There are a few benefits to running a lodge in the middle of Africa (almost).
One of them, it turns out, comes in the form of the “comp”, industry slang for “complimentary” activity or stay. It might be the latest sunset cruise on offer in the Falls, it might be a game drive, or it might be two nights with your family at a five-star glamping set up in one of the most beautiful parks on the planet.
Now, let it first be known that we also offer our fair share of “comps”. It’s actually quite important for agents, particularly agents with whom we are partnering in some package deal, to experience our lodge so they know exactly what to tell guests about us. Because of this they might get to stay for a night or two for free. Others end up having complimentary meals or drinks. On the other hand, its important for companies offering activities locally, or a tour series that includes us, to let the lodges in on what they are offering – not just to sell it to us, but also so we can answer practical questions for guests to help them have the best time possible. Is there food offered? How long does it take? Do I need my passport?..you get the drift.
Anyways, at this point I need to say that my aunty and uncle from New Zealand visited recently. I was super excited about their visit because it was planned before we even left New Zealand, and Aunty Sheryn is like a second mum to me (along with two other superstar ladies). We didn’t have a lot planned with them because the fuel crisis is still a thing, so we weren’t sure what would be possible when they got here.
It worked out well, for them. The day after we arrived a friend needed people for a photo shoot in a game drive. At the last minute I decided to join, only to discover the whole purpose of the shoot was to get us up close and personal to elephants. We spent an hour throwing ourselves into the middle of a herd trying to get the shots, while I silently died inside a million times, and my aunty and uncle “oohed” and “ahhed” over the “magical” experience…of elephant walking WITH THEIR BABIES a couple of metres from us.
Next up shots were needed for white water rafting, so that was Uncle Glen for the day, and Will took a much needed “break” too.
Then, we were very excited to hear that we were part of a tour series from an agent, who suggested we head out to the other stops on tour so we could talk intelligently about them to our guests. Mostly, they were VERY glam camping sites.
We thanked them, but pointed out that we had my aunty and uncle with us.
“Oh, bring them along,” said the agent.
And so, with our usual frantic, last-minute scramble we headed off to the sprawling, stunning Hwange National Park. At this point I need to do a MASSIVE shout out to Quinton and Bridget Sole, who lent us their Prado at the last second, when we discovered our Nissan would be at the mechanic’s a lot longer than anticipated (thanks Chobe trip). After a brief trial, we realised that cramming luggage plus four adults and a child into our two-door Pajero for a three hour trip was not a plan.
Will told me not to say how fast we drove to get there on time, since Bridge and Quint will probably read this, so I won’t. We managed to make it on time to our pick up at Main Camp, and the drive to our glamp-camp two hours away was one of the most magical experiences of my life. (Thanks Bridge and Quint!)
The bush was like a fantasy-land. The last of the clinging, autumn leave floated mid-air off invisible branches, lit up by the dying side a million shades of orange, yellow and brown. It was like driving through a fairy-light forest sprung up from deep, white dessert sand. Elephant, giraffe and a host of antelope nodded their hello as we passed (or ran off in fear – same diff), and then we hit a wide open vlei with a pan as its crowning glory. Vultures circled over the bush nearby, and our driver said there must have been a lion kill.
Suddenly, a hyena ran onto centre stage – pretty special since they tend to hang out at night. As we watched, it bowed its head low to the ground, and boomed out its whooping call, smashing the sound into the bare earth and flinging it, on the rebound, far across the vlei.
It’s bros heard the call, and came running to fight off the lions for the kill, but we had to head to camp before nightfall/we froze to death.
The rest of the trip passed in a bit of a dream. Glamping in California King beds, with electric blankets to fend off the freezing temperatures, is not something I would complain about. Although I did whinge about the elephant chatting loudly to its friend till all hours of the night at the pan we overlooked, and the duck with verbal diarrhea.
From there the comps ended, and we headed to Bulawayo to show off Matopos National Park, then send my aunty and uncle BRAVELY on their way to the east of the country…during a fuel shortage…in a country without a currency.
Suffice to say we all had a pretty special time, and made some amazing memories. Entirely suitable, really, that I got to do it all with my pretty special, and amazing, aunt and uncle.