After seeing Victoria Falls, there were various activities on offer in the surrounding area. Everything was pretty expensive, unfortunately, but I was keen to see some more wildlife and try some new things.
Everywhere I went, people kept trying to sell me tours, but as I was enjoying my stay at Shoestring Backpackers, I decided to book through their in-house travel agent. They set me up with a canoe trip on the Zambezi River and a Lion Walk – which is, as the name suggests, a walk with lions.
I didn’t know what to expect from the Lion Walk. Its premise was pretty simple, yet utterly unbelievable – walking with lions. It cost $150, and I didn’t know whether my money was going towards looking after lions or exploiting them. In any case, out of curiosity, and with the assurances of the travel agent (whatever that’s worth) I went along one afternoon to find out.
Fortunately for me, as with other parts of my trip around Africa, there weren’t many people on my tour. There were only three of us, in fact. We arrived at a little hut in a National Park and were given a run-down of rules. These included not touching the animals’ heads, not standing in front of them, and not wearing anything that dangles. There were actually a lot of rules and I struggled to remember, but assumed that rather than have a tourist eaten by their lions, the guides would remind me from time-to-time.
Alarmingly soon, we were on our way into the lions’ den. There were no fences – the guide informed us that there was a stream that more or less marked the lions’ territory. There was a man with a gun ahead of us, whom we were told was there to shoot any buffalo or other (non-endangered) big game which might wander into our surrounding area. After only a few minutes we came upon two lions.
It should probably go without saying that walking through a forest and meeting a lion is breath-taking, even when you expect it. They were babies, at only 22 months old, but nonetheless massive and majestic animals. They lay sleepily in the shade, on cool grass. We were told their names (one of them was called Belezulu and I don’t remember the other) and that they were siblings.
Soon the lions were on their feet and we walked them around a well-trodden path. The three tourists took our turns walking beside the lions as they wandered hither and thither, pouncing on dragonflies and chasing guinea fowl. The guide gave strict and constant instructions of where to stand and what to do in order to not get eaten.
It was a wonderful and surreal experience. At the end we were again given information about the cause and allowed to ask questions. It seems the lions are taken in as babies and raised by rangers. They are exposed to humans until 24 months, after which time they have absolutely no contact with people. They are, however, monitored for about three years, before going truly into the wild.
Next up was a canoe trip on the Zambezi River, run through a company called Wild Horizons. This began early morning with a game drive through Zambezi National Park. We spotted plenty bird life and some big game, but nothing spectacular. I didn’t mind because I’d had some great safari tours so far on the trip, and was looking forward to the canoeing.
When we arrived at the river there was a crocodile immediately in our path. It was just a little one, but it was right beside where we intended to launch the canoes. Our guide informed us that the crocodiles weren’t a big problem. He said crocodiles aren’t particularly dangerous when canoeing and that we really needed to worry about hippos, which are bad tempered and could flip or destroy a canoe with ease.
After being given a lot of guidance in how to react during the rather likely event of a hippo attack, we set out onto the river and it was surprising how slow the current moved. We very gently let the current carry us along. I was in one canoe with the guide while the two other tourists were in another canoe behind us.
From the canoe we saw numerous impressive birds and dozens of hippos. We stayed clear of the hippos as much as possible, but now and then they’d just appear from nowhere.
After two hours were went through a small rapids and emerged almost on top of three large hippos. My guide, who was steering from behind, banked hard right and we paddled for an alternate route, away from the giant animals. Soon we slowed right down and let the current take us once again.
After a few seconds, however, my guide, who had been unflappably calm throughout the whole trip, flipped out when there was a sudden bump underneath us, and he started shouting: “A big croc! A big croc! Go! Go! Go!” I thought it was some sort of joke and paddled towards the shore; however, when we got there and turned to look back, there was indeed a massive crocodile where we had just come from. The old English couple behind us paddled unwittingly past the croc to the bank and got out.
I stood and watched the crocodile, listening to the guide as he calmed down. He’d hit the crocodile accidentally with his paddle and it had come up under our boat and hit us. It was hardly a “croc attack” but it was a nice exciting story to take away from another otherwise relaxing and pleasant trip down one of the world’s great rivers.
The next morning, having spent altogether far too much money, I hitched a ride to the border with Botswana – the start of a long, long hitch-hiking journey throughout Zimbabwe’s neighbor to the west.