In December 2017, my dad was due to travel to Gaborone, Botswana for a conference and my mother, Jennifer Davidson, being the adventurous woman she is, decided she would love to see the country too, and so piggy-backed onto his business trip. After completing the much-anticipated No 1. Ladies Detective Agency Tour, and taking in a few other sights, it seemed there wasn’t a whole lot more that Gaborone had to offer. Conveniently remembering that I work for an African tour operator, she sought advice from the JbD team. With the help of Director Angela Sacha, she was given her marching orders within just a few hours of getting in touch. She was to depart the next morning, taking a two-hour transfer across the border of Botswana and into Madikwe Game Reserve, in South Africa, where she would be staying at Mateya Lodge. Upon her return, I interviewed her about her journey – which she describes as life-changing – and this is what she told me:
I found out when I arrived that I was the only person staying at Mateya Lodge, as I was right in between other bookings. This meant that all the safaris I would go on would be just me, my guide, Werner Dippenaarp, and our tracker Paul Mathebula. I was a bit taken aback at first, especially at the thought of eating all my meals alone; I’d been looking forward to meeting other travellers, and thought it might be a shame not to have other guests to share the experience with. However, it actually turned out to be a huge plus. Nonetheless, I did feel a bit self-conscious on our wildlife drives when we encountered other jeeps full of people, and there I was on my stately own, looking as if I might be some sort of royalty. I almost felt inclined to do a queenly wave!
I was unbelievably well looked after by the staff at Mateya Lodge: the food was amazing, I had my own private plunge pool, and I could listen to the sounds of the surrounding wildlife entirely uninterrupted. Werner joined me for dinner every evening and we had some wonderful conversations. I really can’t imagine a more sensitive or knowledgeable guide. I’d never been on a safari before, but I have done a number of guided city and museum tours, and it often feels as if you’re being lectured or spoken at, rather than engaged with. My experience with Werner was the complete opposite: he engaged me in proper two-way conversations; there was never a question he couldn’t answer, and, remarkably, over the three days, he never repeated himself. I was constantly excited and on the edge of my seat, especially when an elephant fight broke out feet away from us. Adrenaline flowed, but I sat tight, and I always felt safe. Having such a knowledgeable and likable guide all to myself made me feel like the cat that got the cream!
The landscapes in Madikwe are incredibly varied, with hills, plains, waterholes and remarkably different vegetation everywhere. Wherever and whenever we stopped, Werner would switch off the engine in the perfect place to observe and listen to the animals. I sat there in awed silence, drinking in the scene; there was a wonderful sense of space and calm. I loved learning about all the animals, both big and small. I was captivated by the elephants, had some unnervingly close and thrilling encounters with rhinos…and completely fell in love with dung beetles! Stopping at sunset for a glass of wine and nibbles was the icing on an already wonderful cake. My only disappointment was not managing to see a hippo—but the upside of that is that it’s my excuse for going back!
Weeks later, as Lucy is interviewing me for this blog, I am still reliving the safari. It is unlike any other (quickly forgotten) holiday I have ever been on. I can close my eyes and be right back there: I must have somehow deeply imprinted the experience. It’s a bit like being in love; every time I talk about my trip to Madikwe, my eyes light up and my heart feels full.
Whilst in South Africa my mother would send me brief texts and short videos to evoke the amazing safari encounters she was having. She was enjoying her impromptu trip so much that she spontaneously decided to add on another night—it seemed she really didn’t want it to ever end. As I work on the digital side of all things Journeys by Design, from an office in Brighton, I have to use my powers of imagination to conjure up the world we work for; having someone so close to me physically experience all the things I see on my screen and work on every day has meant it was not only an incredible experience for my mother, but also for me. As the conversation with my mother drew to an end, I asked her where she intends to go next. She replied: “I think I left a bit of my heart in Madikwe”. I hastily told her that there was so much more to explore and she couldn’t possibly go back to the exact same place she had already visited. She seems to have taken this as a challenge: her response was: “Watch me!”.
Above is a snippet captured by Jennifer Davidson on a safari through Madikwe Game Reserve, December 2017