Teen returns from his safari

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 14, 2007

FRANKLIN—A local youth has been on an adventure that would even have made even the most famous globe-trotters proud.

Lowered inside a cage into the frigid Indian Ocean where great white sharks had been baited, 13-year-old William Miles received his most personal view ever of the large predatory fish.

He would later write in his journal, “It was so cold. But I forgot about that once I saw that huge great white swim right in front of me. It was all worth it. What a rush.”

Miles experienced much more in South Africa after he was selected as one of 15 winners of the National Geographic Kids magazine “Hands-On Explorer Challenge.” Miles was chosen out of 4,000 entries nationwide, and was the only youth selected from Virginia. The winners were part of an expedition team that had the opportunity to explore Grootbos Private Nature Reserve and Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve.

Cage diving with the sharks and whale-watching were just two of the highlights for Miles before he even got to Grootbos. A trip to Dyer Island was also on the agenda.

“There was a group of researchers at Dyer Island who were penguin rehabilitators,” he said, noting one penguin required special attention because of a bottle cap that had become permanently stuck in its beak.

“The penguins were becoming endangered because the ground was too hard and full of rubble for them to dig down far enough to lay their eggs.

“Seagulls were eating the eggs, so they built these ‘igloos’ to protect the eggs.”

The youth received a certificate for their contribution to the cause by helping with the igloos.

The group visited “the township”, where although it is free to live, homes are erected out of cardboard, tin or any other available materials.

“It was so moving to see people living in that state, but that were so happy,” said Miles. “It was very humbling.”

Miles said there was a huge celebration held on their final night in Grootbos.

“It was the most fun I’ve had all summer,” he said. “It was very interactive. There was a band and we played instruments with them and sang songs.”

About six days since leaving his home in Franklin, Miles was about to go on his first safari at Sabi Sabi, where discovering giraffe bones was just as common as finding a deer’s bones here.

“There was a morning safari and a night safari each day,” he said. “It was so much fun. On the first safari, I saw a baby elephant. The giraffes were nocturnal, so the pictures didn’t turn out so good of them.”

Lions, jaguar, wild dogs, zebra, rhinoceros, impala and kudu (African antelope) and many varieties of bird species were among the wildlife Miles observed.

“The food was good. I tried some kudu,” he said. “It was weird because we saw them (out in the wild), then we ate it. It was served cold and tasted sweeter than beef.

The monkeys were scary. They would swoop down and take bananas off of the buffet.”

The day before leaving, the group visited a pre K school and a middle/high school.

“The kids looked so unhealthy at the pre K school,” he said. “But at the middle/high it was totally different. I think it was one of the more upscale schools. They all wore uniforms.”

Two months prior to the trip, winners and their families had fund-raisers to benefit one of the schools in South Africa. More than $2,000 was raised toward a computer and Internet service for those students.

After another “beautiful sunset,” Miles awoke the last morning, saddened in a way that he was going home.

He would miss the other youth on the expedition team, the wild dog pups, the South African people who were so accepting of everyone and the guava juice that was so plentiful at Grootbos.

His final journal entry, written as he listened to the birds chirping that last morning, states, “Out of all the places I’ve been and all the people I’ve met, none of them can even slightly compare…

“If you are reading this, with my permission of course, please do not say anything,” he read. “Just look back in my direction and smile.”