Although I enjoyed 27 years with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and traveled extensively during that time, South & Southern Africa were never part of my itinerary. I was content with seeing animals at the zoo.
Or so I thought!
After joining Borton Overseas, I quickly became aware of what I didn't know......and I found the learning process that Jody Schuster, our Director of Africa took me through, to be fascinating.
I was full of preconceived ideas!
I needed to experience Africa for myself, and a famililiarization program with our major supplier provided the opportunity to do just that. I'll admit that I was both excited and a bit intimidated about going on the trip. I wondered if Zimbabwe was safe. I imagined man eating snakes lurking in the trees, just waiting to drop down around my neck. I pictured walking through the bush with Rangers - armed and ready to save me from the ferocious beasts that had been anticipating both my visit and my overweight body...licking their lips in anticipation. I anticipated a diet of beer so that I wouldn't need to risk the dirty water.
I loaded up with Larium, insect repellent, sunscreen, and everything else that I could think of to avoid the pitfalls of experiencing Africa.
Our trip took us to Cape Town for a few days before going on to Botswana and Zimbabwe. I was somewhat concerned about visiting Cape Town too...but I was wrong....Cape Town is a true gem at the end of a continent. The staff at the Table Bay Hotel were gracious, the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront was exciting to visit with lots to do, and the sightseeing around Cape Town was superb. The Wine lands and the Cape Peninsula are not to be missed.
I ran lots of miles along the sea wall path in Cape Town and through the city, for I was told I couldn't run at the Safari Camps....the lions would consider me a "meal on wheels." Either I'm completely oblivious to the "dangers," in walking around in Cape Town or others that I've spoken with are alarmists. Never did I feel insecure, nor, apparently, did the thousands of others I saw out walking, running, in-line skating and just sitting in the parks. I felt very much at home. Cape Town was foreign yet familiar and I loved it.
Okay, okay. I did get nervous again as I boarded the little plane to Nxabega, a CCAfrica Camp. As a pilot myself, I wondered if this New Zealander would know what he was doing. Imagine crashing in the middle of some jungle and having to barbeque each other just to survive! Most of the pilots for Safari Air are from New Zealand and Scotland.....no problem! these guys are sharp! When I asked each pilot if they're just building up hours in readiness to join a large airline, they usually indicated that that was the initial plan.....but they're continuing to fly the charters because they love the life style. I experienced expert landings and take-offs on grass and dirt/gravel strips littered with gifts from elephants that looked alot like birthday cakes.
Nxabega was a delightful experience and we saw a wide variety of game and an extensive variety of bird life. The camp features Mokuro expeditions to hippo pools, game drives and walking safaris. I asked Fraser, our Ranger, where his gun was as we left on a walking safari. "It's not needed, Bob. The animals know when we're respecting them and they'll give us plenty of warning when it's time for us to leave." Fraser was right. We didn't see any snakes and we drank the water right out of the Delta. Good-by Bob-hang-ups! (The South and Southern African beers are terrific, however, and I enjoyed them inspite of the great drinking water - both bottled & from the tap). And, by the way, you can get permission to run on the camp runways providing a guide is behind you with his Land Rover. I didn't do it. I was scared to.
After then visiting Sandibe, another deluxe CCAfrica Safari Camp (where we saw huge herds of elephant and many other animals, but less birdlife than Nxabega) we flew on to Victoria Falls and transferred into the Matesi Water Camp and the Matesi Safari Camp (both in Zimbabwe) for one night at each camp. Both are spectacular and the tents are luxurious and very large. And, as with all the camps, the staff were warm and friendly and always ready to accommodate you.
Which brings me to the title of this story......Eating With The Lions
One afternoon I was speaking with Priscilla, the manager of the Matetsi Safari camp about the special things the camp would do for guests. She told me about bush breakfasts, campfires in the bush, Sundowners by the Zambezi (this happens on every afternoon game drive) a boma around the pool and lots of other ideas. Bottom line......"anything is possible.....no problem"
When we returned from that afternoon's game drive (it was already dark) we were escorted to our tent (a palace under canvas). We found a trail of votive candles lit from our front door to the back of (the inside) of our tent where an iced down bottle of champagne awaited us. Strewn along the floor by the candles were flower petals........ we were impressed.
It didn't end there, however. A table was set up in the darkness of the bush away from our tent. Lanterns lit the improvised pathway to our table and tall white candles glowed like earthbound sisters of the billion stars that twinkled overhead. Dinner was to be served in the bush! All of our senses were being catered to...
As we settled into dinner, the attentive staff recessed to the shadows, and.... we began to hear deep growls. The sound came closer and it was apparent that several lionesses were very close by. Our Ranger left the shadows to assure us he was close by, and that the lionesses were by the next tent over.
"No problem!, we said - there's nothing to worry about."
We took our time with dinner, we finished the bottle of wine, and retired to our tent....after wishing our four legged soul mates a good night and happy hunting.
The next morning the five lionesses were feasting on a water buck near the water hole that Matetsi maintains for the wildlife.
We were all well fed.
My poorly conceived illusions of Africa were, happily, shattered.
I'm going back. Soon!