It’s 5.30am and I am glad to hear the cheery “good morning”, as my cup of tea arrives with the wake-up call. As an English person abroad, tea is, of course, very important and, at this dark hour, it is even more welcome. This is where I discover Redbush tea or to give it is proper name Rooibos (not a tea at all but a member of the gorse family) which is now my preferred tea at home.
Then to breakfast; juice, great muesli, fresh fruit and toast or muffins. Sitting by the open fire with the African dawn chorus is a very special experience. I love the cool, peacefulness of the morning, so the early wakeup call is no problem.
As the sun comes up and the sky becomes rosy, we chat quietly with the noise of the horses, being tacked up in the background.
Our camp is in the Mashatu Game Reserve in the Tuli Block of south eastern Botswana, bordered by Rudyard Kipling’s “great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River” to the south. This is an area with ancient human archaeology as well as animals, notably the large herds of elephants.
Before arriving, I had not thought about danger. Comments and jokes from my friends, such as “don’t get eaten by a lion!” were just laughed at. However, being told not to walk to our tents without an escort, brings it all home.
Here we are, camping in the African bush with no electricity, a battery powered, portable electric fence and a large fire to guard the horses from the big cats… One morning, to prove the point, we find the spoor of a hyena just outside a tent.
The accommodation here is basic and we rely on torches for lighting. The idiosyncratic, kerosene-heated shower requires someone outside to operate the hot water, which I find reminiscent of the landed gentry having someone to run their baths! Surprisingly I quickly adapt to the long drop toilet and remind myself how ecological this is, using ash from the fire and no water.
I am infamous for noises disturbing my sleep and, of course, nights in the bush are noisy. At the start, the cicadas are soothing with their soporific chirruping, but when the rutting impala and barking kudu join in the orchestration, it’s simply marvelous to listen to.
We set off each day to new areas in the bush looking for game. I have to admit to feeling very privileged when we meet other people in vehicles who are viewing the animals.
Riding in the bush is quite a different experience to going on a game drive.
We skirt around more herds of elephants, canter alongside zebra and wildebeest and avoid the feline predators. An inquisitive hyena reminds me of the film Dances With Wolves, although as it appears to become more aggressive (there is a pup in the den), we beat a retreat with our guide and bullwhip at the rear.
When we come across elephants there are strict rules to obey and we sit, slightly tense, on our horses waiting for whispered instructions.
The most spectacular experience is when our guide motions to us to follow him quietly up to a hill top where we wait for what seems like ages as probably hundreds of elephants come and pass below us. We can also thank the elephants for the logs and trees they have knocked down that allows for an impromptu cross-country course for the braver members of our group.
Riding out at 7am in the clear, fresh morning air is such an exquisite experience it gets into your soul. Early on, the long shadows creep across the veld, the sound of the horses’ hooves becomes a meditation and I am aware how privileged I am to be experiencing this all on a superb horse, with good company and experienced guides.