Our first full fledged African adventure began with the arrival of Auntie Jen! She was our first visitor to Lesotho and so after showing her around our little city of Maseru we headed across the border to South Africa and then onto Zimbabwe to experience our first safari.
The day started early on Good Friday, as we packed all of our luggage into the car, to begin our journey. Luggage, snacks, malaria meds, and passports for 5 people takes a lot more planning than what the three of us had grown accustomed to, but somehow we managed to remember everything…except for the waterproof camera…but other than that we were good.
First stop was Johannesburg where we got to stop into the Hard Rock Cafe for a great burger (not so easy to find in Lesotho) and enjoy some live cover band music. Next morning was the flight to Zimbabwe! Let me tell you, this was no ordinary flight, right before we took off, we heard an announcement warning us to cover our nose, mouth and eyes if we are sensitive to aerosol because the cabin was being sprayed! Wait…what?! Sprayed?! Sprayed with what?! So it turns out that in addition to taking your anti-malarial meds before going to certain destinations, the airlines spray to prevent infectious diseases carried by insects. Uh…okay…that’s just weird, but what are you going to do? So we all proceeded to cover our faces, and off we went.
Our first night’s stay was at the Kingdom, a beautiful lodge with swimming, a gorgeous open air restaurant, balcony with a scenic view and direct access to Victoria Falls! So, our first sign that we “weren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto” was this gem letting us know to beware of crocodiles in the lake! Well, okay then…welcome to Zimbabwe. Don’t get me wrong, while it took a few moments of adjusting to being in this new country, we all agreed, there have been few places that we have encountered the most kind, friendly, and polite people we have ever met. I will take the chance to introduce them throughout, because to overlook them would be to remove 1/2 of what made our Zimbabwean Adventure so fantastic!
So for our first night in country, we got to experience the magic that is Victoria Falls. The location of our lodge was so amazing that we only needed to follow the walking paths to a breathtaking overlook of the gorge and Zambezi river that lead to the falls. This will also be the same gorge that the Leese Family was insane enough to zipline across, but more about that later. To get to the gorge and later the falls, did not come without a few obstacles, namely the monkeys and the vendors. Yes, you read right, there were monkeys and baboons EVERYWHERE!
So a stroll down a walking path required just a little more caution, because you just never know what was going to pop out along your way, Rafiki from a Lion King or the intro scene straight out of Aladdin (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inzkJ34VMfk) with vendors trying to sell you their wares. I’m sure those who have experienced the sales pitch of a street vendor understand what I am talking about. You’re like, I see your beautiful items you are selling and while I fully plan to voluntarily come and buy out your store, right now, “I just want to see Victoria Falls!” The views of the gorge were simply beautiful, we took a little time just to take it all in.
Next up was actually seeing Victoria Falls. If you do not know, Mosi-Tunya or Victoria Falls are among the most spectacular waterfalls in the world. The Zambezi River, which is more than 2 km wide at this point, plunges noisily down a series of basalt gorges and raises an iridescent mist that can be seen more than 20 km away. Because of their location, they can viewed on both the Zimbabwe side and the Zambia side. On the Zimbabwe side there are 14 lookout points, we made it to about 11 of them while Ben and Rob got to about 13. They vary in their accessibility due to the amount of mist that can turn around and feel like outright rain pouring down and making things less visible. No matter what, expect to get wet, and wet we got, but man was it worth it!
Despite the fact that we were on vacation, safari days meant getting up at ridiculously early hours, but we weren’t about to complain, we were in for the adventure of a lifetime! First up in introductions is our driver, Wilson, who took us to our safari and to the airport, but most importantly got us through the many police checkpoints as we traveled to the Hwange National Park and Victoria Falls. His company Wilpro (http://wilprotours.com/) arranged all of our activities while we were at Victoria Falls and made sure everything went off without a hitch. Wilson taught us so much about the customs and history of his country. If you are ever in need of any kind of tour or activity at Victoria Falls, we highly recommend him. The kind of customized service that he provided for our family was nothing short of phenomenal, by the end of the trip we felt like he was family!
We arrived to Vintage Camp (http://www.vintagecamphwange.com/) which borders the Hwange National Park for the safari experience of a lifetime, some planned and some not so planned. Upon arriving we were greeted with a cool beverage and introduced to the camp-which we had all to ourselves, a lovely bonus because we could totally be ourselves and enjoy roughing it together. Right off the bat, we sat in the treehouse laughing and sharing stories and settling into our home away from home for the next 2 days. Rob and I shared a tent, Ben and Jen shared a tent and Papa got his own.
There were solar powered lamps, a bucket to take showers, and a bucket to flush the toilet…yup, we were roughing it alright. So after we laid down our things in our tents, off we went to our first sunset safari. This brings us to our second introduction. This is Jefferson, he was our safari guide and he was nothing short of amazing! His extensive knowledge of animal life and his sense of humor was more than enough to answer all of our questions and keep us entertained during our whole adventure. During our first afternoon alone, we saw impalas, giraffes, monkeys, and elephants! At one point we asked him what kind of bird we are seeing and he pulled out a book looked it up, made a guess and then pulled out some magic bird whistle, made a noise, and when the bird responded, he was like, “Yup, that’s a brown eagle,” then he put his things away and kept driving. We were all dumbfounded. Jen said, ” I need that book and whistle.”
These are the elephants that we watched for at least 20 minutes as they showered themselves and each other with dirt to keep themselves cool. We were so close it was crazy, but they were having so much fun they were oblivious to us or didn’t care. Last count there were 18 elephants of all ages and we couldn’t have been happier to witness their playtime.
It was an awesome outing and just after sunset we drove back to camp only to be greeted by some of the most delicious food served by Nigel. Although a little startling at first to discover that our camp bathroom had an open ceiling, we all admitted that the African sky was one of the most beautiful clear skies we had ever seen and every constellation was clearly visible. Admittedly, there were lots of sound effects that if we didn’t know better could have been on a ‘safari noises soundtrack’. There we were in the middle of the bush of Africa, so they were real alright.
No exception to the early rise rules of our vacation, everyone was up at 6 AM and ready to go on our first all day safari. Since we were up before the sun, things were a little cold, but of course our trusted guide Jefferson came prepared with blankets that we all dutifully bundled ourselves into as we briskly moved through the trees and high grasses of the Hwange.
We saw it all! We saw impalas, which to the American eye look a lot like deer, but impalas are strictly found in Southern Africa and have pointed, ridged horns. We saw more elephants, more zebras, and many more giraffes. We saw 4 hippos, a jackal, water buffalo, wildebeests, and a rarely seen sable antelope. Jefferson came prepared with our hot tea and coffee to enjoy for a morning break and we stopped for a picnic lunch. We were out all day and the only animal that we hadn’t seen was the elusive lion. Other guides would pass us throughout the safari and ask Jefferson if there had been any sightings. Obviously everyone was disappointed but we weren’t complaining we had literally seen everything else.
So we returned to camp, exhausted but having seen so many fantastic animals and created so many new memories, but nothing could have prepared us for what was to come next.
We all turned in for the night after another delicious dinner and chatted around a fire. Now I can only speak for what I witnessed in our tent, but around midnight an indescribable noise could be heard in the distance. Around 3 a.m. , the noise was just outside the right hand side of our tent and then it slowly moved to the front side of out tent. Admittedly bad timing, I really needed to use the restroom and we were instructed not to go to the bathroom by ourselves. So, of course I woke up my “not really sleeping husband” who had been hearing the same noises I had for about an hour. I couldn’t hold it anymore, so my brave husband got up with me despite hearing there noises (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CX_ZPDXa4V0&feature=youtu.be) and I went to the bathroom quicker than I knew to be humanly possible. Eventually the noise drifted off into the distance and we were able to sleep.
Being the early birds that we are, Ben and I were up around 6 AM the next morning, even through we didn’t need to be. Our guide Jefferson who had been tracking the lions all night came quickly into camp and said, if everyone can get up in two minutes we can go see the lions! Ben ran to Jen’s tent and I ran to Rob’s. I wish we had pictures of the blankets as they sprang from their beds with excitement. I don’t think I have ever seen Rob get up so quickly. He came in his pajama top and sweats and Jen came in a sweatshirt and pajama pants, it was hilarious, but no one wasted a second before they were ready to go. Off we went in our safari jeep, and in no more than 5 minutes we arrived to the spot where the lions were sitting in a tree, two lionesses and two cubs.
Once we approached, only one of the lion cubs remained long enough for a picture, but we were so excited to have seen them. We returned back to camp, enjoyed an exciting breakfast as we shared our individual reactions to the previous night’s events, and packed for our trip back to Victoria Falls …and THAT would conclude Part I of our Zimbabwean adventure.