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Published by Harmonia Norah, 2017-12-20 11:16:48

Africa

Africa

An African

ADVENTURE

Norah Casey’s latest African adventure was
everything a wildlife enthusiast could want
including sleeping with lions, sharing a pool
with elephants, canoeing with hippos and
rhino trekking.

PHOTOGRAPHS BY NORAH CASEY USING CANON POWERSHOT Africa is my spiritual home. When I the Saxon in Johannesburg. I’ve done stay at a series of lodges that are all
SX710HS; CANON POWERSHOT SX60HS; CANON EOS 100D need to feel connected to the planet many itineraries in Africa and this one, part of a small, independently owned
and in touch with life I head to the planned by Belfast-based Mahlatini, African company, African Bush Camps,
beautiful savannahs and deserts where was by far the best in terms of animal founded by Zimbabwean and former
animals still roam freely and the stars experiences. If you want to do the game guide Beks Ndlovu and his
litter the night sky. same, be prepared to immerse yourself wife Sophia (who runs the company’s
in a world without electricity, wi-fi or charity foundation). Beks’ passion for
This time, I wanted to really get up mobile signal. There are no telephones the wildlife is evident in the layout and
close to the animals and live as much in the bush, most tents have a whistle locations of the African Bush Camps
as possible in their natural habitat. and a fog horn for alerting the staff and I had the opportunity to see first-
The three-week trip took me from to minor (or major) emergencies. hand the wonderful work he and his
Ethiopia to Zimbabwe, camping on Pack sturdy boots and a bucket load wife do to help local communities.
the banks of the Zambezi then on to of courage, especially for the evening The real difference was perhaps in
the kingdom of lions and elephants canoe trip down the Zambezi, dodging the ethos of the camps, the ecological
in the Kalahari, before following in the hippos and crocodiles. preservation of the wildlife and
the footsteps of Dr Livingstone and environment and the tremendous pride
crossing into Zambia at Victoria Falls There are hundreds of options for among the staff that they were working
to trek rhinos. From Zambia, we safari lodges and camps all over Africa for one of their own.
went on to an idyllic island retreat in and I have stayed in many. But because
Mozambique with a final stay at one of I particularly wanted to be as close Full details and safari essentials on
the world’s most exclusive destinations, as possible to the wildlife, I opted to page 132.

IRISH TATLER 121

Zebra at Mana Pools

Armchair safari at
Kanga Camp

The perfect camp for idling away the
hours viewing animal life at the
waterhole right in front of the deck.

Kanga is the ultimate armchair safari, perched “We were all alone in the camp on the first night
on the edge of the only waterhole for a when an enormous elephant crossed the water just a few
10-kilometre radius in the world heritage feet from where we were huddled around the fire”
Mana Pools National Park. A real-life wildlife
documentary unfolds at Kanga Pan (the used to beautiful and strange names in Africa, Armchair safari at Kanga
waterhole) with constant comings and goings Bono’s team mates were Bread, Love, Nyellie Bono of the Bush
of elephants, baboons, warthogs, antelope and, unexpectedly normal, John. We were there
and hyenas, all under the watchful eye of the in July, which is winter in Africa. The mornings
resident crocodiles and hippo. Kanga Camp is and evenings are chilly so you can afford to
taken down during the rainy season (December leave a bit later for early morning safari drives.
to April) when the roads are impassable but in We were up at 5.30am and after a warming
the dry season this little gem is a magnet for bowl of sadza (cornmeal porridge) we headed
thirsty animals. We were all alone in the camp out to explore.
on the first night when an enormous elephant
crossed the water just a few feet from where For an elephant lover like me, Mana Pools
we were huddled around the fire. I could just is over 2,000 square kilometres of elephant
make out this gigantic grey mass wading in heaven. There is a huge elephant population
the shallows. I love elephants but this big boy (12,000 or more) so within ten minutes on the
was so close I could touch him if I stretched first morning drive we surprised a very grumpy
out my arms. The staff were pretty nonchalant, adolescent male who snorted loudly, raised
however, and told us Big Mac was the resident his trunk and charged. And Bono did nothing.
elephant and never strayed too far from Kanga. He didn’t even turn on the engine. I nearly
He particularly liked No 1 tent where I was lost my breakfast as, ears flapping, this huge
laying my head down during our stay. We fell elephant headed straight for us. Then he did the
into a routine with Big Mac dictating the terms. strangest thing. He stopped about a yard from
He munched the trees, scratched his back and us, trumpeted loudly and shook his head in
guzzled water as long as he wanted while I temper. It was clear he wasn’t going any further
watched from the safety of the tent. When he and after a few angry snorts he headed off back
ambled off I got to sit on the deck and marvel into the bush. I had never seen that before. I
at having an elephant as a neighbour. have shaky photographs from other safaris of
an elephant charge from the back of the jeep as
We had our very own Bono as a guide – we we’re careering off down the track to escape.
named him Bono of the Bush so as not to Bono says they’re all bluff and bluster at Mana
confuse the two. He was pretty adamant that Pools but they usually back down if you sit it
the other Bono was named after him. You get

Hippo at Kanga Pan

122 IRISH TATLER

LIVING

out. So, brazen it out we did, time and again, A charging bull
when territorial matriarchs and lonesome adult Female impalas at Mana Pools
males made a run for us. I got used to it enough
to take a photograph or two when my hands
stopped shaking. But we also had some serene
moments in the midst of a calving herd who
quietly fed on acacia trees. In the early morning,
we kept the bird guides on our laps as martial
eagles, lilac-breasted rollers, luna lovebirds
and brightly coloured bee-eaters vied for our
attention. There are over 380 bird species in
Mana Pools and once you have seen the big five
you appreciate more the long morning walks
taking in the pungent scent of wild basil where
the stars of the show are the smaller birds,
insects and plant life.

Mana Pools is a great introduction to safari
life and offers up-close animal encounters.
As well as lots and lots of elephants we also
spotted zebra, kudu impala antelope, hyena and
buffalo. The park does have lion and leopard if
you’re lucky enough to spot them.

MEMORABLE MOMENTS
Sitting under the shade of a mahogany tree
on the deck at Kanga Panatching, watching
a panorama of animals drinking from the
waterhole, a matriarch lead her herd to the
water’s edge, while a family of baboons on the
opposite bank took sips between playtime.

Kanga Pan NEED TO KNOW
There is hot running water, solar-powered
electricity, a central charging area for
mobiles and the food is superb and usually
served buffet style. All drinks are included
and you’ll love the sundowners in the bush,
especially on the dry river bed. I stayed in
Tent No 1 which was a palatial suite under
canvas with an outdoor shower and hot tub
and a nice viewing deck over the Kanga Pan.
This is one of two honeymoon/family tents in
the camp and there are four other standard
tents. There are lots of baboons frolicking in
the trees around the camp but they are really
well behaved and won’t enter your tent or

nick things from the deck like in other camps.

GETTING THERE
Our flight was an hour and a half from
Harare to the Dandawa airstrip not far from
Kanga Camp but we used the opportunity
to meander for a couple of hours after we
landed to take in an impromptu safari drive.
You can also self-drive and we met a couple
who did just that in an RV, it’s a good six
hours from Harare or Lusaka.

IRISH TATLER 123

Canoeing on the Zambezi River Buffalo
Expeditions Camp

Camping on the Zambezi

Dodging the hippos and crocodiles while canoeing down the Zambezi is not for the
faint-hearted but it was by far one of the best experience of the whole trip.

Our second stop was Zambezi people than any other animal in Africa. gently squeezing between the guide
Expeditions a mobile camp on the The river was full of hippos and their ropes and the trees to reach the fruit of
banks of the beautiful Zambezi. chorus of grunts and snorts kept us the fig tree. At any moment, they could
Elephants wandered between the six awake the first couple of nights. They have trampled me inside my little tent
small tents on the way to drink at the are aggressive and territorial and easy but they appeared to treat the tents
river and in the evening the hippos to provoke so we watched them lumber with care.
ambled up from the water to feed at to shore from a safe distance each
sundown. Given the very open access evening. This was by far my favourite It took us two days to pluck up the
to wildlife here, there were a few camp. This small team spend the courage to do the canoe trip down the
rules to abide by. Our guide Richard season together and they are warm and river. By then we had acclimatised to
assured us that the elephants would chatty and quickly put us at ease. Fadzi the openness of the camp and we were
never trample the tents or be spooked and Hope ran the camp while Richard, used to being among the elephants
by us standing quietly at the opening Kingsley and Cloud ran the wildlife and the hippos. Still, it was scary
flaps while they passed close by, but to adventures. At night time we enjoyed stuff. I sat in the front of the first
never come out into the open and stand banter, star watching and fantastic food canoe with Richard behind me while
in their way. My son, Dara, learned around the camp fire. The elephants Dara and a trainee guide were in the
that the hard way within minutes of were incredible. One afternoon I was canoe following us. The lead canoe
us arriving when he tried to take a quietly reading a book when I heard is not where you want to be (but I
picture of a big, cranky bull elephant in the zip of the tent rattling. I assumed could hardly put Dara in the front!).
‘must’ (a testosterone surge which leads it was Dara, but there was a tiny baby A hippo will only attack if it gets
to very aggressive behaviour). The elephant playing with the zip. Mum spooked or feels we’re threatening his
hippos were deserving of the utmost soon arrived to shoo her away. It was territory. Both looked highly likely as
respect given their permanent state of magical to hear the elephants eating hordes of ear twitching hippos glared
grumpiness and inclination to kill more the seed pods from the roof of the tent, at us from the opposite bank. ‘Don’t
worry we have hardly ever had an

124 IRISH TATLER

LIVING

incident,’ he told us. I didn’t like to theirs and after a while I was A bull elephant stretching
those odds. Hippos submerge for even able to video and photograph to reach to highest leaves
up to 12 minutes at a time and for the rest of our intrepid journey.
at any moment could come up It was incredible and terrifying and MEMORABLE MOMENTS
beneath us, toppling us straight I would do it again in a heartbeat. The sound of the beautiful ancient ‘mbira’
into the jaws of the watchful When we finally drove the canoes (like a thumb piano) which the chef played
crocodiles. The flimsy little canoe up the bank at our camp, pumped when we arrived and as we left. It’s a small
didn’t look like it stood much with adrenalin, hearts hammering, hand-held instrument that has been played
chance. We set off while the sun mouths dry, legs like jelly, we felt for more than 1,000 years in Zimbabwe.
was slowly descending and at first invigorated and mostly relieved to
it was blissful, with a graceful be alive. ACCOMMODATION
heron taking flight low over the This is a mobile camp set up in the dry season
mighty Zambezi. Stilt birds and There were many other from April to November with six two-bed
sea eagles caught our attention great encounters at Zambezi tents with bucket showers and outside flush
and we stopped to watch a group Expeditions. We went fishing with toilet. There is a covered lounge and dining
of elephants feed on the river’s the chef late one afternoon (Dara area for drinks and dinner but most of the
edge. ‘Just coming up to Hippo caught ten or eleven breams to activity centres on the boma which is lit
City,’ said Richard jauntily as we my measly two). We sipped beer morning and night time. There is no mobile
rounded the bend. Just then, right while the sun went down over signal or wi-fi at the camp so it’s a great
in front of me, a hippo came up the majestic river as the elephants digital detox. Given the remoteness of the
for air as surprised to see me as I arrived for their own sundowners camp the food is superb. Sadza (cornmeal)
was to see him. ‘Back up, back up, and I thought life couldn’t get with honey was a favourite on chilly mornings
back up!’ Richard shouted at the much better than this. but the chef also rustled up great salads,
canoe behind as he banged the oar beef fillets, pork chops and amazing desserts.
hard on the side of the canoe. As a I also saw something
tactic, it was slow to work as those extraordinary. The incongruous GETTING THERE
big bulging eyes contemplated sight of a bull elephant on his hind We drove from Kanga Camp which took a
which one of us would be the first legs stretching up like an acrobat couple of hours as we stopped for wildlife
to back down. Then he submerged to reach the juiciest leaves on the viewing on the way.
and the longest 12 minutes of top of an acacia tree. I had heard
my life began as we wondered about this bull, who was teaching recommend it highly enough. We
nervously whether he would come two younger elephants how to do came across huge herds of buffalo,
up beneath us or scamper away. this almost impossible manoeuvre, zebras, and antelopes, and tracked
Richard kept up the banging of a wildlife photographer had lions on foot one morning, finding
the oar on the canoe and I joined managed to capture him in full them lying in the sun on the dry
him with gusto urging Dara to stretch. Richard had driven us to river bed. We spied a fish eagle by
do the same. Eventually he rose all corners of the park in search the river and went for great early
noiselessly well away from us and of him and then finally on our morning walks wandering through
we tentatively began to paddle last day he spotted him from a groups of kudu, gazelles and
again. At that point, there was distance. He parked the jeep and baboons. But it was the glorious
no going back as we were gliding we gingerly crept up behind him sunsets over the Zambezi I will
alongside large mounds of hippo. between the bushes hardly daring remember most surrounded by
We kept to our side and they kept to breath until finally I was able to elephants and set to the backdrop
watch him twisting his upper and of the hippos’ chorus.
Richard, our guide lower body so that he could stretch
upwards to an impossible height
to feed off the leaves at the top. It
was quite something. We stayed
for some time photographing and
wondering at how this old bull
had ever learned to do something
no one has ever seen in the wild
before. Necessity really is the
mother of invention.

If you really want to live close
to animals and experience the
wilderness in all its glory then head
to Zambezi Expeditions, I couldn’t

IRISH TATLER 125

Cecil’s cubs

Sleeping with Lions

Cecil the lion became world famous when he was killed by a trophy
hunter a few years ago, so meeting his family was a special experience.
Little did I know, I would spend my first night with them too.

Hwange National Park is a huge expanse of THE STORY OF CECIL Bhubesi,
untouched Africa along the north-eastern end Cecil the lion became world famous for all the the lion
of the Kalahari Desert and one of Africa’s wrong reasons. He was hunted and killed by US
largest elephant sanctuaries. Nestled at its heart dentist Walter Palmer in 2015. Just a few weeks
is Somalisa Camp with breathtaking views of before our visit his son Xanda was also killed
the savannah plains. Somalisa had a lovely by hunters near the same spot on the fringes
infinity pool for guests before the elephants had of Hwange where Cecil died. The widespread
other ideas and began to come to drink and criticism of the killing of both lions
splash about in the pool in the early evening. drew attention to the big business
Eventually the camp bequeathed the pool to of lion trophy hunting. Walter
the elephants and another splash pool was Palmer paid $65,000 to hunt and
built for guests in a less open location. What’s kill Cecil with a bow and arrow
great about sharing a pool with elephants is which is primarily the reason why
how close they come to camp. Huge families some landowners prefer trophy
with tiny baby calves come to splash about in hunters to photo hunters. Only
the water and have some fun. I sat quietly right about 30,000 lions are left with
next to the pool as a huge herd approached the numbers being killed tripling to
and they barely noticed me in the stillness, save 1,500 over the past ten years.
for the click of the camera. It was an amazing
experience to be so close to such a magnificent Our guide Calvet Nkomo knew
herd of animals. Cecil very well and told us the
real story behind this remarkable
This is Africa as it might have been over 150 lion. Even before the notoriety
years ago. Hwange has more animal species brought on by his death, Cecil
than any other park in the country including was famous in Hwange. People
enormous herds of elephants, lions, buffalo, returned time and again to see him
sable, giraffe and African wild dogs. and the guides loved to tell his

126 IRISH TATLER

LIVING

colourful story. He was very distinctive, a huge right next to them. It was pitch NEED TO KNOW
13-year-old male with a long black mane. As a Hwange was really cold at night.
teenager, he was kicked out of his tribe by two black inside the tent and I was The team at Somalisa helpfully
brothers and unusually he befriended an older afraid to put on the light for provides fleecy hooded ponchos
lion, Jericho, who became a mentor figure to fear that would also let them with hot water bottles for the
Cecil. Together they successfully fought off the know that I was there. I put the
competition and took over their own pride. torch on my mobile and started morning drives.
to check the ties on the canvas
It was very special to spend time with Cecil’s
family. While Jericho the older lion lived on flaps to check they were secure ACCOMMODATION
to help protect the pride and his seven young (as if a piece of rope would Somalisa has seven luxurious Sail
cubs, he was also found dead by rangers deter two fully grown lions). It Tents with gauze sliding doors, a
under the shade of a bush in Hwange last year. was silent for some time and I glass wood-burner fireplace for
The lionesses held out for as long as possible was just settling back under the the cold winter nights, and an
before allowing another male lion to take over, overhead fan for the hot summer
knowing that he would kill Cecil’s cubs. When
they reached two years (nearly adult) they covers when the low rumbles days. Each tent has ensuite
agreed to let another male join them. In a bitter of the lionesses called out in bathroom facilities including flush
twist to the story of Cecil, his successor is none the distance. toilets, an indoor and outdoor
other than his old nemesis, Bhubesi, who along shower, and a copper slipper-style
with his brother Bush had ousted Cecil from his Thankfully, I thought, in the bathtub.
pride in 2012. far distance. The huge roar that

SLEEPING WITH LIONS followed let me know that my GETTING THERE
Perhaps the most memorable night of my time new neighbours hadn’t budged. We flew on a small aircraft from
in Africa happened the first night at Somalisa This continued until nearly Mana Pools to Manga airstrip
Camp. We had gone out with Calvet to find 5am while I clenched the fog about a 30-minute drive from
Cecil’s family and had spent hours filming the horn in trepidation that karma Somalisa main camp.
cubs and lionesses and photographing the new,
impressive male. We returned to camp after would dictate that a human
nightfall. Winter nights in the Kalahari are cold
and I was so glad to see the fire lit in the tent life at the hands (or teeth) of
and a hot water bottle in the bed. I wasn’t really
consciously taking in much more about the tent Cecil’s family would be justice on behalf of
but later I wished I had. There are no phones,
wi-fi or mobile signals at Hwange so as usual lions everywhere. It was only towards daylight
the fog horn was provided for life and death
emergencies and the whistle for more minor when a little courage returned that I thought of
needs. I did remember that the staff camp was a
reasonable distance away. how amazing it might be to record the sound.

At about 3am I was woken with the distant By then Bhubesi and his mate had ambled
rumble of the lionesses calling to each other as
they headed out to hunt. It’s unusual to hear off. I arrived at the camp fire for breakfast 30
them so close to camp so I sat up and took
notice. Just as I had contemplating putting minutes later about to tell my ‘shock and awe’
the lamp on, an enormous roar erupted from
right outside the tent. The male lion Bhubesi tale of the night but Calvet and the team were
and a lioness had set up camp next to me, just
a sheet of canvas between us. If you haven’t grinning broadly and congratulating me on my
heard it in real life, a lion’s roar is the loudest
of all animals’, lasting more than a minute good fortune as though it was all part of the
and building in intensity from low moans, to
ferocious roars, to short, harsh grunts as it plan. An incredible once in a lifetime experience.
settles down again. Heart hammering, I lifted
the fog horn and whistle and debated which Imagine if I had wimped out and blared the fog
one to use. By my logic neither was the obvious
answer as both would let the lions know I was horn? I’d never have lived it down. Calvet taught us how
to make a crown of

A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE strong grass for carrying
Calvet was a font of knowledge from how to buckets of water on the
use the roots of the Blue Bush for lipstick and long walk home

rouge to the benefits of boiling up elephant poo

for a therapeutic tonic. The birds at Hwange are

incredible and Calvet knew them all.

We watched the death-defying drop of the

red-crested korhaan, otherwise known as the

kamikaze or suicide bird, who risks all to

impress the females. We caught a lilac-brested Cape-gloss starling
roller on camera during a rare moment of rest

and studied the vivid blue of the cape-gloss

starling. Calvet taught us how to make a crown

of strong grass for carrying buckets of water

on the long walk home. We studied an elephant

carcass and tried to fit the various bones back

together and washed our hands with large devil Lilac-breasted roller
thorn afterwards.

IRISH TATLER 127

Students at the Mambanje School

The Lion Guardian

A simple but brilliant concept that saves
lions and protects cattle while helping to
fertilise the land one field at a time is one
of the ingenious local community
projects supported by African Bush
Camps Foundation.

For me, the wonderful part of travelling, a living in an impoverished area that survives
especially in the beautiful, unspoilt landscape mainly through subsistence farming. Of the
of Africa, is learning more about local 139 children attending the primary school,
communities. Responsible and ethical tourism 79 poor or orphaned children are funded
is tremendously important to the future of by the foundation, which has also helped to
Africa and I try to always support ecotourism install solar energy and pumps for water along
companies who reinvest in the local community. with a computer lab. ABCF’s investment in
So, while African Bush Camps has amazing teachers and facilities (it has just opened a new
lodges that are fantastic places to really cottage) has helped to recruit new staff to this
experience the splendours of the country’s disadvantaged rural area. Prior to that support,
wildlife, part of the proceeds from your stay is the school couldn’t attract teachers to work
ploughed back into worthwhile local projects there. Now it has become a bit of a magnet for
that are making a real difference to people’s teachers because the facilities are so improved.
lives. Through education, conservation and
local micro-finance projects the future of the The children now benefit from being fed
local community is protected by the good work fresh vegetables and meat with an onsite market
of African Bush Camps Foundation. garden and chicken coop. ABCF also helps to
support secondary school education through
MAMBANJE SCHOOL a scholarship scheme. Tourists visiting local
As day broke, we set off on the three-hour lodges and camps are encouraged to ‘pack for
drive to visit Mambanje Village which borders a purpose’ and bring stationary, books, pens,
Hwange with ABCF’s Mhlalisi Ncube and pencils, art materials and sporting equipment
Calvet our guide. which greatly benefit the school.

I wanted to visit the local school which
African Bush Camps Foundation (ABCF)
supports to see first-hand how important ethical
tourism is to local communities. Through this
invaluable initiative, vulnerable children are
educated; hungry tummies are fed and a new
generation is learning alternative ways to earn

THE BOMA PROJECT Polite Rhino
Polite Rhino proudly tells me that he is the Lion
Farmer Michael Guardian for the village. His job is to track the
shows us around lions along the border with the National Park
and alert the farmers to a potential threat. He is
funded by ABCF and his role, along with one of
the most ingenious and cost-effective inventions,
protects the cattle from the lions and the lions
from the farmers.
We are standing in a well-fertilised field,
surrounded by a white plastic boma (fencing).

128 IRISH TATLER

LIVING

Meticulous
bead-making

It was developed by academics at the University Meeting the inspiring
of Oxford as part of the Hwange Lion Research Thandanani Sewing
Project in response to a real need by local Project team
farmers to come up with a better plan than
the traditional boma (usually thorn bushes) or “Through education, conservation and local micro-
kraal where the cattle were easy pickings for finance projects the future of the local community
lions. The new, white plastic bomas ensure the is protected by the good work of African Bush
cattle stay safe for three really good reasons. Camps Foundation”
The animals can’t see the lions and no longer
get spooked. Previously many of them panicked more comfortable with the camera. It was a Beads made from
when the lions approached and attempted to magical little interlude in our day, with Michael recycled magazines
jump over the thorny Acacia branches and leading me around the farm on the back of the
jagged spikes, injuring or killing themselves in cart while the family fell about laughing at me Martha from the
the process. Secondly, the lions can’t see in and trying to stay upright. Vukani Group
although they can smell the cattle they don’t
know where they are and can’t hunt them. The One of the important ways that the
white, opaque plastic offers further protection foundation has helped the local community
because many wild species are intimidated by is through micro finance projects that create
something they don’t recognise and therefore income for local women. We stopped at two
will not challenge it. So far, no lion has yet projects in Dete, a village with no electricity
breached these bomas around Hwange to kill or running water. Dete has many orphans and
cattle, donkeys or goats. vulnerable children being cared for by elderly
grandparents due to high levels of HIV/AIDS.
The project also brought farmers together so Economic hardship means these projects are
that they now share the mobile boma and the often the only income for families.
cattle dung helps to keep the land fertile one
field at a time, so each landowner benefits. Since We stopped at the Thandanani Sewing
other lion guardians like Polite Rhino have Project, and I met Molly and Sheila and the
been employed, conflicts between lions and other dedicated, hard-working women in the
subsistence farmers around Hwange National group. Many of them are widowed and three
Park have declined by a half to three-quarters. are single mothers they told me as they showed
me how to make place mats from traditional
On the way out of the village we met a farmer fabric. The women benefit from the proceeds
leading an ox cart and I asked Calvet to ask of the blankets, bags and dressing gowns they
him if it was ok for me to take a photograph. make which are all sold through the Africa Bush
He introduced himself as Michael and not only Camps lodges.
did he pose proudly for the camera, he invited
me into his home where five generations lived We brought home some wonderful beads
together. They were celebrating the 107th made from recycled magazines at the Vukani
birthday of his grandmother who came to Group where Martha and her neighbours
say hello. His mother Maria had never had a (eight women and two men) crochet bags and
photograph taken so she stood stiff and solemn food covers along with handmade, colourful
until her grandson came to join her. Once necklaces and bracelets. They meet at one
we had done a few selfies she started to grin another’s homes and work the hours they
broadly while beseeching me to make her look can to better their economic circumstances.
better! Her granddaughters Isabella and another Further information and donations to
Maria and great grandson, Michael junior were Africanbushcampsfoundation.org.

IRISH TATLER 129

Victoria Falls

Glorious Victoria

Following in the footsteps of medical missionary David Livingstone, we Room enough for...four
took in the mighty Victoria Falls.

We bid a reluctant farewell to Hwange we could drop him at a lodge before home wore off we were back on the
and set off for the next stop on our crossing the border to our own home jeep with Philip, our guide, to explore.
African adventure. Once we chased for the next few days. It was all very First stop: the grand dame herself,
the elephants off Manga airstrip we relaxed and, even better, we had wi-fi Victoria in all her regal splendour.
scrambled on board with Calum our for the first time in three weeks.
pilot in a tiny, four-seater plane for DR LIVINGSTONE, I
the 40-minute flight to Victoria Falls. I We felt welcomed indeed. We were PRESUME
sat in the back with an elderly woman headed for the town of Livingstone and We had seen the Zambezi from the
from Harare and, although she didn’t our final safari destination, Thorntree banks at Mana Pools as she lazily
speak English, we shared the common River Lodge. meandered on the low plains, but
language of ‘I’m scared witless’ as we nothing quite prepared us for the sheer
were bounced around while the plane The team met us at the entrance; magnificence of seeing it drop over
flew low over the bush. Annie, who was to be our personal 100 metres in an awesome, panoramic
butler for the duration of our stay, waterfall extravaganza. At roughly
A nice woman called Cathy arrived Yaliwai, our hostess, and Quintino, twice the height of Niagara Falls and
wheeling a trolley for the luggage when the activities manager. The food, the well over twice the width, Victoria Falls
we landed at the quiet, little airport at service, the bar, sauna, pool, library, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and
Victoria Falls and, legs like jelly, my wi-fi…it was sensory overload after lays claim to being the world’s biggest
new companion and I wobbled the few camping in the bush. We hardly saw waterfall. We began our journey at
yards to the door of the terminal. A few each other for the first few hours as the top of the falls at the point where
minutes later, I was enjoying a reviving we both retreated to the luxurious the Zambezi plummets 500 million
cup of rooibos tea while waiting for rooms. Once the novelty of an indoor litres of water a minute over a sheer
pilot Calum to finish his paperwork so shower, blow-drying my hair, looking
in a mirror and reading the news from

130 IRISH TATLER

LIVING

cliff of basalt. The thundering noise at the Livingstone statue and stopping
off at the Tsonga village market
and explosion of spray can be seen for to barter for souvenirs. Dara loves
negotiating and took to the task with
30 miles, which is why locals named vigour sitting on low stools, according
to tribal custom. The Tsonga people
it Mosi-oa-Tunya, or The Smoke that believe that Nyami Nyami, a river god
with the head of a fish and the body of
Thunders. The curtain of cascading a snake, rules over the Zambezi. The
tribe sells various ways of wearing the
water stretches almost two kilometres, Nyami Nyami for protection and we
bought them all. Along with beautiful
separating Zimbabwe and Zambia. handmade elephants, paintings,
necklaces and copper bracelets. I had to
When he saw the magnificent call a halt when they brought out the
drums – Dara, by then, had spent all
Victoria Falls for the first time Dr our dollars and traded his sunglasses.
We stopped at the Livingstone museum
Livingstone wrote that the scene was so on the way back which helped put his
whole historic discovery into context.
beautiful that it must have been ‘gazed
One of the most memorable
upon by angels in their flight’. moments of the trip was trekking
Rhino in the Mosi-Oa-Tunya
We donned waterproof ponchos and National Park with Philip our guide
accompanied by three armed rangers
set off on the track from the Zambia from the National Parks. When we
spotted our first male rhino we realised
side with Philip pointing out the many he might have spotted us first as we
hastily pulled back out of range.
and varied ways tourists have lost Trekking on further we found what
I was longing to see – a mother and
their lives from attempting to cross the baby rhino quietly feeding in the bush. MODERN LUXURY
We remained quietly observing from a The recently opened Thorntree
river at the top of the falls (possible, distance for some time watching these River is a contemporary riverside
increasingly scarce rhino, protected by retreat, impeccably finished
but only with a guide) to leaning over the rangers from the constant threat of in muted tones with flashes of
poachers. copper and warm open fires
too far for the perfect photograph. He and lanterns used to bridge
We headed out for a few hours’ walk the interior décor with nature’s
needn’t have worried, as I ventured early the next morning through the own dramatic backdrop of the
national park, which is right on the Zambezi. Oversized lamps and soft
nowhere near the edge. He, on the doorstep of the lodge. I was delighted furnishings using natural African
to spot a male and female giraffe gently textiles were paired with natural
other hand, told us the many times he grazing among the trees. We hadn’t wood and stark black and white
seen many giraffes on this trip so it photographs adorning otherwise
had swam in the ultimate infinity pool was wonderful to spend time watching bare walls. Dara and I had rooms
them. connected through a glass-walled
of Devil’s Pond – an armchair shaped walkway with private plunge pools,
I made it back in time for a natural woven reed matting and
outcrop at the top of the falls where wonderful massage while the amazing stunning views of the Zambezi from
team at the lodge headed out to a small the floor to ceiling window. The
the full force of the Zambezi pins you island to prepare a special lunch for bathroom featured repurposed
our last day. Victoria Falls has always railway sleeper walls, with a
to the rocks while cascading over the been on my bucket list for the sheer recycled-oil drum skirting the bath.
awesomeness of mother nature in her
cracks to the sheer drop below. We powerful glory. Put it on your list, you
won’t regret it.
were there mid-season and the water

level was perfect. When the sun shines,

the water spray creates a stunning

360-degree

rainbow which is

quite something to

behold. We were

well and truly

soaked by the time

we had viewed the

Falls from every

The Tsonga Tribe vantage point,
posing for pictures

NEED TO KNOW
The Thorntree River Lodge is on
the back of the Zambezi, just a
short distance from Victoria Falls
and the town of Livingstone. It has
the advantage of being set in the
Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park so
you can enjoy nature walks right
on the doorstep. The Lodge has
eight twin rooms and two family
units comprising four beds each.
africanbushcamps.com

IRISH TATLER 131

Safari Essentials

AFRICAN BUSH CAMPS
The safari lodges we stayed in are part of an
independent company called African Bush Camps.
The camps are located right in the heart of the
wilderness, often on the edge of waterholes. Some
are taken down for the rainy season and others, like
the small camp at the Zambezi, move depending
on the season. We also wanted to trek as much
as possible and African Bush Camps offers great
nature walks with expert guides. These were
smaller, intimate camps and part of what made the
experience special was chatting around the fire with
the camp staff and really getting to know more about
life in the bush. See Africanbushcamps.com.

TRAVEL ESSENTIALS
We travelled in July which is winter. The weather
was warm during the day and a bit chilly at night.
For winter, pack layers and choose muted colours,
khaki, brown, grey or black (no bright colours in the
bush). For daytime, pack t-shirts, shorts, light trousers
and for evening, a warm fleece, a rainproof jacket,
long outdoor trousers, sturdy hiking boots and thick
socks, gloves and warm hat will suffice. All camps
have a daily laundry service. Mosquito spray is almost
always provided but do bring sunscreen, lip salve and
moisturiser with a high SPF. The good news is you will
not need any evening clothes, makeup or hairdryer.
For vaccinations, check with the HSE (Hse.ie) and
for visa requirements and travel advisories, with the
Department of Foreign Affairs (Dfa.ie).

AGE RESTRICTION
Most of the camps, except for Thorntree River
Lodge, are not recommended for children below 7
years. Children under the age of 16 are not able to do
walking safaris or canoeing, however nature walks
around camp are on offer.

TRAVEL PARTNER
Belfast-based Mahlatini is owned by South African
Greg Fox and specialises in travel to Africa and the
Indian Ocean. This was my second trip organised
by the efficient and patient Claire Picknell who has
an intimate knowledge of most of the safari camps,
hotels and island retreats so can guide you on the
best itinerary to suit your needs. Without Mahlatini
I would never have discovered some of the amazing
places I have visited across Africa. If you want to
follow in my footsteps or come up with an amazing
adventure of your own then give them a call, you’ll be
in good hands. See Mahlatini.com.

GETTING THERE
We flew from Dublin to Harare via Addis Ababa with
Ethiopian Airlines and our return journey was from
Johannesburg to Dublin via Addis. Ethiopian Airlines
offers four services weekly from Dublin to Addis
Ababa. Addis is also a gateway to 58 other African
destinations served by Ethiopian which means
you can organise domestic transfers to many other
locations. Telephone; 01 812 5916;
ethiopianairlines.com

132 IRISH TATLER


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