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  • Shelley Dark

4. Mashatu

Rarely am I lost for words. Now I sit at the screen, wondering how to begin. My heart is so full, my head spinning. I could write for days, trying to describe it adequately. I'm in love with Africa. But where to begin?

Perhaps with the family of cheetahs we came upon yesterday? Here mother and son lick each other's faces. She and her three cubs had just finished their meal of eland, their bellies so full they could hardly keep their eyes open. They were lolling lazily on the ground in the shade, the round football of the eland gut left lying in the sun. If it's split, the smell travels for miles, bringing everyone else to the dinner party.

Or this young male like an overfull puppy who just didn’t know when to stop. He kept pulling the last of the meat from the bones as we watched. He'd pause to let the previous morsel go down a little, and begin again.

His brother was so full he could barely be bothered to lift his head to see who we were.

Hardly had we left the cheetahs when we met a young leopardess called Mathoja, meaning the one who limps - as a baby she was injured. Now she walks calmly, strongly and confidently, totally in charge. Very very close to the vehicles.

So close that she flopped down in another vehicle's shade and we could almost touch her as she cooled off in the late afternoon. Our guide Eric said that on occasions she has walked under their vehicle.

I'd be waiting to make sure she came out the other side! My lungs seemed to freeze mid-breath, every hair standing on end, brain totally scrambled trying to decide between iphone or camera, still or video. Or should I simply just look at her and enjoy the moment?

Half an hour later, six young lion cousins abandoned by their mothers. They now run together, and were sound asleep beneath a bush.

So asleep! I'm so glad I brought the Sony super-zoom camera.

And this morning. This is the trapdoor entrance to the Matebole hide where we arrived before dawn. We sat inside for a few hours, snug in the sunken container, looking out at the waterhole. I was glad to see the logs and rocks placed on top to discourage elephants from standing on it! Down inside there's a counter to rest your cameras, rotating photographic swivels, beanbags for steady shots.

Perhaps I should tell you about the two families of elephants who came to the hide, throwing water, drinking deeply, babies sucking up water next to their mothers, totally uncaring of our presence? Or the female elephant who trumpeting so loudly I jumped out of my skin as she elbowed a younger elephant out of her road. 'This is MY place at the waterhole' she was saying.

Or the kudu, so regal, who strolled in majestically, yet was happy to share his place with tiny birds.

Or the lone jackal who watched us warily even as he drank?

Maybe the wildebeest who stood watching us in the hide for twenty minutes, frightened to come near, desperately wanting a drink. He stood and watched us for the slightest movement, paced along the edge of the waterhole, stopped to watch us again, then walked away. We held our breath. He came back again. Ever cautious.

He waited at a distance for eland to come in to drink, and then used them as cover to come in himself. We were so pleased.

This is only some of the birds we’ve seen.

It's so much easier for some to drink than others!

And it's jolly hard on the knees!

We didn't see this giraffe at the water hole. Wouldn't that be something!

Maybe the gin and tonic sundowners last night out in the open country, the lights of the Venetia diamond mine twinkling in the distance. Radiance and I thought we might borrow a vehicle tonight and make a flying visit.

Every time I see one, I can't believe the beauty of the mashatu tree which grows along water courses. It's heart stopping in itself.