Walking with the Hippos, Sleeping with the Birds

Trip Start Jul 10, 2007
Trip End Mar 11, 2008

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Flag of South Africa  ,
Sunday, November 4, 2007

St Lucia
A little jewel north-east of Durban situated close to the Swaziland border.  Here, people are careful as hippos walk the streets at night and it is strongly advised not to frequent river edges as crocodiles are always hungry.  The Nile crocs seem to have the "chill thing" mastered as they tend to spend most of their day warming themselves in the sun. What they are really thinking when they furtively look at you is "lovely, here comes my snack!"  They move fast!
In St-Lucia, we stayed in a great  colonial style B. &B.; the entire house to ourselves.  It is located in a bird park called Cane Cutters.  It was worth the long 15km ride on the tiny unlit country road at night where the hippos roam; especially the night of the spectacular thunderstorm.  I understand now what they mean by an African sky when its entirety is illuminated by purple, white, green and blue colours of continuous thunder bolts.  This storm reminded us of the famous unrivaled one at Lac Beauclair 2 years ago...a beauty!
The considerably sized bird park proved to be a great treat for us.  We became attached to the noisy toucans, the whiny peacocks, "Hello Pete" and the pink Australian Galah who talked to us ad infinitum which somewhat reminded me of my sons.  Early, E A R L Y  in the morning, we would help prepare the food and deliver it to the cages.  On our daily route, we could always count on being followed by grouchy geese, busy rolling dung beetles and an attention seeking miniature horse.

One evening, I heard a scream coming from my oldest son's bedroom..."Maman, vite!" As I rushed to the room thinking that I may find a black mamba snake about to engulf my son (actually, these snakes only bite venomously), I see a small tailless gecko sitting on top of EDude's toe.  A gecko had fallen from the ceiling (again), this time on E's chest and he had tried to catch it.  The tail was "dropped" in his hand still waving and the cute little gecko was staring anxiously back at him.  The best part of this moment, according to the thirteen year old was that he could run after his brother with the live, squiggling tail in his hands. 

One morning, we set off on a hippo tour of the St-Lucia wetlands; ticking off another UNESCO site from the list.   We were quite entertained by the guide who could switch from Dutch to English to Afrikaan languages with such ease.
We observed many hippos in their natural habitat; standing and flipping on to their backs.  It is quite funny to see legs coming out of the water as the hippos grunt, spray water through their nostrils, yawn to get air in their lungs and simply hang out. Hippos do not swim or float.  They travel by walking on the bottom of their watery domains.  They graze during the day and must walk many kilometres at night to help digest their daily food intake.  They stay in pods (scientists link hippos to the whale family) where there is one male, many females and young ones.  There can only be one "beach master"; the big cheese who must constantly defend his title against the up and coming young males...oh the grunting!  We saw the result of a failed "coup"at dethroning the master. The defeated hippo was left suffering quietly in his little corner of the reeds. 
Once in a while, a croc would come to spy on us. Crocodiles are the submarines of the animal world.  They conceal themselves and move gracefully, smartly and quietly above and under the water.  They resemble floating sticks and leave gentle ripples on the surface...until they attack! Their "death role" can give you nightmares. 

We saw many birds of various sizes and colours nesting in the reeds and a lonesome buffalo.  We later tried our luck at our first game drive.  A note to self; animals don't like rainy days.  This game park boasted about having the highest concentration of rhinos...2000 of them!  Sadly for us, the rhinos on that day were not to come out and play.  The zebras were abundant and always the first ones to greet us.  The wart hogs, well they are just the funny little creatures.
Our first excursion on our own in the "wilds" of Africa was quite a success.  Can't wait for the next one!
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