Week one in Africa has come and gone and it was now time to leave Lapolosa Wilderness. We were up, loaded and on our way by 06.00. The destination was Siyafunda Wildlife and Conservation, a volunteer organisation that runs research on the Makalali game reserve.
There was an orientation and briefing before settling into the well-equipped camp. A good torch was handy to get from dinner back to the bedroom. This wasn’t to avoid stubbing your toe but to shine into the long grass to make sure you weren’t being watched.
Up at 05.30 for 06.00 drive: one of my duties for the week was to check the Nissan was road/bush worthy another job of mine was to record all sightings and behaviour of pachyderms. Luckily this didn’t include warthogs (who technically fall into the category) as there are far too many of them, anyhow I was busy enough announcing the GPS coordinates of the general game.
The great thing about having an open camp was that anything can walk through. During the afternoon we had plenty of nyala and warthogs grazing on the fresh growth created by the lawnmower.
For the general game drive that evening I set off in the trackers seat. The drive was very productive from a pachyderm perspective; a herd of ten elephants and three rhino were noted.
Up at 05.15 for our rhino walk and headed to the northeast of the reserve in the Landcruiser. On finding some tracks (12 hours old) we set off on foot looking for them. We tracked the rhino for about 2km before losing it in thick bush.
On our return, a leopard relocation team had arrived to trap a leopard that had become too familiar with the camp – it had already taken the resident tabby! They set up a trap behind the common room next to the volley ball court and baited it with an impala caracas.
A great game drive this evening, we spent one and a half hours watching a lioness and her four cubs. Afterwards I played my part in cooking dinner. The whole African experience is having such a profound effect on me; it’s simply making me very happy.
Up at 06.00 and we were taken out to clear a road, I got the tracker seat which is such a great experience, and it certainly wakes you up first thing in the morning. We spent the best part of three and a half hours chopping down trees and bushes, lots of knob thorn which made the job particularly hard and painful.
That evening we came across a lioness walking up the road with purpose. She was definitely heading to our camp with the not-so-discreet smell of the dead impala guiding her in.
When she reached the clearing she saw giraffe, wildebeest and zebra – a sight you’d expect on a documentary. She watched them for a good ten minutes before stealthily moving into the thick bush. The game headed from the clearing into the bush but then suddenly came thundering back out having wandered into the path of the lion. With the hunt right behind the camp it made it very real that were living amongst wild and dangerous animals.
Headed off a 06.00 for our morning game drive to monitor buffalo which we located using telemetry. We watched them, and warthogs, in the dam for a while before driving on.
That night we were camping out under the stars, our instructions were – go to the toilet in pairs and we’d each have to do two hours sentry duty. However, it never got to that: after our dinner there was a big thunderstorm, one load went home early as they didn’t fancy getting a good soaking. We followed them about thirty minutes later with the lightning getting closer.
Up at 06.00 to work on erosion control. This involved shifting trees and bushes that had been cut down to create a clearing to attract plains animals such as white rhino and cheetah. This was all moved down the road to bush pack an area that had previously been eroded.
The day was hot, perhaps our hottest at 37 degrees centigrade. I spent most of the day in shady spots around camp chatting and trying to recover from the early morning dehydration.
On the way out of the reserve, about 100m from the gate there were two female lions sitting on their wildebeast kill.
On our return we stopped at the kill, the lions looked stuffed, they were big bellied and panting. Arriving back at camp we were made very jealous as those we’d left behind had two bull elephants visit them in the garden.
That night I stayed up into the early hours talking in the dark and listening to the night. We had a lion roaring to the left and a hyena calling to the right. With the dead impala stinking in the leopard trap we thought there was a good chance that the lion was making a bee-line straight for us. We made a controlled but not very dignified exit back to our rooms.
The long journey home gave me plenty of time to reflect on my trip. I’ve had a truly great experience in Africa. Whilst I’ve been many times before, this trip has been different. I think it’s the hands on practical experience. It is hard work but I love the daily routine of getting up with the sun at 05.30 and going to bed at 20.00/21.00.
The major event of the night being dinner which is an actual social event rather than something spent in front of the telly. The people you’re with are all like-minded, they all have their own very distinct personalities and experiences.