No matter how many times I said it, I still had no idea what the hell a rondavel was. As it turns out, a rondavel is an adorable round brick cottage. Yes, a round house! The only time I had come across buildings that weren’t square was when I was learning to read at primary school and read books about odd villages with three corners.
My ‘cottage’ is situated 10km from the town of Hoedspruit on a private little nature reserve, and my only neighbours are Lindy and her partner John, a duiker (a small antelope) named Suzie, a pair of naughty hornbills (I’ve since named them Gerald and Geraldine) and a group of vervet monkeys. It is by far the most favourite place I have ever lived in. The cottage consists of 3 rooms: 1 large lounge/ kitchen room, a bedroom and a bathroom, just like the annex I lived in in Sri Lanka – but 100 times cuter. It has a high thatched ceiling supported by wooden beams. The bedroom has more wardrobe space than I had ever seen, so I decided to take advantage and have one wardrobe for fieldwork clothes and one for ‘days off’ clothes, not that there are many of the latter. There are large French windows that open onto a porch with a view straight into the reserve, and this is where my desk faces. Whenever we have office days to analyse camera trap data, I set up my ‘alternative office’ outside, which is basically a soft mat covered by a towel laying 75% in the sun. I love this sunshine malarkey and being female means I can easily multi-task, sunbathe and chug away at behaviour analysis. To top it all off every night I have an amazing sunset view which is usually preceded by a short walk through the reserve with Lindy and a gin and tonic.
I should probably explain my non-human neighbours. Suzie is a duiker who was hand-raised by previous tenants over 8 years ago; she is completely unafraid of people and still associates the cottages with hand-outs. So the cheeky mare rocks up twice a day to either mine or Lindy’s cottage (or both) and stands there until vegetables or fruit appear in front of her. Honestly, it’s hard to resist. As for Gerald and Geraldine, they’re comical idiots. At approximately 7:30am, if I’m not already up, I’m woken by thumping noises on the French windows as the moronic birds attack their reflections in the glass. I’ve had to cover the bottom portions of the windows with some educational posters (they were the only bits of spare paper large enough) to try and reduce their reflections but alas, they just fly at my kitchen window instead, although not as regularly. Luckily, they never seem to harm themselves. Despite this they are hilarious little birds; they spend a large proportion of their time running around on the ground, somewhat reminiscent of the Looney Tunes road runner, and when they bend over, their tails pop up to counterbalance their enormous beak. Maybe it’s just because I’m easily amused or maybe it is one of those ‘you had to be there’ situations, but I find them hilarious.
Unfortunately, due to the time of year there aren’t many bugs about, but one evening I was ecstatic to find a mantid on the back door mat. Occasionally other exciting creatures pop up which sends me rushing to the insect book to look them up. Despite the low bug count I do have a consolation prize though, the joy of falling asleep, on most nights, to the sound of hyenas, lions or black-backed jackals whooping, roaring and crying.
The night after I wrote this, while sitting on the porch with a few candles burning and my torch in my hand, I heard a slight rustle in the distance and turned my torch on to check what was lurking – and got the fright of my life. On the periphery of the light beam I saw spots, low to the ground and moving slowly. Shit! My first thought was that it was a sneaky leopard and that it was far too close for comfort, but as I stepped backward inside the cottage my animal brain took over from my paranoid primitive ‘things lurk in the dark to eat you’ brain, and I suddenly thought ‘leopards don’t have small spots – they have rosettes’. Cautiously, I moved the beam further back into the trees and there, perfectly illuminated, was a completely nonplussed African civet. I had been waiting for almost 2 months to see one and despite the heart attack it had almost given me, I was thrilled!