Escaping to another world at Motswari
How often do you really escape? I mean, really, really escape. When you go on holiday, and you forget about the outside world and completely focus on the experience you’re having at that very moment.
There are a lot of reasons why it’s so easy to feel like you’ve started a new life at Motswari: comfortable rooms that become like home, making new friends on safari, and the thrilling and immersive nature of driving into the African bush and seeing animals in their native habitat.
Here’s an idea of what my day looked like at Motswari: At 4:30AM, a knock comes. I’m pretty convinced it’s impossible to feel well-rested at that hour, but no matter — a hot shower and a cup of coffee (or three) later, and I’m ready for the morning game drive. I swing myself up into the Land Rover and sit next to my boyfriend, Gernot. In our safari drive group, there are four couples, all with at least one American member. What are the odds? We become fast friends and spend the next three days helping each other get great couples photos with wild elephants and giraffes as the backdrop.
We start the morning by discussing the animals we most want to see that day with our guide and tracker, Wienand and Petros. What I loved is that they plan our safari drives by remembering which animals we’d already had a chance to view. It means that every drive is unique and exciting. Each person has different expectations, and I’m pretty sure we got more than lucky with our incredible sightings over the three days: hippos roaring at sunset, a hyena mother nursing her hungry cubs, a pride of lions lurking in the bush, a baby rhino following her mother at close range, giraffes plucking their favorite snacks from the tippy-tops of trees, even an elephant in heat who wanted to show us who was boss. That’s not to mention countless other animals, birds, and smaller creatures that our guide showed us.
Once the morning safari drive ends, our group decides to go on a bush walk together after refueling at the extensive breakfast buffet. I’d probably need a week at Motswari to actually try everything at breakfast. There’s time for a short break before we pull on our hiking boots, lather on some sunscreen, and gather at the meeting point for the bush walk. First, we learn the rules of the safari (that is, what to do if we happen to encounter big safari). We joined the bush walk every day, and got to learn about the smaller creatures of the bush (such as the venerable Dung Beetle), the indigenous plants (like the ubiquitous Mopane tree), and the history of the area (a running river, complete with sea shells in the river bed). What makes the walks especially rewarding is the enthusiasm our guide has when he explains the ways of the African bush to us. I’m pretty sure his love of the African bush made our whole group start contemplating a career change.
By the time the bush walk ends, we are all very very warm and retreat to the veranda for a glass or two of something cold. Now begins the spell of afternoon relaxation. I start by rinsing off in the shower and enjoying the air conditioning in our room (not every lodge has this!). Besides just having A/C, the rooms are spacious and luxurious, while still having a true safari vibe. The comfortable rooms and the vibrant common areas strike a balance of being both polished and authentic. Ultimately, I decide to head to the pool with a strong intention to read a book. In the end, my time by the pool is dominated by a long nap, but can you blame me? I saw the sunrise today!
Around 3:00PM it’s time for high tea, more delicious food to fuel up on before our afternoon game drive starts in an hour. The options rotate daily, and it’s hard not to go back for seconds (and thirds). After a relaxing lunch, we head out into the bush, excited for whatever nature will offer us today.
In the warm African sun, you can be very grateful for the breeze generated by moving through the bush in a vehicle. Everyone’s eyes are scanning the landscape, though we already know that our tracker Petros is the most likely to spot things with his eagle vision.
He’d already proven himself as a level above the rest of us on our very first drive, by spotting the tiniest giraffe (my personal “must see” animal) munching away in a distant tree.
One of the best things about going on safari drives at a lodge like Motswari is that you can really take your time, because the drives are so long. We were rewarded for our patience one afternoon after finding a hyena’s den, where the cutest litter of cubs were playing around while the parents were gone. Our expert guide explained to us that hyenas are matriarchal, and that the female hyenas are typically larger. We also learned that they have a biting force of over 1,000 pounds per square inch. Needless to say, we kept all our fingers and toes in the car. After about five minutes of watching the hyena cubs playing, the mother returned and began nursing the cubs. You could see all these tiny but deviant-looking hyenas climbing all over each other vying for dominance. Who knew hyenas could be so interesting?
On both morning and evening drives, you typically get a break to stretch your legs, have a drink. In the morning, we stop for coffee, and in the evening, we partake in the sacred South African tradition of sundowners. Essentially you stop the world for a moment for drinks and snacks and enjoy the incomparable sunset. Our last sundowner was spent with a herd of hippos, who were howling out a haphazard symphony to one another. It made us all laugh. Even if you go on safari, eager for lions, rhinos, elephants, and giraffes (all of which we saw and loved), you end up leaving with a new appreciation for the animals of the bush that don’t get as much publicity.
Before heading back to the lodge, we drive around while the sunset fades into night. Our tracker scans the bush ahead for nocturnal animals, looking for the sheen in their eyes. Perhaps the most interesting animal we saw during our night time drive was an African barn owl, who waited patiently for me to take his picture!
After our first Motswari safari drive, we were taken deep into the bush for an open air dinner under the stars. Many members of the Motswari staff brought cooking equipment, full table set ups, and had built a bonfire in the middle. It was unforgettable. We spend the evening with our game drive group and our guide, getting to know each other. Of exceptional interest was the life story of our guide, Wienand, and how someone even becomes a guide in the first place. We learned about the extensive survival and wilderness training that guides undergo, as well as the benefits of having the African bush as your “office”. I was completely sold! While I started to fall in love with the idea of working outdoors as a guide at a safari lodge, I’m pretty sure my boyfriend started to fall in love with Wienand himself.
Anyways, back to dinner — let’s talk about the uniquely South African foods such as the Kudu we’d spotted on our safari. Every night the food was different, with something for everyone, whether you prefer meat or fish or veggies. Apparently a hyena also thought our dinner smelled good — I spotted her gleaming eyes from the candle light. She wasn’t so daring as to come closer after our guide exposed her with his flashlight.
Finally, as on every other night, we were the last group sitting at the table, laughing and enjoying just enough wine that we’d be able to wake up at 4:30 the next morning. As the saying goes at Motswari, you really do arrive as visitors and leave as friends.
That’s just a glimpse of what one day at Motswari looked like for us. We were lucky enough to spend three days at the Motswari lodge, connected to nature and to the new friendships we’d forged over sundowners and unforgettable animal encounters. I still think about it almost every day and look forward to coming back someday soon!