By Bert Duplessis, Fish Eagle Safaris

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We took a last look around Fairlawns- it was a perfectly gorgeous late fall morning in Johannesburg – collected our stuff and made out way back to ORTI with Thokozane, our Wilro driver.  Very pleasant and efficient, he expertly got us back to the airport in good time.  Unfortunately our SA Airlink flight to Pholokwane was running about 20 minutes late and that together with a short delay at the border crossing (by boat across the Limpopo) meant that we could not do an afternoon game drive.

It was no big deal – we needed a bit of time to get settled in, check out the camp, and catch up on a few things. Including this journal.  En route to camp we did come across a nice journey of giraffes.   Dinner this evening was excellent, with a special vegan dish (actually more than one) being offered in addition to some goat stew, breast of chicken, a nice cream of leek soup, plenty of fresh vegetables and a creamy ice-cream for the omnivores and a fruit filled pastry for yours truly.  Tomorrow: our first game drive at Mashatu in several years!

May 25 2013:  Game drive at Mashatu

It is quite amazing what a decent night’s sleep can do – feeling refreshed for the first time since we left the USA, I woke up 3 minutes before the scheduled wake-up call of 6:00A.  It was quite cold – probably upper 40’s F – but with some good layering there was no need for a very heavy jacket.  After a quick cup of coffee and a small bowl of porridge we were on our way with our guide Daniel and tracker Commando.  The first hour was rather slow but then we started picking up quite a bit of action:  first two female lions and then a group of 9 cubs – of several mothers – ranging up to 18 months old.  They were a little wary of the vehicles put we good a few decent photographs before they linked up with the females and disappeared into the bush.

Not long afterwards we were practically surrounded by a large group of elephants moving from our right to our left, coming to within just a couple of meters of the vehicle. The elephants were very relaxed and one or two of them barely raised their ears at our presence, turning their heads towards us as if in greeting.  It was a very impressive sightings, with nearly 50 elephants of all ages filing by us.  At the same time another even larger herd was passing right by another vehicle, just 300 meters or so away from us.  Elephants everywhere!

On the way back to camp we passed by more elephants, and saw a good mix of other game including lots of impala, some kudu, zebra, giraffe and several eland.  As they tend to do, the eland kept their distance but we were able to get one or two decent captures.

By about 1000A we were back in camp and half an hour later it was time for brunch:  quite a spread of salads, meats, cheese, egg dishes, bread, potato au gratin, a fruit tray, juices, toast with several jams and even a medley of black-eyed peas and white beans prepared specially for the vegan…

After a short siesta (a much-needed hour-long nap was most welcome!) we enjoyed yet another great spread for afternoon tea, and then set out with Dan and Commando to go and find some more wildlife.

Not too far out of camp we witnessed a single elephant giving himself a mud bath.  Not just any old mud bath – a thorough dousing from head to toe.  Repeatedly he would gather up a trunkful of muddy water and spray it all over himself until he was reduced to a shiny mud-covered spectacle.  Eventually the elephant tired and appeared to take a little mini-nap, flat on his side in the mud pool.  Then he got up, walked a little further and found a source of dust, which he proceeded to spray all over himself again.  Many spas would have been envious of this multi-step treatment!

Shortly afterwards we enjoyed one of the best sightings of the trip so far – two elephant herds walking in near single-file, comings straight towards us in great afternoon light.  They just veered off the road slightly, passing to our left, some of the young ones moving closer to their mothers and giving us a quizzical look.  Of course there was the predictable young male flapping his ears at us while giving us ‘the look’…

Our next find was a pair of jackals which seemed quite relaxed, yet their ears were constantly tipping upwards to catch a stray sound which could result in food – or flight.

Our 2-night stay at Mashatu Tented Camp was an excellent re-introduction to the area and its wildlife.  We still had a few things to do but for the next few days our focus would shift to some cultural endeavors as well as a walking safari.


Early on the morning of May 27, we met our cultural guide Gaone (aka Booboo) for a half day trip to Mothlabaneng village, where we experienced a glimpse of life in a typical Botswana village.  The village was quiet, peaceful and neatly laid out with simple but functional houses lining the streets. There was almost no traffic and the only sounds to be heard were children playing and adults exchanging greetings.  We peeked into a trading store where I was not surprised to see many of the staples I had grown up with in South Africa (traditional mealie meal (maize flour) with which to make sadza, Huletts cane sugar, Marmite, Maltabella and several others.  It was very basic, and the average American visitor would be astonished by the lack of brand choices.

From there we drove to the school (it was a Sunday so no one there) and then on to a small shop & tradecraft center where a few of the local women were busy weaving baskets. We observed the process for a while and checked out the wares for sale – a nice collection indeed.  Kathleen picked up one or two things while I tried to get a photograph of a few children who were entertaining themselves swinging on a dilapidated fence.

The kids were keen to speak English and were quick to respond to my questions about their grade level and who their teachers were.  Soon enough, I was being quizzed about the weather in Houston, and I was almost stumped when asked if I had any special skills and abilities…

With lots of useful information and background information from Gaone, we inspected the local Kgotla (large circular open-air gathering place) where an important meeting was scheduled to take place the next day, to select a new chief for the village.  A chief is ordinarily a hereditary position, passed on from father to son or daughter, but the villagers had collectively decided to democratically elect a new leader.

Our last stop was at a rather rudimentary palm wine production facility, but that would be a charitable description.  In actuality it was just a local guy tapping sap from a few palm trees, in what appeared to be a singularly unhygienic manner.  Once fermented this local brew is said to be quite potent not only because of its alcoholic properties, but also for its ‘cleansing’ effect.  I am not surprised.

We enjoyed an al fresco lunch at a very secluded and sheltered rocky spot – where Gaone pointed out some fading yet still quite fascinating rock art examples – and were then transferred to the base camp of the Mashatu Walking Safari operation.

Continue to Part 3