What’s Your Big 5?

I recently came across this advertisement in a magazine, I think it was actually the Smithsonian. The balloon jumped off the page for me – we did a balloon safari ourselves (though over the Magaliesberg, which looked a lot greener or rather bluer than the desert-like landscape pictured here) in 2010, and I have fond memories of it.

the big five

I’m surprised by the many South African tourism ads you see everywhere. Not sure why it surprises me – after all, South Africa is one of the most diverse and stunning travel destinations in the world – but it does. It always gives me a jolt of pleasure to see South Africa mentioned, and a jolt of regret that I no longer live there.

In any case, this ad asked “What’s Your Big 5?”, which I thought was very cleverly done. It alludes to the “Big Five,” which are, in case you are a newbie and don’t know, Lion, Leopard, Buffalo, Elephant, and Rhino. Not because they are the most awesome (I can think of many more awesome animals I’ve spotted on a safari than a buffalo) or the most dangerous (we’ve driven right up to so many rhinos, and they seem to be such easy prey for poachers, it’s hard to see them as dangerous at all – try a hippo insead!), but because in the days when big game hunters still roamed Africa in droves, those five animals supplied the most sought after trophies and proved to be the most difficult to hunt. At least for someone just armed with a single shot rifle. That last part is just my interpretation.

So I saw the ad and immediately got to thinking. What WAS my Big Five? Friends of mine, when I posted the ad on Facebook, beat me to the punch.

The smell of the bush

the smiles of the people
the taste of the food
the warmth of the sunshine
the feel of a wine glass in my hand on a Sunday afternoon

wrote Natalie. My friend Jacky was even more concise. Hers are:

open roads
and 4x4s
Both paint wonderful images of South Africa in just a few strokes. I can’t really top that, but I’ll add my own nonetheless. As you know, I’m not one to confine myself to few words when I might as well use many, so mine won’t be quite as brief.

Joburg Expat’s South African Big Five


ONE: Reclining in the lounge chair by our pool with my (admittedly non-South-African) newspaper sometime in the late fall when the chill of the night still lingers past sunrise, gazing over the glittering surface of the water, letting the morning sun warm me while listening to the screeches of the hadedas and watching a weaver bird build his nest in the acacia tree.


TWO: Rattling through the African bush on a bumpy safari truck full of anticipation about the next animal we might come across, and listening to the guide part with his immense knowledge about plants, animals, and most everything under the sun.

THREE: Picking up my child from a playdate and parking the car in the driveway already knowing that I’ll be asked in for a coffee and a glass of wine and probably an entire boerewors to boot, not emerging until hours of great conversation and laughter later.

FOUR: Hearing nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika sung by South African school children standing at attention in their uniforms and then listening to a soaring speech by the school headmaster in his beautifully accented South African English.

FIVE: Exchanging battle stories about wildfires extinguished, broken axles repaired, busted tires changed, and tennis matches lost and won, all in the company of our wonderful South African friends over glasses of Chardonnay and big bowls full of biltong, with the roast already sizzling on the braai and the Malva Pudding in the oven.

The Big Five is what everyone comes to see in South Africa, but you may take away a very different Big Five when you leave. Have you found yours?

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