Sunday, July 4, 2010

Day 21 - Last Day In South Africa, Land of the Carnivore

Our flight home didn’t depart until 11:30 p.m., which gave us a full day to take care of any last minute things we wanted to take care of before we left. Most of us were just looking to ditch the last little but of our rand and find some last minute gifts for friends and family. Micah wanted to go to a market to find some more traditional type gifts and Heather had recommended one for us to go to. What an experience that was, these guys made used car salesmen look like amateurs. It was pretty annoying for those of us who didn’t want to buy anything and were just looking around. Immediately as we walked in there were guys all over us heckling us, trying to take us to their booth, “Come, my cousin, come. You must look at what I have for you. I give you good price.”

There was certainly some interesting stuff there, wood carvings, stone sculptures, hand made jewelry, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Yes, they even had a shop of lingerie. And I’m pretty sure it was all used, at that. Back in Cape Town the Ortiz boys had found soccer jerseys for a South African soccer team that they wanted, the Kaiser Chiefs. Which happens to be a band they like that was named after the soccer team. The jerseys were cool and I thought that would be a cool thing to bring back as a souvenir, a team that you wouldn’t be able to find in the states. I’d gotten online that night and did some research and found the Orlando Pirates had the coolest looking jerseys, in my opinion. And wouldn’t you know it, I found a “Just Do It” shop selling one. I sent expert negotiator Micah in to do the dirty work for me and he talked the guy down from 450 rand to 300. He made me proud. As we left we had to walk by the same high pressure salesmen that we passed on the way in, only this time they upped the ante and didn’t want my money nearly as much as they wanted my black and orange Nike New York City Marathon lunarglide shoes. Had I wanted anything, or even had another pair of shoes in the car I could have changed in to, I would have given them up. It was quite entertaining to see how badly all those guys wanted them. Micah gave up his dirty old running shoes for an armful of loot.

After the market we hit up the one main thing I had left on my checklist, Carnivore. For those of you who haven’t been privileged enough to experience Carnivore all I should really have to say about is that it’s a restaurant, I’ll let you fill in the blanks as to what’s on the menu. It’s not just your typical steak house, however. Carnivore serves the finer meats, those that only true carnivorous connoisseurs could enjoy. Their meats range from beef, chicken and pork to such luxury meats as crocodile, kudu, zebra and impala. Like Nicks In The Sticks, there is no menu here. You simply walk in, get seated, order a drink, then a bowl of soup, loaf of bread and salad appear in front of you. Not exactly what I was expecting, but the numerous waiters walking around with miniature machetes and spits with huge carcasses cooked to perfection kept my hopes up. After I convinced the clean up crew that I was in no way an herbivore the mayhem began. A hot steal plate was set down in front of me and I was immediately mobbed by the wandering spitters (I’m not sure if that’s the technical term for the guys carrying the huge spits of meat, but we’ll roll with it.) The following conversation took place in the span of about 30 seconds, and keep in mind they just walk to your table with this massive chunk of wild African bush life on a spit in one hand while wielding a machete that would make Crocodile Dundee exclaim, “Oye! This isn’t a knoif, that’s a knoif!”

Waiter 1: “Would you like some beef?”

Me: “Yep.”

Waiter 2: “Would you like some chicken?”

Me: “Yes please.”

Waiter 3: “Would you like some pork?”

Me: “Don’t mind if I do.”

And so on up until about eight or so waiters had sliced slabs of the majority of the animals I’d taken so many pictures of at Kruger Park on to my plate. The mountain of meat in front of me would have brought a Viking to tears. Happy tears, of course. A conversation quickly started of what not just a disgustingly huge pile of juicy meat was going to do to our digestive systems, but what impala, crocodile, kudu, zebra and similar animals of uncharted territories was going to do to us. After all, we were boarding a flight in eight hours and going to be spending the majority of the following thirty hours in the air. Clearly a fine dining establishment like Carnivore is meant for real men, and real men don’t fear the unknown. I wasted no time going to work on the pile of heart attack in front of me.

When all was said and done I think bacon has moved to number three on my list of favorite meats and I now know why crocs are so aggressive and tough skinned, because they’re delicious. Needless to say, crocodile now tops my list and impala is the first loser. Crocodile is a bit of a work to get to the meat, but once you do it is absolutely worth it. Most people were describing it as being like chicken, but that’s what most people say about any white meat that’s not chicken. I thought it was going to be like chewing on a leather boot but was surprised that it was about as tender as chicken, though it’s texture closer resembled that of fish in it’s somewhat flakey consistency. The impala was so tender it was like eating warm butter; that was meat flavored, juicy and cooked medium rare. Zebra was quite similar to just a regular steak, though I couldn’t get the picture of the zebra standing right outside our car window out of my head while I enjoyed every last bite of it. The kudu we had was in sausage form, which I enjoyed the taste of though it was like chewing on a leather boot. Other than that, their regular pork, beef and chicken offerings were nothing shy of being cooked to five star, two thumbs up, perfection.

The waiters were a riot as well. As soon as we sat down one of the waiters started telling me how much he liked Arsenal, as I was wearing my Arsenal jersey. In no time flat we swapping jerseys, my Arsenal jersey from last season for a brand new Bafana Bafana jersey. Good deal, at least I thought. It wasn’t much longer before Micah and Marcos were buying the jerseys off other waiters’ backs. Robert and I were buddies after we swapped shirts though, he kept coming by wanting to take pictures, insisting I hold the spit of carcass and knights sword. He also wouldn’t let us leave without having our picture taken by their cooks and cooking area. Definitely a fun experience, not just eating exotic animals, which is always fun, but the whole atmosphere of the restaurant as well.

With bellies full of braii (Afrikaan word for BBQ) we headed back for Heather’s to see if all of the treasures we’d collected along our journey would fit back in to the assorted luggage we’d brought. With a little elbow grease and creativity we got it all sorted out and said our goodbyes to Heather, along with gifting her the GPS system we’d just spent the last three weeks testing to make sure it was of a high enough quality for her. I also had to promise I’d send her a copy of my first book, signed at that. She even got my email address I think so she could send me constant reminders asking how it was coming along. I guess I’ll have to get serious about that once I get back home.

We dumped the bags at the departures curb with Los and Cos to stand guard over them while Micah and I went to see about returning our car. Some confusing signage put us on an onramp for the freeway back to Johannesburg rather than the onramp fifty feet later that went to the car rental return garage. A small gap in barricades, no visible traffic, and a burning desire to one more utterly stupid and ridiculous bit of driving before we returned the war wagon had me flying from the far right lane of one onramp, across six lanes and two other on/possibly off ramps, complete with various assortments of barricades, to get in the far left lane and catch the exit just as the road split, and all at speed – of course. That split second decision, that most likely had Micah’s life flashing before his eyes, prompted the question as to how big the stack of tickets was going to be once we handed the keys over. No tickets, no hassle, with the exception of filling out a little paperwork for the flat tire we woke up to this morning. Which thankfully happened on our last day of the trip, apposed to any other day. And happened overnight, so we were able to swap the wheels out in Heather’s driveway apposed to a section of road clearly labeled with “DANGER: Car Hijacking Zone Next ___ KM,” as we’d seen along the trip.

With the car returned we made it to the gate by the skin of our teeth, with only about three and a half hours to spare. Naturally, once the desk opened and the line started moving we came across all kinds of problems getting our boarding passes. The flight was through Delta, but the first flight out was with Air Naimbia and there was some sort of hold on our account. Of course this was all taking place around 9 p.m. or so and there was no one left at Delta. After lots of running around, phone calls, chasing people around, standing, waiting, and guys with fancy swipe badges that can get you whatever you need, we were on our way.

A few more pics added to the random trip album.

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