Love Love Love Zimbabwe!

Well, the second journey of my trip began yesterday as I said goodbye to Zambia and traveled just a few miles, crossed over into Zimbabwe and met Ed, the manager for the Lion Walk here in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Ed’s an older guy, probably mid-fifties, but very friendly and seems great to work with. He showed me to the “rest site” where I will be living the next two weeks and helped me move into my room. I can already tell the difference in programs—my room is practically the same size as before but for two people rather than six… what luxury! I’m staying in a lodge rather than a dorm so there are two bedrooms along with a main room, dining room, kitchen, and bathroom area… much more space than the dorms I’ve been living in! Also a huge difference is that food is all provided… no more scrambling to make meals or adventures in the grocery store which will be very convenient! Shortly after I arrived, I explored a bit of the rest site which seems fairly nice—they have a large pool with a restaurant and some seating area for nightly hangouts and such. When I got back to my lodge, a few of the other volunteers got back from their morning work. I met my roommate Lauren, a girl my age from England in her gap… she’s pretty cool! Soon after, my lunch showed up at the door… what! Sharing the lodge with us is Stan and Michelle—they’re “together” but not married and in their mid-forties from New Jersey… definitely an interesting couple to say the least. Lauren filled me in on a lot of information and we talked for quite awhile during our break before we had to board the open-air truck and I headed to Mesuwe lodge for the first time. Mesuwe lodge is about a ten minute drive from our rest site and is home to the Lion Encounter project where I will be working. I met the rest of the volunteers: two girls who had also arrived today from Norway (Sarah and Monica, both in their early twenties) along with Kristine (from Iceland) and Carly (from Arizona) who both arrived the day before me. There are eight of us volunteers which is also a big change from just the two of us in Zambia. Everything here seems much more structured as we have volunteer coordinators that work with us on a daily basis and a staff that we will get to know well—compared to Zambia where I was practically living by myself with Louise, it seems like a treat! We also get free laundry service, hot water, our rooms cleaned daily, and like I said all of our meals are provided… wow! When we got to Mesuwe, the three newbies went on our first lion walk with some clients. We were briefed on the history of the program and the basics of why this conservation project exists here in Africa. To keep it simple for now, over the last twenty years, the lion population here in Africa has diminished by 80-90%… clearly you can see the reason why a conservation project is needed. Although the lion considered threatened it will soon be on the list of endangered species. The project that I am working with is also really cool as there is a community outreach program, so as volunteers we will help teach in schools and spread awareness about the conservation project (for all animals) and even help out in an orphanage… pretty stoked! After the brief information session, we headed on my first walk! There are about ten workers that go on each walk, ensuring that everyone is safe—a few scouts that literally keep an eye out for other animals in the area as we are in a national park area full of wildlife, along with lion handlers, guides, volunteers, and a volunteer coordinator—all of which are on each walk. There are two sets of two cubs each so a total of four cubs at the conservation and they go on four walks a day. Basically the walks are just clients and/or volunteers that “walk” with the cubs and get to interact, pet, and pretty much play with them for about an hour. The volunteer only walks happen once or twice a day and it is a time for just the volunteers and staff to interact with the cubs as we go on a morning or afternoon walk. When we as volunteers go on client walks, we are there to answer questions and keep an extra eye out that all is going as planned. We help the clients interact with the lions, take pictures, and help-out the guides in any way that they need. The staff has been great to get to know—most are younger and very fun! A typical day would consist of three “block” sessions: a morning shift, a midmorning shift, and an afternoon shift. So we head to Mesuwe lodge at 6:30 then walk the morning shift, the walk can be either a volunteer walk or with clients depending on the day, then we have breakfast… a huge English-style breakfast that consists of toast, eggs, breakfast potatoes, and baked beans. After breakfast, we have a different midmorning activity each day that could range from teaching in schools to working with the cubs to preparing a meal (lots of meat) for the cubs, walking the bush and checking for traps, or other various tasks so it definitely keeps the day interesting. After, we have lunch… today happened to be steak… yum! So they definitely keep us well-fed here! We head back to the rest camp after lunch for a few hours where we get to enjoy the early afternoon before heading back to Mesuwe for a few hours to participate in another walk for the day before coming back for dinner and enjoying the rest of the night.
This morning, I went on a volunteer walk before I had lion training during the midmorning. The volunteer walk was fabulous as you get to see the cubs play in their natural habitat and you get to interact and get to know them! After the walk was breakfast where the staff had quite the discussion about this buffalo that had been hanging around the conservation for far too long. It can be extremely dangerous for a buffalo to just hang around like it has been as puts the lions in great danger as well as any humans. So they went on a buffalo search during the midmorning session when I had my lion training. This was basically introduction to lion basics… how to read their signals, what to look for, how to stay safe around them, etc. all while in the pen with them (as they are kept in an enclosure while not on the walks but when they are on the walks they are completely 100% free). When we headed back for lunch, we were informed that not only was there one buffalo, that there were two… both of which had been lingering for far too long… so they killed them for the safety of the cubs and humans (both visitors and workers) as the buffalo could charge on human sight. So after lunch we went to see the buffalo and holy smokes, I knew buffalo were large but I never imagined them to be that massive. I’ll spare the details as I hate to see any animal that has been hurt but I also understand the safety reasons behind it. However, on our way to see the buffalo, we were trekking through the bush when all of a sudden the two leaders, Ed and Nathan who were both armed with guns, came running towards us informing us that a third buffalo was right up ahead… it was a bit ironic however as they were yelling at us to “not run”… yeah ok guys… ha. But we all crammed into the truck, along with about ten of the workers, and continued once the path was clear. It is definitely not every day that you see buffalo that have been hunted but interesting, none-the-less. So, I think lunch tomorrow is buffalo… not even joking. And the cubs will be receiving some of the meat as well… alright, welcome to life in Africa I guess. But the rest of the day wasn’t so hectic; we had a few hours off in the early afternoon before a client walk later in the day followed by dinner. The rest of the night was a lot of fun getting to know the other volunteers better along with some of the staff—just lots of talking and stories!
I’m exhausted already though and I know that my 6 am alarm will come far too early so I’m calling it a night… enough buffalo hunting and lion interaction for one day!
Miss you all but love Zimbabwe and absolutely love lions!


1 Comment

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One response to “Love Love Love Zimbabwe!

  1. Kathy (aka "Susan's Mom")

    Wow! “Meow”…nice little kitty!

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