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Africa » Zimbabwe » Victoria Falls
November 15th 2009
Published: January 1st 2010
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Day 5 - Great Zimbabwe

A mammoth day today. We got up in the pitch dark to pack the tents and truck and head north to the border at Beit Bridge on the Limpopo River. This is a very busy border crossing on the main N1 road all the way to Cairo and the main transit to Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi. We exited South Africa easily enough but the queue on the Zimbabwe side stretched all the way back to the bridge. The visa process didn’t take long all things considered and within 2 hours we were on the road again. The rumoured $80 fee for Irish passports didn’t materialise as I was charged $55, same as the British.

Entering Zimbabwe, our first destination was the Great Zimbabwe ruins near Masinga. The road there was fairly deserted, save for the odd cow and rather stringent police stops. We arrived at the ruins about 1pm, had lunch and then set off exploring with our local guide Philip. The ruins are the remains of the medieval Shona civilisation called the Kalanga and the country is named after them - Zimbabwe means big (zi), houses (mba), of stone (bwe). They were built and occupied from the 13th century onwards and contain the largest stone structure in sub-Saharan Africa (the Great Enclosure). The Hill Complex which was the base of the king is very impressive with the stone buildings being built amidst some very unusual rock formations on the hill. Although probably not as impressive as the Ethiopian sites of Lalibela and Gonder, it was fascinating to explore an ancient African civilisation that, like in Ethiopia, is probably barely known outside Africa.

After Great Zimbabwe, we went on the long drive to Gweru in central Zimbabwe. We eventually arrived at 8pm at the Antelope Park where we ate dinner at the restaurant before collapsing exhausted after the longest day.


Day 6 - Antelope Park, Gweru

We are staying three nights at the Antelope Park so time to relax. Got up at 7am to catch the first view of the campsite in daylight and it’s a beautiful place - located on a river, beautifully designed and covered in green vegetation. The Antelope Park is a 3000 hectare reserve with various game and home to a lion breeding project similar to the one in Vic Falls where I did the lion walk on the last overland trip. There’s a whole range of activities to do here, involving the lions, elephants as well as game drives, horse riding etc.

Before breakfast, the four elephants that live in the park marched through the campsite near out tent down to the river for a morning drink. Amazing to get so close to them and that they can just so freely walk around the campsite (accompanied by their minder of course). After breakfast, we had a tour and activity briefing. Every activity is tempting but the problem is to budget your dollars with Vic Falls and Swakopmund to come. Nevertheless there are activities to do here that you can do nowhere else, so it’s going to be a cool couple of days.

First up was lion feeding. The adult lions that are part of the breeding program are fed with carcasses of livestock or game from the park that die of other causes. The carcass pieces are placed in the corner of the enclosure near the fence where we watched, one piece for every lion, and the lions are let into the enclosure from the far end. They then race towards the meat (and us), grab a piece and find a spot to tear it to pieces and eat. Really exhilarating experience. In the second group, one sneaky lion grabbed two pieces, leaving two others to fight it out over the remaining piece. One succeeded and the other remained hungry. In the savannah, you snooze, you lose.

After chilling at the campsite for a few hours, next up was the lion walk. There are two groups - a pair of 13 month olds (one female and one male, with some mane) and three smaller 10 month olds. I went with the older pair - we walked from their enclosure into the reserve outside and spent an hour wandering around. Aside from posing for photos with the male lion and briefly holding the tail of the female, the lions were also stalking prey - giraffes and impalas. These walks help them learn stalking and hunting behaviour but at this stage they will rarely make a kill. With the lions so distracted by the prey, we didn’t get as much interaction as the previous walk in Vic Falls, but this was a wilder, more real life experience. The more mature lion cubs were also very impressive, the male especially having both his mane and some remaining cub spots. At the end of the walk, the sun was setting through the acacia trees as we led the animals back - pretty much a near perfect African experience.

Came back for a dinner of chicken wings, ugali (or pap as it’s known here) and veg and a few drinks later at the family lodge where some of the guys are staying. Went to bed fairly early but at 11.30 was woken by a mob who proceeded to shout and swear non-stop for about 45 minutes while they jumping in and out of the pool. We thought they were from the Oasis overland truck that had arrived today but turned out to be mostly volunteers from the lion project.


Day 7 - Antelope Park, Gweru

Today was a busy day with three more activities planned. First up was elephant training. The four elephants they have at the park were rescued from a drought at other parks in Zimbabwe and provide elephant rides (and sometimes swims) for visitors. At the training they were first given commands by their trainers (sit down, turn around etc) who then played some football with them. We then picked an elephant each to feed (mine was a 20 year old female called Amai), while sitting next to them when they were lying down and then sitting on them whilst they stood. Very enjoyable experience and some good photo opportunities. Didn’t bother with the ride though as I had done that previously in Vic Falls.

Next up was cub feeding. This was similar to the lion feeding in that pieces of carcass were placed in their enclosures and we watched them tuck in and tear at the meat and bones. We drove to the lion enclosure in a jeep with a trailer attached that had cut up remains of a zebra in it. The stench from it was vile. The cubs being fed were the same ones as on the lion walk. They were nowhere near as ferocious as the adults and were happy to share pieces on occasion. We were allowed into the enclosure with the younger cubs, great to get so close as they tore into the zebra remains.

After a glorious day yesterday, something had to give so around lunch time the rains came and lasted most of the afternoon. This cancelled the planned activities so we just chilled at the campsite. Luckily by late afternoon the weather cleared in time for the night encounter with lions. For this, three 25 month old cubs (Sahara, Swahili and Sariah) are taken out to the park at sunset and we follow them around in a jeep and try to lead them to prey. The lions hadn’t been fed for 5 days prior to this (similar to what would occur in the wild) so should have been hungry enough to put a big effort into hunting.

Unfortunately we saw very little game on the drive so the lions ended up without a kill. We did come across one isolated little impala which we tried to encircle to make the lions aware of it but by the time they saw it, it has scampered off. Despite the lack of a kill, it was still a very cool experience to watch the lions searching for prey at sunset and into the night. We learned afterwards that only 30% of these drives end up with a kill, a fact they were slow to mention at the briefing, but considering only 10 in every million visitors to Africa see a kill in the wild, it was worth a shot.


Day 8 - Bulawayo

When doing an activity for a second time at the Antelope Park it’s half price so I decided to do one more lion walk, this time with the three younger cubs. This walk was a morning one so it was another early rise for a 6.30 start. As we had fed them yesterday, the cubs were a little lethargic as it takes them several days to fully digest their food. Nevertheless it was great fun to walk them around and as it was a small group (of humans) we had plenty of time to stroke them, pose for pictures and hold their tales. The cubs were noticeably smaller than the 13 month olds and had little interest in stalking prey. It’s amazing how quickly they develop.
Afterwards it was back to camp to pack up, pay up and get the obligatory t-shirt. Then we were on the road once more and heading three hours south west to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city and home of the Ndebele tribe. We stopped for supplies at a supermarket which was very well stocked - in contrast to the empty shelves I came across in Vic Falls two years ago. Unfortunately the power was out, power cuts here are frequent and lengthy, so the beers were warm. We stayed at another lovely campsite, set in the grounds of a house owned by a very friendly lady called Christina and her great big dog Pedro. The gardens had some ponds and streams built in which, while picturesque, housed some extremely noisy frogs which kept waking us up. There’s a bungalow next to her house which visitors can use and it was great to sit and relax on a sofa again after a week of tents and fold up chairs. After a lovely dinner of boerewors (South African sausages) and some beers it was back to the tents for a frog-interrupted sleep.


Day 9 - Bulawayo

This morning we headed to Matobo National Park for game viewing and a chance for a walking safari with rhinos. We drove to the park in jeeps with some great guides from Black Rhino Safaris. Almost as soon as we entered the park we came across a group of six white rhinos. We got out of the jeeps and walked slowly and quietly over to them, getting to within 5 metres as we watched them graze and they eyed us suspiciously. Fantastic experience. When we returned to the jeeps it started to rain and soon was torrential. Every time the jeep turned the water on the canvas roof would pour over the side and onto us and I was soon drenched through. The storm didn’t abate and any further game viewing was impossible so after lunch in the park we headed back to camp. We were so lucky to come across the rhinos so quickly and before the rain but I guess the safari gods owed us that one after Kruger and missing out on the lion kill.

In the afternoon, some of the guys headed into town for souvenir shopping but I stayed behind to dry off and spent the time playing cards and having some beers. After dinner some of us headed into town with Muno and Gift to check out the local bars and clubs. One of the bars, Khami, was really good with some fantastic local dancers and great music and beers only $1 a bottle. We went to a slightly tacky club after that but ended up back in Khami to finish the night with some less impressive dancing of our own with the locals. Got back to the campsite at 2am - tomorrow’s long drive to Vic Falls will be painful.


Day 10 - Vic Falls

And a painful drive up to Vic Falls it was. The weather changed completely and today was a scorchingly hot day for the long trip north. This wasn’t helped by being stopped constantly by the police and at one stage having the truck called to a compound for inspection. A few dollars seemed to remedy the situation though (allegedly).

Eventually arrived at Vic Falls at around five. We went straight to the Wild Horizons office for an activity briefing. Having been here before and done many of these activities, I wasn’t desperate to do much more. I was keen on doing either a microlight of Tiger Moth flight over the Falls but these can only be done from the Zambia side which would have required paying $100 more in visas, just not worth it. So I just signed up for the Sundowners (or booze) Cruise on the Zambezi and I’ll save my money for Swakopmund and the rest of the trip.

Had a final group dinner for this section at the Kingdom Hotel, not surprisingly several of the group didn’t show up. Everyone was pretty jaded from the drive and last night anyway so it was an early night back at the Rest Camp.


Days 11 and 12 - Vic Falls

We spent the weekend at Vic Falls, officially changing trucks on Sunday though in reality we only changed on Monday morning when departing. On this trip I’ve found myself frequently remembering my last overland trip with ATC and comparing crew, passengers, activities etc. This was all the more acute in Vic Falls where I ended my previous trip and had a fantastic time with the guys on the trip, most of whom I’d spent the previous five weeks with. Obviously doing some fantastic activities including the lion walk, helicopter flight and bungee jump added to the experience.

This time was a very different experience and maybe you never should return to a place. Saturday was spent just chilling out in town and at the campsite. Unfortunately the weather this time was also very different with a huge storm in the early afternoon which limited relaxing in the pool - the campsite was also very crowded this weekend. We went for the booze cruise at 4pm which was a lot of fun, came across loads of hippos watched a gorgeous sunset over the Zambezi. Back at the campsite we had a lovely BBQ of boerwoers, warthog and crocodile kebabs before heading up to Shoestrings Backpackers for more drink and dancing. Probably should have left it there but went to Hunters afterwards with Gift, Muno and a couple of the guys for a few more beers and strange conversations with locals. Got back eventually at 2.30, quite late for African Camping Time.

On Sunday, we headed down to the Falls but delayed too long at the market so that by the time we got there the storm clouds were again looming. We saw some of them before it rained which were spectacular though lacking the perspective when seen from the air. Then it started really coming down and we got soaked to the skin, including my phone and everything in my bag. When we got back to the campsite, I noticed my tent windows were left open, so everything inside was wet and I had left some of my clothes out to dry. Not a happy end to the weekend.

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