Saturday, August 25, 2007

Sitting at Tau

This was such an exciting trip! Tau is a lodge in the Madikwe game preserve just across the border in South Africa. It’s basically like a resort – they pamper you, feed you extremely well, and in between meals, they take you on game drives.

We left for Tau at 10:30 am. Steve drove all 10 of us (Barry, Mike, Tara (Mike’s fiancée), Lisa, Kristy, Kiona, Josh, Anne, Betsy and I) there even though he wasn’t staying himself. We all squished into Gill’s (she’s the administrator for this Penn in Botswana program) Land Rover, which fits 10 tightly. It’s not that long of a drive – maybe 30 minutes to the border, then you have to get out, get your passport stamped on the Botswana side, walk/drive to the other side, get your passport stamped on the South Africa side, and the Madikwe game preserve is right there! But we had to drive another 20 minutes or so on dirt roads to get to Tau Lodge.

The pampering started immediately – we got out of the Land Rover and the served us glasses of champagne with juice. They gave us a little tour of the main area – there’s a big building that is located centrally, with 15 huts on either side of it. The capacity of the entire lodge is 60 people (30 huts). Inside the main building there was a large dining area and a large lounge on the first floor, complete with fireplace, gift shop, reception, etc. Upstairs, there is a large bar, with a TV, computer area, pool table, and more tables and couches to sit and chat at. This upstairs area opens up into a large outdoor porch that overlooks this huge watering hole outside of the lodge. This watering hole is amazing – more on that later. Outside, there was another large dining area, which surrounds this huge outdoor fire pit. There’s also a heated pool outside and more areas to sit and drink and hang out.

After this tour and explaining our time table, they took us to our huts, which were super posh. There were two twin beds with mosquito netting (which is just for looks) in a small room, heated blankets, a porch with a personal view of the same watering hole that you can see from the main lodge, a large bathroom with a bathtub, and attached to it, an outdoor shower! I never got to use it – but it seemed really cool. There is a large brick wall that shields you from the outside world, but the top is open to air. It would have been interesting to take a hot shower in relatively cool air. From the porch you got a great view of the watering hole, where animals would just walk up to drink from, and you couldn’t see any other huts or people. You’re protected from the animals by this electric fence that I believe encompasses the entire game preserve – which is huge. But apparently sometimes the animals come right up to the electric fence, which is only a few feet from you!

So that afternoon, after settling in our rooms, we sat around for about an hour first on the porch of the main building and watched the watering hole. It’s amazing how many animals you see just sitting there! It was really nice weather, and these animals just come up to the watering hole. We first saw kudu, which are deer-like animals – they’re probably the most plentiful mammal at this game reserve. We only saw the male, although Steve said that often there’s a female following several yards behind the male. It was amazing, just sitting there on the porch watching the water hole, we also saw hardebeest, a family of wild boars. The boars were pretty skittish and they run funny… their little legs can move them pretty fast, and their heads bob up and down and they keep their tails high as they run. We also saw a sable, which according to Dr. Gluckman, are very rare. They’re amazing animals though – very noble and statuesque. And finally, we saw baboons! I know Pete would say ewwww! There was a huge clan of them, maybe 20 or so. And there was one huge old male baboon that mostly just sat around while the younger ones climbed trees and played around.

There were also tons of birds, which I can’t even name. We saw a Jesus bird, which has a more indigenous name that I can’t remember. It walks on water. There were some big hawks, and white stork-like birds. These little birds, called weaver birds, build these really cool nests in the trees. They build them at the end of thin branches, and they hang there, like a big drop of water. Apparently, the male builds the nest, and if the female doesn’t think it’s up to snuff (probably because it’s not sturdy enough or something), she knocks it down and he has to rebuild it! I find that pretty funny.

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