Gorgeous vistas, close encounters with wild animals are well worth the trip
WHEN you are invited to go for a one-hour outing with a cheetah, you would normally assume you would be sitting in a game vehicle watching the animal.
But that’s not what happens. “Walking with Sylvester” literally means walking with and patting a three-year old 55-kg cheetah, which has been raised as an orphan.
“He’s my son,” says Ed, the handler, who takes Sylvester off the leash so he can do his own thing. Ed and Sylvester are based at The Elephant Camp, minutes away from the Zimbabwe side of world-famous Victoria Falls.
Said one visitor: “I fell in love with Sylvester minutes after we started our walk, although I knew I should feel some fear because essentially this is a wild animal. But I couldn’t help it.”
It’s like walking with a large dog, or patting a cat – a very large cat. If you are lucky, you get a lick on the leg with a very sandpapery tongue, perhaps even a lick on the face or a love bite … and for a brief second, as you feel those teeth in his powerful jaw, you wonder if you will get back your hand intact.
When you stroke him you can feel how amazingly he moves. And you understand the origins of the advice to models on a catwalk: “Walk like a cheetah.” Because that’s exactly how Sylvester walks; a cheetah’s shoulder blades are not connected to its collarbone.
Sylvester typically wanders off on his own, but he also enjoys people’s company and is happy to sit for photo opportunities. When you squat down beside him, your face centimetres away from his head, you feel privileged to be allowed to be so close to him.
And then there is Victoria Falls, separating Zimbabwe from Zambia.
Those who don’t want to get soaked can take the helicopter Flight of Angels over the falls.
Just up the Zambezi River from the falls is Victoria Falls River Lodge, which is an ideal spot for fans of hippos, crocodiles and warthogs. The warthogs come right into camp, crossing under and feeding near the raised wooden walkway. You hear hippos all night, and must have an escort back to your lodge after dark and after dinner.
A river excursion gives visitors a chance to spot the crocs on little islands or the shore, sunbathing with open jaws, and to watch a beautiful sunset while sipping a drink and nibbling on a snack.Advertisement
Then it’s time to head further south for a complete change of scenery, to the giant granite boulder formations of the Matapos region.
It’s a half-hour hike up to an easily accessible cave to see well-preserved rock art with realistic depictions of giraffes, kudus and other local wildlife, as well as the people of the times.
“We’re raising money to build an elevated wooden walkway to preserve the artwork, so people can still see the drawings but not touch them,” said Paul Hubbard, a well-known locally based archaeologist, guide and author, whose enthusiasm is contagious as he draws on his extensive knowledge to bring the Matapos region to life for visitors.
Continue to experience the cave feel at Camp Amalinda, which incorporates the stone environment into its lodge and the separate guest units.
Amalinda supports several local community initiatives like the local school and the Ethandweni orphanage, both of which invite guests to visit.
Walking with Sylvester, cruising on the Zambezi, admiring the rock art in a Matopos cave – despite all the bad press it has received, Zimbabwe is definitely worth a visit.