Today we split the group as one vehicle headed into the park to see hippos, search for black rhino, and enjoy the excellent birding the area offers (largest concentration of eagles in Africa) while the other group set off to a children’s home/school where we donated items brought from home including school supplies, soccer balls, and clothes. We met the children and toured their dorm rooms, kitchen and classes. It was very touching and authentic. A great experience for our kids to see how these children live.
Later we set off to a nearby village where went to a homestead consisting of several huts in the bush inhabited by an extended family of women as the men had died off and the children were all female - quite unusual and a very hard life for them. We were honored to meet a village elder, a woman, who was both a natural healer and a shaman. She was very open and welcoming of questions and the discussion ran the gamut from spiritual beliefs like what happens when we die, what is our purpose on earth, etc…to daily life. She then took the adults into her hut and showed us the various tools and potions she uses to communicate with the spirits and ancestors. It was fascinating to learn how she goes into a trance to act as a medium between the two worlds. She was very humble and sure to stress that it was not her making the interpretations rather she was just a conduit for the knowledge that was passed along. Interestingly, many of her tools and potions were very similar to those that a shaman in Peru used when Perry’s group participated in a shaman ceremony last winter in the Andes.
While the adults were inside the kids had a great time singing and dancing with the women and girls of the village. It felt great to connect with the culture in a real and positive way. It can be hard to have authentic experiences in the highly touristed areas like the Serengeti. Conversely, there are many areas that are so wild and remote like the Okavango Delta in Botswana where there is really no opportunity to meet local people. This was just perfect and a great balance to the wildlife viewing. In fact, Matopos Park really is about scenery, history and culture more than traditional big 5 game viewing which is much better at Hwange Park which is our next stop.
That afternoon the kids decided to hang out at the amazing natural infinity pool made on top of a giant granite dome swimming in the chilly waters and catching lizards by the pool - good fun. Another part of our group went to Bulawayo for the Saturday market where they witnessed local culture at both the new and used good markets. They came back with some great buys including Nyami Nyami necklaces, local music CDs, and more. The others journeyed to the highest point in the park by vehicle and on foot where they were treated to a spectacular 360 degree view of the park and as a bonus they were able to visit Cecil Rhodes grave as he is buried at this site. Rhodes was the founder of the nation of Rhodesia and developed the infrastructure of what is now Zimbabwe including farming, roads, rail, mining and more.