WATCHING ELEPHANTS

Everyone seems to enjoy watching large herds of elephants – there is no denying that their interactions with each other can keep one occupied for hours. It is fascinating to observe how different groups of elephants greet each other upon arrival at a large waterhole, such as Hapoor in the Addo Elephant National Park. Equally interesting is the behaviour of youngsters; and the tiny elephants are especially endearing to keep an eye on. Many visitors halt briefly at the sight of a single elephant at the side of the road before moving on – perhaps hoping to see something more exciting.

It is worth stopping for a while – providing you have assessed the safety to do so – and to watch how the elephant selects its food; to listen to the sound of it plucking grass or snapping twigs; to watch in awe the way bundles of thorny material disappear into its mouth; to hear the gentle rumbling in its stomach; and to breathe in the unmistakeable smells surrounding the elephant. You might be surprised after a few moments to discover that this wasn’t a lone elephant after all, but one of several that had hitherto been hidden in the bush.

This elephant, walking along the edge of Gwarrie Pan, affords an interesting opportunity to watch how an elephant walks; the padded base of its feet; and the way its dangling trunk is curled up at the base.

Here a small family group is kicking up dust as they race across the dry veld to join others at the Hapoor waterhole: were they particularly thirsty, I wondered; perhaps they were excited to meet up with other family members; or the younger ones may simply have been feeling exuberant.

These few were moving off more sedately, having had their fill of both water and company – their lengthened shadows accompanying them as they made their way towards the bushy area ahead.

Lastly, here a small family group are drinking in unison at Gwarrie Pan. Note that the elephant on the left has only one tusk.

It is not worth telling yourself that you are seeing ‘just another elephant’ when driving through an area such as the Addo Elephant National Park: they are all different; doing different things; and interacting with different creatures. Watch their behaviour around buffalo and zebra; or what the youngsters do when a warthog comes too close; how they bath; the way they drink; and how they plaster themselves with mud. It is always worth spending a little extra time watching elephants!

HEIMWEE FOR THE ADDO ELEPHANT NATIONAL PARK

We have been in lock-down for ninety-five days already – despite having moved to Level Three (‘advanced’ Level Three nogal!) that allows more businesses to open, we still cannot visit family and friends nor can we cross provincial borders without a permit – and you require a very good reason to get one of those. National Parks are now open for day visitors, yet the above-mentioned restrictions make visiting the Kruger National Park out of the question. In the spirit of the photograph below, I will look back to share some of the delights of the Addo Elephant National Park which we hope to visit again before much longer.

Naturally, one goes to the Addo Elephant National Park to see elephants – they seldom disappoint. We have seen herds of over a hundred individuals congregating around the Hapoor waterhole; been surprised by single elephants right next to the road; and have enjoyed watching small groups – such as the one these two are part of – at the Domkrag waterhole. Here we are able to get out of our vehicle and look down at these magnificent animals as they go about their daily life.

You might be fortunate enough to come across a Secretary Bird striding through the grasslands.  They occur singly and in pairs – it is always worth scanning the veld to see if you can spot another one.

Zebras grace the landscape in Addo – they might occur in small groups or in much larger ones that stretch across the side of a grassy slope. They are always a delight to observe.

I am always pleased to come across the large Mountain tortoises that lumber through the grass or patiently cross rocky areas. This one was taking advantage of a puddle in the road after rain.

Then there are the beautiful Cape Glossy Starlings that brighten the landscape.

By keeping an eye open for more than just animals, you get to enjoy some of the many butterflies too.

TRAVELS PAST

It appears that we will soon be able to make self-drive day visits to national parks: no overnight stays, so it will be a case of ‘local is lekker’ and good fortune for those who live within easy distance of one. I would like to be first in the queue, yet can imagine the long row of vehicles driven by people who live much closer to the Addo Elephant National Park who have also been champing at the bit to get into the wild once more. I will have to be patient for a while longer. Meanwhile I can recall some past adventures relating to other aspects of this country:

Driving along the Blaauwkrantz Pass on the road between Grahamstown and Port Alfred.

Visiting the Fingo Milkwood Tree, in the Peddie district of the Eastern Cape, where on 14th May 1835 the Fingo (now known as Mfengu) people, having entered the (Cape) Colony from across the Kei River, assembled near this umQwashu tree [a White Milkwood – Sideroxylon inerme] and in the presence of the Rev. John Ayliff declared their loyalty to God and King. One cannot help wondering if they understood what they were doing.

Stopping at Gariep Dam, bordering the Eastern Cape and Free State provinces.

On the way to the Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s largest game reserves – a must to visit!

Enjoying the view of Hout Bay, near Cape Town in the Western Cape.

There are so many interesting places to visit in this country – it is time to get out and to explore!

SOUTH AFRICAN ENGLISH

South Africans are a wonderful bunch of people who speak a variety of languages between them. In the fashion of Englishes all over the world, the English spoken here borrows so freely from other South African languages that we merit a dictionary devoted to South African English. This form of English has been evolving since the arrival of the British military and administrators as early as 1795.

I was among only a handful of English-speaking pupils during my schooling and still tend to pepper my spoken English with words and expressions that had been so familiar during those formative years. Can they really be considered Afrikaans words, for example? Yes, but many words from this and other languages have become entrenched in the everyday English we use, for this is not any old English that we speak, but South African English.

Thus it is that we might seek muti (medicine) from a pharmacy to relieve the symptoms of some malady. If one of us experiences a sharp pain – such as a thorn in one’s foot – you are more than likely to hear the exclamation eina! This word effectively communicates how sore you are.

I frequently refer to flowers, animals, birds, insects and trees I have observed in the veld – a reference to the untamed open grassland, often studded with trees that we get in this country.

In order to explore the wilder, more out of the way places or to visit some of our fantastic national parks, we pack our camping katunda into our bakkie – that was before COVID-19 caused a blanket ban on travel.

Occasionally we come across large areas of erosion, called dongas.

Somehow the word ‘gulley’ doesn’t match the South African landscape.

Enjoying a braaivleis is an institution in this country. Since the lockdown began, our neighbourhood has been redolent with the aroma of braais. Having a barbecue or cook-out doesn’t cut it. ‘Braai’ encompasses more than merely cooking meat (occasionally also vegetables and even baking bread) over an open fire. It conjures up the ritual of preparation beforehand, waiting for the coals to be just the right temperature, the cooking process and the geselligheid that is part of the gathering for the meal.

Conviviality in the Eastern Cape extends to the way men greet their male friends, family, acquaintances and newcomers as ‘boet’ (originally an affectionate word for brother). As an aside, one would seldom describe a South African man as sporting a paunch: they tend to develop boeps!

A friend recently reminded me of a particularly poignant word that has been used a lot during the many weeks of COVID-19 related social isolation. ‘Sterkte’ conveys both sympathy and encouragement. It means much more than saying ‘be strong’ or ‘have courage’. It is a word that tells the recipient that I care for you; I empathise with your predicament; and I wish you well.

So, one of these days, when freedom of movement and association is allowed once more, I will enjoy packing our katunda into our bakkie; driving through the veld; over a nek or two; and to kuier with people who mean a lot to me. Doubtless we will steek a dop, enjoy a braai, laugh a lot and be gesellig whilst chewing biltong or eating wors. I will enjoy spending time with my boets and my ‘clean-sisters’.

Until then, sterkte to you all!