Friday, 3 October 2014

Cheetah in the mist

After Botswana, our trip next took across the border to a new country for us, Zimbabwe. We were very sorry to say goodbye to Botswana, it had been a superb trip, but new adventures awaited. A short hop on a light aircraft was followed by a 2 hour drive across the border. The photos below should give you an idea of the views from the plane. Taking photos is a great way to take your mind off the plane bouncing around!!

The line here isn't a road, its a fire-break put in to try to limit the damage done by wildfires, many lit deliberately across the border in Namibia for land clearance

We had been warned of horrible hold-ups at the border and people waiting hours in the sun to get their passport stamped. When we got there it was a breeze. It was noticeable how many trucks there were going in, but tourists were greeted by a very cheery border official. Whether it was a  coincidence that there was also a meeting of all the Southern African heads of state going on I cant say, but they did give a very positive impression of the country.
Our lodge was about 10 minutes outside of Vic Falls. We had chosen to go here to see the falls. On a previous trip to Argentina, for some reason we decided not to visit Iguasso falls, which we now regret, so the chance to see another one of the great waterfalls wasn't to be missed. The lodge though held one of the potential highlights, Sylvester the cheetah, but more of him later. Our room looked out over the plateau and there was wildlife to be seen right outside.
These yellow-breasted buntings were attracted by me playing their calls over the IPad 
There was a flock of blue waxbills moving up and down the ridge outside our room. I can't think of another bird with this same powder-blue colouration. 

The following day a guide from the camp picked us up and drove us to the falls. To be honest, I wasn't sure what ot expect. I suppose I thought it would just be a view, a few tourist shops and a photo opportunity. We had already an idea it was large as we could see the spray from our hotel, about 5 miles away. The photos below were taken from our balcony but you have to remember the distance we are away. You could HEAR the water as well...

We had been warned we could get wet, and to reinforce the point when we arrived we were given heavy-duty ponchos to wear. It was clear we were in for something special though when we looked at a map of the site. It was huge! The walk to, along and back from the falls was a couple of miles at least. There were quite a few tourists around and those coming back looked both happy and wet.
The first five minutes or so was through scrubby woodland with a few birds around, including these rather smart trumpeter hornbills

Even at the gate though we could feel a light rain falling despite the bright blue sky. With every step the noise grew louder and the "rain" grew heavier. Eventually we rounded a corner and you could see the falls. It was totally unlike what we imagined. The falls are a large plateau of water, with islands and trees which descend over a cliff around half a mile or more long into a river which then runs parallel to the cliff.

The noise, the spray, the mist were all assaulting to the senses. You could get very close to the edge (the HSE doesn't have much of a presence in Africa!!) and we tried to capture the scene the best as best as we could but it was almost impossible. We were petrified of getting the camera soaked, as we've done before, and having it stop working so it was in a plastic bag and we were generally pointing and shooting without composing or thinking about exposure. Hopefully the attached give a flavour of what it was like.

This is the bridge between Zimbabwe and Zambia, built by the colonialist British. Now it carries freight lorries and passengers across the border. Oh, and if you are a mad Antipodean you can bungee jump off it!!!

After we had dried off, we pottered off into the town itself. We had about an hour to kill before a helicopter flight so we went and had lunch in the Vic Falls hotel. This is a very grand edifice and a monument to the colonial era. It is filled with photos and cartoons and relics from the Victorian and Edwardian age, which seemed very incongruous bearing in mind Mr Mugabe's outlook.They did serve a nice lunch and we spotted a Bradfields hornbill in the garden.

Our last trip was a helicopter flight over the gorge. We were picked up from the hotel and driven about 10 minutes to a small hangar with 2 helicopters. This is a popular way to view the falls and we had to wait whilst they got organised. Eventually we took off for an amazing 15 minute flight taking in the falls and the surrounding area. Again, photography was a bit tricky and often point and shoot past our neighbour on the 'copters shoulder but the view were spectacular. Highly recommended if you visit the area.

Finally, we move on to Sylvester. What can i say? He is a young cheetah, 4 years old, who was orphaned after his mother was killed. He was brought up by a conservation group and now lives semi-wild at the Elephant Camp at Vic Falls. Let me explain semi-wild. During the day he lives in an enclosure but twice a day he gets taken for walk. This involves him coming out to the viewing deck, meeting and greeting his adoring public and then going off with 6 of them into the bush. Here he is allowed to run wild, chase things, catch them and generally behave as if he was wild. All the time though he within view and you are on foot, so a stunning experience. One morning we were having our breakfast when he ambled past. I reached out to give him a stroke and he spotted our meal. Fast as lightning he grabbed Judith's toast off her plate. Now you don't say no to a fully grown cheetah. He only played with it for a bit though.