Swapping the wilderness of drug addiction for the wilds of South Africa
Lying in the early morning sun, the hyena gazed at us deceptively docilely. Her cub was mewling for milk sweetly, pushing against her furred body. They looked cute enough for a Japanese Hello Hyeny merchandise catalogue.
Obviously, I resisted the suicidal urge to exit the roofless safari vehicle. Those jaws can easily take a grown man’s hand. And African wildlife have a way of making wayward tourists into news headlines.
But still… so cuuuute.
I was on a safari with my dad this past week. Bonding trip to Sabie, far out into the bush and bordering Kruger.
A gift of recovery, as they call it, because back in active drug addiction, I wouldn’t leave the house let alone civilisation. For one thing, my drug dealer didn’t deliver outside of the suburbs.
I certainly didn’t have adventures like flying in small airplanes. I hadn’t flown in a while (unless you count drug highs), and it was fun… until take off.
I have this belief that small planes aren’t meant to fly. It’s like Gravity takes serious offense to these fragile craft; I really felt its desire to grind us into the ground. We had turbulence, a pocket of air where the tiny plane just dropped like a stone for a couple of seconds. I’d hardly ever thrown up on alcohol (some sort of natural resistance to it, I guess). But this time, sober, I reached for the barf bag. Phew. Nothing happened.
After landing on a juvenile, barely-passable runway, I got off the plane shakily. That’s the last time, I silently communed with Gravity. I will never f#%^ with you again.
From there the adventure began.
On the first day, we saw a bull elephant. He got really close to the vehicle we were in, didn’t pay us any mind. A delectable, nourishing root grew under a tree, and said tree was in his way, so he simply tusked it over. Majestic strength flowed through those ivory ploughs. Nothing stopped this elephant from getting what he wanted.
Kind of like how I, typically for an addict, didn’t let anything get in the way of me and my fix. Always hustling, making a plan, overcoming any obstacle – and just like they call a male elephant a bull, I was a bullsh!%%3r.
I related to the elephant in that way.
We also saw leopards. Out in broad daylight. I think that’s quite rare. They’re normally shy. Elusive. Shadow assassins. We stayed at an open camp – where wildlife is free to move through as they please – so having leopards close by was quite nerve-wracking. Made me always look over my shoulder while walking from the chalet we were sharing to the main areas of the camp.
Reminded me of how I used to be on the lookout for, well, a different species of animal. Pigs. Every addict’s worst fear is running afoul of the blue lights that wafted a lingering smell of crisp bacon. Nothing brings down the drug high like a night with fellow low-lifes in a pigpen.
No telling what predators you’ll find in with you.
We weren’t allowed to leave our chalets in the night, unless accompanied by staff. On the first evening, I heard the loud bellow of a hippo. Directly outside. Hippos being the single most dangerous mammal in Africa, I was a mite concerned. Jaws wider than a chasm of doom combined with a temper that flies faster than buck chased by cheetah, they kill more people in Africa than all the carnivores combined. Hippos are not your friends.
But then, I got confused. It sounded like it was coming from the other room. Oh Em Gee. My dad snores like an aquatic mass murderer.
On another exciting game drive, there was a lioness with her cubs. Again, strong suicidal urge to go pet them. The cubs were tugging at her ears, squirming around, wrestling with each other. Suicidal urges are a thing with me. That’s what active addiction does. Makes the use of drugs and alcohol seem like the natural thing to do. Do NOT PET THE LION CUBS. But we do anyway. Then we get mauled, lose something important, like a vital organ or our home, and go, “Never again will I pet a cute lion cub!” But some time passes and we’re thinking, maybe it was just that one lioness who took issue with us. The next one will be different.
Whoops, mauled again. This time, half your face is missing.
This goes on until we end up meeting the resident rangers (i.e. the counselling team) of rehabs like Houghton House – who guide us to the fresh watering hole of recovery.
So now I know not to go petting cute syringes, rubbing my nose in white drug powders, hugging bottles of alcohol, and expecting things to go well.
We also saw buffalo posing like it was their high school yearly photoshoot. Check it out. When I was in high school, my journey with drugs started with marijuana. I also lazed around like these beefy boys, but that’s what drugs like marijuana did to me: took away motivation. And motor skills. I was gawkier than a three-legged lion.
Early the Saturday morning, I blaringly rolled through the mosquito nets out of the bed. The last thing I felt like doing was going on a 5am crack-of-dawn game drive. Forcing coffee down my throat, I recalled how in active addiction, a night of drugs would have kept me sleeping, if I could, the whole day. But never mind that. Off we went, with me silently cursing the whole way.
Until we came across an antelope. Or at least we think it was an antelope. It was hard to tell. The buck was brutally attacked sometime before we arrived. By the time we got there, the lioness had already ravaged the carcass. And she was close to us. So close, I was sure I could smell her fetid breath. A cub was walking around behind her. Presumably he had his fill already.
Hungry that lioness was, ripping off pieces of flesh and gulping them down, the way an addict, starved of his drug of choice would scarf it the next chance he got, whether through the needle, the pipe, or the straw.
Then, at last, the final day had arrived. It seemed both a lifetime and a mere drop of sand in the hour glass, and we were ready for our lift back to the airport.
A ride on the roofless land cruiser through the bush to a landing strip in Middle-of-Nowhere-ville. We boarded the all-too small airplane, ready to make our ascend.
A gift of recovery, one I’m thankful to Houghton House for. I’d never have been able to explore the deep bush of Africa if I was still abusing drugs. I’d never have enjoyed life at its most primal, while mingling with guests from countries all over the world.
Drugs would have robbed me of glorious sunsets, dinners made of lively conversation with French, American, and German tourists, and trips into the veld that revealed the jewels of Africa.
The only things I missed about civilisation were my cats, supping on meats exquisitely prepared and succulently clothed in thick gravy. Instead of the fresh, frenzied kills I witnessed at Sabie by cats of another kind.
But, my cats purr when I pet them. The others, here, take a literal arm and a leg.
Soon, I’d see them, I thought, as we lifted off to soar through the African skies. As the land’s trees and bushes became to shrink, I spied a grazing gazelle looking up as we passed by.
Contentedly, I began to snooze.
The big cats. My small cats. Now I wouldn’t exchange them for the drugs, like cat, in the world.