Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe –
Because we still had a few days to kill before the truck arrived, Boz arranged for us to go on a full day safari at Hwange National Park, known for its high concentration of elephant and lion. Our safari company was Kalambezi and our two trucks arrived at 6:00 a.m. to pick us up. Tom and Mike were too tired to go, but the rest of us literally crawled out of our tents and got into the trucks. We drove about two hours to Hwange, passing the Botswanan border road on the way. Our truck was sort of like a large metal box with benches. We drove through the dirt roads of Hwange, with our driver going four wheeling around the barricades that said “No Entry”.
In keeping with the theme of the safari we managed to get a flat tire on the way into the park, which took us a bit of time to change. Score: Tires – 3, Engines – 1. Our driver was this white Zimbabwean man in his mid 40’s who also happened to own the Kalambezi company. He was so knowledgeable about all the animals and surrounding area. During our morning drive we saw some giraffe up close, accompanied by a few zebra who were hanging out with them. Ian, our guide, explained that zebra are very social animals and that they usually hang out with other animals for protection.
We drove around the park for a few more hours, but we didn’t see any elephants – only hoofed animals like water buck and impala – lion fodder. It was so hot in this park – it was at least 106 degrees fahrenheit and we were sitting in the back of an uncovered safari truck. When noon rolled around we headed to this campground situated inside the park to take a break for lunch. It wasn’t just hot, it was oppressively hot as we were told we were going to stay in our bungalow at the campsite for a few hours. This safari was another of those luxurious ones where we were served barbecued steak and sausages for lunch with a full spread of salads, bead, etc. We al gorged ourselves then lounged around playing cards and drinking soda during the heat of the day. I turned to Rich at one point and said “This is something our parents might do,” meaning the cushiness of the whole thing, but then it sank in that this was something I had planned for myself. Fabulous. It was really relaxing doing this totally high class safari for the day.
When 3:00 p.m. rolled around we headed back into the park in search of elephants. We didn’t see that many animals for the first hour or so (it was just too hot for them as well), but then I spotted an elephant off in the distance making its way through the trees. We kept going, as Ian was taking us to a watering hole where the elephants usually hang out. On our way over we spotted the elephants, about fifteen to eighteen of them, all walking in a line across the road towards the watering hole. We came driving up towards them in our vehicle and one of the younger males saw us approaching at quite a fast pace, so in an effort to protect his herd he began charging our safari vehicle.
Ian threw the truck into reverse as Rich and I jumped down off the seats we’d been standing on. I did manage to snap a photo of the charging beast, but before the elephant got close enough to the car to be truly dangerous it stopped and snorted at us. Ian explained it’s just a scare tactic – when they’re really coming for you they’ll put their ears back and roll their trunk up. We sat and watched these elephants for quite a while – it was so amazing being this close to these wild animals. At one point one of the elephants wasn’t fifteen feet (if not closer) to our truck, just checking us out.
The elephants headed off into the trees and Ian started the vehicle up and we went towards the watering holes where the pachyderms were headed. There’s an actual viewing bungalow situated right next to the water, but by the time wed arrived there the elephants were right behind us, and a few more in the area in front of the viewing bungalow so we had to sit in our open air truck while the herd passed around us. The second the last elephant passed we all ran to the viewing bungalow to watch them water themselves. We watched them drink and spray water everywhere – this experience was so different from anything else I’d seek. This was so natural – so real to watch.
We were watching a herd of females when on the opposite side of the water a huge bull elephant with huge curled tusks came lumbering over for a drink. He went down and saw the females, but he was very suspicious of the bungalow we were situated in; he couldn’t decide if there were humans in it or not. Eventually he decided not and came to the water directly across from where we were standing. I got some amazing photos of the bull drinking with his reflection in the water below.
It was getting late and beginning to get dark so Ian said it was time for us to leave. We’d lost the other truck throughout the course of the day and Ian was concerned they might be lost in the park, so we went for a thirty minute drive through at dusk looking for them. We couldn’t find them, and now it was completely dark so it was time for us to make the two and a half hour drive back to Vic Falls. We’d been driving through the park for a while and were nearing the Botswanan border road when we saw this thing in the bushed that sided up to the road. This thing had gone down on its haunches and was just watching our truck approach. When we got in sight or it (about 15 feet away from the headlights) we realized it was a large male lion just staring down the vehicle. He was a big male with a full mane and absolutely no fear of our truck. After deciding that staring into the headlights wasn’t too fun he began to walk off into the bush, Ian turned the truck so we could see the beast walking away into the night. We’d already has the most spectacular game viewing day, but this just topped it all off.