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Nature Tour Zimbabwe

A traditional appetizer: worms!

Zimbabwe - Sunrise over Lake Kariba

A hippo with calf frequents the camp site and it's unwise to provoke her. In a boat on Lake Kariba one sees hippos and giant lizards. Rafting on the Zambezi rapids one has a stunning view of the canyons. Near Victoria Falls, an elephant blocks the road.

Travelogue: Geja Rijsman
Photos: Geja and Michael Rijsman, Jos Drabbels, Sophia Stein

After a long flight via Nairobi, we land in Harare. We board an enormous SUV on huge wheels. It's a half hour drive to the camping site at 1375 meters.

It turns out that at night it freezes here, someone saw white frost on the tents this morning. Inside the tent it's humid, because there's no ventilation.

Zimbabwe - Baobab

The two of us take a walk around the camping site for one and a half hours. I'm a little afraid to walk between high grass, but the cooks told us yesterday that snakes are hardly active during winter, so I'll keep that in mind. We see some kind of mongoose cross the path ahead of us, but no other animals.

After shopping for groceries, we hit the road. We have to cover a distance of 370 kilometers and they think we can do that in 4 hours in this place?! The surrounding landscape is mountainous and there are grass plains with baobab trees, alternated with forest. The sun sets at 5:30 PM already. We have to get used to that, because in Northern Europe in this time of the year, it's light until after 10 PM.

As we expected, the trip takes much more than four hours. It's a quarter to eight in the evening when we arrive at the camp site in Kariba. Upon our arrival we are warned that a hippo with calf frequents the camping site and that we shouldn't provoke her.

Because it's late already, we go out for dinner. The owners of the restaurant make us laugh, they're both totally drunk. The woman comes to talk at our table all the time, her speech is slurred and she leans over us.

We are less amused when we hear - just before we leave - a car drive away with slipping tires. I guess they don't test drivers for alcohol here. Around eleven we head back to the camping site. I sleep well and fortunately don't have to go to the bathroom. Michael does, but he doesn't see the hippo.

Boating on Lake Kariba

Elephants, hippos and giant lizards

Packing is more work than it was yesterday, because we have to decide what to take on our boat trip. While we're waiting for provisions to be brought on board, we see our first osprey (fish eagle) through binoculars.

We go east on Lake Kariba, more or less along the shoreline. Around 11:30 AM we see animals for the first time, hippos. A moment later we notice two elephants. Every now and then we see an osprey, flying or sitting in a tree.

After a long while we see another elephant, who hides in the brush. We don't understand how the helmsman was able to see it, because we're far from the shore now. When we get closer, we see a wild goat on a rock. It disappears for a moment, returns and then disappears for good. We see two beautiful lizards on rocks nearby, one has a gorgeous, long blue tail.

Zimbabwe - Lake Kariba

The boat turns and makes its way back, struggling against the wind. We hoped that we would enter the nature reserve, but that doesn't happen. The helmsman explains that there is no game here at all. We return to the spot where we saw the elephants and hippos before. There are hippos again, as well as an alligator and impalas.

After a while, the boat docks at a peninsula. We just see a huge lizard sneak off into the water. We can leave the boat, but have to be careful, because this is a hippo island.

At first we don't see them, but then I spot a hippo at the tip of the island. It stands in the water, grazing. It's scary, but also wonderful.

After we've boarded, I see the giant lizard again. At first I take it for a snake, but as soon as it's on land, it turns out to have legs after all. We follow it for a while, as it moves through the high grass and open terrain. The sun slowly sets behind the mountains on the other side of the lake.

It gets chilly in the evening, so we stay inside. Before we turn in, we spend some time on deck, hoping to hear hippos. But there is too much talking going on to be able to hear anything else. We have a close encounter with a bat, which flies around us, increasingly closing in on us.

Zimbabwe - Children in winter clothes

Early in the morning we head back to the marina from the middle of the lake. Everything gets loaded into the SUV and we leave. In the first village we pass, we make a short stop to get provisions.

We enjoy looking at people sitting along the road in this village, like these children in their winter clothes. And we walk around in shorts and T-shirts...

Soon we reach the dam where Lake Kariba flows into the Zambezi river. We cross the border into Zambia.

Victoria Falls

The warthog looks angry and trots off

After a couple of days in Zambia, we return to Zimbabwe. We arrive late in the morning at a camping site in the village Victoria Falls and quickly pitch our tents. We have lunch and do our laundry. I have to stay with the laundry, because there are lots of monkeys on the camping site. I also have to guard the dishes: the monkeys are trying to steal mugs.

When Michael returns, we rent two mountain bikes. We ride toward the Zambezi. We take a wrong turn and end up at a souvenir market. We turn back and try the last road before the river. We go downhill very fast.

Zimbabwe - Elephant on the road

Soon we meet a park guard who tells us we have to be careful because a little ahead of us is an elephant on the road. We keep bicycling, while the guard walks on the side of the road in the bushes. When we get close, he walks over to us and together we walk toward the elephant and look at it from a distance of less than 20 meters.

Cars pass the elephant, which continues to pull leaves off a tree. Suddenly we notice he is standing underneath the big baobab that we were trying to find. Eventually we take our bikes through the bush around the elephant. Back on the main road we take a right and soon see a group of 12 buffaloes on the side of the road.

We pass a heliport and bicycle until we reach the National Park. When we return, we notice that we automatically bicyle on the wrong (left) side of the road. From a distance, I see a black-faced velvet monkey and a little later from close by an impala. Then, next to the road, there are three impalas. I fight my way through thorn bushes to get closer, ripping my T-shirt and my skin.

While we're still standing on the side of the road, we hear noise in the bushes. On my approach, some quails scuttle to the next bush. A little farther we hear a loud noise in the bushes. We stop and Michael walks toward the noise. In a sewer at the bottom of the roadside, a warthog is routing. Michael scares it when he appears at a distance of only one meter above it. The warthog looks angry and trots off.

Zimbabwe - Warthog

This morning we go rafting. An old bus takes us to our point of departure. We receive instructions and then each get a wetsuit, life jacket and hard hat. A long descent takes us to the boat. Clement gives ample instruction and then we have to practice: forward, stop, back row, left turn, right turn.

And then we have to show what we just learned in front of a video camera, at the end we have to jump off the boat. Two of us are able to climb back by themselves, the others need help. First they push you underwater and then pull you up in the boat, by the shoulderstraps of your life jacket.

Now we finally go rafting. We sail downriver on the Zambezi via rapids 11-24. Every time, Clement explains beforehand what kind of rapid is coming up and what we should do. One is too dangerous and we have to walk while Clement manoeuvers the boat over the rapid. We climb steep rocks with our paddles in our hands.

Just before the end we have to swim across an ice-cold pond. And then we have to paddle with all our might to get the boat out of the cove. The so-called "washing machine" is the only really wild rapid. Once we collude with a wave and all of a sudden I sit in the middle of the boat. Apart from that, it's fun, the view of the canyons is wonderful. But it's not really spectacular.

After lunch we still have a few easy rapids to take and then we're at th finish. Climbing up is terrible. We drank too little and I get dizzy during the steep climb in a wetsuit and life jacket with hard hat and a paddle in my hand. We take a break every so often and arrive last.

We get on the bus to go back to Victoria Falls. Soon the bus stops because the transmission is broken. It's scalding hot, but fortunately it's fixed quickly.

In the evening we go out for dinner. We have a traditional appetizer with worms! We both try one: they taste like deep-fried mud. Our main course is a delicious ostrich steak.

We are exhausted and want to go to sleep, when we hear there is an elephant on our camp site. And indeed, a huge elephant stands at the entrance. He doesn't seem happy about all those people around him and charges at us, ears flapping. Then he continues to pull branches off trees. Eventually he is on his way again, in the direction of the railway tracks, and we can enter the camping site.

It's not cold at all and we sleep well. I awake around 1 AM when I hear a branch breaking and some grazing. Apparently the elephant has returned. I go to the bathroom, but I don't see the elephant. Later a couple tells us that it was so close to their tent that they had to move it (the tent, not the elephant). The elephant made a big mess, the site is covered with trees it pulled out tonight.

Zimbabwe - Impalas

We get up early for a walk. We hike toward the heliport and soon see a few impalas. A little farther we leave the paved road and take a narrow path. The baobabs here and there between the bushes are pretty. Michael finds a foot print of a feline.

Immediately after that, I think I see a warthog, but it has a long dark tail. Even thought we don't get a good look, we conclude it must have been a hyena. We hike for two hours in the savannah and see many impalas.

We also see a go-away bird, many guinea fowl and a few buffaloes. The buffaloes approach us a little too close. All of a sudden we stand face to face with a buffalo that was hiding in the bush. He takes a step toward us, so we quickly step back and make a huge outflanking movement.

A little later we see a different group of buffaloes at a greater distance and we carefully move around them. After our "hiking safari" we visit the market. A lot of wooden and stone sculptures and annoyingly persistent salesmen.

The journey continues in: Zambia, Botswana and Namibia
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