I Had A Walk In Africa

We’d zoomed and cruised and crept in safari vehicles, now we were casting that armour aside. (The animals view passengers, not as food being conveyed to them in a tray, but as part of a structure, or an animal perhaps, too large to take on.) We were to traipse through the African bush in our bodies – just our own juicy bodies.

dawn

Daybreak over the Drakenserg Mountains.

Sure, we were flanked by two armed guides, but a lot can happen as a gun is prepared. (Shoot to kill, not tranquilize: a lion won’t fall asleep mid-pounce.) I hoped no animal would lose its life because of my gustatory allure.

Our bushwalk backup protection (the first being the guides' knowledge and commonsense). As the animal charges, the shooter flips up a sight according to shooting distance.

Our bushwalk backup protection (the first being the guides’ knowledge and commonsense). As the animal charges, the shooter flips up a sight according to shooting distance.

Not far into our four-hour walk, we found another member of the Small Five: a rhinoceros beetle. A find in itself but also, perhaps, standing in for a Big Five rhino. We had not yet seen a wild one.

Terrible photo but it gives you an idea.

A terrible photo but it gives you an idea.

Across the wooded valley, monkeys scampered around the trunks of tall trees.

Elephant manure is full of seeds, making them both creators and destroyers of life. We came upon a huge pile of dung accompanied by a patch of urine. Elvis, the main guide, said he could tell us not only the sex of the elephant but also the direction in which it was travelling. Arcane knowledge. I felt as if I was standing on one side of a divide. Suddenly there were two worlds: the one of which I was part and the one of people who have such sight – akin to people who see the future or the invisible.

However, I pondered that dung and logic prevailed. (You can work it out too, just from the information I gave.)

And whose dung flattens and scatters as it hits the ground from a great height?

giraffe dung Giraffe dung

Hippopotami  travel up to 35km a night. Many a person has been killed simply for getting between them and the water. Apparently they won’t detour to get you. Cape buffaloes are not similarly considerate. We gave the lone bull a wide and silent berth.

hippos

hippo

Photographed from about 30m away.

A bloat of hippopotami photographed from about 30m away.

Three animals

Three animals

hippo and water bird

A large grasshopper travelled motionless on my hand for several minutes before launching itself into the bushes as I reached for my camera. It was angular in the way of an expensive, sporty car or modern building. The white triangular serrations down its hind legs made a striking contrast to its bright green. Communion with an insect.

Waterbuck

Waterbuck

Noises in the bushes. Elvis motioned the six of us to a standstill and made a reconnaissance. Elephants! Stealthily forward. Two in the bushes, unaware of, or unconcerned by, us. I wept quiet, unexpected tears of joy. We had been close to many elephants during the previous days. I had felt full of wonder and awe. This was different. It was a privilege to be on foot and so close to them (not too close as they are dangerous buggers). To truly share their space was one of the profound moments of my life.

river

End of walk status: close encounters with poo, insects, arachnids; more distant encounters with mammals and birds of various species; no encounters with big cats or rhinoceroses; (beginnings of) rudimentary knowledge of the African bush… A magical morning.

Trusting and open to possibity, that’s the way to walk in Africa. Perhaps everywhere.

mountains at dawn

And, in this already-treasure-filled day, the afternoon/evening drive awaited.

bee

PS The title is one for my bestie with our regards to Meryl.

Will We, Will We Not? The Search for African Animals

Part of me wondered if we’d see animals up close. We had four days in the Greater Kruger National Park but these were wild animals and the park is more than 20 000 square kilometres. It seemed theoretically possible for all animals to be distant from our vehicles. (Mathematicians, what say you?) When wandering around our lodge, Tremisana, in Balule (one of the private game parks adjoining Kruger without fences), the BB found photos taken by visitors. One showed lions next to the road 50 metres inside the front gate. ‘If only,’ I thought.

bird Continue reading

BRING ON THE PLASTIC ANIMALS

I had a toy hippo. Its body was a very hard plastic shell and it stood about 6cm high. It marched stiffly down slopes on wide flat feet, heel toe heel toe, mouth agape, stumpy teeth gleaming. It was one of the marvels of my tiny life.

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NORTHWARDS!

Minutes from the Johannesburg airport we’re in countryside that (once again) looks decidedly Australian, scattered as it is with eucalyptus trees. Strange, elongated, pointy hills dot the flatness – possibly mine dumps. We pass flat fields of sorghum and dead corn. Boomsprays sit in furrowed fields. I see cattle, red and glossy black, on the verge of the dual carriageway. What’s to prevent them wandering onto the road? A moment later I spy the man wandering alongside them trailing a thin, supple stick. They are grazing the long paddock, as we say in Australia.

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Penguins and Points

The Americans next to me in the minivan were remarking how the landscape reminded them of Oregon. At the same time I was thinking how reminiscent it was of parts of Australia – hectares of scrub, rocky outcrops, eucalyptus (a weed in this country, threatening indigenous plants and ‘using lots of water’ according to our driver). We were on a day trip around Cape Peninsula.

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Black sea birds fly low past the Cape of Good Hope

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Cape Town Caper

Large black-maned lions used to roam the land where Cape Town now stands. The last one was shot sometime between 1802 and 1858.

Rembrandt-A-Lion-Lying-Down

Rembrandt – a Cape lion

The sea used to wash through what is now downtown. It was pushed back in the 1930s and 40s – presumably using the know-how of the Dutch, those masters of land reclamation.

Cape Town from Table Mountain

Cape Town is a working harbour.

District Six was a thriving mixture of cultures. Apartheid policies razed it. It is now largely grass supporting a few religious buildings. People sprawl between the occasional boulders and rubbish. Continue reading

Arriving In My Past

Johannesburg is a rich tapestry of lights – arterial amber globs and backstreet silver pinpricks.

As we descend, the land’s undulations are black sheets studded with lights: paper with rounded upper edges, placed upright one behind the other, obliterating the lower parts of those behind – a simple art project for children.

Then the lights separate from the whole and form themselves into buildings. We are in the city.

On the ground we walk the South African way. Continue reading