Tuesday May 15- Hwange National Park

One of the main attractions when visiting Zimbabwe is Victoria Falls.  Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall in the world and is only a hop, skip and a jump away from Antelope Park.  So when in Rome/Zimbabwe, do as the Roman's/Zimbabwean's do- go to Victoria Falls!

So we embarked on the journey which was laid out for us as follows: travel to Hwange National Park on Tuesday, arrive in Victoria Falls Wednesday, have all of Thursday and Friday at Victoria Falls and then travel all the way from Victoria Falls back to Antelope Park on Saturday.

For Alex and I, this journey was more than just visiting Victoria Falls and being tourists for a little bit, but it was also a chance to get to visit with our new found and absolutely fabulous friend, Celine.  Celine, who had left Antelope Park earlier in the week to continue her trip to Madrid, was spending some time in Victoria Falls at the same time that we were going to be there so we had arranged to meet up and do our activities together at Victoria Falls.
So we pack into my second favourite chariot of Africa, the 15 passenger van, that is not suited for 15 people.  With our AWESOME driver Simba and even AWESOMER (just go with it...) guide Kailos, we set out on our drive.  The drive was scheduled to take the majority of the day, with us arriving at our lodge near Hwange National Park in the middle of the afternoon, which would allow us to go for a game drive in the park before it closes.  
On route to Victoria Falls

The drive took us through Bulawayo (the second largest city in the Zimbabwe) where we picked up lunch and continued onwards.  When embarking on a road trip in Canada, the only stops are those for bathroom breaks and food breaks and the occasional "enjoy the scenery" break.  When in Zimbabwe, the stops include those for toll booths, bathroom breaks, food breaks, police checks, and the ever frequent stretch-your-legs break for the older volunteers.

*We had the pleasure of having 2 older volunteers on our trip, which was refreshing in that Antelope Park was dominated by a younger crowd.  However, there was a slight language barrier with one of the older women, and a definite personality clash with the other.  I could go on forever about these women and the good, bad, and ugly entertainment they provided, but let's just say that they were not good travellers AT ALL, and they were more than a pain for the majority of this trip.

On our road trip, Kailos provided entertainment, describing landmarks as we passed.  After an unforgiving ride in relentless heat in a vehicle with no air conditioning, we noticed the trees encroaching on the road.  The trees were various shades of autumn and we knew we were departing from our standard scenery of tall grass and occasional bushes found at Antelope Park.  The occasional monkey would show up on the side of the road and the trees got thicker, and suddenly, signs for Hwange National Park appeared.  
Our Cruiser to Hwange
We pulled into a quaint little lodge that was our destination for the night and were greeted poolside by staff who gave us our keys and showed us to our rooms.  To say these rooms were extravagant would not do them justice.  By any standard, they were beautiful.  There were two slightly-larger-than single beds, two mosquito nets, a fan, a table with tea inside the room, and outdoor toilet and an outdoor shower.  But the best part of the room?  The mattress!  The mattress was a giant squishy and extremely comfortable foam spread with crisp white linens.  It was a welcome sight after a week at Antelope Park, sharing a room with four girls and their oversized luggage.  Don't get me wrong, Antelope Park has accommodations that exceeded my expectations, but this was like being treated like royalty.
We quickly brought our things to our room and made our way back the entrance to our lodge where we had two open cruisers with plush seats waiting for us.  We split up into our cruisers and took off towards Hwange National Park to take a 3 hour game drive.  Hwange is a game reserve the size of Belgium and boasts huge numbers of wildlife.  We rolled through the entrance to the park and were informed immediately that all the animals were wild and there was no guarantee that we would see any wildlife.  However, since it was just hours away form sunset, this was the perfect opportunity to see animals.

The road less travelled
We were barely feet into the park and we were immediately greeted by an array of animals.  Several types of birds, both commonplace and rare we flying overhead, impala were standing roadside, a puff adder was poised on the road, and we were dodging monkeys as we started on our way.  We started down the paved main road and detoured onto a gravel road where elephants were standing just behind the tree line ripping trees up with their trunks.  We continued on our way, in awe of the wildlife greeting us and passed by a watering hole where nearly 100 elephants were wading with their babies, showering themselves in water, drinking, and pulling up grass.  We spent a fair bit of out time observing the elephants with their babies, and decided to move on with hope of seeing more animals.

Puff Adder
Our ultimate destination was a large waterhole a little ways into the park with an elevated viewing platform for visitors.  On our way, we saw elephants at waterholes, ostriches in the distance, elephants in herds standing roadside, giraffes peeking through tree tops, elephants chasing us in our truck, and crocodiles sunbathing in the remaining sunlight beside small pools of water.  We also saw herds and lone zebras, herds of elephants, kudo, wildebeest and impala at every corner and more elephants.  We found lion tracks in the sand, hoof and paw prints of various animals and chased the sun as we neared our platform.

We saw a lot of elephants. A LOT.  And they were beautiful.  They grunted and trumpeted, and charged when we made too much noise or got to close to where their babies were.  We had a show down with an adolescent elephant who would not move out of the middle of the road, and watched them destroy tress.  We could have spent our entire time in Hwange watching hundreds of elephants at a time, but the sun was setting and we had a destination

We finally arrived at the platform and followed a line of ants up the stairs to our elevated viewing point.  And we saw the picture of Africa, minus the lions.

There was a large watering hole in front of us with a couple of crocodiles sun bathing in the remaining sunlight.  There was 3 large elephants waiting at the edge of the water, one of whom was drinking while the others tried to intimidate the croc to move.  There were zebra standing beside anthills just a short distance from the watering hole and there were giraffes coming from the distance.  The sun was setting behind us, casting a purple, orange and yellow coloured sky on the clouds, and the trees were becoming dark silhouettes.

It was beautiful.  There are only so many pictures I could take to capture the moment, but they just do not do it justice.  We did not get to spend nearly enough time there before we were ushered back to our cruisers where we raced against the setting sun to make it back to the entrance to the park in time.

Our cruiser brought us back to our lodge, were we could hear the trumpeting elephants in the distance at the watering hole just behing the lodge.  After a long day of travelling and enough picturesque moments to last me until my next trip to Africa, we made our way back our waiting beds.  Alex and I quickly snuggled into our appropriate beds with zero intentions of leaving our room because of the lingering warning of wildlife that wander through the lodge.  We were told that anything from warthogs, elephant and even lions could come through at night because of the nearby waterhole, and it was in our best interest that we stay inside after dark.  So with that, we decided to get caught up on some much needed rest beneath our mosquito nets in our crisp sheets.

Best. Sleep. Ever.

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