Thursday, September 3, 2015

July 19 - Journey to Hwange - Cheetah Surprise - Camelthorn Lodge

We had a relaxed morning before we bade farewell to our wonderful local guides, Howard and Kevin, and the charming staff at Amalinda.  We boarded onto two comfortable mini buses and drove 3 hours on a good paved road to “Halfway House” where the 4x4 vehicles from our next camp, Camelthorn Lodge, were waiting for us.  

We then set off with the owner, Mark Butcher, who is a local legend for his work both with schools and the community at large in the Bomani Concession at the South East of Hwange National Park.  Butch is a high energy white Zimbabwean who is both a professional guide and a community activist.  We drove down a sandy road towards the park as Butch told us about his experiences from his early days studying botany and zoology in South Africa to his first job as a guide/ranger to owning several lodges and creating solid relationships with the local communities. 

Butch is just as much about wildlife as he is about people and we learned that first hand the next morning when we arose at 6:00AM and set off to join the local school kids as they walked to school.  It was a raucous scene as we were greeted by several hundred children cheering and we descended from the vehicles to literally start running with the kids shouting and laughing several kilometers to school.  Our kids loved it and so did we!  

We were welcomed to the Camelthorn Lodge by the wonderful staff chanting for us.
But first a quick description of Camelthorn Lodge which is centered around a majestic Camelthorn tree.  An elephant was at the entrance gate as we pulled into the main driveway and we were greeted to a singing staff chanting a welcome song in the local language of Indebele.  Cold drinks and wet towels cooled us off as we entered the impressive main lodge which is an open structure with a large dining room with fireplace off to the right and a bar/lounge area off to the left spread out around the Camelthorn that towers over the main building.  Pathways lead away to two story free standing units that are very comfortably furnished with 4 poster beds, seating area, writing desk, en suite bathrooms with both tiled shower stalls and a large oval porcelain bath tub large enough for two people - yeah!  There is hot water on demand as they have installed propane tanks which is a great idea and more environmentally sound compared to burning wood.  

After checking in we went off to see some elephants in the nearby plains when we got word that cheetah had been sighted nearby.  We raced off just in time to see two large males just after a kill with huge bellies and blood stained mouths.  We were able to get within about 50 feet of them and just got some great photos befor the light faded - cheetahs can be very rare so this was an exceptional beginning to our safari in Hwange.  

Later we arrived at a water hole to find a roaring fire with folding chairs in a circle.  Time for sundowners and appetizers!  The sun had set and the stars were magnificent as we sipped our Gin and Tonics in front of the fire and enjoyed a wonderful welcome to Hwange National Park.  Back at the lodge we feasted on roast potato and a fabulous pork tenderloin accompanied by delicious South African wines including Shiraz, Pinotage, and Chenin Blanc.  

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