Life Like A Zoo

It always takes me a while to figure out how to begin these things. Right now I am sitting beside a beautiful river in Zimbabwe having just had an incredible morning, part of which included me walking beside one of the most lethal killers on earth; but more to come on that later.

The past few weeks have been quite a journey. Following Kili, I had a few days rest and time to kill back in Arusha. Most of which was spent relaxing or catching up with fellow climbers we met on the mountain. Arusha is only a small town so the next part of the journey couldn’t come quick enough!

At about lunch time on a Tuesday afternoon I was told to head to the local supermarket and look up for a big yellow truck named Pluto. After a few hours of waiting she arrived! Pluto was to be my means of transport all the way down to Johannesburg, passing through Tanzania, Zanzibar, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and eventually South Africa. Pluto is an overland adventure truck which sits 28 people, tents, food, equipment and anything else you would need for a big trek through Africa. For my trip we have about 25 people on board, ranging from England, Australia, New Zealand, America, Canada, Denmark and Germany, even including a couple of pro photographers for me to get some tips off! What followed was 33 days of road trips, boarder crossings, camping, wild animals, crazy heat, incredible storms and probably more stories than I remember to type.

Our first stop on the trip was the famous Serengeti National Park and the Ngorogoro Crater. We had a couple hours drive to the Serengeti, the temperatures picking up along the way. The following two days were spent doing a game drives around the massive park. Our timing to visit this famous land was perfect. On entering the park we began to drive straight into its heart, following roads which stretched for miles along the vastly flat land. As we drove we began to see our first sights of wild game, a few Zebras and Wildebeest. As we ate up more of the miles more and more of these two African icons came into view until all I could see, as far as the horizon was Zebra and Wildebeest. Our timing was so perfect that we had stumbled upon one of natures greatest spectacles; the Great Migration. I have never seen so many animals in one place, tens of thousands of these animals were making there way across the Serengeti, from mere inches from the truck to as far as I could see. It was an absolutely incredible sight, the further we drove the thousands more we saw until the sight of a Wildebeest became almost normal!

Our driver, who’s name was Copacabana believe it or not was determined to show us more than just the Migration so we continued on the hunt to see the Big 5; Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino and the Buffalo. Before long we came across our first one to tick off and it was the one all of us were after. Coming around some rocks we could see a female Lion warming up in the morning sun. Although she wasn’t too close to us, it was still a fantastic sight plus the first time I had seen a wild Lion.

The rest of our time in the Serengeti Copa drove us the sites he thought we would have the best chance of seeing some of the animals and he didn’t disappoint. Before the two days we were up we had seen a number of huge Buffalo and the graceful Elephant. We had also come across a lot of Giraffes, definitely one of my favorites. Their massive height ensured they stuck out very visibly, seeing them in the distance they almost looked like giants. Copa had a way of always getting us in the best position to see the animals, always getting front of other trucks, which occasionally caused some controversy much to our amusement. He was especially good at this when it came to seeing my two favorite animals, the Leopard and the Cheetah. We were lucky enough to see both of these cats while we were there, one of the Leopards walked right past the truck to have a drink just a few metres in front of us. The colour of it was stunning as what’s its slender aerodynamic shape, built for speed. You can see where many of today’s speed machines get their inspiration from.

The third day Copa took us into the Ngorogoro Crater which was like nothing I have ever seen before. It’s believed it was formed when a huge mountain, which could have been the size of Kili, collapsed in on itself creating a 23km wide volcanic crater. The crater contains the highest number of wild animals per square kilometre anywhere on earth, a great chance of seeing anything you are after! We drove around all day seeing hundreds of animals including Hippos very close up. We saw a number of them in a watering hole we stopped at, an amazing sight, especially when they open their massive mouths. We were told however that the rumour they kill more humans than any other animal in Africa was totally false, good news I suppose when you are standing not so far away from a group of them! The only animal in the Big 5 we hadn’t seen in our time there was the Rhino unfortunately, wasn’t to be our last chance however.

Camping during those two nights was quite an experience. With no camp sites being fenced off, you a sleeping right in the mix with the wildlife, which I loved! We were told to make sure there is no food or drink left in the tents at any time. Even if they are zipped up, Hyenas, Warthogs or any other hungry creature won’t think twice about tearing it open for a feed. All toilet trips were to be made before you went to sleep too. A 30 metre walk during the night to the nearest long drop could leave you more caught short than you expected if you happened to come across a a hungry Lion, not for me! During the night we could hear many animals which was incredible, monkeys, hyenas even wildebeest and buffalo eating up grass right outside the tent. Quite an experience!

Before we knew it our time here and come to an end and we were back on Pluto heading for our next stop, Zanzibar, a place I was very excited about. To get there needed 2 days of solid driving in the truck, two ferry rides, a Tuk Tuk and a smaller coach but dear me it was worth it! We spent a night camping in Dar Es Salaam before catching a 2 hour ferry crossing to Stone Town. As soon as I got there I knew I was going to love this place. It was full of colour, life and activity. Smiles and hellos from everyone you came across. The Arabic island famous for its spices was particularly friendly to my camera, pretty much snapping away as soon as I stepped foot on the island. During a spice tour out of town we saw all the plants and trees where all these flavours and tastes come from. It was great being able to eat and smell spices right from the plant. After that I wondered around the small narrow lanes of Stone Town, even getting rather lost at one point!

After day in stone down we drove north to the paradise beaches of Nungwi where we had three nights to spend. The beaches here were incredible, I’ve never seen sand so white and sea so blue, with the temperatures in the forties too it was an actual paradise! The following few days were spend mainly on the beach, swimming, snorkeling the beautiful reefs and beach games, plus we even got a bed for a change! Could have spent a few more days there it was amazing.

Following Zanzibar we had a 3 day drive covering over 1000km which would take us out of Tanzania and into the worlds third poorest country, Malawi. Our destination was Kande Beach on Lake Malawi. Despite its poor status, Malawi certainly was rich in its friendly people. Each small village we drove past encouraged lots of small children to run towards the truck shouting and waving, even more so than we had seen in Tanzania, certainly made us feel welcome. We eventually arrived at Kande Beach and camped right beside the lake. When I say lake it was more like an ocean, I have never seen a lake so big it has a horizon, an absolutely incredible sight! The next few days were again spent mainly on the beach doing various activities. We also had to pick up out tablets to cure the parasite Billhazia which we may have caught swimming in the lake. It’s almost impossible to avoid it whether you are swimming in the lake or simply taking a shower, there’s a fairly good chance you could have some new friends swimming around you! Taking the tablets 6 weeks after the lake will sort it all out though.

During our time at Kande we were also invited to play the local village in a football match, the Mzungu vs the locals! They met us outside the camp and let us to the pitch where we would play. As we walked through the village, more and more people would come out and join us on the walk, before long there was a huge group following us through the bush to the pitch, all singing and chanting along the way. The anticipation of the game ahead was growing the further we walked into the bush. Eventually we reached the dirt/sand pitch cut into the bush, it was surrounded by around 50-60 people to watch the game. It was a great game, the locals we a lot tougher than we thought and very physical! We got stuck in though and the game ended 3-3 which was great, I even picked up the first goal for the Mzungu’s too which was great! (check that out Andy!!) it was great fun and probably the most authentic African experience I had had up until then.

On our last night there the village chief invited us to his house to a massive feast which was fantastic. We had so much food food put on and got to meet many of the locals. After dinner the local kids all did a huge dance which we even got involved in, great fun.

Our time in Malawi was over all to soon and we had to leave for our next stop. Even though we hadn’t seen a great deal of Malawi, it was a fantastic country, one of the friendliest places I’ve ever been too. I’d love to see more of it again one day.

We were how heading for Lake Kariba just over the Zimbabwe boarder. We drove for 3 days passing through Zambia before we eventually camped beside the lake. The lake was to be our home for the next few days as we were off house boating! The following morning we aboarded Osprey to spend two nights relaxing, doing game boat trips and taking in the sights. The lake was stunning, slightly smaller than Lake Malawi however it still had a horizon! It proved to be a great way to see the wildlife again. As we found a place to moor for the night we were joined by a heard of elephants coming down to the lake for a drink as well as many hippos as we sailed past. The first night we had a huge punch party which was great fun. It was also a fancy dress party where someone else would buy your costume. So if you see any photos of me floating around wearing a little blue number…now you know why! We also did plenty of swimming in the lake despite it being infested with crocodiles! The boat had a big croc cage of the back so we could swim with out fear!

After the houseboats we started are drive further into Zimbabwe heading for Antelope Park. Antelope Park is a world renowned wild life centre specialising in introducing more lions into the wild. It was an absolutely fantastic place, beautiful in always. Our tents were right beside the lake, on one morning 4 huge elephants walked past my tent! Waking up each morning to the sound of roaring lions was incredible. Even though they were a good 4km away they were so loud! Amazing to hear while you are still in your sleeping bag! Antelope Park was full of activities to do with the animals. I chose to do an Elephant ride at one point which was fantastic. I’ve never been so close to an animal that massive before, she was huge! We took an hour walk through the savanna with four other elephants, a really great experience. Before that however I did the parks flagship event; the chance to walk along side a lion. I had been looking forward to this for ages! We awoke early to do the walk in the morning as this is when the lions are more active. We had the chance to walk with two beautiful lionesses. When I say walk, I don’t mean they were behind a fence or on a lead, they were free, walking right beside me. One almost sat on my foot at one point. It was fantastic, staring into the eyes of one natures greatest killers only a few inches away was such a rush. They were such beautiful and graceful creatures. Defineltey something I will never forget.

Following Antelope Park we headed down to Bulawayo where we would be on the hunt to look for the last remaining member of the big 5 we were yet to see; the rhino. We were to do a full day trip with who we were told had been voted the worlds greatest tour guide, Ian Harmer. He met us at the camp and within moments of meeting him, you could see the passion for wildlife, history and Zimbabwe coming from him. He took us on a trip around the bush telling us of the history of the land, the native bushman and the trouble the rhino population were in. His stories were amazing, we went into many conversations of Zimbabwe politics and his views on life. This is a man who was once chased up a free by a rhino where he spend 4 hours until it left. The rhino’s shoulders spanned two metres and it’s horn was over a metre high. He was an inspiration, and one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. Towards the end of the day we learnt that the was a sighting of a rhino nearby we drive to the sight and Ian walked into the bush to track the rhino. Before long he returned urging us to follow him. We walked a few hundred metres into the bush before the sight of a huge black rhino came into view. In small groups he took us closer to the animal. Walking as quietly as possible we crept up until we were no further than 20 metres away from the 3 tonnes wild beast named Swaziland 4. I never expected to be that close to a wild rhino, it was such an adrenaline rush. At one point the rhino heard something and jumped around to face us. My heart was racing! A rhino can charge at speeds of up to 40mph and stop and turn within its own body mass. We only stayed with the animal for a few minutes before we left it alone and continued. It was fantastic seeing it that close, it was an experience only a few get the chance to have, I feel very privileged I am one of them.

The day was over all too soon and we camped down for the night ready for our next adventure. The past few weeks have been amazing and I know it’s only going to get better. Next stop, of the worlds greatest wonders, the Victoria Falls.

“Life is either a raring adventure or nothing”

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