On our last full day in camp, Judith and I were resting in the lounge after lunch. I looked out at Hwange National Park and noticed a jet black line in the distance. I wasn’t sure what it was and asked Emmanuel, one of the Makalolo Plains team.
“Buffalo,” he said, not missing a beat.
Along with the lion, leopard, elephant and rhinoceros, the African or cape buffalo is one of the so-called Big Five animals. This was the first and only time we would see them.
When Godfrey arrived, I pointed in the distance. Rubbing his hands together, he announced excitedly, “Buffalo! Wherever there’s buffalo, there will be elephants and zebras, and one or two lions hiding in the grass. Let’s go quickly so we can see them!”
With 30,000 elephants in Hwange National Park, it wasn’t whether we would see any, but when and how many.
As the sun came down on our first game drive, cold and blackness overtook us immediately. Dixon pulled out his infrared flashlight to make it easier to spot the animals that had become invisible to us.
We were following the flashlight as it darted from side to side, and complaining, through chattering teeth about how cold it had become when we saw what looked like small beads floating on dusty brown mounds directly ahead. Dixon stopped abruptly. I was shocked when the jeep’s headlights illuminated two elephants — they seemed to have just come out of nowhere. Dixon shone the flashlight at them but before they backed away, one shook its head as if were annoyed at being disturbed.
I was a little unnerved at how close we came. It was our first day and our first time being that close and it brought home the fact that in this world, we were the intruders.
After that first night, we’d see elephants every time we went on a drive. And as days passed, we got better at spotting them even when they appeared to be hiding among the grass or seemed to blend into the foliage. Since it was difficult to see them at night, I’m absolutely certain that we missed many more than we saw.
Despite their size — African elephants can weigh between 5,000 and 14,000 pounds and are about 8 feet tall — they’re gentle animals. A herd could be approaching and you wouldn’t hear their footsteps. It surprised me to discover that.
They’re also very playful. It’s a treat watching them with their babies, or playing with others in the herd. It was always fun watching them at the watering hole.
After driving around for several hours in pitch blackness, suddenly, we were bathed in the lights that signaled the end of our first night drive through Hwange National Park. As our jeep came to a stop, we could see that a party was waiting to greet us.
Tracey, Cynthia, Jeremy and Godfrey from Makalolo Plains welcomed us with warm towels and glasses of brandy and ushered us into the main part of the camp.
We needed them. After the sun dropped, a biting cold enveloped us. The breeze that felt balmy and welcoming during the early afternoon and evening lashed at our faces and hands. We felt like blocks of ice by the time we reached the camp.
In laying out the camp rules, Cynthia warned us that we had to be escorted, especially at nights, by someone from camp, and they’re always armed with a rifle – a reminder that we were surrounded by dangerous animals.
The word camp usually conjures up images of roughing it, of being without our usual comforts. That’s not the case at Makalolo Plains.
Located within Hwange, Makalolo’s main building houses a pub, reception area, lounge, patio and dining room. The patio runs the length of the main building. At the end of the patio is a small pool. There’s also a sitting area where at night guests trade stories of their day’s activities around a fire that provides warmth as well as illumination. There’s no electricity at Makalolo.
I’ve seen some spectacular sunsets but the ones I saw in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park took my breath away.
Each evening, I looked forward to seeing a dazzling display of color as the sun stained the clouds pinky blue, gold, burnt orange, purple-red before settling into an inky-black.
In all, it took about two minutes for the sun to drop completely behind the horizon and when it did, it dragged all the warmth with it. Talk about a sunset!
Let me know what you think.
Can you see the elephants in this photo? They’re almost indistinguishable from the trees that look like they’re right on the horizon…but if you look closely, you’ll see them – two of them actually – just to the left of the photo.
At about 5,700 square miles, Hwange is an enormous park. We left Makalolo and drove for about 30-45 minutes into a part of the park we’d not been to before. We stopped a few times along the way, including to take this photo of wildebeests and zebras together.
My idea of the perfect get-away is a beach, preferably on a tropical island where I eat sumptuously, down drinks with lots of ice, party, and watch the sun rise or set, as the case might be.
I don’t ‘do’ safaris, camps or animals – well, except for the odd household pet. So what was I doing driving around an African bush in a jeep, binoculars at the ready, trying to spot wild animals?
Blame Judith (aka The Cat Lady). Judith, friend and traveling partner, loves cats large and small and when she told Sandra (the real reason we’re on this trip) and me that one of her three must-dos was a safari, I remember thinking black people don’t do safaris. We hardly even do parks. (Isn’t that the reason Oprah Winfrey did an entire show at Yosemite?) It must be something in our makeup, but these back-to-nature adventures just don’t appeal to most of us. No man, safaris are for old, White people. But Sandra and I are mildly adventurous, so we figured if we stayed close to our guide, we wouldn’t end up as dinner and have an interesting, different and definitely fun experience and lots of stories to tell.
Since we were going to Victoria Falls, Ruthie, our travel agent, had recommended Zimbabwe, which she said, has the best game. Sandra or I couldn’t have cared less. Heck, before arriving at Hwange, I had no idea what the Big 5 was. No, it’s not the lottery. The Big 5 refers to the animals most difficult and dangerous to hunt – lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo.
When our travel agent told my friends and me that she’d booked us for two days in Victoria Falls, we balked. None of us was convinced we’d need that length of time to look at water, no matter how spectacular it was. Boy, were we wrong!
We arrived in Vic Falls on a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon after a pleasant trip from Johannesburg. As we left the arrivals lounge, we were greeted by the sound of drumming and singing. We couldn’t help but watch as this agile and athletic group of musicians greeted us. It was a fitting welcome to Zimbabwe.
Since we were leaving the next morning to watch game at Hwange National Park, we knew we had only a few hours to see the Falls. Our plan was simple: check in at the hotel, grab a bite to eat and head out.