The most memorable trip for me would have to be a 4 week journey through the country of South Africa. This was something I had dreamed of doing since I was a child, and in 2014 I had the opportunity to go. This was a time in my life where a lot of personal things were in change, and looking back on this trip, it was all in perfect timing. I can remember the trance of unbelief I sat in on the plane for a solid 20 hours, and the inner rush that poured through me as I walked out of the airport onto the African soil for the first time. At this point I really had no idea what I was in for and my only ambition was to document this voyage to the very best of my abilities.
My plan for the 4 weeks was to rent a vehicle and obviously head straight to Kruger National Park. I would begin at the northern point of the park and travel south for a week and a half documenting as much wildlife encounters as possible. Once I made it to the southern tip I would head south east, tucking around Swaziland's border to arrive in St. Lucia. Here I would spend as much time as needed before traveling west to Creighton, stopping as desired along the way, and then finishing my travel in The Kingdom of Lesotho before making the voyage back to Johannesburg to end the adventure. This was my target plan and basically exactly what I did.
Arriving in Kruger
I spent the first 4-5 days documenting as many bird species as possible and taking ID images of just as many. This really took me back to my basic roots in photography where I photographed things only to identify and record them later. The first part of this trip reminded me a lot of my previous trip to Australia where the landscapes were large, open and vast making it hard to create good images of birds, along with the fact that you are not to exit your vehicle at any point or for any reason while traveling alone in KNP. So creating a decent ID image is what I focused on for the first week or so until I reached different environments. My eyes were always open for the big cats but at this moment in time a lion, leopard or cheetah were still very fairy-tale-like creatures to be able to see in a wild place; and it was a solid week before I was able to view and photograph my first big cat.
First Lion Sighting
With no other vehicles in site on the long stretch of road I was traveling I truly took this moment in and will always remember these two incredible felines. I had different lion encounters along my way but this one has stood out to me in the years since my return. This was the road and place where I left my heart in Africa. As they departed from the scene they sunk slowly into the grasses until they disappeared into a camouflaged unity with their natural surroundings.
Animal tracking on Africa's earth
Africa has so many animals that are readily seen that it truly has a different haven then any other place on earth I've been. While other places like the Amazon jungle have a massive variety of wildlife, Africa's medium to large animals make themselves very well known. The further I traveled the more I seen and the deeper I went the more abundant life was. I found myself alone, with entire areas to myself and wildlife to explore, learn and take Africa deeply in. There are very strict guidelines throughout the park to stay in vehicles but the more secluded I became, the more I ventured outside of my closed quarters. I have tracked animals on foot for years throughout North, Central and South America, so when being told to stay inside a vehicle when I see tracks in abundance on every river bed I drive across and I'm in a place called Africa; every piece of me wanted to stay outside of my jeep.
Leopard tracks seemed to be very common along river sides as well as Nile Crocodile and crossing ungulates. To have the opportunity to examine the many different tracks Africa's earth has to offer was very educational and mind-numbing experience. Caution for safety was on my mind more then ever before and an extremely humble respect for all that is superior to man-kind was at the top of my head. The strange thing is, I have traveled many miles on foot through dense american jungles not knowing what lies 10 feet ahead. I have spent countless hours in the Australian forest searching for animals I know to have deadly bites. Walking through a piece of African open savanna or along a river bank where I can see for miles inflicted a completely new sense of the sort of respect you gain when you know, without a doubt, that you are right around the bottom of the food chain. All in all, this was a much needed change of experience that I was in need of at this point in my life.
Stay tuned for part 2 of my voyage through South Africa as I continue my travels through Kruger National Park and southward to ST. Lucia!!
Robbie P. Gallant
As a naturalist, I spend a great amount of time in personal study. Discussion and research is key to exploring new and intelligent ideas and furthering our understanding of our natural surroundings.