Bowles Family with their Safari Guides in Hwange

A little over 22 years ago, we exchanged vows and boarded a flight for a honeymoon in southern Africa. We had chosen a 12 day participatory camping Safari in Botswana followed by a few days in Cape Town and South Africa’s Western Cape province. An all-inclusive beach resort or cruise ship was and is not our style. Our friends thought we were nuts, but as the wheels left the ground following our trip, we, without hesitation, agreed that we just HAD to come back.

Well, life carries on and we started a family. A safari with 3 young girls seemed daunting, so we hoarded and saved frequent flyer miles for that eventual return we knew we would make one day, this time with the kids once they were old enough to appreciate it. That time came in the summer of 2018. With our oldest graduating high school in 2019, we felt we should pull the trigger before they began to drift off, as kids tend to do.

Researching extensively that summer and autumn, we were hoping to replicate the style we enjoyed so many years prior, pitching our tents and helping with meal preparation and clean up. The kids are well-versed in camping trips and we wanted them to see the real Africa that we so fondly remembered, not a “resort-ified” version of white table linens, wine cellars, infinity pools and game drives that were traffic jams. Fortunately some friends introduced us to Global Sojourns. Of all the outfits with which we talked, they seemed to best understand what we were after while warning us that the true camping safari experience had become very rare and difficult to arrange over the ensuing 22 years without getting into the backpacker/hostel/party scene, which we did not want with young kids in tow.

Understanding that Botswana had become quite popular, we chose Zimbabwe this time at the suggestion of Pam and Priscilla. They worked closely with us on budget and put together a package that couldn’t have been any better. They made all the arrangements beginning with an overnight stay in Johannesburg upon our arrival to give us a little rest. Once in Vic Falls, we had someone waiting to take us Hwange Bush Camp in Hwange National Park.

While we were not expected to pitch our own tents or help with meals, the camp was not luxe, and it was perfect for us. The five of us settled into 3 tents with en-suite facilities and sweeping savanna views. The kids were thrilled and that was all we had hoped for. The meals were delicious and the camaraderie around the campfire in the evenings was delightful as we were educated on the constellations of the Southern Hemisphere and met the other guests and guides.

Pam and Priscilla must have warned our guides, David and Jean, that we were not there to be pampered. They had us going non-stop on drives and walks, only returning to camp to enjoy dinner, the fire and dropping into our beds exhausted but fulfilled. Zimbabwe was in the early stages of the drought that sadly gripped the area last year, so water was concentrated and therefore so were the animals. The area is blessed with a huge population of elephants along with plenty of giraffe, zebra, ostrich, water buck, impala, crocodile, kudu, hippo, buffalo, wart hog and the ever-present baboon.

Two nights at our main camp were split with 2 nights at the Bush Camp “fly camp”—smaller more basic tents with cots pitched above a dry riverbed and with mobile kitchen facilities. This rekindled memories of our experience years earlier. Going from water hole to water hole provided excellent wildlife viewing. At one point we came across some quite large lion prints crossing the road and immediately abandoned the truck to track them through the bush on foot. Eventually the tracks were joined by another set of large prints—likely two males. Sadly, even after 4 hours we were never able to catch a glimpse of the boys but had a great experience to recount. Our lion encounter would have to wait, we had plenty of time. However, at one point as we were taking a break at a water hole Sean rushed in and quietly but urgently said “everyone in the truck, we’re going.” After a spirited drive, we bounced through a field pockmarked with deep elephant footprints to find a beautiful male cheetah, lying placidly in the tall grasses. What a sight!

Next was a flight to Mana Pools National Park in a small twin-engine plane. We all chuckled once we landed as right off the grass landing strip, we found 3 lionesses lazing in the shade. After working so hard to catch a glimpse in Hwange this was a good beginning to our next adventure. Our tents at Little Vundu Camp were similar to the main tents in Hwange, overlooking the Zambezi River with its ever-present crocodiles and hippos. A delightful breeze off the river kept the tents quite comfortable and the food was (again) excellent. The kitchen was set off at the edge of camp and one afternoon the crew informed us that there was a fresh lion kill right outside the kitchen compound—a water buck. A lioness with her juvenile daughter and son were taking turns feeding and resting. We watched well past dark.

Again, we enjoyed plenty of wildlife sightings. The highlight here was our guide, Colin, driving us out to a remote spot, then taking us on a long walk through undergrowth to a den of painted dogs with a fresh litter of pups. The pack was out hunting, leaving the guard dog behind for protection. We waited quietly for some time until they excitedly returned and regurgitated their food as the pups emerged from the den to feed. Knowing how rare sightings of painted dogs are, this was a special treat and a great finale to our time in Mana Pools.

Wild Dog (or Painted Dog) in Mana

Hopping onto another small plane back to Victoria Falls, we had a couple of days to explore, enjoy the falls and be introduced to Global Sojourns Giving Circle (GSGC) organization that GS has nurtured. GSGC works to provide support, education and guidance to local girls as well as boys, empowering the girls and educating the boys to respect the girls and to the fact that empowered girls are not a threat, but ultimately a benefit to the local community. With three daughters, this is something near and dear to us. What we feel sets Giving Circle apart is that the boys are included in the process and taught that they can buy in to female empowerment without it being a threat to their manhood. 

Pam and Priscilla did an amazing job of putting the whole package together and making certain it all went smoothly. I suspect they were like what is said of swans—graceful and elegant to the eye, but paddling like hell below the surface! The guides and camp personnel were all delightful and knowledgeable. And we want to thank Smokey, his wife Yolanda and their family for hosting us at their home for a lovely dinner with a few of the Giving Circle girls so that we might get to know them better—a great send off as we departed for Cape Town for a few days before returning home once again.

The cherry on top? Our daughters … the girls look back on our adventure and consider it one of the best things we have ever done—very gratifying coming from teenagers!

2 out of 3 of the Bowles daughters – was a treat to have them here !

We won’t wait 22 years until the next time!

The Bowles Family (traveled Aug 2019)

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