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Living with Elephants, Walking with Hyenas. Mana Pools 2013.


Whyone?

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Whyone?

Part 1: Getting There

This years visit to the Mana Pools National Park, between 6th-13th October, was my 12th over the last 15 years. I am fortunate to have friends in-country so it is relatively straightforward for me to visit from my home in the UK on a self-drive / self-guided basis.

 

My journey started on a grey, drizzly Friday afternoon, checking-in for a flight to Harare via Dubai and Lusaka with Emirates at London Gatwick. Dubai wouldn't be on the flight path of most rational crows flying from London to Harare, but since the demise direct flights, first BA, and then Air Zim, getting to to Zimbabwe from the UK is no longer a straightforward 9 hour flight down the international date line. After the traumas for my journeys to and from Zim with Kenyan last year, I chose Emirates, an airline I like and know well, despite the ~18 hour journey time.

 

The flights down were comfortable and punctual...everything I could have hoped for. Arrival at Harare International was a revelation. From 'engines-off' to waiting outside the airport to be picked up (baggage retrieved, visa purchased - still $55, customs negotiated) took 10 minutes!!!! This beats my previous record by about 70 minutes!!!!

 

I arrived into Harare much later than usual, 5:30pm, so most of the hard work had been done for me - 80% of the packing had been done, and the traditional squabble about how best to pack the ice chests had sadly been had without me. After a quick shower, and re-pack into squishy trailer-friendly bags there was time to relax with my friends over a braai and a few beers whilst excitedly discussing what Mana may have in store for us this year. Despite the number of visits I have made to this magical park, no year has been without its surprises and unique experiences.

 

After an uneasy nights sleep I was already awake when at 4am there was a knock at my door to tell me it was time to hit the road. Before we could do this, a few last minute items - mainly bedding, which had to be packed and placed on top of the trailer, along with some bacon and egg rolls and a flask of coffee, essential supplies to make the chilly morning more bearable. With just 4 of us making the trip this year it was possible to get away with just the one vehicle - a 80 series Landcruiser, and a trailer.

 

Final items packed

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We were off and running by about 4:30, and well clear of Harare before the city was fully awake. One think which always strikes me as a visitor from UK is no matter what time of day you are out and about, and pretty much wherever you are outside of a National Park, there will be people walking....lots of people walking what must be very long distances by European standards.

 

First stop on the Harare - Kariba road was at Lions Den to pick up biltong....a crucial accompaniment for beer in the bush, though no matter how much we buy, it rarely seems to last beyond the second day.

 

Lions Den

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Selecting Biltong and Beersticks

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In the small store at Lions Den I was very taken by cans of 'Peaceful Sleep' sitting next to cans of 'Doom'!

 

Peace via Doom:

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Next stop was to pick up some worms. The main event of each years trip to Mana is a fishing competition - to be crowned 'Mana Fisherman of the Year' is always keenly contested.

 

Selection of worms worthy of such an illustrious competition is a serious matter. This years vendor was a lovely cheerful fellow, though he was left somewhat perplexed by us haggling for 10 minutes with him to achieve a very good price, and then leaving him and his family a tip which took the price we paid above what he was originally asking!

 

Worms...

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With everything we now needed onboard for a self supported week in the Zambezi Valley it was time to press-on to the first of 4...yes four...check points where paperwork needs to be presented and approved before you are free to explore the National Park. Stop one is the Parks office a few miles beyond Makuti (where we stopped to top up the Landcruisers two tanks with diesel and make final calls home - this is the last reliable mobile phone signal on the way into Mana) but before the descent down Zambezi Escarpment into the valley

 

Check Point 1- Parks office Marongora:

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Snazzy new signs in evidence at Marongora advertising the recently introduced 'carry in - carry-out' policy. In previous years, it was possible to take rubbish to a site near Nyamepi, now, very sensibly, everyone is responsible to removing all their rubbish from the park at the end of their stay.

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Beyond Marongora, the road narrows, becomes increasingly twisty, and the descent into the valley begins. Quite gently at first, and we see an occasional elephant and a couple of zebra. Then the road enters a series of steep drops, each ending with a tight turn. This road is the main link between the ports in South Africa and the great mines and quarries of Zambia, DRC and beyond. There is a seemingly endless procession of heavy trucks taking equipment into the mines, and bringing copper etc. out. This section of steep gradients and turns pushes these vehicles, their gearboxes and brakes to the absolute limit....and alarmingly frequently, beyond. Based on my experiences over the last 15 years, accidents must be pretty much a daily occurrence. The air is always full of the acrid smell of tortured brakes. You can forget the perils of walking unarmed and unguided with lions, elephant and buffalo, I am adamant that this short 10 minute section of journey is far and away the most dangerous part of the week.

 

We were within ~10 minutes of being caught up in this:

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Thankfully safely at the foot of the escarpment it is a relief to take a right turn of the tarred road to the boarder crossing into Zambia at Churundu, and onto the corrugated red-dirt road to Mana. A short distance along this road you reach gate 1.

 

Check Point 2- Gate 1.

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Papers OK, so off we go.

 

Road between Gate 1 and Gate 2:

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We had heard dire reports about the condition of the road, but it had been recently very well graded and was now relatively even and it was possible to drink beer without spilling it and make good progress with a minimum of discomfort.

 

Check Point 3: Nyakasikane Gate:

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...and entering Mana Pools National Park. Rule 2 helps make trips to Mana special:

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A left turn and it is a relatively straightforward run to the main Park's office near Nyamepi...

 

...Bridge across the Ruckomechi River

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On on to the fourth and final check point....

 

Check Point 4- Parks office.

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Having completed all the formalities necessary for a self supported visit Mana, and having made uncommonly good time into the park, giving ample time to set up camp before dusk, we naturally...headed for Long Pool and had a few beers!

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When we did finally make it to the Mucheni 3 Exclusive Campsite, this move did not overly assist in the efficient and orderly process of setting up camp, with one of our number promptly falling asleep, while the rest of us decided to make sure the beer was still at an acceptable temperature.

Not going well:

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I took a walk along the river and had to pinch myself - such is wonder of modern travel, I had recently been walking across London Bridge on my way to myoffice, yet here I was, gazing across the Zambezi to the hazy hills of Zambia, the sound of hippo's laughter not only heard, but felt, the blacksmiths plovers chink-chink-chink metallic call, the cry of fish eagles, the demented chatter of Egyptian Geese, and of course, elephants....lots and lots of elephants.

 

Ele's:

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Home for the week:

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To be continued.......

Edited by Whyone?
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Part 1: Getting There This years visit to the Mana Pools National Park, between 6th-13th October, was my 12th over the last 15 years. I am fortunate to have friends in-country so it is relatively st

Part 7: Walking With Hyena's   Enough of the local real estate situation...back to what Mana does best, surprising you!   Dawn Breaks:   Another day and another walk. Temperatures were still

Part 4: In Search of Bee-Eaters.   I always enjoy seeing Bee-Eaters at Mana, and in October they are still very much in residence. The eroded alluvial sand banks of the river are ideal for their ne

Game Warden

Awesome. Not your usual Mana Pools trip report :) Looks like the drive in was an adventure on its own. I think @ had similar experiences...

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Game Warden

It makes me excited just looking at the pics of your arrival...

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Whyone?

Thanks @@Game Warden

 

A question if I may - I have some video clips uploaded to Flickr, but cant work out how to link them here. Could you let me know how I can do this please Matt?

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looks like a couple good friends out for an adventure...look forward to more.

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michael-ibk

and it was possible to drink beer without spilling it

The perfect way of describing road conditions. Will you measure all your activities by their compatibility with beer drinking? (e.g. Lion charged ... spilt half a beer ... buffalo attacked ... had to throw beer away ... cooled beer in river - croc snatched it)

 

Great start to a report of what must have been a wonderful adventure, really looking forward to it. That road with all the trucks seems to be scary stuff however!

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Zim Girl

Also interested to know which book?

Edited by Zim Girl
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wilddog

Great start ?Whyone. That road, scary! Glad you got though OK.

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Whyone?

 

and it was possible to drink beer without spilling it

 

The perfect way of describing road conditions. Will you measure all your activities by their compatibility with beer drinking? (e.g. Lion charged ... spilt half a beer ... buffalo attacked ... had to throw beer away ... cooled beer in river - croc snatched it)

 

Great start to a report of what must have been a wonderful adventure, really looking forward to it. That road with all the trucks seems to be scary stuff however!

Well, it seems like as good a way of quantifying our groups state of equanimity at any given time as I can think of! I do however think that things would be getting to a pretty sorry state if beer is spilt or, heaven forbid, thrown away!

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kittykat23uk

I don't think the flash code works with the forum on here. You can post the link to flickr though. TBH I use youtube for video hosting.

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Sangeeta

What a terrific description of the road trip! You've set the stage beautifully with Anaconda worms, napping buddies, Zambezi sunsets, eles and all :) Eagerly awaiting the next installment...

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Whyone?

Part 1.5......Working out how to post Video on ST!

Whilst visiting the US during the summer, I bought a Moultrie remote field camera. I am sure everyone here is familiar with these things as they are now so widely used in field research - basically a video or stills camera which is motion activated. After dark it records using infra-red light and images are recorded in B&W.

 

Anyway, I used this each day in or around Mucheni 3 and I thought it might add a bit of variety to this trip report to post a few clips....all I have to do now is work out how to do this so bear with me!

 

 

Success :)

 

Brown Spotted Hyena having a bit of a mooch around camp...much more about Hyena later.

 

One thing to note on the video info. bar - I forgot to change the time on the camera from British Summer Time, so the actual time is 1 hour later than shown in all clips.

Edited by Whyone?
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wilddog

Brilliant!

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@@Whyone?

Great start to the trip report - the drive is a real adventure

Love the video - is that a large number of beer cans at the bottom of the tree?

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Whyone?

@@Whyone?

Great start to the trip report - the drive is a real adventure

Love the video - is that a large number of beer cans at the bottom of the tree?

Thank you Tony.

 

And no it isn't a large number of beer cans......it is a very moderate number..... ;)

 

Seriously though, the drive is all part of the experience for me, catastrophically out of control 20 ton trucks included. Door to tent-flap it takes about 9 hours, whereas a flight would take about an hour. Several times in the past I have considered flying in and being met at the airstrip by my friends, but I wouldn't want to miss the drive for the world. Its an opportunity to see a bit of Africa, a chance to catch up with my friends who I have only communicated with by email through the previous 11 months (face-to-face banter is much different to typed banter, you need to be a lot more quick witted!) and most of all, to get used to the idea that I am no longer in rural Sussex, or sophisticated London, but in the African countryside heading to one of the most astonishing National Parks in the world.

Edited by Whyone?
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Loving this, it's great to see the back ground to a trip and not just animal pictures. Good quality images as well. Do you by any chance haunt a forum called Talk Photography because I think it was you who suggested this site to me many months ago.

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Whyone?

Loving this, it's great to see the back ground to a trip and not just animal pictures. Good quality images as well. Do you by any chance haunt a forum called Talk Photography because I think it was you who suggested this site to me many months ago.

Hi Andy, many thanks for your kind comments, and yes, it was indeed me who pointed you here from TalkPhotography....where images of African animals (mine at least) seem to be met with complete indifference.

:)

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Game Warden

@@Whyone? I think you might have a few interested Safaritalkers wanting to join you for the next trip...

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Whyone?

@@Whyone? I think you might have a few interested Safaritalkers wanting to join you for the next trip...

I strongly suspect that most Safaritalkers like a little more care, attention and luxury than our trip is able to provide.

 

Though we did finish most evenings around the campfire with a glass (or two) of very nice Malt, accompanied by a slice of fruit cake :)

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Whyone?

Part 2: How's the old place Looking?

In this part of my TR, I'll try to concentrate a little less on the mechanics of self-driving and a little more on the wonders of Mana (but fear not, it is only a matter of time before I return to domestic matters!)

 

A typical day in Mana starts much as it does on safari's throughout Africa - early!

 

However, one of the major downsides of a self drive safari...in fact I would go as far as to say the major drawback is that there is no one to make you an cup of tea before you head out to see what wonders the day will present.

 

Dawn Breaks over the Zambezi

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So our days tend to start with a swift brush of the teeth, a swig of water and off out.

 

After the first night I was astonished to wake up cold! OK, not UK-in-February-cold, but I needed a sheet in bed which is unheard of in my experience of Mana in October. You may have noticed the temperature on the video clip - 11:26pm and it was 20 degrees C. Brrrrr.... I was also delighted to have been woken in the night by lions (some way away) and hyena (rather closer :) )

 

Out and about by 5:30, we either walk out directly from camp, or drive a little way, park up and walk. FIrst morning this year we decided to take a 30 minute drive to the back of Long Pool, partly to see who and what was about, mainly to take a walk I especially like through some abandoned river terraces with some especially attractive Acacia Albida trees.

 

I was struck by the relative lack of game as we drove along. This was to proove to be a feature of the week - Mana was not only unseasonably cool, (only into the low 40's during the day) there was also water in places I had never seen water before in October. Hence there wasn't the usual need at this time of year for the game to congregate within a ~200 yard strip of floodplain adjacent to the river.

 

Still, this is Mana, and there is always plenty to see and enjoy, even if it is trying to hide from you!

 

I can see you!

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This year I tried to make a conscious effort to take more 'environmental' shots....probably a very pragmatic thing to do when on foot as the animals are not always willing to oblige with frame-filling proximity.

 

Gentle Giant

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Having had a quick chat with him to ensure he was both aware of, and not troubled by, our presence, he was happy for us to sit and watch as he had breakfast.

 

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Whilst watching this ele, a male Kudu wandered by, and in very fine condition for this time of year when the grazers and browsers are often showing signs of stress.

 

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After an hour or so we found ourselves at Long Pool where I was much amused by this Black Headed Heron. This must have been a regular spot for him as we saw him sat on a hippo each time we returned to Long Pool. I wonder if he had his own hippo?

 

Great Fishing from here!:

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As mentioned earlier, we spent the week camping at Mucheni 3, what National Parks term Exclusive campsite. Now you may be fooled into thinking that Exclusivity brings hot and cold running water, beautifully appointed bathrooms, plunge pools etc. etc. The truth is rather different - an Exclusive campsite bring a rather smelly long-drop toiled (with any matter of scampering and rustling going on 'down below' and a braai stand. Except our braai stand had collapsed into the river over the rainy season! The true exclusivity you get is isolation from other people. There are 4 Mucheni campsites, but they are a good 500m apart, so even if being used you are rarely aware of other people

 

Breakfasting with Hippo's

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Mucheni 3 from upstream:

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The trail camera was left attached to a fallen tree near the river bank (watch for the Egret!)

 

 

Based on the walks and a short drive around the park on our first day, it was clear that Mana was unusually luxuriant....well, OK, perhaps that is overstating things a tad...but there was certainly plenty of grazing and browsing to be had, and the animals were in wonderful condition. A (selfish) fear that I had before visiting this year was that the park would be very busy, but it was anything but. In fact there were fewer people in th epark than the previous two years, which I found very surprising. In Nyamepi (the large communal campsite) there were only ever a handful of sites occupied. In the Mucheni's, we were alone for the week. Most odd.

 

And as ever, the day ends with a sunset:

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And another nocturnal visitor:

I used to get slightly unsettled by hippo's wandering around the tents, reasoning that they were unlikely to be terribly careful where they stood. However, over the years I have realised that they are absolutely fine and welcome a being woken to the sound of them munching and digesting (they have very active guts!) their food.

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Treepol

Really enjoying this TR, thanks for sharing.

 

I liked your comment contrasting the walk across London Bridge top the office with a quiet stroll along the Zambezi, I'm not the only person to have a 'pinch me, I must be dreaming moment' followed quickly by an appreciative thought of the wonders of modern air travel.

 

I noted the rusks next to the Doom and Peaceful sleep which prompted a nostalgic moment.

 

Mucheni 3 looks to be a beautifully sited camp and you have some wonderful elephant photos. I like the camaraderie from Day 1 in your report with arguments about packing the ice chests, someone falling asleep on arrival and malt and fruit cake for supper.

 

Looking forward to more...

Edited by Treepol
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@@Whyone?

What a beautiful place to stay

Great to see that elephant really stretching for that tree!

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