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Published: June 10th 2017
Geo: -17.93, 25.84
Last night we slept in civilization again, enclosed in a very pleasant hotel with all its attendant (and undesired) amenities: windows that don't open (monkeys could scamper inside), television, sounds of traffic, a refrigerator humming on and off, outside lights shining all night long, and an annoying fresh paint smell because our rooms have been recently renovated and there is no way to dissipate the foul air in these sealed rooms. I'd rather be in the bush any day. But the staff here at the Rainbow Hotel is lovely, accommodating, friendly, courteous, and seemingly happy, as are all of the Africans we've met on this trip.
And so today is our last full day here in Zimbabwe, here in ancient Africa. It will be enormously sad to leave this continent. I need to return.
It is impossible to leave Victoria Falls without mentioning that wonder of the world. Our group went there yesterday, an overcast, foggy, clouds sitting on the earth kind of day. The falls were still occasionally visible, although the fog kept rolling in and covering up any view; but it would partially disappear as quickly as it came, so we explored in a shadow world: now you see it, now you don't. The thundering falls could always be heard however, even when they could not be seen. We were told we'd get wet. That was an understatement! Even with heavy ponchos on we got soaked. The mist felt more like a drenching rain, but the weather was warm, so nobody seemed to mind. I can't imagine what it must have felt like for Livingstone to have just happened upon these enormous falls! I hope he first discovered them on a clear, sunny day so he could have seen them in all their glory. As it was, even on our cloudy, misty, foggy day, the falls were magnificent. No description can compare with experiencing the real thing.
This morning several people staying at the Rainbow Hotel went on a rhino search game drive in the Stanley & Livingstone Preserve. I haven't gone to zoos in decades, not wanting to support animals in cages or any kind of animal abuse, and I almost didn't sign up for this drive because the animals are enclosed. But then I learned that this preserve is doing just that, helping to preserve the few rhinos that remain in the wild. This Stanley & Livingstone preserve is 64,000 acres, an enormous wild space. Here the rhinos are protected; any poachers are shot on sight, a critical but necessary response to dwindling wildlife, but especially for the rhinocerous. On this preserve live only eleven rhinos, but that number is increasing. The Stanley & Livingstone Preserve started with only three rhinos in 2006, two females and one male. Optimistically, there is hope for saving these magnificent creatures from extinction, but that requires constant surveillance and protection. Worldwide at the beginning of the 20th century there were 500,000 rhinos in the wild; today there are only about 21,000 left in the world, and most of them are alive only because of their being protected. The Black rhino is critically endangered; the southern White rhino is on the borderline of being listed as endangered, and as there are only three northern White rhino left, they are considered extinct. Thus preserves are necessary for the rhino's survival.
We drove and drove bumping over the beautiful deep red sand of this region, hunting for tracks, watching and listening for movement, looking for any animal-like anything. Giraffe stood right on the trail, close in front of us; a dazzle of zebra crossed immediately in front of our open-air jeep; Cape buffalo were grazing close-by, with white egrets standing on their backs. But no sighting yet of a rhinocerous. I thought the possibility of seeing one of only eleven rhinos in this huge preserve was pretty small. And then in the distance, someone thought they saw a tree trunk that moved. The jeep stopped, binoculars sprang out, and yes, there, quite far away we saw a rhino. Or were there two?
These sturdy jeeps can easily go off-road (as we had done many, many times before on this trip!), through shallow rivers and lakes, through mud, over low trees, bushes or rocks. Our guide, Pleasure, skillfully drove through the bush, bringing us closer and closer to the rhino. At last he stopped. About only twelve or fifteen feet away were a mother Black rhino and her big baby! How massive they were; how beautiful! (How rare!) Cameras were clicking nonstop as we watched them looking at us. Were they contemplating what they saw, what we were? What were they thinking? Were they afraid? We had been told that wild animals saw a jeep full of people as one object, so no one should stand up, or talk loudly, or stick anything out of the jeep. These rhinos obviously felt safe as they did not move away, just continued to look at us. Finally the baby turned his head away and began eating, but mama stayed right there, watching us. This was another exceptional and very lucky encounter.
I had now seen Africa's Big 5: the African elephant, lion, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhino; I had met many wonderful and lovely guides and staff, teachers, schoolchildren, basket weavers, families. I had spent two weeks in the African bush, enjoying the graciousness of all with whom we came in contact, delighting in the vistas, seeing the iconic Acacias and Baobab trees spreading over Botswana, and had lived and felt and experienced the sensuality that is Africa. And tomorrow I will leave.
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