herald

Friday 15 December 2017

Purr-fect end to my walk on the wild side

MONDAY: An important duty in every travel writer's life is to replenish your mosquito bites. This morning, mine are well and truly replenished. An unexpected bonus is that a pepper tick has joined the party. I have been attacked from every angle. My left foot has 75 little red pepper tick bites all competing in itchiness, and, not to be left out, my right foot has 27. There is a mosquito bite in the middle of my back between my shoulder blades, and I have no idea how THAT happened. How I love Africa.

TUESDAY: Phinda Mountain Lodge won't let guests lock their doors. Our hostess Tammy Vermaak explains why. There are no fences around the lodge, so you might need somewhere to run if you meet a predator on the lodge grounds.

They aren't joking. In 1994, one of the guests slipped away from the dinner table to fetch her jumper and was eaten by a lioness. Nowadays a guard accompanies you to your lodge after dark.

They had a hyena call last week. Today, a nyala stopped by to drink at the swimming pool and there is a rainbow skink in my plunge pool as the sun descends over the valley and the cicadas chime.

TUESDAY NIGHT: Dining like a Zulu. The ecotourism group @beyond like to style their dining areas in the traditional Zulu way, part of their mission to pay homage to local culture. We dine on warthog in the boma at the lodge, with sand at our feet and glowing flames in the centre of the faux-tent structure.

WEDNESDAY: Off to a Zulu homestead to participate in some magical rituals. Our sangoma promises not to tell our fortunes but instead summons ancestors to wish us well amid much angst-ridden chanting. Does she know something about Euro 2012 we don't?

THURSDAY: A memorable encounter with a knowledgeable man. Bryan Olver trains many of the guides who do game drives in private lodges all over Africa. He reveals the background details of the animals like a fairground card-player. Hippos might not be truly vegetarian after all. The story about how black and white rhino got their name might be wrong. The leguaan, the Nile water monitor, eats more animals than the crocodile.

FRIDAY: Watching lions at sundown, with the plain stretching to Swaziland below. On an adjoining safari vehicle is Tony Maher, Clongowes class of 1979 and contemporary of Michael O'Leary.

SATURDAY: A thought from Bryan Olver: the impala is the world's most successful mammal. All the young arrive together, flooding the predator market, and the dominant male gets booted off the harem when he gets out of condition.

SUNDAY: My cheetah purred. I thought it was growling at first. But it was definitely a purr. I stroked behind its ears. I tickled under its chin. And then with its rasping tongue it licked my arm and licked and licked. "That is how it tenderises its meat," said Dumisani Ncube, handler at Emdoneni Cat Rehabilitation Centre, with one of those laughs that sounded like it might be at my expense -- an in-joke between him and his cheetah.

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