Wednesday 30th June – published Saturday 3rd July (Kirsty’s blog)
Andy, Keith and myself set off for Madikwe Game Reserve about four and half hours drive north west of Joburg on the Botswanan border, I’m really looking forward to it as it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. You may have noticed that’s there’s a discernible gap between my blogs, this is because I’m maintaining radio silence on the debacle that was England vs Germany at Bloemfontein…nough said!
We negotiate our way through about 90km of gravel tracks before reaching one of the gates to Madikwe (this doesn’t include a slight detour that the satnav decided upon itself to take us so we revert to good old fashioned maps ).
As soon as we pass the gate we see giraffes and impala and drive for about another half an hour through the bush looking for our lodge, Madikwe River Lodge, little did we know at the time that we could have bumped into fully grown wild lions at any point during our drive…not sure what we would have done if we had!
We’re greeted by lovely smiling staff with a hot flannel and a glass of juice, hardly roughing it, and subsequently shown to our lodges. It’s a beautiful wooden lodge with a thatched roof set on the river with a large decked area, inside is split level with the largest bed I’ve ever seen covered in about a hundred cushions…all this luxury is in the middle of the South African bush!
After a quick sandwich we head out to our truck for our first game drive of the trip, we’re joined by a lovely bunch of people including a polish family Kris, Helena and their son Wicktor along with their South African friend Vivian, Marc who’s from Germany but with not a trace of a German accent, he has a soft American accent due to going to college in the US, two American brothers, Nikhil and Aroon and our Madikwe guide Jerry.
Before setting off Jerry asked us what we’re looking forward to seeing and I reply elephants…though in hindsight I should have added “from a safe distance”
Off we go through the bush and spot impalas, zebras and giraffes almost straight away, we’re were tackling pretty rough terrain and at one point negotiated a particularly steep and rocky section. Then about two minutes after this, Jerry spots a herd of elephants in the bushes, though as we stop and switch off the engine in order to observe them, there’s a distinctive hissing noise and it becomes apparent that it’s coming from the tyre. The problem here is that we’ve stopped right in the middle of the path that the elephants are taking (a no no in the wild, we’re told to always give the animals an escape route and don’t block their route). So there we are, unable to move (Jerry did try to reverse) slap bang in the middle of the path of a herd of elephants and their young, which makes them doubly dangerous as cows will do anything protecting the babies.
We were told to keep very quiet and very still and the elephants started to amble past us, everything was fine until the last two alpha females of the group, one of them actually suckling her calf and so had to stop very close to us. Jerry had just been explaining to us about the signs of an angry elephant that’s about to charge, the signs are pacing, ear flapping, pawing the ground and throwing dirt into the air with their trunks, the final sign being trumpeting. Suddenly one of the females who was extremely close to us started to go angrily go round in circles, ears flapping furiously, pawing the ground and chucking dirt about the place…this was getting scary, we were sitting ducks, we couldn’t get out of there, I very slowly glanced at Helena who couldn’t even look, but by far the worst view was catching sight of Jerry our guide, who was looking absolutely petrified, sweating and looking for all the world like he was one step away from needing a change of underwear!!!
My heart was pounding out of my chest, I daren’t take my eyes off her and even more sinister was the way the mother who was suckling her young started moving very slowly in our direction while staring menacingly, added to which one of the young suddenly startled and ran across our path trumpeting…as Andy quite rightly pointed out “this was bad news!’ Though Andy then suggested that I try and take a photo of the angry about to charge elephant for posterity…I nearly swore at him but I didn’t want to move my mouth too much in case the elephant saw me move, as apparently if you keep still they just see the whole truck and not the individual.
After a while both females calmed down slightly and following a final harrumph moved on to push over some nearby trees. Jerry leapt into action got the jack and the spare tyre and as the elephants were still nearby asked us to hide around the one side of the truck while he changed the wheel. Andy went off help him though unfortunately the wheel wouldn’t fit! Know we really were in trouble, it was starting to get dark, we had a flat tyre with no spare, angry elephants were nearby, it’s unsafe out of the truck at anytime of day but especially at night as this is when the lions would certainly take pot luck and hunt a slow moving or indeed any moving person! There was only one thing to do…we erected a picnic table, covered it with a table cloth and poured some stiff gin and tonics, complete with ice and lemon, how very British! All the while with Jerry keeping watch and listening for the low grumble of lions or the return of the elephants.
After two hours, most of it in the dark and getting quite cold, rescue came in the shape of a spare wheel and our exciting adventure for the evening was over, Jerry didn’t admit it until afterwards that he was really scared, though to be fare he didn’t need to, just one look at his face revealed the fear accompanied by a look of terror in his eyes…he wasn’t the only one!
We spent a pleasant evening eating outdoors with a nice glass of red or two. I tried pap for the first time accompanied by the most tender melt in the mouth eland, it was glorious (though we might have seen one in the wild earlier), we got to know our lovely ‘truck neighbours’ better and chatted to Kris, Helena (Wiktor was a little tired by this point) and Vivian, then Marc, Andy, Keith and I moved next to the fire and spent a fair bit of time discussing football and FIFA. A perfect day and nobody died!