South Africa &
Botswana: Safari Deluxe
by Jered Barclay
Genre - November 2000
Safari. For me, the word had
always conjured up images of trying to photograph animals through the
backs of way too many tourists, who are trying to take pictures
through the backs of way too many other tourists snapping away.
Happily, my assumptions were wrong.
I discovered on my first trip to South Africa and Botswana that these
countries provide welcome detonations of the "Africa" stereotypes.
We got our immutable notions about a country usually from
magazines that have taught us that Africa is only "The Big Five":
lion, tiger, rhino, giraffe and elephant. From the movies, we
have learned that you can't go more than four minutes in the jungle
without a crocodile, lion or python attack, from which, of course,
Tarzan always saves Jane, and that these perils are punctuated by
terminally cute antics by Cheetah the Chimpanzee. Baloney!
Africa is full of the unexpected. A dose of South Africa and
Botswana is not unlike a bad face job that leaves one petrified into
a look of eternal surprise. But here, we are talking about
genuine and pleasant surprise!
On the morning, we began our most exciting adventure. We
transferred to a regional Johannesburg airport, where David, of
DavidTours [DavidTravel], had chartered a private plane for us. We were
excited to have aerial views between South Africa and our
destination, the Mashatu Private Game Reserve in Botswana.
After the hour-and-a-half flight, the band-aid-like gravel
landing strip and the Oregon-rest-stop-sized airport seemed fun! We
were primed for our adventure.
A quick meal and deep sleep is what we needed, and what we got, in
preparation for the morning. Dawn and dusk game rides are the
order of every day. Wow! Talk about thrills. After
coffee, tea and pastries, we climbed into the open jeep that
comfortably sat seven, and watched the dawn crack.
We left our air-conditioned and two-bathroom cabanas early every
morning, had breathtaking experiences with animals, came back to
camp, had breakfast, slept, or swam in the pool, then went out in the
evening, had the same encounters, eager to have another thrilling
experience the next dawn.
On the third night, we had a uniquely amazing adventure. One of
the two game rangers who accompanied us slowly raised his spotlight
to reveal the tiny face of a baby leopard in the crux of a
tree. Leopards are nocturnal and rarely sighted in Botswana.
But a one-month-old baby leopard, with no protective mother at
its side? My five companions in the jeep were awed and frozen with
delight. I carefully mounted the long lens on my camera and
with my heart slamming against my chest, shot a roll of film.
The other ranger/driver put his index finger to his lips and
pointed upward. The spotlight slid 15 feet above and on a branch
directly above us in our open jeep, thank you very much, was the mama
leopard. Gulp! Photograph or flee? Congo, the
ranger/driver, whispered that mama had just killed an impala and was
napping after the feast and that I should shoot quickly before she
awakened. You can believe I did!
Forty-five minutes later, we were having cocktails and an opulent
dinner al fresco at the Mashatu Game Lodge, with a sassy monkey
drinking from the swimming pool nearby. Heart pounding
adventure and luxurious elegance within an hour of each other?
Understand that this is not the "jungle" that exists elsewhere in
Africa, or in the Tarzan movies, but a high desert-like topography in
which the roads are barely visible or non-existent. Congo
ascended and descended hair-raising gullies to track animals and used
his cell phone to track animals with the other four Mashatu vehicles.
If one ranger spotted a rare or unusual sighting, each jeep
would take its turn at the sight.
Every morning and night, we experienced zebras, impala, lions,
cheetahs (rare), leopards (also rare), giraffes, hyenas, Vervet
monkeys, suricates, ostriches, elands, blue wildebeests, white
rhinoceroses and kudus. Not to mention that this is the refuge
for the single most populous number of elephants in all of
On one morning, our first sighting (fifteen minutes from the reserve)
was of a herd of elephants circling a two-month-old baby from our
possible invasion. To be ten feet from a herd of unpredictable
elephants protecting an infant was a breath-holding experience.
No bars, no fences. You were on THEIR territory and the
experience was, and continued to be, for the four days there,
unparalleled. Congo always had his rifle ready.
The sighting of a cheetah stalking a herd of impala, a night sighting
of a lion and his lioness from 20 feet away were lifetime
experiences. If, when I die, my life passes in front of me, I
want these images on parade in my cerebellum.
Before and after these staggering experiences with nature, came the
boring stuff: food and drink, comfort. After the morning game
drive, comes a sumptuous breakfast, at about 10 a.m. Then
napping, a swim in the small but pleasant pool, and during lunches,
the swapping of stories with other guests and the very informed
staff. The night drive was followed by an internationally
influenced and varied cuisine, surprising because of its isolation
from any food-growing landscape.
No doubt, this was one of the most exciting experiences of a
lifetime-along with the Panatanal in Brazil-because you are on the
animals' turf. You, not they, are the outsider. A
Another skillful guide, Thom, accompanied us on our last stop, Sun
City, where we had accommodations, at the Palace of the Lost City, a
five-star-rated hotel near Johannesburg. After 'roughing it' in
the Mashatu Game Reserve, a panoply of excess is offered; there are
four different types of accommodations, ranging from family plan to
super elegance. Nothing is ignored. Golf, tennis, an
Olympic-sized pool, plus kiddie and family pools, man-made beaches, a
large man-made lake, an imitation waterfall, miniature manicured
zoos, kiddie parks and a shopping mall.
The Tusk Bar is a fun place to meet and the Crystal Room, one of four
opulent restaurants within the hotel complex, truly deserves its
The entire elegant experience was extraordinary, thanks to
DavidTours [DavidTravel] for their scrupulous and thoughtful planning.
They also offer Morocco, India, New Orleans and more. Try
it. You'll like it.