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Can only echo what Jo & .... have said already. This was indeed a safari that exceeded all my safari expectations (my very high expectations, I might add, since they were based on Linda's and .... recommendations...) Still in the process of lingering over and savoring the memories in my mind. Jo and .... have made great starts to their TRs already, so will enjoy the read and their fantastic photography along with the rest of ST, adding little bits and pieces here to this thread for yet another perspective.

 

Suffice it to say that a slice of Mana, with a large pinch of dogs and a dollop of Doug makes for a very excellent safari!

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You're funny, Nappa! Must confess, we started out a little shaky but peace and light descended on the group shortly thereafter :) And persisted all the way through to the end of the trip...On another note, Jenny and Carl told us all about your special leopard sighting at Rhino!

 

...., i'm sure most STers will agree with me when I say that we've put the year 2000 as the start of your safari life on ST! So how many do you owe us still :) Since Safaridude was/is in Tz, you won't have a proxy this time, so there's no escaping your fate.

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Welcome back, sangeeta ....... Glad you had a great trip. Look forward to hearing all about it...

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Sangeeta, look forward to comparing your reminiscences with .... and Jo's, just to make sure no one is exaggerating the sightings! :D

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Yes, this is unusual - potentially 4 reports on the same experience. But you should all write it without reading the others' contributions. That would be truly interesting.

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Indeed! :D

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What is heart warming is that I helped bring you all together in some small way :) Now, where are the pink pith photos?

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Thanks, guys.

 

On 8/21/2012 at 5:09 AM, pault said:

Yes, this is unusual - potentially 4 reports on the same experience. But you should all write it without reading the others' contributions. That would be truly interesting.

That could get truly tedious :D !

 

With Jo's & .... photo stash to prove everything we write, no need for a truth squad. But I do plan to take a leaf out of your book, Twaffle, and do little vignettes to complement Jo's report as she soldiers on.

 

More than heartwarming, GW... In fact, you also helped us meet the tallest dikdik to have ever walked the bush <_<

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Now that you have been to Chitake Springs, would you brave camping there on your own? No guide or park ranger. Just you and nature.

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I could try with the one I used for my avatar.... :D

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I was thinking something like Rashomon.... Not trying to catch someone out. ;-)

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Sangeeta- I am beyond exciting to about your amazing trip. We are leaving in 9 nine days and I hope you all did not tire out Doug to much.

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Looking forward to the photos and stories.

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Now that you have been to Chitake Springs, would you brave camping there on your own? No guide or park ranger. Just you and nature.

 

Good question, LB. Perhaps dikdik and the others will chime in on this as well, but speaking for myself, I don't think so. Not because I am averse to being just me and nature, but because I simply don't have the skills to spend quality time in the bush by myself. I don't think I would have walked that riverbed without Doug, or had the courage to sit a few feet away from eles in the moonlight, or even come anywhere close to experiencing half the things we did in the company of a qualified and knowledgeable guide. This goes for Mana as a whole, not just Chitake. No way we could have tracked dens and walked in that mopane without Doug's knowledge, confidence and skill. So for me, self-driving in Mana could be a very enjoyable camping exercise overall, but for quality wildlife sightings, I don't think it works for people who don't come already equipped with substantial bush skills.

 

A big thank you again for the full moon suggestion. Btw, met a couple who had taken the Kariba ferry. They were not particularly impressed. They said it was clean and punctual, but that the journey was long and boring.

 

 

lhg, I am so jealous! You still have Zim and Doug waiting at the other end. I think we pretty much exhausted him :P but he specifically said that he was really looking forward to meeting both of you. Have fun!

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Reflections...

 

The Genesis of "Dirty Doug"

 

I've been thinking about this. Why did this particular name stay in our minds? Had I written the TR instead of Jo, I think I would have used a very similar title. Aside from the purely alliterative pleasure we derived from the many names Doug was christened with on an almost daily basis ("Dauntless Doug", "Disappearing Dogs Doug", "D-5 Doug" etc.), I think there may be another explanation for the sticky nature of this name. And that was Doug's ability to draw us into our surroundings, paying little regard to the dirt, dust or debris that is so much a part of the natural world. In other words, he invited us to get down and dirty and really experience the bush from the vantage point of the wildlife that inhabits it. This was a brand new perspective for me and partially explains why I think this was such an exceptional safari.

 

On our very first walk to an overlook at the bend of the Chitake river, he casually asked us to slide a short way down the bank and make ourselves comfortable while waiting for the buffalo to come in. It wasn't exactly a 'clean' slide in the way most urbanites would define clean. It was somewhat muddy, a little sandy and definitely peppered with impala droppings, ants and an odd pebble or exposed root here or there. We happily slid down the bank.

 

Many of you have already seen Jo's video of us walking barefoot in the river the next day. That was after a longish walk in the jesse bush, trying to locate the honeymooning lion pair we had spotted earlier that morning. After deciding that we should not disturb the lions, Doug told us that we could take off our shoes and socks and walk back to the camp in the riverbed. I was thrilled at the idea but a little unsure about how to handle the ele dung and buffalo droppings that covered so much of our path. Looking surreptitiously at Doug, I saw he was paying absolutely no attention at all to any dung or dropping and was simply enjoying his walk, identifying birds as he went along. And so it was that I sloshed gladly into the river and squished back to camp, much richer for the experience.

 

He also had this habit of digging himself a little depression in the ground while waiting for animal action to unfold. I thought this was a terrific habit with a lot of pedigree. My dogs dig themselves little nests whenever they can, so when Doug was obliging enough to dig me one, I was delighted to ensconse myself in the dirt and try it out. It was sublimely comfortable. But more than that, it brought me a perspective I could never have gained from the vehicle, or even from being perched on a log or a tree stump or something higher.

 

Soon, it became perfectly acceptable to lie face down in the riverbed, dig ones toes into the sand under the dinner table and crabwalk on old dog droppings because that was the way, in fact the only way, that pointed to the wild dog den...

 

Dirty Doug had made three converts to his cause :D

 

And for those of you with a greater regard for sanitation, I suspect there is a Debonair Doug hiding somewhere behind that Dirty Doug. You would just need to tell him which you'd like to see.

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Sangeeta you manage to capture in your writing what I struggle to express in mine, the real feeling of being in the bush. I must confess I also had certain trepidations about walking barefoot through that spring, it does not help to be a regular viewer of "Monsters Inside Me." :wacko: But in for a penny and all that...

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Dirty Doug and His Mucky Pups! :P

 

Great little story Sangeeta.... the depression digging sounds like an excellent idea - but it all does.

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Sangeeta

I asked the question simply because I get asked about this all the time. I will camp on my own there because I am comfortable in that kind of environment. But I also have a good idea of my limitations, and risks. It is nice to have someone else explain that this is a place where an experienced guide or park ranger(preferably armed) would enhance the experience.

 

I am very happy it did not disappoint you. I have been trying to get people there (and the rest of Mana Pools) for at least 7 years.

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Beer. ;) Matt.

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Sangeeta you manage to capture in your writing what I struggle to express in mine, the real feeling of being in the bush. I must confess I also had certain trepidations about walking barefoot through that spring, it does not help to be a regular viewer of "Monsters Inside Me." :wacko: But in for a penny and all that...

You're doing a very fine job over on that other thread, Jo... so fine, I've quoted you in my next installment below :)

 

... the depression digging sounds like an excellent idea - but it all does.

Doesn't it, Paul? It is going to be so excruciatingly hard to sit sedately in a vehicle going forward. I can see myself minimizing trips to NPs that don't allow at least some form of walking in them, even if depression digging is not allowed!

 

LB, your Chikwenya suggestion was also an excellent one, even though we opted not to stay there this time. You've been a great ambassador for MP.

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A Moonlight Sonata at Chitake Springs

 

Even though we were a tad early for the really dry season, I was still expecting Chitake to be very good for predator action. According to previous reports here on ST, the lioness (who charged ....) and her 2 almost-grown boys were well-established in the area. Recent reports on other 4x4 forums described all kinds of lion activity hereabouts. And it seemed that the Chitake pack of wild dogs were usually obliging enough to make very frequent drinking appearances at the river. Aah, but we should have known better...Man proposes, Nature disposes... Shortly before we arrived, there was a major shakeup in lion world. Sophie (the lioness) and her boys were nowhere to be seen. Many lionesses from the Chitake pride had simply disappeared. There was clearly a tussle ongoing between two males (who called back and forth through the night each night we were there) and pride dynamics were shifting.

 

The upshot of all this was that other than the sighting of the honeymooning pair that Jo describes in her report, I don't recall seeing any non-avian, non-insect or non-reptilian predator at Chitake at all. The Chitake pack of dogs was on vacation and we caught nary a glimpse of wilddog's cheetah! All of which might have been a real disappointment had it not been for the Moonlight Sonata at Chitake Springs... well, perhaps not quite a sonata but a symphony...

 

It began on our first evening, just as we sat down at the table, with a leopard calling into the night. The candles were quickly extinguished, both for atmosphere as well as to remain focused on the sounds we were hearing. (See Jo's moonlight video). It started out as the short rasping bark we are accustomed to, but soon turned into a growl, getting louder and louder by the moment until it was caught at its highest note and joined by another long, wailing growl. "Leopards mating!" said Doug, "only the second time I have ever heard this."

 

I think you're right, dikdik. The canyon effect created by the steep embankments seems to capture and amplify sounds at Chitake.

 

The leopards were so loud that their growls saturated the night air; they were almost immediately challenged by a tremendous Aanhooh Aanhooh from a nearby lion, which was answered by a similar lion roar from the other side. These guys were moving in tandem, ever closer to the amorous leopards, roaring loudly as they made their way down towards the river. Since leopards, like most cats, mate multiple times in succession, the leopard pair carried on, but much more discreetly now. The cellos to the loud bassoons. Joined later in the night by loudly trumpeting elephants, hooting owls, barking baboons and whooping hyenas. No doubt we were treated to the crescendo before the first movement, but what a crescendo that was, and what an amphitheater!

 

The gentler first movement of the symphony came the next night under a blood moon. Once again, the candles were extinguished. Overhanging branches shielded us from the elephant's vision, as we stood and squatted in the sand, peering into the silvery moonlit night at ghostly silhouettes digging the riverbed just beyond our reach. Can't say it better than Jo when she says: Then, the excitement continued as a breeding herd of elephants came down to drink, right in front of where we were stood, literally only three metres away! We watched in awe, just making out enough of their silhouettes as the shimmering moonlight reflected off the water. We listened to the sloshing, huffing and puffing as they paddled and drank in the shallow water. We could hear and feel their rumbling contact calls which seemed to reverberate throughout our bodies. Like softly thrumming guitars as they padded silently in and out of the riverbed.

 

Some places are so special that you don't really need to see the animals for the pulse to quicken and the skin to tingle. Chitake is one of those places.

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The italicized paragraphs below are from Dick Pitman's book 'A Wild Life - Adventures of an Accidental Conservationist in Africa', Pages 24 and 25. Dick Pitman is the founder of the Zambezi Society and I recommend this book highly, especially post-Mana, because his words will take you right back to the bush:

 

'At Mana, the Zambezi has slowly shifted northward, creating a mile-wide floodplain of fertile silt. Here and there, groves of immense mahoganies mark the remains of ancient islands...The wide spaces between these channels and islands are scattered with apple-ring acacias, growing in ones and twos and occasional clusters, their light grey traceries and delicately fronded foliage contrasting with the dark green, heavy canopies of the mahoganies...'

 

'Over there,' Dolf said, 'Eland. And there. And there.' He pointed. The shafts of sun, the dark bars of the acacia tree trunks and the deep shade between created a riotously dappled background that confused my eyes at first; then slowly came into focus. The eland - great antelopes, the size of domestic cows - materialized out of the landscape: grey bulls, golden females, wandering slowly between the acacias.'

 

'We walked on. The trees slowly thinned and the view slowly filled with animals. There was an elephant family in the far distance, with tiny calves at foot, throwing up dust that glowed red in the sun; more zebra; kudu, reaching up to browse on the mahoganies; a troop of baboons squabbling in the dust over a scrap of food. And impala - impala everywhere, in tens and hundreds, great golden explosions of impala, snorting with alarm as we approached.'

 

I am no botanist and before this trip, was only mildly interested in the vegetation of the parks I had visited. If I thought of Africa's trees at all, I thought about the iconic acacias, the majestic baobabs, sausage trees, ebony carvings etc. But walking though Mana's enchanted woodlands has changed all that forever. Walk in Mana and you will see buffalo gatherings under broad canopies of cathedral mopane; you will see eland and kudu carefully carving perfect topiaries into the bottom halves of the mahogany and fig trees while elephants trim their top halves, you will see shafts of pure sunlight here, dappled shadows there, it's really quite, quite extraordinary...

 

The dead trees that line the shores of Lake Kariba at Matusadona have a stark beauty of their own and have now become a quintessential part of the Matusadona experience. But when I understood that these grey trunks were the only remnants of the millions of cathedral mopanes, acacias, tamarinds, leadwoods, terminalias etc. that had once graced the valley (before the dam was filled), a sadness washed over me. We really need to protect the remaining tree-clad hills and valleys of the mid-Zambezi.

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Beautifully said. :D

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  • 3 weeks later...

What makes a Zim Pro Guide so Special?

 

It's been so interesting to see all the reports come in from Zim this past year. Even more interesting to see how even those STers who have 15-20 safaris under their belt have tended to characterize their Zim exprience as one of their 'best' safaris ever. I am still a single-digit safarista myself, so cannot claim the extensive safari experience of many on this forum, but I am beginning to conclude that although Zim parks are beautiful and its wildlife prolific, the superlatives must first go to the guides...

 

Recently, wilddog was the first amongst us to post detailed TRs from Zim. Obviously, she thought very highly of Doug because she used him on more than 1 occasion. Then came former member, with his description of Craig's intuitive guiding. This was followed up by yeahyeah's experiences with Clyde - another stellar guiding experience. As is evident from Jo's TR, we found Doug's guiding to be tremendous. Big kudos also to Peter Tetlow's guiding in Matusadona. Kavita has said that she would have trusted her life with Stretch. Now JohnR tells us that Mark (from Vundu?) was his best guide ever. Many of you have said great things about Benson Siyawareva, another Zim pro... the list goes on. Steve Pope come to mind. And John Stevens. You see where I am going - there is a pattern here :)

 

I hope Doug or another Zim guide will read this and come on here to describe the Zim pro guiding process to STers in some detail. But I can tell you that it took him the better part of 30 minutes to even verbally list all the various steps that are involved in obtaining this coveted license. There is a good reason why these guides are held in such high esteem by their peers throughout Africa.

 

 

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Doug checking out the Mana escarpment from the now defunct Chitake campsite

 

 

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The famous Acacia, oh no, Vacalia Albida trees of Mana

 

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Some tasty albida pods

 

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A dextrous trunk

 

 

My most interesting take away was the 'mentoring' system Doug described for us. Under the Zim system, fledgling/trainee guides are required to have mentors who actually guide them, teach them and help them navigate the multi-year licensing process. Apparently, they write their final exams not according to any set schedule/timing/course, but only when their mentor thinks they are ready for it.

 

To my mind, it is this apprenticeship process that makes the Zim system stand out. It makes the acquisition of a license not just a simple business proposition, but more of a 'passing down of knowledge and skills' from one generation to another. When a senor guide takes a young hopeful under his/her wing, there is a personal connection and a personal knowledge about the wildlife and wilderness that gets passed down. Almost like an ele matriarch passing on her knowledge of water sources/routes from one generation to another :D

 

This sort of experience also creates a collegiality among the guides that is palpable. For instance, there really was no reason for Nick (Murray) to go out of his way to come to Little Vundu and give us a little presentation on his wild dog research project, except that Doug knew we were interested and had requested him to do so.

 

We met two young trainees in Mana - a young man at Chikwenya and a young lady at Vundu. I noticed that both visibly 'looked up' to their 'elders'. It was nice to see both sexes represented in the Zim pro guide pipeline, and nicer still to see that the mentorship process is still going strong. So much knowledge and so many skills are accumulated in the 'senior ranks' year after year - it is wonderful that the 'elders' agree to pass these skills along, and that the 'youngsters' recognize the value of this hard-earned knowledge.

 

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At the Chikwenya den site

 

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"Some raspberry flavored biscuits, anyone?" - after a quick nap at the den site...

 

 

I have not seen Zambian guides in action, but they sound like they are closest to the Zim model - would love to hear from Zam experts about Zam guiding and the traditions of that country. Would also be great to hear about guide training etc. from our own TzBirder since he does this sort of thing in Tanzania, and of course anyone else who can offer insights into the safari guiding philosophy of other countries.

 

Some random factoids:

 

1) Did you know that many young Zimbabweans learn driving in their national parks? I did not quite believe Doug when he told us this, and shortly thereafter, a 10 year old drove sedately by... :D

 

2) Did you know that baby rhinos mew like kittens?

 

Riddle of the Day:

 

How do you distinguish South Africans from Zimbabweans in Mana? (First right of response goes to dikdik :P)

 

Some photos to illustrate the quality of Mana sightings... no comparison to the photos taken by the other two ladies, but I hope they can at least serve to illustrate the possibilities of Mana to those of you contemplating a trip there.

 

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Eles and dogs...

 

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Eland and dogs!

 

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Impala ram and dogs...

 

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More eles, eland and dogs...

 

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Eles, eland, baboon and dogs...

 

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Nyala bull (and dogs, though missing from the shot, I promise they were there!)

Edited by Tdgraves
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