In the Age of Covid19: a Road Trip through Southern Africa, part 3 of 4: Game Counting

Day 4 – Sept 20 - Finally, the count

We met with the Hwange conservationist (Steve) to receive our administrative documents and instructions. The trust that administers the preservation efforts built a number of “pans,” i.e. man-made water spots with pumps. Last year, there was sufficient rainfall, so Steve warned us that the pans weren’t in as much use as is usually the case. He explained to us how to fill in the documentation: to make a sketch of the location, enter the GPS coordinates, temperature, and enter every single living mammal we saw. He warned us not to make any noise, and leave our vehicle as little as possible. He showed us the types of animals we might be seeing.

Along with our group of 11, there was one Zimbabwean couple: a conservationist and his spouse. We were scattered among the various pans; Vicky, her partner, and my partner and I were to be at a location called Baobab, in 2 cars, side by side.

At 12 noon sharp, we were at the Baobab location. As the afternoon dragged on, it became hotter and hotter: note to self: never wear synthetics when it’s hot! Only cotton will do. And the Mapauny flies! Officially, they’re bees. However, they don’t sting, and they only come out during the day. There were so many of them, that we had to remain with our car windows closed, despite the intense heat.

There was one source of excitement for me, the newbie: a giraffe came to drink at the water hole.

As the night fell, we decided to move the vehicles to get a better view of the pan. A lot of good that did us: we spent 16 hours with nary an animal in sight! We passed cheese, bread, and chocolate through the car windows, dozed off one at a time… it was so boring that I requested (jokingly!) to watch a nature documentary.

September 21

At 7 am, there was finally some action. Groups of impalas started coming to drink, as well as other antelopes. It was beautiful, just like in National Geographic documentaries.

By 12 (noon), we were more than ready to leave. We finished filling in the forms and brought them to a viewing area, where we dropped off the paperwork to some people (it was hard to tell who was a tourist and who worked there), and paid $160 in cash. We received no receipt, but Vicky assured me that the money would be going to the right place.

The view was extraordinary, with many different animals roaming around an expanse of water: zebras, hippos, impalas, and more.

After that, we returned to the campsite.

September 22

We packed up and made our way to Main Camp – Hwange, which we had heard was wonderful. On the way out from Sinamatella, we needed to drop off our garbage at reception; there are no trash bins in the campsite.

At Main Camp, we rented cottages (one per couple) that smelled so strongly of creosote (to avoid the thatch from rotting) that I thought – mistakenly - that there had been smokers in the cottage. It was hard to breathe. The refrigerator was either nonexistent or not working. The sheets and bed covers were ancient. The bathroom was acceptable for Western standards (and we had hot water, as almost everywhere we went); there was a ceiling fan.

In the yard, there is a covered common kitchen/dining area. We made dinner in the barbecue (brai) area, and drank South African wine from our supplies.

Cost: $69/cottage per night

September 23

When we woke up, we heard about a lion sighting, so we drove outside of the camp, and after much squinting through the binoculars, I made out 2 young lions lounging about. At least I got to see lions! **

Due to the lack of comfort, we didn’t remain a second night as originally planned at Main Camp. We set off towards Botswana, but first, we took another Covid PCR test at a clinic in Victoria Falls (and another night at Victoria Falls Rest Camp).

We decided to splurge on a “sunset cruise” on the Zambezi River (cost: $45 + gratuity, including unlimited beverages and a fancy "snack"). The Zambezi flows past six countries, and we saw Zambia on the opposite riverbank (it seemed there was quite a bit of tourism infrastructure being built). We also saw elephants, many hippos, and crocodiles.

For dinner, later, I served West African-style peanut sauce (previously prepared and frozen), cooked with chicken drumsticks. It was a hit with the South Africans, even though they weren't accustomed to such "exotic" fare!

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