What a weekend. We went walking AND hunting with lions. It’s changed my life, changed the way I see this amazing place we live in called Africa. There is so much to tell that I think it would be better to break it down day by day.
We left our animals in the capable and caring hands of Mr. E, my house manager. The packing of suitcases and loading of crates has caused all the animals’ great distress. Spookie (our own mini-lion cat) is howling at the top of his lungs, joined by Skaapie (my 7 month old lamb) and our dog Jess is sulking like she got the beating of her life for simply being cute. It’s chaos. As soon as we get in to the bakkie, Skaapie jumps in. Twice. Finally Mr. E gets hold off him long enough for us to get out of the yard. The drive to Harare is slow and uneventful. Thanks to our GarminGps (what a waste of money!) we nearly get lost but Husband soon gets us back on the right road and having cleared Harare, we are truly on our way. The road to Gweru is great, no potholes and double lanes. When you live in Zim, you really appreciate a good road. We arrive in Gweru and get lost once more, once again thanks to the useless Garmin. Some locals point us in the right direction, thank-goodness . I just have to add this, in SA I would never stop and ask for directions and then give the guy a lift so he can show us where it is. You would think he was luring you somewhere to rob you. Anyway, Gweru is a beautiful town and the old Aviation Museum looks haunting. There isn’t a lot of upkeep happening there and this makes me want to go in and take lots of pictures but there is no time. We need to get to Antelope Park and walk with lions. I’m terrified and exited at the same time.
As we drive through the gate, the lodge doesn’t look like much. Most of it is hidden behind trees and bush. I notice there are a lot of people moving around and it reminds me of a bee hive. I would later come to find out that these are volunteers but more about them later in my story. Our chalet is located across the river on the very far end of the lodge. Tucked away in the bush knowing there are lions not too far away, really makes the heart beat faster. It’s amazing. We have a great view and for a moment you can imagine being deep in the heart of the bush.
Meals are served buffet style and the dining area is overflowing with people. It’s nice to see there are so many people as this brings in money for the park but I hate being surrounded by so many people. Add to that the big family with the children from hell and I find myself irritated to the point where I want to trip little Ryden and see the kid fall his face off. His parents have no control over him or his two brothers and when I find them kicking, hitting and generally bulling the local cat I nearly fly of the hinges. The mother didn’t do much to put a stop to it and I really feel sorry for parents who are controlled by their kids but do us all a favour and stay home next time. Listening to them yell at their kids, the kids screaming and running around like hooligans…well this spoiled it a bit for me. We fled to our chalet and spent most of the weekend there when we weren’t doing activities. Unfortunately the bar is located above the dining area so we couldn’t stay away too long.Great dinner, amazing staff, stunning sunset and we are off to bed. We have to get up before six in the morning for the lion walk. At first I struggle to fall asleep, it’s just too quiet but later that night I’m woken up by the roars of as many as 15 lions (I’m only counting the males here). Thrilling and terrifying at the same time. This is the feeling throughout the weekend, thrillifying.
It’s so cold, it can freeze snot. Husband decides that this is the best time for him to take a shower OUTSIDE. I throw a massive tantrum because I hate getting up early. (Not a morning person) The lions are still going at it and now the roaring sounds even closer. Getting up before six in the morning is not fun for me but it’s so worth it. The crisp, cold wind on my face wakes me up instantly and as morning blooms over Africa, I am beyond grateful to be here. Our guide is a funny happy chap that seems a bit too excited to tell us how many ways a lion can kill you. Okay, so it’s not that bad but there are rules when walking with lions even though they are only 10 months old and still babies, they are big babies with teeth and claws that can hurt you. So the rules are simple; keep your eye on them at all times so they don’t sneak up and ankle tap you. This is how they play but with paws the size of my hand, it could hurt. Don’t crouch, you need to keep your eye level higher than theirs or you will be seen as pray. This means that no one under 1.5 meters can go on these walks. Watch for hunting “symptoms” (this is what the guide called it and it stuck in my head). Don’t touch the head, only the handlers can do this as they are dominant over the cubs but if you do it you might get teeth in your hand (the guide has quite a colorful way of explaining things) You get sticks to walk with, not to hit the cubs but distract them or push them away from you should they get it in their head that you are something to play with.
Right, and we’re off. We meet the handlers and then the cubs. I can remember the boy’s name, Tonga and one of the girls, Tamuka. Tamuka is a hunter through and through and immediately separates herself from the group to go into the bush on her own. She is the one we need to keep an eye on. I’m surprised how big they are at 10 months. To me they look like young Rottweiler’s in size. Tonga is a lazy boy and he starts to moan immediately. He’s clever and knows that if he lies down at your feet, everyone will rush for photos and he gets to be lazy. The handlers only give him so much chances to do this and then the jokes over. Get walking fat man.
These cubs are raised by the handles since birth and at a certain age they are taken into the bush on daily walks so they can start learning how to be lions. The mission is to release these lions back into the wild one day and from what I’ve learned, the people at Antelope Park are doing an amazing job with this. At the moment they have 11 lions living and hunting on their own in the park. The walk was long and I realize how ridiculously unfit I am. I vow to do something about it once we get home (as I’m typing this, I still can’t move without looking like an old woman)
For now, this is where I leave you… The rest of day 2 will be posted tomorrow. Don’t miss it.
Die Wit Hasie
(The internet is SUPER SLUG SLOW and loading pics is taking forever. I’ll try and include more tomorrow. Thank you for following the blog)