Posted in essay

#SharkAwarenessDay

So apparently today is Shark Awareness Day. Or #SharkAwarenessDay. I don’t know. Perhaps one day all festivals will come with hashtags. How else would we know about them? #thanksinternet

Although admittedly I didn’t know today was Shark Awareness Day (I’ll drop the hastags now), or indeed that there even was such a thing, I thought I’d make a short post here because there may be a few people who read this blog that didn’t see the news on Twitter or Facebook or wherever else they go to be informed about what’s going on in the world.

I love sharks. They are, without question, my favourite animals. I even have one tattooed on my right arm:

IMG_0934
Photo taken last year in South Africa

I don’t know why I love sharks so much. Maybe it’s because they’re absolutely perfect – giant atavistic animals unchanged in tens of millions of years. Maybe it’s because they’re profoundly misunderstood beings. Maybe it’s because they’re just unbelievably cool in every way. Or maybe it’s because – as I rediscovered when I got back home to my parents’ house this summer – I had a ton of books about sharks when I was a kid.

In any case, I think sharks are amazing. I’ve spent my adult life travelling around in search of sharks, and have been lucky to have swum with them on a few different occasions. Unfortunately, I’ve never actually gotten a very good photo of a shark, but this one wasn’t too bad:

Blacktip reef shark
Photo taken in Malaysia last summer.

In early 2016 I made it to Cape Town and finally saw a large Great White Shark. Again, getting a decent photo was a challenge and this was the best I could do:

IMG_0907

Every year, people kill tens of millions of sharks. Sometimes it’s for food, sometimes for sport, and sometimes just as a byproduct of other kinds of fishing. The image of sharks conjured up in popular culture is that of a mindless killing-machine and their plight elicits no sympathy. It is more important than ever that we learn to respect sharks and acknowledge their importance in the ocean ecosystem, as sharks are a sign of a healthy ocean.

Many people are afraid of sharks and that is understandable. However, only five people a year are killed by sharks. Statistically you are far more likely to be killed by bees or horses. Whenever I’ve swum with sharks, the sharks have been more afraid of me than I of they. We really ought to educate people better and remove this irrational fear before it is too late to save these amazing animals.

Advertisements
Posted in travel

How to Travel Southern Africa on a Budget

If you’ve ever looked into travelling around Southern Africa, you’ve probably found it’s a bit expensive. Everyone wants to go on safari, but who can afford to pay $1,000 per day? There are, however, ways to see this part of the world on a budget, and without sacrificing too much in the way of comfort, adventure, or experience.

DSCN4810

 

Pick your locations carefully

Botswana is a notoriously expensive place. It’s hard to complain about it, because they do a great job of using tourist money to protect their wildlife. However, it’s one of the hardest countries to see on a shoestring. Zimbabwe is also pretty pricey, especially around the Victoria Falls area, which gets a lot of tourists.

Right now almost all of South Africa is cheap to visit because the economy is doing so poorly. Changing foreign currency will buy you huge amounts of rand. It’s cheap to sleep, to eat, or to rent a car. Even Kruger National Park – one of the greatest tourist destinations on earth – is cheap to visit.

If you’re planning a long visit, you might want to spend more time in South Africa and Swaziland, and less time in Botswana and Zimbabwe.

Hostel all the way

Even in the more expensive parts of Southern Africa, hostels are affordable. Moreover, Africa has some of the greatest hostels in the world. Whereas in other places they’re often rundown and dingy, throughout most of Southern Africa you’ll find absolutely brilliant hostels. In South Africa in particular they rank really highly – with many of them featuring swimming pools!

Remember to check online before to see prices and ratings. Despite all the great hostels, there are obviously a number of ones to avoid. In places like Cape Town you’re really spoiled for choice. Because of the competition, every hostel goes out of its way to impress its guests. Out in the sticks, however, you might need to look a little harder, and prices might be higher.

Go off-season

The same rules apply as elsewhere in the world – peak season in the most expensive time to visit. In Southern Africa, summer (that’s winter in the northern hemisphere, so think January-February) is considered a bit of an off-season. At this time, hostels are quiet and the national parks are empty of visitors. If you’re looking for vibrant nightlife, this really isn’t the time to go, but if you’re looking for peace, quiet, and budget travel, it’s perfect.

At this time of year, most backpackers are heading to Southeast Asia, which is going through its peak season in Jan-Feb. Southern Africa, on the other hand, is largely ignored at this time. I got great deals on safaris, accommodation, and transport because there was simply no one else around. What’s more, even flights to and around the area are cheaper than at other times.

Use public transport

In South Africa, renting a car is very cheap, but elsewhere it’s neither cheap nor particularly safe. There are long-distance luxury buses that will cart you around the area, or grossly overpriced trains, but these don’t go everywhere and they miss out on the important experiences.

Through Southern Africa the mode of transport most people use is the combi bus – that’s a small minivan that is crammed full of people. You can go anywhere if you ask in advance, and it’s dirt cheap. I travelled all over the place in these vans and met the friendliest people on the way. I seldom paid more than a dollar or two for long rides, and even though sometimes it was crammed and slow, I always enjoyed the journey.

Personally, I hitch-hiked a lot around South Africa and Botswana, although I’m reluctant to recommend it to others. I never felt in danger but of course it is always a risk. In certain places, however, hitch-hiking is quite common and a great way to get where buses won’t go.

Eat local

For my first money in Southern Africa I never spent more than $3 per day on food because wherever I went there was a small kitchen to prepare. I’d just find the local supermarket and buy the basics. If I came upon a restaurant I’d eat the local food, whatever that was. It was always cheap and it’s great to try new things.

When I first arrived in Zimbabwe I ended up in a steakhouse in Bulawayo. It was a western restaurant – the first I’d eaten at in a month – and they had the most amazing steaks I’ve ever eaten in my life. My bill, though, was $25. Now in the West that’s not a bad total, but when you’re used to paying $3 per day for all your food combined, $25 for a steak and a beer suddenly seems a bit steep. Still, one has to spoil oneself sometimes.

 

Finally, be flexible, open-minded, and always travelling intelligently. Make sure that you’re insured, do your research ahead of time, don’t be afraid to try new things. This is one of the greatest places on earth and right now you can see it on a shoestring if you really want.

Posted in travel

Climbing Table Mountain

After an amazing five weeks touring Southern Africa I found myself in Cape Town with one day left before my flight back to China. What would I do? There were so many things from which to choose – touring the wine lands, paragliding, surfing… or climbing Table Mountain.

I love to hike, and throughout my African adventure I averaged 12.5km per day. That’s an average of 12.5km per day for about 40 days. I had bought a new pair of hiking boots before arriving and worn them nearly into the ground over some 500km of walking across some of the most amazing landscapes on earth. In Swaziland in one single day I hiked 53km. I genuinely believe it’s the best way to see a new place, in spite of any potential dangers.

So really it was a no-brainer when Table Mountain stacked up against the other options. I’d already seen the sharks and the penguins. Besides, it was visible from my hostel, from the road from the airport, from the train to Simon’s Town… everywhere I went I could see this behemoth looming large and inviting me, nay, daring me to climb it. I couldn’t resist the challenge.

I set off from my hostel on Kloof Street and headed towards the mountain with only the GPS program on my iPhone and the intention of getting to the top. I’d tried to Google hiking trails and failed due to a lack of wifi. Oh well. Exploring is more fun.

At the bottom of the mountain, in the pass between Table Mountain and the Lion’s Head, I took a small path leading along the bottom of the mountain, on the east side. I didn’t want to trudge along busy paths or take the cableway. I sauntered along quietly for almost an hour, seeing not a single person, just enjoying the views out over the Atlantic as I slowly wound up the side of the mountain, following a gentle incline.

Things turned from pleasant to difficult when the path came to an abrupt end. I looked about and couldn’t see where it led, and then I realized that I was meant to climb. There was a small sheer cliff face of maybe two and a half meters. I couldn’t see that the path continued above, but there appeared to be a gap in the vegetation, so I assume that it did. I tossed my bag up and climbed to the next level.

I’m not great with heights. I love climbing, ironically, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve found it harder to cope with heights and so I don’t really climb any more. I find that my balance is now poor and I fear falling. Thus, climbing that small cliff posed a real challenge, and when I got to the top and continued on the path, I was elated. I’d conquered that small obstacle.

As I continued along, it dawned on me that I really needed the path to continue in its present state, with no more cliffs. If I came to one that I couldn’t climb, I’d be in trouble. At the top of the previous one I realized I wouldn’t be able to get back down without real difficulty, and maybe a broken ankle.

Unfortunately, I soon came to another small but tricky climb. Hoping it was the last one, I climbed it and persevered. Then there was another. And another. With each climb I realized the chances of me going back were slimmer and slimmer. I didn’t want to risk climbing down because it seemed so much more difficult and dangerous than climbing up, and also it would take so long that I’d likely never reach the summit.

Pretty soon my hike ceased to be a hike interspersed with little rocky faces to climb, and became a serious climb up a seriously difficult rocky escarpment. Every fifteen meters or so my knees buckled from vertigo and my head spun. I was, for the first time on the whole trip, terrified. I became certain I would die on that cliff face.

And that’s when it started to rain.

I continued on slowly, on the slick wet rock. I kept taking my backpack off and throwing it up to the next level, then climbing up myself, leaning in as closely as possible, aware that any slip by my hands or feet, or any loose rock, would result in me falling not just a few feet and breaking an ankle. Now the stakes were higher – I’d surely go a few hundred meters to my death.

Finally I could see the top. The path, however, branched in two. One way was steep and the other gentle. I chose the gentle path. I followed it as best I could, but it wound its way around the side of the mountain, on thin, worn paths above giant drops, to yet another stupidly difficult climb. Time and again I stopped to get my head together. I was so dizzy that even standing still I felt I’d likely topple over the edge, and each climb became harder and harder.

It was only when I saw the lip at the top of the mountain and knew finally that I’d made it that I got my act together and climbed harder and faster. When I finally reached the summit I was exhausted, having done hundreds of meters on my hands and feet.

I staggered around the top of Table Mountain and then headed down Skeleton Gorge to the Kirstenbosch Gardens. I tried to walk home but by that point I’d walked 20km on a completely empty stomach, had long since run out of water, and ended up finding a taxi back to town.

Posted in travel

Simon’s Town Penguins

With my time in Africa running out, I found myself in Cape Town with only a few days and yet so much to do. Fortunately I’d done so many things on my trip that I could have no regrets, but I wanted to make sure that I saw as much as possible.

Cape Town is a cool city. I honestly don’t like cities and even supposedly nice ones like Durban had been pretty disappointing for me… but Cape Town was incredible. There were simply too many things to do there, and so I picked one almost at random – the penguin colony at Simon’s Town.

Getting there requires a train from the central station. It’s a long ride, but after a while you’re out of the city and running along the coast – Table Mountain National Park rising up to the sky on one side, and False Bay’s azure waters on the other. It really is a stunning ride.

I saw many places along the way that I thought would be perfect to get off and explore, but I stayed on until my destination – Simon’s Town – and explored from there. Simon’s Town is a charming, quaint little place filled with old buildings. There are lots of cafes and souvenir shops if that interests you.

I bought some fish ‘n’ chips from a little harbor side cafe and then walked south to find some penguins. On a random, hidden beach I found six penguins just sitting around. I was surprised how close I could get.

I walked on until I found the actual penguin colony – the protected one intended for tourists. I paid to get in but was disappointed to find it crammed with Chinese tourists. They acted just like they do in China – pushy, noisy, and rude.

Still, there were an abundance of penguins to see. Most of them, at this point, were nesting. They seemed unperturbed by the aggressive hordes of Chinese, but were sometimes attacked by giant seagulls. In one case, a seagull pushed a penguin off its egg and flew off with the egg, only to land and attempt to smash it repeatedly on a rock. Nature is merciless.

After strolling along the short boardwalk filled with Chinese people, I wandered off in search of something a bit more interesting and found part two of the protected penguin colony – a beach where you can actually mingle with the penguins. I was able to swim alongside some of them in the icy cold water. Thankfully, because it was shallow, the water was nowhere near as cold as it had been while doing the shark dive.

By a huge coincidence, I met a girl I’d stayed with in Victoria Falls – neither of us knew the other intended to go to Cape Town. She and some friends had rented a car and offered to drive me back to town. I had a return ticket for the train but scrapped it and rode with them instead. On the way back we stopped off at Fish Hoek and Muizenberg to see the beautiful white sand beaches and the scores of surfers.

Back in Cape Town, I headed home to my hostel (Once in Cape Town) and my friends to theirs (91 Loop). Both places are wonderful – although to be fair most hostels in South Africa seem ridiculously good. Then we headed out to Jimmy’s Burger for dinner and the Beerhouse for beers.

Posted in travel

Shark Cage Diving in Cape Town

If you’ve been following this blog then you’ll have read about my adventures in Mozambique, Swaziland, South Africa (at Kruger, and around St. Lucia), Zimbabwe, and Botswana. It was, to say the least, a hell of a trip. Starting in Mozambique, I mostly hitch-hiked or travelled by combi through thousands of miles of the greatest scenery on earth, seeing the most incredible wildlife up close. I couldn’t have been happier with the journey.

Yet, one thing was missing… The reason I’d gone to Southern Africa was to see a Great White Shark. I love sharks, and I’ve always wanted to see a Great White up close. I decided to go to Cape Town to go cage diving and the rest of the holiday unfolded as I did research into killing time between shark dives… I had no idea it would turn out to be such a brilliant part of the world.

Unfortunately, upon arriving in Africa, I found that the sharks had disappeared, and it had been a long time since anyone had spotted one. Someone said that a pod of orca had come into the area and chased them away. I never did find out the real reason. I even went to Durban, where they always have sharks, but visibility was zero because of the weather. It seemed I was doomed not to see any sharks.

But I’d come all the way to Africa for this one purpose, and even if it was going to be a waste of time and money, I’d give it a shot. So I booked a trip with SharkDiving.co. I was repeatedly warned that they never see sharks any more, and I got the impression that they’d put up with a huge number of pissed off tourists. But I was willing to take the risk.

The trip started very early because, apparently, the boats launch not from Cape Town, but from Gaansbai, which is several hours away from downtown Cape Town by bus. It was a long journey, and everyone seemed a bit down at the prospect of not seeing any sharks.

We arrived in lovely Gaansbai – a town that seems to exist due to the shark diving companies that operate from there. At least when we arrived the only people in the streets were either waiting to go dive, or working for the dive companies.

In the office, we signed release forms and were told over and over about the no refund policy for when we inevitably would go home disappointed. The guide was friendly enough, but had obviously gotten fed up with the lack of sharks lately. He joked: “Gaansbai is the only place in South Africa where the Whites still have power.” There were some awkward laughs.

Soon we were waiting on the dock for our boat. People came and went, and the boat before us brought good news: a shark had been spotted! Or maybe it wasn’t good news… Did they see our shark? Were they the one boat that day which would get to see a shark? By now I was nervous. It had been a long journey just to see a shark, and I wouldn’t get another chance.

The boat ride out was choppy. I used to get seasick and I could feel it coming on a little, but thankfully it never set in. About half of the people on the boat, though, soon became violently sick and were vomiting over the side into the sea.We had been warned to bring medication but I hadn’t brought anything. I just stared out towards the horizon, hoping to see something.

When the boat anchored at the dive site the choppiness worsened. The boat was positioned to block the waves from hitting the diving cage, and it rocked tremendously. We were told to suit up, which was difficult while rocking back and forth so violently. The crew chummed the water and tossed a large tuna head on a rope out as bait.

IMG_0901

When they asked who wanted to get in the cage first, I didn’t say anything. I assumed that it would be a few long hours of waiting, and that whoever got in first would see nothing, then stand around cold. There was a rotation system – four or five people in the cage at any given time. I went to the top deck to look down…

And there it was. A Great White Shark. The call came just seconds earlier. One of the crew spotted him and he exploded out of the water, crashed into the cage, and swam off back into the deep. I saw him clearly but couldn’t get a photo. My camera was too slow and wouldn’t even take an unfocused shot. A few minutes later he came back again, and again I got no photos, except one of his tail as he returned to the deep. What should have been a happy moment was one of frustration.

I was annoyed that a) I wasn’t in the water to see the shark, and b) I had no good photos of the shark. Given that it was incredibly unlikely to see one, I should’ve just been happy to see the damn thing, but I felt robbed, because I couldn’t imagine the shark would come back again.

I went to the lower deck to stand by the cage. I wanted to get in the water, but I was too late, and the next group got in. From here, though, I did manage to shoot some photos of the shark with my iPhone, which was far faster to focus than my camera.

Eventually it was my turn and I was certain I wouldn’t see the shark from the water. Maybe it was because my luck in spotting wildlife over the trip had been too great. Anyway, by now I was happy because I’d seen the shark several times and gotten some reasonable photos on my phone.The captain had already warned us that from under the water it’s pretty difficult to see anything.

I jumped into the cage and was immediately left winded by the cold. It was the coldest I’d ever been. Even the waters off Scotland aren’t that bad. The wetsuit helped a bit, but it was nonetheless an incredible and painful sensation. I tried dunking my head under the water to see, but it would take only a seconds to get a splitting headache from the cold.

By now, the people who’d been in the water didn’t want to get back in, so the cage wasn’t so crowded. I tried to look around above and under the water, but occasionally got a lungful of seawater when a wave hit me, and I was in a great deal of discomfort from the biting cold – particularly in my hands.

Then the shark came back. And again. And again. And again.

I could see it far better from the boat – under water it was mostly a grey blur – but that’s not the point. The raw power was what struck me. While I was in the cage the shark managed to move so fast that it ripped the bait from the line, as the crew hadn’t seen it in time. It was just a massive explosion of pure prehistoric violence – a predator so perfect it has remained unchanged since before humans came into existence. To be in the water with it, even protected by a solid steel cage, was a privilege.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0423.

As we sailed back to the harbor, I tried to reflect upon my luck, but the cold was too much. I had stayed in the water for about an hour and it had been too long. But when I finally got back and warmed up in the sun, I was able to appreciate our fortune. It had been a long day and we’d been warned that we wouldn’t see anything. Indeed, no one on the other boats had seen a shark while we were out.

Fortunately, since then the sharks have returned. Our shark – a young male – was one of the first to reenter the area. Hopefully they continue to thrive off the coast of South Africa and elsewhere. Truly the are among the most amazing creatures on this planet.

Of course, they’re probably not such majestic creatures from the perspective of these guys, who thoroughly enjoyed the Great Whites’ absence.

DSCN5587

Posted in Photography, travel

Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park

I left Swaziland after just a few days, and arrived at the border with South Africa at Lavumisa. Upon crossing the border, however, I encountered a pretty big problem… There was nothing there. I’d expected a few minibuses like I’d found at the other buses I’d crossed, but there was nothing at all.

I didn’t know what to do. Looking at maps.me I found nothing nearby that would indicate any sort of transport system. The nearest town I could find was more than 100km. It also seemed that I was pretty much in the middle of a game reserve, too… which meant that even if I could somehow walk 100km (and my feet were still badly blistered from hiking in Swaziland) I’d have to avoid being eaten or gored to death.

After a few minutes of pondering my lack of options, I decided that the only option was to hitch-hike. I’d hitch-hiked the United States back in 2007, and in South Korea a few years later. In all attempts I’d been pretty successful – ie I got a ride quickly and hadn’t been murdered.

This time I stuck my thumb out and waited all of two minutes. A car pulled up and a man asked where I was going. “St. Lucia,” I told him. I hadn’t booked anywhere but I figured St. Lucia was a good place to go. It shouldn’t be hard to find a place to sleep.

“Mtubatuba,” he said.

“St. Lucia,” I replied, not understanding.

“I can take you as far as Mtubatuba,” he explained.

I jumped in and looked at my map. Mtubatuba was only 25km from St. Lucia. I could surely get a combi or taxi from there.

On the road I spoke to the man very little. He wasn’t unfriendly but also wasn’t particularly forthcoming. At one point he said, “I’ve never been to St. Lucia but I hear it’s nice… White people get all the nice things.” From there one things were pretty uncomfortable.

Eventually, the man agreed to take me all the way to St. Lucia for the equivalent of about $15. It was well out of his way and saved me a lot of hassle, so I didn’t mind paying. Besides, he’d driven me a long way from an isolated border post.

In St. Lucia I found a nice “hostel” was which actually a collection of tents on a roof. The tents were pretty luxurious, and I was disappointed to be kicked out the next day due to overbooking.

In St. Lucia I hiked around and spent time photographing the crocodiles and hippos in the nearby river and estuary. Then I booked a tour to the Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park that offered a good chance of seeing the Big 5. I’d not seen a lion at Kruger so I was excited about my prospects.

The above photos show some of what I saw that day.

My guide around iMfolozi was an interesting old man. Whereas my guides to other parks had been very young, this guy was well into his sixties or seventies, with long silver hair. He’d grown up in Zimbabwe when it was known as Rhodesia, and worked then as a hunter. The irony that he know worked as a tour guide in a park protecting animals was not lost on him… although he did often talk about the importance of hunting in conservation.

We saw a lot of rhino that day and our guide, too, talked about the importance of legalizing the trade in rhino horn. In six years we’ll have no rhino left, and none of our efforts to stop poaching have proven successful. The only choice, he claimed, was to farm it. It was an interesting perspective with which I tend to agree.

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.