Trick or Treat!
Halloween started off with a bang! Not a treat or a trick to be seen, instead we went to The Great Zimbabwe Monument located near Lake Mutirikwe. We stayed the previous night at a hotel overlooking the lake that was surrounded by lush gardens, but due to the “spooky” mist we could not see the lake from the veranda. The monument commemorates the capital of the great kingdom and was the home to 8 great monarchs. The kingdom was ruled by eight kings over 400 years until the last king fled towards Botswana and abandoned the area. The visit included walking an ancient trail to the high rock perches that were the “rooms” of the great king. These rooms were used to meet local dignitaries and also served as the home and burial site of each king. As each king died, their home was razed and a new home was built for the new king atop the foundation of the old home. Upon excavation, they found eight separate levels of homes. The area has large “brick” walls hewn out of granite which were then dry-laid by hand with no mortar and exist today more than 1000 years later. We took the modern path up to the top and bravely descended back down to the valley using the ancient path that meandered through narrow pathways and rugged steps. The women of the day took this harrowing path on a daily basis carrying water and food perched atop their heads!
After the morning exploring the ruins, we loaded onto the bus and began the long journey to our next stop – Matobo National Park. The hotel (called the Farmhouse) is located on the outskirts of the National Park. Matobo is home to both white and black rhinoceroses. White rhinos are grass grazers and pretty docile. They have longer heads to reach the grass below them. Black rhinos, on the other hand, have shorter heads/necks because they eat trees and so don’t have to bend down much. They are also rather aggressive and will charge humans. The six-hour drive on an uneven road exhausted us all and after dinner we gratefully climbed into our beds and went to sleep. The next day dawned bright and early and we soon set off for our first adventure: a bush walk where we got to explore some of the local rock formations that included some old cave art. The art, dating back thousands of years, is still visible and in pristine shape. Like much of the areas in Africa, there is a great deal of pride in the past and the history of their local regions. A game drive through the hotel property (or safari to photograph the inhabitants) was next on the agenda at 11 am. Kathy opted to take a walk and chill on her veranda while Dave set off to enjoy the sights of zebras playing, giraffes just being giraffes, and wildebeest being not so wild. The Farmhouse managers knew each of them by name. Wildebeest, despite their size, are fairly docile and non-threatening. Dave came back with lots of stories to tell while Kathy perused his many pictures as he told his stories. A leisurely lunch of lasagna and salad and a bit of a break was next on the agenda. As the afternoon rolled around, it was time for the second safari of the day, a trip into Matobo National Park – home of the rhinos! A drive in with our guide (John) and we were soon gazing with awe at a group of rhinos – a mom and her baby and another female with two males. The two groups normally do not socialize, but it was an opportunity for the mom to introduce the baby to the other group. A bit of head nudging and they were soon fast friends. The rhinos paid us no mind and we were standing within 15 feet of the massive critters. All of them except the baby were de-horned. Park managers do this to remove the reason why they are so attractive to poachers. The horns grow back and they have to start the process over again every 5-6 years. The rhinoceroses in Matobo NP are fiercely protected and guarded by local protection rangers. When Dave first spied the rangers, he thought they were carrying quivers on their backs with arrows. It turns out the rangers carry AK-47s, but with old, weathered wooden stocks which are slung on their backs. These long guns are not to defend the tourists against the rhinos, but to protect the rhinos from the poachers. The local laws allow the rangers to shoot poachers dead on the spot. We drove a little further to a spot by a small pond where we had a rest. At this beautiful rest stop we had an opportunity to see some people fishing illegally, but not much more in the way of animals. The guide though offered us all a beer or glass of wine (nothing without alcohol) and we relaxed by a lake hoping to catch an animal coming to drink from the water. Dave, though, with his law enforcement hat on, noted that our guide and driver participated in having a beer. All in all it was not a lot of candy or tricks, but we were treated to a lot of great memories. The next morning dawned bright and early and Dave opted to go for a hike with Tilley up to the top of a small bouldery-like hill to watch the sunrise prior to leaving the lodging, The Farmhouse. While they could not see the sun rise through the clouds and mist, it was a lovely hike and the boulders were splashed with a kaleidoscope of color from the various lichens that paint the rocks in this area. Kathy, meanwhile, sat on the front porch of our room with a cup of coffee and listened to her book. When she looked up, she saw a wildebeest about 4 feet from her. (We are working on improving her situational awareness…) Today will we head off early as we travel to Hwange National Park for our next adventures.
11/3/2023 – 11/4/23
Hwange Safari lodge was an amazing lodge that sat at the edge of the park and overlooked a watering hole that was visited by a plethora of animals. We had an opportunity to go on another safari this afternoon and, surprisingly, almost 50% of the group decided to stay behind, Kathy being one of them. Being bounced around in the back of a vehicle can take a toll. While Kathy sat by the pool chatting with Tilly, Esther and Marilyn and drinking her strawberry daiquiri, Dave set off on another adventure. While Kathy was awed seeing a baboon drink from the swimming pool and watching the animals that were within feet of the pool (intent on ignoring the human interlopers in their world), Dave and his group had the most amazing safari. The group was lucky enough to see a cheetah feeding on a fresh kill, his belly distended from the bountiful feast of the sub-adult kudu. He saw a large herd of elephants, including a baby that was only two weeks old and plunged his head into the water to drink rather than using his trunk. The entire group held their breathe hoping that the baby was not eaten by the many crocodiles that roamed in the water. Luckily, the baby survived that encounter. He then had to be rescued when he fell into a stone drainage canal head first. Mom pushed the rest of him in so that he could stand and then she tried to pull him with her trunk. After a few attempts, his aunt came over and the sisters together pulled him back to safety. It took two elephants to help him out of his jam. The group also saw the hippos lazing in the water minding their own business when a pair of lions came up to them. A standoff ensued when the hippos opened their mouths wide and “yelled” at the lions. The Kings of the Jungle decided that there were easier meals to be had and moved along. Kathy and the rest who stayed behind, while disappointed to not see the sights, relaxed and felt spoiled by massages, enjoyed the cold drinks and viewed the sights that overlooked Hwange NP.
Our visit to the area was short-lived and we were soon off to visit Victoria Falls, one of Kathy’s bucket list items. I think her last one in the bucket at this point! She will need to add some more. Arriving mid-morning at the falls, we started down the paths that provided us with ample opportunities to view the majestic falls as they flowed over the rock face and plunged deep to the bottom of the canyon. Dave pondered: where does all this water go? Traversing along the paths we had an opportunity to follow the flow as it meandered along the canyon floor until it disappeared around the corner. From there, it heads into a narrow, steep canyon where the Zambezi River continues – much narrower than before the falls.
Afternoon brought us to our next stop, which was lunch with a local group of women who explained and prepared some local dishes. Dave, feeling brave, opted to try a caterpillar while Kathy recorded his desperate attempts to mask the taste and feel of the insect using beans as a lubricant to help it slide down his throat into his gullet. No amount of beans, though, helped him as he chewed and chewed the rubbery insect before it was small enough to swallow. Next on the agenda was to buy a specially designed t-shirt and to view the wares of some local women. The meal, local wares, and the explanation by the women is collaboration between our tour company, G Adventures and the community to help the local area thrive and provide jobs in a struggling area. Finally at our hotel we settled in for a bit, just a bit, before we set off on a river cruise down the Zambezi. We had discussed going over to Zambia to swim in the Devil’s Pool, but somehow had a failure to communicate and we ended up on a very painful river cruise. The cruise had a large group of young people who loved the open bar and became drunk and obnoxious ruining the cruise for others on the boat. To compound the matters we were then confined to a bus heading back with the same drunk young people, egged on by their tour leader, sang and shouted the entire way back. A miserable time was had by all!! Sitting at Devil’s Pool, while more death defying and scary, would have been at least quieter! Oh well, maybe next time. The last little bit of the tour was a dinner and a sad goodbye to the many friends made on this tour. While we are still here for a couple more days the group is splitting up with many of us going to Chobe NP the next day, some heading on another extended tour (including our newly adopted daughter Claire), and yet others going home.
Our last tour, last moments to see the big 5, and last full day in Africa started early as we headed to Chobe NP in Botswana to have our last safari. The long drive to the border between Zimbabwe and Botswana was surprisingly easy, the roads were smooth and without too much traffic. The reason there was no traffic is we must have been the last bus on the route as there was a line that snaked around and out of the building in order to cross from one country to the next. We were soon off to our next adventure a river cruise on the Zambezi and part of Chobe NP that was much quieter than the previous night excursion. We were lucky enough to see lots of hippos lazing in the waters, some crocodiles, and lots and lots of birds. It was an enjoyable time that gave us the opportunity to speak and spend more time with our new friends. After a two hour cruise (makes you want to sing a sitcom ditty doesn’t it?) we were back at a resort where we had a buffet lunch. Next on the agenda was the land portion of where we explored Chobe NP and got to see a pride of lions, more elephants, giraffes, and other assorted animals, including a jackal. All in all, it was a good end to an amazing trip. The last little bit was saying goodbye to our other friends we met along the way, including another borrowed daughter, Kaylie, and her parents. Tonight we change hotels and we plan on relaxing. Being granted an upgrade due to a shower issue saw us relaxing in our three room suite that includes living room, two chandeliers, a sitting room, and a bathroom as big as our bedroom at home. Kathy has a special thanks to her travel agent, Dave, for finding such a sweet hotel. Tomorrow we head home. Safe travels to all our friends as they continue on their way we will miss you!