First, I want to clarify that this particular "Episode I" isn't going to be lame like some other famous "Episode I"s you might be familiar with. But since there's no way I can possibly include all of our exciting African adventures in one blog entry, I thought I'd split it up into episodes to be blogged at my leisure.
It started with a rhino. Or, I should say, it started with the search for a rhino. See, the Black Rhino is one of the Big Five, which refers to the five most awesome animals you can find on safari. (The other four are the Leopard, Lion, Cape Water Buffalo, and Elephant.) By our sixth day in Africa, the Black Rhino was the only one of the Big Five we had yet to encounter (thanks to the superior tracking powers of Nesco and Moses, but more on those champs in Episode II).
Our group had to split up because we were too much for one safari guide to handle (but mainly because all eleven of us couldn't fit in one truck), so the twenty-one-and-under crowd hopped into Simple Mike's truck while the older--I'm sorry, "more experienced"--half of the group went with the other guide. We were pretty psyched because it quickly became apparent that, a) Simple Mike was what you might call the "fun guide" (or, depending on your outlook, the "crazy guide"), and b) he guaranteed us we would find the Black Rhino. The only thing we weren't excited about was having to share our truck with a bunch of randos we'd never met before. One of them wasn't too bad: a nice middle-aged guy who we referred to as "Friendly's" because he was wearing what appeared to be a Friendly's jacket. (Why you would wear a jacket from such a mediocre restaurant, I have no idea.) The other three sketchballs were bad news from the start. They consisted of a young married couple (both teachers) from Maryland (barf), and a young Canadian teacher who seemed to have been traveling with them for some time. I know this much about them (and oh so much more) because I had to listen to those chatterboxes talk about every aspect of their lives for three hours, during which time some of us were trying to focus (quietly) on finding the Black Rhino. They seriously talked non-stop for the entire game drive, discussing their kids, their coworkers, their significant others, Dora the Explorer, the flaws in the American public school system, their relationships with their parents, the most successful methods for dealing with kindergarteners, and more! I'm sorry, but there is a time and a place to debate the validity of nap time, and it is NOT while you are on SAFARI. You think the Black Rhino is gonna hear all that chitchat and come traipsing out of the bush for you to take a picture? I don't think so.
Anyway, back to Simple Mike, the real star of this story. Between his facial expressions, his tone of voice, and the things he said with that voice (sample: "Does everyone have plenty of Viagra, I mean water?"), he was easily one of the most interesting and hilarious people I've ever met. At one point he stopped the truck because Josh (that's the husband half of the Maryland couple) thought he saw a rhino off in the distance. Simple Mike came up next to him and asked, "What do you see?" To which Josh mumbled something about a lump that he thought he'd seen move. After a dramatic pause, Simple Mike announced, "It is a log," which I'm pretty sure he'd known the whole time and just wanted to make Josh squirm (successfully).
About fifteen minutes later, Mike stopped the truck again, got out without saying a word, examined something on the side of the dirt path, and then shared with us his findings: "It is rhino shit. I thought it was fresh, but it is not... The search continues for the Black Rhino!" And with that, he hopped back in the truck and off we went.
The next time he stopped the truck, Simple Mike got out and marched off into the distance, leaving us in the open truck in the middle of the desert. At first we thought maybe he'd gone to use the bathroom, but when he didn't come back for ten minutes, we started to get a little worried. If the Black Rhino had shown up, we would have been easy prey: a bunch of tourists sitting in the back of a pickup truck. Although, Simple Mike did have the decency to leave his rifle in the truck, so I suppose we could have used that if we'd had to. At one point, we were all startled by the sound of music coming from the cab of the truck. Mike's phone was going off incessantly. (His ringtone was "Whatcha Say" by Jason Derülo, by the way.) We later learned that it was the other guide calling to say that they had found the Black Rhino and to give us the location so we could meet them.
Just when we were starting to think Simple Mike had abandoned us, he emerged from the bush. We told him his phone had been ringing, and he got in contact with the other guide. He flashed us his semi-crazy grin and said, "The search continues! We will find the Black Rhino. It will be niiiiiice." And then we were off again, this time at breakneck speed. (Though, to be fair, the speedometer was in kilometers, so I'm not entirely sure what our actual velocity was.)
After speeding through the desert for a while, Simple Mike turned to us and said, "Maybe...I am lost," which was actually more amusing than worrisome, and just barely enough to distract me from my annoyance at the ongoing (inane) conversation between the three people sitting in front of me.
Twenty minutes (and several tree branches to the face) later we came upon the rest of our group, all wearing the same look of amazement on their faces. We soon learned it was because THEY HAD JUST SEEN THE BLACK RHINO AND HER BABY! (They had crossed the road right in front of their truck.) We'd missed them by minutes. Not deterred, Simple Mike announced once again "The search continues!" and we sped off in the direction indicated by the other guide.
A few minutes later, the truck once again came to a halt. This time Simple Mike took his rifle with him when he got out of the truck. He looked at us and said, "I'll be back," then locked and loaded his rifle before running off into the bush again. (I'd like to remind you at this time that this is a true story. I am not exaggerating in the slightest, including any and all similarities between Simple Mike and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator.) Here's a photo I took of Simple Mike running into the desert, rifle in hand:
After a moment of severe panic, Simple Mike announced that he would be dropping all of us off at our hotels. And so we left without having found the Black Rhino. I think my three compatriots would agree, though, that riding with Simple Mike was totally worth not getting to see the Black Rhino. After all, we can always come back again someday and look for it.
"The search continues!"