The Mistral winds were strong today, unusually warm and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. We stood in our yard, energized from feeling the wind blow through our clothing, almost taking us into flight. Today was a day to discover, anything, just go outside and explore.
We piled in the Westy with snacks, blankets, and towels in hand and were on our way to the beach in Perpignan, about an hour drive from Capestang. The wind blew our van all over the highway, and it crossed my mind, that it may be too windy for a relaxing rest in the sand; when I saw the Reserve Aficaine de Sigean sign, ‘next right turn’.
My favorite thing about Alfonz; no matter what I ever suggest, how crazy, he never says maybe or later or even another time. He always enthusiastically jumps on the bandwagon, making our life so much fun! Making the right hand turn at the very last second, while gravel flew up from the tires as we straighten up on the road towards Sigean, made me laugh! My man of few words, Alfonz had firmly made the decision. The kids caught on only by the signs along the way, and we watched them erupt with excitement as soon as they realized where we were heading.
15km south of Narbonne, on the edge of the salt-lake, Bages-Sigean, at the mouth of River Berre and around a zone composed of salt marshes, the African Reserve was created. Founded in 1974, on nearly 300 Hectares of land along the Mediterranean coast, became home to 800 species of animals, and was designed vast enough to simulate their natural environment. Their purpose was to bread endangered African species, research them and to offer an education to their visitors.
Many animals naturally migrate to the area. And the 800 species cannot accurately be counted as there could easily be more varieties of birds that stop along their routes towards Africa.
Getting close to these animals and to see how they behave in their natural environment, and not in cages or behind bars, is an idea getting more popular with visitors increasing each and every year. We are familiar with this concept and frequented the Vancouver Game Farm, and conservation centre just outside Aldergrove, British Columbia, when we lived in Canada.
It seemed everyone in the Languedoc had the same idea on this crisp clear day. When we pulled up to the ticket line at the African Reserve, there were 10 vehicles ahead and 10 vehicles behind us, arriving in a caravan from the highway. We had no idea what to expect as we set our camera up for the experience.
98€ for the entry fee, broken down to 2×28€ for us adults and 2×21€ for the children was our total cost, not including 16€ for lunch. All in all a big budget for us for just one day, but we love wildlife and try to hit every zoo and aquarium on our adventures. Most run around the same price range, and more often than not, the money is well spent, especially with children.
We drove through the gates and asked the English speaking cashier ‘Where do we go from here?’ and she said, ‘Start by driving through the park, it will take about an hour. Then park your Van and walk through the rest. 3-4 hours in total.’
‘Sounds good to us! Thanks!’ And she handed us a map. Daniel navigated.
We followed the others and veered left, 150 meters towards a gate with a bridge designed with gaping spaces, too wide for an animal to walk across but narrow enough for a car tire to drive over.
Here we saw gazelles, zebras and ostriches. The Ostriches saw our open windows and sliding door and started running for our van. At that point we closed up as fast as we could, just as the ostriches ran past and started pecking at the mirror of the car behind us.
Well that was exciting! We should seriously keep the car on lock down, we all agreed.
Moments before the conversation went like this. Alfonz said, ‘Let’s keep the side door open, and take some great shots!’ That is how we entered into the zoo area. Note to self, learn to read the French warning signs. Keep all doors and windows closed!
I said, ‘But what if a ‘not so scary animal’ jumps into the van, let alone a scary one?’ He closed the side door, and said, ‘Yah, Daniel doesn’t like that idea at all.’
Good thing is all I can say. Especially knowing what came next!
The next gate, a man holding a rake handed us a brochure that said,
DANGER DO NOT STOP YOUR VEHICLE near the bear/ near the lions. Close your windows tight. Do not under any circumstances open your windows, or doors. Do not get out of your vehicle for any reason. These are highly dangerous animals.
Once through this gate, we immediately saw 3 large black bears next to our Westfalia van, one walked right in front of us, and the other 2 walked past our bumper. The car behind us slammed on their brakes, I guess in fear or excitement and one of the black bear jumped on the hood of the car. The women with her kids looked terrified, and froze, didn’t even make a sound. The man with the rake ran over and shooed the bear away. I was looking at the car afterwards thinking glad that didn’t happen to us! Her car was dented in and completely covered in muddy paw prints.
That was even more exciting than the Ostrich! Angelina kept saying, ‘They said do not stop Daddy keep going, I’m scared.” “Are you sure you don’t want the door open?” ‘NO mommy!!” (I was just kidding….gees!)
We saw a dozen black bears close up, very interesting on their natural terrain, in field of grass. Three were play fighting in one open field and kept us entertained. Loads of things to see, the animals seemed very animated.
Then we drove over to the lion’s area. A pride lay sunbathing along a high rock ridge right next to the road. Many beautiful lions, seemingly happy, without fences or bars between us, our view was unobstructed. Through our Westfalia windows, they watched us drive by. It was a fabulous way for the kids to experience these majestic cats up close.
It seemed we were not the only ones affected by the Mistral winds. The animals had personalities and far more active than any I have seen from past zoo experiences. Dawn and dusk are usually the best times to visit animals, but today was an extraordinary day for animal behaviour. We lucked out again!
From here we drove through a gated area with giant Rhinos, and then one with bulls. The kids loved seeing them in such detail, quite the experience, they had wide grins the whole time, pointing in different direction making sure we didn’t miss a thing.
We parked the car close to the restaurant and decided to grab a quick snack before walking along the paths. It was just okay. I would pack a lunch next time, and enjoy their many picnic tables and park areas. The reserve is beautifully laid out, with many paths to follow and places to sit and enjoy an animal for longer periods of time.
The Vietnamese potbelly pigs put on a breading show for us, and 4 of the dominant males were fighting to the point of biting and blood. One female was being fought over. The noises they make! Potbelly porn!
Two peacocks flew in front of Daniel and I, and Alfonz took a shot of one in a tree. The flamingos were very chatty, two of them were fighting and Alfonz snapped a great photo there as well. Little monkeys were playing next to three black swans, and even the elephant seemed to pose for us, and he tried to get closer to Daniel to say hello. A donkey even tried to jump a gate to try to eat Angelina’s apple.
It was a pretty active day at the reserve, and with the winds blowing the whole time, the animals seemed to be wind bathing, and enjoying their day of warm sunshine as much as we did.
The only disappointment was missing the Gorillas. I searched for them all over their compound, through binoculars and from what I gathered is that they were inside the ape building. It was sadly off limits. Maybe they had flu? Next time I will be able to ask where they are. (Note to self learn French!)
On the way home the kids kept saying I wish we drove through again, but they could hardly keep their eyes open. They were tuckered out! Daniel said, ‘This was the best day of my life!”
Well we hit the nail on the head with this one!
Enjoy the pictures from the Sigean African near Narbonne reserve!!