The Birthday Present

During the several months I spent in the bush, I saw simply unique places. I don’t remember a day when I woke up and wasn’t stunned by something! The dawns, the wind rushing through the leaves of a tree, or even a tiny ant coming out from its nest and starting a day of hard work. But there is one place that will always be my favourite.


I fell in love with Mashatu Game Reserve when my feet entered Botswana for the first time. Never-ending landscapes, with giant trees and untamed wildlife, stole my heart forever.

Everything was new to my eyes; even the air I breathed was different! I remember this thought when we arrived at the camp after about an hour of dirt road, “We are in the middle of nowhere… I LOVE IT!”. 

baby giraffe with its tung out
The beautiful, never-ending landscape of Mashatu, Botswana – Photograph © Luisa Auletta

The feeling I always had while we were on a game drive was that all the bush would greet us like, “Oh, hello there! I’m happy to see you this morning!”. 

I have thousands of good memories of that place and will always be grateful for all the moments I have lived there. But there is one day in particular that’s stuck in my mind.

To be specific, it was the 17th of November, my 30th birthday! We woke up at 4:30 to start the day with a bush walk. Many people have told me to stay in and sleep a little longer, but I didn’t want to waste a single moment of that day, and I’ll always be thankful to have decided to go out!

Photograph © Luisa Auletta


We started walking at 5:30, crossing the open plain and climbing the East-West ridge. We took a moment to rest up there, enjoying the view of a beautiful landscape and the sounds of the bush. After a while, we started walking again down to the ridge’s other side. We stopped when we saw a troupe of Chacma Baboons. They were busy grooming each other, fighting and playing. Although many people don’t like them, watching their behaviour while living away from humans is interesting. 

But all of a sudden, we heard a gloomy roar, and everything happened in a matter of seconds! A leopard came out from a hidden spot right behind the troupe of baboons and began to run towards them! They screamed and fled, terrified. Meanwhile, we were only 30-40 meters away, looking at the whole scene with our mouths wide open. I don’t know how it happened, but the next thing I knew, the situation turned around, and the baboons chased the leopard away! 

Morning bush walk; our shadows on the ground. – Photograph © Luisa Auletta

We stayed in the same spot for 4-5 minutes, then looked at each other and jumped for excitement. One of the other students hugged me and said, “It’s your birthday present!” I agreed.

That was just the beginning of a beautiful day! Back at the camp, we spent the afternoon playing volleyball in the bed of the Motloutse River, drinking and having fun. We also had a night drive with breathtaking skies full of stars and even genets, wild cats and Spring Hares! 

Last but not least, we had a lovely birthday party with music and still a lot of fun! I couldn’t ask for a better celebration for my 30th birthday, and I will remember it forever!

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