It never ceases to amaze me how glorious the mornings are here at Antelope Park. Today, we wake up to see the horses enjoying the river across from our tent. I see Silver Dime and give him a silent "thank you" for the lovely day we spent together yesterday. We take this picturesque scene as a good omen for the day ahead, which we're really excited about, because after two days without spending any time with the lions, our morning today begins with a walk with Paza and Penya. Famba ne shumba, "walk with lions."
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Yawns stifle Penya and Paza's usual eeowws, but they're happy to be taken out and oblige us with some ridiculously cute moments, even if some of them involve rolling around in elephant poo. The morning light: sublime. The cubs: amazing, as always. The company: perfect. It's becoming harder and harder to find new ways to describe these walks, but it never feels old or worn to us. Regardless whether we're walking up the path with them (one eye behind me, watching for Penya's ankle taps), standing under a tree as we encourage them to climb, or lazily dozing on some boulders – it is beautiful. Chakanaka. Famba ne shumba, chakanaka.
"Question! I'm just wondering if the Great Zimbabwe Ruins trip is going to be on a weekend, because I would be up for going if the trip was on the weekend," Michael once again asks. "Why the weekend?" Nathan responds, slightly frustrated. "Because don't we get weekends off?" comes Michael's reply. After the laughter in the room dies down and Nathan can unscrew the look of complete bewilderment from his face, he responds. "Michael, we don't get weekends off here. Do you think the lions look after themselves?"
It's another glorious morning at Antelope Park as we wake to the roaring of lions and the chatter of birds, have a quick cup of coffee, and start the day off walking with Lewa and Laili. Really, it just doesn't get any better than this.
I knew I was going to have a good day today. I was in Africa with the lions - how could it possibly not be a good day? What I didn't know is that today I would have an epiphany.
The members of Ingonyama hail from Dete, Zimbabwe, which is near Hwange National Park, and have been friends since childhood, having grown up together in an orphanage. They started out performing at lodges near Hwange and also at Victoria Falls and use their talents and sense of humor to help educate school children about problems in the country such as HIV/AIDS and wildlife conservation, and they work closely with youth camps at Painted Dog Conservation near their hometown.
Chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp. Sorry, what was that? Chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp. Oh, right. Hang on. Chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp. Okay, okay! Zvakwana!
It’s 5:45am, my watch keeps reminding me with its incessant flashing and chirping. But I’m already awake and have been for some time. It’s hard to sleep through the excitement of hearing several dozen lions roaring through the night. Even though the BPG is two-and-a-half kilometers away, it sounds as if Big Boy and his gang are right outside the tent flap.
“Lions can sometimes give you a certain look when you’re out with them. We call it ‘the naughty look.’ They focus on you intensely, ears back, pupils narrowed. It’s difficult to describe what that look is, exactly; but believe me, you’ll know it if you get it."
Zimbabwe is a beautiful country, but what we observe as we ride through the capital of Harare and then throughout the four hour bus ride to Gweru, the country appears tired and neglected. Stripped and burned out cars on the side of the road, litter everywhere, the landscape blackened from frequent fires, and little wildlife. In addition to the crammed buses and trucks shuttling people to and from their destinations, there are people walking along the road everywhere, and in the middle of nowhere. Women with babies on their backs and bags of maize meal on their heads, men and women carrying overstuffed luggage, people sitting alongside the road selling small amounts of fruit or vegetables. You can't help but wonder where these people come from and where they are trying to get to as you drive through the countryside. Maybe they're trying to get to the nearest town, maybe to family, to work, to school, to a medical clinic. It just feels like wherever they're trying to go, it's going to be a very long and rough journey.