Allan Rogers travels south and finds a warm welcome at an
We were camping in South West France when a great mass of small birds began to fly over us in a southerly direction. A migration obviously seeking even warmer climes than ours, sadly we considered the prospect of leaving the Mediterranean and heading back to the chilly north. The season was almost over and the campsite was about to close. The flight of the birds continued for about twenty minutes ending with a few stragglers in groups of three or four. It was then the thought occurred to us
“ If we can’t follow the birds to Africa, perhaps we can do the next best thing.”
So we drove an hour further south and visited The Reserve Africaine near Sigean to experience the A to Z of animals, everything from Apes to Zebras.
It was warmer but still a case of ‘carry on camping.’ We stayed at a site called le Grange Neuve which is often used as a ‘stop over’ site for people travelling to Spain. We spent a bit of time finding a pitch level to enough to ensure comfortable sleeping in our campervan. Surprisingly we found a space that turned out to be close to the Reserve fence. (The Reserve occupies a massive 3000 hectares.)
It was a very pleasant location and with our binoculars on the breakfast table we watched goats, deer, ostrich and animals with very long horns. At night sky was beautiful and full of stars, but the road noise from distant A9 motorway not so good.
The Reserve Africaine is divided into eight parks that you can drive around as often as you like. Since the animals move about you may get a better view of them, or even see different ones the next time round.
You might think that they would be very shy and certainly most of them are, I found this apart from one particular ostrich that turned out to be a bit of a character.
As we tried to leave the first park he was standing in the middle of the road guarding the exit grid. He came up to our car windscreen, attracted by a bright orange flower that had previously been a decoration on a large ice-cream concoction. He pecked at the glass viciously. I am sure he would have had our windscreen wipers off if we had not reversed and edged round him .He was definitely not in the least intimidated by our camper van.
The whole day was wonderful with many different animals in various locations. Everything from the very fast cheeta to the relaxingly slow tortiose. It is recommended that you allow at least four hours for the experience.
Other animals that you get quite a good view off are the black bears. They lazed in the sun as we drove by. One particular animal leaned over the wall of his den and seemed just as interested in us as we were in him.
Then it was into the park of the lions, but not before being given a leaflet instructing us not to get out of the car and to close our windows tight. Well we certainly did. It was a while before we saw them and almost unexpectedly. As the dirt track rounded a little hill we found a pride of them sheltering from the blazing sun under a tree.
Conditions were perfect for taking pictures but we did not linger to try and photograph one of the Rhinoceros. Weimagined what he could do to a car with that huge can opener on the end of his snout. The scenery in the park was attractive and there was so much space. Looking beyond the palm trees of an oasis set in a wide landscape I focussed my binoculars on the black and white stripes of a herd of zebras.
They were moving slowly as they grazed. Further on we drove by cattle with great wide horns then a donkey followed by a warthog crossed over the road quite unconcerned by our car.
Eventually we came to one of the car parks and took to the walking trails. This bit was more like a regular zoo. On one island a multitude of little monkeys dropped from the trees while swans with white bodies and jet back necks paddled gracefully around the moat. It was all so varied.
We walked out on a raised peninsula to take a wide view of a great African plain in which animals gathered by a water hole. The walking experience at the Reserve can occupy a couple of hours and there were plenty of places to relax. We sat by the etang, a great inland lake and watched the birds fly in to join the mass of flamingos that settled on the water and every now and then there would be a flash of brilliant scarlet as one would flex his wings as he pushed in..
Climbing up the hill back to the car park we looked over the water to the hills beyond and taking in the vista considered ourselves lucky to be there, particulaly out of season when we could more easily share the space with the 38000 animals who live there.
Back at the campsite next to the African Reserve we watched the animals over the fence and as a small skane of geese flew over the sun glinted orange on the underside of their wings. They banked round to land on the lake and we knew that they had the right idea about where to spend the winter.
For more information see www.reserveafricainesigean.fr/