Week 7 of The Absolute Safari wasn't the most exciting week of my overland adventure, however there is one day that I would not have skipped for the world! Read on to find out just how up close and personal I got to one of the most endangered species on our planet...
Day 43: Antelope Park
After driving for 6 hours to get to Gweru, we stopped in town to stock up on food. It was Anna's birthday so we all chipped in some booze to make the most epic punch bowl Zimbabwe would ever see! After our responsible shopping session, we drove on to Antelope Park, our camp for the next 3 nights. We were greeted by the singing and dancing of the Antelope Park stuff as we got off the truck. The birthday party was a knockout! A lot of punch was consumed, picnic tables served as our dance floor and some sore heads were had the next morning.
Day 44: Antelope Park
Antelope park is a conservation park, that rears wild lions and offers up close encounters with them. Since I was running low on funds, and had been ethically conflicted on whether to do the lion experience leading up to our arrival, I decided not to do it. Antelope Park however, did end up being a perfect few days of downtime! I spent the day reading books, gorging myself on the delicious cupcakes served at the cafe, swimming in the pool and napping away my hangover.
During my second nap of the day, I was rudely awaken by screaming, only to look up and be confronted with 3 full grown elephants that were about to trample me in my sleep. COOLEST FUCKING WAKE UP CALL OF ALL TIME? YE!
I was up for cooking duty today and we had a feast of home-made burgers and fries (which cook painfully slow over a camp-fire!)
Day 45: Antelope Park
Today was yet another chill day. I spent most of the day finishing my book and being a tad envious of everybody's cool lion photos and videos! We bumped into the West Indie's cricket team who came for a media visit as part of their tour to Zimbabwe. Those are some tall dudes!
Day 46: Gweru to Bulawayo
We left Antelope Park today and drove from Gweru to Bulawayo. Stopping at the mall in Bulawayo, which seems to have a huge expat community, we indulged at a cafe for some western food. For some reason I just couldn't get to sleep tonight. I stayed up listening to the raindrops fall on the canvas of my tent and the loudest, longest-lasting thunder I’ve ever heard in my life... It reminded me of my studies in mythology, thinking of the anger of all the Gods rolling in from left to right and then back on itself again, as if heading straight towards me. I watched the flashes of lightning illuminate the inside of my tent directly after the deafening thunder subsided each time.
Day 47: Walking with rhinos in Matopos NP
Being the first hostel we'd stayed at with an oven, Lena cooked us a huge batch of Shakshouka for breakfast before we headed off for our game-drive.
We were picked up by Ian, our safari guide in Matopos National Park, and probably the most passionate person I have ever met. Ian explained to us how he grew up exploring Matopos as a child and the daily challenges he faces against rhino poaching. As we drove into the park, we could see the aftermath of an intentionally lit fire, which left 20% of the park blackened and destroyed. As the fire burned as a distraction, poachers snuck into the park at night from another side and killed 2 rhinos. We heard so many stories of what these low-lifes will try just to score a rhino horn, ranging from fires, sneaking into the boot's of tourist's cars or posing as rangers for months... all to kill an innocent animal and sell their horn on the black-market for a few $1000's. I felt sick to my stomach as Ian explained that as hard as they try with conservation, they are losing the fight due to lack of resources. We weren't even allowed to post photos with a geo-tag, because poachers now use social media to track where in the park a rhino was last spotted. I could go on and on about how enraging the whole poaching situation is, but I'd rather just show you how beautiful these creatures are.
Once deep into the park, we pulled the jeep over and got out for a nature walk and some rhino trekking. We hiked through tall grasses and thick bush, following rhino tracks that came to no end. We circled back to the jeep, and just as we were about to give up and drive to a new location, we crossed the dirt road onto the other side of the bush and spotted 2 big, beautiful lumps in the distance. My heart was racing as we quickly, but carefully edged closer to mumma and baby. Ian wanted to show us just how gentle rhinos are, as long as they aren't provoked and we put our total trust in him to get up close and personal. I'm talking like 7 metres close. After we'd taken a sufficient amount of excited photos, we just sat and watched the duo serenely for what felt like an eternity, but also sped by in a flash. We were so close that I could hear them chewing the grass, see the unique grooves in their skin, and the way their ears would twitch if flies were getting too annoying. I could have watched them forever, but eventually we had to leave them in peace.
I was on a high for the remainder of the day, never in a million years did I think I would wake up that day and be in such close proximity to two rhinos, unrestrained, no fences, just going about their business. We stopped by some local market vendors in the park and I got my souvenir shop on!
Some of the crew paid for an optional visit to Cecil Rhode's grave, and the rest of us were escorted back to the hostel. With a few hours to kill before dinner still, we walked down to a local golf club to watch the rugby and smash down a few drinks. We had a steak dinner and spent the night reminiscing over the most incredible encounter any of us had ever had in our lifetime that morning.
Day 48: Bulawayo to Victoria Falls
We said goodbye to beautiful Bulawayo and drove on to Victoria Falls. We did a quick tour in the truck of Vic Falls Town and then pitched tent at Shoestring's backpackers.
A brand new restaurant, The Three Monkeys, had just opened in town and 6 of us ladies went out for dinner and drinks. Even though they were still working out the kinks of this new restaurant, the service was unbeatable! The mixologist came over to the table to talk us through the cocktails of the night, of which we ordered a different one each and our waiter went above and beyond! I ordered a trio of meats, which was RIDICULOUSLY huge and scrumptious and my first proper taste of game meat! I think my face says it all!
Day 49: Vic Falls
Seeing as we were going to be in Vic Falls for quite a few days, I took advantage of having a day to myself to walk around the town and do some souvenir shopping. If there is one place in Africa I would say to wait in particular to get your souvenirs it would be Vic Falls! You would think that it would be a huge tourist trap and overpriced, but I was able to barter with the marketeers and found some incredible bargains. Their crafts and woodwork are unbeatable so I pretty much scored all of the souvenirs for my family from this one day!
On the way back from shopping I bumped into Amie and Alanna and joined them to go and actually see the falls! Even though I'd signed up for Devil's Pool and a flight over the falls the next day, I thought it would still be worthwhile paying the entry to the National Park to see it from the other side. Although the falls were in low season and I would love to see it in majestic high season someday, I can see why it is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world...
More of a visual person? Checkout my short destination video of Zimbabwe:
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