It is an hour’s drive to the small airport where we will board a flight for Madikwe Game Reserve in North West Province. How low-key and civilised is the check-in and ‘boarding lounge’ procedure! So relaxing. The ‘plane we will fly in takes perhaps a dozen passengers and the flight, always giving a good view of the ground below, lasts about an hour.
As we approach the runway at Madikwe I look down hoping to see some wild game in the sprawl of bush country.
Once landed we are met and greeted by Mike Rae, our game ranger for the week, and what a charming young man he is. There is affection in their mutual greeting and I quite see why the Perrymans choose to book him for private drives. Ted is very fond of Mike but it is a year since he saw Mike and it will be during the course of the week that he gradually drops his natural reserve. He rides shotgun and chats away to Mike during the drives and what a good ‘spotter’ he is.
We set off for the Lodge and before long I am over the moon to see zebra, giraffe, kudu, impala.
And then we get a sighting of elephant, those majestic giants. It is thrilling and Nick and I click away with our various devices. Charlotte reminds us to take time to look first, take photos after. Ultimately, after the holiday is over and I settle down to write my blog I will spend so much time dipping in and out of different folders to find relevant images for my posts.
Arriving at the lodge is such an excitement. The entrance passage with a small shop to the left gives out onto a large high-ceilinged atrium with comfortable sofas and chairs and an open fireplace where a fire will be lit a bit later in the week when we have a deluge. We are welcomed by Rebone dressed in such an elegant African outfit with matching head-dress, this being the first of several outfits I will admire during the week.
We are shown to our chalet for the week, a comfortable room with bathroom, outdoor shower and wooden verandah on short stilts which sits at the edge of the waterhole.
A few animals are wandering around the far shore.
It is lunchtime so we go to find our table on the outdoor decked platform of the restaurant and sit next to the wooden railing and gaze out over the water at a basking croc on the far bankside. There are weaver bird nests suspended from the trees which have their feet in the water along side the water lily type plants below. It does not get much better.
In the afternoon we are booked for our first game drive and an exciting sighting has been doing the rounds on bush radio so lunch is gulped down and off we hurtle and bump our way in the truck to the far side of the Reserve. The prospect is a rare one, a pack of 14 wild dogs has been spotted. On our first day, on our first drive, we would have a sighting the like of which the Perrymans have never had in all their safari trips to Tau.
The wild dogs in the park suffered a catastrophic decline owing to disease and the pack is only just now recovering. This is my first experience of what it is to drive to a location, cut across the bush terrain to find a suitable place to park, switch off the engine and watch. We are probably there for an hour. Periodically Mike will start the engine and shift position. Other vehicles are in the location. Eventually the dogs muster and start to move on down the track.
There is news of another sighting. A pair of mated lions have been observed and we pay them a call. We sit and watch; the lions are utterly laid back and barely give us attention.
It is a long way back to the lodge and we see White Rhino, black-backed Jackal …………… and birdlife which Nick will come to enjoy more than anything. Nightjars spring up from the track as we rush towards them and a Spotted Eagle Owl glides overhead and lands in a tree on the lower slope of the Tswene Tswene mountains near Tau. Heading for ‘home’ after the afternoon drive, arriving at the driveway lit by lamps to guide us to the entrance, I come to love this moment of the day. My mind is full of images, wildlife lore and the magic of the African bush.
We have dinner in the Boma, Mike sits at our table. I start with marrow-bone soup, then steak, Gemsbok, lovely vegetables. (This is what my notebook reminds me but these few words do not do justice to the variety and deliciousness. Before I settle for the night I must spend some time editing text for the troublesome chapter in the forthcoming Molluscs in Archaeology volume. There is an absolute howler in the figures and an endnote needs to be written. There is also some bad science in a chapter I am co-authoring which is not my fault. But it needs to be addressed. Drafting something that will not be so convoluted as to confuse the reader even more, needs care. And so to bed.