Our clients Sue & Bill recently visited Zimbabwe, enjoying a magical safari. They are from Seattle, USA and wrote this letter personal letter to Clyde, one of our directors who put together their bespoke itinerary. We hope you enjoy reading about their experience as much as we did.
Take a look at the 14-night Zimbabwe itinerary Sue & Bill enjoyed.
The night before we left for Zimbabwe (July 15th), the Sierra Club*, a grassroots environmental organization in the U.S., posted this quote attributed to French author Andre Gide in their “Daily Ray of Hope” online feature: “One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” It was a sign -- surely now, despite a flight cancellation, we were going to get back to Africa! Josh at Dial-a-Flight was a huge help, especially on such short notice
*The Sierra Club members, now numbering 3.8 million, were originally focused on the conservation of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. But the organization now works to “ensure everyone has access to clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment.”
Thank you, Clyde, for everything you did to help the two of us discover new lands – going with the original deposit from 2020, re-booking ALL of the camps and internal travel arrangements, and staying accessible and optimistic for a year and a half!
Your pre-departure information was spot-on, as usual. I printed Tailormade Africa’s “Welcome to Zimbabwe” booklet and used it like a checklist – which adaptor to pack; how much cash to bring; the need to contact the bank, travel medicine, and the phone company; how many changes of clothes to pack; the prompting to take photocopies of our passports; how to get our Zimbabwe visas; and many more valuable pieces of advice. We also appreciated the COVID testing guidance that you added. You truly thought of everything!
Once we arrived at Victoria Falls, It only took a total of about 15 min to pick up our bags, buy our two Visa’s, and make it out of the airport! As promised, your man Nash was already there to greet us and take our two Pack-for-a-Purpose suitcases full of school supplies to the designated pick-up camp. Because we had opted for business class on two of our three flights, we had been able to sleep and were rested and ready for our safari! Jabu’s van was clean and comfortable.
Jabu drove us to the border to the park where we met Rob, who works for Camp Hwange. Rob was as passionate about helping youth in his community as he was about getting his license to guide. Because of his knowledge, the drive to camp felt like an extra afternoon game drive! We even saw a couple of honey badgers, which Rob said was “good luck.” After we were settled into camp, we met our “official guide,” Moses. Because of his warmth and experience, he became one of our favorites. He had a great working relationship with Chanka, his tracker.
On our first walking safari the next morning, just as we circled a large kopje we came face-to-face with a breeding herd of elephants! Following Moses’ directions, we scrambled up the kopje and watched the “ellies” from a safe perch for a good hour. What a welcome to Zimbabwe!
Besides the elephants, we were fortunate to see secretary birds (my favorite African birds!), a large family of lions gnawing on parts of a wart hog, a herd of cape buffalo, side-striped jackals, hippos, impalas, kudus, vultures, steenboks, baboons, zebras, and an African wild cat, to name a few critters - but the elephants were the real stars.
We ate as a group at Camp Hwange - the guide staff, the camp manager, and a multilingual couple from Miami named Alejandro (Ale) and Claudia - and as we laughed and shared our stories and got to know each other, new friendships formed quickly and easily.
Not going to lie - the electric blanket on the bed at Linkwasha Camp was a welcome respite from the bone-chilling winter cold! It came at a perfect time in the trip, as we were not quite acclimated to camping and being in the bush. After a 20 min flight with a first-rate pilot named Mutasa, we were in the eastern corner of Hwange National Park. The terrain was so different - tall grasses and open plains between dense stands of trees. On that afternoon’s game drive we saw a different community of plants and animals, too - palms! Bradfield’s hornbill! Sable antelopes! Ostriches! Giraffes!
Our guide at Linkwasha, Tendayi (TK), really knew his stuff. We also appreciated the little touches that made Linkwasha special - the hand-written welcome card in the room, the delivery of bulletins each day bearing African proverbs and fables, and charming, friendly staff. We have stayed at Wilderness camps before and we’ve always appreciated that company’s emphasis on making guests feel at home. We received a handy booklet with a wildlife checklist that I used throughout the trip. A large (8-person) family from Minnesota was staying at the Linkwasha, so maybe because of that, or perhaps due to the pandemic, the guests did not eat as a group but were seated at separate tables. Aside from that, our stay at Linkwasha was wonderful. They even had espresso! For a couple of Seattlelites a long way from home, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Ale and Claudia came to Linkwasha, too! They felt like old friends by now! Claudia showed us a small leopard tortoise that was digging a burrow in the ground next to their cabin. Such a gorgeous shell on that little guy!
TK took Bill and I on a walking safari in the Ngamo forest where we encountered a herd of eland as well as elephants, impalas, giraffes, and a dwarf mongoose. On our five previous trips to Africa, we had never experienced being in the bush on foot. This intimate view of wildlife took the safari to an entirely new level for us. And it wasn’t just seeing big animals, like elephants - we loved the little things, too, like identifying tracks. (Back at Camp Hwange, we loved it when Moses plucked an ant lion from within a funnel of sand; there was an insect trapped in the ant lion’s pinchers!)
On our game drives we had the privilege of watching a coalition of three male lions feasting on a wildebeest that had died of natural causes. In two days, after the jackals and pied crows and vultures (we counted 75 vultures the first night alone) had taken their turns, the wildebeest was reduced to a meatless rib cage and a few vertebrae. We also saw black-backed jackals, baboons, cape buffalo, a spotted hyena, more secretary birds, kori bustards, crimson-breasted shrikes, zebras, vervet monkeys, martial eagles, lilac-breasted rollers, variable skinks, and a savannah monitor lizard!
After Linkwasha, we were flown to little Jozibanani Camp for two nights. How fun to have Mutasa as our pilot a second time! We were met at the airstrip by our guide Ty and a camp staff member named Mabena. On the ride to camp, Ty described the geologic conditions that had produced the hilly landscape with both sandy and clay soil regions.
Ty immediately got us into the bush! We parked the car on the road and tracked a huge herd of cape buffalo on foot before we even made it back to camp. Using footprints, scat, the direction that the long grasses had been smashed, and other clues, Ty lead us to the herd! When we reached camp, we were treated to lunch and then fell fast asleep in our tent. During our siesta, the winds whipping the canvas panels of our tent reminded us of the flapping of a sailboat’s sails!
Our favorite activity at Jozi was photographing elephants from the hide near camp. We spent both late afternoons in the hide, which faced a watering hole. The visits from elephants were spectacular! Had I been allowed to do so, I could have rubbed the trunks of the elephants as they scavenged for acacia pods on the ground in front of me. I knew elephants were big, of course, but - they’re HUGE when you see them from less than a meter away! We could see the bristles on their trunks, the whites of their eyes, and their long eyelashes!
Jozi was a great spot for birding, too! We saw grey billed hornbills, Meve’s starlings, magpie shrikes, little grebes, African jacanas, Egyptian geese, blacksmith plovers, hawk eagles, and the ever-gorgeous lilac-breasted rollers...
Our third and final flight with Mutasa was our longest - from the airstrip at Linkwasha, to a refueling stop in Kariba, to the West Mana Pools airstrip. Though Jozi is a special camp with a wonderful, kind staff, we were looking forward to Vundu Camp at Mana Pools National Park because we had heard SO many glowing reviews from other travelers. We were also hoping that it would be a bit warmer there, since water modulates climate and Vundu is right on the Zambezi River. We had guessed correctly!
As usual Clyde, our last camp on the trip was our favorite camp. We learned that Bushlife Safaris (which operates Vundu camp) partners with the U.S.-registered charity Bushlife Conservancy - located in the very town - Davis, California - in which Bill and I met! How’s that for a twist of fate? Bushlife Conservancy funds the African nonprofit Bushlife Support Unit (BSU) trust. As luck would have it, Freedom Hlongwane, the operations manager for BSU, picked us up at the airstrip. We fell in love with Freedom and his motto, “Conservation through action.” Meeting Freedom epitomizes why coming to Africa always enriches our lives. He gave us his unique perspective on growing up as a Tongan refugee, working as a Zimparks Ranger, and providing conservation education for children in his community. We know we’ll always support Bushlife Conservancy from now on, and perhaps someday Freedom will make a second trip to the U.S. and we’ll get a chance to see him again!
Mana Pools was so rich in wildlife!
Our favorite Mana Pools activities included:
We even met up with Ale and Claudia at Vundu Camp! We miss them, having been to three of four Zim camps together! Such lovely people. I’ve been meaning to send them an email to say hello.
Like all great things… our Zimbabwe adventure came to an end as July turned into August. Though I had hoped it would be Mutasa again, a different pilot flew us back to Victoria Falls. As you know, that pilot had initially gone to the wrong airport so we were late in getting into Vic Falls and there was no cell phone service, so I had no way to let you know. Fortunately, Absolom was waiting patiently at Vic Falls and he took wonderful care of us. He brought us to Batonka Lodge (where we promptly had our COVID test), gave us a brisk tour of Victoria Falls from the Zim side the next morning, and took us back to the airport. We were blown away by the beauty and majesty of the falls - the view from Zimbabwe left us speechless - bright sunshine, rainbows, blue skies, and mist in every direction from “the smoke that thunders.”
We loved eating breakfast with Trust, and getting to know Luke and Suzanne, too! All three of those individuals obviously think the world of YOU. Sharing a mutual respect and love of Clyde Beaty gave us a connection we might not otherwise have had. I hope knowing that you are helping connect people from the other side of the world makes you happy, Clyde. It is so important, especially during COVID.
In conclusion - Zimbabwe was everything we hoped it would be. It was WELL worth waiting for. We’ve been unable to stop thinking about the trip. When I’m anxious (like at chemotherapy) or having trouble falling asleep, I imagine I’m on that kopje in Hwange, watching elephants; or, listening to the breeze in the trees along the banks of the Zambezi River.
I know that the peace of this trip will stay with us as we resume teaching (me) and doing research (Bill).
THANK YOU CLYDE!!!!!! Love, Sue & Bill"