I sit here at the computer and have no idea where to start. The past few days have been exhausting and wonderful. After the beach weeks we had at zanzibar and lake malawi, it is difficult to get back into the swing of major activity… but by god, we did it!
Harare was hair-raising. There may have been an arrest involved, but I assure you it wasn’t me involved. The full story will be told after we leave Zim. But I will say that everyone is now safely back on the truck, if a little shaken up.
We stopped at Antelope Park (outside of Gweru, Zimbabwe) for four nights. This is where all the true action takes place. Antelope Park is a 3000-acre private game park with a focus on lion conservation. There, we booked our days solid with activities. I swam with elephants which was terrifying and hilarious. Hilary (a fellow Canuck) was my partner and we were the only girl pair to stay on! The elephant tossed and turned in the water at lightning speed but we clung for dear life. After that, I went on a game ride on horseback. Unfortunately what used to be quite a strenuous and exciting ride had been tamed down because of some recent accidents on horseback. But we managed to steal a few canters, and got incredibly close to zebra, wildebeest, impala and ostrich, amongst others. I also got couple of brutal looking scratches on my arm from speeding past an acacia tree (acacia thorns can pierce car tires!) Sore but full of adrenaline, I went right from a horse ride to a lion walk. We walked with three nine-month old cubs, getting to stroke and play with them along the way. Needless to say the pictures are unreal. I will try desperately to get them uploaded, but it’s an exercise in futility at the moment.
The next day I arose early for a morning lion walk. These lions were almost a year old and much bigger. It was quite intimidating. Then we watched some elephant training and got to interact with the elephants. Here Sarah and I got hugged by an elephant and hung off its tusks… so much fun! We also went to cub viewing together, where we rubbed the tummies of some of the most adorable lion cubs. Did I mention that I was sick through all of this? Yes, unfortunately my doxy (malaria pill) didn’t go down properly and was burning my throat… imagine 48-hour heart burn… not pleasant. But there was no way I was missing this day. I rested until nightfall, when I went on a lion stalk. Three of the older lions (between 2 and 3) were released into the game park and we followed them over bushes and anthills as they stalked game. It was one of those surreal true “African” moments. It took an hour and a half before they managed to pull down an ostrich. We watched as they gorged on the poor animal – as these lions are still ‘learning’ to hunt, they didn’t kill their prey before they started eating it. The goal of these night stalks is to teach the lions to hunt on their own so they can be reintroduced to the wild. But the scariest part was yet to come. As the lions have to be put back in their enclosures, the trainers had to pick up the kill (the ostrich) and return it to the cage. Armed solely with dustbin lids, the trainers banged at the lions until they leapt away, at which point another trainer grabbed the ostrich and threw it into the truck (yes, the same truck we were in). The trainers were tense – three lions are hard to keep track of (normall ythey only deal with two). Luckily everything went well and we drove back to the enclosure while the lions followed.
Once they were safely in the cage, we waited for a few seconds in the pitch black. Then began a symphony of roars as all the other lions realized there was fresh meat about. It was the most magical experience so far in Africa. I seem to say that every week. But it is true. It just gets better.