So we’re still on the topic of expeditions down the old familiar roads close by. Toe besluit ek laasweek om weer ‘n slag onder by die krappe te gaan kuier. Destyds toe ek Zululand toe getrek het, was een van die vele stukkies raad wat my uit die bekender Kaap na die Ooskus gevolg het: “Daa’s krappe daar!”
I headed down to the Umlalazi Nature Reserve a couple of times during the past few weeks to go see what the little creatures of the lagoon, beach and forest are up to. It’s been really dry in KZN this year and the forest floor had been an ominous light brown crackle the last time I had ventured there. But the past few weeks rain soaked the red soil of Zululand again.
Prinses patiently waits at the parking lot each time, looking out over the Mlalazi river close to the sign that warns against crocodiles – ek mis die prentjie van die seekoei wat altyd daarby was. But it’s not hippos and crocs we’re after in the mangrove swamp. Poking from their assorted holes below the mangrove trees, the crabs retract their jolly red selves away from the camera. They’re always sitting there, each in front of a hole, sometimes scuttling back a little bit more slowly, so you can catch a glimpse of an altercation or of a leaf being dragged. Hierdie twee was te besig met ‘n huismoles of ‘n “hies-jou-kesj” om ons raak te sien:
Mangliete is mos nie ‘n naam wat lekker sê nie, maar hierdie goed is iets besonders. Onder langs die lagoon staan ‘n moeras vol van hulle. See that long peg-like thing on the picture here below? It’s a seed than pegs like a rocket into the ground when the time is right and shoot out some roots before the tide can wash it away again. And those yellow leaves are full of extra salt, because these incredible plants grow in thick mud in the salty coastal water. Bits of roots stick up like snorkels between the crab tunnels. There are different kinds of mangrove trees here and when you walk on the little wooden path winding through them to John Dunn’s Bath, the sounds of the lagoon parking lot become slightly muted. Like when snow starts falling – if you can imagine snow in this sweltering humidity. Onwillekeurig kyk ‘n mens altyd boontoe om te sien of die visvanger nie dalk hier iewers sit nie. The Mangrove Kingfisher is not showing himself today but in the distance the Fish Eagles are squealing and fish are plopping in the lagoon as the path winds around the corner. Red claws disappear into holes and maybe if someone is walking with you when you visit here, point out the magrove snails on the trunks of the trees.
Some other time I might tell you the story of John Dunn, one of the characters from the region’s colourful past. But this thing over here between the Mangrove Swamp and the Umlalazi river is not just a muddy puddle. It was a pool, dug for John’s wives to take a bath a safe distance away from the crocodiles and hippo’s. It’s a story all by itself, but today I’m here for the mudskippers. I don’t always see them, but few things can cheer me up like watching one of these prehistoric-looking little creatures skip across the surface of the water leaving tracks of tiny spiraling waves like heavy raindrops. Look carefully where this one is making a stop on the mud:
Their funny little fins and bulging eyes can hush the shaky photographer, squatting in the squelching mud into the kind of awe that makes the world beyond the mangrove tops fade away for a few moments. Later, cutting through the forest on the way to the beach, the big ferns flicker in the same quiet light. Die klein pilduisendpoot wat in ‘n bolletjie opkrul wanneer mens aan hom raak en die rooi duiker met die wikkelende stertjie bly hier in die duinewoud. Our man pill millipede over here curls up into a perfect little ball when you disturb his slow crawl across his buffet of forest detritus. And that wagging little red tail disappearing between the trees and elk ferns is a red duiker.
On the other side of the forested dunes, the Indian Ocean is roaring. Next time, we’ll go there.