The Waterberg district is located in Limpopo province and home to enormous private game parks which make this area a popular safari destination.Unfortunately, some of the private reserves are in the business of catering to hunters. They breed animals for the sole purpose of selling a hunter the right to kill it. Unconscionable!
We traveled here for a very special type of safari: on horseback. Ant’s Hill, along with its neighbor Ant’s Nest, comprises 5000 hectares and thousands of wild animals. Their specialty is horseback safaris although of course they also offer game drives by jeep, mountain biking and walking tours. No hunting allowed here.
The place is gorgeous. The boys got their own room which is more like a villa with a front balcony the size of a small bedroom from where they can look out at the “Bush”.
Fernando and I got the better one this time called the “Hideaway” because it is tucked far from the main lodge in between a rocky outcrop. We even have our very own pool! This is definitely not roughing it.
Walking from the lodge to our villa in the darkness of night for a scaredy cat who still remembers her Catholic upbringing is an excercise in valor. I asked the manager that first night if there was anything out there that would eat me and she said no. I confronted her the next day when I found out that leopards live here. Her response was that they are seldom seen. Today I found out that there are hyenas too! “Don’t worry, they don’t usually go for people.” Don’t get the wrong idea though, everyone here has absolutely outdone themselves making sure we have a good time. The scariest portion of our safari was when, during dinner one night, a fellow tourist from England declared that Donald Trump would definitely become the next USA prez!
We got our horses on our first morning and set out for a 3 hr ride.
The horses are kept semi-wild: they are fed twice a day but roam free otherwise. This means that the animals here are used to the horses walking around them, drinking from the same waterholes they drink from
and sometimes even going down for the night in the same area. This makes a horseback safari ideal as the animals will accept the horses, and their riders, coming amongst them without bother.
Getting in that close to the animals is absolutely wonderful.
Unfortunately for me, that first ride proved to be too much torture: it made my bad knee angry and I had to give horses up in favor of a jeep. Don’t feel too bad for me though, I got a private guide who had an encyclopedia for a brain.
He tracked the animals by their footprints and droppings and told me more about them than I can ever remember. He recognized birds by their call and rhinos by the rubbing of their horns on a termite mound. I’ve never been that interested in birds or insects but Mike had such passion for them that it was impossible not to catch it. I could probably give you a lecture on termite social structure after all I learned from him. Interesting tidbit: mounds are kept at a toasty 32•C so that the fungi the termites farm can thrive and if you put your hand over a termite chimney you can feel the warm humidity emanating from it.
He also told me about how the “Sonbird” while very similar to our hummingbirds, evolved from a completely different line. This is called convergent evolution. He made an embarrassed pause here and I had to coax him into continuing. Turns out that USA tourists have a reputation for not accepting evolution and thus the guides are trained to thread lightly on the subject. Once I reassured him that I wasn’t a dimwit, he excitedly went on to tell me about the different lines of evolution which gave us aardvarks in Africa and anteaters in America. We talked about leopard evolution and buffalo diseases. Or rather he talked while I interjected an ooh and an aah here and there.
Our days consisted of twice daily 2-3hr game drives for me, horse rides for the guys. We had lunch together “in the bush”, meaning next to a waterhole from where we could see zebras, warthogs, impala, kudu
and even a shy zebra come by to have a drink.
In the late afternoon we had “sundowners”: we would be taken to different spots on the property from where we watched the sun set while having drinks. The chef took pride in his dishes and rightly so. Tipical African dishes included Ostrich (much better than the one we had in CapeTown), Kudu (similar taste to Roast Beef), Impala (good steak), pap (hard and dry fist-size ball of white maize), biltong (best jerky ever), and dry wops (dry sausage). Everything, but the pap, was delicious.
Rhino poaching is a huge problem and signs prohibiting it are everywhere. The Waterberg area is losing about a thousand rhinos every year. This outnumbers the births per year and thus the population is declining rapidly.
The main culprits are the Chinese with their demand for rhino horn which is thought to be an aphrodisiac. Although scientific studies have proven this claim to be untrue, they have done nothing to curtail demand. The reserve has now taken the drastic decision to inject their rhinos’ horns with poison rendering them not just useless but outright dangerous to human consumption.
Rhinos are beautiful creatures and it is terribly sad that this measure has become necessary.
This place definitely falls outside the range of our usual trips but that’s the thing about Africa. To be able to participate in a horseback safari, a private game reserve is the only way to do it. Having now got the hang of what a safari is like, we travel to our next destination, the Greater Kruger, full of anticipation for the “big 5”.