Following a whirlwind day touring the Harare Urban Circuit, we all came together for breakfast the next morning to discuss what we had each observed and taken from our experience in the capital. The conversation was abundant with thought provoking insights. By the time our class meeting concluded, the group was abuzz with excitement and we headed off to our rooms to prepare for the next leg of our journey – it was time to fly off to Victoria Falls!
After a brief, hour-long flight northwest across Zimbabwe, we arrived in Victoria Falls eager for our next experience. Upon exiting the Victoria Falls Airport arrival hall, we were greeted by the Ilembe Shining Spears, a musical group performing for visitors in Ndebele warrior attire. Their music reminded us of the close cultural ties between the Zulus of South Africa and the Ndebele, which we had learned about before our trip. We then got ourselves situated on our bus and took the two hour drive to towards Hwange. On the scenic drive, we saw sable antelope as we drove by a private game reserve, the vast Hwange coal mining fields with mountainous tailings, rural households with thatched mud huts, and occasional foot traffic as children made their way home from school. The “Elephant Crossing” road signs caught out our attention as we neared the conservation area.
Never having too much downtime, we had barely settled at the lodge, where we were received a wonderful welcome from the manager Jamie and her staff, when we set out for our first wildlife spotting adventure. We divided ourselves into two groups and were led out by our proficient guides, Babusi and Zebedee, for our drive around the private reserve neighboring Hwange National Park. We often pulled over to the side of the road as our guides helped us identify a variety of plant and animal life, sometimes by sight and at other times through tracks and droppings. The birdlife was prolific among trees and bushes, such as the acacia, teak and black cooperwood. From the laughing dove (Spilopelia senegalensis) to the “work harder” bird (Cape turtle dove, or ring-necked dove (Streptopelia capicola)) whose call beckoned as the name suggests. There was no shortage as we saw some of the 400 bird species that are native to the area. As the afternoon turned into evening and the sun began to set, we all began to admire the beauty of the rich colors dancing in the sky. Within minutes of reaching a stretch of open savannah, with thinner foliage, we spotted what at first seemed to be a small herd of elephants. There was an exuberant chatter among us as we got closer, only to discover that the small herd was actually part of a larger herd, and before any of us knew it, we were parked within feet of these massive mammals that seemed unaffected by our presence. We settled down to watch the sun set over elephants that few they drank water, dug around the water holes, and locked tusks in challenge and jest. It was a scene few of us could have imagined prior to this moment.