This week was another action packed week on my African adventure. We finally reached Zimbabwe! I have been really excited to come to Zimbabwe because I heard amazing things about this country. Our first stop was Lake Kariba where we would hop on a houseboat for two nights. This was an amazing experience and it was really nice to have a break from the tents for a couple of nights. Our group had a whole houseboat to ourselves. We had rooms with two single beds and the rooms were open to the outside with mosquito nets over the beds. Upstairs, there was a bar and seating area, a small pool, and chairs to layout in the sunshine. Our boat was called the Osprey and I think it was the best one there. We also had a crew of 5 guys that would cook and clean for us.
Our houseboat was beautiful!
We loaded up the boat with all of our bags and all the food and then went upstairs. Since it was already around 5 when we arrived, we decided to play cards and make a couple of cocktails. We played card games like asshole and a new card game called bazinga, which Annie taught to us. It was really fun! At dusk, we parked our boat close to the shore for the night. Since we were in a national park, we were not able to get off the boat, yet we could see wildlife on shore. We saw a couple of elephants eating on the shore and we saw a group of hippos in the water.
Later, we saw the sunset. I think it may have been the most beautiful sunset of my life and I have seen some amazing sunsets this year. The entire sky turned this dark shade of red and you could see the reflection of the clouds in the water. It was beautiful every direction that you looked. For dinner that night, we had enchiladas and they were amazing.
After dinner, we all continued drinking and to play drinking games. We played kings, radio shack, pterodactayl, and piccolo. It was really fun! Then, to complete the night, we heard munching coming from on shore. So, we all went to the balcony and saw a hippo grazing on the shore. I am surprised that he wanted to stay there with all of our noise, but it didn’t seem to bother him. I always love seeing hippos out of water because they have such big bodies and short little legs. Finally, we completed the night with some star gazing. It was a great first day on the boat.
The second morning, we woke up and had breakfast. Then, we split up into two different small boats. One boat would go to the shore and go fishing and our boat would cruise around the lake and see what other wildlife we could spot.
First, we spotted a lot of hippos in the water, which I still love to see even though I have seen a lot at this point. Then, we saw a hippo on land. He looked at us and then took off running. I have never seen a hippo run and it was as hilarious as it may sound. He runs to the water and then we see a big splash.
Next, we head to another shore where we found a huge herd of elephants. There had to be at least 15 of them and they were all moving slowly together. Next to them was a herd of impala. A couple of the males were rutting and then we saw them all jumping off together. Some of the other things we saw were fish eagles, crocodiles, and many other types of birds. It was a great morning excursion.
We returned the to boat and since our beds were in the sunshine in our room, Freya and I got into our bathing suits and tanned while lying in bed. I have never had a more comfortable tanning session. After lunch, they put down the cage on the back of the boat. Since there are crocodiles and hippos in the water, we could not just jump off the boat. So they create a swimming pool off of the back of the boat by putting a cage down in the water.
Swimming in the cage
We had a blast in the cage doing belly flops and a lot of other water shenanigans. I kept thinking that we would see some wildlife, but we were so loud we probably scared everything away. The only problem was the cage was in the shade and so we all got cold pretty quickly. That night we had a roast for dinner, which was delicious
Then, of course, we had another party. Freya introduced us to cheese curl challenge, which we did in our room first and later brought up to the group. Basically, this was to see how many cheese curls you can fit into your mouth at once. The cheese curls I bought were the biggest cheese curls I have ever seen, which made this challenge very difficult. The hight number we got to was 10.
The following day was our last day on the boat. Since we were all the way across the lake, we could not do another boat excursion that morning. So, I woke up, had breakfast and then went back to my room to lie in the sun, read my book, and take a nap. It was such a relaxed morning and I really didn’t want to leave that boat.
Once we reached the shore, we had to unpack the boat and hop back on the truck. We headed to Antelope Park and arrived just before dark. Upon arrival, the staff sang and danced for us and even gave us welcome drinks and popcorn. The setting of Antelope Park was beautiful! We were right on the river and all of the grass was so green because they watered it every day. They had horses, mules, donkeys, goats, dogs, and cats all running around the campsite. One of the goats even had a muddy smiley face on its side.
That night we learned about the park in a briefing. Basically, the goal of this park is to breed and release lions back into the wild in areas where there is a need for lions. The park started because a lot of farms were being taken away from the white farm holders when the government switched over in Zimbabwe. Many farm owners had lions on their property that they had rehabilitated, but could not be released back into the wild. They dropped a lot of the lions off at this property and the owner was not sure what to do with them. Then, he decided that he would create a four step program to breed the lions. The children of the lions of these lion would remain in captivity, but learn to hunt. Then, their children would have no human contact, learn from their parents, then be released into the wild as a group. I am not sure if that is actually what is happening and the more I saw there, the less I agreed with what was happening. Yet, either way, it was such an amazing experience!
The first night after we were briefed on the park, my group was on cook group and we made stuffed peppers. I think they turned out alright, but we defiantly overcooked the peppers. Then, I went to bed early because I had a lion walk really early in the morning.
The lion walk was one of my favorite things that I have done on the tour. We woke up and it was freezing, so we had tea and were debriefed on how to interact with the lions. Though these lions were used to people walking with them, they were still clearly wild animals and they had made their fist kill the week prior. The lions were a year and a half and they would only be walking these lions for one more month because after that it would get too dangerous. We were with three lions, a brother and sister named Tomuka and Tongo and their half sister Ruva.
You could tell the Tomuka and Tongo were really close and that Ruva liked to keep to herself. Tomuka was the ring leader of the bunch and dictated what they did. She had a killer instinct and it was her that had initiated their first kill. Throughout the walk, any time they would see impala, zebra, or wildebeest, they got into hunting formation and started to stalk their kill. It was amazing to see!
We started out the walk by their cage. I was surprised to see that they lived in such a small cage and they only come out for 4 hours a day for walks. When we arrived, they were pacing back and forth in their cage and they looked really intimidating. I am not going to lie, I was scared for when they opened the gate. When they opened the gate, the lions ran out and started to play with each other.
The beginning of the walk was taken at a fast pace because the lions were really excited to be out. We were really scared to touch them at first, but gradually we became more comfortable. Twice the lions found wild prey and started to stalk it. First, it was an impala. Later, it was a herd of zebra and wildebeest. It was so amazing to see how they get into formation to hunt. Though they never tried to kill anything, it was still amazing to watch.
Once we reached the furthest point, they tired out a bit and decided to lay down. This is the point where we were able to get pictures with them. I was really nervous to get so close, but it was ok as long as you approached them from behind. Some of the pictures we got were really amazing. It was also amazing to be able to touch them.
On the way back, we each took turns to walk with them. My favorite was Ruva because a couple of times she came up and rubbed her head on my leg and it was so cute! Again, I couldn’t believe how close I was to the lions! It was such an exhilarating experience. On the way back, the lions started to play in a field and it was fun to see. Yet, when lions play, it looks really aggressive. Tomuka was playing with her brother with her claws out and they got stuck on Tongo’s face. It looked really painful.
After the lion walk, the next activity was a lion feeding. I wanted to wait for a different day to do the feeding because I was already on such a high, but they said the lions needed to be fed that day since they hadn’t been fed in a couple of days. That was something I disagreed with as well. It seems to me that they purposely didn’t feed the lions before we came to make them more aggressive for the lion feed.
We drove out to the cages and I was a disappointed to see how small the cages were. They way they had been described I thought they would be huge cages to hold five territorial male lions. The lions started at the other end of the cage and they piled cow meat on the end closest to us, literally right on the other side of the fence. Then, they said one, two, three and released the lions. Lion feeding is also a way that they choose the most dominant males that they have to mate.
The five lions came at a full sprint down to us and then dove right on top of the meat. They were too tired to eat the meat right away because they were breathing too hard, so they just laid there on top of the meat pile that they had claimed. They were making this noise that was a mixture of panting, while simultaneously growling at the other lions to deter them from stealing their food. Every couple of minutes, one lion would decide he wanted a different pile and suddenly charge at the other lion to steal the pile. In one such case, the lion got his claw stuck in the other lion’s eye and had a tough time removing it.
After the first cage, we moved on to five more lions in a separate cage. The meat was even closer this time, so it was a bit scarier to stay put when the lions came barreling down at you. I had to jump up when they arrived this time. They did the same thing where they laid down on the meat and were growling for a long time. There was one lion with his head right next to the fence and it was amazing to see the beauty of these animals.
The only scary part was when they started to get annoyed that we were standing there too long. In a couple of cases, they would jump at the fence to try and scare us away. This was the point where I thought we should have left because we were obviously distressing the lions.
After I returned from lion feeding, I spend the rest of the day exchanging pictures with people and catching up on the phone with people. Also, we had two new folks join us this day, Tom and Sarah. We were a bit nervous at first for this add on because we had heard it was a father and his 14 year old daughter and we were scared we would have to change our behavior around them. We were very wrong! Sarah ended up being hilarious and she fit into our group really well.
The following morning, I had another early start and went on the research trip to see the Ngamo pride of lions. This is the group of lions who live on a huge fenced in property and do not have contact with humans. There are 11 lions in the pride, 6 older lions and 5 of their offspring. They go out every day and research these lions to make sure that they would be able to survive in the wild. The older lions in the pride have done the lion walks and therefore would never be up for release, but there were 4 female lions and 1 male lion who were their offspring and have never had human contact. They are going to release the 4 female lions into the wild in July and they are trying to find a national park that will take the male.
The male lion in this pride is one of the biggest male lions I have ever seen. He was absolutely gigantic and is even bigger than his father. Evidently their relationship is special because usually a male lion of his age would have been kicked out of the pride when he was younger. It was really fun to go with the research intern because she knew so much about these lions and telling us about the different observations they record every day. Also, she taught us how to identify the different lions. We had a sheet of the lions and had a great time trying to figure out which was which. Jess was really good at this because she is a vet.
After the research, we returned ate breakfast and then went for a walk. I had talked to the manager of the park a couple of times and he told me that the baby lion lived in a pen at his house and they had bought a labrador puppy named honey to keep the lion company since his siblings died. He had told us we could stop by any time and so we took him up on the offer. Honey was so adorable! She was such a well behaved puppy and didn’t even try to bite.
They best part though was seeing the baby lion try to play with the puppy. I mean can you really get any cuter than that? The lion was bigger though, so we had to watch to puppy to make sure Honey didn’t get hurt. The lion liked to play just like any other small animal and I was so happy that we had made this excursion.
They were they best of friends
When we returned to the other side of the river, we found 3 elephants standing in the water eating. What a great day! They belonged to the park as well and were with their mahouts. My favorite part was when one mahout continued to get annoyed with one elephant because she bullied the male and would not let him eat. It was a really beautiful site to see.
The rest of the day was more relaxed after my action packed morning. I just blogged, had a milkshake, and played rubicon with Michelle, Dan, and Freya. We had our workout gang at it again before dinner and then all sat around the fire.
Antelope Park was an amazing experience. Again, I’m not sure if I agree with everything that happens there, but there is no denying that the experience I had there was once in a lifetime. There are not many places in the world where you can walk and play with lions.