enough of a threat that the rhino turned and ran, crashing through scrub trees.

After we determined that he was gone for good, the guide shook the hand of Florian, the guest who spotted the rhino initially, and said that if we had walked past the rhino and it came up behind us, it would have been — in his typically understated way — "very bad."

It’s now Friday in Pretoria, and we’re spending the day in Johannesburg (or Jo’burg, as everyone here says). I’ll try to write up more experiences tonight.

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