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There’s something seductively special and “easy” about going to Madikwe Game Reserve in North West. It doesn’t take ages to get to – especially important if you are going for two nights and don’t feel like having half your time out being taken up by driving, so it is an ideal short bush getaway – and I also like the fact that it’s malaria-free. Whatever debates or reservations you have about taking malaria tablets, when you go to Madikwe these are moot. And that’s a big plus in my book.
We had two nights booked at Jaci’s Tree Top Lodge, a place that sounds romantic in the extreme and is billed as being more intimate than the nearby sister lodge Jaci’s Safari Lodge. Each rather large tree house – a combination of canvas and brick – is built on stilts and curves around trees. Bathrooms are open-plan – as so many are in high-end lodges these days – but there’s a quaintly named “modesty curtain” that you can use, whether you’re with a romantic partner or not. Everything’s delightfully tree-themed, from the twin basins to a “jungle” shower, too cold for our use at the tail end of winter, alas.
I loved the heater in the toilet, nice touch that, and we were kept warm with electric blankets and heaters. Due to safety reasons, the fireplaces in the tree houses were taken away – pity, as that would have lent an additional romantic touch. I also missed not having tea-and coffee-making facilities in the room and having to walk to the main reception to get a cuppa – but that’s a small quibble.
You wake to mornings watching the trees dance delicately against the biscuit-coloured blinds as well as the usual cacophony of jungle noises. Foregoing an early morning, we indulged in the opportuinty to relax.
A breakfast/brunch is served near 11am, and you can choose to have a traditional English breakfast and an assortment of yoghurts and other continental delights, or plunge straight into a more lunchified menu of stir fry one day and lasagne and salad the next. Another nice touch, and something I haven’t encountered in other lodges.
Staying true to the theme of leisure after a usual frantic week, we took our time and then took off along a path linking the Tree Top Lodge to the Safari Lodge. Another unusual touch – in many of these lodges you are prohibited from leaving camp, and understandably, wild beasts roam there, but it is good to get out and stretch your legs a little.
The Safari Lodge comes as an unexpected surprise after the more tree-ified Tree Tops.
Here, you will find a large lounge reception area decked out in bright fuchsias and other bright colours, several nooks where you can chat or bring out your laptop and be quiet and alone with your thoughts. Plus a large fire pit in the middle of the lounge with a circle of cushions around it – I could imagine a large group of friends holding marshmallows over the coals and shooting the breeze.
Rooms in this lodge are more stone and brick and overlook the Marico River. There’s also a suite that sleeps eight to 10 people and has a braai area – appealing again, if you are in a large group. At the open air gym area, I slipped my hands into boxing gloves and released some tension. There’s also a spa if you like release of a different kind. It’s very child-friendly, with a games room for the little ones.
But what really got my imagination spinning and playing was spending time in the hide overlooking the river. Romantic fantasies aside, the hide has a lovely double- bed if you want to spend the night out of doors – although the cold deterred us, a part of me flirted with the idea. But by day it’s a place for lodge visitors to sit and chill and watch the numbers of game that come to drink and cavort at the river.
While we were there a large family of elephants with babies of various sizes came to drink, play, stamp up a few bursts of dust in jest – or not – and amble through the bush. Antelope came prancing by to drink, and we swopped reminisces of other times in the bush with other visitors, as you do when you’re away. There’s something about the hide that encourages talk, and I was moved to hear of a man’s journey to the lodge, with his two children, after his wife died some months ago. There’s also healing out there, among the sadness, and you can only wish sympathy, empathy and healing.
But the bush is also about the game drive, and there’s something strangely soothing and also healing in heading out into nature, watching as the sun dips, and for a few moments there’s that magical “sweet light” where every photo is tinged by something goldenly magical as the light shines on a group of zebra, turning in unison, as though instructed somehow to pose for photos.
While Friday night’s dinner had been a plated affair – beef and duck – Saturday night’s supper was served outside around roaring fires and consisted of potjiekos and lamb chops and vegetables. We huddled in blankets – the days were brightly hot for the end of winter, but the chill came out at night. Stars glimmered brightly as we tucked into peppermint tart to round off the meal.
For me, a trip to the bush is also about being out in nature, and I love bush walks. None had been booked, but another regular guest let us know that these could be arranged and so it was, within a short time.
It is special walking in the bush with large animals around, with almost a sense of danger. Of course, most animals sense and see you long before you will ever see them – and most do keep away. Walking in the bush is more about looking at the little things you would not see during a game drive – from spoor to dung trails to trees arching nakedly into the sky.
It’s also about walking quietly through what is mostly an alien landscape for so many – hearing the twittering of birds, and the far-off cackles and barks of the animals in the distance.
It’s a time to reflect, make memories, peel off some of the city’s abrasiveness. And to wonder what it might be like to spend months surrounded by sky and bush and grass, and having no agenda beyond simply being.
l Arja Salafranca was a guest of Jaci’s Tree Tops Lodge
Book time away at Jaci’s Safari Lodge or Tree Trops Lodge, or if you’d like to hone your photographic skills, take part in the workshops.
They are given by Roger and Pat de la Harpe.
The dates are November|18-21, 2012 – intermediate workshop; January 13-16, 2013 – intermediate workshop.
Contact details for Jaci’s Safari Lodge: 083 700 2071 and|[email protected]