It's almost a fairy tale really. Regrettably it's mostly a Grimm one in terms of extremes of human rights, white on black and vice versa, black on black, economic, political affiliations - you name it, Zimbabwe's most likely had a problem with it, or will have. From a safari point of view however, Zimbabwe's almost peerless. A pearl of a tourist destination, even though it's land-locked. Actually, scrap that - it doesn't matter that it has no coastline, because Zimbabwe has the Zambezi and its 'baby' Lake Kariba.

My third safari trip was to Zimbabwe and, a year after our hairy Tanzanian adventure, it was one that I had reservations with, which were more or less evaporated on starting out at Lake Kariba with our own private game guide. Harry Burton isn't entirely based on that engaging young man, his backstory is an amalgam of several safari guides we met, as are his experiences, but the ethos for 'high end' quality safaris is right up there with only the decade being totally different. Our Zimbabwe holidays took place at the start of the 1990s ten years after the civil war ended and while there was still a reasonable amount of interracial amity about, before the program of white evictions began. To this day the safari trade still goes on regardless so 'my' Zimbabwe is still there, although some of the National Parks, like Gonarezhou remain mostly off the main tourist track (in the late 1980's and 90's it was still heavily mined and definitely a no-go area).

Zimbabwe and it's wildlife is truly beautiful though, and Harry's Africa really needs no further embellishment from me in here. Lake Kariba remains high on the list of places I love most in this world and, if you're prepared to live with the political exigencies and are careful who you travel with, I'd definitely recommend the country as one of those places to see before you die. From a wildlife perspective it's still 'last chance to see' territory, as it's one of the few countries to have black and white rhino in any significant numbers and, like other parts of southern Africa, it is enjoying some notable success with sustainable eco-tourism involving the indigenous people, and in running limited licensed hunting franchises to support conservation areas. Long may that continue...

Excerpt from Trophies

It was money for old rope almost and the client paid through the nose for literally everything - the pro hunter’s fee being almost the least of it. Silly prices, and paid at source, where it did most good and everyone, including the precious animals, benefitted in some way. Gun hunting was just not something he enjoyed doing anymore, however great it was for easy money. It was too crude and if the client was a bad shot it could get very distressing, especially if they didn’t miss but botched the shot and hit a non-fatal area...
... He was swearing under his breath as he tried to balance himself to take yet another shot at this bloody buff. Bloody client more like! Big Mr. ‘I am’, and he was ‘gonna git himself one of them big motherfuckin’ Cape bufferloes’... Flaming idiot! He should have listened to his instincts and refused to go out with Marjulies today - the amount the man’d put away last night it was a wonder he made it to lunch, let alone breakfast, but there were only two full days left of their stay here and the old dugga bull they’d found down by the river should’ve been feeling sluggish so late in the day... 
... ‘Shit!’ 
The blasted animal had literally charged and nutted the tree trunk so hard he’d nearly fallen out and his shot had missed by miles. Harry reloaded quickly, his face grim. He’d have to chance it and get back on the ground because he sure as hell wasn’t going to get a good killing shot in sitting up in a tree bole with this useless clot of a client, who’d managed to drop his weapon even before they’d both had to take shelter from the maddened buff in this ruddy tree.  He looked up at Marjulies, who was rustling the leaves on the next branch up he was so shit-scared. 
‘Stay put and try to be quiet - I’ll have to get down if it backs off again.’ Dear God, the man was actually crying now... ‘I mean it! Stay there.’
The old bull was puffing and blowing again. This one wasn’t going to let things lie and not because by rights it should be lying dead several yards off. All they’d done so far was get it so pumped up with adrenalin it was literally running on spite now. It had moved off a little at last, but was still glaring up at them in the tree. Harry raised his rifle and used the telescopic sight to assess the damage he’d inflicted so far. Despite himself he was impressed - there was blood everywhere down the forequarters, so he’d got it in the chest at least once and judging from the way it was spurting blood he’d hit a major vein, if not the heart. That was buffs for you - mean as hell and long on retribution. This old boy wasn’t too far past his prime either. He’d hate to meet up with the new guy who kicked him out - must’ve been bloody monstrous.
Very, very slowly he put his weight on the right leg and slid his left down and behind the trunk until his foot rested on the stub of an old branch, still looking at the bull. Finally it turned away and trotted off for fifty yards or so, breathing hard now. He only needed those few moments to drop lightly to the ground with most of his body hidden by the tree trunk. The buff had stopped, its chest heaving with the effort of its final strength, but it looked back at them, angling around so he had a choice of a head shot or one more to the chest. He had four shots and those should do it he thought as he raised the Browning. 
‘Burton! Behind us!’ Marjulies hissed at him loud enough for the buff to bellow out its anger and turn full on again. Harry slewed his head towards the slight movements from nearby mopane brush in time to see a battery bird fly away.  
‘Shut the fuck up!’ he growled viciously as he swung back and revised the low shot he’d contemplated in favour of the head. The wounded buffalo snorted aggressively and its muscles bunched in obedience to its final crack at vengeance.  
Hold tight Harry... Keep your focus... but this had gone beyond rationality now. He let off two shots in quick succession and still it came, even though both times he saw skin and blood flying away and the white of bone between the buff’s eyes. Another shot, another hit, into the eye itself this time and at last it stumbled as he began to lower the Browning. There was a scream above him from Marjulies that joined the echoing gunshots reverberating in his ears as, unbelievably, the animal heaved itself back into the charge. Harry inhaled and held it in a mixture of fury and fear as he took careful aim with his last shot, knowing he’d need to be bloody lucky to have time to reload if it didn’t go down this time. Wait. Wait. Make it count. Let it get close. He fired. 
He breathed out and stood his ground as the old buffalo finally crumpled forwards onto its knees and slowly fell onto its side as the rear legs splayed and faltered and then were still. It was about two yards away from him. He could smell its blood and sweat, saw the ever-present flies rise up with a buzz, then fall back onto its face, feasting on fresh blood and brains. His legs were shaking now and he breathed in sharply, squatted down on his haunches and bowed his head, trying not to throw up. 
‘Why’d ya shoot the bastid inna head! Ya could’ve spoilt ma trophy!’ 
The punch he landed on Marjulies’ ugly yellow mug smashed his nose almost to a right angle. It was worth breaking two of his own fingers and the mocking laughter back at the Lodge when the trackers asked him which one of them had really shot the buff’s tail off...
‘First rule in the Pro Hunter’s manual - follow up the client’s shot PDQ and be prepared to say yours was the one that missed, if you want your tip.’

Other Zimbabwean chapters

Perfect Day - Harry hosts a full day's game excursion by boat and open land cruiser to view bathing elephants, threatened rhino, buffalo, not to mention a wealth of birdlife and crocodiles.

The Gathering of Water - the group are dropped off at the lake and dam where they hear the strange tale, half myth, half mystery of Nyaminyami, the Spirit Guardian of the Zambezi and meet Harry's nephew, Luey who explains the legend more prosaically.

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