Let's take a walk through a brand new day.
Part 8: African Adventure 2022
Painted Dog Conservancy and Hwange National Park.
The day had finally come…our African Safari was about to commence. On the way to the Painted Dog Conservancy which was our first stop of the day, we passed a lady on the side of the road selling Bird Plum and Baobab Fruit. Our guide wanted us to taste each of them so she asked the driver to stop and she purchased some. They were both tasty and the baobab fruit has more Vitamin C than an orange. Pictures of the fruit are below.
We made our way to the Painted Dog Conservancy to learn about the plight of the dogs. They are very reclusive and of course run in packs but are currently endangered. The dogs are despised by the locals because they kill and eat livestock when there is not enough food. This causes the locals to teach their children to also despise the dogs. The conservancy was started to teach the children the truth about the animals through storytelling. The center is so well done and the story that is told through murals on the wall would touch any human’s heart. Each elementary age child has training in the center and then observe two painted dogs in captivity that will never be able to be released into the wild due to their injuries from snares. It was heartbreaking to watch the animals there but we learned that almost all of the animals brought into the center ARE released back into the wild and do very well. They are beautiful creatures and certainly deserve a fair chance at life.
Next, it was off to Ivory Safari Lodge near Hwange National Park via open-topped safari jeeps so that we could look for game on the way. We had high hopes of seeing the Big Five and unbelievably we got to see 4 of the big 5 in one park! We were also very lucky because our guide is a lion expert. He is actually the lion expert who put the collar on Cecil and was part of the team who found Cecil’s collar after he had been murdered. For those who don’t know of Cecil, I’ll relay the story. Cecil was a beautiful huge male lion believed to be the largest in Africa. A dentist from the USA wanted to hunt and kill him. Animals cannot be killed in the National Park which is where Cecil made his home by choice. So, this dentist hired poachers to lure him with fresh killed animals to JUST OUTSIDE the national park and that is where Cecil met his death. Was it legal to shoot him outside the park? Yes. But, the bigger question is was it ethical. In my mind that is a big NO! The dentist thought that his money could buy him anonymity but he wasn’t as smart as he thought. After the lion was killed, they took the battery out of Cecil’s collar and buried it so no one would ever know what was done. Well, they weren’t smart enough to know that there are TWO batteries in every collar. So, our guide and another tracker found the collar and uncovered the story.
We saw so many animals that day: zebra, giraffe, elephants, bushboks, impalas, buffalo, springbok, a secretary bird, and too many other birds to mention.
As the sun began to set, we experienced a tradition on African Safaris…a sundowner. At sunset, no matter where you are, the safari vehicles stop and set up a mini cocktail party. The traditional drink is gin and tonic but guests can choose their drink of choice. Snacks of biltong (dried meat), nuts, dried fruit, popcorn, etc are laid out and everyone enjoys celebrating sunset. It’s a great tradition and allows everyone time to enjoy a little social hour.
Our game drive concluded at the lodge where we checked in to thatched roof rondovals. Ours came with a chameleon that came and went through the walls. Another couple had a bush baby that came and went in their hut. Wildlife is truly wild in Africa! The lodge was set right on a watering hole so we watched all the animals come up to the water to drink. It was so cool to be sitting on the front porch and watch the beautiful elephants, impalas, monkeys, etc just walk right by the room. There was also a blind where we could sit to be even closer to the animals….so close you could reach out to touch them. Of course, we didn’t because they are wild animals and need to remain so. Our rooms all had beds with mosquito netting and rooms were prepared for guests by draping the beds in netting and lowering the shades over the windows to keep mosquitos out. There is no electricity after 7pm so any charging needs to be done before that. We could choose to retire to our rooms after dinner or sit by the fire or in the blind to watch the animals. We loved Ivory Lodge. Sleeping with the breeze blowing through made for a peaceful night’s sleep. But, it was up early and on to the safari vehicles for a 6am safari drive the next morning. Or so we thought…
As we were all getting ready for bed with some in pajamas, some in the shower, etc, we heard our guide outside saying “We have spotted a pride of lions. If you want to see them, the safari vehicles are leaving NOW.” So I quickly stripped out of night clothes and into day clothes and coats and gloves and ran to the vehicle. Wow! Am I ever glad I did! We got to observe 7 lions as they crossed near our camp. They were beautiful! Lesson learned…always be ready for a safari drive because the best ones are often sudden and impromptu!
The following morning, bright and early, we grabbed some light breakfast and hopped into the jeeps. It was quite cold out especially while driving down the highway, so we donned warm parkas they had for us and we wore our face masks to keep our faces warm. This time we actually entered the national park and continued some 50km into it where we were met with a very special surprise. Our guide knew where Cecil’s son, Humba, often like to spend his afternoons sleeping in the grass. What a beautiful sight he was when he revealed himself. At first, we could only see him in the prone position as he slept in the sunshine. Then, as if on cue, he stood, showed us a big yawn, walked about 10 steps in his grand posture, turned around and went right back to his napping spot. What a magnificent creature! Nothing the rest of the day could beat that sighting even though we saw many more animals and dozens of bird species and had another delightful sundowner as the sun set in the west.
We stayed at Ivory Lodge one last night. The last morning we had a leisurely breakfast before cramming back into a van to head back up the Vic Falls Road, and out to the border into Botswana to visit Chobe National Park. We couldn’t wait to see what awaited us there.