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.