The “Hippo Crossing” road sign into the small town of St. Lucia gives us an initial impression of gimmick tourist trap.
That is, until we cross the estuary where several hippos grazing underwater lift their heads up for air, several feet from the road.
After getting settled into Bib’s International Backpackers Hostel, I head out for supplies.
At the liquor store, Burt the owner learns that I’m from the United States. “Stephen King just left here yesterday,” he says. “He comes here a lot on holiday and we’re good friends.” Burt always gets a free copy of King’s books, and asked me to send him a copy of mine. I laugh. “Don’t expect a great novel.” Bert gives me the PO Box for the bank where his wife works. “Can’t send it to my house, mail gets stolen in South Africa.”
Friendly folks talk to us everywhere in this town. St. Lucia had transformed from fishing to tourism. Over a dish of lamb curry at the Deep Sea Angling Club, a patron tells us that the iSimangaliso Wetland Park protects five distinct ecosystems and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. He also warns us about walking around at night. “That’s when hippos come out of the water to graze on land.”
Hank Swatter tells us a story about his father, who is a rare survivor of hippo attack…One night about two years ago, their “sausage dog” starts barking. Anthony Swatter goes into the yard without a lantern, expecting to catch a burglar. He startles a hippo, who attacks him and gouges his abdomen with his tusks. Then hippo bites down on Anthony’s leg and flings him into the bush, snapping off the leg with his teeth. Hippo tries to gouge again, when Anthony swings a desperate punch onto hippo’s sensitive lips. Hippo resumes grazing, while emergency medical staff attend to the victim. Anthony lives with a prosthesis and colostomy bag. (Google “Man loses leg in hippo attack” if interested)
Let’s drive though Hluhluwe Game Reserve and spot some animals. From the safety of our little Honda, we have a front row seat to watch a grazing rhino.
A monkey along the way has a serious case of “blue balls!”
Buffalo, waterbuck, and colorful nyala are not bothered too much by our presence.
There is something new and thrilling around every corner here in Southern Africa.
I wonder if Stephen King’s next book will involve hippos.