The voice in the darkness belongs to Richard our guide for the five days we are to spend at Mashatu Tented Camp.
The previous evening at Pont Drift we had crossed into Botswana by what has to be the most laid back border post in the world. A quick passport check on the South African side followed by a short drive through no-mans land took us to what looked like a derelict barn where we were met by one of the guides from Mashatu.
Disclaimers signed, crossing charges paid and we were off, loaded into a metal cage with just enough room to take us, our guide and travel bags. “Hold on tight” the cage swung out and we were crossing over Rudyard Kipling’s great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River.
Mashatu has come to life, coffee and snacks have been taken and safari vehicles are setting out for early morning game drives. This morning we are off to spend what is actually our Golden Wedding Anniversary at the Matabole Photographic Hide.
On the way our guide points out recent elephant tracks, we could be in luck they are headed in the direction of the hide.
After a bumpy drive through pre-dawn african silence we arrive to be greeted by Janet the resident Pro Photographer. The hide beside a natural waterhole is basically two metal containers sunk into the ground with access through the roof and slit windows cut at water level. Inside a shelf at chest height runs the length of the hide, cushioned to accommodate spare lenses etc the shelf has eight stations each with its own bean bag secured to a swivel mount.
A quick introduction to our hide companions, a honeymoon couple from Arizona, before Janet goes through the do’s and dont’s of hide etiquette and we settle down to wait.
For the first few minutes while the sun rising behind the hide our only visitors are birds of various species and colours. Then our first mammal appears ,a lone wildebeest, hesitant, nervous and wary, Janet warns me to let him settle and take his first drink before firing the shutter. All too quickly he is spooked and gone but I have the shot I want. The sun is up and we are well into the golden hour, that special time for photographers just after sunrise and just before sunset when everything takes on a golden hue.
Janet taps my arm and gives me the universal sign for silence, I hear nothing, suddenly out of nowhere they are in front of us, The Giants of Mashatu, right there, nearly within reach. They jostle for position around the waterhole, no need to wait for them to settle before firing the shutter even if they can hear the sound above their trumpeting. Barbara counts up to twenty six in the family group including three small infants, then just as suddenly as they came, they are off.
I still have not had time to assimilate what we have just seen when just as suddenly another family group arrives, the first group had actually made way for them. This second group is bigger than the first and my heart has stopped racing, I begin to think about the pictures I am taking when they also go to be replaced by a third. We estimated later that five to six breeding groups comprising in total around 200 elephants had passed through.
They however have the final say, as the last group is about to leave a tidal wave of muddy water sprays in through the window catching us totally unawares.
And they are gone leaving us to clean up both ourselves and our cameras and to reflect on what we had witnessed over the last three quarters of an hour.
Barbara and I are indebted to Vicky Stirling at Farside Africa for suggesting we look at Mashatu Camp, by far the best camp and safari experience we have ever had.