it’s been a few days since i’ve seen a telephone, and the last time i inquired about one i was told only radios were in effect in the area. computers are also scarce here and internet (if and when it is working) is dial-up only. although we’ve driven nearly the entire coast we tend to blaze past the urban centers like port elizabeth and durban, opting instead for more tranquil areas like jeffreys bay, umzumbe, and now here, inside the hluhluwe-imfolozi park.
arriving yesterday from our quiet treehouse hideaway in umzumbe- traveling yet another few hundred kilometers along the stunning coast, we were greeted just inside the nyalzi gate of hluhluwe-imfolozi with a large family of baboons. encircling our car and crossing back and forth along the gravel road in front of us, we watched as nearly two dozen – mature and infant – black baboons played, ate, and even fought with each other. john instantly declared this “the best day of his life” and we both tried to capture award-winning shots hanging out our windows, yet getting terrified when the baboons would suddenly squeal and leap towards us. ducking back inside it always seemed the windows wouldnt close fast enough, but within seconds we’d regain our confidence and again be strained out of the car rapt with delight at the interactions of these fascinating primates.
traveling deeper inside the park we came across a small group of elephants, more families of warthogs and bushpigs ( a smaller, hairier, blonder – and in john’s opinion cuter- cousin of the warthog) and scores of birds. we had our first up-close sighting of a cape buffalo, encrusted with dried mud and staring straight at us from only a few meters away where he rested in a muddy pit. coasting along we constantly scanned the horizon, ground, and tree branches for any animals that would be lurking just beyond our immediate view.
when john finally took the wheel (after nearly 2400 kilometers) i became a fully engaged passenger- leaning out the window, perched on the ledge and steadying myself with the rearview mirror. the added height improved my visibility and within minutes i spotted the unmistakable markings of a giant giraffe, grazing on a tree just to my left. it was stunning. i was in complete awe of her as she used her lips to pick off the leaves and only paused to survey the area from time to time before continuing with her meal. i had a difficult time abandoning the giraffe, but soon we found ourselves amid another wild group of baboons, even more fiesty than the last. we watched as one of the larger ones viciously reprimanded the smallest in tow, causing it to yelp and screech in loud defiance. when the adult finally abandoned him, he sat in the street picking absently at a stick, seeming to sulk.
the thing that is so incredible about hluhluwe is the proximity we achieve while observing these wild animals. rarely do they seem bothered by our presence, and often they are as curious as we are, staring back at the two humans in a white nissan who have suddenly appeared in their backyard. driving alone through the reserves is both frustrating and rewarding, and while we enjoy our solo time with the animals, guided safari drives make for an awesome experience as well. tonight we are taking another sunset drive, and then waking at 4 am for a sunrise tour – in hopes of spotting the leopards, cheetah and lions that seem to have remained just out of our reach thus far…