The Road Less Traveled – Ó 2005 B.L. Bruigom
Wild journeys can be as close as your own backyard or the dream trip to Africa to see the big 5. You can climb mountains, white water raft, swim with dolphins or just take a walk on the closest nature trail. If you look with eyes wide open you will always see wildlife. My wild journeys are where I am closest to nature and farthest from people. I look to see other life that is often unnoticed because a person is trying to “find” the lions, or too busy to notice a lizard or the plants.
One such adventure was my trip to South Africa. It was in October, the end of their winter and dry season, and started with a drive to the Drakensberg Mountains. The sky was crystal clear and as I got closer to the mountains I began to see some amazing sights. A tree grew from a huge rock, mountains in the background, with a pure white moon against this blue sky. When I looked down into the valley it framed the Zulu huts to perfection and was vast.
The next day I hiked these magnificent mountains. The views were spectacular! I walked under waterfalls! As I climbed higher, my knees touching my chin with each step, I found myself under a ledge staring at cave art! Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be standing where a bushman, from hundreds of years past, stood and drew these very pictures. There was a village on a lion hunt, a family hunting elk together and wasn’t much bigger than 3-feet by 3-feet. It was done in red and much had been weathered away but I felt a pull to the past and let my mind wonder as to who had been here, for how long and was I on their same path? I only spent a few days there but to this day just thinking about the cave art lets my soul and imagination run wild.
I then moved on to a very little known game preserve called Shongweni. Nestled against the slope of the Mkangoma Hill lies this magnificent solar powered bush camp. There are no big cats here. Below camp the riverbed was dry. At night you could hear the rhinos and water buffalo as they trudged their way past. I used the time viewing smaller animals, getting to know the antelope and giraffe populations and was completely fascinated to see the dry land begin to turn lush green as rain fell and water started running along the river bed. Never had I been witness to such sudden change and brilliant color.
The next stop was the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi game park. Established in 1895 it’s the oldest game park in Africa. Here you can see all the animals. Many photographers and tourist would spend hours sitting in the blinds by the watering holes just to see the big 5. I however, once again preferred the roads less traveled. I wanted to explore and put my visionary talents to the test, to talk about my day’s events with the game wardens when night came and learn. I didn’t stay in the tents, I had a house where I could do my own cooking and keep my own schedule. On my first morning I walked outside to a mother and baby zebra just standing in my “driveway” using the house as protection. My mouth hung open, I backed up slowly and got my camera. They stayed, just as comfortable as could be, realizing I was no threat and would happily wait for them to move on before getting in the truck to see what other surprises the day held.
In my days there I saw and experienced many unique things. A lone rouge cape water buffalo, Vervet monkeys drunk on fermented berries, a Duiker that had died and was picked clean just moments before I arrived at the river crossing. The antelope and waterbuck seemed very willing to pose for me. Then suddenly startled by the jaguar all were off in flash. I never did get a picture of that elusive fellow, but I tracked him for three days as he left me very visible signs in the ground. I went on one night trip where we were excitedly charged by elephants protecting a newborn and saw the oldest rhino known. He was so old that his smaller top horn had grown through and cut his large horn off where they joined. You knew he would not be long for this world, but because I was still on those less traveled roads I was blessed with this amazing encounter. As I drove the back roads, I sat mesmerized waiting for giraffes to cross the road. My patience was rewarded later as I watched a white rhino family climb the mountain and later a black rhino came to dinner. Very close, a bit nerve racking, but an honor none the less. I never did see the hippos or lions, but I also never felt as if I missed out on anything.
When I finally arrived home it all seemed like a dream. I was back to walking my cat, (yes my cat who thinks he’s a dog), for our daily 2-4 hour trek around the area. Again we would take the wild roads where others never walked and we were always greeted by nature that was just as happy to have us there. Africa was amazing, I hope to return, but I’m just as happy to have my daily wild journeys with my cat Kruger by my side.