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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.

What stories this trunk could tell.

Radiance at work in the hide.

Just looking at these two gives me enormous joy. I know you can feel it too. The fabulous and generous Janet, photographer extraordinaire who accompanied us to the hide, and our driver Kayser. Incredibly giving, warm, wonderfully generous people.

I haven't even mentioned the morning we left Johannesburg, when our driver nearly choked laughing when I called a snoek fish (thanks Jo and Steve!) a skop. Or our very handsome pilot Steyn who flew the 402 Cessna on the way here and handled a very gusty wind on landing at Limpopo Valley Airfield as if it were child's play.

A dry river bed.

Or the fabulous country we flew over. See Kipling's great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River? Actually this part is dammed. It's just a dry river bed near Mashatu.

Or our arrival at Mashatu, an event in itself!

Not to mention Mashatu's rooms, or the wonderful food we’ve eaten! Cooked by the most beautiful woman called Annah whom I will photograph tomorrow. You will ADORE her.

But I'm so grateful that I've been able to upload these photos in between this morning's amazing experience in the hide, and our afternoon game drive. Last night it wouldn't work at all. And I'm not sure what will happen tomorrow. It's totally erratic but reliably slow or non-existent. I have so many more photos. And videos. Make sure you look at Instagram if you're on it - I can post videos there wheres it's almost impossible here.

I'm going to leave you now to get ready for our afternoon drive. I'll post this tonight and do your email link then. And I'll try to do the same tomorrow. Keep your fingers crossed and keep that positive energy flowing because it's working for us. Thank you for being so patient, and thank you for coming with me!

Just one last photo of the darling guinea fowl who warned us by running away, every time a bigger animal was approaching.

And of course your daily flower shot.

It's terribly dry and dusty here - hardly a blade of grass to eat and yet the herbivores like the eland, kudu, bush bucks, impala all look well. We're in open vehicles which are enveloped by clouds of red dust from behind every time we stop. In the early morning it's very cold. In the evening quite chilly. Our hat brims blow backwards so it's easy to be sunburned. Our eyes are red raw from the dust, our skin shrivelled to peeling paper! And you know how I don't bring shampoo and conditioner but rely on hotel supply? Bad move here. They have a 'conditioning shampoo' and my hair is standing on end like straw. I'm sorry to tell you I have become Tattered Elegance, and my travelling companion, Faded Radiance. And what's more, we don't care. -:) It's worth it for every heart-stopping moment of the day.

Which reminds me that when Helen introduced me to Patience and Lovemore the other day, we both kept a totally straight face.


Until tomorrow.....

shelley dark, writer 

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