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The Zambezi River, Africa’s fourth longest river system, weaves its way through six countries before its delta flows into the Indian Ocean. Spanning 1,600 miles, this majestic river forms part of the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. It traverses a vast plateau, characterized by dramatic gorges with sheer walls of basalt and granite. At the meeting point of Zimbabwe and Zambia, the river gives birth to the iconic Victoria Falls.
Wildlife roam free
The pinnacle of our trip was an enchanting visit to Victoria Falls, known locally as “The smoke that thunders.” The falls, surrounded by mist created by the cascading water, cast a mesmerizing spell when the sun’s rays are obscured. The deafening roar of water rushing to the bottom adds to the spectacle.
We also embarked on a serene sunset riverboat tour along the Zambezi. The riverbanks teemed with wildlife. Some animals quenched their thirst, while others grazed on the lush grass and trees that flourished by the water’s edge. Predators patiently awaited their opportunity to feast on herbivores that ventured too close.
As the setting sun painted the sky and water in a golden-yellow hue, palm trees formed silhouettes against the horizon. Hippos emerged from the depths, hoping for a chance at a treat should an unsuspecting tourist drop some food in the water. That captivating scene whispered a single word to me: “Africa!”
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Following our visit to Victoria Falls, we spent a couple of nights at Somalisa Camp. Nestled in the heart of Hwange National Park, home to over 100 mammal species and 400 bird species, Somalisa offered a wilderness experience beyond compare.
Although referred to as a bush camp, Somalisa exceeded the quality of several hotels we had stayed at during our trip. Recently rebuilt, it boasted luxurious canvas tents lavishly furnished with en-suite bathrooms. These bathrooms featured flush toilets, double copper sinks, indoor and outdoor showers, and even copper slipper-style bathtubs. The provided toiletries were meticulously crafted from the finest natural ingredients and presented in elegant containers.
Inside our tent, amidst other upscale furnishings, we discovered a king-size bed adorned with Egyptian cotton linens. A well-stocked wood-burning stove, known as a salamander, provided comforting warmth during the chilly autumn nights. One wall showcased built-in shelves, while the opposite wall boasted a large screened window. This window, when covered by canvas flaps, ensured heat retention.
Through the window, we gazed towards one of the two watering holes adjacent to the camp. Beyond the screened window, a covered porch with a table and chairs beckoned us to enjoy the passing parade of animals throughout the day.
Somalisa Camp and its twin, Somalisa Acacia, were tucked beneath a canopy of Acacia trees overlooking the two waterholes. Located in a private concession within the park, these camps epitomized ultimate luxury while providing ample opportunities to witness herds of elephants as they quenched their thirst. The waterholes attracted an array of other fascinating wildlife, including occasional visits from lazing lions or stealthy leopards.
Visitors could partake in various activities, such as game drives through the private concession, safari walks, and game viewing from a blind near the waterhole. These options ensured a captivating and fulfilling day. However, those who preferred a more relaxed experience could unwind at the camp, observing the diverse wildlife wandering to and from the waterhole. Additionally, an afternoon drive using the camp’s Land Rovers, guided by experienced rangers, offered encounters with elephants, lions, and other remarkable creatures.
Witnessing a pair of lions leisurely strolling under the afternoon sun along the dirt road leading to the camp was an incredible sight. Jericho, the male lion and leader of the local pride, accompanied by his partner Kathy, sauntered side by side, seemingly indifferent to the passing Land Rover. We had no choice but to halt and wait, fully aware that the true authority belonged to these majestic creatures. Provoking a fully grown lion was certainly not our intention!
Dinner at Somalisa was served buffet-style beside a crackling firepit. Although the fare was simple, it proved both delicious and satisfying. And, inevitably, the ubiquitous coleslaw made its appearance. It seemed that coleslaw had become Zimbabwe’s unofficial national dish, gracing every meal we enjoyed!
Situated approximately halfway between Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, and Victoria Falls, the renowned tourism center on the banks of the Zambezi River, the Somalisa camps were easily accessible by both highway and Land Rover.
It’s worth noting that Somalisa takes great pride in its carbon-neutral approach. The camp utilizes large photovoltaic panels, positioned above auxiliary buildings, garages, and offices, to harness solar energy. These panels charge a substantial bank of batteries, ensuring a steady supply of electricity day and night.
The camp’s water, both black and gray, undergoes thorough cleaning and filtration at a nearby sewage plant. The resulting clean water typically gets pumped into the animal ponds. The elephants, seemingly attuned to the solar cells activating the pumps as the sun gains strength, eagerly await their daily indulgence in the refreshing water.
As an open camp, Somalisa allows animals to roam freely day and night. Unexpected encounters, such as visiting leopards or elephants stopping by the small swimming pool in front of the restaurant tent, require swift reactions. Positioned amidst the bush, after sunset, the area bustles with numerous creatures. To ensure safety, gun-toting rangers escort guests from dinner to their tents. Additionally, each tent is equipped with an alarm-raising horn, should any animal pose a threat.
When visiting any of Zimbabwe’s bush camps, including Somalisa, it’s advisable to carry a flashlight. Even though the rangers themselves carry flashlights alongside their weapons, the darkness of the night demands extra illumination.
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