Checking out guys on safari is like comparing leftovers at an early morning bathhouse: mainly slim-pickings, not your usual fancy, but perhaps exactly what you needed for the moment. As in, I’m not usually one for extreme skinniness, but damn if that waif from France isn’t precisely how I want to spend the evening under a full African moon.
My companions spot not just the lazing waterbuck hidden under the shade of weed-like candelabra trees, but also the hot-chocolate bundle of muscle carrying a stack of bamboo shafts on the back of his rickety bike.
Matthew, an educator with the International School Board, tries to play stoic. Two years in a homophobic country has refined his sexual interests to subtle, almost imperceptible observations. But his head turns with more frequency in the company of two gay companions out to see Uganda’s lush wildlife around Lake Albert and its majestic falls of Murchison.
Justin is fresh from authentic-Indian-yogic-training, a promoter of the arts with a fabulous sense of style for any third world situation and a big fan of the locals. Ornery from his ashram sabbatical, he charms without any consideration for identity, just wanting to get the old juices warmed up. The locals seem to love it, though you can never tell if they find you charming or just recognize the white-man-payday you inevitably represent.
I’m not picky. I like anything that can keep me occupied in the conversation with a little charm and clever wit. I’m delighted by chats with drunken British historians and naked Belgian swimmers. On safari people tend to be at their most – be it best, worst or whatever in between.
Our entrance to the park was a full-scale production, under blazing sun we coasted over a road that hadn’t seen repair since conception. For the entertainment of a troop of baboons I flipped the jeep after skidding into a particularly deadly soft patch.
Matthew, without seatbelt, nimbly jumps out of the jeep as we begin to toss and turn, Justin in full zen climbs out after, satisfied nothing’s broken, but mourning a pair of destroyed sunglasses. Myself, the only injured party, am proud to discover my cool under strain, securing our IDs, wallets, and electronics while binding a gash in my hand. The baboons were rapturous with ovation.
Discovering the high cost of “rescue” fees, we’re led off to the lodge to lick our wounds. I experience firsthand African emergency medical care, getting stitches in a dank hut from a man who might have been learning what to do as he went, in a procedure that would be met back in the west with reactions of “They did what?”
The dashing Ugandan park authority adds up our bill with its various charges, finally taking pity on us and returning some money for the eventual bribes needed to explain the battered vehicle to highway police.
It could have been way worse. In the end, the best flirt comes from the gnarly and lopsided warthog, who sniffs playfully before churning up the earth around his back legs, setting several locals on edge, wondering what you’ve done. Or, of course, the ever-present baboons: fiercely bold in their manoeuvres, looking to get a taste of whatever you have to offer.