Stalking 101 (Rifle and Night Vision Goggles Optional)

Zimbabwe continues to prove itself as a difficult but rewarding country. In regards to the arrest mentioned in the previous post, one of our number was hauled away for taking a photo of empty supermarket shelves. Without some quick thinking from our tour leader, he may have ended being charged with treason. Scary stuff. Our yellow truck high-tailed it after the police vehicle so we could follow our jailbird to the station. It was a nervous two hours before he was released.

Great Zimbabwe Ruins

The Great Zim Ruins are the biggest medieval ruin in sub-Saharan Africa, proving that there were large and thriving civilizations here before the Europeans arrived. It is divided into three concentric circles, with the King living atop a mountain and all his wives (often over 200) scattered around the base. The Queen (his number one wife) had the most spectacular dwelling, which features on the Zimbabwe 100,000 dollar bill. The ruins are not the most spectacular that you will ever see, but I was glad to have visited. One of the highlights included a very low ceiling-ed cave at the top of the King’s castle. Whenever he wanted to call one of his wives (number 76 perhaps?) he would shout into the cave and it would echo down the mountain and into the valley below. Our guide, Caroline, gave us a demonstration by shouting her name, and you could hear it echo seven or eight times in a row afterward. Very cool.

The heat was immense. There is very little bottled water, and – horror of horrors – a Coke shortage here as well. Not that I drink Coca-Cola, but everyone is missing their Coke fix. I find myself back to drinking soda water again or cordial when available.

Rhino Stalking

The mornings in Zimbabwe are cold, and we are up early. Split up into three groups, we make our way to Matopos National Park for some rhino stalking. Our guide is a fully licensed bush guide named Andy. The guides in Zimbabwe are some of the best trained in Africa, and it shows. He has been guiding people through the bush for the better part of thirty years and he is about to give us the tour of our lives.

There are some zebra just off the road in an open plain. Two of the males are battling for dominance. Andy pulls the jeep over to the side of the road and motions for us to get out. We some trepidation – this is the first time out into the bush on foot for all of us – we hop onto the ground and edge toward the zebra. If we keep walking and don’t stare at them too hard, the zebras may allow us to get close. And they do, before one of them spooks and they gallop away into the distance. Andy tells us the difference between male and female zebra but don’t ask me to explain that now. With a rifle slung over his shoulder, Andy definitely strikes a frightening silhouette (imagine the guy out of Jumanji, but younger). He gets excited at something on the ground and we all gather around. Rhino dung. He picks it up. It’s fresh. He is more excited. We are all a bit disgusted. We move on.

Only a few minutes later and we come across a family of rhinos, a mother, baby and an adult bull (probably the father). We literally stalk closer to them, coming up alongside the mother and baby so close that you could almost reach out and touch them. These are white rhino. The difference has nothing to do with their colouring, but rather the names come from a misunderstanding between the Brits and the Dutch. The dutch were trying to call the white rhino the “wide” rhino (because of their wide, square lips). The Brits thought they were saying “white”. Hence White (squarelipped) Rhino and Black (hook lipped) rhino.

The bull notices us. Andy talks louder to get his attention – if the bull knows we are there then he will be less afraid. Unfortunately the bull does not like us. He huffs a little and paws the ground. His horn is facing us. You can sense the collective tension of the group, how we all edge back a little. Andy reassures us, then makes a metallic sound with his rifle, as if he is preparing to shoot. The rhino spooks a little and comes closer. Andy stands up and waves the rifle around, shouting at the rhino. Finally the bull responds and turns away. Panic over. We stalk a little further into the bush, following the rhinos, but when we come across another of the groups we leave in search of other game. Throughout the course of the day we see spiders, deer, antelope, eland, hippo and crocodile, all at close quarters.

As if that wasn’t enough, we left Andy for a different part of Matopos Park – the historical side. After a 45minute trek up a mountain (you’d think I would have had enough with mountains already!) we arrived at a cave with bushman paintings over 6000 years old. These are the kind of stick man and animal paintings you see in the history books as children – but I could never imagine actually coming up close to see them. Africa is still untouched that way – you can get up close and personal to ancient things and wondrous animals that you never could in the Western world.

A bit further up the mountain and we had some of the best views in Africa. The Matopos are built up of huge granite blocks all balanced on top of each other. You can’t even imagine how they stay stable – some huge rocks seem destined to fall, balancing on a tiny boulder. It was standing on that mountain that made us all so glad to be on the trip – no matter what or who we may have given up to be there.

I’m now in Vic Falls preparing for an adrenaline weekend. Also, it is England vs. South Africa in the rugby world cup so tension is high. Should be fun!

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