Lions,Elephants,and...Ants!

Trip Start Mar 13, 2010
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Trip End Feb 13, 2011


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Flag of Zimbabwe  ,
Friday, May 21, 2010

Greetings my avid readers,

So, with our newbies added to the Oasis truck it was time to say our goodbyes to Malawi as we headed to Mozambique and a journey through the once (im)famous Tete Corridor, on route to Harare. The border crossing went smoothly as usual, until one of the Malawi border guards decided that he wanted to see everyones Yellow Fever vaccination books - this was despite the fact that we were leaving Malawi and that the Mozambique border guards didn't seem to care one way or the other. However, he didn't seem quite so enthusiastic when we presented him with a stack of 25-odd booklets, and he waved us through without so much as a casual glance at said stack.

It was another reasonably long drive day to the area where we were bush camping that night, and we spent a lot of the time waving to locals who were pretty excited to see a group of white faces bouncing passed on the road. Watching the scenery whiz past, it was difficult to link what we were seeing with the images that the name 'Tete Corridor' brings to mind - it is a beautiful area - although the warnings against wandering off the road for fear of unexploded mines bore a stark reminder of the Civil War that ravaged the country in the not too distant past. When we arrived at the area where we would be spending the night I think most of us were hopeful that we wouldn't be setting up tents in the middle of an abandoned mine-field, but as soon as we got food in our bellies and a roaring fire going all thoughts turned to finding an appropriate sized stick with which we could roast marshmallows.

It was an early start the next morning, and the rising sun dyed the sky a deep red as we packed our tents away and headed for Zimbabwe,first stop Harare. The border crossing threw up only two minor incidents: 1) When collecting money from everyone for visas, we amazingly ended up with too much money, and no-one willing to reclaim it, and 2) according to the Zimbabwe border control/government, the Republic of Ireland is now part of the UK. As you can imagine, the Irish girls were none too happy with this classification, not least because it meant paying an extra $15 each for their visas!

When we had all made it safely into Zimbabwe - and stocked up on crisps at the shop just over the border - we made a bee-line for our first stop, a campsite just outside Harare called Bird park. Shockingly, given its name, Bird park had a large collection of bird ranging from a number of huge Ostrich through to several cheeky parrots. One of the parrots had an amusing/irritating/creepy habit of not only repeating what you said around it, but also imitating a persons laugh so well it was sometimes hard to tell the difference. As well as the birds, the owners of the campsite had Lions (yes, Lions), and wild horses and Zebra roamed the camp freely leading to several surreal moments of, "Is that a Zebra outside our tent/the toilet/the bar/etc?". The campsite was owned by a nice couple who have lived through some pretty tough times over the last few years, and have been helped immensely by the continued patronage of Oasis (Oasis were the last company to stop traveling through Zimbabwe - only when their insurance refused to give cover any more - and the first to start traveling through again). I think their gratitude was evident by the fact they are currently building a new bar called the Oasis Bar, and that they have incorporated an Oasis truck into the design of the campsite gates.

We set up camp about 10 meters from the shores of a picturesque lake in the grounds of the campsite, and headed to the bar...where we were told about the Crocodile that resided in the lake next to our tent, and the fact that it had attacked around 14 people in the last 6 months (but that only two had died, and only from their injuries!). We were then 'advised' that for those reasons it was probably best not to go swimming in the lake. We decided it probably best to play by the rules on this occasion! More worrying was the news that we were going to have to re-use the costumes bought in Malawi for use at Kande Beach - but this time everyone would have to wear the costume that they had originally bought for someone else. This was bad news, very bad news. Cue a night of outrageous, and in most cases unfortunate, cross-dressing!

The next morning we awoke, only to discover that it wasn't the Croc or the cross-dressing we should have been worrying about...the Ants had attacked during the night! The floor of the tent was a moving carpet, as was the roof of the tent, the sides of the tent, and the outside of the tent. We had ants in our sleeping bags, clothes, hair, and nostrils. Words cannot sufficiently explain how many there were, or how everywhere they were! We took this as a sign, decided to upgrade and bagged the last available cottage for our last night at Bird park. Later in the day, we went to a nearby Lion Park to go Lion walking. We spent the first hour wandering the grounds of the park and looking at the animals that were also kept there - mainly Cheetahs, Baboons, Hyenas, and a couple of sizable Nile Crocs. After the park had closed to the public and everyone had filed out, the head Lion keeper gave us a short safety talk (don't let the Lions eat you...), gave each of us a rather flimsy looking cane (to hit the Lions with if they got a little frisky), and then opened the cage of two one-year-old Lions. Although we couldn't quite shake the feeling that it was wrong that there was nothing between the Lions and us, the walk was really enjoyable. It was a very strange experience to be walking along a dirt track and seeing a Lion trot past you - and also a very funny experience watching a Lion almost knock Annie over when it ran past her!

After two days at Bird park we were on the move again, heading south towards Gweru and our next destination - Antelope Park. When we arrived, we were greeted with hot towels, drinks, and music from the staff - we could instinctively tell that this was going to be good! Antelope Park, whilst having a very obvious commercial aspect, is involved in the conservation of Lions in Africa and runs a program called ALERT that aims to reintroduce Lions to the wild. It was really interesting talking to the staff about the aims of the program and what their personal hopes were - they all seemed really enthusiastic about the work they were carrying out, and hopeful that after so many attempts to reintroduce Lions to the wild they may have found a method that could work.

There were many different activities to do, but we both settled on the Lion cub viewing, Elephant training, and I decided to try my hand at some Horse riding. I think the pictures of us with the Lions and Elephants can show how much fun it was far better than I can describe in words. The Elephants were amazing - you don't realize just how big they are until you're stood next to one. The park guides demonstrated the training methods to start with, and you could see how intelligent the Elephants were as they could remember what they were meant to do before the guides shouted instructions to them. They also seemed very happy and well treated; the guides carried round riding-crops with them,and one of the guides dropped his in front of one of the Elephants, the Elephant just picked up the crop and handed it back to the guide. The Lion cub viewing was very cute, there were three cubs in an enclosure we were taken to, they would come up and play with you and let you stroke them. I personally found the horse riding the best of all the activities, as it was more like a horse-back safari. We rode around the grounds of the park (it comprised several hundred acres) and would come across animals (Antelope, Giraffe, Zebra), but because we were on horse-back the animals would not run away, and we could get really close up. At one point, I was sat about 5 meters from a baby Giraffe that was munching away at an Acacia tree, with a herd of several adult Giraffe a little further to the left. It really was different to riding through a ploughed field with sheep and cattle! The rest of our time at Antelope Park was spent relaxing, playing cricket, and enjoying the free drinks and hot showers.

Next up would be the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, Wild Dogs, Annie's hometown, and the Smoke that Thunders. But you can find out about that in our next fascinating installment.

Hope you're all well,

Mark
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