Monday, July 29, 2013

The Land of Giants

 July 24, 2013 (started this post a few days ago...)

Two posts in one week?? Could be one of two reasons, I'm ill or my significant other and partner in crime is out of town...

Aside from a slight hangover from a girls dinner last night... I feel great! So it must be the latter.

My boyfriend stuffs animals for a living. And when it is hunting season, he takes "field trips" to go and collect trophies aka hunted animal skins, skulls, horns, tusks, etc.. in line to be mounted at Trophy Consultants International. Typically taxidermists wait for the products to be sent to them from the safari operators after a certain amount of time. But my clever beau decided that it would cut out a lot of time to just go and collect them himself! Clever, or just an excuse to get out of town and into the bush**, but either way it works. He makes clients happy by speeding up the process, while getting to visit other potential clients in camp who are hunting at the time.

     ** I've been meaning to put this little tid-bit in for a while now. "The Bush" isn't a term that I was very   familiar with before moving to Africa. We call them bushES back home. But it's a totally different thing. It means basically any African setting that is wild. No cities or real roads or cell phone signal or many people (aside from villiages). Just game and trees and mountains and grass and rivers. I know what you thinking, "Isn't that what all of Africa is??" Believe it or not, no.. Although cities are a biiit more spread out than in good ole 'Merica. So think of 'the bush' like 'the forest' or 'the woods' or 'the plains'..**

Anyway, so it's hunting season which means about once a week or so Cuan ventures off into the middle of nowhere to get "work" done. I joke, but he really does work hard putting in a lot of driving hours and getting up at stupid times of the day to go and collect trophies.

This latest trip was a combination of work and play. Cu does a hunting trip every year with a few of his buddies from school, the only time they are all able to get together and run around in the bush and forget about work for a while. So he left Friday the 19th  for a place called Mokore, in the Save Conservancy. Mokore is actually where I shot my first and only African animal! (see below) Beautiful place. Lucky little devil has been there for 5 days now and was supposed to be back today...
But that's where the work comes in. He's off collecting trophies all over the country today and wouldn't be able to make it home before dark.

Another side note: it is extremely dangerous to drive long distances at night here. Highways don't have street lights, dumb dumb people park their cars in the middle of the road with NO LIGHTS on, donkey carts don't have lights, and of course the occasional goat, or cow, or donkey, or impala, or elephant may just decide to cross the road at the wrong time. So its just a given rule. You don't drive at night.

My first Impala! -- at Mokore, 2011

So long story short, I've got some down time to write another story!

As mentioned in my previous post, I got right back into the swing of things after arriving back in Zim... The wedding on Kariba Lake was absolutely beautiful and I had such a fun and exiting time.. Over the next few weeks we did our usual outings on the weekends, entertaining at the house and work somewhere in between. Just a few snapshots..

Sunset cruise on the way to the houseboat for the wedding!
Cooking "Potjie" (poy-kie) on a lazy Sunday. Potjie is an African stew-type dish made in these pots with oxtail or lamb and cooked for hours. This one was oxtail and it was divine! Oh, and to add to the laziness, the mattress came outside with us..

 A few months ago, Cuan needed to go and collect more trophies in the Victoria Falls area so we decided to make a weekend out of it. Luke Terblanche, a good buddy of ours lives up there and is always so welcoming and ready to give us a place to stay on a minutes notice. So we gave him our usual few hour warning before pitching up at his doorstep. And he already had a nice game drive evening planned for us!

But before meeting up with him, we had to do a little work at one of TCI's showrooms in the falls. Which also happens to be at a crock farm! Cu and I took a tour around the place and saw crocodile of all sizes. Those things are scary even behind protective gates.

After settling in at Luke's we loaded the ice chest and hopped in "Arnie" and headed to the Victoria Falls National Park. Arnie could have an entire blog to himself but I'll just humor you with a short description. He is an over-lander (big game viewing vehicle/RV) with a lot of character. Not sure exactly how old it is but you can tell its seen a lot. The inside could sleep 6 people comfortably and it has a great rooftop for game drives and sunsets. This thing is a beast.

So we head out just before sunset and spent a few house in the park. We were able to see elephant, giraffe, and even sable (only second time I've ever seen one). Spent some time on the riverfront eye-level with the great Zambezi River. Its times like that, that I really do appreciate what is right at in my back yard, I have made a promise to myself to never get used to things like that. I don't ever want to take the country I live in for granted.

Now I did mention that I'm not entirely sure how old Arnie is, but he's got a few issues. We had to give him a little downhill push start to get going, and then there was that time we ran out of fuel. In the middle of the park, at the bottom of a hill...

 After a little huffing and puffing and pushing we managed to get it to start again! And allllmost made it back to Luke's house. At least close enough to walk and get the truck to give old Arnie a tow back home. Never a dull moment!

The next day we headed out to Hwange National Park toward Nehimba Safari Lodge, "The Land of Giants." Good friends of ours Martin and Candy Pieters own this lodge set right in the middle of the country's largest National Park. Given its location away from everything, you get to see the most incredible game. Our drive out was exciting in and of itself, the amount of game we saw what insane, and of course I was able to get behind the wheel for a while which is my favorite kind of driving, in the bush.

Cuan has talked about this place since it was being built. Nehimba is just a few years old but has already reached #1 on TripAdvisor for photographic lodges in Zimbabwe. And now I could finally see why! Each chalet is in my opinion (if not officially) a 5 star abode. Inside the room you would not believe you are sitting right in the middle of the African wild. Giant beds, the finest linen and feather duvets, beautiful claw-foot tubs in each room, private outdoor showers for the more adventurous, and a balcony that views the "watering hole" right in front of the camp.

This particular body of water attracts HUNDREDS of elephant to its refreshing shores almost every day. And if that's not replenishing enough the elephant have no problem walking right up to the swimming pool for a drink! They have the area barricaded off with a fence of trees, but given the size of these massive creatures, they can simply dip their trunks over! When I was there it wasn't quite peak season for the elephant to come, so I didn't get to witness this unique event, but from my recent update on the happenings at the camp, the elephant have arrived! And are there to stay for at least a few months.. See the latest goings-on at Nehimba on their facebook page:

What's also great about this place, and the people who run it. Is they are involved in, have created, and contribute to numerous wildlife conservation projects. Candy is very passionate about these animals and is dedicated to keeping their way of live as pure and bountiful as it was before man settled among them.

After dropping our things off in our impressive rooms, we headed out for a game drive to the "Nehimba Seep" (what the lodge is named after). Saw plenty of elephant along the way and enjoyed a few drinks as the sun set over one of the most beautiful African settings. We had more elephants surrounding us while we chatted and kept an eye out for lion, who like to hang out on the seep, but it got too dark before we could spot any..

Our trip back to the lodge that evening was an adventure in itself. We were in a vehicle very equipped for game viewing, but as the sun was already set, and the night chill was upon us, we were in a hurry to get back and sit by the fire. Our experienced "chauffeur" Martin Pieters, was doing his best to get us back to camp as quickly as possible. Martin not only owns the camp but also happens to be a Professional Hunter, so he knows his way around wild animals, and it's a good thing because we had quite a surprise on our quick drive back..

The road we were on cuts through pretty thick bush that doesn't allow for much peripheral vision. As we were driving along, the vehicle startled an elephant right into our path! He dashed out right in front of us and gave everyone a fright! If it weren't for Martin's quick reaction that poor guy would have sat right on the hood of the car. As he stumbled away safely out of sight we all took a sigh of relief at that veeery close encounter. Always an unexpected adventure here in Africa!

We made it back to the lodge and spent the rest of the night basking in the warmth of the fire while staring at the amazing night sky full of stars. Got to talking about the universe and the planets and stars, a conversation that we could have kept up until sunrise, but we decided to call it quits at a decent hour to get a good nights sleep.

It still does amaze me when I look at the amount of stars you can see in an African sky. On a good night the stars are plentiful and bright enough to fully light your path. Its also crazy to think that in the Northern Hemisphere, none of these stars are visible. Its a totally different view of our universe, with new and different constellations. Not that I would be able to recognize many, but still a very interesting thought...

Our plan for that Sunday was to drive back to Bulawayo, but we had a very tempting offer to go and stay at Gorges Lodge back in Victoria Falls. Plus there were clients up there whom Cuan would benefit from having a meeting with. So we decided to make the "sacrifice" and head back up to the Falls for a night.

Had another incredible drive out of the national park. Up until that point I had yet to see a Cape Buffalo in the wild. One amazing animal that I have been dying to catch a glimpse of since I moved here. And low and behold, not 20 minutes into our drive out of the park, we stumbled on to a herd of about 60 buffalo! They had stopped at a pan (of water) so we had plenty of time to get a good look, and some great photos... but unfortunately, my camera decided to stop taking a charge even though it was plugged in all night, it kept telling me "battery exhausted." Boooooo...... but Candy was able to get some great shots, I'll have to steal her memory card and post those soon. But nonetheless, it was a very cool experience.

Gorges Lodge is located just outside of Victoria Falls town, and sits right at the top of the gorge that overlooks the mighty Zambezi. This is the area of the river where you can do white water rafting. One of the most intense rafting runs in the world, with multiple rapids that exceed a category 5 (that's big!). I've done the rafting before and it is loads of fun.

Now saying that, the view of the river from where we were made those rapids look like tiny little white dots.. At that particular area the gorge drops over 200 meters (like 650 feet!) before reaching the river. So you can image the view! They built part of the lodge straight off the cliff, so when I approached the edge, I couldn't help but get huge vertigo and shaky knees. It almost looks fake from up there...
Again, since the camera decided to die on me, I wasn't able to get any pictures, but trust me, it was breathtaking. See some photos on their website:

Had a nice chill evening and a delicious dinner before heading off to bed in a beautiful suite right next to the cliffs. The weather was perfect, so we slept with the balcony door slightly open and fell asleep to the sound of the rushing rapids hundreds of feet below.

As much as we would have liked to extend our stay at the lodge, Cuan's a busy man and we had make our way back to Bulawayo and collect more trophies along the way... But man, what at weekend. I'm thinking I may have to join in on these "field trips" more often!

Big crocks at the crocodile farm! Our sunset drive into Victoria Falls National Park, and (I had to do it Luke!) towing big ole Arnie back to the house..
Stunning Nehimba!

Until next time! ---

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