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On Safari in South Africa: Bob Marley and The “Big Five”

Note: Tonight, if all goes as planned, I will be headed to London to catch a flight to South Africa. The trip will include visiting Johannesburg, Capetown, and going on safari at Kwandwe private game reserve.

This will be my fourth trip to one of the world’s most spectacular countries. It’s a very special place te me because a version of the post I wrote below was one that of the first blog posts I wrote in 2010 for then just launched Tablet Hotels Tablet Talk blog, which has changed formats a few times and now longer exists. I’d encourage you to check out the new Tablet Hotels site and their new magazine section.

Bob Marley & The Big Five

It’s a moment I’ll never forget and it happened on safari in at in South Africa. A half-hour before dawn. A local tribesman, who also worked as a security guard for the camp, came to my hut and escorted me to the main lodge. Using his flashlight to show me the path, he stopped and pointed to the nearby bushes.

“There buffalo,” he warned me calmly. Having grown up protecting his father’s cattle, my guard was utterly unfazed by the giant creature a few meters away that could have easily charged and gored both of us to death.


Cape Buffalo- One of the Big Five game animals

As we continued on our way, the guard began singing to himself, “Buffalo soldier….”

Without thinking, I joined in and finished the lyric, “…dreadlocked Rasta.” The guard stopped in his tracks. It was the first time I’d seen him startled.

He asked, “You know that song?” I laughed and told him “everybody knows that song.” His visible confusion gave way to a smile and for the rest of the walk, we sang the chorus together: “Woy yoy yoy, woy yoy-yoy yoy….”

I learned a lot on that walk– how enormously popular Bob Marley is, and how vastly different my world was from the tribesman’s. For a few minutes, we were able to break through cultural barriers with the help of a catchy reggae tune. Travel is the best education I’ve ever had, and with it comes moments that change your world view forever. I came to South Africa to see the animals but I knew the next time I’d be coming back because of the people.

Wounded leopard

A beautiful wounded leopard

The safari did not disappoint. At Londolozi, a pioneering private gamer reserve,  I saw (and photographed) all of the “big five” animals: leopards, elephants, lions, rhinos and buffalo. I noticed that scarred animals in the wild look vastly different from their unblemished zoo-dwelling counterparts. I watched hyenas pace at the base of a tree; waiting for a leopard feasting on antelope remains to drop some scraps. I drank sundowners in the bush while watching giraffes stroll by. My ranger taught me more about the stars than I would have studied in a university course. Everything is bigger in South Africa—the skies, the animals, the HIV problem. But the biggest lesson I learned on safari is that English isn’t the universal language —it’s the songs of Bob Marley.

On safari image

A picture of a morning game drive on safari at Londolozi