Wild Camping - Zimbabwe
Since we have met Joe & Kay, they have talked about their many childhood camping holidays in ’The Bush’. Tales of camping in the wild, coming face to face with the worlds most dangerous animals, hearing Hyenas scavenge around their tent, backing away from face offs with Lions. No joke. They talk about it so normally, not realising that our English camping experiences were more than a little different. A soggy tent or forgotten pair of wellies sending a family trip into chaos!
They asked us months ago if we would be up for one of these trips, to see the wild side of Africa, and experience one of their most beloved places on earth. We sheepishly agreed, not really knowing what we were getting ourselves into.
Now, remove from your mind all images of luxury safari lodges, gated enclosures and game drives with gun wielding guides. Replace those images with two very normal tents, one outside shower and toilet surrounded by hessian sheet, no guns, and two inexperienced english campers plonked in the middle of a 900,000 Acre reserve with no safe spaces. In this reserve are Lions, Rhinos, Elephants, Buffalo, Hippo, Hyena, Crocodile, Zebra, Giraffe, Antelope, Snakes, Spiders, Scorpions, Wild Dogs, Baboons, Birds of Prey to name a few. These wild animals wander at will, wherever they so please, including our camp site. Phew. We. Felt. Scared.
We had been prepped pretty well by the family. ‘Don’t go anywhere alone’. ‘Always go to shower in pairs as this is the most dangerous place in the camp site’. ‘Always keep quiet when walking through the bush’. ’Never get too close to an animal or scare it by suddenly appearing’. ‘ Check your shoes for Scorpions’. ‘If you seen a Lion stand quietly and slowly back away’. ’Never run from an animal, it will instinctively chase you and always win’. ‘Buffalo are to be feared, they are dangerous and may attack, you don’t want to be near one on foot’. ‘Hyenas will probably sniff round the tent at night, don’t worry just ignore them’. ‘Elephants are the most dangerous and are really king of the jungle, don’t mess with them and don’t get between them and their young’. You get the picture, there are a lot more of where that came from. This was no tame camping trip.
The most comforting part of our trip was how relaxed and confident our fellow campers were. Joe, Mikayla, Maggie, Steve & Mik (Joe’s brother and parents), and Kevin, Mikayla’s dad. All of them are so experienced and knowledgeable, they could answer all of our questions and fears, and explain the rules of the Bush. They love this stuff, and despite knowing people who have been seriously injured (or killed), they love these wild places and have a huge respect for the majestic beasts. I felt very inspired and excited to push myself to be brave and experience it fully, knowing they would have our backs.
Our lovely campsite was located just next to a river. We watched animals grazing and drinking at the banks, and saw a group of Hippos wallowing in the water. Did you know Hippos are extremely dangerous? If they feel threatened they will charge and can run extremely fast (up to 40mph!). They move inland in the cool evenings to graze on the grass, you don’t want to be caught next to a hippo on land!
Our campsite had a beautiful communal space on it with a balcony overlooking the river and a lovely seating and dining area (this is not the usual camping experience and was an added treat).
We set up our tent, the two of us sharing with J&M. We were too scared to sleep alone knowing wild animals often wander in and out of the site. We spent the days walking through the bush, which I found terrifying. We had a scout, someone with limited experience but who knows the paths well. He looks us on two substantial walks, one of them taking us 3 hours (10km). He had very limited English and no weapon, I wasn’t totally convinced he would protect us if we got into a hairy situation, but hey ho, we never did!
We walked through thick shrubbery, our friends teaching us so much about the wildlife as we went. The nature, the birds and trees and mostly the animals. We tracked footprints of which we saw many, including Lions. They taught us about the different varieties of animal poos (which is actually quite fascinating!) and how to tell how fresh it is, where it leads etc. We had a long game drive with our scout on an open Land Cruiser. We were lucky enough to see Zebras, Giraffes, Elephants, many Impala, Baboons and both Black and White Rhinos. Sadly, we came across a mother White Rhino (which are endangered) who had recently been shot by a poacher. She was with her baby and we were informed her wound would likely be fatal, leaving the baby to struggle alone. We could tell she was anxious of us, ready to protect her baby. I found it so sad to see, and felt surprisingly emotional. Many people poach these amazing animals for trophies, it is so tragic I think.
Showering at night was an experience. We would walk down to the shower, scanning the area with our torches, looking out for ever watching wild eyes. One of us would wash (me as quickly as physically possible), whilst the other would keep watch with a torch. It was so fun, and so scary at the same time, not having a clue what was out there, potentially watching us. We would use Joe’s ultraviolet torch to scan for Scorpions (thankfully we didn’t see any which was a real relief for me), I did not want to be stung.
I slept surprisingly well considering there was a small piece of material between us and the outside world. We slept with only the mosquito net of the tent closed so that we could see out, adding an extra element of fear! We didn’t hear a lot of activity (apparently a Hyena did come into camp, I was fast asleep). However on our last night I woke to hear the grumble of what I had learnt was Lions in the near distance. I had been prepped on what they sounded like and knew what it was. Again, to my surprise it didn’t bother me, I curled back into my sleeping bag and went straight off to sleep again. There had been Lion footsteps on the dirt path behind the camp, so it looks like they came pretty close. Chilling to think about.
We experienced beautiful sunsets by the watering holes, having ‘sundowners’, beers and crisps, hoping that as we waited we would see some wildlife come to drink. Nothing did unfortunately, maybe because we were there. The red African sky at dusk is something special.
Thankfully we kept safe, (bar an encounter with Killer bees for for Ed at the top of a Baobab Tree). We came home in once piece. Me, feeling awe-inspired by nature and creation, feeling huge respect for these animals, and vowing to never go to a zoo again. These creatures are too awesome for that.
I felt proud of how brave we both were despite the fear, pushing ourselves and experiencing something of the world we never knew about before. Even in the early days of this trip, I am learning the value of doing hard and challenging thing and being brave. Seeing what you are really capable of and being open to the vast world that is around us. What a wonderful experience.