A close encounter

South Africa will stay in my memory as a kaleidoscope of impressions including the cold blue ocean, funny penguins, lush vineyards, misty Table mountain, friendly people. We spent a few days in Cape Town, some time in Franschhoek and Stellenbosch and- the highlight of the trip- three days on safari at Motswari Reserve. Seeing animals in the wild brought to me those innocent happy feelings that I had as a child.

Game reserves in South Africa are not open plains of dry grass, but covered in green shrubs and messy bushes, which makes it difficult to spot animals. Our rangers were amazing at tracking down the big five. Elephants, flapping their large Africa-shaped ears, calm and oblivious to our presence, were uprooting trees to find cool earth to protect their skin. Lanky giraffes crossed the road right in front of us, looking for more to chew. Perhaps they hoped grass would be greener on the other side. Agile zebras raced each other, while I contemplated whether they are black with white stripes, or white with black stripes. Herds of buffalo splashed in a lake. On the other side, fat hippo refused to get out of the water, staying close to its baby. We were lucky to come across a white rhino, who moved away surprisingly fast. They are not white at all, but the reference to their wide lip was mispronounced and stuck with time. A family of lions slept peacefully under a tree, deceivingly looking like pleasant big cats.

One encounter was unforgettable. We saw something hanging on a tree. Getting closer I recognised the grey skin of a small antelope, except that this one was dead and half eaten. It hung over a branch, hoofs almost touching the head which was at an odd angle to the neck. I could clearly see the black shiny beads of the eyes, and red stains on the skin- darker where the blood had dried and brighter where it was still wet, the little streams running down its bony legs, dropping on the green leaves below. Pieces of flesh, pink as the insides of fresh figs, stood out against the black bark. I shuddered thinking about the strong jaws that snapped this antelope in half and dragged it up this tree. Suddenly there was movement ahead of us. I saw a flash of yellow and heard a roar as everyone in the jeep froze. As quickly as it appeared, the leopard retreated in just a few jumps and left the tourists either gasping for air or desperately groping for their cameras. It was a mock charge. Not far sat two leopard cubs. Is there anything stronger than a mother's instinct to protect her offspring? It crossed my mind that if it had been a real charge, there would be no time to even load the gun. I felt vulnerable, like a featherless chicken. Humans, who created artificial intelligence and spaceships, how helpless we are in the face of nature! Nature, that created us along these fierce animals, upon whose territory we have encroached. I wished I was in a cage.

S Nesterova

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