November 14, 2015 – 7:30A
We are getting ready to take off on our 12-seater “puddle jumper” plane to leave Zambia for Zimbabwe (or “Zim Zim” as Vitalis calls it). Zimbabwe is his homeland and you can tell he is both proud and excited to show us some of its highlights. Unfortunately, Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate is 80%. Yikes! Many of its unemployed are earning money by selling their hand-carved and handmade goods (i.e. sandstone and wood carvings). Our pilots again are Julie and Shane. Skies are clear and the sun is shining. It’s tough to leave this particular camp. The riverfront view from the main lodge and our “tent” was spectacular.
Last night, I woke up briefly around 1:30a to use the bathroom and heard footsteps in the grass outside our tent. I turned off the oscillating fan for a better listen and discovered there were two hippos using the “hippo highway” right along side our front porch. One at a time, they splashed into the water. I then, turned back on the fan, walked through the mosquito netting, and got back into bed. While we were getting ready this morning, Aryn said she had been awake and heard them as well.
I woke up to my 5:30a cell phone alarm (a half hour earlier than our wake-up call from the camp staff). I planned this to give myself some extra time to sit out on our front porch. As I stepped outside, all wrapped up in my giant white comforter, I checked my surroundings for hippos. As soon as I knew the coast was clear, I sat down on one of the director’s chairs with my feet stretched out before me and gazed out at the morning view of the beautiful Kafue River. The reflection of the trees in the water across the river was stunningly perfect. The staff informed us that the water level is currently down around ten feet due to the lack of rain. From my vantage point, the benefit to the drought is the ability to see the intimately-woven root system of the trees exposed along the river bank. The low waters also allow the hippos to stand on the river’s bottom and poke their eyes up and look around. I saw a couple pairs of hippo eyes popping up this morning, as well as, a couple of fish jumping up out of the water. I could have sat there for hours. It was so peaceful. It was perfect!
As I was sitting there thinking, I recalled saying to the group during one of our recent game drives that with all the magnificent animals and scenery we’ve experienced: “I expect my afterglow from this trip to last me a whole year.” After saying this, Norma turned to me in the jeep and said: “Brian, it will last you the rest of your life.” I bet she’s right.
Now, we are flying at 10,900 feet with beautiful views of the green “bush” all around. So far, it’s been a smooth flight. Thank you Julie and Shane!
Vitalis told us that on our way to our next camp, Hwange National Park, we are stopping to look at fabrics. Should be interesting. I know Aryn’s mom, Judy, is very excited as she hopes to buy a huge variety of bright colors to make things when she returns home. Vitalis told the women in our group that he would pay for the first round of fabric. His idea is that they are to bring one of their fabrics to the homestead we are going to visit and the women there will show them how to properly tie it around their waist.
On a side note, I find it interesting how the staff at each of these tented camps will spend months away from their families. They either work for 3 months with one month back home with their families or work for 2 months with eighteen days off back home. That must be a hard schedule but they say they love it. We’ve learned that some of the single staff members end up dating some of the other single staff members and, sometimes, marrying them. Makes sense because these are the people with whom they spend most of their time.
On another side note, I must say that I have been very fortunate with the choice of anti-malaria pill (Proguanil) that I was prescribed by Passport Health back home. Even though the bottle lists no specific instructions, I have always taken it will food and have yet to experience any stomach issues.
We are now flying over a large blue lake. Spanning from its breadth is an intricate system of rivers stretching and turning in all different directions. What a spectacular perspective we have from this height. I’m really hoping for some Wifi at the airport. I’d like to get some communication out to Aaron and Ma.
After landing and crossing into Zimbabwe by minibus, we were able to stop at the Sprayview Hotel in Victoria Falls (which is actually going to be where we’ll stay for our last two nights of this adventure). There I found a single spot where my phone was able to get a good enough signal to send text & Facebook messages. I camped out in this chair for a good half hour touching base with Aaron and sending other messages. I also visited the Sprayview Gift Shop in the lobby (bought nothing) and shared a Zambezi beer with Karen, one of the ladies from our group. While checking in with Aaron I learned that nearly 200 people were killed in Paris by members of the Isis terrorist group and the entire soccer stadium was under threat and, therefore, evacuated. Back in the US both JFK and LaGuardia airports were shut down as a safety precaution.
After leaving the hotel, we briefly stopped at a small tented marketplace in town to browse and buy the $2.00 fabrics Vitalis had told us about. They were all so colorful and I bought two (a tan and brown one for me and a purple one for Aaron. Purple was his mom’s favorite color).
The bus ride to Hwange was over an hour and before entering the park we passed through an open casting coal mine – very interesting to see.
Now we have arrived at Kashawe Camp in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. From our front porch we overlook a beautiful view of the rust-colored river valley. Again, the water level is extremely low. Hwange National Park is 14,000 square km and the terrain is completely different than the previous game reserve parks we’ve visited. The terrain here is quite rock and hilly. The main lodge at Kashawe overlooks the dry river valley and the golden rolling hills and tall bluffs. When we arrived there were 12 giraffes down in the valley feeding off the acacia trees. Vitalis proudly refers to this as “African tv.”
We all stood in the main lodge and looked out at all the giraffes. The camp managers, Sally and Ed, requested our attention and introduced us to our game drive guides Mafuka and Thabani and briefed us on the camp’s layout and safety protocol (ie. the medical emergency horns, walking backwards vs turning and running if you encounter an animal, etc). The current temperature is 98 degrees and Sally explained that this hot dry weather is unusual for this time of the year. Their rainy season was supposed to have begun by now. We filled our OAT water bottles before being shown to our tent (Tent 9).
On each of our beds was a towel folded up into the shape of an elephant. Very cute. As always, our OAT bags were in our room when we arrived. We only are responsible for carrying any small bags (ie. carry ons). The room is very comfortable. I’m going to grab a quick cold shower before walking back to the main lodge at 5:00P for our evening game drive. When I get there I do want to check out their gift shop.
Our evening game drive took us past scores of vultures perched high up in the trees.
This is a good sign that there is a lion nearby so we began scouting for the high profile animal. Unfortunately, we did not find one. We did, however, stop to watch an entire herd (or properly referred to as an “obstinacy”) of cape buffalo. There were dozens of them along with some of their young. It’s funny how they will stand there staring back at you, motionless, the entire time you’re there. We also saw a few giraffes, a memory of elephants and actually heard a couple of elephants trumpeting in the distance during the picturesque sunset … Ahh Africa!
Before dinner, Mafuka was standing at the edge of the bluff, beside two wicker chase lounge seats, that looked down into the river valley. A few of us walked over and he held one finger up to his mouth and said: “Shh, there is a leopard out there. I can hear it calling.” In my opinion, the leopard call is the most intimidating. It’s a low and throaty panting grunt. We stood there listening for a while but did not hear the leopard again. Sometimes the waiting is the most exciting part. 🙂
Right now, I’m propped up in bed at our “tent.” Dinner was delicious but dessert was even better: chocolate mousse. Our guides, Mafuka and Thabani, escorted us to our tents bearing rifles. This is the first time we’ve been delivered to our tents by armed guards. Apparently, it’s Zimbabwe law. They did warn us about frequent lion and leopard sittings throughout camp. Jetting in one direction from the main lodge is the rust-colored dirt path to our tents. The shorter path to each “tent” is marked by a series of sticks planted into the ground. The number of sticks marks the tent number to which the path leads. It was a long walk to our “tent” – Tent 9. The guides were sure to shine the flashlight into the darkness looking for eyes looking back at us.
Tomorrow morning’s wake-up call is early at 5:00a in order to beat the heat while out game-driving. I hear lots of sounds outside although, so far, no cats. Night night! Don’t let the lions bite!