Chris and Ems Johnsen of Christian Art Distributors flew Karen Watson, Rick and I to Port Elizabeth, where they rented a van and we drove an hour to the bushveld of Shamwari. Oh, my, we saw giraffes in the distance! I didn’t expect to see animals so soon. In fact, I thought we would be fortunate to see animals at all. As we pulled up to the gate into the compound, I noticed the electric fencing and thorn-bush mounded as another barrier. There were springboks grazing in the field!
We checked in and our luggage was delivered to our beautiful room with a veranda over-looking the South African landscape. We grabbed jackets, gathered in the tea room at 3:30 p.m. for refreshments and headed for the all-terrain vehicle for our first outing. We hadn’t gone more than a couple of miles and there was a tower of giraffes dining on thorn trees. Did you know they have purple tongues? I didn’t! We gawked. They glanced our way as though to say: “Oh, hi, folks. Nice to see you.” We gaped. We snapped pictures by the dozens. We sighed. Then off we went. We hadn’t driven more than fifteen minutes and found ourselves in the midst of a parade of elephants! And they had babies! Lots of babies! The guide said not to be afraid. Who’s afraid? We were over-the-moon excited. Who cared that one protective mama could turn us over and stomp us out of existence? One large mama did approach, and Roger held up his hand and spoke very calmly. “Respect the animals.” She checked us out and strolled by. Roger had a loaded gun, but he’s never had to use it at Shamwari. We just sat in awe and watched the elephants dining on thorn bushes. One mama nursed her baby within yards of us. Three young ones played rough-house until an older sibling intervened. We watched as the parade passed by on both sides of the vehicle. Amazing!!
Over the next day and last morning, we went out on three more outings of three hours each, and saw a trio of lionesses (happily replete on a recent kill), a “teenage” male lion gazing at the sunset, the king of the pride napping after having had the lion’s share, a zeal of zebras, a crash of black and white rhinos (one with baby), a pair of cheetahs napping in the road, three hippos, an obstinacy of cranky buffalo, and herds of springboks, waterbucks, bushbucks, elands, kudus, impalas, hartebeests, sable antelope (endangered), two duikers and sounders of warthogs. We even saw four tortoises – two meandering along, and two courting, the female surging ahead while the male plodded in hot pursuit! That doesn’t count the rush of swifts that had built nests in the eaves of the beautiful colonial buildings or the weaver bird nests or the visiting adorably ugly warthogs with tails up like banners as they trotted across the lawn in front of our veranda.
Ah, South Africa. A touch of heaven on earth. Rick and I agree the time at Shamwari with Chris and Ems Johnsen and Karen Watson will stand out as one of the most extraordinary experiences of our lives.