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  • Shelley Dark

5. leopards and lions

I'd like you to meet Annah who works in the kitchen, utterly beautiful with a great hug.

Last night I went to her as she stood behind the servery at dinner. Annah, my skin is very dry, could I have just a small amount of cooking oil please? I mimed rubbing oil over my arms and shoulders.

Annah went into fits of giggles, which made me start to laugh too. She thought I was making a joke and hid her face. No, seriously! I said. Olive oil, vegetable oil, any oil.

A male staff member brought a bottle of olive oil from the salad bar. He was laughing too.

Perfect! That started Annah off laughing again. But by the end of dinner, we had a small bowl of olive oil covered in cling wrap. So much better than body lotion. What a godsend!

But back to yesterday afternoon's game drive. The cold front had come through with a strong dusty wind. Eric on the left is our guide and driver. Goms on the right is our amazing spotter/tracker who sits at the back of the vehicle. They communicate in the local language, Setswana.

We saw zebra.

And many giraffe, this one a baby.

This one an adult.

You can tell a boy giraffe because his horns are totally bald on top. Girls have furry horns. Which one is this? I have no idea! -:)

More elephants of course. I'm told Mashatu has more elephants than any other reserve on the African continent. The babies are so cute!

We saw two mother hyenas, one with a litter of babies. The other had a bigger cub.

This cub with the cute pink ears was still suckling while everyone else slept. He gave us a cursory glance before he went back to his tucker.

Eric did say what this raptor was, but I'd need a bird identifier to remind me. Usually I take detailed notes for you on my iphone, but it's too rough in the vehicle to type or write. And at this hour, everyone's asleep. Maybe you can tell me?

Vehicles stay in contact by radio to share information. But of course we can’t understand, so we have no idea what’s been sighted until we arrive at the scene.

Imagine rounding a bend to suddenly see two sleeping lions, this male, and a female nearby.

We had heard at brunch about a pair of lions mating. It was obviously over, for the moment at least.

The female lion raised her head briefly as we approached, then flopped back, sound asleep. She is the mother of three of the six young males we saw yesterday, the second litter she has abandoned. Everyone is hoping for better this time.

The male was in a semi-daze, but watching us now and then through half-open eyes. Eric said later that he’d stay slightly awake just in case the female decided to leave. They mate for several days.

It was fascinating to be able to study their huge paws, his mane, their faces.

He rolled over into quite a comical position, and was still lying like that when we left.

Shortly after that, we came upon a leopardess lying basking in the late afternoon sun. Her cub soon joined her and was given a good licking.

It's such a privilege to see this.

The cub walked away about seventy metres on her own investigation, but she soon returned. Nearing a log in front of her mother, she crouched low, assuming an attack position. Mum ignored her. Suddenly the cub pounced, jumping over the log to land on top.

Helen took a wonderful video of them, and I'd love you to see it. Uploading to youtube is impossible here. I’ll do it when we have good wifi.

Aren't these amazing, these nests belonging to a type of sparrow?

We stopped for a gin and tonic as the sun went down.

It's almost surreal, being out in the African dusk.

The day at Mashatu starts early with a 5.45am cup of tea and substantial snack, the morning game drive until about 10am, a huge brunch, high tea at 3pm, the afternoon game drive, sundowners in the bush, and dinner. Any of the game drives can be changed for a visit to a photographic hide, which we did again this morning.

We left camp before dawn with Janet and our new driver. Fish is married to Grace who often mans the front desk. Fish calls Janet his second wife. By the end of the morning I thought Fish was keen for Helen to be number three!

Animals don't like cold windy mornings any more than we do, so wild life was much scarcer at the hide today.

The helmeted guinea fowl were there of course.

And a few of the local birds.

I'm not sure why it's called a go-away bird.

This was a different wildebeest from yesterday. He marched straight up to the waterhole without a sideways glance.

But he did keep an eye on us while he was drinking.

And of course our darling elephants came back.

This young bull elephant stayed on after the herd left in the swirling dust.

I haven't told you that the 29,000 hectares of Mashatu Game Reserve is between the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers where the three countries of Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe meet. And I'm told it has the largest elephant population on a private reserve on the entire African continent.

A very pretty bush buck (I think!) on our way home. W also saw giraffe, impala, zebra, and the amazing genet cat which looks like a cross between a possum and a racoon with a long fluffy striped tail. It's actually part of the mongoose family and much too quick for me to photograph.

This is the impala lily, a threatened species, growing in the garden at Mashatu.

This sweet face belongs to staff member and guide, Booboo, who came to unlock the malfunctioning safe in our room. Well maybe it would be more accurate to say we malfunctioned. But it was one of those silly ones that says press the red button behind the door, and there is no red button. All solved by Booboo anyway!

And this is her fabulous hair do - don't you love it?

When we first arrived back, we had a look at the Discovery Room which has oodles of information about the history, animals, birds etc here. There was a slide show on the computer screen of photos belonging to our photo guide Janet Kleyn.

Just to show you what Mashatu looks like in February, here are four of her photos which she kindly allowed me to show you.

It looks so different!

​I'm going to love you and leave you now - the computer froze a while ago and I'm terrified something will happen and I won't be able to post this.

This is the wifi room where I'm sitting right now, over on the left. Don't you love the inside of thatched roofs? By the way, it's freezing tonight!

This pot is in the Discovery Room - you could spend a week there!

This is a photo of pioneers in this area in 1890. Imagine tipping over your dray with all those valuables!

I'm not sure when I'll be able to post again - after the early game drive tomorrow, and after breakfast, we are hoping that before flying out we'll be able to visit the kitchen. We transfer back to Limpopo Airfield, fly back to Johannesburg and are driven back to our hotel. I should be able to post provided nothing goes wrong.

On Monday we fly to Durban and then drive to Isibindi, which describes itself as the place to do a digital detox. There won't be any wifi at all. But I'll be photographing and writing each day.

On Thursday we drive to Durban and fly to Cape Town and don't arrive at the hotel until very late.

Hang tight buddies! And ke tla go bôna kgantele (that's Setswana for until we meet again).

shelley dark, writer 

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