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Day 131: 37 Degrees

  • August 04, 2020 | Rhulani Safari Lodge

Read how Rhulani Safari Lodge masters the daily challenge in times of the coronavirus and how we prepare ourselves for the future. Thoughts from Rhulani's owner Rolf who lives in Switzerland.

Day 131: 37 Degrees

That was not a good idea. Still on holidays in Crete, we pick the hottest day of summer so far to take a long walk from the hotel to the town. The thermometer shows 38 degrees Celsius. The sun burns on our heads. It is a type of heat that I rarely feel when I am at home in Switzerland. But here in Crete, and also in South Africa, that’s normal.

Looking at worldwide weather, we don't have 38 degrees at Rhulani today. We are in the final phase of winter there. Dry, sunny, with a temperature of 25 degrees. Actually very nice.

On our today's walk my head is boiling. I remember the hot summer days in Madikwe. You drink a lot of water and spend the hottest part of the day in the cool water of the pool. Like the elephants. They spray themselves with water and mud to get a refreshment.

Your have you air con on in your room, hide in the shade. Like the the zebras that flock together in the small shade of a bush. They wait for the cooler evening until they come out again. They are certainly not going on a walk in the blazing sun for no reason.

Finally, the walk is over. We are greeted at the hotel entrance and, as always, fever is measured. This is one of the protocols in times of COVID-19. Oh gosh, I hope we will not have a problem here. Luckily not. 37 degrees. Human body is a miracle. We go back to our room. I could have bet my boiling head is hotter than the outside temperature.

In times of COVID-19 entering the hotel with fever would be problematic. They tell us, employees with temperatures above 37 degrees will be sent home immediately. I think this will be one of the rules at Rhulani as soon as we are allowed to open again. 

But now I'm looking forward to the pool and a refreshing Coke.

Staying in the plunge pool of your room during a hot day


Day 130: Quiet villages

Of the more than half a million people who are affected by a COVID-19 infection in South Africa, not even 10,000 live in the North West Province. This is where Rhulani Safari Lodge is located. How big is the concern about the virus in the nearby villages? How do Rhulani's employees, who live in different villages, manage this time?

I have long wanted to write something about Rhulani’s employees in my diary. But that is difficult. Communication is not that easy. In remote areas there is no cell phone signal. I cannot just send a WhatsApp message and ask.

Sometimes, our employees contact us in the front of house. It seems that all of our staff and their families are healthy. That's the most important thing. They miss the daily work at Rhulani. They want to know: when is it going to start again?

It seems there are no COVID-19 cases in the villages where our employees live. The villages are very quiet. Following the rules is part of their Tswana culture. The recommended restrictions are taken seriously. 

In the country where I live, the "well-educated Swiss" should take this as an example. A few days ago, the Young Boys from the capital city of Berne became Swiss football champions. The whole night was celebrated in the city, the fans were in each other’s arms. No distance, no masks, no worries. COVID-19, far away… 

In the villages of North West, you will maybe find a person walking on the road not wearing a face mask. But there is no gathering of people. No meetings with friends. Our employees are sitting at home. Waiting patiently. Chatting from house to house, from neighbor to neighbor, over the fence. They only leave the house for hopefully making some extra money. With small side business, selling little things, doing brick works …

The big concern remains. Not because of the health risks associated with this virus. People have gone through more terrible things. There is the concern about the consequences of the lockdown. About the future, existence, life.

Waiting to welcome back our guests again, with a welcome drink


Day 129: Little lions in the hotel

In our hotel in Crete they say a cat has given birth. Somewhere. I set off with my son to find the little kittens. In the shade of an olive tree we find a plate with water. It must be here. But the cats are not here. As an experienced safari expert for such situations, I tell my son: "We have to wait and be patient.” It strikes me that we also got quite a lot of youngsters in Madikwe in the past few weeks. We sit down under the olive tree.

While we are waiting, I show my son the photos which Riaan sent me a few weeks ago from the newborn wild dogs. They are so cute! I tell my son that he will maybe see these dogs himself, one day in the future, although they will probably be grown up by then.

And then I remember a story from a few days ago about little lions playing right outside Rhulani’s office. Sean told me, the little ones were born just when the lockdown started. They must around 4 months old. I show my son a photo with one of the young lions.

My son opens his eyes wide. He wants to know more about it. He loves the lions. I tell him, that there are three actually three of them. All of them are boys. The father is called Monomogolo and the mother Maklapa. They were born in the South of Madikwe. We had found them close to our airstrip, somewhere in the thick bush, in and old cliff area, which has a cave like structure. Ideal for hiding.

Then I tell my son about Leopard Munye. He also became father very recently, Sean said. A little leopard? I would like to see that myself! I have no photo from a baby leopard. According to Sean, he should be living very close to Rhulani, at Inkwe Pan. There's water there. I told Sean to sit down and wait there with his camera. Like we are here now, under the olive tree.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, the cat mother comes out of the bushes. With her, five little kittens. All have the same, reddish-brown fur. They look like little lions! They bravely go to the plate to drink water. Just next to us. We are watching. Fascinating!

The young lions must be around four months now


Day 128: "Intra" ... not "inter"

There is some unexpected movement in the tourism sector. I see a headline on TV saying that leisure hotels in South Africa leisure travels can open for inter-provincial travels... or how was that again? I was wrong. I didn't look closely enough…

If you read something quickly, such mistakes can happen. And if, like me, you hope that the ban on inter-provincial travels will finally be lifted, you are already wrongly conditioned when reading something.

To confirm my misinterpretation, it was not helpful that immediately after Madikwe Reserve announced that it would open soon, and that a customer wrote us by email he is interested to make a booking for tomorrow morning.

Can that all be true? I read the article in more detail. Aha ... here is the confusion. The critical word was "intra", not "inter". This means, hotels will be allowed to open to welcome guests for intra-provincial travels. Guests can go to hotels in their own province.

Rhulani Safari Lodge is located in the South African province of "North West". Despite many overseas guests, we actually have a significant number of local customers. They come for a week-end or during school holidays. Most of these guests live in the Johannesburg area, which is located in the province of Gauteng. Thus citizens from Johannesburg or Pretoria cannot travel to Madikwe.

North West was incorporated after the end of Apartheid in 1994, and includes parts of the former Transvaal Province and Cape Province, as well as most of the former Bantustan of Bophuthatswana.

The province has an area of over 100,000 sqm and is therefore more than twice the size of the country of Switzerland where I live. With an estimated 4 million inhabitants, it has about half the population of Switzerland.

I remember that we have guests from Switzerland with us almost every week. But do we have guest from North West? We certainly do, but not many, or better to say, not as many to open our hotel.

I will definitely wait a bit more until I finally see the word "inter". Not "intra".

Madikwe Game Reserve will soon open its doors


Day 127: One event or two events?

In my diary entry yesterday, I left the impression that I am generally not satisfied with the behavior of insurance companies. But that's not correct. I work at an insurance company myself and know about the good values it generates. I also made good experiences at Rhulani. One of them was actually quite funny.

Years ago we had problems with the baboons. A big troop ran through Rhulani. They sat down on the roof of guest's chalet number 1, where they damaged the thatched roof to such an extent that it had to be completely renewed.

The same thing happened two days later at the opposite side of the lodge, at chalet number 9. Also here, it was a total loss on the roof.

Time to have a look at my property insurance in detail. I called SATIB, which is our broker. Fortunately, the damage to thatched roofs was covered. And not only that: the destruction by animals including baboon was explicitly mentioned.

However, the insured amount had a maximum limit "per event". The big question was whether the damages were caused by a single or two independent events. I remember, the same question was posed at the Twin Towers in New York years before. The entire damage would only be paid in case of two events.

In my case, the damage occurred on two different dates and on the two most distant chalets. This helped. A connection of the two damages was not found. Nor could it be shown that the baboon had one intention to destroy the two roofs.

I must say, the insurance company behaved very well. Our "Twin Tower" damage was finally paid in full. 

By the way, to prevent future damage, we installed a wire mesh on all of our thatched roofs. This is also called a "bird wire", or in our case we can call it a "baboon wire". You hardly see it from the outside, and since then we have had no such damage any more.

All our thatched roofs have a bird wire to prevent us from damages by the animals


Day 126: Pandemic insurance

As a Swiss citizen and working for a large insurer, good insurance coverage is very important to me, also for my business with Rhulani Safari Lodge. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, I have been trying to understand whether we are entitled to receive payment for the time of business interruption. I consider myself a bit of an expert myself, and so I filled out the damage form anything but optimistic. But there is still some hope.

At first glance, the insurance industry lives up to its reputation. Rhulani is the policyholder, we pay the premium punctually for many years, and now that insurance is needed, there is no benefit from the "Business Interruption Cover".  Of course there is a logic. A fundamental industry debate. Pandemics are not insurable. A closure due to a lockdown is not an insured event.

Interestingly, however, the insurer tells me that if I could present an infection case within a 50 km radius of my property, I would have a chance. All right. I don't know anyone in person, but the city of Gaborone, capital of Botswana, is 47 km from Rhulani. The cases there are known. I informed the insurer. I've been waiting for an answer from the insurer since then.

In the meantime, we continue to pay the insurance premiums even in the lockdown. It is mainly for property fire and general public liability insurance. We still need this insurance protection. The premium is well over 20,000 Rand per month. A quite insignificant value when you have no income at all.

Today I get a message from the insurance broker that there may be hope. It seems they are discussing about is an industry solution. In Switzerland, too, the main insurers recently sat together and agreed on an out-of-court solution and made payments to their clients. Maybe there is something similar in South Africa? Let’s see…

Even during lockdown we need insurance protection - especially property fire


Day 125: One bushbuck less

Even after a detailed analysis of yesterday's photo, I was unable to find out which animal was killed by the wild dog pack, right next to Martin's house. It's a kind of antelope, this for sure. But to recognize the animal only because of the remaining foot, I need an experienced ranger. So I call Sean.

“Rolf, this was a young bushbuck”, Sean explains to me.

A Bushbuck? This rings a bell. During my last visits to Rhulani, I noticed that I frequently met a cute bushbuck couple, male and female, when I walked to my room on the pathways. Yes, these animals had declared Rhulani as their home. They felt safe here. You could even approach these shy animals up to a few meters. They didn't run away.

Have the wild dogs killed one of my lovely Bushbucks? “Yes Rolf”, says Sean, "but not one of the couple you have met. There was a young, third bushbuck that also lived here and was a bit shy".

Oh, what a shame, I think. Of course I am aware of the laws of nature and find a wild dog kill at Rhulani a unique experience. But in the meantime, I have grown to love of my bushbucks.

I have to say that in 2013, when I purchased Rhulani, I neither knew the Bushbuck nor knew that this antelope species was found in Madikwe.

On countless game drives I saw Impala, Zebra, Wildebeest, Kudu - until suddenly an antelope, which looked different, crossed the road. It had a brown skin with some white areas, and what I noticed was there were a few white spots on the sides. Quite unique. "This is a bushbuck," the ranger told me.

I never saw the Bushbuck on safari again until I saw my new friends in the lodge. Now it is unfortunately one less.

Getting very close to a bushbuck on the pathway


Day 124: An exciting walk to the office

Here in Switzerland is midsummer and vacation time. In South Africa, the lockdown continues with no prospect of change. We have almost no emails in Rhulani’s inbox. No major challenges. When I call Rhulani's office today, I think it will just be one of these normal daily calls, just saying hello, wishing a nice day. But then TH (Tom-Hendrick), our reservationist, tells me about his walk to the office this morning.

The way from his room to the office is only a few meters. He does this every day. Nothing special. But today, when he is closing his door behind him, he thinks he has seen something in the corner of his eye tat is moving. He turns, looks closer. A wild dog looks at him.

TH calls Sean, our head ranger. The two carefully go closer, to see what’s happening. The wild dog has a reddish-colored skin around the mouth. And indeed: this dangerous predator has made prey, right next to Martin's house.

And they're all there, a whole pack of wild dogs. All of them, are in a hurry to eat up the prey. A wild dog pack is the most dangerous and efficient killing machine in the African bush.

When TH finally arrives at the office and, as always, looks out towards the waterhole, he can't believe his eyes. A pride of lions happily runs around close to the water. There are some cute, little cubs. They jump onto the roof of the recently completed observation hide. The lions are just everywhere. Very close, as we rarely see them at the lodge.

Later I see Alasdair looking for the lion footprints on our daily live stream, showing us what happened. And Sean sends me a great photo of the wild dog. He is nibbling on an animal's leg. I can still see a foot. But what animal was that? What was killed here? Hard to say. I'll ask Sean tomorrow.

This morning, the wild dogs just killed something at the lodge


Day 123: Rooibos

After spending a few days on vacation, the waitress brings a delicious cappuccino to my breakfast table without having ordered it. The staff already knows that my day starts with a cappuccino. I'm a real Swiss and therefore coffee drinker. At my home in Switzerland, here on vacation, and anywhere else. No, stop, almost everywhere. There is one place where I don't order a cappuccino for breakfast ... Rhulani.

Now you are probably thinking that the cappuccino at Rhulani is undrinkable. But that's not true. We have an excellent cappuccino there, with wonderfully frothed milk and the right strength of coffee from a Nespresso coffee machine.

If I remember correctly, many years ago, I had a mild cold when I stayed at Rhulani. The waitress told me I should drink a rooibos tea. That will help for sure. Nice and hot, with honey and lemon.

Rooibos, means “red bush” and is a broom-like member of the plant family Fabaceae that grows in South Africa's fynbos. The leaves are used to make a herbal tea. It has been popular in Southern Africa for generations, and since the 2000s has gained popularity internationally. 

To my surprise, the rooibos tea met my taste perfectly. The way it was served to me was also wonderful. The freshly brewed tea in a separate jug next to the cup, nicely cut lemon slices with toothpicks, honey with a small spoon, and another jug with milk. All served on a tray.

Since that experience, I no longer have to be sick to drink rooibos tea. At Rhulani my day starts with a cup of rooibos tea as naturally as here with a cappuccino.

On every trip to South Africa I buy a pack of rooibos tea bags so that I can taste the flavor of South Africa at my home in Switzerland. But something is always missing. In order to experience the full taste of the tea I need the unique atmosphere of the African bush at Rhulani.

Cynthia is serving a Rooibos Tea - freshly brewed and nicely presented


Day 122: #Open_SA_Tourism

In my diary I have given my own personal thoughts on the ongoing lockdown for tourism and leisure hotels in South Africa. The current record numbers of COVID-19 new infections, in South Africa and also worldwide, brings tourism to a standstill. So, my way of thinking is that it doesn't really matter whether hotels are allowed to be open or not. After careful consideration, I nevertheless support the initiatives to open the Tourims sector immediately.

The current campaigns on social show the critical state of the tourism sector and how desperately the countless employees in this sector hope to be able to work again. The campaigns appear under #JobsSaveLives, #IAMTOURISM, #Let_us_be_heard, #Open_SA_Tourism, etc. Yesterday, I decided to make a post to support these campaigns for Rhulani.

Today I read in the Swiss press that Swiss citizens like me are not allowed to enter 77 countries. One of them is South Africa. So, no Swiss tourists in South Africa allowed. South Africa remains closed to many other nations that are important for tourism.

For us Swiss people, it has long been clear that traveling abroad will be complicated this year. So many booked their holidays in Switzerland. Vacation in your own country. A new experience. Now, there is hardly a free hotel room available in Switzerland this summer. The popular hotels are fully booked and campsites are overcrowded.

I can well imagine that such a "national travel boom" could also occur in South Africa. South Africans love their country, their treasures, nature and the wild animals.

There remains the uncertainty if local tourism will be strong enough to compensate for the international default. Some hotels will remain closed and some employees would probably lose their jobs. But why should the industry not give a try? At least give a chance to those hotels that can successfully accommodate local tourism? If casinos, restaurants, shops and clubs are allowed to be opened under protective concepts, why shouldn't this be possible for hotels as well?

The decision whether a hotel can be open should then be a business decision. Not a government decision.

A refreshment at Rhulani's pool


Day 121: Birthday

Today is my wife's birthday. Since we are currently in a holiday hotel and my wife does not like to attract attention to everyone, I am looking for a way to deliver the congratulations and gifts discreetly at our breakfast table. Will I succeed?

I notice that birthday celebrations in our hotel here are not part of the general daily program anyway. This is very different at Rhulani Safari Lodge.

For many of our visitors, Rhulani is an explicit destination for a special celebration. We have honeymooners, married couples celebrating an anniversary, we have young visitors who get engaged, sometimes we have a wedding party, but above all birthdays are the most common for us.

In many cases, we are informed about the special celebration beforehand by the travel agent or the traveling partner, asking us that something special should be organized and it should be kept as a secret.

A romantic turn-down with a private dinner on the guest room’s private deck, which we offer at no extra charge, is one of the surprises. I also remember countless, wonderful dinners in our African boma, next to the campfire, when suddenly the singing voices of our employees break the silence, and they appear lined up at the anniversary table with lit candles and a birthday cake, baked by our chef Mavis.

It fills me with great delight when I receive an email after the visit that the birthday child was blown away by the surprise and that it will remain an unforgettable memory.

I am now at the breakfast table with my wife and our four year old son. Before I discreetly pull the little gifts out of my bag, a few hotel employees come and congratulate my wife on her birthday. How could they have known that? 

With a smile, they say that yesterday our little son has told that his mother will be celebrating birthday today… 

A birthday cake from Mavis in Rhulani's boma