Authors: Bindi Irwin
Copyright Â© Random House Australia 2010
Cover photograph Â© Australia Zoo
Cover and internal design by Christabella Designs
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First published by Random House Australia in 2010.
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From the window in Hannah's bedroom, Bindi watched in awe as dawn broke over a beautiful view of the African bush. Right out the front of the farmhouse was a giant baobab tree that Bindi was itching to climb. It had a really wide, gnarly trunk, which was so different from the skinny gum trees back home. She felt sure that from the top of that tree you would be able to see the whole country.
But climbing it would have to wait, because the trekkers had an early start. Hannah's mum, Kirsten, ran a horse-trekking business called Trailblazers in Limpopo, South Africa, for tourists who were keen to see African wildlife. Limpopo was filled with game parks and nature reserves. It was a really pretty corner of the country with a wide variety of native animals.
Bindi, her mum, Terri, and brother, Robert, had been staying in Cape Town to film a movie and had arrived the day before for a short visit before heading home to Australia. Bindi and Hannah would spend the next three days riding with Thabu, Trailblazers' most senior guide. Thabu and his family lived and worked at the farm. They were of the North Sotho tribe.
“Which horse is going to be mine?” cried Bindi excitedly as she raced out of the farmhouse toward the stables.
Hannah was already there, setting up for the ride. She laughed at Bindi's enthusiasm. “Mum told me I should let you sleep in.”
“No way. How could I sleep in when I'm this excited?!” Bindi couldn't decide what she thought was going to be the best part of the ride: roughing it in the wild for three days, cooking their own food, or seeing every kind of African creature, from a dung beetle to an elephant!
Thabu smiled at Bindi's energy as he took her to meet her horse. He was a palomino, a tan horse with a beautiful white mane and tail.
“What's his name, Thabu?” she asked as she stroked the horse's neck and spoke gently to him. He seemed to like it. Bindi knew they were going to be very good friends.
“His name is Koto.”
“Koto. Ko-to.” Bindi loved to practice saying words in a different language. They didn't sound anything like Aussie words!
Hannah was busy saddling her own horse. She was a gray mare (which in horse language meant white) named Pippi. She was named after Pippi Longstocking, because she had black markings on her legs that looked just like stockings. Bindi couldn't wait to see Hannah ride; she knew she was really good.
Terri and Kirsten came outside carrying the food and water the riders would need for the trek. “I think you'll really like the food Kirsten's prepared for you,” called Terri. As Terri knew, Bindi always got really hungry when they went camping. Food was something she looked forward to.
While Terri packed the saddle bags, Kirsten turned to Bindi and Hannah with a serious expression. “Now remember, girls, you'll be seeing lots of wild animals in their own habitat. You are to obey Thabu at all times. You might be riding in a game park but this is
She waited for both girls to nod their understanding before she went on.
“When you're riding the horses, their sweat and scent overpowers your own human smell. This means you're able to get closer to the wildlife without them realizing. It's a different story when you're on foot. At the campsite you must stay close to Thabu. No wandering off.”
The girls nodded again, this time a little distractedly. They couldn't wait to get going!
Kirsten smiled. “Well, have fun!”
Bindi gave Terri a quick good-bye hug. She looked around for Robert. He had made friends with Thabu's son, Mpho. The boys were the same age and had bonded over Mpho's promise to show Robert every lizard hideout on the property. Bindi noticed the two of them huddled over something in the dirt.
Bindi called out to Robert as she mounted Koto. “See you later, alligator!”
“Wait up! I've got a present for you, Bindi!” Robert ran up to her, carrying something wrapped in cloth. He slipped the gift into Bindi's saddle bag. “But you can't open it until later.”
“Thanks!” Bindi was too excited about the ride to pay the surprise gift much attention. “See you all soon!”
“Bye, Bindi! Bye, Hannah! See you, Thabu!”
The remaining group stood around the stable yard waving. Robert and Mpho dashed away almost immediatelyâthey had lizards to find. Terri was going to be kept busy helping Kirsten with some repair work around the farm.
The three horses and their riders headed out of the stables and slowly made their way into the grassland.
Away from the farmlands, they were soon deep in the heart of the bush, surrounded by thorn trees and baobabs. The horses' ears pricked back and forth, listening to the sound of birds and the distant calls of wildlife.
Bindi felt a rush of excitement. The earth felt alive and she was very much a part of it.
It didn't matter how many countries Bindi visited, she never lost her sense of wonder about being somewhere completely new.
Here she was in Africa! The air smelled different. The water tasted different. Even the ground was different. In this part of Africa the soil was a rich red color. It was as if someone had spilled a pot of red paint and it had seeped deep into the earth.
They rode in single file with Thabu in the lead and Hannah bringing up the back. Bindi liked being in the middleâthat way she could talk to both Hannah and Thabu.
So far that morning they had heard the calls of lots of animals but not actually seen any. They had even played a guessing game where you had to try to name the animal by its call. Thabu was the judge, as he was an expert when it came to African animals.
Thabu held up his hand, signaling for them to stop. They had communicated a few times that morning using hand signals. Hannah had explained that the sounds of their voices could scare off any nearby animals.
They waited, wondering what could be lurking nearby. Then, to Bindi's disappointment, Thabu signaled for them to keep riding. Another false alarm! Bindi was beginning to wonder if there really
any wild animals living in Africa.
“When will we see a lion, Thabu?” Bindi asked. Bindi loved lions. She especially liked their cute cubs.
“Who can say, Bindi?” was all Thabu answered.
They rode on for a little longer but the day was growing hot and it was time to rest the horses. They tied them up in the shade while they ate their lunch in a nearby hide.
A hide was a man-made shelter that blended into the bush. It allowed you to watch animals without them seeing you. This hide was next to a water hole. If they kept quiet they would be able to see the animals up close when they came for a drink.
The three of them sat in silence, eating their sandwiches and watching the water hole. Still no animals. Bindi cleared her throat to speak. Thabu gave her a warning look and put his fingers to his lips. “Ah-ah.”
Bindi sighed and whispered, “I just wondered when you think we'll see something.”
Thabu smiled at her persistence. “The animals will come when you least expect it.”
Hannah pressed a couple of animal-shaped biscuits into Bindi's hand. “In the meantime you can make do with these,” she whispered with a quiet giggle.
Bindi stared at the bright pink icing on her rhino-shaped biscuit. She wondered if it was the closest she would come to a real African animal. She bit down hard on the rhino's leg.
“Shhh!” Hannah held her finger to her lips and pointed.
Approaching the water hole was a herd of springbok. They were a native African antelope, brown and white in color, and they could run super-fast. There were about eight adult springbok and three young ones. They were very elegant. As they reached the water, they spread their spindly legs and dropped their heads to drink.
Bindi was spellbound. Finally she was seeing the real Africa!