No cellphone reception. No Wi-Fi. No comms at all. The sun scorches skin through clothing and unrepentant heatwaves make the air hazy. You’re hundreds of kilometres away from any town of a remotely significant size, but deadly creatures circle. If only you knew where. Is this a modern-day nightmare? A glimpse of a future gone wrong?
Nah! It’s a bush break that really only the wealthy can afford. One to which only a privileged echelon of international tourists will ever be privy. And I’m on it.
A mother elephant and her offspring wander past my tent’s gauze-covered window, slowly grazing on the brush outside it. Three metres away, I top up the water with my toe and read another page of my book. I’ve climbed into an egg-shaped bath of cold water to break the intense heat of the afternoon. Then I relocate to the bed to continue reading but the oppressive temperature makes me sleepy. I doze, I manage another page, I doze some more.
It surprises me how quickly I’ve let go of the anxiety of no connectivity. The panicked last-minute business calls at OR Tambo and the hustling for free Wi-Fi at Robert Gabriel Mugabe Airport to get WhatsApp messages are distant memories. How did I ever care?
I wake up in the night. I always do. Sheets discarded out of necessity, I lie there in pitch darkness and listen. The noises are unfamiliar but primal. My imagination runs away with me. Is there a leopard lounging in the tree above my tent? Am I hearing an antelope kill on the plain below? Are the hippos doing midnight manoeuvres?
Imagined threats aside, the most I actually have to worry about is what to eat for breakfast. Two slices of addictive braai-roasted bread piled with butter, or three? Such is life in the new Wilderness Safari camp, set within a private concession on the Zambezi River in the northern part of Zim. It’s agonising stuff, I tell you. The same goes for high tea or dinner. How they produce this level of cuisine so far from any grocery store, and in the formidable Zambezi Valley heat is beyond me, but meal after meal, the decadence continues.
One evening, we gather in a circle of Adirondack chairs around an open fire and dine under the summer sky. One morning, after a game drive, we round a bend and find our breakfast table set out along the floodplains.
We fish. I’ve grown up visiting these Zimbabwean waters and am skeptical that we rookies will catch anything, but our local guides, Million Zingizi and Abiot Mazarenganwa, know their stuff. We tether our pontoon against a bank and cast our lines. It’s all banter and gin-and-tonics until the biting starts. And then the fights with fish begin. One after the next, furious Tigers are pulled to the surface. “Makorokoto!”, I shout. That’s congratulations in Shona. The celebratory drinks later that night are universal.
Our guide, Foster Siyawareva, is a legend in the conservation industry. He worked in the area early on in his career, and back now, still knows the landscape intimately. He takes us to see trees he loves, regales us with incredible tales, and clues us in on secrets of the reserve.
On a game drive with Siyawareva we come across a dead hippo. Frankly, it’s impossible to miss when the wind direction is right. The smell is overwhelming. The bull, lying in a small tributary of the river, has all the markings of falling in a fight. Over the next few days we watch as predators appear and he vanishes. A sea of crocodiles feast, birds of prey hover — it’s something to behold. We observe herds of elephant (with littlies) cross the waterway, we pick out glowing eyes at night, we talk birds and complain about tsetse flies.
This neck of the woods always makes me happy, but I take almost no photos on my phone — we’ve got zero reception so I’m not tempted to Instagram. Recalling the trip though, it comes to me vividly and often. When I need to feel calm, I conjure it. Something in that for us modern machines to contemplate, isn’t there?
• From the August edition of Wanted 2019.