VIEWS: 23 PAGES: 10 POSTED ON: 1/22/2011
Close encounters of the furred kind Zimbabwe’s Zambezi valley has long been famous for its wildlife, friendly people and breathtaking landscapes. And now? Jonathan Tillett and Anne-Sophie Christensen travelled around northern Zimbabwe in a Landy named Oscar to see for themselves whether things have changed. 56 GO! September 2007 NorTherN ZimbAbwe O n the road out of Harare we mANA PooLS stop at a police roadblock. NATioNAL PArK Harare “Where are you from?” the Zimbabwe constable asks. This always seems to be the first question Zimbabwe- Johannesburg an police ask. “And where are you going? Mana Pools? You will love it there. Be care- ful of the lions. Proceed!” “Thank you,” I reply as he waves me through. Mana Pools National Park is the stuff of legend. Mention the words to any bush-loving Zimbo and the conversation turns at once to grisly tales of campers dodging hippos and buffalos, swimmers being eaten by crocodiles, and elephants tap- dancing on 4x4 bonnets. The park is unique: Forget vehi- cles queuing to see lions by the side of the road; picnic spots are non- existent; and the campsites aren’t Mana magic to the distant mountains of Zambia. It’s nearly dark by the time fenced. It’s a seven-hour drive from Harare we check in at the main camp, The name means “place of four to the park headquarters. It takes Nyamepi. It’s a beautiful campsite pools”. In the wet season, in addi- a while to shop for all the supplies with 29 stands in the shade of giant tion to the four major bodies of we’ll need and we wander among mahogany trees on the banks of the water there are hundreds of smaller the well-stocked supermarket aisles Zambezi. We are the only campers. pools, relics of a long-ago course trying to calculate the rand cost of Across the river, the Zambezi traced by the Zambezi River. The Z$28 450 for 12 eggs: Z$2 400 an escarpment is silhouetted against a Zambezi now forms the park’s egg. That’s about a rand at black dark red sky. A goliath heron skims northern border, and a common market rates. Or was that last over the water. boundary with Zambia’s Lower week’s rate? Locals wander the None of the camps in Mana Zambezi National Park. aisles too, eyes wide with disbelief Pools is fenced, unlike many other In Mana Pools, visitors are at the escalating prices. “tamer” national parks in southern encouraged to get out of their vehi- At the Total garage we fill up Africa. There’s nothing between you cles and explore on foot. It’s the only with diesel. I hand over wads of and the wild animals national park in southern Africa notes in bundles of millions to the We’re just starting to cook din- (and possibly in the world) where cashier and he tosses them into ner when there’s a loud rustle in the you can walk without a rifle-toting a cupboard without bothering to reeds nearby. ranger in tow among elephants, count them. “What’s that?” Anne-Sophie buffalos, lions, crocodiles and other We set off on the tar road to the hisses. A dark object the size of a hiker-unfriendly species. You don’t park office at Marongora, about small car is lumbering towards us. just observe nature, you’re part of it. four hours’ drive from Harare, Anne-Sophie is up the ladder to through the town of Chinhoyi, and the roof-top tent like a monkey and past the former commercial farm- I’m about to follow when the hippo ing districts around Karoi. Soon turns and starts tearing at the grass we’re surrounded by the dense, at the edge of the site. A quick scan HARD AT WORK (left). Buckling down wooded hills that dominate the with the torch reveals a large herd for a strenuous sunset view at the Zambezi escarpment. of impalas nearby. Mucheni 2 “exclusive” camp. Suddenly we glimpse it – the The stars are out and we sit back A FEAST WITH FRIENDS (above right). A road dives down into the sweltering in our camping chairs, absorbing pride of lions devours this buffalo, just valley and we’re rewarded with a the sounds of the bush. This place is metres from the track at Chitake camp. magnificent view across the plains something special. > www.gomag.co.za GO! September 2007 57 Padding after lions Another unique activity on offer is lion tracking – on foot. Of course, there’s nothing to stop you heading into the bush alone and picking up the spoor. Good luck to you. But, as part of a research project, six prides have been fitted with radio collars and these lions can be located precisely, and quickly. Norman is excited about the project. “Tourists use their own vehicle and pay us a fee (about R100 per person), and an armed ranger drives with you to the near- est road point. Then we use a radio receiver to locate the pride on foot. It’s a good arrangement – I get my data, and we offset our costs.” Sometimes you find the lions hiding in tall grass. “We call that adrenaline grass,” he says. I feel a tingle of excitement. Guaranteed, up-close lions without a vehicle in sight and contributing to research at the same time! We decide to give it a go tomorrow. 35 hippos and six crocodiles per GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM (above). The phone rings again. “Good Adventures on foot kilometre of river.” The number of hippos and crocodiles afternoon, Mana Pools. Hello? At the park headquarters we meet This makes for exciting kayaking. in the Zambezi means kayaking offers Hello?” Still nothing. senior warden Norman Monks. He The park rents out kayaks by the guaranteed excitement. Norman sighs. It’s easy to under- is waving a recent copy of You maga- hour, with or without an armed rang- stand the frustrations of running a zine at us, featuring an article titled er. You can bring your own kayak, World Heritage Site on a low budget, “Zim’s New Killing Field”, and he’s but no motorised boats are allowed. with no phone connection and no not happy. I ask Norman about the liberal aircon (it reaches 48 °C in summer). “We work for next to nothing. I policy of allowing tourists to walk So what makes it special? stay because I care about this place. (or kayak) unaccompanied in the “To sit quietly somewhere and Why do people write these lies?” park. “It began as an experiment,” have an elephant come right up to I scan the article, which alleges a he says, “and it’s never been where you’re sitting,” he says, “and variety of horrors, including whole- changed. Mana Pools is about inter- feel safe. And the beauty of the Zam- sale slaughter of game for food, acting with nature. Tourists have bian escarpment.” complete with graphic photos. that right, and they must take the Norman is keen to set the record consequences. It’s like walking in We’re driving back to straight. “Look around for yourself. parts of Joburg at night.” Nyamepi camp when a park vehicle Do you see any of it? I’ve been in The evidence suggests tourists in front of us stops. “Lion!” says one Parks for 31 years, and in Mana take the responsibility seriously. In of the rangers, “Over there!” Every- Pools for 11 years. Show me where the past 11 years there have been one gets out of the vehicle, which is this is happening.” only three fatalities – two victims of what you do in Mana Pools when He has a point. Game popula- elephants and a woman on honey- you see something interesting. Sure tions are monitored by the World moon who was charged by a buffalo. enough, a large pride is sitting Wide Fund for Nature and the Afri- If that’s too much excitement, game beneath a mahogany tree nearby. can Wildlife Foundation, and they rangers can be hired to guide you on Suddenly there’s a snarl, and one report no major changes here in foot or in your own vehicle. “Another unique activity on lioness takes a step towards us. recent years. Norman’s office phone rings and offer is lion tracking – on foot. “Stop! Stop!” yells the ranger but “Not many people know this, we all jump. It hasn’t worked for six Of course, there’s nothing to we’re not sure if he’s talking to us or but in winter, our flood plain has months. “Good afternoon, Mana the lioness. It doesn’t take us long to the highest concentration of large Pools. Hello? Hello?” He puts down stop you heading into the decide. We dive for the vehicle, herbivores (elephants, hippos, buf- the receiver. “At least they’re trying bush alone and picking up the pulses racing. We look at each other. falos) in southern Africa. We have to fix it.” spoor. Good luck to you.” Lion tracking is going to be fun! 58 GO! September 2007 NorTherN ZimbAbwe Things that go boats further down the shore. bump in the river The Zambezi is flowing fast and it’s hard work paddling We’re alone again on our second upstream. We’re surrounded by night at Nyamepi main camp. It’s blue and green – the river a nerve-racking stroll over to the reflects the cloudless blue sky dilapidated ablution block after and the morning sun accentuates dark and I half expect to meet one the lush green of the riverbanks of the many prowling hyenas face and islands where buffalos graze. to face in the urinals. There are hippos everywhere. In the morning, we meet one We’re gliding back down- of the rangers for a spot of kayak- stream. Thud! The kayak stops ing on the river. It’s 7 am and the and lifts briefly out of the water. sun filters through the fine acacia “Don’t worry!” says our ranger. leaf canopies in a spectacular We’ve bumped into a hippo. For- light display. tunately it decides to submerge We’re expecting a briefing of again and we drift on by. what-to-do-if-a-hippo-charges As I drive back to the camp, but our ranger, an old bush vet- I swerve to avoid a long stick in eran, simply hands us a paddle the road before realising it’s a each, rests his rifle against the black mamba. bow, and off we go. It rears up by my open win- We’ve barely drifted a few dow as I fumble with the gears. metres when it becomes clear that Jeepers! Luckily there’s no need the kayak is not entirely water- to consult the superbly titled tight. We glance fearfully at the Management of Snakebite in large congregation of hippos in the Rhodesia (1964) that I picked up middle of the river as water begins at the flea market in Harare for to seep in around our feet. “Don’t R5 and we drive on, my hands worry!” says our ranger. We swap shaking slightly. > ent ZAMBIA carpm ezi es Zamb Zambezi River Nyamepi (park headquarters) Chessa (Nyamatusi area) Mucheni Mana Pools National Park Chitake Campsites International border Main roads ZIMBABwe Minor roads Off-road track N Rivers Marongora Protected are Park office www.gomag.co.za Lions FM Live at 9 trees. “We’re very, very close now,” he whispers. His earpiece is bleep- STARING CONTEST (above). On-foot lion tracking offers face-to-face thrills with “Right!” What? Through there!? We clear a way and plough on. “Try the Nyamatusi pride,” Norman ing madly. Our hearts beat faster. the felines. Suddenly we see them suggests. “They haven’t been I’m walking at the back and glance – all nine. The lioness tracked for a while.” nervously over my shoulder. crouches a few metres With our armed guides Domingo “There!” whispers Domingo. Just away at the edge of a and Tendai we set out on the 4x4 20 m away, a lioness is crouching in clearing. Behind her, the track to the remote Nyamatusi the leaves, eyes boring into mine. bush is too thick and dan- region of the park. It’s 9 am and the “Too late – they’ve seen us!” he says. gerous to pursue them theory is that the pride will be start- The lioness turns her back and the any further. She glares at us ing their mid-morning nap, and not bush rustles as the four other lions as if to say “The game’s over,” be in a mood to attack us. we hadn’t seen begin running away snarls, takes two steps towards The drive is wonderfully scenic from us. us and vanishes into the bush. – the track winds through open We return to the Landy to try mopane forest and thick jesse bush, to intercept the pride on the road. crossing numerous dry rivers, past Soon we spot them again, but this herds of impala and waterbuck. It’s time there are nine. “The ones NO PLACE TO been weeks since a tourist vehicle we saw must have joined up with HIDE (right). came this way. After half an hour we another pride” says Tendai. Great. Domingo angles for a better signal stop and Domingo climbs onto the We just walked through a pride we on the radio- roof to try to locate a radio signal. didn’t know was there! collared pride. Nothing. “I want you to drive off-road for We drive on. Finally there’s a a bit,” Domingo says. We look weak signal and we park Oscar nervously at the thick bush before and set off on foot, the two rangers slipping Oscar into low range leading the way. We loop around and bouncing off through ele- slightly so as to approach from phant-foot craters in pursuit downwind. I can hear the receiver of nine lions. “Left!” shouts starting to bleep into Domingo’s Domingo from the roof and earpiece and he begins peering I swing the wheel, narrowly expectantly through the mopane missing a large tree stump. 60 GO! September 2007 NorTherN ZimbAbwe December Packages now AVAILABLE! ZANZIBAR Arabian Nights BB 7 Nights from R5 968 Chgs R922* Total R6 890 Amazing guesthouse situated on one of the most stunning beaches in Zanzibar. This is by far the best value for money offered to the island. The package includes return flights from Johannesburg, breakfast daily and all transfers. Valid: 01 August – 31 December 2007 Holiday supplements apply. ZANZIBAR CHARTER PACKAGES Zanzibar Safari Club 7 Nights from R7 514 Chgs R961* Total R8 475 Zanzibar Safari Club is just one of the six magical resorts that are offered on the Zanzibar charter packages that depart every Monday. The flight times on these packages enables you to enjoy so much more time in Zanzibar! Valid: 17 September – 31 March 2007 Holiday supplements apply. EGYPT “ROOM” WITH A vIEW (above). At Camping with Next day, Domingo takes us Coral Package Mucheni camp, the riverbanks glow red at sunset. elephants kayaking again. We can see he’s excited. “We were lion tracking 10 Nights from R10 122 Mucheni 2 is a so-called exclusive with some tourists this morning Chgs R965* Total R11 087 camp on the banks of the Zam- and the lioness caught an impala This amazing package includes 1 night Cairo and a bezi. “Exclusive” not because it in front of our eyes,” he says. “She full day touring the Pyramids and Sphinx in Cairo. brought it down and let her cubs One night on the sleeper train. 3 Night luxury Nile offers facilities, but because you cruise from Aswan to Luxor, with visits to various have the patch of grass and a long finish it off as a lesson.” historical sights. Thereafter you enjoy 3 nights at drop all to yourself. But what a Damn! Why do these things Hurghada in a 5 star hotel on the Red Sea and camp spot! A whole panorama of always happen to other people? final night in Cairo. the river opens up – 25 hippos We sit glumly in the kayak, scowl- Valid: 01 January – 15 November 2007 and still counting, and numerous ing at the giant kingfisher and buffalos grazing on the nearby frowning at the buffalos. If only… grassy islands. Crocs drift with the current. “I am most scared of the buf- falo,” Domingo says as we work VICTORIA FALLS As we arrive, a young bull ele- up a sweat paddling upstream, Gorges Lodge phant decides that the acacia tree and he tells us how he was once 2 Nights from R2 162 overlooking our camping table is chased without his rifle all the way tastier than all the others before to the park headquarters, much to Chgs R952* Total R3 114 he eventually ambles off, stopping amusement of some tourists, who Amazing views from an amazing lodge in to eye us curiously from a safer videotaped the episode. Zimbabwe. Package includes return distance. The riverbank is glowing pink flights from Johannesburg, breakfast “we were lion tracking with The sun sets over the Zambian by the time we hang up our pad- daily and all transfers. Be sure to ask our consultants for longer stays some tourists this morning escarpment and the music of dles and make our way to Chessa if you want to enjoy camp at Mana Mouth, where and the lioness caught an the night is the sound of grunt- adventure activities. ing hippos and buffalos wading we’re soon enveloped by the impala in front of our eyes. through the shallows. We’re night, and the sounds of frogs She brought it down and let stunned into silence by the beauty croaking, impalas barking and For bookings or info contact us on 011 880 3079 her cubs finish it off.” of it all. monkeys screeching. > email@example.com www.africanencounters.com www.gomag.co.za Dead battery! “Not many people know this, but in winter our flood plain In the morning, Oscar won’t start. Dead battery. has the highest concen- We’re contemplating an adrena- tration of large herbivores line-pumping 8 km walk back to the (elephants, hippos, buffalos) main camp when another Landy in southern Africa. we have with GP plates rolls up – the first 35 hippos and six crocodiles and last South African tourists we see in northern Zimbabwe! In no per kilometre of river.” time Oscar’s up and running again. We decide to take a stroll around Long Pool – one of the numerous residual lakes created in ages gone UP FOR GRABS (right). Acacia pods are a favourite afternoon snack for this by, when the Zambezi cut a different young elephant. path across the flood plain. Even without any wildlife this would be Chitake is one of those places unmarked 4x4 track, which we fol- a beautiful place. Shafts of sunlight where it’s okay to be scared. We’ve low for 5 km across dry streams and cast beams across the bush, forming been warned already. At the Parks mopane bush to a patch of flattened a soft blue haze that seems to hover and Wildlife booking office in grass and a sign reading “Chitake”. among the trees. We stalk a herd Harare, the official laughed as he So this is it. I step into the dry river- of eland and, stopping by the pool, said: “At Chitake, the lions will lick bed. There is lion spoor everywhere. watch as a herd of elephants comes IF LOOKS COULD KILL (opposite). A your feet!” Is that a lion? No, a tree stump. I down to drink. feasting lion lets the photographer know Senior Warden Norman Monks’ turn to walk back and almost jump But it’s time to leave the “exclu- she’d rather dine alone. parting words were: “Seriously, be out of my skin. Not 30 m away is sive” camps of the Zambezi river for WE SEE YOU, WE SMELL YOU (below). careful at Chitake.” a herd of about 150 buffalos and a the wildest camp of all, Chitake, by Large herds of buffalo and elephant con- We soon see why. In a remote dozen or so elephants to boot. Yikes! a spring and a riverbed. gregate just metres from Chitake camp. corner of the park, we turn onto an I tiptoe back to the car, wide-eyed. 62 GO! September 2007 NorTherN ZimbAbwe Zanzibar Holidays Direct Flights from Johannesburg 7 Nights From R 4 745 Hotel Packages at Sunset Beach Hotel Standard Room . .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . from R4745 Deluxe Beach Room. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . from R5375 Includes complimentary day tour to the Spice Farms and Historic Stone Town. Fares exclude airport taxes of +/- R950 per person and Zanzibar visa fees and departure taxes. Fares include direct ﬂights from Johannesburg, 7 nights accommodation including breakfast and roundtrip transfers. High and peak season surcharges apply from 03 December 2007 to 07 January 2008. Prices are per person based on 2 persons sharing. Packages are subject to availability, airfare increases and currency ﬂuctuations. Weekly departures Mondays from 17 September 2007. Private Beach Villas So close, we can bed. Impalas drink nearby, two hear them breathe kudus stare curiously. An ele- phant meanders past. But wait a Zi Villa Zi Manor Zi Beach We can hear him, but we can’t second. I grab the binos for the From R9850 From R7750 From R7450 see him. During the night, that 20th time. There are six lions unmistakable rasping grunt of a large male lion. And close. We cook breakfast nervously, and lying in the bushes just 50 m away. “This place is infested with lions!” Anne-Sophie says. We beat E xplore the exotic spice islands from the luxury of your exclusive beach villa. All villa bedrooms are en-suite and offer total privacy. Each of the villas has its own pool and private chef. casting an eye around the “camp- a hasty retreat. Paranoia begins to site” we notice an alarming pro- take over and we glance around Access the website on www.zivilla.co.za fusion of buffalo bones and timidly into the thick bush around Fares exclude charges of +/- R950 per person and Zanzibar visa fees and remains of other, recent-looking our camp. Is that rustle a monkey departure taxes. Prices are per person for each of 8 people sharing each lion kills. We decide to take a or is it that big male lion we still Villa. Prices for fewer guests available on request. Fares include direct drive rather than a walk. haven’t seen? ﬂights from Johannesburg, 7 nights accommodation including full board We’re hardly over the river- At sunset we return to the kill. and roundtrip transfers. High and peak season surcharges applicable during school holidays and December. bank when we see vultures cir- There is no one else for miles cling and, drawing closer, the around. Three more beasts and Packages are subject to availability, airfare increases and currency ﬂuctuations. kill. There, just off the track, 10 two cubs have arrived and we Weekly departures Mondays from 17 September 2007. lions are ripping a buffalo apart, count no fewer than 20, grunting, and we spot five more in the bushes. From just 4 m away we watch for two hours as they snarling lions ravaging the remains of the buffalo. Their coats glow pink in the light of the STARLIGHT TRAVEL & TOURS devour the carcass. setting sun. Back at the campsite, we sit When it gets dark, we make a Reservations : (011) 234 3840 writing diaries in the shady river- big, big fire. Website : www.starlight-travel.co.za E-Mail : info @starlight-travel.co.za www.gomag.co.za NorTherN ZimbAbwe MANA 101 Getting in. Make reservations What to take. Visitors have to be with the helpful Parks and Wildlife self-sufficient. The main camp at headquarters in Harare by phoning Nyamepi has basic but functional POOLS 00 263 4 706077/8. You’ll need to make a bank transfer for park fees (R84 per person for up to seven days ablution facilities (including hot water), but if you’re staying at one of the “exclusive” camps you’ll need When to go. It gets really hot in accommodation have to be paid for and R35 per vehicle) and accommo- to take everything, including water. summer, so May to October are in either rands or US dollars. dation fees to confirm the reserva- Where to stay. Camping options the best months to visit. The cool Ask around discreetly for the best tion. Book early for July and August. are Nyamepi main camp (R42 per days of July and August are ideal, place to exchange money on the In the quieter months you could just person per night) and seven “exclu- when scarce water sources attract parallel market (a working petrol try pitching up (we did – in May). sive” camps (R70 per person per large numbers of game. station is a good start) and keep tabs Buying food. When we visited, night). We recommend Mucheni 2 on the rate. Never exchange money Money matters. Leave credit supermarkets in the larger towns and Chitake, but all are superb. on the street, and exchange only a cards at home. Since the “parallel stocked all the basics. Fresh meat Four lodges on the banks of the small amount at a time. market” rate is currently more and beer were cheaper than in Zambezi, sleeping four to eight, are than 200 times the official rate Getting there. You need a 4x4 to South Africa. The situation in Zim- available, at a cost of about R960 (and more than doubling every see everything Mana Pools has to babwe is highly unstable at the per night for eight people – book month), don’t even set foot in a offer. Bite the bullet and drive up via moment, however. At the time of well in advance. bank (the queues will drive you Harare from Johannesburg, or make going to press, newspapers report- insane anyway). Take enough cash a longer trip out of it and travel via ed that supermarket shelves were – park fees and most hotel Caprivi and Vic Falls. empty in many places. 7 misconceptions about visiting Zimbabwe 1. They’ll fleece me at delayed. As long as you’re not carry- duty-free, so, if in doubt, load up visitors are not really affected. the border… We had no ing any weapons, there shouldn’t the jerry cans (no plastic containers Avoid discussing politics unless problems at border crossings. be a hold-up. allowed). If the customs man sug- you’re sure who you’re talking to. Immigration and customs staff gests otherwise, be polite but firm. were friendly and courteous, and 3. I thought the country 6. Most of the game we sailed through in 20 minutes or had run out of fuel? Pri- 4. Machete-wielding has been shot. Poaching is less. vate fuel companies are importing war vets are rampaging a problem in some areas, but game petrol and diesel directly and there in the countryside. If they numbers in northern Zimbabwe 2. …and at the check- are rarely shortages in the major are, we never heard about them. seem not to have been affected. points. We stocked up on ciga- towns. A litre costs R7 and can be rettes for this purpose, but didn’t paid for in hard currency. Contrary 5. The police beat people 7. It’s not safe. We never felt use them once. Smiles are the order to popular belief, up to 2 000 litres up in the streets. Political unsafe. Be aware, be sensible and of the day and we were never of fuel per person can be imported violence is a growing problem, but have an adventure. 64 GO! September 2007
"Close encounters of the"