Africa, part one, Madikwe Game Reserve
The jet lag has finally subsided, and I've managed to wade through the 1600 photos I took and found a few worth sharing, so now I I think I can write somewhat coherently about my trip. If Africa is not on your bucket list, I highly encourage you to put it near the top, ASAP. I loved so much about my time there, it was more beautiful and heartbreaking than I could have imagined.
Our first stop was the Madikwe Game Reserve, where we stayed at the Mosetlha Bush Camp. The park itself is in the North West Province, right on the Botswana border. It was started in the early 1990's in response to a study done by the provincial government to determine the best economic use of the area, and is a joint effort between the state, private sector, and local communities. Our game ranger, Kgomotso, was the daughter (and one of only two black lady rangers, she was proud to tell us!) of one of the families originally displaced by the game reserve. The area was originally populated mostly with subsistence farmers, just trying to eke out a living on land ill-suited for anything but a few scrappy animals and minimal food crops. I can't imagine being told that you would have to move from your home into a nearby village and that you would ultimately benefit from the sacrifice. Kgomotso told us about how much the reserve has done for the local economy, however. Now that the economic goals have been reached, the reserve is focusing it's efforts on ecology and conservation.
The reserve is actually known for it's luxury lodges, but we stayed in the bush camp, right in the center of the reserve. Designed to create as little environmental impact as possible, there was no electricity, no running water, and our meals were cooked over a campfire. It was wonderful, and more comfortable than you would expect.
Kgomotso woke us each morning at 5:00, and we left on our morning drive by 5:30. It was a little chilly and overcast while we were there, so it was hard to find many animals out and about early in the drive, but as it warmed up there were more sightings. The rangers from all the lodges share information via radio, so we would always eventually find something to see. One morning, all the Land Rovers in one sector of the park were tracking a pack of wild dogs, so we went on a wild ride down all sorts of bumpy little tracks to try to find them. They were moving fast, however, so we missed them. Another driver zoomed past at one point, and we were literally eating their dust. Our poor guide really got an eyeful of dust, so in the only photo I have of her she's got terrible red eyes.
During the game drives we'd stop for tea and snacks, all laid out for us on a little fold-out table on the front of the truck. It was lovely to get out and stretch our legs and enjoy the sunrise and sunset. The skies were truly spectacular.
Sunset over Madikwe
Once we got back to camp, there would be a hearty breakfast waiting, and then time to shower and relax. The fact that there was no running water didn't matter, the camp owner had rigged up an ingenious little system that made for quite a pleasant bathing experience.
Cold water in the plastic bucket is ready and waiting for anyone wanting a shower. You just pour it in one side of the donkey boiler, and it displaces the warm water already inside, which then comes out the other end, into the metal bucket. That gets poured back into the plastic bucket and mixed with more cold water, if necessary. Then you just carry it over to the shower, where you lower the shower bucket, with it's nifty pulley system, and dump it in. Pull the shower bucket back up, and then use a lever to turn on your nice, warm, shower!
After a shower and a nap, it was time for a late lunch, and then out for another game drive in the late afternoon. Luckily, the skies were clear and it was warmer, so we saw lots of animals on our evening drives. When we returned to camp after dark, we were greeted with the magical site of lanterns everywhere, lining the paths to our cabins and the lounge and dining area. After a hearty dinner, we could gather around the campfire to chat until it was time to head off to bed.
Blurry, but too sweet not to share
But back to the animals! Twice we saw this pride of lions, lazing in the shade. There were four cubs, two males and four or five females. It was hard to imagine that they were more than just big house cats, or maybe I just see more of a lion in my little Lucy cat now.
The elephants were impressive, it's so different seeing them in the wild, and the destruction they leave behind is disconcerting. They tear up trees and rip off the bark, they wallow in the mud, and drink enormous amounts of water. We watched one big bull elephant stand off with a rhinoceros and her baby at a watering hole one evening. He didn't do anything but stare her down, and she backed off to a safe distance while he drank his fill.
Then we spotted another elephant approaching through the trees, followed by another and another. They just kept coming, a big herd with several babies. It was amazing to watch.
There were giraffes, zebras, various types of antelopes, a chameleon slowly crossing the road, and a flock of birds killing a snake, right in the middle of our camp. There was also an adventure involving a dung beetle that flew into the Land Rover and smacked me in the face. I jumped and screamed like a little girl. Unbeknowst to me at the time, I also knocked my phone right off the seat. It was only a few miles later when I wanted to snap a photo of the lions for my Instagram feed that I realized it was gone. My heart sank, as I realized the photos I had lost not to mention it was my means of keeping in contact with Mr. HeyLucy who was back at home. Kgmotoso retraced our steps, even though it was starting to get dark, and we scanned the roads with the beam of her spotlight. There was one other guest with us on the drive that night, and by some miracle, he spotted it and saved the day. Silly dung beetles!
My whole set of photos from Madikwe is on Flickr, here. I hope you didn't mind this long, photo-heavy post! I have a few more, but there will be some other, regular posts interspersed here and there. I don't want to bore you all with my vacation photos!