I spent, all in all, two and a half months on the South African territory, working on board SilverCloud. One of the perks of my job as performer (with quite a nice amount of time in my hands sometimes) is that I get the chance of volunteering to escort some of the tours, in order to socialise and take care of the guests on board during these activities.
I took this opportunity straight away and entered the magic world of safaris and game reserves! [Drum roll- epic music- sepia filter- slow motion shot of me dressed in kaki clothes and sunglasses boarding a 4×4. That’s how I want you to picture me, so please stick to this image. Thank you for your cooperation.]
I was quite excited: before then, my experience with wild animals only consisted in watching bored beasts living miserably caged in a zoo, or spied on some documentaries on tv. Oh, and once I got ferouciosly (and totally out of the blue, uninvited) scratched by Ooch, the red cat of my friend Claudia (I guess it counts, it left me scarred for life).
South Africa is the perfect place to come face to face with the species grouped under the name of “Big Five”: African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard and Rhinoceros.
The term Big Five was coined by big-game hunters of the 18th/19th century, and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot.
My intention of trying to see all five of them, although, failed miserably… I didn’t get to see any lions or leopards.
But this is my experience in some of the game resorts I visited, so enjoy!
Reachable within 40 minutes car ride from the pier of Port Elizabeth, this place is good not only for spotting elephants: during our two hour safari we got to see plenty of warthogs, a couple of buffalos, some zebras and a lot of tortoises of different sizes (which crossed the street and very elegantly disappeared in the grass). But the most spectacular moment was undoubtly when our vehicle reached a vast barren valley, with a water pond in the middle, and a large number of elephants were drinking and bathing. We saw these creatures move with their slow solemnity, like an ancient natural ritual… and we arrived just in time to see a second group of elephants (a group of elephants is called a “parade”, and now I understand why) coming on the other side in a slow and neat line, with their heavy but silent pace. All looked like a perfectly staged circus of nature. At the end of the parade we saw the oldest elephant in the park, cross right in front of our vehicle and then walk away towards the horizon. I learned some trivia facts about their skin: apparently it’s 4 to 5 centimeters thick, and all the wrinkles have the purpose of retaining water and keep the skin hydrated for a long time during the day. I was so fascinated by these animals and the wise dignity I saw in their eyes, that when I went back on board I made a drawing with pencils (which is now on my wall and keeps me company. And gives me judgemental looks when I procrastinate. And he’s damn right.)
I did this lake cruise when we were docked in Richard’s Bay on Boxing Day. Let’s start stating that my initial idea of how a hippopotamus was and behaved was entirely conditioned by a famous 80’s Italian tv commercial for a very popular brand of nappies, where a cute happy blue hippo bounced along merry melodies, being friendly with tiny babies in nappies and their mums. It was then a shock for me, once arrived at St.Lucia, to find that hippos are in reality pretty badasses. They are responsible for the majority of the humans attacked and killed in Africa every year. They have frequent and sudden mood swings, they engage in fights very easily and they don’t merrily bounce, they actually can run really fast when on land, attacking you and ripping you to pieces. Well, this fortunately didn’t happen during my Hippo Haven experience (thank God, Ganesha, Buddha and the whole lot).
The hippos I saw during the lake cruise were instead very lazy (maybe because of the heat and the sun which was quite strong that day), and they barely surfaced from the waters, in small groups, like floating logs.
I managed to see a couple of baby hippos as well, glued to their mother’s bum. Couldn’t see any crocodiles (they were advertised, but you can’t really schedule wild animals, can you?) but I enjoyed occasional flocks of white and bright yellow birds crossing the air, and a big water lizard doing a contemporary dance routine towards our boat. Lovely. Less lovely was when the lizard disappeared, and I started being paranoid about the fact it could have climbed the boat and hidden somewhere to savagely eat my neck in a moment of distraction, ruining my shirt.
Tala Private Game Reserve
This was so cool! A multitude of different animals all in the same park, roaming free and living peacefully together. The giraffes gave the best show to my eyes, their long necks seemed to compose a perfect pattern with the dry branches of the trees, it was really spectacular. Not only them: we found a beautiful area where antilopes and buffaloes were resting in the shade, and it looked like a Disney movie… And shortly afterwards we encountered a lot of zebras, a couple of ostriches, families of warthogs and a water pond full of egyptian birds. And of course the rhinos: a group of them were laying down resting in a mud bank (they like to be covered in mud because it keeps them cool, and when it dries it imprisons the parasites they have on their skin, killing them), and they didn’t have their famous horn. There is still a crazy traffic of rhino horns, and many animals are killed by illegal hunters every year for this purpose, so the staff of this game reserve trim the rhinos’ horns regularly, in order to discourage this horrible practice.
I’ll leave you with the pictures of crocodiles, tortoises and snakes I saw at Phezulu Reserve Park (Valley of a Thousand Hills, Richard’s Bay), and soon I’ll tell you about when I played with lemurs in Madagascar, I think that deserves a post on its own 🙂