I am in the back of the truck, second row where I can spot what the bush has to offer more easily. We are driving down a dusty dirt road and I can feel the evening air rushing through the front, it smells dry and fresh all at the same time. The bush noises crowd in over the hum of the engine and with it comes a stillness which is still hard to explain. I find myself smiling even though we have yet to see anything and there is no guarantee that we will. In this moment, I am like a dog with its head out of the window: free!
The bush has been a sanctuary for me ever since we first moved to Botswana, 6 weeks after I was born. It is untamed, gets very dark and all though never quiet, provides a different soundtrack to the city lifestyle that I have always found comforting. Its a place for introspection and a reminder that we are a small and important part in the larger eco system we have been graced with and if nothing else, the fresh air will help you sleep deeper than you have slept before.
A Diverse Landscape
Madikwe is as rugged as expected, starting with an entry road that feels like corrugated iron and a landscape that is as diverse as the African cultures. My mom and I are due to spend 5 days and 4 nights in a family run eco lodge called Mosetlha and in these 5 days we drive from the very centre of the park to the Botswana border, to the mountain range and back down to the grassland and more forested areas where the black rhinos hide.
From the area defined by red sand and red dusted elephants in the south to the north where the elephants are white (because the sand has more dolomite than down south), past large water holes teeming with wildlife to salt flats where the warthogs and springbok look nervously around for predators as they drink. No two areas look the same and as you explore a different route with your ranger each day, you discover just how big 75,000 hectares can be.
Despite the size of the park, you are guaranteed to see something in the African bushveld: Zebra, Giraffe, Impala and Wildebeest are the most common but what most people come for, is the Big 5: Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo and Rhino (both black and white if you are really lucky). All though it is always inspiring to see the Big 5, the seasoned visitors will anticipate rarer sightings such as Eland or Gemsbok and if you want to be really adventurous: Honey Badger and Porcupine (which are almost impossible to find). Add to that the bird and bug life and your visit will be full of wonder.
This trip is no different and due to the exceptional talents of our ranger, within the first two days we have not only seen the Big 5 but had the pleasure of hearing a mating pair of leopards call to each other at night and had a lion lie no more than 4 metres away from the truck for a quick snooze. 2 days in, we have the pleasure of seeing the only 4 Cheetah on the reserve taking a rest on an anthill and the next day, track them down again – this time, mock stalking a herd of wildebeest – add to that a male elephant chasing us down a hill and one of the largest herds of buffalo I have ever seen. Next day, I put wild dog and Honey Badger on the list and while chasing down a pack of 14 wild dogs who took down a Kudu for dinner the previous night, we miss the Honey Badger that decides to visit the camp while we are out. Throw in a liberal spattering of birdlife including Lilac Breasted Rollers, Crimson Breasted shrikes, the tiny Blue Waxbills and the very large Spotted Eagle Owls or Kori Bustards, complimented by a terrapin, a Leopard tortoise (one of the Tiny 5) and a Bush snake and it is shaping up for a very high tally indeed.
In fact by day 5, we finish our visit having seen 33 different species of mammal, 50 different species of birds and 5 different species of reptile.
The camp is comfortable and meets every basic need, the design of the cabins providing equal relief from the heat and protection from the local wildlife. At night you can hear the lions calling to each other or the occasional grunt of an elephant testing the elephant fence in the hope of reaching the water stored in water tanks in the camp. A local buffalo wanders through the camp at various times during our stay and there is even a cabin that has a nesting family of bushbabies in the eves.
For me, what really made this place special is the people who own and run it. They come together as more of a family and work together collectively to make your stay enjoyable – from the guides who take you on the twice daily game drives showing you a plethora of game and providing you with daily insight into their habits, to the cooking and cleaning staff who are always on hand to help you figure out how the hot water works (and happily followed my mom around as she perambulated the camp sight to make sure nothing threatened her) to the manager who is a constant breath of fresh air with the enthusiasm of a 3 year old and a clear passion for the job, the bush and great customer service.
It is still hard for me to pick my favourite moment so here are just a few to consider:
- Sampling a simple life – where water is a gift, power a luxury, the outdoor shower, the afternoon naps before lunch, all the guests sitting at the same table sharing meals and experiences or communing at the fire at night.
- Spending time with people who are passionate about what they do – June (the owner), joining us for dinners and making a point of making us feel welcome, Noelle (the lodge manager), sharing her infectious energy, bush anecdotes and making it her mission to learn something about us and enrich our experience, our guide Jonny, for offering us such great insight and experiences of the bush, taking us on paths that barely look like a road so we can get that unbelievable sighting and for finding the animals when no one else could.
- Communing with nature – from the imposing elephants and rhino to the sleek and latent power of the lions, leopards and cheetahs, the high awareness of the antelope, giraffes and zebras to the more rare sightings such as the spotted hyena, bush baby and gemsbok. Throw in all the bird species and you cannot leave without being enthralled and amazed with some great new memories (and photos) to remind you of the great time you have just had.
For me, Africa will always be home and I will always leave feeling refreshed and renewed. The awe, the joy and the peace that the Bush can bring is something that everyone should experience at least once. Definitely a place worth adding to the “bucket” list.