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The Hundred Acre Wood and The Search for Heffalumps and Woozles


twaffle
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Having read through the vast array of Mana Pool’s trip reports I feel that I have little to add that’s new, so my first visit to Zimbabwe will consist of reflections, anecdotes and quotes from A A Milne and his animals who reside in the hundred acre wood. Animals who are far wiser than I will ever be.

 

Why Winnie the Pooh? Prior to leaving home for this new destination, the thought came to mind that in reality I was heading to a wilderness dominated by forests and elephants. The dead mopane trees of Matusadona, raising their old limbs above the waters of Lake Kariba and the living forests of Mana Pools, resplendent with mahogany, albida, baobabs, mopane amongst others would provide cover for much of the wildlife we hoped to see. The wildlife dominated overwhelmingly in these two parks by elephants.

 

Of course, both Matusadona and Mana Pools have forests that cover a great deal more acreage than Christopher Robin’s legendary woods and Winnie the Pooh, nor any bear, would be found during our stay. Both though, are known for the mythical nature of the adventures to be found within their boundaries. Many years of procrastination and failed attempts later and I finally would be exploring this place, with its light, scenery and dancing elephants. Beloved of so many Safaritalkers, I wondered if it could possibly live up to the hype. It probably wouldn’t matter in the end. We all look for our own truths in the destinations we choose and no doubt mine would be different to others. I just hoped that I wouldn’t need to climb leadwood trees or termite mounds, especially as I’d stupidly twisted my knee a few days before leaving.

 

Our trip consisted of 2 nights at Ilala Lodge, Victoria Falls; 4 nights at Rhino Camp, Matusadona; 3 nights at Chitake 3, Mana Pools and 6 nights at Mucheni 4, Mana Pools. Apart from the first 2 nights we were guided by Doug Macdonald and the mobile camps outfitted by Tailormade Safaris. The mobile camps were managed by George with an excellent support staff. Sangeeta and her company Chalo Africa helped me sort out logistics and handled all the bookings.

 

“Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.“

A A Milne, Winnie the Pooh

 

Zimbabwe was a lesson in being patient, having no expectations and not worrying about what we might see or what we might miss out on.

 

“The long wait in Jo’burg airport drags on. Our first sunrise back in Africa is a good omen of times to come, at least we hope so.

Piles of zebra and gazelle hides are as good an indicator as anything that illustrates the difference between wildlife utilisation between South Africa and Kenya. Handbags made of wildlife skins abound and I wonder what my friends will say if I turn up carrying one. They might not understand the realities that is conservation in this modern world.

I’m sitting here with all of our gear, between a rather mundane shop ‘Taste of Africa’ and a Haagen-Daz ice cream shop that’s depressingly closed. There’s a desultory stream of weary passengers passing by me. An equally desultory stream of workers plod past, either at the end or the beginning of a shift, they all look bored.

I guess there’s no reason to rush, one day rolls into another inside an airline terminal.”

 

VICTORIA FALLS:

 

I’m pretty impressed by Victoria Fall’s airport, not realising just how new it is. There is a handsome waterfall inside the customs and immigration hall that looks very refreshing. In arrivals, as we wait for the other people transferring to Ilala, we have time to look around. A small group of local men are giving a welcome dance outside and inside I’m amused by the ATM that looks like it has already been speedily accessed! A common theme across our travels in Zim is the lack of USD available in ATMs or banks, fortunately Sangeeta had let us know that this was the case and we were well prepared.

 

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It’s pointless thinking about all the thousands of visitors to the Falls every year and every possible type of photograph they’d be taking, let alone trying to take something new and different. I think the best thing is to approach an iconic landscape such as this with an open mind. Focus on the magnificence of the natural world and tune out the helicopters and mass tourism, knowing that it’s needed to support these wonders.

 

I really do feel like the last person to visit the famous falls and there’s not much I can tell anyone about them that they don’t already know. Despite reading lots of reports and seeing many photos over the years, I still didn’t have much idea about what to expect and it turned out to be so much more than I imagined.

 

The afternoon we arrived we walked to the café that overlooks the railway bridge and watched intrepid tourists swing from ropes, slide along ropes, look terrified hanging from ropes. All pretty entertaining. The gorge itself looked like a spider web of metal.

 

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The next day we spent at the falls themselves.

 

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Sunrise view of the Falls from our bedroom verandah.

 

Walking from the gate towards the falls was like walking through a forest wonderland. The trees had lost most of their leaves that lay in a carpet of russet and gold across the ground with a host of butterflies flying across them.

 

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Nearing the falls themselves the vegetation suddenly changed to an almost mystical, enchanted rain forest where imaginations could run wild with possibilities. Staying focussed on the natural wonder in front of me gave me the chance to zone out the constant sounds of helicopters and chatter from the stream of tourists. Thank goodness I’d been meditating a lot!

 

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Moving on the left path along the falls we paid our respects to David Livingstone as he permanently looked down and across the falls that so entranced him all those years ago. Walking further on we came along side the Zambezi river as it moved towards the precipice. Water birds waded through the shallows and hippos briefly surfaced for air. In the distance a lone fisherman cast his net on a long stick, occasionally catching a fish.

 

Moving back past the old Dr. we went down the steps to the 2nd lookout. In fact, we did these lookouts several times over the course of the day and the photos aren’t in time order. The mist falling at the first few lookouts was delicate and fell like snow. On our morning walk to No 2, it was very quiet and you could almost imagine yourself in another time and place. Amazingly, as we continued our morning walk there was a movement on the edge of the gorge and nibbling at a small shrub was a very relaxed bushbuck. Perhaps because of the spectacle of the falls behind the animal, people just walked past it. I suppose we see what we expect to see.

 

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We spent about 8 hours in total at the falls, just ambling. It was so relaxing stretching our legs and not concerning ourselves with anything else, just being.

 

“Mid morning and we’ve taken a break at the Rainforest Café. A freshly squeezed carrot, ginger and apple juice and a cool breeze is very welcome. A young man dressed in traditional tribal dress (for the tourists benefit no doubt) walks past us as if on springs. Tourists walk towards the souvenir shop with a look of purpose in their eyes. I answer some work emails and then find that I can’t send emails for some reason. The young man with his imitation zebra skin dress has returned and is filling water bottles.”

 

 

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Our 6 seater Cessna is piloted by Nick who speaks just like Squack. I guess the Zim upbringing shows through. We fly from Vic Falls to Bumi Hills via Hwange where we drop off a very friendly American couple. They are on their 1st safari and after Hwange they will head back to South Africa to do some hunting. Members of Safari Club International, and strong Republicans, I found the conversation very interesting, but challenging. We’ve left them in Hwange and now we are slowly making our way to the shores of Lake Kariba. Hwange airport is nothing like I expected, very smart and with a large bitumen airstrip telling us of better times past. Nick tells us how quiet it is at present and I hope that tourism numbers improve.

 

As a newcomer to Zim, looking down on the villages below is fascinating and quite different to what I see in Kenya, as one would expect. The high tensile electricity cables follow a neat, wide path through the hills rolling like a ribbon. It’s dry, the ground looks bleached with areas of olive green denoting the treed areas. Sandy river beds squirrel their way through the landscape with an occasional pool of water clinging to a bend, waiting to evaporate.

 

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I can see the start of Lake Kariba far to my left, in the distance. I know it’s large but I have a feeling that I’m in for another shock when the extent of the size is revealed.

 

Seeing the infrastructure around the place, albeit worn and tired, really hammers home how much ground Zimbabwe has lost and how much suffering the Zim population has gone through over the last few decades. That the ones we’ve met are so friendly and welcoming speaks volumes for the hope of better times and renewal in the future.

 

We land at Bumi Hills and find that it's fully equipped with a fire fighting system!

 

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Fantastic start, Twaffle, really looking forward to this - and you did this so quickly! Really curious what Zim had in store for you, but one thing I´m certain about - there will be many, many beautiful photos as only you can shoot them. I hope that Bushbuck did not want to jump? ;)

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Matusadona National Park – where we are introduced to Doug, Peter & Jenny and the heffalumps make their first appearance.

 

Doug is just as I imagined and with so many Safaritalkers having been guided by him over the years there is no end to the information about him on the forum. Jenny & Peter, co-owners of Rhino Camp, are there to welcome us and the 4 nights we spend there are filled with laughter and Peter’s stories of amazing adventures.

 

The elephants are the stars of the show but the impalas also put on a fine performance. With smaller horns and less red in their coats than their East African cousins, they are in fine condition and are truly beautiful and photogenetic.

 

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Many hours spent boating on Lake Kariba, watching and waiting for elephants to swim is finally rewarded. The Umi river is magnificent, with red cliffs above the blue water, crocodiles, elephants, bushbuck and birds, birds, birds.

 

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“The sun has warmed us all now although the shadows are still long across the ground. We are situated on a spit of land that has been exposed by the falling lake levels. It’s an area rarely visited due to the distance from camp but we are on a specific mission and Doug thinks this might be the place to deliver. The dead mopane shines like silvery grey stalks above the blue water in the channel. Bats can be heard from inside the dead trees, and there is a constant sound of fish eagles.”

 

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“Hallo!” said Piglet, “what are you doing?”

“Hunting,” said Pooh.

“Hunting something” said Winnie the Pooh very mysteriously.

“Now, look there.” Pooh pointed to the ground in front of him. “What do you see there?”

“Tracks” said Piglet. He gave a little squeak of excitement. “Oh, Pooh! Do you think it’s a – a – a Woozle?“

Winnie the Pooh

 

And so after seeing lion tracks on the sandy road time and time again, we finally were introduced to the art of tracking lions with Doug. We set off into the bush where Doug figured that they’d located themselves and had a wonderful natural history lesson on all sorts of things. Not finding the recalcitrant cats but finding fresh buffalo tracks we made our way back to our vehicle.

 

Matusadona provided us with some wonderful safari moments: the freshly killed elephant from a poacher’s bullet, leopards, elephants doing all sorts of things, sunsets, mating snakes, baboons with a fresh greysbok kill, the stark death forests, stories from Doug, Peter and Flip Nicholson. I’ll just include some photos from the Park and leave it at that.

 

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Great to read a new trip report from you @@twaffle. Eagerly awaiting further installments.

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@@michael-ibk thanks for that. You were pretty quick off the mark too. I'm not sure anyone would have a trip as exciting as yours but we had a fantastic time.

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Superb imagery and unique reporting, as always @@twaffle ; that B&W hyena shot is really something, so unusual.

 

Thanks for the vicarious pleasure so far........

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Really looking forward to more as you're reports are consistently brilliant. Couldn't agree more about expectations of the Falls themselves.. My wife felt they would be fine but wasn't overly excited but upon arrival was blown away by them and completley surprised by it.

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Beth_Blogger

So lovely reading about your experience. It's always so good to hear what people think when seeing Vic Falls for the first time - for myself who has seen it a few times, I like re-living it through your eyes!

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@@twaffle

 

Spectacular pictures that certainly bring out the beauty of Matusadona. I am going to really enjoy this report.

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Towlersonsafari

What excellent photo's, I really like the leaping impala and the bookend elephants silhouette, and the elephant lifting up its foot!

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@@twaffle Beautiful photos and a really engaging narrative. Looking forward to more!

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You snuck off to Zim on us and took Winnie the Pooh with you! So nice you went with Doug. Gorgeous photos to begin. Wonder what that bushbuck is thinking as it gazes over the dropoff. Love the leaping impala.

 

Your itinerary spends lots of time in exciting places.

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@@twaffle ah so happy to see this trip report! Gorgeous photos - especially love those in post # 4 - is one of those a croc trying to bite the elephant's tusk? The hyena with vultures are incredible and the sunsets stunning!

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Chitake, Mana Pools National Park – in which the buffaloes keep us waiting and the lions and hyaenas tell their story in the sand.

 

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A resort in Kariba as we transfer from Rhino Safari Camp

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House boats waiting for business to pick up, Kariba.

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Lake Kariba

 

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Our little camp at Chitake 3

Camp is small but perfectly formed and our days follow a comfortable rhythm of getting up early and heading off walking before the sun is up. We walk up to the Springs and sit and wait for action or we follow spoor and see where it leads us. Sometimes we sit on the river bed with baboons and impala, sometimes we sit on the cliff edge and look down at elephants walking along the sand, checking out the water holes dug by elephants during the night. We catch glimpses of the lions, once as we drive into camp and later at night. We spend a lovely evening at the Cathedral baobabs and noisy nights around the camp fire. Whilst it was a little early in the season for a full on carnival of predator action, it was a fully satisfying experience.

 

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An elephant water hole with the imprints of the front feet firmly planted.

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A cool place to rest after lunch.

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“It's a beautiful morning here in Chitake. The three of us are perched amongst the roots and trunks of the Natal mahogany on a small cliff above the springs. A gentle breeze is wafting down the side of the river bed occasionally gusting. Looking upstream there are large flocks of cape turtle doves, red doves, emerald spotted doves, and laughing doves coming in to drink. The Spring is flowing quite strongly, albeit in a narrow course through the slushy river bed that is filled with buffalo and elephant dung. The baobabs on the opposite hill have glowed pink with early light, now starting to regain their normal colour. We wait for any animals to turn up, chatting about all sorts of things, looking at bird apps as we figure out the varying species that we see. Cape parrots are very apparent with their colourful feathers. One buffalo herd has already visited the spring and we can see their spoor moving away up towards the hills. Lion spoor overlap the buffaloes and Doug surmises that they are off hunting.”

 

A number of times we sit and wait in Doug’s favourite shady spot by the springs for the appearance of the herds of buffalo. One time he gets extra clever, asking one of the camp staff to find a high spot to see if he can get sight of the herd as it approaches the river and to text us so that we don’t leave just as they are approaching. After several hours with no text and no activity, we get up to leave just as George appears. The buffalo are coming but we didn’t receive the text. Just in time as our sudden appearance would have spooked them. It was worth the wait, with several hundred animals turned up to drink, accompanied by their red billed oxpeckers. Quite a sight, especially when one or another would fix you with their eyes, trying to determine what exactly was lurking dangerously in the tree.

And then, in a cloud of dust, they were gone.

 

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“The night was filled with noise and hidden activity. The long line of shadowy elephants drifted past our spot around the campfire as they walked down the dry river bed. Soon afterwards the noise of lions fills the air and we walk onto the sand and see them by torchlight drinking from the stream.

The lion chorus becomes louder and nearer as they get wound up and then the elephants join in. We to to bed with tents vibrating as guttural sound competes with trumpets.

By morning the river bed is empty, only footprints and water hollows showing evidence of the night’s activities.

We head off following the fresh lion spoor, towards the heavier bush where yesterday we saw vultures circling. It’s a lovely cool morning for a walk and we steadily get nearer to where the action seemed to have been. We find hyaena spoor and the spot where Doug surmises that they lay on the ground waiting for the lions to finish with the kill. The bush becomes harder to see through and the lion spoor becomes harder to follow so we begin to head back. As we do we find evidence of a hyaena dragging something heavy and we follow that for a while unitl Doug finds some fresh bones, but only a few, along with a buffalo tail. Continuing on, we eventually find the discarded contents of a stomach and blood soaking into the ground where the hyaenas finished their prize that they had taken from the lions.

It’s been a fascinating walk of knowledge.”

 

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Some of the pottery we found on a walk

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Small things found on a walk

 

 

There really is nothing quite like sleeping in the bush in a small tent listening to the elephants walk down the river to drink. Hearing the lions and hyaenas making themselves known. Sensing animals around the canvas and seeing it move with the imprint of unknown tiny animals. Sleep comes slowly, or sometimes not at all, but somehow it doesn’t seem to matter so much.

 

 

 

“But [Pooh] couldn't sleep. The more he tried to sleep the more he couldn't. He tried counting Sheep, which is sometimes a good way of getting to sleep, and, as that was no good, he tried counting Heffalumps. And that was worse. Because every Heffalump that he counted was making straight for a pot of Pooh's honey, and eating it all. For some minutes he lay there miserably, but when the five hundred and eighty-seventh Heffalump was licking its jaws, and saying to itself, "Very good honey this, I don't know when I've tasted better," Pooh could bear it no longer.”

Winnie the Pooh

 

 

“Our last full day at Chitake and I’m sitting alone on the river bed in front of our little camp. The lunch water trade down on the corner has finished and even the birds are quiet. An occasional breeze gusts through and then the bird calls begin again. The ripening sausages in the tree in front of me sway gently about 20m above ground. The light is hazy and not particularly harsh, so different from on the Equater. On the opposite side under a small tree we saw a grysbok yesterday but I had the wrong lens on and it was gone before I knew it. Today it looks very empty even though I know that it rarely is.

The light on the baobab down on the corner is changing tone and I realise that the time has come to get ready for the afternoon’s walk.”

 

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Evening at the Cathedral Baobabs

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You snuck off to Zim on us and took Winnie the Pooh with you! So nice you went with Doug. Gorgeous photos to begin. Wonder what that bushbuck is thinking as it gazes over the dropoff. Love the leaping impala.

 

Your itinerary spends lots of time in exciting places.

 

@@Atravelynn no sneaking intended but it has been a very hectic year and I haven't been on forums as much as I used to be. It's always good to travel with a bear, even a virtual one. :D

 

@@twaffle ah so happy to see this trip report! Gorgeous photos - especially love those in post # 4 - is one of those a croc trying to bite the elephant's tusk? The hyena with vultures are incredible and the sunsets stunning!

 

@@SafariChick Thanks, I thought I should get the report done quickly (thanks for the earlier encouragement!) before I didn't get it done at all.

The elephant was eating weed on the edge of the Umi River when all of a sudden the croc leapt out at him. Poor ele had to leap backwards and rushed up the bank in a very undignified manner.

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You outdid even yourself with the illustrations! this time.. Superb, thoughtfull* stuff and I barely need Pooh and the rest - although since it is Pooh and twaffle I will now go back to the beginning to read every word.

 

Funny but I thought of you just a couple of days ago when I happened to catch a young Australian rider seemingly winning and then inexplicably blowing the team equestrian event on consecutive days while "event surfing" the Olympics - because he and his team were Australian and had beautiful horses - not because they blew it :P

 

........ and then here you are! Hello.

 

 

 

* As in derived from thought, not full of empathy for us readers.... just in case you wondered.

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@@pault well you always do make me chuckle! The Australian rider did a pretty good job, he wasn't a choker even if it may look that way. His horse was incredibly inexperienced and the fact that he was leading into the last phase was astonishing. Sad that he knocked 2 rails but with so much potential he most likely will go on to win some big events in the future, at least we hope so. But that's probably more information than you wanted!! :unsure::P

 

Pooh really does add wisdom to everyday happenings, hard to resist really.

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Oh, what a joy to read this Chitake installment, brings back so many memories. Love the scenery shots and the Oxpeckers especially. The wait for the Buffaloes - so sympathise, they don´t make it easy, do they? :)

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Leaving Chitake after 3 wonderful nights, we head down to the flood plains. Doug gives us a bit of a geography lesson about the terraces and how they formed and what each terrace contains. Along the drive we have our first proper encounter with zebras, having discounted the habituated ones found in Kariba. We also see dog tracks on the road and Doug thinks that they may be near one of the new dens.

 

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We stop at ‘Lots of Rhinos’ Pan, or ‘10 Rhinos Pan’ or some such name for lunch as we wind our way down to the floodplains. The sky is hazy but clear with a light breeze rustling through the fig tree. The pan has a green rather dirty looking puddle in front of us, a puddle that we hope will attract some activity as we get closer to midday. Currently the birds are busy catching insects, hammerkops are walking through the shallows catching an occasional meal but we can’t see what it is. A bird of prey swoops down on an unsuspecting bird and is off before we can see what it caught. At the far edge of the pond a water lilly on ridiculously long stems pokes above the surface. Butterflies are everywhere. Birds, such an array of birds that I can hardly take it all in. The scene is quite idyllic and one can only imagine what it would have been like in the days when rhino would wander out of the surrounding jesse for a drink.

 

Then the elephants come and we enjoy their antics yet again.

 

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Doug has instructed me very firmly on the differences between Zimbabwean zebra, bush buck, impala and a number of other species and East African versions making sure that I realise how superior the Zimbabwean ones are.

 

Who am I to argue with a man holding a rifle.

 

The zebras in particular were very beautiful, I have to admit.

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Oh, what a joy to read this Chitake installment, brings back so many memories. Love the scenery shots and the Oxpeckers especially. The wait for the Buffaloes - so sympathise, they don´t make it easy, do they? :)

 

 

I did begin to wonder if the buffaloes would be worth it, but in the end they certainly were. We often talked about your experiences there, with Doug showing us where the lioness came from and where the kill was made. It really brought your trip report to life and I'm going to go back and read it all over again.

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@@twaffle

 

Love the picture of the oxpeckers seemingly asleep on the buffalo at Chitake.

 

Beautiful zebra portrait.

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"A number of times we sit and wait in Doug’s favourite shady spot by the springs for the appearance of the herds of buffalo."

 

Lots of us know this spot!

 

The buffalo and espeically oxpeckers were more cooperative for you than some of the rest of us. Definitely worth the wait, the heat, the ants, the flying insects, the uncomfortable hard ground on your bum!

 

That baby zebra has to be very, very young. I didn't realize zebra snouts were so hairy.

 

I can just hear Doug "bragging" about the superiority of the Zim species.

 

Speaking of bragging, don't you hate when people burst into the middle of a report bragging about their own escapades. At the risk of being one of those, I saw the original Winnie the Pooh statue in Winnipeg (where Winnie got his name) last year.

Edited by Atravelynn
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