My South African Love Affair
“From here we leave the path,” said our guide. We had embarked on a 28 kilometer hike towards Waterfall Bluff located just south of the Mkambahti Nature Reserve, and had been walking for over four hours across the many changing faces of the Wild Coast terrain, climbing steep rocky hills, treading across shifting sands and beaches, and walking through oceans of grass fields freckled with yellow flowers.
The ‘path’ that our guide mentioned was not much of a path to begin with. It was simply a cluster of narrow, winding, dirt footways carved by years of treading shepherds and their cows. Yet we carried on, silently falling in line behind one another in silence towards the Falls. As we grew closer to our goal, our guide led us to Cathedral Rock, a breathtaking geological formation rising from the ocean in stony defiance. It had been molded by wind and water into a pyramid shaped sculpture created by nature herself. And so with renewed anticipation, we carried on, our bodies heavy with exhaustion.
Following another hour of hiking and climbing, we had finally made it! The wind was becoming stronger and coming up fast and hard. All I could hear was the wailing gusts blasting past my ears, drowning out my racing heartbeat as we crawled down the sheer side of the rocky cliff. I was sure that I was going to be blown off trying to get to Waterfall Bluff. Don’t look down, was all I could think.
Once we scaled down the side of the jagged cliff (I pretty much clung on for dear life!) and ducked down past the final rocky hurdle, you can hear it; the crashing symphony of waves and the rising crescendo of water and rock! Then you turn the corner of the protruding ragged rock face jutting out and there it is, awaiting you, Waterfall Bluff.
On this particularly cloudy and windy day, the waterfall, trapped in a torrent of updrafts and gusts, struggled to find home as it cast itself down into the Indian Ocean (it is only one of eight waterfalls in the world to meet an ocean or sea). Our long trek was definitely worth seeing this incredible display of nature, and we sat in entranced silence, drinking the scene of majesty with thirsty eyes and hearts until we were ready to march on back towards our lodge for another 14 kilometers.
Located at the mouth of the Mboyti River on the Eastern Coast of South Africa sits a charming resort, Mboyti River Lodge. Surrounding it is the sea and a lagoon where you can kayak in the mirror-like waters of the estuary (where the lake meets the ocean) that hugs the property. The beaches are nestled between rolling green hills, and on some days, cow herders come down with their slow moving beasts of burden to walk across the shores as the blue waters lap away their hoof prints.
When visiting South Africa, one must of course undertake a great adventure and book a safari tour! We chose Springbok Lodge located on Nambiti Game Reserve in Ladysmith. Every morning, we awoke at 4.30 AM with the wild African sun newly spilling out in golds and roses across the jet black night sky. Eyes heavy with sleep, we would climb into the open game viewing Land Cruiser and tour the acres of forest and open plains, holding within their grassy folds vast treasures of wild African animals; dazzles of zebras, prides of lions and countless herds of elephants. The first ride out was probably the most terrifying and exciting, for you do not know what to expect! The safari vehicle had no windows or protection whatsoever, and we were basically exposed to the animals should they have chosen to attack!
Four days spent on safari had to be one of the most eye opening and impactful experiences of my life. As we drove down winding dirt roads, thrown around inside our car, we would come across incredible scenes of wildlife. Once, we stopped to take photographs of a huge bull elephant, when suddenly the African sky opened up and it began to rain heavily down upon us. Whips and flashes of lightning began to descend and was joined by its booming brother. Our guide and driver, Promise, told us to hold on as we sped towards the safety of the Springbok Lodge as the waters began to rise and the lightning grew nearer. All around us animals stood still in the rain like living statues, watching the strange metallic creature slide through mud and rubble.
Our last morning was possibly the most eventful part of our safari visit. Coffee in hand at 5 am, we went out for the final time to look for herds and prides of whatever animal chose to reveal itself to us. Ten minutes into our excursion, a large male lion was spotted near our location in the park. Promise hurriedly drove towards the apparent spotting of the lion and once we arrived, he turned off the engine and told us to keep quiet and stay alert for the big cat. Suddenly, from the covering of tall grasses and shrubs, he emerged. Formidable, fierce and on the prowl for breakfast.
The largest animal I had ever seen up close was walking straight towards us, and all I could think was that he is about to jump in and rip us to shreds. The king of the jungle was so close that I could see every color of his stunning mane of dancing browns and golds, glinting to the dazzling sunshine.
Left in the wake of shock and awe, we continued on for our final drive. Soon enough, we stumbled upon another incredible scene, two male giraffes ‘necking’ for mating rites. At first the two males were simply circling each other silently, when suddenly one of them violently threw his head towards his opponent’s long exposed neck and delivered the first brutal blow. This dangerous display continued for ten minutes and the older male began to falter, due to the ongoing ruthless hits by the younger male. As the older and darker fighter (as giraffes age their coloring gets darker) began to realize that he was going to lose this fight, he attempted to run away, only to be chased by the stronger, younger male.
It was here that I fell in love with South Africa. I fell for the sky during our safari drives when we ventured out for early morning and evening rides. Each time we drove out to the reserve, there it was waiting for us in a brilliant parade of clouds, awash in gold and rose. I fell in love with walking barefoot on the cool grass outside our lodge, dewy and cool against my feet. I fell for the smiles of the people, always welcoming and open-hearted to any new adventurer.
But what really stole my heart was being around nature and watching wild animals roam the South African planes. In a way it saddened me that a number of the animals we saw were greatly endangered and were under constant threat from poachers.
Our travels through South Africa restored my love and respect for Mother Nature. While most of us are forever imprisoned within urban jungles of concrete and steel, we often forget the importance of escaping these trappings. Being back home makes me realize how much I miss walking out into the cool morning air as we set out for safari, and how alive our earth is with music, music composed by birds and animals, by the wind and waves. We are deaf to these songs, and it is time to listen.
Written by: Laila Al-Yafi