Story and photos by Barbara Angelakis
Additional photos by Manos Angelakis
Zimbabwe Sojourn, Part III
Hwange National Park Zimbabwe Africa
In their haunting 1965 song, Simon & Garfunkel sang of “The Sounds of Silence”. On my recent trip to Zimbabwe I was reminded of those words as we drove along the rutted dirt road in Hwange National Park. It was early morning and bitter cold in the winter month of June and the silence was almost a physical presence as we peered into the darkness searching for animals.
Hwange has one of the largest elephant populations in Africa - known as the Presidential Herd â“ and we were hoping to catch a sighting. Finally at first light we spotted an individual bull elephant crossing the roadâ¦ then out of nowhere we were surrounded by the herd skirting our vehicle. From huge matriarchs to babies, they passed close by us, hardly giving us a second look. Elephants do seem to have a sense of humor as well as long memories since they indicated their distain at our being an obstacle in their path by dumping their load on the road in front of us which we were forced to drive through once they had passed.
Laughing we proceeded, and as we turned a corner our driver slowed and just up ahead we spotted first one little head, then two and then five lion cubs playing by the side of the road. We stopped so as not to frighten them and watched as they, with the natural curiosity of babies, came to us. A few hung back but one especially brave male headed straight for our vehicle. Concerned that his mother would not take kindly to this fraternization we backed away, and knowing that she would be close by her cubs, we circled around and sure enough we found not only her but her mate Jericho as they were taking their morning constitutional.
It is unusual to see a male and female lion walking side by side like an old married couple and as we watched them our guide explained who they were. Jericho and Cathy (his main squeeze) were members of the Cecil pride. Cecil with his dark bushy mane was purported to be the largest lion in Africa but was shot and killed last year in an infamous incident by an American Dentist out for trophy. Jericho and Cecil were buddies and shared the harem of six females including Cathy. Once Cecil was gone, Jericho was challenged by the younger and more aggressive BuBesi, who now is the leader of the pride.
Fortune smiled on us because the next night as we were returning to our bush camp we rounded a corner and stopped short. Right in front of us was BuBesi slowly strolling up the road. We could not believe that the sound of the expedition vehicle nor its bright lights utterly unfazed the huge lion... he just continued his slow ramble... clearly showing us who was boss. After a while he tired of the game and sat down on the side of the road to glare at us as we cautiously drove by.
During the day drive we saw water buffalos, zebras, élan, kudu, antelope, jackals, ostrich, baboons cavorting in the road, any number of birds, but no leopards. Our guide assured us they were there and even if we could not see them they surely were seeing us. At dusk we drove to one of the watering holes to see massive dark lumps in the water which were hippos cooling themselves. One particularly enchanting episode was a Mother hippo bringing her baby out of the water to teach it to yawn. Later that evening, we spied the hippos’ huge hulks on land where the pod had come to graze after the heat of the day.
Hwange is the largest national park in Zimbabwe but not the only national treasure. Zim shares Victoria Falls with Zambia much like Niagara Falls is shared by the U.S. and Canada. However Vic Falls is many times the size and power of Niagara and is considered to be the largest falls in the world. Mosi-o-Tunya “The smoke that thunders” as local tribes refer to it, was “discovered” in 1855 by the famous African explorer and missionary, David Livingstone, who considered it only as an obstacle in his path. Years later he condescendingly acknowledged its power and beauty. Vic Falls has become a popular tourist destination on both sides of the Zambezi River and arena for extreme adventures. There is bungee jumping or bridge swinging from a 330 foot high bridge over the river where Batoka Gorge has one of the world’s wildest whitewater rides. If you prefer your thrills orchestrated by a professional you can take a helicopter ride over the falls or join an elephant water-safari.
Zimbabwe (formerly known as Rhodesia, named after British Imperialist Cecil John Rhodes) is in south-central Africa with a land mass slightly smaller than California. Flanked by Botswana to the west; Zambia on the north; Mozambique to the east; Namibia along the Caprivi Strip; and South Africa on its southern border. Remains of early humans date as far back as 500,000 years but records, dating back to 200 B.C., indicate that the earliest settlers were the Khoisan people. There was a succession of different groups from the Bantu, Shona, Nguni and Zulu, to the Ndebele, which still populate the area along with the Shona.
For travel information to Zimbabwe see: www.zimbabwetourism.net
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