First Stripes in Pietermaritzburg!

Meghan Gaucher is a student at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and a Classmates Connecting Cultures Blogger corresponding with a writing class at HWS. Meghan is currently studying abroad with Interstudy in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

I spotted three giraffes above the tree line as we walked deeper into the reserve!

Zebras & giraffes…yup! I’m in Africa.

The wildlife reserve was quiet and peaceful, and we immediately proceeded to spot the wildlife, stopping at the stalls of horses used for horseback rides through the reserve. The quiet hum of bugs and soft, swaying grass putt me at ease, reminding me of how much I enjoy being outside, away from people, distractions, and my constant need to have my phone. After traveling to Thailand and working at an Elephant Nature Park, I have come to appreciate the preservation efforts made to allow wild animals to live like wild animals with as little human contact as possible. The importance of ecotourism is growing in many regions where wildlife is such an important part of their culture, environment, and tourist attractions.

No employee even was in sight, and we were allowed to just walk through the reserve, hanging out with zebra, giraffes, and antelope! I was completely in heaven. I grew up horseback riding and felt like I was out West amongst wild horses-but these were South African zebras! They were much smaller than I thought, and stayed in tight packs of two or more, rest their heads on each other’s backs and slapping the bugs off their backs with their black and white tails. The males seemed to have deeper black stripes that were prominent amongst the white stripes.


We made sure to keep our distance and voices low to not scare them off. I took my time, observing and taking pictures, embracing the peaceful of the reserve and the preservation of not only the animals and their lifestyle but their environment. Although trees were sparse, there were big and small trees, and the paths were narrow and sandy, as both giraffes, zebras, and people plundered through them.

I saw the giraffe when I was gazing at the tree line and spotted a moving branch. The graceful lingering of the giraffe as it nibbled on the hanging tree branch. There were eight giraffes, just kind of staring back at us; two worlds greeting each other. We took photographs of their tall necks, stout ears, and big, glossy eyes as they continued to watch us, curious and cautious. Their gentle movements reminded me of elephants and other large creatures of the jungle and African planes, taking their time in the harsh terrain.

As we continued down the path, I stopped to watch a patch of zebras, who’s back were just visible over the tall, yellow grass. A giraffe grazed in the background, eating in solitude. I then followed the giraffes gaze to the paved highway in the background that crept up into the mountains. It was then that it hit me; I was in South Africa, and I was exactly where I wanted to be, and I couldn’t have been happier than realizing this at that exact moment. Sometimes walking away from the group and taking in the moment for what it is, and observing whats around you for yourself, can help me gain insight into a new perspective, and allowed me to reflect a little bit on where we were-with zebras and giraffes!

I can’t wait to go back there again sometime this week after classes at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzberg and bring my book or my journal, and sit at the picnic table surrounded by zebras and giraffes in their habitat!

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