2019 Friends and Family Safari Trip Report
Our group began their journey from California, Washington, New Jersey and Missouri, finally meeting together at the Victoria Falls Airport in Zimbabwe. The new international terminal at VFA is a big improvement, but the long lines to get a visa and go through passport control have not changed. We made the most of it by greeting old friends and making new ones.
After the 20-minute ride to Ilala Lodge, we were assigned our rooms and a chance to shower and change clothes after the long journey from the States.
Our first group activity was the dinner cruise on the Zambezi River above the Victoria Falls. A chance to begin to build team relationships while enjoying good food and drink as we cruised the Zambezi and observed the wildlife.
After a good night of sleep and breakfast, we started our day with a talk on the great explorer, David Livingstone, who had such a great impact on the whole of Southern Africa. The talk, given by my friend Chris Worden, was fascinating. Chris delivers the story while holding your interest with his style and passion for the subject. After the talk, Chris was our guide for a tour of Victoria Falls.
Water levels on the Zambezi were still high despite the drought conditions yet always an impressive sight.
The afternoon was free time for everyone. Some chose to shop and explore the city of Victoria Falls. Three brave souls decided to bungee jump off the railroad bridge between Zimbabwe and Zambia. I watched in both fear and awe as my granddaughter executed a perfect dive from the bridge. So proud of her. So brave.
As the sun settled in the western sky, our group boarded the Stimela Star, an overnight train that would take us to Hwange National Park. Each couple or single had their own compartment with twin beds and room for luggage. We all met in the Club Car for drinks and hors d’oeuvres before dinner. The loud and lively chatter was an indication that everyone was enjoying the experience.
After dinner, most of us retired to our sleeper compartment while some had after-dinner drinks. The rhythm of the rails soon rocked us to sleep. Our host, “Big Boy” and his staff took very good care of us.
In the morning we awoke at Dete, a village outside the wildlife park. After continental breakfast, we climbed into our vehicles and began our game drive to Nehimba Camp.
Nehimba is famous for its elephants and did not disappoint. Each night we enjoyed dinner under the stars on our raised platform with elephants drinking a few meters away from us. This is truly a wonderful experience to be so close to these Hugh creatures.
The wildlife at Nehimba was not as plentiful as in my previous visits when lion and leopard were observed. No two safaris are the same in that conditions and circumstances are different. We did enjoy good zebra, Impala, and Cape buffalo sightings. The sky was overcast and the nights and mornings typical for Winter in the Southern Hemisphere. Layer your clothing is the key to being comfortable. Guides and staff at Nehimba were attentive and helpful as usual.
Our tents were both comfortable and spacious. Each had power, charging stations, and full function bathroom facilities. A new addition was the Wi-Fi available at the main lodge. Camp manager, Amy, and guides Brendan and Clever made our stay enjoyable. Nor was always on hand to serve our needs.
A wonderful three nights there.
On our way to the railhead at Dete to catch our special trolley to the next Camp, Bomani, we had time to visit two waterholes along the way and snack on the packed lunch provided by Nehimba staff.
The “Elephant Express” is an innovation by Imvelo Safari Co to enable guests to travel by an electric trolley along the eastern edge of Hwange to camps along the railway line. It is, in reality, a game drive as well as transportation. Not at all unusual to see Lions as well as many plains animals along the way.
Enock and Joseph operate the Elephant Express and entertain with stories about their years with the Zimbabwe Rail System. You may even get a chance to “drive” the trolley as did some of our group. Lunch and drinks are provided. Imvelo provides a guide to help you spot and identify wildlife along the way.
As we approached our stop for Bomani, someone spotted a small cat which led to a lively discussion as to whether it was a Cheetah or Leopard cub. Turns out, it was an African Wild Cat, from which are descended our domestic kitties. We disembarked at that point to search for the Cat on our way to camp.
I choose Bomani Camp after a scouting trip I made there in 2017. It is located on the Ngamo Plains, just outside Hwange.
Ngamo is a particularly beautiful area of Hwange and provides an outstanding backdrop for photography. Our group wanted to see Lions so our guides, Vusa and Blessed, made that the priority. Unlike Serengeti where lions are easy to find, Hwange requires you to scout and track. I personally find that more rewarding as well as just plain fun.
There were two male lions in the local pride but unfortunately, one of them was hit and killed by a freight train on the Cape to Cairo rail line. That disruption invited two younger males to enter the territory and to try to take over the pride. The remaining male stayed on alert while females with cubs were now in hiding. All that made lion tracking very difficult. The first day was limited to just seeing tracks. Half the second day passed before we caught sight of a female on the hunt. She was obviously tired and hungry. She was still nursing the cubs and did not have help from the scattered pride to assist in finding prey. We followed her at a discreet distance before terminating the hunt. One must respect animals and not disrupt their activities.
Later that day on the evening game drive, we saw Wildebeest running on the Plain. We hurried over to find that our lioness had made a kill but she was too exhausted to eat so she laid down to rest. We decided to leave her and return later. Everyone was relieved that she was successful and that she would now have the strength to continue to nurse her cubs for a few more days.
On my last visit, I met Johnson Ncube who is the village chief and we had an immediate connection. We shared stories and laughter in establishing a friendship. Johnson and his wife Dorothy welcomed our group and gave us a tour of the village followed by an opportunity to visit the village market to shop for souvenirs. Lots of dollars and handmade items were exchanged.
Ngamo Village school tour was truly a highlight of our visit. Meeting the children, touring the campus, and being serenaded with song and dance was a wonderful experience for all of us. Several in our group brought items for the school such as paper, pencils, crayons, etc. One generous person bought a computer and printer for the school. The impact of that gift will be felt long after we have passed. What a generous gesture.
Evenings around the campfire is where the bond between people that has been established is nurtured. It is my favorite time of the day. The sky is stunning with stars and planets you see in the Southern Hemisphere, unobstructed by the lights of populous urban areas. Here is truly peace and quiet. A place to reflect on life and the blessings we have been given.
Thank you to Demi, Lovemore, Vusa, Blessed and all the others who made us welcome and comfortable at Bomani. You were wonderful
These Friends and Family safaris begin with planning at least 12 to 18 months out but all too soon they are over. Tomorrow brings flights back to Victoria Falls and onward. Because of our group size, we will take three small planes. The first four people depart around 8am while the rest of us, the lucky ones, go on a game drive and finally find those elusive cubs. I have never heard the cries of cubs so young and I am pleased to be able to record it. We spend ten minutes with them before leaving.
As we make our way back to camp, Africa has one last surprise for us. A large herd of Sable antelope appears near the airstrip. Sable is perhaps the most beautiful of all the antelope varieties and my favorite. This appearance is a fitting end to our safari adventure.
On our plane, as we pass over this part of Wild Africa, there is time to reflect on our adventure and begin to think about coming back again. Africa has a way of capturing you and making you hers. Just ask any of my group.