At home at Makweti Safari Lodge
As I climb the 4×4 dark green safari vehicle, my travel bag is put in the back seat by Richard, the friendly employee of Makweti Safari Lodge. I sit back in the passenger seat and feel a blanket of total peace descending over me, a feeling that African nature over and over again brings to me.
That morning I drove my rental car from Johannesburg and after half an hour’s drive I was surprised by my navigation system that stopped functioning completely. It was impossible to get back at work again so I had no other choice then to find my destination old schoolby my at home printed out route. Navigating has never been my strength and in the Netherlands I always trust my navigation system. Strange enough in South Africa I always find my way, on feeling and by following the signs. Because that’s the advantage; in this way you are much more aware of the environment, the people and the markets in the villages you drive through.
After two hours and forty minutes, after a beautiful ride, I drove into the parking area of the Welgevonden Nature Reserve where I parked my car and stepped into the safari vehicle of Makweti.
Now we drive through the bush of Welgevonden for the next half hour and are greeted by a herd of buffalo and giraffes.
‘Hello amazing Africa’ I say aloud as I close my eyes and inhale the spicy smell of the trees through my nose. Richard starts to laugh and we start talking to each other. About his native Malawi and his dream to be a guide at a safari lodge one day, although I soon discover that he is very versed when it comes to knowledge about nature and wild animals.
I enjoy conversations like this. Conversations that tell the story behind the person and give that substance for thought.
I get goose bumps when I discover Makweti Safari Lodge as we drive over the last narrow path of rocks and sand. We pass the watering hole with behind it the thatched roof of the so-called Indaba with wooden lookout veranda. The small, exclusive lodge with only five suites and space for up to ten guests is tucked away among trees and bushes and therefore becomes one with the environment. I am in my element when I hear that the lodge is built on a game track and there is no fencing around the kamp so that elephants and lions are regular guests in ‘my temporary home.’
Because that’s how it feels, already. The lodge exudes a homely atmosphere and at the same time I take on this atmosphere with all my senses.
I had informed Talisman Travel design in advance to a remote lodge where I could completely get away from it and live a few days among the wild animals. From the moment that Makweti came into view among the bushes, I knew that this wish would be far surpassed.
I meet Colin, my friendly guide with more than twenty years of guiding
experience in Southern Africa. While he leads me around the sandy paths that connect the Indaba with the beautifully authentic African-style main lodge and the five luxurious suites, I stop at every monkey that welcomes me curiously.
‘Keep an eye on your stuff,’ he says, ‘they are cheeky.’ I find them incredibly funny, and follow a monkey who is swinging from tree to tree while her young is firmly clinging to her.
Enthusiastically Colin continues his story about Makweti and the Welgevonden Nature Reserve. ‘The reserve is privately owned but is managed collectively.’ As he talks, I follow his arms that give his words a picture.
‘The management team consists of a highly motivated and progressive team of nature conservationists, who work together with leading ecologists and environmentalists from around the world.’ I hang on his lips and ask one question after another.
The last meters to my suite I keep silence, still following Colin’s foot steps.
In stead of being silence I would rather shout out how breathtaking this place is!
Later on, when I open the terrace door of my suite and lean against the wooden balustrade, I hear in the distance the magical roar of a lion. ‘Welcome to the bush’ I say to myself aloud. When I look sideways at my private swimming pool, I see a thirsty little monkey sitting on the edge leaning forward to drink some water. I walk inside to explore the outdoor shower, the bathroom and the sleeping area. I’m happily surprised by the nice smells and small details like flowers on my pillow and a personalized welcome card. With a jump I throw myself on the big bed, almost a waste of the tightly ironed sheets.
“Seriously, just three nights?” I think.
Philip is the chef, he can really conjure with food. He worked many years at several five-star Safari lodges and now happily cooks world class dishes at Makweti Safari Lodge.
Three times a day he serves the most exclusive and fresh dishes to often an international company with each their own wishes. During breakfast, lunch and dinner I have nice conversations with the other guests from America, the Netherlands and Germany. While enjoying a glass of wine on the veranda of the main lodge, we share our travel and life experiences, and we come to special conversations that will stay with me for a long time.
The next two days I have a mission; I want to write my first novel. Last year November I started during the flight to Johannesburg. Now, a year later, I want to finish the exciting story in peace and in the right atmosphere. It is the reason that I will only accompany a safari on arrival and on departure. I have two full days in between for myself. Normally I’m ready to go for the early morning safaris and the afternoon safaris, I can’t get enough of driving and hiking through the rough landscape on a guided search for elephants, giraffes, rhinos and leopards, but I keep my promise this time and will stay at the lodge.
The first morning the other guests silently left at six thirty with Colin and I turn around again when I wake up at half past six from a zebra that produces a particularly barking sound. At eight o’clock, after a refreshing outdoor shower, I put the strong cup of coffee next to me on my veranda table and open my laptop. The words fly from my fingers onto my screen, just as I had hoped. Only two hours later I literally step out of the story and walk with my short jeans and barefoot over the sand paths towards the main lodge for breakfast. With pleasure I listen to the safari experience of the others and admire the photos of cheetahs and the troop of lions they saw. ‘You missed something!’ I hear them say a few times.
After breakfast I return to ‘my writer’s domain.’ Between writing I take a refreshing dip in the pool which is not a luxury in this African heat. There is no mobile connection and no wifi. Nature is calling, here and now. Heavenly!
Leaning on the edge of the pool, I try to concentrate on the sounds around me. I was often in Africa and I recognize many sounds, but I always hear new ones that I would like to discover.
That afternoon the other guests are on the road again with Colin for a safari adventure as I am writing on my terrace when I hear trees cracking. I recognize the sound and close my laptop to be able concentrate on what I hear. The deafening cracking slowly comes closer. Quickly I take my stuff from the wooden table and put it on the bed. I close the patio door, much to the disappointment of the monkeys who were observing me closely. I wave to them kindly and joke my tongue out at them. Armed with my camera and binoculars I quickly move to the elevated porch of the main lodge and take a good position from where I have a wide view over the bush. Both Philip and the other staff are at the Indaba and I feel privileged to be totally on my own at the lookout, hearing the sound very close now.
Then I get him in the picture, the giant elephant bull fills the full lens of my binoculars. He moves between the trees towards suite number two. I don’t know what the intention is, but I feel as if I have ended up in a film and quickly go to the staff at the Indaba, still on my bare feet. My heartbeat goes faster and faster, ‘there is an elli in the camp!’ I call to Richard excitedly as I walk into the Indaba. As I walk through the open patio doors, I see him amused on the viewing deck looking at the approaching grey friend.
‘I saw him too, he says. ‘He’s going to have a drink from the Suite number 2 pool first and probably come this way to lick the large salt stone.’
My eyes are looking for the salt stone that I’ll soon discover.
‘But that stone is less than ten meters away from where we are now?’ I say, looking at Richard with wide-open eyes. He laughs, ‘exactly, so sit back and enjoy what’s going to happen.’
How lucky I am; a home safari for myself, how cool is that!
At that moment we hear the ladies from the household calling for Richard. I can’t understand the mishmash of their communication in Zulu, Tswana and Suthu but understand that something is wrong.
‘What is it?’ I ask Richard.
‘The ladies have finished cleaning a suite but can’t get out because there is a lioness less than five meters from the door.’
‘A lioness?’ I ask to be sure that I have understood him well.
‘Yes, apparently she was walking through the camp here too. You are in the real bush, lady,‘ he says seriously, but with a touch of pride.
A few minutes later I see from the lookout deck a Makweti 4×4 vehicle bobbing through the bushes towards the backside of Suite number two. The scene that I see afterwards is almost laughable but meanwhile deadly serious. Through the door of the outdoor shower at the back of the suite, the two ladies are ‘released’ from their plight. Both ladies have a bucket with cleaning products and cloths under their arms. It is a silent and serious operation because at a short distance the lioness keeps a close eye on the event. Everything is going well and on return the two ladies are relieved, even though they have gone this situation before.
‘Come on, jump in the car!’ Richard calls out to me. ‘I’ll drive you to the lioness, she has moved and is lying in the bushes behind the suite now.’ As a small child so happy about this unexpected adventure, I jump into the car and not much later admire the lioness from a short distance from the vehicle. She shows power and serenity at the same time and I wonder where her family is hiding.
‘Never have a dull moment’, I think by myself as I intend to have a better look around me when I walk out of my Suite door next time.
The Indaba is the only place in the camp where you have internet and while I wait for the big elephant, I hear the messages coming in. In this setting internet is the last thing that I want, but I would like to speak to my family and call Facetime. I show them the surrounding and views, standing on the deck because I can’t walk back to my Suite as long as the lioness is visiting. It is incomprehensible to the children that Mommy is ‘as we speak’ in between the elephants and the lions. They tell me they are jealous and there is no doubt I understand them.
Less than a minute after I hung up, the elephant emerges and walks straight to the deck where I am standing. It feels like he’s coming towards me and I’m still standing stiff. He searches for the salt stone with slow, heavy steps. I install very carefully on the wooden table on the porch and quietly enjoy this beautiful animal with breathlessness.
At that moment I don’t know yet that I will admire the whole herd the next day from exactly the same place and all by myself again.
The last morning, after two productive writing days, my ‘home safaris’, delicious food and nice conversations, I participate on a safari with Colin and the American young couple. Wonderful to see how Colin follows the tracks in the sand to find out where the animals are. I go for the leopard but it is well hidden this time. We do see the rest of the lion family and a hippo with her youngster and we encounter an elephant bull while driving slowly. I wonder if it is the same as the day before yesterday at the Lodge. I don’t recognize him and he probably doesn’t remember me either.
He comes close to the car, very close if you ask me. He is not at ease because, as it turns out, he has just had some issues with another bull. He impresses with his ears and scrape his foot through the sand, right in front of our car. Colin remains calm and the American couple is sitting together against each other on the couch behind us. Why did I have to sit in the front? I think. The elephant takes another step forward, I can see the grooves in its enormous tusks very clearly now. With my camera in front of my eyes, I press my body tightly against the back of the chair. ‘I think this is very close’, I say softly to Colin who decides to reverse the vehicle very slowly to give the impressive animal more space. This turns out to be a good choice because he looks after us and then walks into the bushes, after which my heart rate drops to a lower frequency again. I turn to the nice American couple. ‘Do you agree that you always tell the most exciting moments of your journey at home and that such a moment always ends up in your favourite top three in some way?” They nod in agreement as they grab their camera to view photos. I am very happy with my un-zoomed elephant close up.
When I said goodbye to both the staff and my temporary Makweti home that afternoon, I’m driven back to the parking area at the Main Gate of the reserve. Against my nature I am quiet now and use this half-hour ride on dirt roads and rock paths to think about the last three days.
I have felt myself the girl in the bush that I always wanted to be deep inside. The animals, the staff, the atmosphere, everything was part of the perfect puzzle.
I have written, rested, enjoyed and lived.
I close my eyes again and let the warm summer breeze go through my hair.
I’m on my way to the husband and children I love, the most beautiful destination there is. But I’ll return to Makweti, no doubt about that.
‘What is your novel about?’ Asks Colin when we are near the parking area.
I open my eyes and look at him with a mysterious smile.
‘I’ll let you know as soon as I find a publisher.’