Well here is the concrete proof that I got as up close and personal with an actual lion as possible! I am truly thankful to the guides who accompanied us on the bush walk with the lions. At the start of our walk they happily took possession of our cameras and clicked away throughout the walk capturing photos that are truly once in a life time. And in my case, proof that I lived out my dream which I needed to show to Lawrence, Mr. Dingwa and Buche to actually prove that I did what I said I was going to do!
We headed out on the Lion Bush Walk at about 4:30 pm and after walking into the game park a little distance were joined by our two lion companions, one year old brother and sister.
Lions are legendary nocturnal creatures who spend the better part of the day sleeping and resting up for their night hunting activities. Like most inhabitants of Africa they seem to mind the heat and spend the daylight hours in lazy mode. This tendency to nap was extremely obvious with this pair. As the sun was still shining hot and brightly it took a while for my new friends to manage to much else rather than take rest breaks.
Once they joined us, the guides gave us ample opportunity to meet and greet while they took photos for us. I have to warn you at this point that I am lucky enough to have a significant number of photos which I am going to include here. This was a dream come true for me and these pictures are priceless so I am eager and proud to show them off. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Our initial meet and greet:
We were told that lions do this when it is hot to regulate their body temperature but I think that this guy just wanted to capture my heart.
Guess who couldn’t resist a rub???? with the guides permission although it was obvious that no one had ever asked to do this before, I wonder why not?
Who gets to rub the tummy of a year old lion????????? ME
I told they liked to nap
We didn’t make it very far when it was time for another rest!
Until it is nap time again!
Fortunately the sun was quickly going down so natural instincts started to kick in and we were off and running, well sort of :
As darkness fell my two friends natural instincts certainly became apparent and it was soon time for us to part company before I became supper.
All I can say is that as you can tell by the pictures that I had a once in a life time opportunity and I don’t know anyone else who got to spend such quality time with these amazing creatures. Who knows since I have been invited back to Lawrence’s parents I just may get an chance to go exploring the bush with my new sweetie when he is even bigger and more mature…now that could be fun as well as dangerous.
My lion adventures started with the educational tour of the Lion breeding program at Antelope Park. The African Lion and Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) is one of the world’s leading conservation programs to help save the African lion from extinction. This program is dedicated to the facilitation and promotion of sound conservation and management plans for the African lion. It takes a responsible development approach to saving and revitalizing the species while also providing substantial social, cultural, ecological and economic benefits.
The program’s primary focus is the breeding of lions and a four stage release program that acclimatizes the lions through 4 stages to the ultimate goal of release back into the wild. The lions for the initial breeding program produce cubs that are removed from their mothers at the age of three weeks old. The purpose of this is so the cubs are brought up to respect their human handlers. It is this fact that made my walk in the bush with them possible but more about that later.
The program also does research into the effects of FIV (feline Immuno Deficiency Virus, the equivalent of HIV in lions). During my tour I was told that the program had successfully produced FIV-free cubs born from lions who are both infected with FIV. While there is no known cure for FIV research for treatment and prevention is on-going at Antelope Park through the ALERT program.
My educational tour included the opportunity to get as up close and personal with adult lions as you can get. I am happy to admit that while visiting the adult lions enclosures, I was the only one who held my ground at fence, not running quickly away when a somewhat cranky male lion sought to assert his authority.
This picture was taken just before Poppa Lion decided to rush the fence to assert his dominance. Let’s just say that I was close enough to him to smell his rather stinky breathe but loved every moment of it.
Following my personal tour of the adult facilities, it was back to the main center where I had to participate in a twenty minute lecture before heading out on the Lion Bush Walk.
The lecture included more information on the release program which is comprised of four stages as I mentioned. The first phase is the breeding program and removal of cubs from their mothers at three weeks old. The next stage is introducing the lion cubs to the bush and hunting environment. Once they are about six months old they are ready to be taken out into the bush twice a day for the development of their hunting instincts. These are the lions that participate in the bush walks with humans up until they are about 18 to 20 months old.
The purpose of the bush walks are for them to gain exposure, confidence and killer instincts so that they can make their own kills for food rather than be dependent on feeding by their human handlers. The bush walk takes place in an actual Savannah that is inhibited by all of the game that one would normally encounter. Here the lions have the opportunity to learn and practice their natural killer instincts…the guides are along to ensure that the accompanying humans don’t become the prey!
Once these lion cubs mature and become proficient hunters they are then released into Stage 3 of the program. This involves moving them to a new enclosure where they will no longer have any contact with humans. The enclosure is large and contains a variety of species so that the lions can continue to hone their hunting skills. This program is extremely expensive as we were told that a single zebra or wildebeest costs approximately $1,000 dollars and the lions often kill at the rate of one or two per day.
As the lions mature and mate new offspring enter the cycle which have no human exposure. As the hunting skill level increases, other natural predators and scavengers are introduced to the environment to provide competition to the lions. The goal is to make them totally self-sufficient within an environment that replicates the wild. Cubs who grow up and mature in this stage will then be ready to be released into the wild ensuring that this species will no longer face possible extinction.
The program will take many years to complete even one full cycle and release program and as I mentioned extremely costly to undertake. However, it is the African lions best chance at survival in their native environment.
In preparation for the bush walk we were given the following instructions:
Never get too low to the ground with the lions. You need to keep your eye level above theirs in order to establish dominance.
Never stray or wander away from the group as you will find yourself being stalked as prey!
Always carry a large stick which can be used to distract the lions if they are attacking one of the humans on the bush walk!
If the lion jumps on you don’t panic, the guides are trained to get them off of you but be prepared to suffer some heavy gashes from their paws or jaws!
Never run from a lion cause that just makes it fun for them to take you down!
Each one is unique and special. To me, they symbolize new territory to explore and adventure on the other side of concrete walls, fences and cranky immigration officers. You always have that heart stopping moment or two as you hand over your documents wondering if you will make it through or not. If all of your paper work is in order. Is your immigration or customs officer having a good day or bad? Some you are happy to visit again and again. Others, well let’s just say once is enough. They are a challenge to be conquered but not to be repeated.
You need to keep reading to discover how I feel about the Ramokgwebana/Plumtree boarder post between Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Having left Gabs at 4 pm which was much later than anticipated due to work commitments Lawrence drove straight through from Gabs to the border posts with no stops except at a tiny petrol station just a couple of kilometers from the border. We were pushing to make the crossing before the border closed for the night at 10 pm and thankfully we made it by 8:30 pm with time to spare.
Pulling into the parking lot on the Botswana Ramokgwebana side we noticed lots of activity. Given the time of night, Lawrence had figured that the crossing wouldn’t be that busy. As we exited the vehicle with me desperately seeking a toilet to relive my rather full bladder the size of the immigration ques became extremely obvious. So like the good traveler that I am, I sucked it up and got in line to hold our place while Lawrence was doing toilet reconnaissance.
When he finally arrived back to the line up looking relieved and happier my stubborn gene had kicked in….any surprise there??? As the line up was moving at a reasonable pace with new participants arriving all of the time, I wasn’t going to jeopardize my spot by slipping out of the que when it was simply mind over bladder. Given that I did not have the Dingwa household address to rattle off for the immigration officer, I needed to remain with Lawrence so we could go through immigration together. Plus, he had to do additional queuing in order to take his car over the border.
Interestingly enough the large majority of those in line were Zimbabweans going home for a visit. Let’s just say that Zimbabweans are much more polite and friendly to stand in line up with than some others. In fact, I have fond memories of a Zimbabwean gentleman coming to my rescue in the visa line up in Gaborone when I first arrived in Botswana. For those of you who missed that story you can find it at https://cheryljdalziel.com/2012/09/29/back-to-the-immigration-office/
I digress. The que was long but friendly and eventually we wound our way to the front and through the paperwork without a lot of fuss or questions. Whew!!! But it is always easier leaving a country than entering in these parts….
Exiting the building ahead of Lawerence, who was finishing off the paperwork to take the car through the border I made my mad dash to the toilet with a bursting bladder. Now before I go any further I just want to reiterate for the uninitiated that public and even sometimes private toilets in Africa are not for the faint hearted. They are an adventure in and of themselves. Like border posts, some are better than others…others, well let’s just say that going in the bush is far more preferable.
My best travel advice to date is that “Never, Ever visit the toilets at the Ramokgwebana border post”!!!!!! EVER!!!! My friendship with Lawrence could have ended because of this. Seriously! It is by far the worse toilet that I have ever made use of anywhere that I have been in Africa. I still shiver and cringe just thinking about it.
When in Africa as a female you always carry a roll of toilet paper or tissues on you for use as public toilets never have toilet paper. So it is a given that you carry your purse with you when visiting the necessary. So picture this if you please……a beyond filthy rest room, zero toilet paper and toilets that you simply didn’t want to get within fifty feet of but a bladder beyond bursting. It is simple, you consider it yet another adventure and go for it. So I earned my skills as an acrobat.
Huge purse over my shoulder (now where to set it down), wad of tissue out, the infamous denim skirt hiked up and panties down and a healthy fear of coming within two feet of the toilet seat……..another lesson learned, the longer the delay in visiting the necessary, the fuller the bladder…the longer it takes to relieve it. After maintaining the balancing hovering act for what felt like far too longer the desperation to exit my surroundings was almost equal to my desperation for visiting in the first place.
Quickly exiting the toilet stall which only redeeming quality was that it actually had a functioning lock mechanism (another rarity in Africa) I beat a hasty path to the equally filthy sinks to at least rinse my hands before making my way to the car where a pack of hand wipes were gloriously awaiting me. While standing at the sink two elderly ladies joined me. To my surprise they were actually giggling. Figuring that they like many others that I encounter were not that use to white women within their surrounds I just smiled and greeted them formally. Feeling as if I had paid them the respect that they were due, the giggling only got worse.
Finally as I was turning to leave the room one of them addressed me and said I quote “You have a naughty skirt!”
Remember this was the skirt whose malfunction before I had even left home had started my adventure off. Thinking that perhaps the fitted style of the skirt was too modern for her, I simply smiled, nodded and again turned to exit.
Then she stopped me again saying I quote “No, wait your skirt is naughty”. She then pointed down to my rather ample booty which was prominently on display as my naughty skirt was caught up in my panties. It seems that in my acrobatic state of attempting balance a purse & body in the hovering position and then haste to exit the downright filthy disgusting stall I had inadvertently caught my skirt in my panties. Thankfully they were clean and cute and this wonderful woman prevented me from walking out of the door into the parking lot where it would feel like half of the population of Zimbabwe returning home would have been treated to a sight to behold.
With a proper thank you this time and a far more respectful exit I arrived back at the car more eager and ready to arrive in Zimbabwe then you can imagine. Fortunately my entry into Zimbabwe through immigration and customs was far less eventful and we were soon back on the road with me at the wheel.
When you arrive in Zimbabwe through the Botswana border post of Ramokgwebana you are entering Plumtree, Zimbabwe. Don’t you just love that name? Feeling lighter and happier although it was now almost 10 pm at night, I was set to do the approximately four hour drive to Lawrence’s home in Gweru. Passing through Plumtree, Figtree and other small towns on the way to Bulawayo where we going to stop to grab something to eat I was in the groove in the driver’s seat….
Until I was rudely stopped by the Zimbabwean police at a road block literally in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. Having been warned by Lawrence in advance that the police in Zimbabwe are not always your friend (like Buche tells me they are here in Botswana) I was at least somewhat prepared. Pulling to a stop, which frankly was a little more difficult as I was driving slightly faster than the speed limit was if there had of been any signs telling you what the speed limit was suppose to be, I put on my most charming smile.
Lawrence lounging in the passenger seat next me claimed that he has never seen such a transformation in me. Lawrence has seen many aspects of my personality including my penchant for independence and beating him up in public but he had never experienced me being “charming”. He watched enthralled as I simply charmed my “Zimbabwean Police Officer friend”. Less than five minutes later I was departing the road block with a smile and wave for my new friend, who hadn’t once mentioned that I was speeding. Nor was any exchange of cash necessary which is incredibly unusual as this is the purpose of the road blocks in the first place.
Back on the road with the most charming drivers we soon arrived in Bulaway, Zimbabwe’s second largest city and one that Lawrence has actually only visited once or twice before. So at midnight I was navigating through a city I had never been in before seeking food. Success was easily at hand and arriving downtown it was simply as easy as parallel parking with a captive audience watching the oddity of a white woman chauffeuring a Zimbabwean man at midnight.
While Mr. Small Bladder visited the men’s room ( I was not going down that road again determined to wait until we arrived at the Dingwa household) I stood in line to order food. Are you recognizing the pattern here? I certainly am :0 While patiently waiting to order after driving for a couple of hours I need to stretch out my legs. Then a great song came on and I was a goner. You guessed it, the impulse to dance couldn’t be controlled. Lawrence returned to the sight of me wiggling in line while the manager was yelling “you go girl” and a growing audience appeared at the plate glass windows looking in from the street. To be honest to you, I wasn’t really even dancing that much. Just more wiggling in time to the music. Honest! However, do to the growing crowd and spectacle someone in the back decided to abruptly shut off the music so that the white girl could calm down and the crowds disperse.
With a brief dance reprieve, food in my belly and back in the driver’s seat I was ready to push on to make the final drive to Senga, Lawrence’s village within Gweru. As we entered this stretch of driving we encountered road construction site after construction site. Each one was marked by “robots” traffic signals indicating when to pause or proceed. Not to lay blame here but due to extenuating circumstances and pressures I perhaps proceeded through a red light that I shouldn’t have. But in my defense so did two others before me and it was 1:30 am in the morning.
Well, that simply led to my second police halt of the night and my brief time in Zimbabwe. I must have set a record! This time I didn’t even try to charm this one because I knew it would be a mistake to even try. However I did make the mistake of showing him my driver’s license…BIG MISTAKE! You see in Canada if a police officer asks to see your license you immediate produce it no questions asked. In Zimbabwe you avoid it all costs. It took my friend Lawrence more than 40 minutes of discussion with the said police officer to get it back for me while I waited patiently and extremely quietly in the car which is hard to do at 2:00 am.
When Lawrence finally returned to the car after 2:30 with my PEI driver’s license in hand, I was willing to forgive his making me wait to pee at the border post. Fair is fair!
This portion of our adventure finally ended half an hour later when we arrived at the Dingwa household to a warm reception even though it was now 3 am. An hour later warmly ensconced in bed under so many blankets that I could have smothered but needed because it really was that cold I was ready for a couple hours of sleep before I continued my adventures again early in the morning.
After eating dinner in the open dining room which would be utilized the next morning for our workshop, Lawrence and I headed for the truck to go meet some friends. On the way to the truck I was fully distracted by a very large animal sound coming from the bush less than 10 feet from me. While Lawrence headed straight for the safety of the truck, I headed for the sound.
Typical me, here I was wandering into the bush in the pitch black of the night towards some kind of large animal trying to make a noise similar to it. Well, guess what? My efforts were not wasted. By attempting to replica the snorting/expelling of air sound I was hearing, I was rewarded with another version coming from the bush. The pattern became, take a couple of steps, make the sound, listen for the answer which always came and then do it all again. Eventually I was about two feet from the actual bush where my conversationalist was. By now I was convinced that it was a Wildebeest with whom I was conversing. Not exactly sure what I was saying to him but it obviously was appealing to him.
Finally, my friend Lawrence who had been blithely hanging out in the truck made it obvious that it was time to stop talking wildebeest and get in. So much for my romantic interlude in the bush…or so I thought 🙂
After a late night on Friday hanging out with Lawrence’s friends in the tiny village of D’kar, we made our way back to the Lodge. Making the long journey down the 10 km track after midnight was a bit of a challenge I have to admit. And Lawrence and I had our familiar fight. A couple of kms into the sand track was a large gate separating the top farm land from the game preserve. To put it more succiently, separating the large cats (cheetahs & leopards) from the cows.
Lawrence, who was doing all of the driving wanted to be the one to get out and open and close this gate. This made no sense to me as I was more than capable to do it. Somehow he thought it would be better if the big cats ate him instead of me. When in fact I was the one who wanted to meet face to face with them and wasn’t the least bit fearful…in fact, my mother keeps cautioning me not to bring one home with me when I return to Canada in December.
All this to say, I gladly walked around the bush at night, opening & closing gates as we drove through them. Watching the amazing sky filled with more twinkling stars than I have ever seen in my entire life. You could stand mesmerized for hours just looking up at the indigo night sky filled with sparkling diamonds. All the while listening to the sounds of the bush alive at night with those animals out seeking their nourishment. All in all it was a specular end to a long day.
I finally got to taste a well known Botswana delicacy called a fat cake.
A Fat Cake or as it is referred to in local languages , Magwinya, is a dough fried in oil. It is considered a fast food here in Sub Sahara Africa and I have been hearing for months how yummy they are.
So having spent almost five months here without tasting it, I took matters into my own hands as you can see above. Our office staff has an amazing cook and baker in it’s midst. Masego is our operational support assistant who recently won a South Africa magazine’s recipe contest. There was no one better to go to with my quest to taste the best fat cake.
Hoping that she would simply tell me where to go to buy the best, she instead generously offered to make some for me. Due to the power outages all week – the power went off again mid-afternoon yesterday and did not come back on until after 9 pm last night – she couldn’t bake. So this morning she got up at 5 am to make them for me!
All I can say is that it was delicious and I will probably never taste another while I am here as I am positive that they will not live up to the yummy batch she made for the office. Once you have tasted the best, why eat ones that aren’t!
So Masego, Thank you so very much for graciously preparing fat cakes for me. The wait was truly worth it!
Post Script: AND here is Masego’s recipe for Fat Cakes
1 sachet of yeast
oil for frying
luke warm water
mix all the ingredients with luke warm water, mix till the dough is very soft
Bring oil to stove, when its really hot, cutyour dough in to ring, size doesnt matter, put the dough in hot oil, keeping turning when it turns light brown, remove when its brownish.
It is a beautiful lodge which is actually owned and run by the San people (or as they prefer to be called, Bush men). It was located down a 10 km long sand track and the lodge actually sits on a 7500 hectares (18,500 acres) protected game reserve and includes a wide variety of game including giraffe, eland, zebra, wildebeest, hartebeest, kudu, impala, warthog and other small game. It also has a number of cheetah plus leopard and brown hyena.
The lodge has no electricity but does have a solar powered generator that they turn on for a couple hours most days. The rooms we were in were spacious and lots of candles to light at night as the generator always went off at 10 pm!
And I just have to post it again! I need to build Lawrence’s capacity to pack lighter for the bush 🙂 I could pack lighter too, if I didn’t need sun protection lotion & insect repellent. But at least I can still squeeze everything into a small suitcase…shoes and all…I still don’t know what all he had in his LARGE suitcase.
From my room, I could lie in my bed with the large wooden door (top half ) open and watch the watering hole which was about 50 metres from my room. In fact, I left the top half of my door open a lot and I was informed that at night I really needed to keep it closed as any kind of game could actually wander into my room including the cheetahs, which I heard from my room one night but didn’t see.
While the campers had hot water, for some reasons the hot water in the rooms was not functioning so I got to have cold showers every day which do cool you down in the extreme heat. My only problem was that I forgot to bring shampoo and had to go three days without washing my fine hair! But no one seemed to notice but me.
However, the space that I was facilitating was what presented the biggest challenge. It was a beautiful open space that was used as a lounge/dining area. It was basically wide open to the perusal and just dropping by of the wild game!
So you can see – no walls! I actually sent the flip chart behind flying over the wall at least three times. Saying that working in the room was challenge was an understatement. My next posting will be all about that! Facilitating in the Bush.
We also had a swimming pool which I of course headed for when I could. I even taught Mr Zimbabwe how to actually swim. And no, he didn’t have a swimsuit in that HUGE suitcase but he bought some in Ghantzi.
Okay, unfortunately that is all I have time to write today…the social butterfly is off for a posh dinner at the Grand Palm!
Due to internet connectivity, I didn’t get to finish my early posting about the drive through the Kalahari. Along with the domestic animals such as cows, donkeys, goats (lots and lots of goats), sheep and wild horses, we also experience some great wild life.
Two foxes and a springbok ran in front of our truck as we were driving. We also saw a very large group of ostrich running through the plains.
Ostrich were to become a theme for the weekend. Stay tuned if you want to read that story!
Now to the fun stuff…although I am struggling with the internet. The connection is intermittent and I want to be sure to get something fun up on my blog before I hit the swimming pool for the second time today.
Let me start with the journey to the Kalahari desert. We left while it was still very dark out and our main concerns were being extremely careful to not hit livestock, wild animals or people on the road. With only the light from our vehicle and a quarter moon it was difficult to see any distance ahead. And as I noted before, livestock hangs out on the side of or right in the middle of the road at an alarming frequency.
My job as navigator was to spot possible harzards, warn Lawrence and when we got abreast of them…he also expected me (as he knows that I grew up on a farm like he did) to soundly lecture the creature to get off the road. In some cases, this approach worked in others not so well. You see, the most dangerous animal when you are driving here in Botswana is the donkey. Yes, I said the donkey!
These animals have breed prolifically and now roaming at will every where you go in Botswana. Unlike some of the other creatures who have no shame in sauntering out slowly in front of your vehicle or taking their time crossing, donkeys seem to love to stand for hours on the road! Nothing seems to disturb them or chase them off. There is a reason why they are know for being stubborn.
The drive up the highway, other than avoiding hitting something, was wonderful. The landscape is beautiful. The nicest that I have seen in Botswana. We first climbed through the hills just on the outskirts of Gaborone which are beautiful any time of day or night. Then we passed a major town, Jwaneng before getting into the Kalahari.
Ah, the Kalahari. It is said to be the birthplace of man and it truly feels like the Garden of Eden to me. Somehow the land, people and wildlife spoke to a visceral life force in me. Touching me in a way that Africa had not yet touched me. The Kalahari felt like home to me.
To steal a description for you from a guidebook:
“The Tswana call it the Kgalagadi: Land of Thirst. And this is dry, parched country. If not a land of sand dunes, then it’s certainly a land painted by a sand palette: blood and mud reds and bleached bone yellow; dust that bites you back as you taste it in the morning. But come the nights this hard end of the colour wheel shifts into its cooler, sometimes white-cold shades: indigo nights that fade to deepest black, and blue stars ice-speckling the impossibly long horizon. Indeed the local San (Bushmen) insist that here you can hear ‘the stars in song’ behind the dark.”
I really could not have described it better myself. I know what many of you are thinking…how can you love some place with unrelenting heat, blowing sand , electricity only in the major settlement areas , little water, dust and several hundred kms between towns? I do and will probably never be able to explain it to anyone else.
But it is what has drawn me to live and work in Africa since the tender age of 14. It is what calls me back every time I visit an African country. It is the proud, strong, resilient Africa where the land and people blend so seamlessly. It is a land of strength and survival. It is land of utter beauty found in some many ways. It is Africa. It is home.
My only regret is that I do not have a descent camera that allows me to capture the true magic of the Kalahari but here are some of the pictures that I took with my meagre Canon powershot.
Well, I have returned home yet again! You know when I said that I was in the bush a couple weeks ago in Zanzibar, Botswana…well, that wasn’t really the bush at all.
This time I was truly in the bush! Staying at the only Bushman Lodge in Botswana run by the oldest race of people on this earth. It was truly a wonderful experience and I have lots of stories to tell but right now I am simply exhausted from a very long 9 days straight of working and being on the go. So I will reserve my stories until tomorrow except that I will leave you with these two pictures to wet your appetite.
Check out the size of the two suitcases that were taken to the Dkar Lodge…mine is on the left and Lawrence’s was the BIGGER one on the right. He begged and pleaded with me not to post the picture but guess what, it didn’t work. I just want it to be noted that as a female accused of becoming a princess since arriving in Botswana, I still do not pack more than some guys that I know.
And, this picture just about says it all…Facilitating in the bush comes with a whole new set of skills to add to my resume including allowing the participation of Ostrich in the proceedings…Man, I love Africa!