Going Places: Tales from the road: Postcards from Africa

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By Todd Krieger

August 10: Aboard the Zambezi Special, Zimbabwe

Following our biggest evening of nightlife--cool jazz and a 300-pound professional wrestler named Big Mike who wants me to write a script about the Zimbabwe civil war, we board the Zambezi Special out of Bulawayo. A "rail safari" through the heart of Africa, it's part savvy marketing ploy (Experience the romance of steam train locomotion!) and part authentic adventure. Catching sight of elephants and giraffes from a railcar does transport you to another time.

Postcards from Africa
Wildlife safari ... by train
Video: 697K .avi or 680K .mov
In effect, the 24-hour journey is designed to be its own reward. More than a simple train ride, the Special offers up personal service, gloved porters, chefs and barmen all at your disposal, bringing out the colonial in even the most loyal yank.

Fun as the choo-choo may be--and it is--the kick here turns out to be the Hwange game drive. In short order we witness a sequence of events that years of wildlife chasing might not yield.

First, a pregnant hyena trolls by with what appears to be an impala leg dangling from her mouth. But that's nothing. Continuing on the road down to a watering hole, we learn of a fresh kill: a leopard has taken down a kudu. Before we can participate in this outback voyeurism, the leopard creeps across the road to slake his thirst. There he spots a hyena and the two stare each other down--for a moment the air is tense and it seems the leopard might pounce, his second kill in as many hours. The hyena is too smart, begs out, and heads for greener pastures.

Author Todd Krieger leaps
into African adventure

But the show's not over. Four wild dogs who were hanging on the other side of the watering hole have become interested in the leopard and move in for the kill. The leopard clambers up a nearby tree, heading to the outermost branch where he can watch the enemy below. Three of the dogs boogie while one hides in the long brown grass, seeking to dupe him into coming down from his perch. Despite this coy trick, the leopard stays put until the last dog eventually joins his compadres. (Video: 912K .avi or 892K .mov)

We move on to watch the wild dogs feed on the leopard's earlier kill. It's a gore fest, as they rip and shred the kudu. Though it's from a distance, we can make out the head of the once-proud beast, now another link in the great food chain.

The train pulls into Vic Falls the next morning, the great wheel of our Zimbabwean journey having come full circle to an end.

Todd Krieger is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. He previously wrote for Outside Online about kayaking in Honduras. Monique Stauder is a freelance photographer living in Miami Beach, Florida.

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Videos by Todd Kreiger, photograph by Monique Stauder

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