Amazing Mana Pools… Paradise!

11 May ~ Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

 

I’ve read over and over where Mana Pools is paired with the idea of Paradise for those of us who’s core being somehow resides in the African wild bush.  Now that I’ve arrived, I have to agree.  It’s just after the rainy season, the sky is a calming shade of blue reflecting on the broad and gently flowing Zambezi River just feet from where I  write.  A few wisps and puffs of clouds grace the sky setting off the lovely slopes of the green hills beyond.  Along the river, the views are stunning with 50 shades of green and as many varying textures of nature to set it off.  Egrets, Ibis and other water birds have gathered just a stone’s toss from here.  I wouldn’t dare toss that said stone as it would disrupt the gentle peace that encompasses this mid day.  Butterflies gently bounce  by, some stopping in close to say hello.  Hippos wade in the river enjoying the coolness drift past and a meditative pace.  The occasional splash and call of the hippo adds life to the scene.  A variety of other birds sing and call with the turtle doves “coo coo-ing” as the core rhythm of the land.  A small group of impala move toward the river’s edge, their 3 shades of red beautifully complimenting the greens of the grasses and lilies. Huge trees have made this valley home.  I look forward to learning more about them as they all seem to have a very special story to tell.  A hum of bees enjoy the flowing acacia that shades this place I sit.  It’s a massive tree unlike any I’ve seen in Africa so far.  My shoes are off and my feet enjoy the cool soft sand.  The air is still, but the temps remain delightful… warm, but not exhausting.  An occasional baboon barks in the distance.  They are regular visitors to this camp, so I’m hoping if they take anything during my stay, it’s heavy and will lighten my load on future travels… perhaps a pair of pants, my hiking shoes or a shirt he’d like?  There are dragonflies here, a fellow being I’ve somehow grown quite attached to along with their friends the praying mantis in the evening.  Something wise about those 6-legged, winged souls.

 

A gorgeous few birds just landed in the tree above, some starlings with their iridescent feathers and some others just slightly larger, black bodies, a lovely black and white stripes on the underside of his long thick tail and bright red beaks and green on the shoulders… are those the birds who sound a bit like a crow above?  The tree is lush and blooming giving good hiding places to various inhabitants.  They seem to be enjoying some tiny fauna crawling along the branches.  Bradley says it’s a green Hoopoe.

 

Some other birds call more loudly, another answers the call, is someone alerted?  It goes quiet again as a black and white ibis (sacred ibis) takes flight so gracefully across the river, his image reflecting on the gentle Zambezi.   A hippo calls out, another chimes in then another further upstream answers the question.  Some  small birds have taken to singing adding their piece to the chorus.  Just across part of the river, a lovely tree, perhaps a fig has created it’s own island, the banks around it having eroded away likely during a larger flood some time ago.  The tree stands so beautifully and I have to think it likely makes a delightful place  to call home for families of young birds, safer from baboons and such.

 

The camp here is nice and simple with an outdoor shower and shaded by the lush trees.  I’ve chosen the end tent with the best view of the river and furthest away from the dining area, but just a few feet.  It’s quiet here with the handful of other guests out on various drives and activities.  I think there are another couple folks coming in this afternoon… self-driving adventurers I gather.  If I should someday be so fortunate as to find a soul-mate, I should think a long self-drive holiday through parts of Africa would be so romantic.  We’d travel through Zimbabwe, Zambia, across through Botswana and through Namibia.  I haven’t any need to return to South Africa unless it is to spend more  time working at Khulula.

 

My frustration about my stay in Kapama I’m putting on the back shelf as there is no need to taint this piece of paradise with such reflections other than to be all the more glad I’m now here.

 

To remember names so far:  Bradley and Ruben drove me from the airport.  Kendra? greeted me and showed me to my tent.  Richard and Hillary are newly arrived guests who drove here and will stay for 3 days.  They have a friend with a holiday home in Zimbabwe they are calling their base as they drive to see various areas.

 

Later…

I love it here!  For my 50th birthday I’m thinking a trip with mum, if she’ll join me, through northern Namibia, Botswana, Vic Falls and to Mana Pools.  I know she’d love it here and have plenty of time and inspiration to paint as she loves to.  Two folks here are celebrating their 60th birthdays and calling it a “best ever”  experience… and many are from South Africa and work in the Krueger National Park, so that’s says something!

 

I joined the group of 6, I’ll call them endearingly “the 6-pack,” many of whom are amazing birders, spotting feathered friends of all sorts as we enjoyed a canoe paddle down the calmly empowered, life giving Zambezi this afternoon.  Hippos were everywhere and birds plentiful of so many sorts, even some these keen birders hadn’t seen before.  We also were treated to some lovely sightings  of elephants and a curious cape buffalo.  Just being on the water floating along was an incredible experience, so relaxing it just makes a girl smile away.  To top it off, the sunset was absolutely stunning and we spent it with lovely drinks standing along the river’s edge with brilliant reflections of golds becoming pinks and then reds.  The mountainous edge of the escarpment of Zambia boarder line the horizon on the far side of this incredible river valley.  Gosh, it’s pretty here!!!  I’ll be saying that quite a lot btw.

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12 May

Another glorious day in paradise with a couple elephant encounters to touch a gals heart and soul.  My time here in Mana Pools will be my last time with the beloved elephants, so it’s incredible to have such intimate encounters with those glorious beings.  There is a photo on the Goliath website of Stretch and a gal sitting on a log with  a huge elephant walking past.  I’ve looked at that shot a number of times and thought, “wow, what would that be like to be so close and comfortable with a wild African elephant!”  Turns out, that’s a specialty of Stretch’s, these close encounters.  He knows a number of the elephants in the area and is able to walk right up to them with his guests in tow and boy does it get the heart pumping.  For me, the experience isn’t at all scary, but more emotional and perhaps a bit spiritual.

 

This morning we had our first encounter with a lovely male with perfectly symmetrical tusks and a healing wound on his side.  He likes to stand with his front legs crossed a bit and offers a lovely calm and interested demeanor.  Stretch took us on a short walk to visit him and we stood probably 20’ or a little less from the calm and cool animal.

 

This evening we ventured on another drive with the family of 6 for some birding, but also had the great fortune of meeting a few lovely bulls along the way.  Stretch parked the car and we all got out and followed him in to meet and greet.  Our demeanor is calm and Stretch keeps the situation on the up and up with all reactions in check.  He reads the animals postures and reactions, letting us in on his observations along the way.  The first elie came at us rather quickly with his ears out, but Stretch held his ground and so did we.  He talked calmly and reassuringly to the big guy and the tensions were relaxed.  This bold guy was probably 10’ from us and after his mock charge, he relaxed, turned away from us and began eating again, a sign that all is ok.

 

A second bull watched and I believe he is the same as the one we met this morning.  His younger friend was quite cautious, flapping ears and moving around, but our friend from this morning stood quiet, front legs crossed, enjoying the wild basil in bloom.  He approached us slowly.  I tried some of the skills I’d learned in Botswana of connecting with him to send my love, admiration and respect his way.  I pictured lovely pink light which is a sign of peace and he turned toward us and walked closer.  When he was about 10’ from us, Stretch invited the ladies to come have a seat with the men behind.  The elephant calmly approached  to about 3 meters from us.  Yes, we sat there, fully in the moment in the tranquil company of a large wild bull elephant, calmly experiencing him eat away and check us out.  Our life or death in his powerful control, it seemed odd to be so trusting.  His kind brown eyes catching the afternoon sun behind his long eyelashes, his ears flapping gently, his trunk seeking out the tasty basil plants giving off a lovely sweet smell.  I could hear every breath and fell into a lovely peaceful bliss in his grace.  His large mud-covered tusks pointing in our direction reminded us of the fragility of the moment and almost seem to be demanding that we appreciate this moment and spread such kindness toward all beings as he is done with us.

 

Stretch heard a car approaching on the road and we moved behind a tree so as not to tip off others to approach the wildlife without knowing what they’re doing.  We moved back when the vehicles had passed.  The gentleman had moved on to a sandy patch to dust himself off a bit.  We stood near him and he rested his trunk on the sand so quietly.  He seemed to enjoy the visit… at least I hope so.  A long low grumble so low we could feel the ground vibrate beneath our feet seemed a friendly farewell to a touching encounter.

 

Following our morning encounter, the goal was to trek in to see some lions Stretch heard in the early morning.  The female has pups apparently, so we were hoping to get a good glimpse.  We drove to an open area, more desert-like than the lush tree-covered area along the river and exited the vehicles.   The drivers headed off to track from their vehicles, while we headed in afoot with one riffle in tow just in case.  The trek started beautifully with scenery that comes strait from a dream.  Lush green landscapes along a swampy pond, massive trees all around from baobabs, to iron woods, figs, rain trees and more.  The smells were fresh and sweet, the breeze was gentle and cool, the sky was clear blue and only an occasional puff of white cloud randomly spaced.  We walked at a nice clip stopping only occasionally to take in various sights such as a bull elephant in musk rolling along the muddy bank, perhaps to help calm some of his hormonal emotions.  A goliath heron took flight impressively with his dark grey and brown elegant wingspan, three white pelicans soared by, a rare sighting in these parts, small herds of zebra and water buck took a cautious interest in us and larger herds of impala were perk as we came into sight then set off galloping and leaping across the green landscape a short distance.   Some breeding female elephants crossed our paths on occasion, but at a safe distance, as they are not to be approached as some of the males can, especially with younger ones in tow. We saw flowers, birds, incredible tree specimens and more, but no lions.  We searched high and low, but not even a track was to be seen.  Stretch checked in with Rubin and the others to see if they’d come across any signs.  They had, but the tracks were from last night so locations can only be guessed at.

 

Finally, we stopped for a tea break to reconnoiter before setting off on a “let’s get serious guys” search for the elusive lions.  After 11 kilometers walking terrain ranging from deep sand, to old mud holes with deep holes left by hippos and elephants to lovely walking trails forded by the wildlife, the search was called off.  Our trucks were parked near a lovely area shaded by huge rain trees also keeping a few elephant cool as they casually grazed along.

 

Stretch was discouraged it seemed, but we headed in the trucks to the area he thought they’d now be.  Driving along, I looked left and saw a strange looking termite mound… no it was a lion!  We turned the car off the road for a better look and had to giggle inside at our morning’s search only to finally see the lion not 2 minutes into our drive.  Well, it was a lovely morning and a nice walk in the end.

 

Each night, the stars fill the sky after a brilliantly colored sunset reflected upon the glorious Zambezi River.  It’s a perfect ambiance for the traditional sundowners to chat about the day’s sightings and generally chat about life.  Venus is always the first to show herself, followed by Jupiter, the other visible planet, then the stars begin to come alive triggering the fire flies to dot the darkness along the water’s edge.

 

13 May

Today was my first day of bush walking in a way far different from other bush walks I’ve done on this trip.  This one set us on a search for wild dogs and was mildly successful seeing 7 doges at a distance trotting briskly away likely toward their morning meal.  We walked after them, but the’d quickly disappeared with hardly a trace aside from a trail of prints.  We did see some waterbuck in the bush nearby, impala and the newly arrived, but rarely seen in these parts, crowned crane.  They’re more common in East Africa, even enjoying the status of being on the Tanzanian flag (pretty sure it’s Tanzania).

 

With the dogs off and away, we found lion tracks and our walk took the 12 of us (the 6-pack, two lovely couples living in Africa and Britain, myself and of course Stretch) a good distance intently on the trail of African lion.  Well, in the end it was more along the lines of a snipe hunt, but the walk was quite nice.  Our search superseded anything else along the way and seemed to often have us walking in circles.  We did spy a lovely shy lioness a couple times, but she was distant and keen to stay that way.  The goal was to find the pride which gives the animals more confidence and would allow us to approach a good bit.  With impala around looking relaxed, it seemed to me there wouldn’t be a lion pride too close by, but what do I know?

 

We did walk past the bones of a deceased female elephant that shockingly still had its tusks lying nearby.  Apparently everyone’s afraid to move them as they’d instantly be accused of poaching.  They looked to have been there for years… so odd considering their diabolical demand from China.

 

The trees we walked amongst were truly spectacular, some likely hundreds of years old and stretching probably 25 meters toward the bright African sky.  Fig trees who’s trunks compare with 1,000 year old baobabs and equally as fascinating to admire.  Huge stunning specimens of many sorts foreign to me tower over the vast landscape of Mana Pools.  Oddly, there aren’t any young versions of these same trees in the picture… just grass and adult trees as far as the eye can see.  Seems the trees require a major flood to propagate, but once the dam up river has gone in, no floods have been allowed so these lovely trees may be the last of their kind.  Sad as it is, this scenery is a big part of what makes this UNESCO World Heritage Site so special.  After about 8+kilometers under increasing temperatures and quite uneven terrain over dried mud pot holed with huge deep prints of hippos and elephants who walked this area in the rainy season.  We headed back to camp to cool off under cool showers and enjoy an evening lunch.

 

About 4pm we headed out again to see what we could see.  We thought we might come across the wild dogs, but instead we happened upon a few handsome bull elephants.  They were younger ones and more cautious than the “older men,” but we met up with the one we’d spent time with the past couple days and he seemed to enjoy our company.  I think that guy’s name is John Denver.

 

Stretch sat us on the ground in the fresh young plants to watch the bulls graze around us as they like.  Low and behold, this stunning gentleman approached us to within one meter!!!  He checked each of us out, establishing eye contact with his kind amber eyes  My heart was touched, my soul inspired and my day was made a brilliant one.  Oh, what an experience to be so close to a wild animal of such stature and to have him gently approach us sitting so vulnerable at his feet.

 

Oh, I think I missed mentioning the bull elephant who visiting camp about 1:30 in the morning grazing at the trees between the tents.  I couldn’t help myself and I slowly unzipped my door enough to sneak out for a better view of his huge silhouette against the dark night’s sky.  I heard and felt his gentle rumble as he likely acknowledged me or very likely was communicating with his friends not too far off along the river.

 

This evening Stretch cooked dinner on the barbie, to the sounds of puffing and honking hippos, a plenty, crickets and cicadas and a gentle breeze… what a magical place!

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15 May ~  A very close encounter!

 

Holy Cow! … or more appropriately Holy Bull, or even Holy Shit!  I’ve never felt so profoundly alive yet so close to death in my memory!  Except perhaps for a second in the midst of a bungee jump years ago.  The camp motto is “Stretch-ed to the limit” and Stretch himself ubiquitously says “Let’s get serious guys.”  Both terms were met with vigor this evening as we set out for a mellow drive with hopes of meeting the mature and gentle elephant referred to as Vic because of the “v” shaped nick out of his ear.  Instead we drove to a lovely riverside area blanketed in huge trees offering stunning views of a peaceful herd of breeding cow elephants with their young.  Just this side of the sight though stalked a hormone plagued bull elephant in musk of the age where even the elder elephants are known to avoid their unpredictable behavior.  We were in 2 vehicles, and parked near his presence where he stood his ground flapping his ears and putting his moxy forth.  He strode toward Stretch’s vehicle full of ego touching it with his tusks.  He pushed a bit rocking the truck and leaving a couple dents along the side.  At the same time, he very gently touched Ian’s arm… likely the best arm to have touched being that he’s been an elephant researcher in Krueger for most of his life… he stayed calm and let the moment happen.

 

When the big guy pushed at the vehicle threatening to do more damage, Stretch stepped in scolding the big guy.  He moved on… on toward our vehicle to come give us a bump, raise his mighty head and let us know what he thought of us and who’s in charge.  It was a complete thrill in the mightiest of ways and we were all so glad to have been in the vehicle.  He then moved on and we exited the cars to check out the damage.

 

To all our great surprise, Stretch said let’s go meet this big bad boy… “what!”  Yes, you read right and to top it off he handed young 20-year young Bradley the gun and said you take the guests around to visit this big boy on foot.  All our hearts began beating, and Bradley moved quite hesitantly trying to lead us in some way toward this big bull in musk.  We came around on lower ground and the bull raised up and charged us at a trot.  Admittedly, my reactions were out of my control as I said “oh shit” under my breach and jumped away, tripping over a fallen log leaving a bit of a gash on my ankle.   Stretch took charge, held out his hand boldly and talked to the elephant as he would to a cocky son.  The elie backed of a bit.

 

I’m rather in awe

to have come this far

 

Poor young Bradley was instructed by Stretch to take us around toward the termite mound… a mound?  More of a pimple in the dusty sand no bigger than a pitcher’s mound.  After the charge, we were easily moved toward a place we thought might be safer.  How silly to think a blip in the sand could bring safety from a hormonal fully in musth male elephant.  Gale and I naively positioned ourselves at the front of the hill for a ignorant hint of a thrill.  The elephant approached in a rush, then stopped about 10 feet away, with tusks on point and trunk curled and ready, we felt acutely unsteady.   The energy was electric our senses hectic, this moment a lifetime thrill.  We seemed to share a heartbeat, Gale and I, as the elie tried another charge.  Again, I said “oh shit” under my breath as I inched my bum uselessly a few inches back.  I believe I grabbed Bradley’s leg somehow thinking his hold of the gun would help, knowing and hoping the deadly instrument would never be used for it’s purpose.  I felt the presence of Gale feeling as I, rather thrilled and intensely humbled.  The elie rested his trunk on his right tusk debating his next move.  Another surge forward and potentially last gulps of air for us.  Somehow Gail and I were comforted by Stretches stressed voice to Bradley to hand him the gun accompanied by a “Jesus” expletive from our trusty leader to accompany that didn’t quite allow for complete comfort. Stressed puffs of dusty air from the big emotional guy didn’t settle the nerves of anyone perched on this tiny mound.  Stretch continued to talk firmly to him along with phrases like “oh guys, this isn’t so good,” and “come on big guy, don’t act like this!”  I felt I could hear the heart beats of everyone in the group piled pathetically on this tiny mound.  The big guy charged again with one tusk in the face of Gail, the other in my face about 1 meter’s distance.  To this moment and perhaps until the day I pass, I remember every mark on that tusk, every splatter of mud, every cross grain in the up-curved ivory, and the sound of that electrified exhale.  Every thrust forward hoping it is not destined for our chest piling us on like a human shishkabab.

 

In all the moments, however long they were, I had to trust Stretch and his 30 years’ experience to look after us all.  His voice rang confident and telling toward this wayward grey grander towering above us and we sat helpless and humble at his massive round feet.  His glowing amber eyes caught the light of the evening sun like gems, his long eye lashes we hoped allowed him to see our freight and show compassion.  My reactions were uncontrolled as I moved back and attempted to sort out a plan of escape should another charge ensue.  Again, my heart pounded to a deep beet in tuned with Gales.  What a thrill beyond thrills, we were emerged in the moment and living on the edge, our lives truly in the hands of this incredible being.  At one point I remember begging him to move past us in my mind, to be generous and please walk away, but he did not, he was in Musth and going to show off.  Eventually (likely a split second’s time that felt longer), Stretch grabbed the riffel from Bradley and bopped the huge bull on the trunk, which sent him backwards a few steps and broke his aggressive thoughts.

 

We were beyond obedient to the instructions to moved away and give him space.  I was shaking and Gale grabbed me for a big hug, which I returned in spades.  We all looked at one another in amazement at what just transpired.

 

Fully alive and nearly dead.  Up close and personal with a bull ellie in musth… threatening his mighty hormonal moxie with every breath.  Even Stretch was nervous as he grabbed the gun from young Bradley to bop the grey ghost on his wide muscular trunk.  One tusk just in front of my face, the other in front of Gales we were powerless!  My thoughts were of ways out, of the others, of well just plane “oh shit!” Stretch looked around to be sure no one was around to have seen the potential massacre.

 

Words circulated among us in variations not heard until this point.  Wine was drunk en mass at a lovely sundowner spot to calm the shaking hands and nerves.  A different bull elephant walked calmly past, his temper in check not being in musth.  I felt such a loving presents emanate from this incredible being as though he were there to settle the tension and reinforce the grace and loving nature of he and his fellow elephants.  About 400 yards away, a hippo had come to dry land on the early side to graze and when this blissful elie wandered near him, his short legs trotted off with his large round and still wet body… no doubt who is king of this jungle.

 

Afterwards, Stretch looking worriedly in our direction, we headed for cocktails to calm the nerves.  We  all toasted and made our way to a festive dinner for a very special group… if only they knew the full story.

 

Here, we’d been waking each morning to the sounds of hippos, the whooping roar of lions, the deep pound of the ground hornbills and the perfectly timed call of the local robin birds who lift our heads from the pillows with pleasure each morning.  Now we’ve been reminded not to take any of it for granted and to respect the natural world for all it’s beauty of every kind, no matter what form it comes in.

 

Tonight I go to sleep a bit tipsy from the wine and completely humbled by the day’s experience playing what felt like Russian roulette sitting at the feet of a grown male elephant in musth.  I feel a combination of gratitude and ignorance in the most profound of ways.  All encompassed, I love and respect elephants all the more.

 

A short ways away, drinks were poured generously as we enjoyed the sunset.  Another younger male elephant wandered past who was not in musk and seemed quite kind to offer a friendly hello.  I have to say that was a very special moment to connect with a quiet and respectful animal after all that just happened.

 

We all eagerly consumed glasses of wine that evening starting at sundowners, sharing tales of the adventure and acknowledging this was an experience of a lifetime on so many levels.  I wondered if I’d sleep this night.  Dinner was completely jovial with laughter flowing freely, perhaps a release of emotions about the day.  I feel I love these fellow travelers and they returned the gesture, especially my shared thrill with Gale, up close and personal… wow!

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14 May

We saw a number of wild geese, so I’d say our 8+/-km walk in the beautiful Mopane area in the shade of the massive trees of the same name was a success… we were indeed on a “wild goose chase.”   Actually the goal was to spend some time viewing the lager pack of the wild painted dogs, but alas they had other plans.  True to form, Stretch took us on a lovely walk away from the roads and through the varied and remote places along the Zambezi River.  Until today, I’d only ever seen mopane shrub about 12’ in height and thick in density.  This forest here housed thousands of the trees towering overhead like a majestic cathedral.  The scrub underneath is minimal, so viewing and walking is completely delightful.

 

We were lead past lily covered water pans where I half expected colorful enchanted fairies to flutter out and greet us with their whimsy.  Birds seem to thrive here and range from the huge saddle-billed stork, to Egyptian and spur-winged ducks, to the brilliantly colored Lily’s Love Birds looking more like an immigrant from the Amazon with their bright orange head and lime-green bodies.  Impala would bolt and gain our attention, baboons played and searched for snacks along the forest floor, little tree squirrels scrambled up and down trunks playing hide and seek with any potential predator of theirs that might be swooping by.  A shady stop under a tree that seemed to be held up by a giant termite mound invited a break and views of the surrounding water pan blanketed in lush bright green water plants.  A white heron took flight impressively and a male elephant wandered down to the water’s edge to part the surface plants and enjoy a drink from the cool pond from the shade of a large tree.  He later came close to us to check things out, but not too close, as he is a man in musk and not to be tampered with.

 

The temperature rose with the sun and even under the speckled shade of the mopane, i was growing weary and my attentions admittedly would drift toward questions that seemed inappropriate given where we were… “how much longer?”  It was somewhere around 10:30am when we met with the truck and had tea and coffee at the edge of a stunningly wide section of the Zabezi looking across to Zambia and it’s more permanent lodges.  Zambia allows for permanent structures as well as motor boats which tend to spoil the ambiance with engine, generator and water pump noise pollution.  It made me so happy to be in a camp with basic amenities.  We do have a generator, but it’s only on a few hours a day and Stretch had is buried deep to be sure it’s hardly heard.  Either way, the views from the water’s edge is mesmerizing in its beauty and has a way of instantly bringing peace and refreshment to one’s soul.

 

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16 May

Another lovely bush walk of about 7.5 kilometers amongst the grand mopane trees and enchanted water pans that seemed to glow a lush green.  Various bird species call these locales home, at least for a little while.  On the way, we spotted 2 lovely elans who true to form trotted off shyly upon seeing us.  Perhaps they were more curious than we thought as we spotted two more at the end of our walk, perhaps the same ones?   Again, we were on the tracks of some thrilling animals such as a hippo with a baby, some bull buffalo and seemed directly behind a female leopard with fresh tracks and very wet droppings to encourage our senses to remain alert.  The best part was the delightful walk in speckled shade through the towering forest without any sign of there ever being another human here before us.

 

As always, we met with the vehicles under a big shade tree by a lush water hole in the company of a dozen or so bird varieties.  Of course Ian and Neil were on point to find another “lifer” for the week.  A “lifer” in the language of “twitch” refers to a bird never seen before.  Following tea, the “-pack” of friends and I joined Stretch to head off to visit the huge baobab about 16km away and through some new terrain varieties and over rarely used tracks requiring a bit of “branch management” to get the trusty vehicle through.  Across a sandy river who’s far bank was not easily navigable, we took to our feet again to march in and visit the tree with the old area chief buried in its cavernous trunk.  The tree was impressive upon first sighting but apparently is dwarfed by another 3 times its girth a few hour’s drive away.  This on was/is the size of a house, so that one is awesome to imagine.

 

We laughed and enjoy the day, reveling in one another’s company knowing this was our last full day with Stretch and his Goliath Safari team.  Lunch was delicious with a chocolate cake for tea.  Our down time is quite temporary with just time for a cooling shower and short nap.  At 4 we head out again, as is the schedule of this safari-going clan looking to “put in the hard yards.”  “Let’s get serious, guys,” we’re off to have some experiences.  The focus and hope was to meet big Nick and enjoy some company sitting with him, but alas that was not his plan.  We did march out on a lovely river-side plateau sprinkled with both males and females enjoying the evening light and cooling breezes.  One lone young man caught Stretch’s attention, so we approached walking around to see him in the gorgeous golden glow of the sun beginning to sink below the Zambian mountains.  He was dusting himself making for gorgeous photos, but I sensed strongly that this guy would rather us not approach him.  Stretch seemed to be keen to test how far he could go with the slapping sound of this gentleman’s huge head shaking “no” with dust flying.  It was a gorgeous photo op, but I hoped strongly we’d stop.

 

Just in time, we were ironically saved by the lions.  A call came through from Ruben that there were 4 lions and a cub on a resent kill of a huge crocodile.   Earlier we’d driven by that area and saw trees full of probably 50 vultures and meribu storks patiently waiting their turn to clean up some bones.  The timing was idea, we would leave this impressive gentleman to his evening activities and go see what we could see of the lions.

 

We met up with Ruben about a kilometer away, exited the vehicle (yes, you read right) and wandered in single file, close together behind Stretch armed with his big riffle.  Excitement was high and I remember taking a more serious look at all exposed skin on our leader and didn’t see a single scar that might indicate a prior alteration with a lion.  Stretch has been doing this for 30 years, so there was a good bit of trust in the tall wise lover of life.  Gale and I took the lead behind him feeling quite bonded after our close encounter with “JD” (Juvenile Delinquent), the bull elephant in full musth who charged us at about a 5′ range while sitting vulnerable on a tiny pimple of a mound for “protection.”  I was curious what Stretch would get us into here.

 

We padded softly and quietly in the waist-high foliage and saw what we’d come to see… sort of.  The young male trotted off when he saw us leaving 3 females and a cub behind.  We circled around to an open area where Stretch has us take a seat about 30 yards from the huge crocodile carcass and the rather nervous lions, one bearing her teeth and threatening with a growl.  Another took a last bite of the overgrown reptile before wandering off along with the others and the cub.  It was a quick viewing leaving us with smiles of amazement nonetheless, but Stretch disappointed at the skittish behavior of these ladies.

 

I asked what was more usual for them behavior-wise and he shared that there used to be two large males, who were quite calm and confident, but they’d likely been shot or the largest I guess swallowed a porcupine quill that triggered an early passing.  Now the lioness’ are timid and the male shy and not so protective of them.   So sad that hunting is still an issue, but rather trilled at having had an encounter on foot with a lion pride.

 

We had a brie dinner (bbq) with Stretch at the helm sending the “6 pack” (Merl, Ian, Natasha (Tash), Neil, Gale and Allen) and my self off with more great memories.  Allen shared some poetry he’d written that day along with another lovely song to the tune of “Perhaps Love” by John Denver.  Allen’s version being “Perhaps Life.”  We enjoyed every minute wishing we could stop time and linger longer here in Mana Pools, perhaps for another season to watch the greater herds of animals and birds migrate to this incredible watery piece of paradise.  Stretch jokingly offered marriage so I could stay… so nice to have the complement and attention, even just in fun.

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17 May

I awoke throughout the colder night to listen to the sounds of Mana Pools, smiling all the while to the music of the night.  It’s a busy place in the night for many beings in this land and creates noise that is a lullaby to my ears.  The temperature has surly dropped since yesterday and we all bundled up for our earliest morning to set out to see the lions before the “6 pack” had to depart to catch their plane to the Zambia side of Victoria Falls.  I loved our walk in the morning sun and did have the honor of seeing the lioness’ from on foot, but unfortunately again they wandered off seeming to follow the encouragement of their timid male. I know Stretch was hoping for more, but it really was just a joy to be out for another walk, to experience some mild excitement… well, mild compared to the other day anyway, and to spend some final moments with my new friends an kindred spirits.  I do hope all our paths cross again.  I have invitations to stay with Gale and Allen in Sydney and another to stay with Tash and Neil and their family at their home on the Savanna Game Reserve where they both work.  Each of those folks are truly exceptional humans and such a complete joy to spend time with here in idillic place.

 

Off they went, but not without shedding a few tears and sincere waves to enjoy future travels, leaving me in the quiet company of just 3 guests, Stretch and Serage.  We safari-ed on to look try our luck finding that cheetah someone had seen a few days prior, but mostly just a quiet drive.  A huge congress of storks and vultures gathered just off road, another excuse to get out and walk in the bush.  Nothing was found but some lovely flowers, stunning birds and the contentment of being in nature.  Stretch picked me some flowers… what a gentleman!  Perhaps in his prior life he was one of those big gentle grey giants who confidently wander these lands.

 

We enjoyed tea and those lovely homemade granola squares by a sparkling lake filled with playful hippos.  The chairs were set up under a large shady tree on the sandy shore a few meters from the water to be sure we weren’t in range of some stealth croc looking for lunch.  I stared at the scenery in awe drinking in the sights and sounds in my last moments here before having to take to the little plane in back to Harare for a night confined by solid walls and human pollution.

 

Teary good by’s at camp with a big hug from Stretch and a sincere hope to visit again some August in the next couple years.

 

 

 

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