Starting the new year in Africa is something that I won’t soon forget. We went to the Victoria Falls Carnival, which is a musical festival with fantastic bands, and had a great time. In between stage setups for each band, we’d sing a round of “black, white, brown, whatever” — an anthem of sorts to a common humanity across all people, and I loved it. It’s really something to be in this place and witness such unity; even if we have a long way to go to have complete unity world-wide, when I see things like this, it warms my heart and gives me hope that it’s possible.
I wrapped up my time in Victoria Falls with visits to the lions and a few adventures. On New Years Day, I and one of the other volunteers did a trifecta of adrenaline, which included a “Flying Fox” zip-line where you’re face down as you zip across the gorge, a seated zip-line with some great speed, and a gorge swing that starts with a 70m free fall from the gorge cliff edge before you swing over the water. The first two were fun and fairly benign, and the gorge swing was 3-4 seconds of thinking that I was going to die, followed by relief when the slack was gone and I swung out over the water.
I had my ugly cry on my last visit to see the lions, guides, and handlers, when it hit me that I may not see them again for a very long time, depending on what future holds. Perhaps it seems silly that these bonds could be formed in such a short amount of time, and it surprised me in some ways, but then again, not really. After so many years of wanting to come here, and then making new friends both human and four-legged, it’s tough to say good-bye, even while being excited for the next place.
My trip from Victoria Falls to Antelope Park near Gweru was an all-day bus ride, with a change of buses in Bulawayo, and that was its own adventure. To navigate this place and keep your sanity, you have to be flexible and comfortable with the unknown — and be able to wing it and just figure things out as you go. The people are really nice and you’ll always find someone to help as needed. It reminded me a bit of the organized chaos of southern Italy — it seems like nothing works, there are always issues, and no one has a clear plan, but somehow it always works out.
I arrived in Antelope Park and was immediately struck by the beauty of the property, and then tickled pink to find that they have a coffee shop and a spa. Uh, yes, please! Now before it starts to sound like I’m just sitting around pool-side with fruity drinks and being fanned by the wings of herons, I have started most of my days so far scooping elephant and lion poop, so these little perks, such as a cappuccino, are small respites in between sweaty working sessions in 80-90+ degree humid heat. The Antelope Park project is much bigger than Vic Falls, with much work to do here every day by all the staff and volunteers, so it’s good to know that I’ll be productive each day, with just enough down-time to refuel for the next work session.
There are four lions here currently that are still in their Phase I walking stage, around 18 months old, which is about the time that they are typically retired from these walks and they switch over to night hunts. These four are all siblings, three males and one female, and they are split into two pairs. I’ve gone on walks with both pair, and it’s great to see their natural hunting instincts kick in as they come across impala, wildebeest, water buck, giraffe, zebra, and other animals. There are also many large adult lions here, the males with their impressive manes and the females with their sleek and muscular lines. There are also some that are separated from the others, as they all have FIV, the feline version of HIV, and so they will live out their days here, being cared for in a safe environment, versus out in the wild infecting other lions. I’ve enjoyed giving updates about Phezulu and Pendo to the people here who knew them, and it’s fun to see their face light up when they see photos and videos of them and how well they’re doing. Everyone who is working for this organization, both here and at the other sites I’ve visited, is deeply invested in both the wildlife and the people of Africa, and it’s lovely.
So that’s the latest from this side of the planet. Internet bandwidth here is very expensive, so I will likely only do a couple of blog posts and upload a small amount of photos while I’m here.