Note from Staff: This is long but such a great read and so typical of our trips. Written by an amazing search firm owner in Cape Town, South Africa, Sean Gibson of AltGen Recruitment.. Make sure you are not in “prime time” when you read it.
SURVIVOR XXXIV: MY TRIP TO THE OZARKS WITH LEFFKOWITZ
THE LEAD UP
Way back in 2004 Peter Leffkowitz and his 15 year old son Taylor, after completing his Johannesburg seminars, went on Safari to Africa, and it was my pleasure to be their guide. My wife and I are one of his in house search clients in South Africa. Prior to landing in Joburg, he put out a networking call for a guide for a “non commercial” wild trip and I responded.( I spent 10+ years as a successful safari guide.) We did just that. A little trip to the heart of Botswana, the central Kalahari Desert. We got roared at by lions, galloped horses between wildebeest and giraffe, got bit by a scorpion and almost lost our guide, me, and got a lesson in Bushmen etiquette from Bushmen. The trip’s crescendo started with us sleeping on the ground and ended when Peter went off to some fancy pancy lodge, and got all pampered and softened up. Shame on you Pete.
So since then Pete has been inviting me on a horse riding safari of his own, to the Ozarks with him. And eventually, I committed and made the trip.
Challenge 1: Get into the USA, and then to Kansas City
The Flight: This was a friggin nightmare. It’s long, and Delta has to be the second worst airline on the planet (after KLM). There is a stop-over in Dakar (Senegal) which you reach at just after midnight. Just when you manage to sledgehammer yourself into some REM sleep, 5 or 6 gentlemen in matching jackets wake the entire plane up, and rip up every seat bottom, search every overhead locker, and check the ownership of every bag. Just in case the initial x ray and search at customs wasn’t thorough enough. And maybe the second bag verification at the check-in wasn’t good enough either.
Proceed to Washington, and immigration. Here is my passport Sir, said with what I think is suitable deference to his obvious position of power.
“Wadda madder boy! You think I was born yesterday?!” as he snatches away my passport.
No need to answer that.
“Watcha do?!” “You one of them Safari Guide dudes?! Hell no way, you aint got no wrist things on man” (I guess he means the elephant hair bracelets that are essential Safari Guide accouterments…).
Still no answer.
“Hey, you’re a Resident of Canada, why did’n you tell me! You go on then, and have a nice day”.
Hmm, I’m confused. Yes, I was a resident of Canada for a while. But the sudden change of demeanour? Don’t ask questions, just be grateful and move along now. Do these guys do aggression training? If they do, they really take it to heart.
Move to scene two, enter into airport. Sign up ahead reads: “Threat Level Orange”. Climb onto next plane to KC, two gents in a uniform in the row ahead of me are having an obviously hushed conversation with their row-mate about a brother being in Iraq, and them not being happy about it. As they get off the plane, I see “National Guard” on their packs.
Land in KC and get my bags, and they have been forced open, locks brocken, and the wrapping has been ripped off all the presents I have for the homies. Shit. Fast forward to parking lot and Pete arriving in truck to collect me in Kansas City. Hands me a beer. Well, I friggin deserved it! I glance nervously over my shoulder and wonder if drinking and being a passenger is against the law…. coz I aint messing with nooo-body in this place. No Sir.
Challenge 2: Survive 2 Days at “The Ranch” and the drive to Tayneville
What struck me about the Ranch? The number of vehicles. He owns 7.
This here is his truck. (how’s my country accent?) Its a F550 Super Duty knuckle busting bronco breaking son of a big truck’s truck. And this here is a Johnathan Deere Gator, (golf cart on steroids) shes his little diesel runaround that the mules like ‘cuz when they hear her coming that means there’s food on the way. And this here 1984, is the first truck he owned, kept her, a mattress and 7K in the divorce of 1995… shes a little tired now, but I really love her. And then this is the homie’s SUV – the Sequoia (some tribal name that means its got lots of horses). And this is Taylors supped up Nissan. It can’t beat Cindy’s Crossfire from a standing start even though Tay swears it can (well, it was up on blocks in the front and had its bonnet open!). And here is Cindy’s 4Runner. Wow, shes a real beaut. And then this is the Motorhome that we’ll sleep in at Nancy’s ranch on the river in Taneyville. And this is the hay wagon that I get the recruiters-in-training to ride for a bit of bonding…. I lost count after that.
So after packing 2 people (Pete and myself) in a F550 that can accommodate 623 Africans, and another 3 people accompanying us, (The Hawk, Hawk’s boy, Jake and Peter’s 19 year old boy, Tay) into a motorhome that can accommodate 4,534 Africans, and hitching 7 (or so) horses and mules into a horse trailer behind us that could take 22,000 African donkeys, we head south to Taneyville, MO.
5 hours later we cruise through Tayneville, MO., pop 359, and then we arrive at Pete’s friends’ Ranch. Welcome to the movie Deliverence! Pete considers “ford”ing the river in the RV, espousing that it should be done at full speed to make it through. Thankfully, discretion proves the better part of valour. The Hawk, his friend Dennis) executes an immaculate 15 point turn in the RV, and we find another way in. Set up a camp, unload the horses and set them out to feed and water. Settle in.
Boy, can The Hawk cook up a mean pheasant stew. I especially appreciated the wild rice that the Injun’s harvested by gently drifting past in their canoes and batting the rice with their paddles….. I suppose there was a packaging canoe behind the harvesters that cleaned and weighed the rice and the dispatch canoe that sent the rice down the supply chain straight to The Hawks’ rice pot here in the Ozarks. Can’t Bullshit a bullshitter. We told lies all night around the campfire.
Challenge 5: Survive a quart of Jim Beam and talk shit till something–o–clock with Hawk… an ex-paratrooper McCainite
A gentle ride, where Pete made a point of checking everyones riding abilities and gear, and we covered a bit of the 500 acre ranch. Good riding, good company, good day. We settle in to some more of The Hawks superb bush tukker, and crack open the Jim Beam. And then we threw the top away. Boy, did we slay the dragon that night. I discovered that I was in the company of a died in the wool, gun toting deer hunting true blue McCainite. The Hawk was indeed, An American. He had fought for his country, and wouldn’t hesitate to die for it. He still believed that the war in Iraq was a noble one (despite been shook to the core, by Pete, that The Pres lied about WMD). It was a long night. By the time I got around to telling him that I believed that our time on earth was nothing but a growth curve on the path to celestial inhabitation (OK, I’d had a bit much JB) it was very late, and when I saw his eyes glaze over and Hawks’ boy started reaching for his 22 inch Rambo knife, I cut a swift path to bed. Pete, where are the keys to that RV, and make sure you lock the door mate.
Challenge 6: Fry deer steak on a rock in the Ozarks
The next day dawned crisp and clear. Well, I was told that it did. My head was throbbing too much to notice. Where does Pete get his energy? We saddled up, donned our bright yellow ponchos, and headed off into the mountains. It was a good day. A really good day. It pissed with rain as we rode through the brush, and when we came out onto a grassy knoll, the Ozarks Mountains lay ahead. Mark Twain National Forest, in a cacophony of red, orange, yellow, green and blue, and shades of gun metal grey, was putting on a real show. Riding in the rain has a special quality about it. When the clouds blend the sky with the horizon boundaries diffuse and mother nature seems to pervade.
Pete lit a fire in the rain. Hell, we still had to eat! He made a huge bonfire to heat up a large flat rock to use as our fryin pan and cook up some grub. Spam (to remember where they came from), and marinated venison fillets that Peter shot at his Tall Pony Ranch. We ate in the pouring rain, clearing up as we rode the 2 hours back to camp. Not one of them complained once. I guess it’s the “cowboy way”. I stayed off the Jim that night.
The next day we rode out to beyond the knoll, and further into the brush. The day was clear and the sun was shining, and the colours were superb. Just another day, in paradise. About 6 hours in the saddle on Pete’s experienced mountain horses and mules. Its a shame the riding is over, I could handle more of this.
Challenge 6: Dodge Nancy’s Bullets
After sorting and packing, we head up for some jaw flapping with Nancy Moore, the owner of the property we camped on. This rat-like dog thing comes yapping out of her “double-wide” and menthol in hand, Nancy greets us and settles in for a yarn. She and Pete have an obvious rapport, 25 years of friendship and all Pete has to say is, Hi Nance, this is Sean from South Africa, and shes already into her stride. She and The Hawk swap stories about guns, where they keep them, and how many they have, who Nancy has shot in the direct direction of (DO NOT be kayakers who dare to camp on an island in her river without asking), and whom she has almost really shot. Nice lady. But really, she is. A great person. Salt of the earth and as straight as an arrow. What you see is what you get. We make a breakfast date (biscuits ‘n gravy!) for the next day and head on out to America’s 2nd largest tourist destination, next to Disney World, Branson, Missouri, for the entertainment part of our week..
Challenge 7: Survive onslaught of American Imperialist Indoctrination at Branson, MO
Well, I’m amazed. I kept asking everyone if they were real, and even Nancy says they were. Were, because she’s had them reduced. Dolly’s breasts that is. The Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede was a honky tonking swash buckling enchanting example of Middle Americana country western entertainment. I understand why Pete insists we come here, and I am sure I see a tear glisten in the corner of The Hawk’s eye. If its from torture or from the joy of being immersed in the culture of his beloved America, I’m not sure. 3000 people being served dinner while watching a North vs, the South competition. Mostly on horseback. . You can tell, the audience was more entertaining than the show. Especially since it was the Thanksgiving show and got all mushy and corny. Whar were dem cowboys man?!
And after the show we go for a drive around Branson, visit a 1$ dollar store, and detour through the trailer park (geez, those things are bigger than most South african houses!). Then we hit the sack.
Challenge 8: The Encore
I never did get the sense in calling sausage in gravy “biscuits ‘n gravy” – whats up with that? And to get it heaped on your plate, and then on a side plate, and then on the buffet as well, seemed a little
obsessive to me. We say our goodbyes to Nancy, she tells Pete he used to be a nice guy, but then he got all city and fancy-like (what did I tell you – straight as an arrow), and then they hug and part best friends. And we head on back to KC.
Its time to head back to Africa, and on going to the airport, in Pete’s indominable way, he opened a closed restaurant (“he’s from Africa and really hungry – you wouldnt want him to leave the US hungry would you?!”), do some last minute curio shopping, and I go to the curb side check-in.
Oh, sorry suh, you darn got to go inside to check in. Oh no, here we go again……
TRIBAL COUNCIL…..Thoughts , Cars, trucks and petrol-heads
In America, a car is so much more than a mode of transport. Its a status symbol (Man, you gotta represent!). Its represents your position in society, and sometimes it gets you from A to Z as well. Quickly and with much gas guzzling on the way.
Teeth and Medi-care
Shiny pearly whites are a status symbol. Figure that one out. I reckon the single biggest threat to the American Way has to be the lack of general access to health care.
Guns, guns, guns and canons
So before I left KC, we go visit this store that’s as big as a South African mall. Its called Cabela’s or something. And they have every species of oxygen breathing mammal’s head stuffed and hanging up on the wall. I felt for a moment like I was back home in Africa, until I noticed the eyes weren’t blinking.
I go into this gun section where there is a friggin .50 calibre canon for sale. I am just gob smacked. Blown away. Speechless. I ask the sales guy who buys this short of thing? This isn’t even legal in Africa. His flippant reply is drawled back at me: “weeelll, I had this customer who done buy’d one for her husband for his birthday”. What for? “Weeelll, maybe he likes to blow up cars or sumthin'”. No way.
Moving on from the car as a status symbol thing, people don’t mess with each other when they are in a car. Somehow, when you are in a car, normally impeccable American manners are tossed out the window.
Hunt and kill animals with a gun with supervision from 12 years of age. Go to the army and kill people when you’re 18. But you aint going to no bar ’till you’re 21. You gotta be shittin me!
A handshake and your ‘word’ is still your bond. Most of the people I interacted with were friends of Pete or knew him, and thus universally wholesome. And I got the definite sense that once you committed on something, that was it. I must admit though the impression that I have of the US from the outside it somewhat different. Just ask Bernie Madoff.
Everyone’s a Boss
“Hey boss, whaddup boss, gotcha back, boss”. By everyone, to everyone, and from everyone. Where are all the injuns?
Its All about Me
General rules of engagement are defensive. Don’t comment on another guys gal, don’t step into your neighbours yard, don’t mess with my personal space’. Or maybe its coz Americans all have guns…..
THANK YOU, PETE.
Hey Pete, you’re a gentleman. A successful businessman, father and family man, and a consumate host. You really went out of your way to make sure that I got a taste of REAL America. Not the glitzy LA stuff, but middle America. Right down to the diner, with the ‘buscuits and gravy’. Thanks Pete.
To Cindy, thank you for making your home mine, and for looking after me so well. I promise I will never drink A1 sauce straight from the bottle, ever.
And Tay, you were the best horseman on the trip. Thanks for the company, and see you in Africa soon mate!
To The Hawk and Rambo Boy Jake, I know, I know…eat what you kill!