IF you must stay temporarily in Harare, for whatever reason, there are far worse places than Wild Geese Lodge on the northern outskirts of the city for your sojourn.
Not for the first time, I told the good Lord I owe him one. This time for making the prevailing winds blow away from Wild Geese. For again, last weekend. the Pomona landfill dump was ablaze and clouds of toxic, acrid fumes billowed across the landscape, but towards the northern and western city suburbs and away from the unspoilt tranquility of the picturesque lodge, where I stayed a couple of days, covering and judging the annualÂ Innsider tourism expo, run by Inns of Zimbabwe.
Booking in was an afterthought, suggested by a judging colleague. It was convenient, especially as fuel was scarce; it proved very comfortable and it gave me material for a monthly series called â€“â€“ rather tweely â€“â€“ â€œSuite Talkâ€ written on regional hotels and lodges for a travel mag published in Botswana.
Most lodges donâ€™t have suites, per se, but my â€œunitâ€ was as good as most four or five star hotelsâ€™ suites, with the not insignificant added advantage of being able to watch a pair of sable antelope in the tiny bit of shade made by a leafless acacia as the mid-day September sun burned mercilessly on Teviotdale.
A welcome tray of tea enjoyed in full shade on my stoep was an even more rewarding experience as a whole range of colourful birds besported themselves, apparently for my sole amusement.
There was nothing really outstanding from the avian world: glossy starling, groundscraper thrush, African hoopoe, Kurrichane thrush, Southern red bishop, fork-tailed drongo, Eastern paradise and common whydah, cardinal woodpecker, yellow-fronted tinker barbet, orange-breasted waxbills, Melba finches and myriads of manikins, to name but a few, were a pleasure to observe.
I have never before seen an African fish eagle within a municipal area. If Wild Geese is inside the Harare city boundary, it was a first, therefore, when I got within about 70 metres of a mature male perched on a petrified tree abutting the Wild Geese game parkâ€™s rapidly shrinking waterhole.
There used to be a crazy giraffe in the park which would come and stare wistfully at folk enjoying a Sunday buffet, but this time I only saw zebra, eland, and hartebeest, plus the sable, but spoor of much smaller buck on the trails lead to and from the drinking point. I found scraps of the carcass of what looked like a duiker, presumably taken by a leopard or bird of prey.
I canâ€™t believe the fish eagle nests on the estate: it probably flew in from Mazowe dam or even Lake Chivero, but was a welcome addition to resident birdlife.
Sebastien Benning and brother-in-law Karl Eckard are leaseholders of Wild Geese: named after local author Danny Carneyâ€™s best selling novel and film about mercenaries and at one stage owned by his widow (it still well may be). They were both off, competing in the Tiger Tournament, but father and father-in-law Dave Benning, a through-and-through travel pro, who was based here for years but now works from Mauritius was present.
I had supper with Innsider hosts Inns of Zimbabwe management in Le Canard, the lodgeâ€™s open plan semi-alfresco steakhouse.
I had a magnificent herby cream of butternut soup as a memorably good starter, followed by piri-piri chicken as good as, if not better than, youâ€™d get in any local Portuguese restaurant. The half-bird was big, plump, tender and tasty; the spicy piri-piri sauce marinated into white flesh and spooned over the grilled carcass thickly.
Friends went for rare fillet steaks, looking like small beef joints and delightfully presented. My chicken came with chunky golden chips, an elegant fringe of salad garnish and separate small bowl of grand al dente steamed young vegetables.
Pecan nut pie with ice-cream completed an awesome meal, fully appreciated after a day in the fresh air and sunshine, the total cost of which was $30 million.
Wallowing in a hot sudsy baths and then under a scalding shower, I momentarily pitied my Eastlea neighbours who â€“â€“ again on a Friday â€“â€“ had no water or Zesa.
After an early morning stroll with field glasses and camera among the birds and beasts, a no fuss no frills, workaday breakfast on the stoep was relished hungrily: three different cereals including fine muesli; fresh fruit and fruit juice; two eggs (but, sadly, withÂ dreadful anaemic pale yolks) bacon, chipolatas, tomato, toast, Marmite or Bovril and loads of coffee.
I enjoyed rare treats in the savoury spreads, followed by additional toast (â€œno problem, sirâ€) as a base for excellent sharp marmalade.
During the Expo â€“â€“ which was a huge success and had a great ambience â€“â€“ participantsâ€™ lunches were boerewors rolls or chicken burgers with lots of good salads but the fine dining a la carte menu was available.
On Day One, Meikles Grapevine Club held a well attended tasting of red wine and The Cheeseman, Gary Davidson, supplied products for after the sampling.
I was reluctant to check out of this little bit of heaven, especially as the only route to the office involved driving almost blind 300m or so through the dumpâ€™s putrid, stinking, smoke.
By Dusty Miller