14th January: A return to Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge for meetings, good company and plans for the future, finds us all sitting on the wooden deck overlooking the wilderness of the Gonarezhou National Park opposite us, enjoying a dinner under the stars and the nearly full moon. Sadly, we have to leave again tomorrow….
We have barely opened a bottle of Painted Wolf Wine, (a shiraz; rich, red and yummy…) and lifted our glasses, when the whoooooooo- ooop of a hyena floats across the water, from the densely vegetated far bank of the swollen Save River.
Is it at the den, where we heard cubs growing up and learning to whoop last year?…and if so, are there new cubs?…an exciting thought!
What a gorgeous, evocative African sound……..
But it does not end there…as if saving all the drama of the wilderness just for us on our one night in this special place, the serenity of the evening is replaced by a rising chorus of yodels, as more than four or five hyenas start calling, louder, louder, until the very air around us is filled with the voices of this unique, eerie choir! The shivering stars above us dance to the music, and the silt-brown, flooding river below us is lit by the buttery light of the rising moon.
Then….a low reverberating rumble rolls across the water…a lion has added his voice! The hyenas giggle with fear and anger, and we can hear that something serious is happening, a confrontation between these two arch enemies, the super predators….the choir has become an opera, a drama unfolding in the dark depths of the far bank, beyond reach of the gentle moonlight.
We all stare at each other, wide eyed in the moonlight. Has the lion found the hyena den and attacked the cubs? Or has the lion made a kill and been challenged by the hyenas?
Sitting on the high balcony, we can only guess and marvel at what story might be unfolding out there. This is a theatre dinner of a different order, a priceless and elemental experience.
Going to bed that night, I open the folding doors of the room. Perched as we are in the tree canopy on the steep cliff, we drift to sleep surrounded by the gentler sounds of Africa, hyenas now silent…. we know that birdsong, baboons and hippo grunts will wake us satisfyingly early. Wake up call is earlier than expected…at 3 am the lion suddenly roars, loud and explosive, only once. Wow. A baboon barks in fear from the baboon roost on steep rocks above the river.
After that, lion and hyena dreams fill my mind till morning.
Gardening and pruning the Mahogany tree on the deck occupies my morning. The fabulous cry of a fish eagle attracts me to the edge of the deck, and a glance upstream reveals a rising spiral of vultures above the rocks where the baboons roost. Have they just been down to a quiet backwater to drink and bathe, or does their presence signify a death…a sequel to last night’s opera?!
Climbing to the top deck within the lodge, to write this blog, I get a different perspective of the silty Save, and the far bank whose deep vegetation hides the dramatic nocturnal story….what really happened there last night?!