(View the Dutch version of this blog by clicking on the Dutch flag at the top of this page if you want to enjoy the beautiful images…)
Take off to Madikwe
“Clear prop!” I hear William, my South African best friend’s husband, say.
I sit next to him in the small two-person plane and look at him. He has a relaxed expression on his face despite his serious preparation for departure. I notice that I feel a healthy tension in my stomach, looking forward to the safari adventure that is only an hour and a half away from me. A few weeks earlier, he had offered to fly me to Morukuru Family Lodge on his own plane. Of course I said “yes!”
I thought it would be great to fly over Madikwe Nature Reserve, adjacent to Botswana, in this spectacular way and then arrive at my next destination.
As we drive up the grass lane and speed up for take off, my heartbeat is slowly increasing. I see the farm underneath us getting smaller and smaller, as well as my exuberantly waving girlfriend and their three children.
When, after a good flight (where every now and then I grab a plastic bag as a precaution) we start the descent and shortly afterwards the tires of the aircraft hit the Madikwe East Airstrip, I see the tough Morukuru Family Landrover and guide Shane with tracker Thulani already waiting for me.
While William flies back to his family a little later, I get into the open safari vehicle with a big smile and use the ride to get to know both Shane and Thulani.
To my opinion it’s a luxury that Thulani as a tracker accompanies us in front of the hood on a fixed seat. Not many lodges allow themselves a tracker, while they are often the first to find the animal tracks you are looking for. Shane has a University Conservation study in his pocket and his unprecedented knowledge of both wildlife and flora and fauna surprise me over and over again in the next two days. He is my walking encyclopaedia and I gratefully use it with my countless questions during our safaris, time and time again an adventurous three-man operation.
The Farm House
The next two nights I will stay at the Farm House, one of the three luxury private houses that Morukuru Family offers exclusively.
“Every house has its own cook, butler, cleaning lady, guide and tracker,” Shane explains.
“But I don’t need all those staff at all?” I say with my Dutch modesty.
“No, you may not on your own,” he says, “but we are welcomed by many large families or a group of close friends who enjoy complete exclusivity in their own luxury holiday house in the bush.”
“Wow, what a beautiful concept,” I say genuinely impressed.
As soon as we drive up the driveway to the beautiful house, the friendly Morukuru team sings and dances to me in a traditional African way and I can’t help but laugh and smile at them. Manager Debbie gives me a warm welcome after which the Chef takes my hand and brings me to the kitchen. “You’ll be hungry after the trip so I am preparing a delicious lunch for you,” he says. The passionate man proudly shows the fish in the oven and all the goodies that he is working on, and that especially for me!
Debbie shows me around and I follow her with open mouth in surprise. Everything is so stylishly furnished and completely one with the environment.
I won’t use the bar, the dining room and the spacious living room on my own, but I’ll find myself here later with my husband, our four children and their friends.
The collection of impressive Wildilfe photo albums that lie on the robust wooden table have been on my wish list for a long time and I open the book about the African wild dog. How I would like to observe a pack for a while…
Tracks in the sand
That afternoon I join Shane and Thulani in the Land Rover and we follow the traces of a group of lions. When at a certain moment Thulani indicates that we are close, both men jump out of the open vehicle and disappear into the bushes on foot. I have the guts to ask if I can come, but unfortunately. I patiently await the return of my two heroes.
This scenario takes place a number of times and I find it more adventurous with every minute that ticks by. At my request we skip the traditional sundowner with a sparkling glass of Gin Tonic and home-made snacks. I usually think that drinking time in the bush is always something to look forward to, but we are determined to find these lionesses so I like to sacrifice the pit stop. I realize the benefit of this exclusivity; the Landrover, the guide and tracker for myself. I’m on the edge of my seat, knowing that we are very close. We are all focused on every sound and every moving branch in the bushes.
Our patience becomes rewarded just before dark; there are five lionesses in the bushes. Two youngsters of one year old and three older lionesses of which one is clearly the oldest alpha female. I thank Shane and Thulani for their detective work and admire the powerful lions from my seat in the car, less than five meters away. “They have an empty stomach, they will go hunting soon,” Shane says with full conviction. He has not yet spoken or the lionesses yawn once and stand up slowly, after which they follow the oldest lady in a steady but effective pace.
“And now?” I ask, wondering if after more than fifteen years I’ll be witnessing a kill again, the ‘safari term’ for hunting and the subsequent capture by wild animals. The cooperation between the hunting animals is fascinating to follow, while killing is lurid to see but I won’t close my eyes when the time comes. The fact that this is the circle of nature mitigate the circumstances and so I can deal with it in perspective.
In the meantime it has become dark and we are losing sight of the lions, as well as their trail on the dry grass among the bushes. We decide to continue our search early tomorrow and drive back to the Farm House, where many burning oil lanterns, an outside fire and a good glass of wine are waiting for me. I am invited to enjoy the refined dinner with Shane and Debbie and we talk about their lives in the bush and our dreams for the future, big and small.
The next morning, Shane wakes me up as agreed at 6:00 a.m. Despite the fact that I could easily turn around in my King size bed, I am quickly awake and get dressed. My adrenaline rises when I think of the lions and I am curious what they have been up to last night. Was Thulani right and did they go hunting? Or will they have been waiting for me? While I walk to the living room, I hope for the latter but I have my doubts about it. After a cup of freshly ground coffee and a home-made muffin, we set off. When I take a seat in the open safari car, I put the warm jug on my lap and wrap the blanket around me in the winter morning cold. I am ready!
Just like yesterday, Shane and Thulani are determined to find the lionesses,
and I’m completely into their adventurous vibe. I’m impressed by enthusiasm, teamwork and commitment. I have been on safari many times in the last fifteen years, but rarely have I seen such a dedicated and highly trained guide and tracker. Several times they stroll through the bushes again to find traces and to trace where the lionesses have gone. As the magical red fireball slowly leaves the horizon, I follow the men at a distance through the sight of my binoculars.
And then suddenly I see them turn around and walk back quickly to the car via the dirt track. Not far from them I hear panic cries from a number of zebras and a dust cloud looms up from the bushes.
“Did you see that?” Shane shouts clearly in his element as he jumps into the car and Thulani takes a handy movement in the seat on the left front of the hood.
“I think so?” I respond hesitantly, not knowing if he means the dust.
But that is what he meant … A few moments later we are driving slowly through the bush bush, on our way to the place where the lions caught their prey, hence the cloud of dust just now. Less than six meters away the lionesses are holding an adult mare zebra between their huge claws, she died just before our arrival. For a moment I find it hard to see but then I think of the lions, their cubs and all other animals that will eat from this.
“It’s nature,” Shane says, looking at me with a smile. It seems like he can read my mind. “I know that,” I answer nodding, and I am admonishing myself again as the tough bush girl I want to be. I grab my camera and photograph the first close ups of a long series of beautiful images.
Spending the night outside in the hide
Debbie walks up to the pool where I’m swimming my refreshing laps. She looks at me with a broad smile. “We have consulted and think you can do it,” she says.
“What do you mean?” I ask her, I have no idea what she’s talking about.
“You’ll be the first guest who dares to sleep in the hide on her own.”
‘Really?! How wonderful, thank you!” I jump out of the pool and give her an African ‘drukkie’ with my wet body.
On the Morukuru Family website I had read that on request guests can spend the night on a four-meter-high plateau with thatched roof, on a five-minute drive from Farm House, next to a small lake in the middle of the bush. I already saw myself lying on top of that hide, listening to the sounds of the wild animals in the African night. On arrival I had asked about it immediately, but it turned out to be unusual to sleep on the hide on your own.
But Morukuru Family did what it excels in; respond to personal wishes.
I was honoured by the unanimous commitment of both Debbie and Shane and that evening after a delicious dinner, served on the lawn in front of the house, I was taken to the hide with the Landrover.
Upon arrival I see that the walking path to the hide and the wooden stairs are illuminated by burning oil lamps. It looks like I’ve ended up in a movie. On top of the hide, under the thatched roof, a large mosquito net is waving around a double bed.
“Have you raised a real bed for me?” I ask and I almost feel guilty.
“We won’t let you sleep on a thin mattress, ” Shane says laughing. “It remains Morukuru level, isn’t it,” and he points to the cool box that is filled with ice cubes, water and a bottle of wine. “You can enjoy the drinks while you sit here looking out under the clear starry sky.” I look up and he’s right, it’s a beautiful evening. Lucky me.
After explaining the spotlight and the walkie talkie that are both left behind, I wave goodbye to Shane. The real adventure can begin, I am in my element!
Not much later I count a herd of at least sixty buffalo, both elderly and youngsters. They move along the hide like a dark oil slick. In the distance I hear hyenas calling and impalas making their typical almost barking sound to leave a good impression on the females.
Every animal that I’m going to see tonight will be welcome, I feel completely safe through the power cord at the bottom of the hide to prevent elephants or cats coming to visit me too close.
More importantly, I find the experience of sleeping all alone in the open air among the wild animals. In my mind I put a check mark on my bucket list. With a happy and privileged feeling, I get into my bed a few hours later and shortly after that the crickets lullaby me to sleep.
Around half past twelve at night I am awakened by something that I had not taken into account; heavy thunder and rain over the hide.
I sit up and push the mosquito net aside. The sky is completely lightened up in between intervals. Fortunately the roof is large enough to keep the rain out of my bed, but my breath stops and I tensely count the seconds between the flash and the thunder.
I don’t feel fear but I don’t like the idea of the lightning. I decide to record a video to show it to my kids and husband when I return home. I can still hear myself say: “I am not going to call the guide over the radio because I really want to wake up here tomorrow morning.” At that moment, I fervently hope that Shane will not come to pick me up by his own decision.
It takes an hour and a half before the storm comes to rest and I fall asleep again in the soft bed.
But not for long, because at half past five the alarm goes off because I don’t want to miss a thing about the sunrise from the hide. Despite the short night, I feel good and take many beautiful pictures of the sunrise.
Sitting in the morning sun, I ponder the experience of last night when I wondered if I wasn’t pushing my personal limits too much. But I thank the stars that I stayed and that I can now enjoy the most fantastic sunrise ever, all alone, without wifi, email or messages. I recommend it to everyone.
Most beautiful souvenir
After Shane and Thulani have picked me up from the hide with a strong cup of coffee, we take plenty of time to look for the wild animals.
We see drinking elephants, hyenas that eat on carcasses and herds of zebras. I still admire them all half asleep. A moment later, when I have packed my bag and enjoyed the last extensive breakfast on the lawn, the entire staff comes to sing goodbye and dance in person. “We have a gift for you that you asked for yourself,” Shane says.
My eyes grow wide and I look as happy as a young child.
“Did it work?” I ask.
“Certainly!” And he hands over the plaster cast of lion’s footprints. The day before we had the fresh prints in the sand filled with liquid plaster and allowed to dry that day.
“My children will be happy! This is the most beautiful souvenir I have ever taken home. “I hug and thank everyone with a warm feeling and then take a seat in the Landrover.
“Thank you for making me part of the Morukuru Family, you have far exceeded my expectations with your smile, flexibility and personal attention. As the car starts to move, I look back again and see only smiling, happy faces. What a beautiful people in a breathtaking environment.
When William comes to pick me up a little later and we fly a circle above the reserve before heading home, I close my eyes. I hear the sounds of the vocals again, the sounds of the wild animals and the silence during the sunrise on the hide. I remember the text I found the first night on the personally written card on my bed:
“Life is not measured by the number
or breathes we take
but by the moments that take our breath away “