AFRICA

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - TRAVEL -

du’s din­ners were served by the river; at Bil­imungwe we ate on the deck by can­dle­light, shar­ing wine and hash­ing over the day’s sur­prises, such as the li­ons that killed and ate the buf­falo and the dis­cov­ery — to our mu­tual as­ton­ish­ment — that our fel­low guests, a cou­ple from Eng­land, live next door to my English cousins.

Manda Chisanga, our guide, the award-win­ning nat­u­ral­ist and a keen-eyed tracker, was both tire­less and pro­fes­sional.

“Did you hear that?” he asked. “It’s an ea­gle-owl. He’s on that tree branch, there, no, to the left. And over there, the grass is mov­ing, but there’s no wind tonight. Do you see the leop­ard?”

Steve picked the next des­ti­na­tion, the Is­lands of Siank­aba lux­ury lodge built on two pri­vate is­lands in the mighty Zam­bezi, where the river is wide and shal­low. Spec­tac­u­lar views from the lodge take it all in, from the trees in the fore­ground to Zim­babwe, on the river’s far side.

The pa­tio, with ta­bles and chairs, flower beds and a foun­tain, was the gath­er­ing place. Our bed­room, one of seven tented cab­ins con­nected by swing­ing bridges, clung to the bank above the high-wa­ter mark.

Sleep­ing late, we re­laxed, swam in the pool, took a sun­set cruise, joined an off-is­land pic­nic and got into a mokoro (ca­noe) for a guided ride, launched from the dock.

We spent our last week in South Africa at two very dif­fer­ent sa­fari lodges, the starkly min­i­mal­ist Earth Lodge and its part­ner, Bush Camp, a fam­ily-friendly re­sort, both in the Sabi Sabi Pri­vate Game Re­serve.

De­spite a day lost to rain, we didn’t miss a game drive, bounc­ing over the hills in com­fort­able ve­hi­cles, with rain gear on board and miles of new ter­ri­tory to ex­plore. When our guide and tracker, Lazarus Ma­hore and Louis Mkamsi, spot­ted paw prints in the dirt, they drove over every bush un­til they found the li­ons, asleep in the grass.

But the lodges them­selves couldn’t have been more dif­fer­ent. Chan­nel­ing the Ne­an­derthals, Earth Lodge’s 13 lux­ury suites were caves, richly dec­o­rated dugouts in the side of a hill, in­vis­i­ble from the top or sides. We sat in our plunge pool out­side the front win­dows and watched the im­pala graze in com­plete pri­vacy.

The lounges, tidy rock gar­dens, weath­ered tree trunks, bar, wine cel­lar and din­ing room echoed the mo­tif, fresh and invit­ing but spar­tan. Even the din­ner guests fit the mold, eat­ing at the next ta­ble, alone and in si­lence.

In con­trast, Bush Camp, with 25 lux­ury suites, popped with en­ergy. Game drives mat­tered, but as part of the larger ex­pe­ri­ence. The food, served buf­fet style on a half-dozen ta­bles heaped high, ran from meats, fish and pasta to sal­ads, fruit, vegeta­bles, breads and cook­ies, while the guests, sit­ting wher­ever there was space, min­gled and ex­changed names.

You could tour nearby Hunt­ing­ton Vil­lage or visit two lo­cal schools, both sup­ported by the game lodges. Or you could meet a Shangaan shaman, who in­vited me into her ron­davel, where I sat down and crossed my legs. This vil­lage el­der rolled the knuck­le­bones and then spoke the words I’d hoped to hear: “We will meet again some­time.”

Anne Z. Cooke is a free­lance writer.

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