My sleep is interrupted by the breaking of branches. The cracks fill the silent night. I peer through the black gauze netting of my tent. The details are hazy but I make out the unmistakable length of an elephant trunk a few strides away.
As I sit up and pull the duvet tighter to me contemplating the safety of my makeshift abode a rhythmic shuffling sound enters the fray. The lanterns outside cast a light on the appearance of a hippopotamus slowly walking past.
“That must be Mitch,” I wonder aloud before slapping my mouth with my palm.
In the morning the hippo’s four-toed tracks can be seen in the soil outside the tent. Mitch is well known around Zambezi Expeditions, regularly leaving the comfort of the river to graze within the camp. His is often a solo affair but the wildlife night-time social is a regular occurrence in these parts.
“The feeling of being vulnerable when you’re sleeping in a tent and you see a big shape walking past you is a highlight for us here,” says Simeon, a guide at the camp. “A lot of travellers just fall in love with Zambezi Expeditions because that’s the authentic safari with a bit of style.”
I quickly get the feeling that Simeon is talking of a place I can call home. That many Zimbabweans indeed already do. On my drive into the camp I was first struck by how sparsely placed the tents were; struck by the lack of decoration within the camp. Everything melted into the brown landscape, as if it always belonged here, a camouflage of sorts. I wasn’t even sure we were within the camp.
“When we talk about authenticity we are talking of being able to hear the sounds of the night, that allow you to go to sleep with lions calling in the distance and the shouting or laughing of hyenas,” explains Beks Ndlovu, Founder and Professional Guide of African Bush Camps.
“Our goal is to make sure that we are not trying to draw or attract people that have got multiple luxury homes around the world, or to try and develop something that looks like their homes here in Africa when we have the opportunity to produce something that is out of the ordinary here.”
The tents, although urbane, have a rural touch, the dining area is under a tree and we eat delicious meals under the stars having a nightcap around a fireplace where soon impala will surround us, their safe place away from predators.
“We want our guests to be a part of the Zambezi Expeditions family. That’s why we say to our guests, relax and be at home,” explains camp host, Sebasten.
We are always welcomed with song, dance and the call of the djembe drum. The new family gathers around introducing themselves. I soon learn Sebasten has a quiet and comforting manner about him breaking out into unexpected laughter sometimes, Reuben is big and bold filling the space with his eagerness, Talent is shy with a playfulness and gentleness that is endearing, Chef Coster is a fast talker with a quick hand and cheerfulness that’s soothing; Simeon is a little mad with the contentedness and care of a brother; TK loves to laugh heartily and has a teasing spirit; Obey has a big smile and a warm heart, Primrose often hides away dimming her sweet nature, while Mitchell is always up for adventure and a good story.
“You won’t go into one of my camps and arrive there as an English person from Winchester and you’ve got a hostess or manager from London hosting you in Africa in an African camp,” explains Beks. “You’re probably going to get a local who has grown up in an African rural setting and, if not, has grown up with it all around them and that’s who is going to be telling their story, that is authentically African and that’s the one thing, obviously, that we are big advocates of. Ultimately you know it’s about the people and it’s about the locals.”