Apologies for the long break – since the last time, I have added a sixth trip back to Lagos to my travels and spent the lat two days recovering from a most ‘misadventrous’ trip to date – suitcases checked out without our knowledge and coming back to our hotel at midnight to find two men ‘sleeping’ in our room, but hey, that’s a story for another day… Now back to the Zimbabwe travel diaries. Day 11 – the road from Victoria Falls to Gweru via Bulawayo.
We leave Victoria Falls behind, checking out at 4am and having to deal with an irate receptionist who has either got up from the wrong side of bed – or most likely, like us, hasn’t slept at all… Armed with our brown bags of packed breakfast not many of us can muster the a[petite to dig into so early in the morning, we hit the road once again. A four hour journey with a 10 minute breakfast break which unsurprisingly (by Zimbabwean standards) stretches out to 30 minutes and leaves our generally easy-going driver Alec less than pleased, we reach our first stop Bulawayo (Yes, we love Bulawayo so much we want to come back again and again and again!) to get gas and pick up Pascal’s necklace he accidentally left behind on the day of the shoot.
While many on the bus are either asleep or impatient to head back on the road, David and I are on the look out for any interesting sight or people to shoot. By the end of our 30-minute wait in downtown Bulawayo, I have photographed so many images of Bulawayo beauties out and about that I reckon David begins to question my sexual orientation. But hey, as he would vouchsafe (One word, David: Lizzy!) Bulawayo ladies deliver when it comes to looks!
With plenty of images of pretty girls and cute kids on a roll and the tank full up, once again we’re back on the road. Another two hours and around midday we reach the misleadingly named Gweru Antelope Park – let’s just say, if you were expecting to find a handful of antelopes and be bored to tears, you will be pleasantly surprised to find Gweru Antelope Park 8km from Gweru in Zimbabwe Midlands offers much more than that.
With emerald grass stretching beyond us and the shimmering blue waters of the lake, Gweru Antelope Park looks a picture-perfect paradise. Attention to detail and personal touch are evident from the hospitality team that welcomes us by the reception with a ‘song and a dance’ (quite literally!) and cold drinks to the buffet lunch already served and table laid out for us in the thatched dining room overlooking the lake. Our host, the park’s UK representative Danial Matthews within minutes strikes us as the “host with the most” keen to entertain, enlighten and ensure our creature comforts are met.
Forsaking lunch in favour of elephants viewing, I make my way to the lakeside for an impromptu elephant interaction – after all, by now, elephants and I go way back… to Victoria Falls. And before you know it, the ‘bushwoman’ in me is alive and kicking – perhaps not yet pulling lions’ tails to see what they would do, but most certainly getting up close and personal with elis. At one point, much to designated photographer David’s horror, my head seems to be in precarious proximity with an elephant tusk. Well, as I said, we go way back, pachyderms and I.
On my return from the elephant interaction, I come across a big cat lounging in the sun, oblivious to the action around him. No, contrary to expectations, it is not a lion, but his much smaller and tamer distant cousin Fat Cat. While Fat Cat is certainly not on the skinny side, thinking back to my very own fat cat at home who is about three times the size of Fat Cat, I feel slighted on the poor kitty’s behalf.
Following lunch, we make our way to our rooms which in my case was a river tents – a large, East African-style en suite tent furnished with indigenous teak furniture all made at Antelope Park, overlooking an inlet of the lake. After a quick shower, while getting ready for the night encounter, I see the elephants I had earlier interacted with cross the lake and disappear into the dusky shadows.
Another personal touch as we all – with the exception of Henry who is falling ill with first signs of malaria – arrive at the presentation room for a briefing on Antelope Park and ALERT is the personalised folders which contain all the information we need about the work done here at the park with lions: a groundbreaking four-stage rehabilitation and release into the wild programme which aims to offer a part solution to the decline in wild lion population (80% decline in less than 30 years) by releasing the offspring of captive lions back into the wild as self-sustaining prides.
It is often said that only ten in every million people will ever see a lion kill – and after a two and a half hour drive around the game park in pursuit of the three Ks and any game they are likely to find in freezing temperatures (“This is Africa, for goodness sake!” I mumble while borrowing our guide’s wooly hat and covering up with two blankets), we understand why. David beside me is glued to his camera with waning hope that a kill may just miraculously come about, Richard is patiently scouring the landscape with his torch and Marc, I suspect, has fallen asleep behind us. We return three hours later, with not even a hint of action and our exposed body parts in desperate need of warming up.
Dinnertime at the dining room makes it evident just how popular a destination Antelope Park is. There seems to be at least 20 others around the fire by the dining room and scattered around the yard – the most we have encountered in any one place during our road trip. We are by now so accustomed to being on our own under the dark starry skies of Zimbabwe’s countryside and interacting mainly with elephants, some of us feel rather traumatised by the encounter with different groups of loud humans.
Dinner is followed by an hour’s battle on our laptops as, after days of internet withdrawal, we set out to overdose on the complimentary wifi connection, courtesy of Danial, which would have otherwise cost $8 an hour and doubtless led one of us at least to have a mental breakdown at not having been able to send even a single email after coughing up eight precious dollars we could have spent on various tips here and there.
Battle over, I head to bed. This is the earliest we have ever got to sleep and it seems the most restless sleep some are likely to get as tomorrow awaits us with the promise of taking a a walk on the wild side before we head back to Harare on what will be our last day of the road trip through a world of wonders.