So in late February I found myself back on another tail-end of a Trails Guide course with EcoTraining. For those (millions) of you who have been following my progress out here in the AFRICAN WILD, you may remember the last trails course at Makuleke didn't go down too well. Basically my legs erupted into a rashy mess, my nose turned into a flooding tap and I pretty much almost died from the heat and humidity. I had decided that long walks in African bush were not for me (effectively I was a pansy), but of course I needed to put that conclusion to the test in Mashatu!
I arrived in camp to various amazing stories from the students about encounters they had in the past couple of weeks. There were stories of lions, leopards, cheetah, elephants and even a brown hyena - all on foot! Mashatu is famous for elephant encounters as the camp is situated on a river, which is a hot spot for ellies all-year round (I think, based on my 2.5 weeks here ). As there are many koppies and ridges, students often get to sit from a safe vantage point while elephants pass by within metres below, completely unaware of their presence. Bliss!
Another crazy story was when a group was walking through 'amphitheatre' (a large round rocky area) when a lion started roaring so close that they felt vibrations through their whole bodies. All of a sudden, just metres away, a male lion emerges from behind some rocks. He stops, looks at the group for a few moments, then walks away. How amazing is that? There were so many exciting stories I had already forgotten about the issues I had at Makuleke and was keen to get back out there.
The first afternoon I get off easily as we decide to walk up Mamagwa to get a taste of what Mashatu is all about - it's not a long walk although there is some very long grass but thankfully my legs seem to cope relatively well! It's a hot day but not nearly as humid as Makuleke so I'm slaying this walk… until I step the wrong way on a hidden rock and fall over! Luckily it is not a big fall and the only thing damaged is my dignity. Lesson learnt! Never get too cocky when walking in the bush.
It is stunning up atop Mamagwa and as the sun sets we are treated to the ever-exciting sound of lions roaring down below. We stumble back down (virtually in the dark now) and bump into a herd of elephants as we drive back to camp.
The next few days we have more lovely walks and my legs survive except for one walk where I somehow manage to get stung extensively by nettles - OH MY GOD… it felt like chemical burns. It was truly awful, but I figured I had earnt another trails stripe, right? Not a proper walking experience if you don't get stung by nettles… well, that's what I'm going with.
There are a few sneezes here and there and a slight reaction to the grass (or maybe it was the nettles) but overall no great disasters of the magnitude of Makuleke. The grass is generally much shorter and areas a lot more open (plus a lot more climbing over ridges and koppies) here at Mashatu so it seems I am much better equipped for this landscape. On one of the assessment walks we get quite close to an elephant chilling out behind a rock (thanks for the great photo opp, elephant!). To avoid a dangerous situation, we turn back and basically scale a huge cliff RAMBO STYLE until we climb back down and skirt around the elephant. I don't think he ever knew we were there. Heading on we end up seeing quite a few herds cross the river in front and behind us, but we are always a nice safe distance away (to my slight disappointment!)
I survived the rest of the trails course with only minor mental scarring (thanks to the nettles) but with amazing memories of breaks atop great koppies overlooking springs and marshes with vereaux eagles soaring above and ellies crossing rivers in the distance.
Mashatu, thank you for proving that I'm not a TOTAL African bush walking loser!