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The Dassie Man

Thursday, January 28, 2016

It was only right, in a place as magical as Hermanus, South Africa, that something strange and wonderful should happen.  After all, there were ice plants glowing magenta, surf crashing, and southern right whales lolling peacefully just offshore. Any place you can watch whales from solid ground is a very special place.

 There were turrets and fairy castles of stone making a city for hyraxes.

Hold that pose, little one. It's the perfect postcard. This shot made me laugh, reminded me of the rock squirrel who welcomed me to the Grand Canyon last July. 

Same concept, different continent and order of animal...

And the hyraxes, or dassies as they're called, scampered back and forth between grazing grounds and rock fastnesses, making tourists pause and smile.

Yes, there was magic on the salty breeze.

I'd never seen a hyrax before this trip, but it was my first to the Cape Region. Taxonomists don't really know what to do with this little package of weird. By its dentition and skeletal structure, we've figured out that its closest living relatives are elephants and manatees. That alone is enough to fold me in a pretzel upon first seeing one. And the rock hyrax more than lived up to its advance billing. 

Put a trunk on him. Or flippers. Just imagine. Look how he's grazed the crap out of everything that isn't taken over by ice plant. It looks like he got a bit of leaf, ptoo!! Ice plant tastes pretty bitter, being a halophilic, or salt-loving, plant. There. There's your botany nerd Word of the Day.

So I'm watching the hyraxes when this colorfully dressed man picks his way out into the city of dassies. I'm taken by how wonderful he looks in his bright colors in that surreal landscape when he 
pulls out a bag of carrots and sits down on the rock next to the communal dassie latrine. All that pale tan stuff is dassie pellets. Yow.

 The dassies know him, and it's clear they are happy to see him.

Before long he has a good crowd. He's calling them kind of the way you'd call chickens, with a repetitive sound. The dassies are scampering from all over their little rock metropolis. For some reason he's tossing the carrots right into the latrine. Not something I would do, but the dung being sun-dried, perhaps it's innocuous. The dassies look fat and healthy, and they're herbivores, after all...their droppings aren't so noxious.

I am consumed with curiosity about this man, and his relationship with the hyraxes. I consider for a long time whether to approach him. I want the story so long has he been feeding them? Does he know them individually? Does he come here every day?  How come you throw the carrots right in their poop? I can't help it...I always want more story.

So I climb down until I'm within earshot and do the old super-awkward,  hesitant, "Excuse me, sir. May I ask you a question?"

And get no response. Hmm. Maybe he doesn't hear well. I try again, a bit louder. Awkward!

Still no response. He doesn't even register being spoken to.

At this point I have to consider three distinct possibilities.

1. He's deaf.

2. He speaks only Afrikaans and doesn't want to engage me in English.

3. This is his church, and he's just here to commune with animals. He doesn't come here to talk to curious tourists.

I know when to fold 'em. I shut the hell up, back off, and capture one of my favorite images of the whole trip. 

Just a guy and his friends. Perhaps his best friends. It's not mine to know. At peace, in this magical place of turrets,  real-life gnomes, and landgoing manatees. 

                      And who am I to disturb this communion of souls? Leave him alone, Zick. 
                                                               Leave room for mystery.

I'm going back to South Africa in September 2016. Wanna come along? Click here for details.


It's fun to relive this experience--I recall when you first wrote about this magical encounter. Maybe before you go back to SA in 2016, you should pick up a few Afrikaans phrases--
--so, do you feed the daisies every day?
--why do you throw the carrots into the poop field?
You know, the usual small talk.

Teach me! Give it to me straight, in Afrikaans!!

And thanks for my first LOL of the day, Donna! Whoo! that was a good one. Still chuckling.

"...this magical place of turrets, real-life gnomes, and landgoing manatees."

ahhh, that we should all experience such a place, at least once in our lives and travels.

Delightful! I am heading to Cape Town in late March then on to Kruger April 7th for a 10-day tour. We have engaged Lawson's tours with your recommendation. Thanks for the posts! I am loving them and am getting ready and excited to go!

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