There are a handful of precious highlights from my travels, rare moments in which I have felt completely present, profoundly and intricately connected to both the surrounding natural world and the history of humankind, and fully at peace. These experiences usually involve a remote wilderness setting, absolutely no connectivity, a rare animal and a bit of extra effort to position myself to be in just the right spot. They are often followed by teary eyes of gratitude and a plethora of silly comments along the lines of “it’s too beautiful,” “it’s incredible,” or (if I’m very comfortable with my travel companions) “You guys, it’s too much. I’m going to cry.” On a safari in Matobo Hills, a special park that is often mistakenly overlooked in southwest Zimbabwe, a dear friend and I found ourselves experiencing one such moment.
The day began with an unbelievably stunning sunrise over the large rocks and valley surrounding Amalinda Lodge. Amalinda Lodge is a luxury lodge set in the granite boulders of The Matobo Hills, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Lodge offers spacious rooms, a spa, infinity rock pool, library, wine cellar, sunset lounge and many activities, including game drives, cultural tours, hikes and rhino trekking.
Our first morning we set out to track rhino on foot. Just mere feet away from not one, but five white rhinos, the day could not have possibly gotten any better! After spending a magical hour or so with these rare and captivating creatures, we left them to their mid-day nap and headed into the caves of Matobo National Park for a bit of walking and hiking and in search of the area’s famous rock art.
Matobo National Park is home to Matopos Hills, a remarkable area of granite kopjes and wooded valley. Matopos Hills holds bragging rights as having one of the highest recorded San rock art sites known – more than 3000 registered sites! Each one left traces and clues about the mysterious San Bushmen (called the Matopos) who once wandered the hills and held sacred ceremonies here within their hidden caverns.
In one such cave, I found myself awe struck beneath a gorgeous canopy of light brownish-yellow colored painted granite rock unlike any I had imagined. It’s hard to capture the feelings that came over me after the morning’s highs as I approached the cave and took my first look at the general splendor of it all. Our guide explained what was known about the drawings and the figures and what anthropologists had gleamed from them. And then… we sat. In the silence of this palpably sacred space, the exhilaration and excitement from the day slowly sank in. I was aware of fine threads of time and space connecting me all the way back to those kindred nomadic travelers so long ago. My friend and I mediated for quite a while, not wanting the moment to pass or to lose the deep connectivity we both felt.
With a lovely cacophony of African birds just outside the cave’s entrance as our soundtrack, I snapped a shot of my friend under the paintings.
After we left the cave, I turned to my friend and said “It’s too much. I’m going to cry!” To which she did me one better and poetically replied with a serene smile, “I found my heart in Africa.”
Photos courtesy Journey Specialist Hilary Walters and Amalinda Lodge