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In the land of lions, leopards and other fearsome creatures, traveling on foot is a rare occurrence. Yet, I did it: I climbed down from an open-air jeep onto the dusty South African soil in the Madikwe Game Reserve, joined by three guides holding large rifles.
After a brief safety talk — which included instructions to stay in a straight line and to make sure I have a guide both in front of and behind me — we descended toward the Madikwe River on a reddish-brown path.
At this level, down near the ground, the senses are heightened.
With the idling motor of the jeep absent, I could hear the birds chirp and squawk all around me. Moving one step at a time, we stopped to appreciate the smaller things, including the scat of several African beasts, such as cape buffalo and elephant.
Then, rounding a corner, we spotted something truly terrifying, but it wasn’t a big cat. Rather, it was an insect that looked straight out of “Indiana Jones:” an armoured ground cricket, complete with alien-like, bulging eyes and a girded body. My guides held it close to my face, explaining that in this harsh environment, this fearsome little creature will do anything to survive. This includes squirting a foul-smelling blood from its exoskeleton and even vomiting all over itself.
The walking safari was offered by Morukuru Family Madikwe, a series of luxury properties set inside the Madikwe Game Reserve. I was staying in the Farm House property. Though rooms within the Farm House are available as single units, groups often book the entire place, which is set around a courtyard and fire pit.
A staff of eight (including a chef, a butler, a wildlife tracker, a private guide and more) for the Farm House ensures that everyone has a tailor-made experience. And guests are encouraged to feel at home, from indulging in an in-suite massage to enjoying a big lunch under a tree on the lawn.
I partook in all of the above before heading out in the jeep again for a game drive on my last night. After spotting elephants jousting with their giant tusks and stopping to sip a gin and tonic as the sun set, we took one last spin across the savanna in search of lions.
And it happened within seconds: We spotted a lioness ahead of us. I was told that she had cubs nearby, and she seemed to be tracking some prey while protecting her little brood. Wading into the tall grass, she slinked stealthily toward a bat-eared fox, who immediately bolted in our direction, running directly under our jeep. The lioness was hot on his trail, peeling off to the side just a split second before colliding with us.
Still savoring our once-in-a-lifetime moment, we made our way through the darkness, back to the Morukuru Family Madikwe. A hearty, gourmet dinner awaited us. And later, I would enjoy the deep soaking tub back in my suite — the perfect place to contemplate a remarkable day.