Mosetlha Bush Camp: Simple elegance on an African safari (Or: Lions, leopards, and a donkey boiler)
As the midday heat settles over the African bush, I grab my towel and toiletry kit and head for the shower. Three hours in an open Land Rover bumping along dusty lanes while tracking lion and buffalo have left their mark on my appearance. Just because you’re staying in an eco-lodge doesn’t mean you have to let yourself go to the dogs.
But taking a shower in a camp entirely devoid of electricity and running water is an adventure. It starts with the “donkey boiler,” a large tin drum mounted over a lively wood fire in the middle of our camp. I take the bucket of water the attentive staff has pre-filled and pour it through the funnel on top. Then I place the empty bucket under the tap on the boiler and watch as it fills with steaming water. Careful not to spill my precious cargo, I make my way to a small enclosure built from wood planks, flip the sign dangling by the entrance to “occupied,” and survey my surroundings in the dim light. From the ceiling hangs another bucket with holes in the bottom, and I lower it down by its chain. I transfer the hot water into the shower bucket, haul it slowly back to the ceiling, undress, get under it, and open the spigot.
It is the best, though not the longest, shower I’ve ever taken. Washing off the layers of dust from our long morning game drive feels delicious. I wish my kids could see this. In fact, I spend the entire five minute shower dreaming of such a donkey boiler back home, envisioning my kids gathering and chopping wood far away from their iPhones, and learning exactly how much sweaty labor a 35-minute shower is worth.
Mosetlha Bush Camp is an eco-lodge tucked into the center of Madikwe Game Reserve in the northwestern part of South Africa. Travelers come to see the big five – leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo, and rhino – as well as the tamer but no less exciting zebra, giraffe, monkey, hippo, hyena, jackal, and wildebeest, just to name a few.
It’s also one of the few places you can find African wild dogs, an endangered species that has only recently made a slight comeback.
The ingenuity of an eco-lodge is its light footprint. If the tented huts of Mosetlha were disassembled and taken away, the land it is built on would soon be reclaimed by nature. There are no barriers to the wilderness surrounding us, other than a thin electric wire guarding against elephants that might otherwise trample everything to pieces. We are advised not to venture out of our hut at night, lest a leopard or lion roaming through the camp might be startled and attack us. Planning our ablutions during daylight hours is encouraged.
I was lucky to score a spot at Mosetlha, which is typically booked months in advance. A wildlife photography group had an unexpected opening, and even though I knew nothing about my camera and all its confusing settings prior to departure, the photography part of this trip has awakened my competitive spirit. It’s amazing what all you can learn during three days of up to eight hours each confined to a single vehicle in the company of experienced bush photographers.
Not to mention our guide Johnny, a local born in these parts, who is well-seasoned in leading groups just like ours to the best animal sightings. He always knows just how to position the truck for perfect lighting while freely sharing his vast knowledge of bush trivia. While adjusting our white balance and swapping out lenses we hang on Johnny’s every word. A group of zebras is called a dazzle, we learn, while giraffes travel in “journeys.” More humans in Africa are killed by hippos than by any other animal; in dung beetle partnerships, the male does all the work pushing dung balls uphill while the female clutches its sides for a crazy ride; elephants have six sets of teeth in their lifetime and when the last one wears out, they die of starvation; and the ant lion, one of the “Little Five,” is a tiny larva that digs holes in the ground to trap and devour thousands of ants in the space of two years before maturing into a dragonfly.
Every day when we return from our forays into the bush, my heart skips as we enter the camp perimeter and radio through our imminent arrival. This means we will be greeted like royalty by the assembled staff. We are helped off the truck and escorted to the communal brunch table, laden with bowls and jugs bearing pretty, beaded nets against the flies. Sitting and eating and chatting for hours is my favorite part of our safari. There is no hurry, no reason to rush, except the daily routine of my midday shower.
Mosetlha’s cuisine can hold its own with any luxury lodge. In fact, I appreciate the carefully apportioned amounts of food versus the culinary overload at more upscale accommodations, tempting you to overeat. All the food is cooked on an open fire around which you sit well into the evening, sharing bush stories over glasses of wine before retiring to your cabin on a path lined with paraffin lamps. The beds are deliciously inviting as the chill of the African night descends, and you wouldn’t know the difference from a deluxe hotel room except for the rustle of a breeze wafting through the tent canvas, accompanied by the occasional roar of a lion.
You can find more information on Mosetlha Bush Camp here.