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Creatures, quietude, and star-strewn skies in South Africa's Sundays River Valley

Due to working, I've found myself with precious little time to write during my stay in South Africa. I have therefore decided to share the following excerpt from a letter which I wrote to a friend:

Addo is a small citrus farming community that sprawls like a drowsy lioness across the sun-drenched plains of the Eastern Cape, tawny and lazy and feline, lolling but nimble in her rural repose beneath an infinite sapphire sky. The countryside is a soul-bracing tonic of a breath after months of being one more nameless inhabitant of seething, overpopulated cities.

The Orange Elephant is a backpackers’ lodge, a little haven of easygoing, creative community whose mosaicked, hand-painted, unheated grounds make their rough-around-the-edges little home 8 short kilometers from the southwestern border of Addo Elephant National Park. I am the content, if shivering occupant of one of three time-kissed and faded single beds in a haphazardly furnished little room behind the reception desk, where I work making bookings, checking in guests, and welcoming the world to South Africa. In exchange I get a quirky but perfectly adequate place to sleep along with two solid meals each day.

It’s low season, so I get to spend long, quiet days reading books and dozing in the sun, lounging in the garden where it’s something close to warm between checking in and seeing off the guests. I am also allowed to hop on with the safaris when they go off to visit the park. The guides pass me off as South African to the guards so I get in for 50 rand ($5).

I’ve seen lions lounging on the limitless savannah, zebra grazing idly on the gilded plains like chiaroscuro punk rock ponies, elephants lumbering in herds that stretch the breadth of the vast, empty landscape, spiral-horned kudu leaping down the hillsides, belly-dancing black-headed herons, massive Cape buffalo with their peculiarly helmet-like antediluvian headwear, their herds trailed by flocks of snow silver cattle egret dancing the gauntlet of their thundering hooves to pilfer the displaced insects. I’ve seen fleet-footed jackals sleuthing through the grass with strangely patterned black and white backs that look like intricately woven antique Persian carpets, a caracal cat with ears like a lynx, warthogs scurrying through the foothills.

Every evening the wide, soaring sky overflows with lavender cloud formations, their edges gilded, their backdrop steeped in that unnamable, incandescent color that hovers somewhere between vibrant tangerine and the deepest, most luminous pink. The sunsets are so breathtaking that nothing dare follow them but the Milky Way in all of its glory—all of its blinding, unfiltered effulgence, its glittering, untamed extravagance. It looks as if Zeus has crushed the sun by hand and strewn its radiant remains through the heavens.

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