Flight Centre UK

An African Safari – Day 15 – Arrival in Victoria Falls

Waking up the day after being at Hwange National Park meant that we were on our way to Victoria Falls in north western Zimbabwe.  I was keen to take in this location as part of our trip as the falls are classed as the largest sheet of falling water on earth being 1708m wide and 108m in height, which is twice the height of Niagara falls, so I knew they were not to be missed.  The falls divide two separate countries with Zambia being on one side and Zimbabwe the other.  So, after yet another early start we were on the final leg of our trip now and headed to our last location which was the town of Victoria Falls for 2 nights.  It wasn’t a long journey from Hwange to the falls and after a quick stop for ‘bushy bushy’ we arrived early afternoon and were dropped off at Wild Horizons tour office to decide what activities we wanted to do whilst Matt and Freddie headed to the nearby campsite.

Our ever-present and faithful guide, Manda, came with us to the tour office to ensure all went smoothly and we got our bookings done after watching a video of all things on offer.  There was bungee jumping, gorge swing, white water rafting, micro light flights, game drives, riverboat cruises, elephant back rides, horse riding, helicopter tours, bush walks, canoeing – you name it, it was there.  A number of us opted for the late afternoon ‘booze cruise’.  If you’re imagining one of those boats from the Ibiza summer parties then your average booze cruise this was not.  This was to be a much more subdued and leisurely affair of sipping drinks whilst cruising up the Zambezi river at sunset whilst absorbing the sights and sounds.  ‘Yes…’ I thought, rubbing my hands together with glee, ‘Now I get to sip my favourite beverage whilst also getting photo opportunities…’  I was also looking forward to a bloody good shower and being able to rid my feet of Africa’s constant sand (really, it is everywhere and not just near the coast) and for a chance to get a bit dressed up for the first time in what felt like an age!  So, after our booze cruise and my activity for the following day was booked (which was white water rafting but more on that in my next post) we headed to our hotel to get ready.  Yes, we were headed to an actual hotel.  It felt really odd being near civilisation, albeit quite limited, and seeing lots of other people.  For days and days we had been touring in the wilderness across national parks and endless dusty roads and now we were back in amongst people out-with the small family that was our tour group.

We had already pre-booked our hotel room but Kathy and Dave had not and, since they had upgraded to lodge accommodation throughout the trip like myself and mum, I think they were keen to join us at the hotel and make good use of the AC and comfy beds.  The rest of our travellers were staying at the campsite a 5 minute walk away from our hotel.  After we were showered and ready we waited in the hotel reception waiting to be picked up by Wild Horizons to be taken to the river to begin our sunset cruise at 430pm.  Joining us were some of our fellow tour members: Pam, Pete and Manuella as well as Kathy and Dave.

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We boarded a mini bus and were driven the short distance to the river where we boarded a wide, flat river boat and all sat together as we lazily glided up the Zambezi towards the setting sun.  The waiters were attentive and didn’t take long to hop on over and take our order, it was G&T’s all-round and doubles no less.  Well, you’ve got to take full advantage of the price, don’t you?  For the 2 hour cruise along with unlimited drinks it was $50 which I thought was pretty reasonable.  I think we were all grateful for a chance to relax, chat and enjoy some gin after 2 weeks of solid touring – it was quite the novelty.

Along the river we spotted giraffe feeding on tall trees, various birds wading through the shallow waters then we came across this guy peeking out from the water’s edge…He was a youngster at only 4 or 5 feet long…

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And these lovely ladies were keeping themselves cool in the deeper water occasionally rising to the surface to twitch their ears and yawn…

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For me, hippos immediately conjure memories of watching Disney’s ‘Fantasia‘ as a child.  In particular, the scene where the hippos are the most delicate of ballerinas playing a game of cat and mouse with dastardly crocodiles…and here was the real thing!  Except with, you know, less tutus and classical music…

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After we’d been in the boat for an hour or so (and a good few double gins later) the sun started to descend towards the horizon and gave us probably the most beautiful sunset we’d seen the entire trip.  Remember what I said about those African sunsets whilst at Hwange?  Well, they were equally as dazzling on the water.  The sky was a brilliant fiery orange at first with the sun’s reflection shimmering on the water and as it gradually came down towards the trees it melted into a baby pink and faded into sumptuous lilac.  For a short time you could just see the top of the sun peeking out from above the horizon before it disappeared again until morning.

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Now that we were all suitably merry after our double G&T’s, we were off to meet the others for a meal to celebrate our last evening together as a group.  There was a restaurant next to the campsite where we met and got fired into some of the local cuisine including crocodile and mushroom tagliatelle, warthog schnitzel and crocodile curry.  Even though I did try some of these that the others had ordered I played it safe and had a chicken salad.  I had a big day ahead of me the next day as I was getting picked up at 7am to head off on a white water rafting trip along the lower Zambezi.  Looking back, I’m not entirely convinced that we were told exactly what was involved and how extreme it would be but that all added to the anticipation…

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An African Safari – Day 12 – Antelope Park – Part 1 – Meeting Elephants

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After our arrival at Antelope Park in the evening the day before, today meant that we had that rarest of things on a safari, a lie in. Yippee!  We woke up excited as today was the day of our trip where we finally got to meet some of Africa’s finest wildlife, not before breakfast with Freddie and the gang first though of course.  Our first activity that Mum and I chose to do, along with some of the others of our group, was interacting with the elephants.  Antelope Park rescued 4 adult elephants, 3 females and one male, from drought who now reside amongst the park’s 6000 hectares and when not interacting for a short time with human visitors are free to roam this area at their leisure.  Each has a keeper ensuring they are well fed and looked after and whilst staying at the park guests can get to meet these wonderful creatures.

Our activity began at 9am where we bundled ourselves into a safari vehicle with our friendly member of staff who drove us the short distance to where the elephants were waiting for us.  As we approached we could see each elephant in a wooden pen patiently awaiting our arrival.  Both myself, Mum, Kathy and Dave brimmed with excitement and couldn’t wait to get better acquainted with these most intriguing of mammals.

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We hopped off the jeep and sat down whilst each keeper explained about the elephant they looked after, their age, temperament etc. and they showed us a little of their abilities.  Elephants are incredibly intelligent, emotional beings and very akin to humans in that respect.  Perhaps that’s why we find them so fascinating?  Each elephant was thrown a football which they kicked back to their keeper and also threw back with their trunks.  Did you know that elephants are either right or left footed, just like we are with our hands?  Amazing.  One was left footed and when she kicked the ball across to her counterpart, she was right-footed.  The action of kicking the ball mimics the digging they do searching for water during the dry season.

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After their short display of skills, we were allowed to choose an elephant that we wanted to interact with.  We chose one of the females who was almost as old as me at 28 years.  We were  given a generous handful of some sort of maize pellets to which there was no doubt in her mind of what we had.  Her trunk was straight over investigating greedily and searching for those crunchy snacks!  As we deposited the pellets into the end of her trunk, we petted her and got a feel of what her skin was like which was very thick and pretty rough with sparse, coarse dark hairs protruding from it all over.  However, on the front of her trunk it felt smooth despite the ridged appearance.  The end of the trunk, as you can imagine, is pretty snotty!  What a weird and wonderful thing it is though, it seems to have a mind of its own and be a separate entity from the large mass of grey body and head that it is attached to.  How odd!  I couldn’t help but wonder what elephants think about being as intelligent as they are:  how does she see me, as a friend?  As a foe?  Does she feel the searing African sun on her skin as intensely as I do?  Does she have family somewhere that were perhaps killed by the drought and that she now misses?  The answers lie behind those beautiful amber eyes framed by thick velvety lashes and wrinkly grey skin.

One of my favourite shots from the entire trip, look at those lashes!

One of my favourite shots from the entire trip, look at those lashes!

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elephant ear

elephant ear

It’s important to remember the weight and strength of an adult elephant.  If she wanted to, she could easily cause me considerable injury or worse, flatten me.  However, unperturbed, we carried on completely fascinated and in awe of this colossal yet mesmerising being.  For both Mum and I this was a dream come to fruition.  After years and years of watching documentaries, we finally got to meet one of our favourite animals in the most up close and personal manner possible.  Better yet, we were about to go for a ride on her back!  And so started the second activity of our day, an elephant ride…

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We drove a couple of hundred metres towards a tree that had a wooden staircase adjacent to it.  We were informed that in order to help us get onto the elephant we would climb the staircase and ‘board’ from there.  Just as well, elephants are bloody high up!  The keeper goes on first at the front, Mum went in the middle (after much shunting from me and grunting from Mum) then I was at the back armed with my ever-present SLR camera and iPhone for snaps and videos, naturally.

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Being atop an elephant is like being atop a horse – albeit a very wide and very tall one!  The best thing to do is to wedge her spine between your cheeks..! and relax your body, moving in time with the motion and try not to get too hung up on hanging on.  We were off and ambled around the surrounding area for almost an hour taking in the dry, savannah like environment and neighbouring herds of impala.

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I should also note here that the elephants are not subject to any forms of cruelty from their keepers.  If they were, this is not an activity that I would have willingly participated in especially after seeing so many distressing videos online of the poor elephants in places like Thailand who are used and abused.  These elephants only interact with humans for a very short time and the rest they are allowed to roam freely around the large expanse that is Antelope Park (you will see this in a future post).  The  elephant gets a slight tap on either side of her to indicate the direction we wanted to go…not that she needed much convincing as she trotted along at one point to catch up with the others.  When they pick up speed it’s an idea to hold on!  Also, our elephant (I, frustratingly, have totally forgotten her name) was particularly greedy and her keeper informed us that she always walks at the back in the event that her friends drop any of their snacks she would then recover them.  Greedy indeed!  She also presented us with a couple of stones that she picked up off the ground in exchange for treats .  Food, it would seem, is at the forefront of an elephant’s mind.  Well, they are rather large and have a big belly to fill…no wonder they eat for 18 hours a day…Wouldn’t it be great if we could eat for 18 hours a day and not pile on the pounds?!  Anyway, I digress…

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So after the elephant ride it was time to head back to the main camp area and catch up with the others and take a quick rest before we started our second round of activities for the day.  This time, with the one animal we probably associate most with the great continent that is Africa – lions.

Keep reading to find out what it was like to walk with lions and watch the adult males at feeding time…

An African Safari – Day 5 – Crossing over into Mozambique

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Today was another early start at 445am.  Mum does not deal well with early mornings…!  After a communal breakfast we hit the road again leaving Kruger and South Africa behind and when we reached the border we had to get out and begin the lengthy queue for our visas.  The visa office was thronged with locals all eagerly waiting to cross the border and there were lorries, trucks and vehicles everywhere all bundled with items that they cannot purchase in Mozambique so they buy them in SA to sell over the border.  It was about an hour and a half once we all had our visas sorted and photo taken etc.  You just have to take it in your stride and be patient, despite the heat.  After, we were on our way again and it was a long and very, very hot journey.  The tour trucks have no air conditioning so it was windows open all the way.  The roads in Mozambique are in very poor condition too so we had what Manda termed ‘African massage’ especially along the supposedly ‘new’ road which was really just made of sand, gravel and rocks.  It was difficult to nap on that part of the road as the truck carried on like a rollercoaster, bumping and bouncing us all over the place.  We made a couple of stops for ‘bushy bushy’ which isn’t easy near surrounding fields with locals who are only too happy to stare!  We found privacy though underneath some bushes and trees and were soon back on the road.

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'Wasabi'

‘Wasabi’

When we eventually arrived at Zavora lodge our rooms were a very welcome sight.  The view from which perked us up as it looked out high across the beach and out to sea as well as having a cooling breeze.  The campers remained next to the truck and pitched their tents nearby.  We ate together in the evening, as usual, then had an early night again after the day’s long journey.  The rooms were basic but comfortable despite the lack of AC and I didn’t mind sharing the shower with a few geckos.  The next day we had to ourselves so a lie-in was very much on the agenda, hurrah!