August 2: Wakefield Estates, Zimbabwe
On to Wakefield Estates, which features the unlikely combination of rose growing, tobacco production, ostrich breeding, and private game preserve. The newly opened lodge where we'll be staying sits on the shore of a small dammed lake belonging to the generations-old agrarians that settled the area 100 years ago. The pastoral bliss is a welcome shift after our night in the middle-of-nowhere town called Chivu, a crossroads squat equal parts Casablanca--all mystery and espionage--and American truck stop--grime, grit, and hard-living road warriors.
Tobacco is the lifeblood of Wakefield, providing seed capital for the farms' divergent enterprises. Andrew Dawson, the fourth-generation farmer who runs Wakefield, is off at a game auction looking to purchase some animals for his budding private reserve, so we are guided by Bernard, the tobacco foreman.
Unlike stateside operations, all machinery and automation, we find a frenzied hive of human activity. Some 300 workers feverishly sort and grade tobacco, tying it into broom-like shapes and then packing the bundles into 120-kilogram bales. Many of the women have infants either at their feet or by their sides, and as my lungs fight off the pungent aroma and seek to function in the thick, hot air, I wonder how a child's might be affected.
Racing through the romantic magic of the four rose greenhouses, row after row of rose in perfect bloom, I ready myself for my first game drive. Riding in an old Toyota Land Cruiser, we enter the gates of the lodge's private game reserve and quickly come upon a field of zebra basking in the late-afternoon sun, and though I know I've seen them before in places like Milwaukee, San Diego, and the Bronx, the vision of stripes glistening in an African prairie makes me feel as if it's the first time.
Cruising through the reserve, a field of bushbuck pop into view with their "bulls-eye" butts and their spiraling, twisted horns. On the road home a lone wildebeest, all horns and attitude, wanders into view. As the sun dips behind the distant mountains, our host points to a Cessna circling overhead. "That'd be Mister Andrew coming in just now."
NEXT: The amazing stand-up comedy of ostriches
Photograph by Monique Stauder
| Postcards from Africa
This sure beats the zoo