Posted in Photography, travel

Kruger National Park

After leaving Tofo I travelled south to the capital of Mozambique, Maputo, via a small combi bus. This was the first of many combi trips on my African journeys, and a gentle introduction to the concept of “African Time” – the slow paced life that is common throughout the continent, where nothing leaves on time and no one likes to be rushed.

In Maputo I had some big problems as I couldn’t access any of my bank accounts, and there seemed to be no internet connection. Up north I’d had no internet whatsoever, and just trusted that I could get online in the capital. Alas, I was mistaken.

I managed to get a combi to the South African border for $1 and walked across on foot, following the Maps.ME app on my iPhone to a guesthouse in Komatipoort, just a couple of kilometers from the Ressano Garcia border crossing. The place was called Kruger View Backpackers, and true to its name I could see Kruger National Park from the decking on the second floor. In fact, in the day I could see kudu and impala, and at night I could hear hippos in the Crocodile River.

I stayed a few days and during that time they helped me book a day tour of Kruger. Luckily for me, no one else booked the trip and so I got a personal tour of the park. The above photos were taken by me during that day. You can see that it was raining, which was very rare during this especially dry season. The rain seemed to bring out the animals, and I saw four of the Big Five – everything except a lion. I was lucky enough to see a leopard, although it was hard to get a photo of him.

Kruger is one of the best protected and most impressive parks on Earth, yet even they are losing rhinos to poaching at an alarming rate. According to my guide, we have about six years before they’re all gone. The night before I arrived, on a full moon, poachers shot dead two rhino near the Crocodile Bridge camp before anti-poaching teams could be dispatched. Fortunately, the poachers were all killed or arrested, except for one. However, for as long as rich people want rhino horn, there will be poor people highly paid to do this despicable act. I felt privileged to see these beautiful animals up close in the wild. If I ever have children, they won’t be so lucky.

Posted in travel

The Night Sky from iSimangaliso

A few weeks ago, while I was staying at St. Lucia, I took a trip through iSimangaliso Wetland Park at night. On the night safari we saw a leopard, owls, a porcupine, some hippos and buffalo, and various other interesting animals. On the beach we were tracking turtles but found only their nests. The honey badgers had gotten to them first.

What stayed with me from that night, however, was the night sky. The density of stars, so easily visible, stunned me. Only in the Philippines had I seen a prettier view of the cosmos.

*photos taken with a GoPro on 30sec exposure.

Posted in Photography, travel

Crocs and Hippos at St. Lucia

Last month, after a few days in Swaziland, I decided to head to the coastline of South Africa. My guide at Kruger National Park had told me that St. Lucia was a great place, and that it was famous because at nights the hippos from nearby rivers would wander into the streets. That brought back another memory… Back home in Huainan, a good friend of mine had told me about St. Lucia, too. He’d visited South Africa ten years earlier and encountered a hippo on the street.

I was excited by the prospect of both hippos and swimming in the sea. During my stay in Mozambique I’d not gotten to do as much swimming as I’d wanted – in fact, I’d done almost none.

So I headed for the border, taking a combination of three combis (pun intended) through Manzini and Matata, and arriving at the Lavumisa border post. From there, I crossed back into South Africa, assuming that I could get a bus…

Big mistake. There were no buses, nor any town to walk to. Arriving in South Africa I found myself all alone by the side of the road, staring hopelessly at the hundreds of kilometers between me and my destination. Even the next town was a hundred and twenty-five kilometers away, through a burning hot landscape filled with deadly animals.

I ended up hitch-hiking to St. Lucia – the first of a good few hitch-hiking adventures in Southern Africa. When I arrived I stayed at a place called Budget Backpackers. Its name suggested an awful little hostel… but in fact it was very luxurious. I was just sad that it was booked out on the second night and I could only stay one day. After that I moved to Shonalanga Lodge, also on the main road.

I’ll write more about the things I saw and did in St. Lucia, but the above photo slide will show what was, for me, the highlight of the trip. Nearby the town is an estuary of sorts, where the Mfolozi River meets the sea. In fact, when I visited, it didn’t meet the sea because a flood had blocked the entrance. Instead there was a body of water filled with 90% of the world’s Nile crocodiles, countless hippos, and apparently a number of bull sharks who’d gotten stuck after swimming up river.

I spent a lot of time watching the crocs and hippos from various vantage points (I couldn’t see the sharks) but those photos were taken from where I got closest. After walking up and down the beach, I explored where the river used to meet the sea, and there was a large sandbank stretching out into the water. The crocs were stretched out in a semi-circle around the sandbank and hippos cooled themselves in the water nearby. I stalked quietly into the middle and shot a few dozen photos from very close range.

People were standing on the banks shooting photos and videos of me, expecting me to be killed. What they didn’t understand, as others don’t, is that animals are more predictable than people. Give them respect and caution, and you’ll be fine.