After lunch and a bit of vegging out, Marlene took me out for a drive around the local estate. The lodge is literally within the wilderness – surrounded by trees with a local waterhole. Beyond the trees there are some more open grassy areas (the ‘flay’) followed by more trees and I was able to take photos of some birds like larks and European rollers, and some elephants in the distance. We stopped under some trees for a drink (good local beers) and following some advice to ‘always be prepared’ with my camera, I took it out with me too. And I’m glad I did! Mid-beer, a whole herd of elephants came through the trees and dusky red sunlight towards us. It was wonderful. We moved closer to the car so that we were not too exposed, and the elephants seemed very comfortable to get very close to us. My impression was that they were friendly, I didn’t feel scared – well, maybe a little. In a very respectful way! They took their time in moseying-through our patch of trees, there were around 35 in total.
That evening, I joined the other guests at the lodge for dinner – a group of ten people travelling from the US who were in their sixties and beyond! I happen to really like older people, especially the cool ones who enjoy travelling. They are an inspiration to me. This bunch was lovely and very friendly.
That night as I got ready for bed… I noticed the hugest friggin’ spider on the wall above my bed. He was almost as big as the flask of water by my bed. (This may be a slight exaggeration)
I think all animals and insects are amazing in their own special way – but for some reason spiders really freak me out. There was no AC so it was already kind of warm, but I was really sweating now. I guess a small blessing is that it was outside the mosquito net and not inside. Fortunately the spider didn’t like the sound of my book bouncing on the mattress and ran away… in to the bathroom. Great. I made sure the net was tucked securely under the mattress thus creating a formidable spider/human barrier before I finally fell asleep.
I decided to call that spider Fred in the hope that giving it a name would make him less scary. I do still wonder if Fred was freaking out as much as I was about about the huge human in his rondovel.
I had a morning and afternoon game drive lined up with Roy who picked me up at 5.30 am. Roy’s a nice guy and very knowledgeable. He told me about the lion and elephant tracks that we saw on the sandy paths. These drives were on the private concession land – between the lodge and Hwange National Park. One of the differences, compared to being in the National Park itself, is that there is no requirement to stay on the paths. So if we spotted buffalo in the distance that happened to be on the other side of the flay, Roy would just turn off the path and drive into the grass to get to the right place.
That afternoon was memorable for me. After watching a herd of around 40 elephants by one of the water holes, Roy drove under some nearby trees and parked. Soon after, the elephants turned towards the trees and headed straight towards us. Roy explained that the elephants really like to eat the fallen pods. What surprised me was how close they came, within a metre of us. Roy pointed out how trusting they were to come so near, especially given there were also some very small baby elephants within the herd. What surprised me even more was that some of the elephants faced us and seemed to raise their trunks to us, like they were greeting us. I asked Roy about this later, he told me that this is also what elephants do with each other – to smell each other and in greeting. I was really impressed by how friendly, inquisitive and intelligent these elephants were, to want to interact with us. I think animals are much more intelligent than we humans give them credit for and I was really touched to experience this with wild elephants. Obviously these elephants had built up trust with the local people to be so trusting and friendly. They are by no means tame, they are wild herds that roam the lands and are not fed or helped by people.
That evening, Brian and Marlene invited me and a couple of other girls who’d arrived in the morning to join them at a ‘braii’ barbecue with some of their friends. We took some drinks with us and had a great time! I was also grateful for the opportunity to meet more people who lived locally, especially the researchers as I love listening to biology chat. One of them assured me that wall spiders are not poisonous. We got back at about midnight.
The pick up for Sunday morning was considerately planned for 6.30 am given the late night. The morning drive was with a different safari guide in to Hwange National Park. This guide was friendly and professional, but not especially enthusiastic or jovial. Or a joy to be with. As I’m not a fan of slating nice people in a public forum, let’s call him ‘T’. T drove us in to Hwange National Park, which was about 30 minutes away.
This was a spectacularly uneventful game drive. No interesting animals on the way there, some birds while there, a few zebra, and lion tracks but no lions. I’ve heard this happens sometimes – game drives with no game. I wasn’t sure if it was actually bad luck or T. Or both. Hmph! We saw two elephants on the drive back to the lodge. This was also not very exciting after all the wonderful elephants I’d already seen. I felt quite disappointed with this drive – for the lack of game and the lack of good company!
I was relieved that my afternoon drive was with Roy again – proven to be good guide and good company. We headed off and drove around… and saw nothing. We headed towards the forest and drove around by the ponds… and saw nothing! Hm! We did stop for a beer and admired the lack of animals. So it really can happen, days with no interesting wild animal sightings. I was relieved that this wasn’t my only day of safari on this holiday as that would have been very unfortunate!
As we headed back we went to one of the waterholes where there are often elephants. We found a group of people, including Brian and Marlene, tracking a collared lion. We also saw there was a lone buffalo sitting by the waterhole. This was very odd behaviour as they are usually in a herd and stay together. We guessed the buffalo was wounded and we knew there were lions nearby, perhaps the perfect formula to watch a lion kill? Unfortunately nothing happened and it was getting dark, so we decided to go back to the lodge and check in the morning.
But we couldn’t wait that long. So on my last night at the lodge I was thrilled to go on a night drive! Brian and Marlene took me and a few others staying at the lodge in their car to track down the lions. It was pitch black, so we relied on the headlights and a strong torch. The buffalo was nowhere to be seen, but we drove a little further and found a group of lions – one male and a few females. It was so exciting to be so close to them in the dark. We parked about five metres away and watched them for about twenty minutes. This certainly made up for the lack of animals throughout the day!
Back at my room, Fred the spider made an appearance – in the shower. He didn’t seem so scary this time. I set up my tripod, which I had lugged all the way from London and not used once yet, and took a proper photo of him/her.