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Africa Fever; part 1 with Katja

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Katja in Zimbabwe

Africa Fever – the first time I had heard of that expression was when my mom told me, a couple of years ago, that I am infected with exactly that. What sounds like a serious illness for which one requires some heavy medication, is nothing else but a travel bug.

Travel bug – an insect that travels?  Both, Africa fever & a travel bug I believe, are not the most suitable ways of describing the changes that take place in you once you set foot on the African continent.

The way you just get ‘sucked in’, feeling that every person you meet on the road is your soul mate; you breathe in the smells as if these were the smells you wish to linger forever in your nose. After a two-week holiday you return back to your home country and cannot think of anything else but going back there – going back to Africa. You only start feeling slightly better once your next ticket to Africa has been booked. And it will start all over again …. The Africa Fever.

Now that we have established that I indeed had been infected with the Africa Fever quite a couple of years back, probably a year or so before I moved to Cape Town, South Africa, one would wonder why I am still writing about Africa Fever?

I have been infected with a newer version of it – Zimbabwe Fever.

After Jenman Safaris’ Zimbabwe brochure launch party and listening to most people talking about Zimbabwe during INDABA (Southern Africa’s biggest Tourism Show in May this year), I was pretty fed up with everyone telling me how great Zimbabwe is, what a fantastic country it is, how welcoming the people are, etc.
I decided to go off and see it for myself. Together with my dear colleague and friend Becks and our trusted guide Thomas, we headed off on a round trip through Zimbabwe on the 9th June.

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Zimbabwe with Jenman

You need Dollars when travelling in Zimbabwe

On arrival in Victoria Falls it became very clear quickly that we were extremely ill prepared. No-one’s fault really, but my own…. I didn’t really think that money would be an issue, that you’d have to pay petrol in cash and that there is the chance of banks in Victoria Falls not having money, or the ATMS being out of order during the couple of hours we were there. But well, it’s much more exciting to go on a chaotic adventure than an organised adventure, isn’t it?
Becks has the super talent of working within a tight budget and so we did some shopping for the first couple of nights and weren’t too worried about what would come. After all we had two packets of Haribo sweets, some Amarula and some Malibu Rum in our luggage which would surely drown or sweeten up our sorrows 🙂 (A lesson we learnt much later was that sweets are only really yummy if they are not melted into one massive 750 g ball of sugar!!)

Our first night’s stop was Binga, on the south-eastern shore of Lake Kariba. The drive to Binga was a delightful, windy, hilly and scenic drive with lots of stilted Tonga villages on the way. There was one particular interesting aspect about the Tonga people, who had been displaced by the creation of Lake Kariba, which Thomas shared with us. Apparently only in this part of Zimbabwe is it legal to smoke Marijuana. People say that the Tonga people have been smoking Marijuana over the years and the herb is so special here, that smoking it makes the people work hard – it is known as Binga Gold. I am not sure how serious I can take this information but I was soon to learn that the expression Binga Gold would hold a totally different meaning for us the next day.

Binga is a compact little town with very little tourism facilities but a hub for houseboat rentals that Lake Kariba is so famous for; some of which we would go and see the following day.

Having lost valuable time in Victoria Falls in rushed attempts to get some more cash, we were now driving through the hilly countryside to Binga in the dark when I said to Thomas: “Thomas, if you are tired and you think we should just stop somewhere, Becks and I don’t have a problem with sleeping in the vehicle.” He looked at me as if I had just descended from the moon. Needless to say, he didn’t like my idea even though I had been quite keen for the adventure, and we pulled into the self-catering lodge Chilila outside Binga just after 7pm. The friendly lodge manager Lori greeted us in her gown and made one of her comfortable, fully equipped chalets available for us.

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Zimbabwe magic

Yay – my first night in the bush, far away from the office, from the computer, from meetings … As soon as my head hit the pillow and the lights went out, my eyes opened wide, my ears must have grown by two inches as I was desperately trying to hear the sounds of the bush, the sounds of Zimbabwe. And there it was … sniffing nose, huffing and puffing in the dark, close to our window it seemed. Guessing what it was Becks and I went between Crocodile and Hippo. After a couple more seconds of intense listening, I was wondering if it wasn’t the Donkey boiler that made the noise, thinking that maybe the hot water that the boiler produced was pushed out of some pipes, which made this huffing noise. Becks’ comment “Yes, we have seen a couple of donkeys on the way” made it very clear that we weren’t on the same page really…
Another couple of seconds of listening, several pointless attempts of peeping through the window into the dark and then finally after the sound of splashing water we heard the deep grunt that the hippos are so famous for. What a lullaby!

Finding Binga Gold

Sunrise over Lake Kariba really is one magical thing, especially knowing that this is just the first of many magic sunrises I’d be seeing on my trip through Zimbabwe. I was officially excited!

We spent the morning looking at a couple of houseboats and Becks and I quickly agreed that this would be a holiday we’d have to come back to Kariba for. A boat full of friends and family, fishing & game viewing all day, sipping Gin & Tonics in the Jacuzzi on the top of the boat while chattering away – what a better way to spend some quality time with friends and family can there really be?

After the quick inspections our mission was to find gold – even though I must admit I was quite tempted to see whether this Binga Gold would make you work hard, our mission was rather to find gold in the form of Dollars, seeing that we were still lacking this tiny detail which is required in quite a substantial amount in order to continue the trip that we had planned. Our Operations Manager Wayne back in Cape Town was a great help and referred us to some locals who in return gave us the details of the manager of the local supermarket in Binga, who was able to help us out with cash after Becks (official saviour of the day) used the magical power of the internet to transfer money into his account. We had found our Binga Gold and were ready to continue our journey ….

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Zim bird

We headed back for a couple of kilometres into the direction we came from and then turned left onto a dirt road, which would take us to Siakobvu and into the direction of Bumi Hills, deeper into ‘Kariba Land’. Thomas kept us entertained with stories about the country, the Tonga people and we vigorously kept waving at the kids and adults we passed during the day. When planning my trip the lodge manager Steve Edwards had warned me that the last 50 km of our trip will be HELL but the closer we got to our destination my hopes started raising that Steve must have been exaggerating as the dirt road we were on really wasn’t all that bad… But how could I be so foolish? It might not have been 50 km but for a good 20 km the road conditions put our loved Toyota Land Cruiser to a test and we required some heavy concentration (and core muscles). In the dark, we missed our turn-off to the lodge but therefore ended up at Bumi Hills, where the enthusiastic management staff invited us for a quick Gin & Tonic and a sight inspection before we continued our trip backtracking for about 7 km to Musango Safari Camp. Musango Lodge’s ranger didn’t seem to be too phased when I asked him about crocodiles, seeing that he urged me to jump onto a little pontoon in the pitch-blackness of the African bush. His torch wasn’t satisfying for my German needs and I pulled out a bigger torch which illuminated the little path to the lakeshore for all of us. No-one else seemed to be really bothered but I was extremely impressed about my organisational skills and having had the torch ready when it was most needed – I was of course totally in denial about the fact that no-one else seemed to need it!

Stargazing and Bush TV Lake Kariba

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Relaxing in Zimbabwe

Torches off – there we were – on Lake Kariba, in the middle of the night, stars above our heads making our way slowly to the dark silhouette in front of us – Steve’s Musango Safari Cam. And here was the first time where I become conscious of the utter friendliness of the Zimbabwean people that my colleagues back in SA had been raving about to me back in May… Every single staff member stood there, on the boat jetty and the quiet night was filled with the sounds of firm handshakes, exchanging names and lots of cheerful laughter. We were ready to get drawn into Steve’s world on Musango Island. Our preferred welcome drink for this tour had been quickly chosen and a couple of minutes later we were relaxing in the comfortable chairs together with Thomas, Steve and Steve’s ranger and enjoyed the lemony taste of the Gin & Tonic soothing our dry throats, sharing our travel stories of the past day. Dinner was served overlooking Lake Kariba but we weren’t allowed to indulge in this homely cooked meal until Steve had shown us Saturn as well as the moon through the telescope he had set up. Another first for me… we ended our evening with listening to the crackling sound a big campfire – “Bush TV” Steve said; a term which we would hear again and again from the lodge managers throughout our trip.

The next morning’s highlight besides another memorable sunset was the even more memorable home-made peanut butter that Steve served for breakfast. Over breakfast, Steve shared his enthusiasm for his part of the lake and took us on a 3-hour boat trip showing off the different springs that feed into Lake Kariba making this section of the Lake so unlike the typical Kariba. Becks and I quickly knew that this spot will be one of the highlights for our clients and the diversity that the lodge has on offer can hardly be found anywhere else – fishing, boat cruises, game drives, canoeing, game walks, rhino tracking, bird watching, and if you ever have the chance of going there, make sure Steve shows you the dinosaur fossil site or the at least the findings he discovered.

Jenny Knobes joined us for brunch and took us on a 20-minute boat transfer to her haven – Rhino Safari Camp. We listened to Jenny’s very detailed safety briefing which got me very excited. The fact that there are elephants and other game roaming through the camp freely and I had the chance of hearing and seeing them during the day and night made my stay! All accompanied by the soothing sound of Lake Kariba’s small waves rolling onto the sand which had me confused – am I on a tropical island or in the bush? The fact that you cannot swim in Lake Kariba is quite frustrating. Steve, the camp’s ranger, was excited to take us on a game drive and so were we when we watched the sun set with big Gin & Tonic in our hands.

After nightfall I was eagerly awaiting the sounds of the animals roaming through the camp and my prayers were answered when in the middle of the night I was awakened by a lion’s deep roar. I still remember the first time I heard a lion’s roar – that was back in 2004 in Etosha National Park, Namibia on my first trip through Africa. I sprinted to the payphone back then to call my dad – I wanted him to hear as well.

Here at Rhino Camp, there is of course no such thing as a payphone or mobile reception, never mind the fact that I wouldn’t call my dad at 3.00 am. Breakfast was a scuffed down hastily as we were all excited to head out and find the lions. Currently, due to the high water levels, Rhino Safari Camp is on an island and the lion must have been on the mainland – unfortunately time didn’t allow for us to cross as our guide Thomas was awaiting us at Kariba for our onward journey to what they call the jewel of Zimbabwe – Mana Pools.

Mana Pools – the jewel of Zimbabwe

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Elephants in Zimbabwe

We were sad to leave – Jenny & Steve had been looking after us so well and we knew that if we could just stay a couple of more days, we could experience so much more. The speed boat trip across Lake Kariba took us just more than one hour. We were anxious to see and experience Mana Pools, we had heard so much about it.
Wayne (our Ops Manager) had given us strict instructions to stop at the view point just after Marongora and have a cold beer while enjoying the view; we decided to disregard his order and just head straight down the escarpment and onto the dirt road to the Lower Zambezi Valley. The next two days were dedicated to game viewing galore, stunning sunsets and delicious dinners that Thomas put together for us. The park’s officials were extremely friendly and eager to help us find other accommodation when we realised that our preferred (but not pre-booked) campsite had been taken up by a wedding party. On both nights we witnessed a hippo getting out of the water right behind our tent and got a very close-up experience. On the second night, 5 hyenas had circled our campsite hoping to score some left-overs from our braai; they had to go with an empty stomach though. The hippos splashing in the river right next to our tent lulled me to sleep and I only awoke the next morning by the sounds of Thomas putting the kettle onto the gas for early morning tea & coffee.

This adventure continues with another blog (African Fever – Part 2 with Katja)…. Watch this space!

If you would like to explore Zimbabwe on safari then why not try our Re-discover Zimbabwe Adventure. 15-day camping safari from and to Victoria Falls through Zimbabwe: explore the wildlife in Hwange and Nyanga National Park and see what the legendary area of Mana Pools is really about. Combine your safari experience with some history and visit the Great Zimbabwe Ruins. Of course relaxation shouldn’t be forgotten, so a trip to Lake Kariba is also included. Click here to find out more about this safari.

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