For a detailed trip itinerary, click here or for more info on the company that runs it (African Trails) visit:

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Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Zimbabwe - Harare, lion kills, lion walks and lion cubs in Antelope Park, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls

So, AK and I finally touched down in Zimbabwe at Harare Airport. We were ‘greeted’ into the country by a group of about 100 men and women in traditional get-up who had just completed an African Choir tour of South Africa. They were all outside the airport singing beautiful gospel music and it was a great feeling to be back in real Africa again. We hopped in a cab and met the guys at the Small World Backpackers where they were already starting a drinking session which we happily joined in with! We got our first chance to meet all the ‘Newbies’ who we had picked up in Cape Town. We have Kerry and Matt, a couple from New Zealand, Jen and Jules, another couple (Jen from Scotland and Jules from NZ), Pat and Ish who are friends from Sydney, Kenji from Hawaii, Ronald from Holland and Gab from Italy. So a great mix of guys and immediately the atmosphere was awesome.

We stayed in Harare just the one night (managing to pick up our Ethiopian Visas in the space of a couple of hours!) and jumped back on Ruby (back to truck life finally!!) to head towards Bulawayo. Marjane took us to a little known place called Antelope Park. This is a National Park where they are in the middle of a lion preservation and breeding program. One of the park staff sat us down and explained that the decline of numbers of wild lions in Africa has increased dramatically in the last 10 years. To the point where there are only 8 wild lions left in Ghana. In the last 10 years, the number in the whole of Africa has fallen from 200,000 to only 10,000 (or something along those lines). So the guys at the park are breeding and releasing the lions to send to different countries to replenish the population. There was a whole load of activities on offer for the 2 days we were there so everyone got stuck in and did as much as possible.

Elephants passing through camp to the water

First thing was the lion walk (65USD as at August 2010). I didn’t actually participate in this, but AK and a few others went out early in the morning and walked with 3 adolescent lions for a couple of hours. They are not tame, but they’re only at stage one on the road to being released into the wild. The guys got to walk alongside them, stroke them and sit next to them as they lounged on the rocks. It was an amazing experience for them to be so close to these animals with one of the fiercest reputations in the country.

AK with his beating stick (just in case...)

We then went to see the baby lions (25USD) which were possibly the cutest animals I have ever seen!! There are 3 of the tiny lions, they were about 2 months old. When we first arrived they were being pretty lazy just chewing on some bones and lying in the shade of their ‘kennel.’ But after a while they started walking around and we were able to stroke them and rub their bellies. It seems strange that within a few years these adorable semi-tame creatures will be stalking prey in the savanna lands somewhere.

The other activity I had a go at was the elephant ride. The park has four resident elephants which have been rescued from various places and are used to make more money to put towards the lion program. Kay, Ronald and I went off for a couple of hours through the park on the back of our elephants where we got within a few metres of some grazing giraffes. It was just cool to be able to see other wildlife from such a high vantage point and so close up without them even noticing that we were there.

View of a shy giraffe from the elephant

As I was feeding my elephant some treats a sneaky trunk appeared from behind - note the giant tusk jabbing into my arm!


Loving the helmet!

On the first night Son, AK, Jen, Jules, Kay and I decided to pay a bit extra and go out on a "Night Lion Encounter" (95USD). There are 4 lions which are at the next step towards release, and they are able to go out into the park every few nights to practice their hunting skills. On the night encounter you go out in a safari truck and follow the lions with the hope of seeing a kill. Unfortunately we caught them in a tired and grumpy state and they spent the whole evening trying to fight with other lions in the enclosure and then lying down in the road refusing to move. The highlight of the night for us was when the lioness tried to chase a very small rabbit! The truck sped along after her as she was chasing, almost throwing some of us out of the car, but sadly the rabbit was just too quick and got away. So pretty exciting if not what we had hoped to see...! We were really lucky though as the guys offered to take us out the next night  (for free!) to see if we could do any better. By the second night they reckoned the lions hadn’t eaten in 5 days and they would send out a couple more lions with them to see if that would help.

Being lions...?!?!

So off we went again the next evening following the 4 lions (2 boys, 2 girls). Within about 5 minutes we stumbled across a lone zebra standing literally 2 metres off the side of the road (and no, it was not tied to a tree waiting for us!) Suddenly the lions all hit the floor and starting to stalk the zebra. It hadn’t even noticed they were there until they raced towards it. Our crazy driver launched the truck off the road so we could see better as they all pounced on top of the the zebra who started to run away far too late and only made it about 3 feet before it was brought to the ground. By this point we were all shouting and screaming in excitement. One of the females had it’s teeth clamped around it’s prey’s neck to try to kill it, but the males couldn’t contain themselves and proceeded to start trying to take bites out of this poor creature’s back.

The guys had warned us before we left that it might not be like you see it on documentaries where they kill the animal first before tucking in. This zebra was making horrific noises as the lions took their first bites. The first part they go for is the privates which really is terrible to watch. We couldn’t even tell if the zebra was male or female as they had chomped through whatever was there and were ripping open it’s backside all the while avoiding kicks from it’s back legs. It was so hard to watch but at the same time totally gripping and amazing to see it from about 10 feet away. Eventually the zebra gave up and died as they ate into it from the back until the guts started to fall out the back. We were able to watch for a good 20 minutes before the rangers were going to take the kill away and take it back to their pen so they could finish it off. We weren’t able to watch them try to pry the kill away from 4 hungry lions...but we did see lots of flashing headlights and heard the beeping of the horn in the distance as we drove off. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen and I just can’t believe how lucky we were to see it. We decided to do the obvious trick of pretending to the rest of the group we hadn’t seen anything. We were doing a pretty good job at convincing them until Kay just couldn’t contain herself any longer and screamed out at the top of her voice ‘We saw a fXXking lion kill!!’ Game over but an absolutely amazing night all round.

Licking away the skin to get into the good stuff

Head right in there - poor zebra, so humiliating

Next and final stop in Zim was Victoria Falls. We drove through to our hostel which was called Shoestrings (coincidentally the same hostel AK stayed when he visited Zim 10 years ago.) it was a proper travellers' haven with a couple of other overland trucks parked up too. We had a chilled night having a few drinks, sampling some of the local beer, 'Chibuku'. (I will entertain you with some drunken snaps below...)

The girls doing some 'dancing!' (Me, Kerry, Kim and Sonya)

Dave and AK with the bottles of Chibuku (the boys managed to get through 20 litres of the stuff that night!!)

Son and me in a rare photo where we're both smiling  (I can't count how many times we've been asked if we're sisters...can you see it?!)


Son, Marjane and Jen posing in their own special ways
The next day Son, AK, Ish, Jen, Jules and I signed for the "Adrenaline Day" where you would spend all day at part of the Vic Falls gorge throwing yourself into the abyss in several different ways until you couldn’t take any more! (Apologies some of these photos have such a blue tint, something wrong with the camera that day, but we can fix these photos when we get the chance!)

The view from the top - SCARY!

Having our briefing sitting above the gorge

Jules, Son, Ish, Jen, me & AK
We rolled up, got our harnesses put on and were lead to the first (and easiest.......) activity of the day: "The Flying Fox". This involves being tied onto a harness on your back, running down a platform and hurling yourselves head first into the gorge with arms stretched out in flying position. It is just so hard for me psychologically to physically run and jump into nothing so I freaked myself quite a lot before hand! But it was awesome fun in the end to be able to fly along looking down at the water below.

Scared?? Or excited??!
Too scared to I attempted a slight jog and stopped at the end in pure terror


Smiling on the outside, holding on for dear life on the inside

Ish loving the adrenaline
Next up was the "Zip Line" where you sit in your harness by yourself or in tandem and then drop you down into the gorge on a line. You zoom down to the bottom reaching a top speed of about 140km per hour. This was less scary for me for some bizarre reason! And AK and I went down together screaming all the while, temporarily leaving your stomach at the top while your body reached the bottom. We were greeted by the smell of a rotting dead hippo and the bottom which was an added bonus! The other guys enjoyed the zip line too as it was fun but there was no throwing yourself in involved.

Ish and Son doing a tandem zipline - this was the scariest part hanging there before they let you go

AK and I getting ready to go

Jen and Jules on their way back up the zip line

Not like the 3rd venture.....This was called the "Gorge Swing". It is similar to bungy jumping in that you jump off a platform, but this time the harness is around your middle and as you jump you free-fall for a few seconds before the cord catches you a you swing through the gorge to other side and back and forward a few times. It was at this point where I chickened out and couldn’t bring myself to jump. The other guys all had a go, a couple alone and a couple in tandem. Ish and Jules however became totally adrenalin addicted and had a go at the forward jump, the backwards jump and one where you do a handstand on the edge of the platform looking down and the guys pick you up by the legs and drop you in. I’ve never heard such a good shriek as the one Ish let go as he fell!! But I was very proud watching the guys doing it as it looked absolutely terrifying!!

AK preparing to jump into the gorge

Check the fear on this close-up!

Ish attempting the swallow dive (Ish started off being terrified of the gorge swing and ended up doing three jumps!!)

Jules doing the backwards jump - rigid as a board! We love this photo.

After lunch Ish, Ak and I had a go at the abseiling using a basic figure of eight pulley. By the end of it my lack of body strength meant I wasn’t even stopping myself any more and basically fell down the final 10 metres and landed it a heap at the bottom. There was a final option of abseiling down the cliff forwards, but by then we were all wiped out and decided to quit while we ahead and head back. A good day had by all.

Abseiling African style using a rope with a figure of 8 tie, and a glove. Thank god they gave me a helmet!

Me half way down the cliff face
That night a local drumming company came to the hostel and gave a few of us a lesson/jamming session. It was so much fun, the drummers were amazing. They had recently won a contest to become the best drum/dance troop in Zimbabwe and were moving on the African finals. The winner of this would be participating in a worldwide traditional competition the following year so we’ll be keeping an eye out for them!

On the last day everyone headed to the actual falls to walk around and take in the sheer magnitude of the falls. It honestly is just spectacular and it takes your breath away when you see it. It’s so hard to describe how amazing it was to see but hopefully some of the photos will be able to show it better than words can describe it. The sun was shining down on the water and rainbows were shooting out from the depths. At the same time it was like being rained down on in a few of the spots as the spray caught us. We loved it!

Cairnsy - check the replica Livingstone pose from 10 years ago!

Hanging out at "The 'Falls"

Amazing rainbows shooting out of the falls

Yes Kylie! Awe!

Me having a free shower

The crew.

AK lying far too close to the edge!!
Obligatory couple pose!

Next day, off to the other side of the falls in Zambia. AK is going to write the next entry as he was in Zambia 10 years ago so the nostalgia has kicked in!

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