Seeing -- and tasting -- some of Africa’s smallest creatures


SHAMWARI PRIVATE GAME RESERVE -- When you’re on safari, you learn about a lot more than Africa’s Big Five.

A good guide also points out the plants, the birds -- even the insects -- that make up the region’s ecosystem.

But I never thought a game drive would turn into another tasting on my African Travel Inc.-sponsored trip. (My Cape Town visit had focused heavily on cuisine.)

Yet there I stood, next to a huge termite mound on this Eastern Cape game reserve, actually pondering our guide’s dare to taste one of the tiny creepy-looking creatures.

Maybe I was fatigued. Maybe it was genuine curiosity. Or maybe we just couldn’t pass up the chance to show off a little in front of our handsome and charming guide.

We were heading out from a cheetah spotting in search of leopards and Cape buffalo, the last two of the Big Five we needed to tick off our list, when our Sean spotted some holes in the side of the muddy road. Aardvark tunnels, he explained.

Nothing was left in the muddy ruts but ants, which he explained had gone inside to feed on termites, which he said die when their pigment-less bodies are exposed to the sun.

He then wandered over to one of the huge termite mounds that are common across the African landscape, explaining that the southern snorted termite has a formic acid in its belly that is toxic to some insect predators but is quite tasty for humans. It’s a bit like basil, he said.

Me and my traveling companions reacted with all the expected “ewws” and “icks.”  

Still, I screwed up the courage to go first, but was still a bit relieved when the clear, tiny creature he had placed on my palm blew away in the wind.

He didn’t let me off that easy, of course, fetching another that I hesitantly put in my mouth and smashed between my front teeth, as instructed.

Prepared for the worst, I was surprised by the rush of a pleasant, earthy taste that did indeed taste a bit like basil. Or maybe it was marijuana, as another traveler speculated.

I’ve never eaten a bug before, at least not voluntarily. And I’m not sure I ever will again. But I’m glad I did. Besides bragging rights, the bonus was a fresh taste that not only zapped my coffee but then lingered for hours.

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