Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Life is a safari vehicle....... You just never know!

Impala rams in debate
Late April, early May heralds the start of the impala rutting season in Southern Africa. Males evaluate each other, establish a pecking order; settle disputes and in need, make their point at horn's-end. To the victor a harem of willing ladies....

Late April, early May also ushers in mostly cooler weather, our favourite time of year to visit one of the many world-class lodges for three or four nights of 5-star luxury. Deciding on somewhere different for a change, away from the more illustrious venues in the Sabi Sands, we decided on Makalali's Emtomeni (Jackalberry tree) camp & we weren't disappointed. More on that later.

You never know what you gonna get....
'Safaris' for our foreign visitors or 'game-drives' for locals are conducted in open-air vehicles. Any sighting off the beaten track is pursued off-road, in thorny-bush & without conscience ...

Thrust onto an intimate vehicle for ten, parties of strangers, Lek-like, evaluate each other, establish a pecking order and in need, settle disputes at wit's -end..

A tool of discouragement.. ?
First-time foreign guests view the battle-scarred .458 cal. rifle, in easy reach of the ranger, as the tool of discouragement against unsolicited visits by paid-up members of the Big-5. They're wrong.

Those of us who know these things understand the unwritten significance of the gun .. We're reminded that the sanctity of the vehicle is to be respected; that the front-seat is the property of the driver - allocated at the driver's pleasure and that bank balance, schooling - both secondary & tertiary, locale of domicile, social circle & mode of transport to & from the lodge are not negotiable leverage. Seating's pecking order is on a 1st-come, first-seated basis, always! Drivers have been / are instructed to cool the heals of Gucci-clad combatants who get emotionally involved...

There is also the added attraction of a readily-accessible weapon to neutralise the locally-contrived Eton-accent in the far back-seat, adamantly claiming 'springbok' in thick acacia bush... & in so doing ease the general suffering; so to speak.

Camp 3 - Emtomeni [Alisha on deck]
Makalali is Big 5 country; split into 4 uniquely distinct luxury camps, independently managed but centrally catered. Accommodation is refined & unobtrusive; the cuisine tasty, abundantly bountiful and always freshly prepared.

Private mid-afternoon siesta deck.. Unique.

The service is all Makalali* ..! Indeed a '*place of rest'. Camp, kitchen & field -staff, drawn largely from local communities, are well-trained, respectful in a high-end environment & quietly confident - a skill that isn't bought but earned. 

Where it counts most, out in the field, Makalali plays lead safari.. Lions are lazy; elephants exuberant; rhinos razzle; buffalo bellow & leopards leap! Vehicle radios consistently report a suite of Big 5 sightings from which only the very best will do. Bush-pig, pangolin & aardvark are occasionally on the menu too. Makalali is a veritable scrapbook.

A three hour dawn-drive yields the lot; the evening too. Leopard, lion, hyena, elephant, hippo & African civet regularly patrol the midnight walk-ways between camps, chalets and the dining boma itself.  Walking alone, at night, by starlight, is respectfully discouraged..

'Phantom' - one of two brothers & dominant

A brother's bond - Refined in blood

'Kalahari Jnr.' - royal blood line. His father killed by 'Phantom & 'Miljon'. 
Kudu steak for breakfast - a cheetah coalition
As far as trackers & field-rangers go we had two of the best. Humble by nature, honest in promise & competent in practice, Amos & Rams, the two gentlemen assigned to 'Ingwe' ['Leopard'] our vehicle, will forever be the abiding memory. Those of us fortunate to see genius in one of its many guises will never forget Rams quietly going about his business tracking two hunting cheetah through throat-high grass and in virtually impenetrable bush, on foot, unarmed and ultimately successful when the tracks appeared a figment of his imagination. 

'Washed thatch' - a true African spice
Whilst the week's sightings are etched in rhyme, the torrential rain we stoically endured, some 30 minutes away from camp, on Saturday morning & in an open vehicle, will forever be remembered. Hairdressers, no doubt, are mincing still...

There is something to be said for a mid-morning fire in an African April. We tend to overlook small mercies but the ambiance is novel, welcomed and usually plays the perfect backdrop against which rainbows dazzle.

Ambiance - a 1000 words

Soaked to the sole

Bon voyage my recalcitrant South African backseat companion. The vehicle had you beaten. Humility is a lesson harshly learn't. Red wine negates the accent & rain is only water. You might, perhaps, respect the freedom of the wild & recall the wisdom of our American friends who patiently tutored you against your callous ignorance. Yes life is a safari vehicle - you just never know ...

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