Mana Pools is a National Park in the Northern part of Zimbabwe, along the Zambezi river. It is not centrally located and certainly not easily accessible. When we are on our way to the park we almost get the impression that they try to prevent tourism instead of stimulating it. The reason for this is that the only road to get to Mana Pools is so heavily corrugated that our teeth were rattling and everything in our car was shaking. Also, the office where we had to pay our fees to the park was charging us 90 USD per person per day for entering the park, car fees and camping on the cheapest spot where the facilities must have worked once upon a time (like most places in Zimbabwe). It’s a surrealistic fortune and astronomically high for African standards.
Nonetheless, it doesn’t stop us for once. Mana Pools is one of the only national parks where they make the exception that next to driving around you are also allowed to walk around by yourself. Just before we enter the park we meet up with a young couple who are travelling Africa in a Landcruiser campervan and whose roads we have crossed before: Dave and Tashy. Dave grew up in Zimbabwe and lived there until he was 13. After that he moved to Australia, by himself, to attend school. Tashy grew up in the UK and moved to Australia 10 years ago. You can follow them on instagram @a.wild.life.
We discuss our routes and they provide us with the does and don’t in Mana Pools. As soon as we drive into the park we can feel we’ve reached a special place. It seldom happened to me that I am in a place where I feel there is total balance and peace. A place where you can feel that the animals, even though they are still wild, are also used to the presence of a handful of tourist wandering around. The balance does something to your soul and walking around in Mana gives you a sort of energy that is hard to put in writing. It almost seems like you’re walking around in a perfect world.
Never before have I seen a large male elephant of about 5 tons, walk past you and nibble on a branch of the tree you are currently sitting under. I can see him tear the branch off, keep it in place under his foot and with ease pull the leaves and bark off it with his trunk and into his mouth. He is completely aware of my presence as I am of his. Even though, it’s no threat. Human and animal are completely at ease with each other.
Later that day we are very lucky to see a group of six lionesses enjoying the shade under some low bushes.
Back at the campsite I meet a photographer who spent most of the past four years in the park. Nick is busy documenting the painted dogs. These dogs are wild dogs who live in small packs. The packs consist of an alpha male and female. The rest of the pack is submissive to these two dogs. Usually the alpha female is the only one getting pups and the rest of the pack helps with taking care of them. The dogs will hunt and eat before regurgitating this to the pups. Until they are old enough to hunt for themselves, the little ones grow up in the den and get trained by the rest.
Even though they are really effective hunters, the Painted Dog is threatened with extinction. The BBC just made a documentary about them which will be released in 2018.
The next day, Nick takes me along to look for the dogs and we decide to walk. Along the way we have to deviate from our course quite a bit to avoid buffalos and elephants with their young on our path. It’s late in the afternoon when we get back to the camp, all sweaty and tired from carrying the heavy camera equipment around.
It’s pitch black, after all the finally monkeys went a sleep we could could wash up and leave our camp without anything being knicked and taken up in the tree.
We do our household chores, store our food and rubbish in a safe place and join the world of the sleeping.
It’s very early in the morning when something wakes me up. I can hear it being very close to the tent. I turn around, get the big spotlight, open the mosquito netting and turn it on. Nothing… I have to hang myself down the ladder of the roof tent to get a better view. Very uncomfortable I see myself hanging up side down out of the roof tent. I scan the area around the tent. When I see two pairs of eyeballs lighting up as fire it is when I turn off the spotlight. I turn the light on its brightest setting and move it up and down, Brown, black, bigger than a dog, hairy, filthy, flat face.. Hyenas, and they seem to be busy with something very chewy close to the tent.
I turn back around and find the warm comfort of my sleeping bag. It doesn’t occur to me until a few minutes later that I must have left my fine leather Blundstone boots outside. It comes to me in flash, but this uneasy feeling of having to finish this trip without the comfort and safety of those boots gets me out of bed. I turn around again, and with an annoyed, fully awake Helga next to me now I lower myself down the ladder. On the ground, I start looking for my boots which are nowhere to be found. I start scanning the surroundings and barefoot I find the place where I saw the animals last.
The place looks like a true crime scene. Pieces of what were once very fine boots are scattered all over the place. Disappointed I find my way back to the tent. Helga, more worried about me than anything else asks: “and?” “They have only left me scraps” I tell her. “Scraps, scraps of what?” she replies “everything was stored away, right?”.
“My boots” I tell her annoyed, they came a long way but are now torn to pieces. I am annoyed because I know her answer will be “I told you to not leave your boots out”.
After 4 days in Mana Pools we feel weary, but full of new energy and beautiful experiences.