Posted on 08/20/2015 | About Africa

There was justifiably an uproar over the killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe. The best way to help the country and its animals? Send yourself there. Foreign money in this cash strapped country is beyond needed, it’s a necessity.
Hyperinflation reduced the Zimbabwe dollar to such a low value that it was abandoned in 2009 as an official currency and when I visited this year, it was no longer accepted as legal tender – Canadian dollars, British pounds, Euros, South African Rands – all good for transactions. At tourist shops you can buy coffee cups with trillion dollar Zimbabwe notes on them…as decoration.

Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, should be on everyone’s bucket list in any event. The “Smoke that Thunders” which separates the countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe at two kilometres long and over 100 metres high is twice as high and wide as Niagara Falls and jaw dropping in its beauty.

At the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge guests can sit on their balcony with views over the African bushveld and a very active waterhole. From there they can shoot the animals to their hearts content using cameras and iPhones: herds of impalas, warthogs, colonies of marabou storks, hyenas, elephants and on, all come for a drink at different times of the day.

Guests are cautioned not to leave their balcony doors open because of the animals. During my stay I frequently saw vervet monkeys racing along from balcony to balcony with freshly snatched fruit and other items so it appears some occupants didn’t heed the warnings.

Dinner at the hotel’s 300 seat Boma or “Place of Eating” is a dining and entertainment extravaganza with African drummers, dancers and fortune tellers. The cornucopia of local-focused food is served buffet style at stations dotted about this open air restaurant. I tried mopane worms, an edible caterpillar that’s an important source of protein in southern Africa, and yes game meats – but these meats were culled from population control areas and ecologically sustainable. Not lion of course, but smoked crocodile, impala knuckle terrine, kudu and ostrich steaks and most delicious of all, the warthog filet.

Another country that needs and deserves visitors is Zimbabwe’s neighbour, Botswana. More than 80 percent of landlocked Botswana is referred to as a desert – the Kalahari Desert – yet along with endless scrub land and red sand are substantial woodlands and the Okavango Delta, considered the largest inland river delta in the world. This Delta is teaming with life of all kinds.

At independence in 1966 Botswana was one of the poorest countries in the world, but also one of the most traditional and conservative. In the years since the economy has made great strides and the country is today the world’s biggest producer of diamonds. There is still a long way to go but the Batswana are extraordinarily patient.

The majority are Bantu and are friendly, welcoming and peaceful. Botswana is an oasis of peace and stability in the midst of a turbulent region with neighbours such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola and South Africa battling economic and social issues.

I booked my trip through African Safaris who selected Ker and Downey as the ground operator for our camps and flights between them. Interestingly Ker and Downey started in 1945 as hunting safari outfitters. However in 1968 they opened up Botswana’s first photographic safari lodge and soon developed photographic safaris in areas previously restricted to hunting. Eventually they operated purely as a photographic operation and are today 100 percent Botswana owned in the hands of Chobe Holdings Group.

Their portfolio of lodges provide guests with open vehicle game drives, motorboat cruises, walking safaris and Mekoro trips (small flat bottom boats propelled by poling through shallow water). I made sure to try all these ways to view and snap shots of the animals as well as from the very deck of my camp accommodations.

Okuti, alongside the Maunachira River within the Moremi Game Reserve, had the most luxurious rooms which were like individual chalets except with thatched roofs and plaster walls. My ensuite bathroom had indoor and outdoor showers and a view to the river.

At Kanana the accommodation was permanent tents on wood platforms that were attractively furnished and had en-suite bathrooms with hot and cold running water. The animals were very up close and personal here. A large bull elephant thought he owned the place and hippos munched grasses so near the tents at night that we could hear their chomps and snorts as if they were in our beds.

The third place, Linyanti Bush Camp was part of African Bush Camps, but offered by Ker and Downey in their portfolio. It was by far the most rustic with a more basic tent yet still with running water and an en-suite toilet which was quite the necessity at night. There was a leopard lolling about the camp and leopards hunt in the dark. We were forbidden to go anywhere at dusk without a safari guide by our side.

I had a book, “Wildlife of the Okavango” that listed hundreds of common animals and plants in the area and managed to shoot or check-off 108 gorgeous creatures that I saw in my short time there and numerous plants. Elephants, giraffes, hippos, water buffalo, warthogs, zebras, all kinds of antelopes, wildebeest, jackals, hyenas, baboons, mongoose, bats (including in my tent) and yes – lions – and much more.

The routine was basically the same in each camp. Wake up at six, breakfast and then depart at 7am for the first safari. Back around noon for lunch and a siesta. Tea with snacks at 3pm and then off again on another safari. Back around 7pm in time to freshen up for sunset drinks and dinner. Some of the safaris were on the water via motorboat or Mekoro, one was walking and the rest driving in open-sided vehicles.

Food was copious and delicious. For example one night we started with Springbok carpaccio with rocket salad, followed by roasted lemon chicken with baby marrow and butternut squash and ending with a lemon meringue pie. Not exactly roughing it in the bush. And a great way to spend time and money in a country that’s serious about preserving its wildlife.