Four o’clock at Jaci’s lodge in Madikwe and the alarms sets off… it is still pitch dark and in the distance I can hear the two male lions we saw last night roaring. As I go to pick up my rifle from the safe at the Rangers’ Room, I bump into the only other creatures that are awake, my colleagues.
My vehicle had lost some air on the front left tyre during the night. I know it has a slow puncture, so I inflate it before heading to the main lodge for coffee. As me and the other guides prepare coffee and tea for the guests’ breakfast and game drive, whilst the guests enjoy their last few moments of sleep, we chat amongst ourselves about last night’s sightings and what direction everyone is going in and who will be following up on the lions that seem to be moving closer.
While sipping on my coffee I walk quietly to the rooms of my guests to wake them up. On my return I stroll past a bushbuck that watches me warily as I pass. The sky is slowly getting lighter when the guests walk in, zombie like and half awake and help themselves to some cereal and coffee. A question I get almost every time is if it isn’t painful to get up so early every day. The answer is of course yes… but it’s always worth it. At 5:30 it is already getting light and sunrise is soon upon us. We quickly clear the tables, to avoid having the monkeys over for breakfast as well.
As soon we leave the lodge, a small herd of buffalo hurry into the thickets in a cloud of dust. At least we saw them before they disappeared into the greenery and my guests are happy to already tick off one of the big five.
Myself and a couple of guides from another lodge decided to search for the lions, who had made their way to a river crossing not far away. Watching them drink and then continue their territorial rounds was an excellent start to the day. In the lush riverine vegetation we also come across plenty of waterbuck, another two buffalos and a variety of birds. The morning’s highlight for me though, was seeing a herd of elephants having a bath a bit further up the river. After a busy and fulfilling morning, we stopped for coffee and rhino biscuits alongside a dazzle of zebras grazing nearby.
Arriving back at the lodge, the guests scurried off the vehicle, eager to have lunch out on the deck while going through their photos. I took the opportunity to refill the gas tank of my game viewer vehicle and headed off to the nearest gas station just outside the reserve gate. As I wait for the staff there to fill up with diesel and fix my puncture, I indulge in a rare treat from the general dealer, ice cream, a perfect solution to the heat of the sun.
The day is getting hotter, and even though it’s only late morning it is already becoming too hot. I arrive back at the lodge just as the staff lunch is prepared and I’m in luck, it’s chicken stew! Before washing my vehicle I devour this delicious meal while discussing the evenings bush dinner with the manager. He’s worried about the heat meaning a build-up for rains. He might be right, and we sorely need it… just not during dinner.
I quickly throw my laundry into one of the washing machines at the staff village, so that it will be done by the time I’m finished with the vehicle. After cleaning the vehicle, washing my clothes and getting everything ready for the afternoon game drive, I receive a call on the radio as new guests that are checking in today are about 20 minutes away. It’s a nice couple from the Netherlands with a seven year old daughter, the other family on my vehicle has two children, ages five and eight, so this will work well. It’s their first time on safari and they are very eager, they’d even caught their first glimpse of elephants by our waterhole on their way to the lodge.
When we arrive back at the lodge I drive the rental car around to the guest parking and carry their luggage to the room, after informing them about their first activity for the day – high tea. By now I realise I have an hour before I need to be at the lodge again, so a shower and a much needed nap seems to be on the menu. I’d barely dozed for twenty minutes when my radio goes off… Apparently a guest has seen a snake near her room! Grabbing snake tongs and goggles I get into uniform again and drive my game viewer to the lodge. The snake is located just outside the room and is thankfully totally harmless. As I attempt to catch it, it quickly slithers up into the trees and knowing that it’s not a threat, the guests aren’t very fazed by it anymore. Just don’t do a very good impression of a frog I joked, before leaving them to get the cooler box with their drink choices ready for the drive.
Slicing up some lemon for the gin tonics I notice movement behind me as a vervet monkey sneakily opens a window and makes its way inside. The fruit bowl is his goal, but I was not having it, I ran towards him while clapping my hands and the little guy ran for his life past the scullery and back to freedom.
Back at the lunch hall the mini pizzas and meat balls go down well with the guests, as do the fruit smoothies and iced tea and the two families thoroughly enjoy the curious and brave monkeys watching us from a safe distance.
It is still very hot as we depart on our afternoon drive, but in the distance clouds are building up, with a promise of some relief. The afternoon drive turns out to be equally as successful as the morning was, the wild dogs, that Madikwe is famous for, make an appearance just as the sun starts to set. Thrilled with seeing them active, we manage to stay with them for some time before other vehicles enquire about making their approaches. As we leave them to make our way towards the bush braai site, a brown hyena crosses the road in front of us, before roaming off on his foraging quest.
The guests don’t know about this evening’s dinner plans and are overwhelmed when we approach. Torches light up the braai site and flashes of lightning light up the clouds far west, while welcome drinks are enjoyed. The younger members of the families find it very exciting that we are dining out in the wild, but get strict orders to not venture off out of the lit up area around the fire and torches. Tracks of the two lions from this morning were seen leading in our direction during the late afternoon… I had barely told my guests about this fact before we hear them roaring. They sound close by, but I turn my radio on and discover that they are about a safe kilometer away. Sound travels well over open spaces and at night you feel rather small in the dark. Dinner goes down very well after a day out in the fresh air and the young ones soon start looking rather tired.
Making our way back to the lodge, the roars are getting louder as we close in on the lions. I switch off the vehicle and we sit for a minute listening to them in the pitch dark. They are only about 20 metres away, but obscured by bushes. When you are this close, the roar isn’t just a sound, but also a sensation you feel all through your body.
While saying goodnight to the families back at the lodge the first few drops start to fall and we decide that if it’s raining tomorrow morning I’ll postpone the wake-up until it stops. However, I’m quietly confident that it will have stopped by then. I hurry to my room before the full fury of the atmosphere is upon us, thinking of tomorrow’s drives and the shooting practise I need to fit in between check-out and another check-in. Even though we had a late dinner, I will manage to get almost six hours of sleep… and what’s better than falling asleep listening to the rains down in Africa?