this past weekend, marybeth and i had planned our most-anticipated trip: SAFARI! we opted to stay in st. lucia at a bed & breakfast recommended by several who have come from our group this year. st. lucia is situated just next to a large estuary and is over-run by hippos, crocodiles, and thousands of birds. it's also conveniently located about an hour from one of the biggest game reserves in kwazulu-natal: hluhluwe-imofolozi.
|orientation: our farthest trip from p-burg, almost to swaziland.|
our safari started on saturday morning at 5AM! hardly a price to pay for what came next. our guide, simphiwe, picked us up at our hotel in st. lucia and we rode in the back of the open-air safari vehicle (basically a pick-up truck fitted with a platform/benches in the back) to the park. we arrived just as the sun was rising!
|simphiwe, our guide, briefing us: "no hands outside the vehicle when carnivores are spotted!"|
the safari itself is a pretty easy concept: sit, ride, and find wildlife! simphiwe had some additional tactics to aid in the finding part -- an extensive knowledge of animal tracks and droppings (the latter not pictured for obvious reasons, although less gross than i originally thought given most of the stuff we were tracking this way eats primarily grass).
|fresh hyena tracks|
we had a great day! the cooler temperatures of coming autumn, overcast skies, and relatively few people out meant that the animals were roaming around everywhere. going on safari feels initially a little bit like going to the zoo... but then you realize that everything is living in its natural habitat, able to avoid or interact with you at will, and not guaranteed to be seen. but how much more joyful than a zoo for these exact reasons!
|herds on herds on herds of impala!|
obviously we expected to see elephants, rhinos, giraffes, zebras... but we also saw lots of beautiful birds, antelope, and monkeys. the hilariously entertaining baboons were truly a highlight, as were the trees full of adorable vervet monkeys.
|baboon road block. we seem to always encounter them crossing the road!|
|the vervet monkeys kept a close eye on us from the trees.|
although we were really hoping to see a lion, we didn't. our guide reminded us they sleep during the day and often aren't seen. despite this, it was a huge highlight getting to see a beautiful adult male cheetah! it was almost by accident we found him; he was sitting quietly, scanning the savannah for lunch. simphiwe turned off the engine, and we all sat quietly admiring him. we realized quite quickly that he wasn't just scanning the savannah, but had actually spotted a group of impala, zebra, and wildebeest grazing a little ways off. we were then lucky enough to witness something i've only ever seen on wildlife programs: the cheetah carefully stalked, then chased his chosen prey! we weren't able to see the final outcome as they disappeared over a hill, but it was all so exciting.
|such a beautiful, graceful creature.|
luckily, i brought an african mammals guide along with me and was able to identify a number of animals -- although i didn't need the guide for our next friend. these guys are much bigger in person than i realized. and knowing they're unrestrained and you're only a few meters away in an open vehicle adds to the excitement. we saw a total of four different elephants throughout the day, and all were adult males hanging out alone.
|hanging out on his own, snacking on the trees|
all-in-all, i somehow managed to take close to 300 (THREE HUNDRED!) pictures throughout the day. i'll never forget the warmth of the early autumn sun rising over the savannah, the brilliant and iridescent colors of birds and spiders, the sound of breezes rustling through the tall grasses... and the sight of so many majestic creatures in their natural (protected) habitat. suffice it to say, if you ever find yourself in south africa, i would highly recommend you carve out a day to spend on safari. i'm already trying to figure out how i can save up the money and time to bring my husband back with me someday in the (near!) future.
|even the view without animals is, in my estimation, perfect|
more from the hospital this week!