We woke up the next morning with our noses freezing. It’s really cold in Hwange in the morning. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Zimbabwe was -18°C at a waterhole nearby. It wasn’t that cold for us, but we still had to drag ourselves out of our warm, cozy beds and fight our way through the mosquito net. Thankfully, it’s June and the mosquitoes aren’t out yet (or at least we haven’t seen or heard them). Lions are dangerous. But they don’t hold a candle to mosquitoes. Around the world, around 22 people die from lion attacks each year. While the numbers vary each year, around 700 million people in the world get sick from mosquito-borne viruses, resulting in more than a million deaths every year!
Our private cabin was built on stilts with a spacious tent on top. Complete with canopy bed, sofa and private bathroom with the most amazing view onto a watering hole on the Miombo premises.
Right in the first night we knew why. A herd of Elephants came to drink in the night and made themselves clearly heard. It was surreal sitting on the toilet and looking over a group of Elephants barely 50 meters away. Definitively a most memorable accommodation.
Seeing all the elephant poop in the camp, we knew why everything was built on stilts and we were cautioned leaving our tree tent at night.
In the morning after a hearty breakfast of cooked eggs your style (did we mention that we are eating way too much here?) we got to know our horses. The riding stable is run by Peta and Oliver, a young and very nice couple from Zimbabwe and Sweden. Esther had Texas, a lanky 21 year old thoroughbred ex-race horse, and Chris had Noni (short for Anonymous), a huge 18 hand warmblood that did not want to jump anymore.
They both had trail/stock saddles on them which we both agreed were not the most comfortable to sit on. No problem, each horse also has an English saddle, so we were promised. We went out criss crossing the private concession lands next to the Hwange NP and came across our first Elephant on horseback encounter.
Both approaching a water hole from two different sides was our small group of five riders from one side and a herd of about eight elephants from the other. Bulls, cows and little baby elephants all mixed together slowly approaching the water. We were about 50 meters apart and the Elephants were sniffing us out. Standing very still, the ears pricked forward, our horses were observing but neither animal species showed much fear.
It was special to get so close to such magnificent beasts without any boundary in between us. On we went through bushland, on trodden elephant paths and directly though the bush without any path. We came upon some Impala, some wart hogs, a kudu but not much else.
For Lunch we were met with our crew of volunteers that were staying at Miombo as well. Besides a regular safari program on horseback, Hwange Horseback Safari (HWS) hosts up to ten volunteers (work & travel style) at any given time. All girls between 18 and 25 usually but this time they also had two Americans that were 60+. The volunteers stay between two weeks and three months paying a much less then the regular guests and helping out with community services and the horses. At the time we went, we had four Germans, two Americans, one Scottish girl and one from Dubai. Lunch was brought to the waterhole by Oliver, Peta’s boyfriend and a group of volunteers. What a luxurious lunch , decked table, quiches and salad all served with wine and beer. A true luxury treatment for us.
In the afternoon we did not see a single animal and wondered why until Peta pointed out the lots of lion tracks on the sandy road. Lots of them.
She found out from the lion research center in the national park that a large pride of lion had just moved into that area and that scared most of the game away. Needless to say, we were on high alter from that time onwards.
Back at the lodge and after warm showers we headed out with the land rover again for sundowners. We could really get used to those ! We drive to a Vlei (old river bed now covered in grass, rich with wild life and water holes) and snacked on spring rolls , chips and Wine watching the game drift by.
Elephants, baboons, impalas and finally also a rate sighting of African wild dogs.