We arrived in July in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, on an 8-passengers plane from Victorial Falls. Landing on an airstrip (read; a piece of open land with zebras grassing at one end), we were picked up by Albert, our safari guide and jeep driver for the next four days.
On our way from the airstrip to Somalisa camp, Albert spotted a cheeta family. Great start! Somalisa is an abbreviation of a Bushman Chief’s complicated name. He used to live in Hwange nationalpark,where today a well-designed safari camp is named after him. Somalisa camp is divided into three subcamps; family, adults only, and a more basic one. Each camp accommodates max 15 guests in stationary tents overlooking waterholes where elephants come to drink.
Exclusive safari and social dining
We had a private jeep with Albert as our knowledgable guide. Meals were served in a lounge area of the camp, except for our 10-o’clock tea and sundowner drinks, which Albert served us on the savannah plains: He stopped the jeep, sprayed sanitizer on our hands and set up a little table in front of the jeep: Gin-tonic and snacks in the sunset overlooking wildlife is not bad at all.
Our only tiny displeasure was lack of exercise. Running was out of the question, and walking only duable with an armed guide in front. In camp, we had breakfast at the bonfire. Lunch and dinner were served at a longtable for guests, guides and hosts, and we had some cheerful chats about were we all came from, our itineraries, and adventures on the savannah.
We went on game drives early mornings and late afternoons, and spotted elephants, giraffs, ostrich, impalas, kudus, baboons, and many other species. But no rhinos. Albert told us there used to be so many rhinos in Hwange that you simply drove past them without taking further notice.
One afternoon we found a pride of lions. They had killed a buffalo and was eating, roaring and pushing eachother to get the best bites. No manners.
When we returned in the evening, the lions were gone, and jakals and vultures had taken over. A couple of hyaenas was on their way. They eat the bones, Albert told us. The next morning we saw the lions again, walking across the plain, the alpa male at the back, limping after a fight with one of his sons. His days as alpha male were numbered.
Next morning we heard a roar and found the lions again, this time at their breakfast: Two baby giraffs, which we had seen alive the previous day. The alpha male was eating one, and the rest of the pride was fighting over the other dead giraff.
Elephants are vandalists, they break branches and trample trees, but it helps keep the savannah open. One elephant even started to tear tents lines and push railings of our camp, probably because there were some tempting fruit trees in the lounge area.
Another trouble maker was the hornbill, who kept a close eye on our food. Occasionally, it flew down and snapped a cake.
Our hosts told us that what was now a drinking cart for elephants used to be guests’ swimming pool. They had to give it up because elephants stuck their trunk into it to drink. On a few occations, a baby elephant had fallen in and had to be pulled back up by 12 strong men.
Heaters, bush babies and ponchos
Nights and mornings were freezingly cold, down to 2-3 degrees celcius. Luckily, tents were equipped with gas heaters, and every day, the camp people switched them on before we returned from our late game drive. Bush babies (safari slang for hot water bottle) were handed out at the dinner table, to keep us warm during dinner and in bed afterwards. We also had bush babies and fleece lined ponches in the jeep, lovely! One great advantage of the cold nights was that it killed the mosquitos. No bites, no malaria tablets.
Guide humour and horror stories
At one point, we met another group of tourists standing next to their jeep, studying deer droppings. Albert picked one up and said ”you don’t throw it like this (raising his arm) you throw it like this”, and he put the tiny ”ball” in his mouth and spit it away! The tourists gaped, while we drove on, giggling.
Albert also told horror stories: One about a lion coming from another area with no tourists. It had been confused to see jeeps and decided to attack one. Fortunately, it only grabbed a spare tire on the jeep, but passengers had been horrified.
Another time, on a walking safari, a pride of lions attacked the guide. He was killed and the tourists ran, panicked, in all directions. One tourist who had military training, eventually managed to call them back, and they waited 3 hours before daring to approach the guide and call for help over his radio. Albert himself have had to use his rifle one time on a walking safari; something about an American lady who did not follow instructions, but remained standing to shoot pictures, when a angry elephant approached. Luckily, Albert only had to fire a warning shot.
We went on a walking safari on our third and last full day in Hwange. Driving away from the camp, we heard loud trumpeting. Albert said it was elephants scarring the cheetahs away. Hopefully, they fled in the opposite direction of our walk! Albert gave us a safety briefing, and we left the jeep for a 2 hours hike, Albert in front with a rifle.
We walked through high grass, trying to be silent, but our steps made more noice than the elephants. Albert showed us leopard footsteps and explained about termites (apparently a true delicacy) and anteaters. We missed the cheetahs, but met some elephants and backed off a little. Especially female elephants are not to be bothered. Albert put his finger in a fresh piece of dung and said it was still hot, but that the only way to figure out exactly how hot was like this – and then he put his finger in his mouth. We stared. Then Albert said: ”When you do it, remember to change finger.” Good humour. ‘
When we returned to the jeep, our camp hostess had arrived with two helpers and set up a portable bar with all kinds of drinks, snacks and chairs so we could enjoy our last sunset on the savannah. I have run out of superlatives.
Feeling a bit like Blixen
When standing by the bonfire with a coffee or a glass of wine after a long day of game driving, with a view to elephants drinking at the waterhole, and a billion stars above, I felt a tiny touch of fellowship with Danish author Karen Blixen (who ran a coffee plantation in Kenya). Without further comparison. It is very understandable that she loved Africa and the savannah, because it is indescribably beautiful, even if there are far fewer animals today.
If you have the time and money, combining Hwange with a few days in Okavango Delta, Botswana, is great because the fauna is so different: Hwange is dry savannah, and Okavango is a lush green lagoon.
Danish Blixen Tours helped us arrange our trip, five star to them! (I don’t get paid)