It was around this time that we acquired a second game-drive vehicle and another tracker, Morris Mnisi. Morris’s wife, Eunice, later joined the kitchen staff. This meant that when the camp filled up, Jurie and Morris would drive the new vehicle. Having extra sets of eyes out there in the bush was greatly beneficial as it was difficult on one’s own, searching for game while trying to cover our whole area.

Before the second vehicle arrived Jurie would go out tracking on his motorbike with a two-way radio, and call in to Dixon when he got lucky. Sometimes he would get a little too lucky; the bike soon became known as “meals on wheels”. For example, one afternoon Jurie was riding westward along the main road between Little Gowrie and Gowrie when he spotted a pair of lions mating near the side of the road. He stopped and called the sighting in to the game-drive vehicles and, as a Chitwa vehicle was nearby, he left the lions and continued on his way. No more than a couple of hundred meters further on he came across another mating lion couple, this time in the middle of the road. Jurie slowed down and decided to veer off the road northwards into Gowrie. In the meantime the first pair of lions had stood up and started coming after him. Jurie had found a small, winding, dirt track which, however, doubled back and was heading very close to the second mating pair. On the radio Jurie called Paul from Chitwa warning him to get the hell out of there as the lions were closing in! A nice ending to that adventure, was added the following morning when we saw fresh evidence where the motorbike had been parked overnight. We found that the saddle of the motorbike had been shredded, with pieces of leather scattered around on the ground among fresh lion tracks. Abel also announced that, from the spoor and markings next to his hut it was evident that a big lion had slept there, propped up against the exterior wall. Furthermore, the tracks matched those of the lions from Jurie’s encounters the previous afternoon. The lions had walked at least five kilometres to abuse the motorbike, only, again according to their tracks, to return to the exact original locale to continue with their courting!
Although Johnson by then had gained full control over the kitchen I still used to get up at break of day to put the coffee and cooler boxes ready for when the guests woke up for their game drive. Johnson’s working day would have been too long if he had had to do that as well, and I had not at that stage yet quite acquired a grasp on delegating tasks to other staff members. Nevertheless, however much as I moaned about my morning lie-in being interrupted, it was great to get in touch with the guests at the start of the day, and enjoy the peace and quiet of the lodge once they had gone off and before the rest of the staff started their working day.
Our early mornings were not always as idyllic as that makes them sound. Once, when Jurie and I were living in Chalet Six lions mated outside our bathroom window for most of the night. Chalet Six, being the furthest from the main building was not needed for guests, and until we expanded the lodge, it suited our accommodation needs. Bingo slept through the loud bellows issuing from the lions at frequent intervals, but not so Douglas! Finally we had to wrap his head up in a duvet to stifle his growls. In the morning, we managed to ‘shoo’ the lions away, just far enough to attempt the short walk to the main lodge so that we could organise for the guests’ wake-up call. The transfer had to be effected by Jurie walking very close beside me with the rifle loaded and at the ready, lest the lions should shift their attention onto us. By the time the guests were enjoying their coffee around the fire, as they watched the lions walking across the plain in front of the lodge, the rather stressed course of events leading up to that perfect moment no longer seemed significant.
On another occasion I had just got into bed after a long haul at the lodge. It was very hot, and this was long before the installation of air conditioners, so I moistened my sheet with water and lay under it beneath the ceiling fan. Suddenly I felt what could only be described as a 'reptilian thud' on my chest. I threw my arms up, tossing the sheet to the ground, and beat it out of the hut, not daring to scream (well, maybe just a little) for fear of alarming the guests. I peered back inside to see a harmless common house snake slithering over my bedside table. Jurie came to the rescue, caught the snake, and released it outside. I thought that was the end of the story, but at breakfast the following morning a guest in the chalet next to my hut recounted strange goings on in the middle of the previous night. His version included the sighting of a naked woman disappearing rapidly into the darkness…
The point I am trying to make with these various accounts is that, although we wanted our guests to have an impression of this perfectly idyllic safari filled with a sense of wonder at it all happening so effortlessly, there always seemed to be some adventure behind the façade of – dare I say it – normality? When I think back on my own first real safaris in Botswana I wonder if there had also been some great stories there that I had never guessed were unfolding behind the reed fences. There must have been!


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Our African Way