“Does this road make my bum look big”? Not a question that I particularly wanted to answer given that the vehicle I was in was only a few meters away from where this pachyderm was trundling down the road. Luckily the signpost on the right marked the turn off to the lodge that my wife and I were staying at for the weekend. And, more importantly, I was not there to work. I was dear reader, going to be a guest and not a writer. But once a writer always a writer and any excuse to put fingers to a keyboard given the lack of travel in the past year was going to be utilized to the max!
A welcome “Welcome” drink…This one was non-alcoholic and very sweet, but delicious. It seems that many lodges are now serving juice-based drinks in order to limit the choices or of guests taking drinks that might be ‘triggers’. Whatever the reason, I salute and applaud the decision.
It is with thanks to my wife that we enjoyed the weekend at this lodge. Not her first choice, but having stayed here in 2017, I convinced her that it was the better option. And I was partly right. All will be revealed in the body of this posting…
Back in my happy space for the first time in 2021. I was hoping for fewer people on a vehicle, but the lodge had assigned 8 per vehicle, while many other lodges will only put 6 per vehicle. I also noticed that vehicles went out with only 4 guests on them. Would it be an option to rearrange guest numbers before each drive so that correct social distancing can be maintained? COVID-19 protocols might soon be amended to accommodate this compulsory change in seating arrangements.
And I photographed NO food, delicious though it was. The lodge served 3 full meals a day, but even though it was not full, the service in the dining room left a lot to be desired. Incorrect orders served, staff not wearing masks correctly and long delays to bring simple requests like a jug of water or toast at breakfast. Seeing that I was a guest and not there on assignment, I chatted to others who admitted that they had had similar experiences. That being said, the staff did everything with a smile and an eagerness to please which the kitchen staff does not seem to share. The wait-staff are merely the messengers and cannot be chastised when it is the kitchen where the possible congestion lies. As I mentioned earlier, the staff are exceptional and often it is as a result of their eagerness that guests overlook issues like the service at mealtimes. But with money becoming tight and expectations being high, this is a training opportunity that lodge management should seize with both hands.
The real reason for being here? Time to get back into the bush. The recent rains have wreaked havoc on many of the Park roads and as a result, several routes were closed while we were there.
There is always something special about being peered at from behind a tree. The two of the most-viewed animals on this particular weekend were Giraffe and Elephant, with whom we shared close but relaxed encounters.
Mankwe Dam is probably at more than 100% full! And if not, it is very close. I have not seen the level this high in the years that I have been coming to the park. Not only that, it now seems to be home to a multitude of large and imposing terrapins.
This Black-backed Jackal had just finished off a meal of Guinea fowl before crossing the road to go in search of another snack. Although his first hunt had been a success, the follow-up was not and he loped off to get on with the rest of his day, doing whatever it is that jackals do when not sleeping or looking for food.
The first breeding herd that we encountered had several small members, yet both the Matriach and the mothers were very relaxed and seemed to take little notice of our proximity. In fact, one of the young males passed so close to our vehicle that had my wife extended her arm she would have been able to touch him. She was very relaxed about the encounter, not so for others on the vehicle who tried to move as far from the goliath as possible.
And while that was going on, one of the guests was more intent on taking video footage that being present and enjoying the interaction. But, who am I to judge. As a photographer I am always looking for “that” shot, yet every now and then I do put down my camera to be part of what nature is offering.
A Zebra crossing? Not in this case as the mare stopped in the middle for her foal to enjoy a drink.
Another breeding herd that we encountered. This one had been feeding in the trees on the side of the road but decided that water was as important as food and came to slake their thirst in the residual rain water alongside the road.
Looking like a small river, this is actually rain run-off in a drainage ditch along the road that took us from the lodge into the main part of the park. It was here that our guide told us how flowing water can be used to wash away a multitude of sins. His in-depth knowledge of his culture made his interactions with us informative, educational and entertaining.
One of the youngsters that had been left behind feeding. But he was keeping an eye on the herd and as soon as it drew level with where he was feeding, he moved to join them.
“Look into my eyes…you are getting sleepy”! This large male baboon had an almost hypnotic stare.
Impala became an in-joke on our vehicle, and you had to be there to enjoy that. Suffice to say that this antelope species is highly underrated and sightings are often ignored or the very least limited.
The epitome of a bush visit…sunset on the way to an unexpected Bush Boma dinner.
And, of course, a fire to keep away the insects and the dangerous game species seeing that we were eating outdoors in their territory. Given what I have said earlier about the service in the dining room, this meal, under the spreading branches of a Weeping Wattle went off without a hitch. Compliments to all concerned with this event.
Field Guide Answer Bango, a man whose passion for the bush and his cultural heritage burns bright. Thanks to him, I came away a wiser guest and with a determination to finally complete my Apprentice Field Guide qualification. As a result of his input and enthusiasm, I will be starting my course on February 22nd! This man, like Ruaan, who was my guide on my previous visit, is an asset to the lodge.
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