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Al Martinez

I went from not thinking at all about Africa to wondering what one wears on a safari. : Tarzan of the Martinis

September 24, 1987|Al Martinez

I was standing in a Beverly Hills store that outfits people for dangerous missions, trying on a hat that made my ears stick out, when it suddenly occurred to me that I didn't want to go to Africa.

"What's the point?" I said to my wife, the hat sitting on my head down to my eyebrows. "We could go to the San Diego Zoo and see the same thing without fear of disease or violent political uprising."

"The animals are free in Africa," she said, "and they are still in relative abundance. Someday, they'll disappear and there will be condos on the Serengeti Plain and won't you be sorry if you don't see Africa in its natural state?"

"No," I said.

"Take off the hat," she said, "it makes your head look like a Bosc pear."

I don't know how all this got started.

One day we were discussing the possibility of maybe going to Arizona for a vacation and the next day we were talking about stalking wildebeests in the Ngorongoro Crater.

As I think back on it, she wanted to go to Africa right from the beginning and worked her psychological black magic over me until I went from not thinking at all about Africa to wondering what one wears on a safari.

So while you are safely sipping a Budweiser beer and watching "Kate & Allie" on the tube, I will be trying to simultaneously keep up with my wife and stay alive in a nation famous for wild lions and the Mau Mau.

"There's no danger," my wife said, trying on a safari vest. "Thousands of tourists go on these things. If you're worried, take your press credentials and you'll probably get first-class treatment."

"My press credentials?" I said, horror-stricken. "Africans hate American journalists. I might as well tell them I'm a Portuguese slave trader."

"Are you really going to buy that hat?" she said.

We are going to Kenya and Tanzania.

In order to get there, I am committing myself financially in terms of everything I own and everything I will possess or earn during my anticipated life span. Also, I am learning to endure pain and sickness.

The expense comes from expanding a relatively affordable tour into customized side trips so that wild animals that do not get a shot at me in Amboseli Park will have a second chance in the Masai Mara Game Reserve.

"I wouldn't dream of letting you go to Africa without seeing the Ngorongoro Crater," a woman at Born Free Safaris said to us. "If you love animals, you'll love the crater."

"I don't love animals," I said.

" I love animals," my wife said. Then she looked directly at me: "I always have."

So what we do to really get a good look at, say, zebras urinating in the elephant grass is charter a small, homemade plane flown by a pilot who lives on coconut juice and pink gin.

He will take us, unless we crash in the jungle, to a crocodile-infested lake around which lions traditionally gather to sleep on their backs with their feet in the air.

"That will be a wonderful sight," I say to the travel lady, "and God knows if we're lucky, they'll fornicate. Isn't that pretty much all lions do unless they're out killing baby elands or whatever the hell they are?"

The travel lady looked at me and then she looked at my wife who shrugged and said, "Maybe a leopard will carry him off."

The travel lady smiled.

Then there's the pain and sickness.

In order to even take such a trip, shots are either required or strongly advised. Yellow fever, cholera, tetanus, diphtheria, typhoid and something I wasn't familiar with that created a strong desire for freshly killed gazelle.

My arms hurt so much I could barely reach the doctor's throat and I spent the night drenched in a feverish sweat. I felt like Stewart Granger in a jungle movie.

But even after all of that, I find that I am not unique.

Every third person I know has been to Africa, and they love it. Especially women, which leads me to believe that there is a strong primeval sexual attraction between female primates and water buffalo.

But men like Africa too. My doctor, who usually never even speaks to me when I visit him for a checkup, spent 20 minutes the last time I was in telling me how much he loved giraffes. I don't believe I ever met a doctor before who loves anything, much less giraffes.

"Think of it as high adventure," my wife said as I tried on another hat. "Elmer Teenez . . . Tarzan of the Martinis!"

What the hell. I went ahead and bought the hat. It was too big, but maybe it will confuse the carnivores. I won't look so much like a spicy meatball.

As I left the store the proprietor, who had been listening to our argument, said, "See you later, alligator!"

"Not likely!" I hollered back.

"Don't worry," my wife said comfortingly, "there are no alligators where we're going."

I'll try to remember that when I'm up to my kazoo in crocodiles.

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