Hello FAB Ones! On yet another drizzly and dreary UK weekend, I look back on the memories of Zimbabwe and how fitting is it that Day 8 marks the turn in the weather as the rainy season makes an appearance yet spoils our sunny mood as we travel through Hwange, go on an early evening game drive and chill out at our very own residence seemingly thousands of miles away from the hustle and bustle and the daily worries of another world far far away.
Hwange, I am told, is the last post before the cherry on Zimbabwe’s tourism cake that is Victoria Falls. Home to the largest national park in Zimbabwe, Hwange National Park, it is also the perfect place to view game.
At the beginning of our 4-hour journey to Hwange, as details regarding our accommodation for the night are still a little too sketchy, we are yet to be pleasantly surprised that it will all turn out perfect in the end granting us the opportunity to stay at a spectacular lodge in the hinterlands of Hwange – but more to come on that later.
After the 6am morning call and a quick breakfast, the first stop on our journey is Bulawayo where we have a little more time to explore the light and airy city we had zoomed past on our way to Matopos two nights before. While Richard, our Cheshire based tour operator from Travel Breeze and Ieva Barkauskeite from Lithuania (named Ieva the Diva later on in the day as a result of her endless demands on strict meal times, air conditioning and of course, as you do in the bush, hot showers!) go off th view a few high end properties, the rest of us get to spend an hour at the National Museum – the second largest museum in southern Africa. An hour certainly doesn’t prove long enough to take in all that is showcased inside from the relics of Zimbabwean history to the diverse animals the country is home to.
A quick detour at the Bulawayo Tourism Office where we have the pleasure of meeting the ever elegant Val Bell and seeing the lovely Lizzy again (At this point, all those of male persuasion amidst us are a little starry-eyed!)
Before leaving Bulawayo behind we also get a chance to look around The Bulawayo Club – once a gentlemen’s club with all the elitist splendour of a bygone era of the British Empire, the grand building now functions as a boutique hotel, as a part of the Amalinda Collection of hotels, where you can experience history in every nook and cranny.
Once again we are back on the road. On this what is the sixth day of our road trip, we are finally at a stage where it suddenly seems too much of an effort to pick up the camera to shoot yet another cow on the road or another rural hut we zoom past. Been there, done that, waiting on new advetures, thank you! And if our last 8 days are anything to go by, Zimbabwe is likely to deliver a new adventure round every bend.
By the time we reach Hwange, evening is fast falling. As we drop off what we now refer to as the ‘German group’ (Germany/Italy/Belgium allied forces, that is, comprising Pascal, Marco, Stefano and the tour leader Collette) and shedding a few from our ‘English group’ (namely Michaela, Pietro and Kwame) at the Sikumi Tree Lodge and meet Marleen Sabeta-Post who greets us with drinks, wet towels and heaps of hospitality, we are treated to an impromptu visit from wildlife as buffalos, baboons and Guinea fowls take turns to have happy hour at the water hole located right in front of the lodge. After going ever so slighlty trigger happy on all these creatures big and small, we are picked up by Peter from the Ivory Lodge who drives us through the Hwange hinterlands towards our accommodation for the night.
Set on its 6000 acre conservancy bordering Hwange National Park deep into the mystical teak forests of Hwange, Ivory Lodge offers exclusive accommodation in the shape of seven luxurious tree houses and two Presidential Elephant Suites which host 18 guests only at any one time, ensuring privacy and personal attention. Ivory’s very own water hole means that you have the chance to get up close and personal – as we all find out within minutes of arriving on the site – with the elephants dropping by for a drink. The manager Rob skips the check-in huha in favour of heading for the hide so we’d be able to catch a glimpse of the elephants. Mere metres away, these pachyderms unwittingly pose for us as we click away – overjoyed and humbled by their gentle grace under the gigantic appearance.
Then it is off to see and claim our rooms but there is no doubt who gets the Presidential Elephant Suite – complete with a jacuzzi – King Richard of Salford obviously. Ivory Lodge is the only accommodation we came across on our tour of Zimbabwe which does not provide lock and key for security, and yet it is one place where you feel completely at ease and sure that your belongings are safe – unless of course a baboon decides to climb into your tree house and make away with your camera to go trigger-happy on you.
After a filling dinner – for once not a buffet – where we savour the food, the venue and the company, we also have the chance to chat to Rob who is originally from England and has only spent a fortnight in Zimbabwe, and he seems to absolutely love his new life here in Hwange. Believe you me, if I found myself amidst wildlife in this beautiful corner of the world, I’d love my life too!
By the end of dinner as humidity and fatigue begin to wear us down, we decide to freshen up the only way we know how when faced with a clean swimming pool (The first time after Musangano!): a quick dip! And boy, is it fresh! Just the right excuse at any rate to warm up by the fire and listen to rob strumming his guitar before we are put through our paces with a quiz on elephants. An elephant lives up to 65-70 years of age on average apparently so my guess of 140 years is way off! And did you know that the heaviest elephant was found in Angola in 1956 and weighed in at a whopping 1800kg? At the end of the late night quiz, we only win one shot of Amarua between the 5 of us but at least we’re well prepped for our elephant encounters and any human encounters with the next unsuspecting person whom we are set to dazzle with our knowledge of elephant trivia!
Another day in Zimbabwe reaches its dreamy end as we soak in the warmth of the fire and cosy up to our blankets and wish this was all there was to life – cool waters of a pristine swimming pool, the sizzling touch of an open fire crackling away, endless black velvet of starry skies above and a make-believe world of magical moments. And yet, there is daylight ahead and a journey to carry on with…by