When I first moved out to Zimbabwe, I was worried about friends. I had a decent sized friendship circle in the UK that I was leaving behind, and I had no idea if I, a socially awkward geek with a “funny accent” and a penchant for arguing about proper tea-making methodolog, would fit in. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for Karry to frog-march me by the ear out of the house and toss me into social situations the way one tosses a hand grenade when one discovers the pin is missing.
It didn’t take too long before my questionable sense of humour and mastery of sarcasm ingratiated me into the group. Countless nights of playing Cards Against Humanity was my ingenious gamble – either I was going to be accepted as “That Guy”, or I was going to cast out as the baby murdering racist my responses in the game made me out to be. Fortunately, it worked. Also, I do not condone infanticide.
Jordi was one of the first in the group to meet me. At first I found his quiet, calm demeanour a little disarming, but eventually warmed up to his warm earthly brotherness. Is that a word? I don’t even know, but this is my blog so it’s a word now. Sue me. Before this post becomes the written equivalent of a Top Gun homoerotic volleyball montage, let me round this bit off by saying that Jordi could be credited as one of the guys who really brought out the ‘Me’ in me.
That’s not to mention the story where one night, after a braai, Jordi and Ty (another of the friendship circle with an insane tolerance for alcohol and wicked sense of humour) decided they wanted to go out. Still a little unused to this “socialising” malarkey, I opted instead for an early night. Jordi was having none of that and followed our car home, parked in our open gate so that we couldn’t shut it, and refused to move unless I joined them. One hilarious night of hijinx (and a 3am return to bed) later, and that was it. I was “One of the Guys”.
I’ve never been much of a drinker, I’ll admit. I enjoy the occasional beer or cider, but I have genuinely never been a fan of the “drink til you hurl” mindset. I usually have only three or four drinks in a night, just enough to start feeling the effects, that pleasant warmth. Not enough to start feeling the room start spinning as the bile rises at the back of your throat. Here, in Zimbabwe, the locals have taken what I call the Roman approach – they drink, get drunk, hurl, and then say “Ah, room for more!” (Yes, I know the romans didn’t actually do that and that it was just a myth…)
On the Friday night, Karry and I arrived at Jordi’s parents’ house, a beautiful property right on the edge of town, for a braai. I won’t say too much about the braai as it was more of a private family-and-friends gathering, but highlights include:
- Jordi taping his beer to his hand, then taping every can he finished together to this first like a wizard’s staff. Unfortunately you’re not a wizard unless your staff is as tall as you but Jordi got damned close.
- We learned a new drinking game called “Up and Down”, where players essentially play “The Price Is Right” with playing cards and drink when they’re wrong based on how long the streak is.
- We learned that I am definitely one of the worst Pool players in Victoria Falls.
The next day, Karry and I were lazing around in our front room when a message came through to our communal WhatsApp group that we were going down to the river and taking a boat out onto the water. We drove down to the jetty and met Jordi and Clara, and a load of our friends, boarded the boat and set sail onto the Zambezi.
After a short sail, cracking open some cold beers, lamenting the fact that nobody thought to bring a deck of cards, and threatening to throw Jacque into the river, we pulled up between two sand banks and cast out lines.
Of course, whilst everyone else was socialising or fishing, I was busy hanging over the edge of the boat, waist-deep into a tree, admiring the spiders – there were dozens of beautiful Golden Orb Weavers; large, harmless spiders that spin massive webs that shimmer golden in the sunlight.
Ah, of course, that requires some explaining to the international audience. Despite there actually being a fish here called a bottlenose, that term refers to casting your line and succeeding at nothing other than emptying your cooler box of beer.
“What did you catch?”
What I’m trying to say is that we didn’t catch any fish. I swear, these jokes are funnier than it seems when I type them.
Eventually we pulled up onto a sandbank, grabbed some chairs from the boat, and laughed together as the sun went down. Levi and I spent a bit of time identifying animal tracks and trying to tie up a heavy boat in soft sand.
That’s Jordi throwing off some cool with his shades, and Levi desperately throwing off the camera’s white balance by showing off his super shiny belly. You get used to him, honest. Hermione, Jordi’s sister, looks so embarrassed to be a part of this photo.
The next day, Karry and I treated ourselves to a lie in. It’s rare that we get a weekend together so it’s nice to just be lazy and- NOPE. Barely dressed, Levi and Jamie burst through our door and announced that we’re all going to Chamabondo, the national park just outside of town. Hang on, I mean that Karry and I were barely dressed – not that Levi and Jamie drove to our house half-naked… Levi’s been in the park loads of times recently, and seen huge herds of elephant and buffalo, there have been giraffe and zebra and even, purportedly, leopard.
Hell yes. This is Africa, I repeat to myself as I clamber onto the side of his Land Rover (there’s no space inside and this is Zimbabwe). Time to end the curse!
I should explain. I consider myself cursed. Victoria Falls and its surroundings are vibrant and booming with wildlife. It’s not rare for elephant to stroll through town, and drivers at night have to be careful of running into game on the roads. This is the animal’s land, we’re the intruders.
Or so I am told. Since moving here in October, I have seen plenty of baboons and warthog in the town (baboons are to Victoria Falls as seagulls are to the Kentish coast – everywhere and a real threat to your groceries), I’ve seen one giraffe on the road to Kasane, and… that’s about it. The animals tend to avoid me.
So we stopped at Seven Eleven, where we picked up some chicken and crisps, swapped cars into Jordi and Clara’s minibus, and drove out of town and into the park. We nearly choked on the dust kicked up by Levi’s Land Rover as we followed him down into the park, following the dirt roads that wound through the thick grass of the vlei line, to the rest site. We climbed the ridiculously steep steps to the top of the viewing platform, eager to see the wildlife waiting beyond (we had brought cooler boxes of beer and plenty of food to keep us seated whilst we watched nature unfold) and…
Still, absence of wildlife aside (seriously, not even a sodding impala, the so-called “cockroach of the bush”) we had a great time laughing and talking and, again, enjoyed an absolutely stunning sunset as the sun melted into the horizon. Eventually, as the site began to darken, we clambered back into our vehicles for the return journey.
Sadly, at one point, the minibus got a little stuck in the sand and we all got out to look at a young Puff Adder whilst Levi attached the tow cable. Big mistake. For days after, most of us were scratching our skin off from sand mite bites. Our own stupid fault, really.
The night did take a sudden upswing, however, when we discovered a car pulled over with his hazards on. A sign, usually, that the driver has spotted something. We were not let down. The curse seemed to lift briefly as we spotted three lions walking down the side of the road – Lightning Seeds references aside, it was incredible. Sadly, photography on my crappy phone was near impossible in the pitch black of a moonless African night, but the sighting was awe inspiring, and made the perfect end to an unforgettable weekend.