Mabalauta

Spot the beast 28

I am pretty sure that you did not spot the “beast” in one or two pictures I inserted in the impala lilies slide show that was part of the post Gonarezhou three years later. Southern area that I published on 3 September 2017.

The find took place at the Park reception in Mabalauta and I am giving you a second opportunity to discover the beast below:

DSCN0255 mant copy

DSCN0248 copy

?

?

?

?

?

?

?

?

?

DSCN0260 copyDSCN0237 mant copy 2DSCN0252DSCN0239 copy

A rather large praying mantis -head down- was patiently waiting for its lunch. It was spotted -as usual- by my wife that pointed it to me. After searching for it for about five minutes I gave up as I was unable to see it as it was immobile and blended well with the lily’s branches!

Advertisements

Gonarezhou three years later. Southern area

After our accidented Chipinda Pools stay, we got to Mabalauta in mid afternoon. By that time we were already famous, expected and treated like VIPs (or silly old folk?)!

A booking was indeed ready for us at the reception but, on arrival to the Swimuwini camp itself we noted that our favourite bungalow was available. Negotiations follow as it was more expensive and finally, through an additional payment, we secured it.

Not only the bungalow was comfortable but it was beautiful. It had a great view of the vast expanse of the Mwenezi River below and it also had its own “resident” baobab next to its entrance.

DSCN0151 copy

Our bungalow by the river and the views from it, below.

It even had the added and valuable bonus of a bush cellular phone signal! We have learnt that cellphone signals are often found at weird places such as under the third marula tree facing the river or by placing your phone inside a cut out shampoo container hanging on the pole holding the entrance gate of a camp! In this case, the signal was obtained in the center of the backrest of the middle veranda armchair and, capriciously, nowhere else! So we were connected.

Fungisai, the camp attendant we knew from the last time, was still there as helpful as usual. This time she sported a bigger smile and she was very happy with the new park management as they were getting things done fast and their salaries were now being paid in time. There was a busy atmosphere around camp with the garden being refurbished and the various bungalows re-built. A look at the ablution block’s brass fittings’ condition further testified to the staff willingness to get on with the work!

DSCN0196 copy

Taking good care of the brass fittings!

This time we had electricity and hot water at the ablutions block provided by a donkey boiler (also known as a Tanganyika boiler in East Africa) that worked great but that will soon be replaced by solar heaters. After enjoying its abundant hot water, we agreed with my wife that there are no better showers than these albeit their environmental friendship can be argued!

DSCN0198 copy

The donkey full blast.

Swimuwini (Place of baobabs) is one of the nicest national park camps we have ever stayed. It is not only small and beautiful but not many people stay there. For the first two nights we were alone and only then one more family arrived the third night. I believe that this will soon change when the on-going refurbishing work gets completed.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We spent some time exploring the camp admiring its plant and animal life. There are four bungalows that come with their own baobabs and a super tree is located at the staff village. In addition, the camp is splashed with impala lilies (desert roses in East Africa) that come in all shapes and sizes and are incredibly beautiful.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Another special of Swimuwini is the herd of Nyala (Tragelaphus angasii) that daily walks through the camp grazing and browsing on their way to and from the Mwenezi river. We remembered a rather large male from our previous visit but now, apart from it, there are at least two more young males and about ten females and young. They are tolerant of humans so we could approach them on foot and take a few pictures before they disappeared in the thicket behind the camp.

We drove many km carefully looking for game (we all know that my wife can spot anything that is there!). Impala were plentiful again but no Greater kudus were seen. A herd of about a dozen giraffe kept a prudent distance and they were seen mainly drinking in the distance down at the Mwenezi river (see above). This time we only heard jackals but did not see them but spotted three young hyenas walking around camp.

We saw a few elephant bottoms crushing through the brush and, eventually, caught a glimpse of two at the Nyamugwe pan. The sighting lasted for a minute perhaps and they were off! Clearly, despite the new management, it will still take time for the elephants to tolerate humans as it is clearly spelled at the sign that is found in Wright’s tower down the Mwenezi river, close to Malipati.

 

DSCN0225 wright tower Gon Aug 17 copyThe camp offered further entertainment in the evening as the baobab crumples were the home of bats that would come out and hunt for insects under our veranda light.

DSCN0405 copy

The first night the camera trap -a great new addition to our safari gear- pictured a genet looking for left overs around our bungalow. In the camera we saw that it had started visiting our place between 19:30 and 20:00 hours so we decided to wait for it during the second night. We were immediately rewarded with several visits and a few (bad) pictures!

STC_0045 copy

Albeit small, the Mabalauta section of Gonarezhou offers a nice drive along the river where a few river pools can be visited. Rossi pools offer a great view of the river where patience is rewarded with the arrival of different animals to the water. While you wait you will find entertainment counting the crocodiles either swimming or basking under the sun and, when the wind stops and the ripples settle, tilapia shoals can be easily seen moving about in the shallows while tiger fish patrol the deeper green pools in search of prey and the occasional terrapin surfaces to take a lungful.

DSCN0344 copy.jpg

Rossi pools.

A couple of kilometres further down the river the rather ugly Wright’s tower offers another nice view of the river. Searching for the origins of the tower I learnt that Allan Wright was a District Commissioner that was largely responsible for the establishment of the Gonarezhou National Park in 1975 so he probably built the tower [1].

DSCN0235 copy

It was also in this general area that S.C. ‘Bvekenya’ Barnard, the notorious hunter and poacher roamed during the early 1900’s avoiding the police by moving to different countries around Crook’s corner the point where the borders of Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe converge. Bvekenya’s errands have been immortalized by T.V. Bulpin in his book “The Ivory Trail”.

But that is a different story.

 

[1] Allan Wright described his time in Nuanetsi District in his books Valley of the Ironwoods. A Personal Record of Ten Years Served as District Commissioner in Rhodesia Largest Administrative Area, Nuanetsi, in the South-Eastern Lowveld (1972) and Grey Ghosts at Buffalo Bend (1976) both now out of print.

 

 

The desert roses at Swimuwini Rest Camp were spectacular.

The desert roses at Swimuwini Rest Camp were spectacular.

From Gonarezhou to South Africa

29/7/14 – After another good night’s sleep we were up and ready to go by 08:30 hours. We set off towards Rutenga and the dreaded Beitbridge, the infamous border crossing. We said farewell to our nice and helpful camp attendant Fungisai Shava and co-workers. The weather was chilly and there was a tenuous drizzle.

At some distance from the camp we started coming across elephant paths and fresh spoor and, while speculating about the reasons, we came across a small road leading to a pan with lots of water. I believe it to be Nyamugwe but it requires confirmation. Despite its water abundance and plentiful traces of elephants, it was completely devoid of mammals. Clearly the trend in the area is for most animals to move at night. It was then back to the main road without another stop as time was passing

Copious elephant spoor took us to this pan that was empty.

Copious elephant spoor took us to this pan that was empty.

This rubbing tree trunk confirmed that elephants visited the pan, probably at night.

This rubbing tree trunk confirmed that elephants visited the pan, probably at night.

Before leaving Harare my wife learnt through the Bambazoke Nhasi web newsletter that the Tourism Authority of the Zimbabwe Government offered a free service to assist you at the border crossing as this can, sometimes, take several hours. I am not a good queue person and the ones at border posts are not my scene as I get upset and do not enjoy them at all. This time, however, we had already pre-booked the Tourism Authority assistance and made an appointment for 14:00 hs at the border. We had names and cell phone numbers so with this helpful “shield” the border crossing was out of my mind!

We drove back to Rutenga through the dirt road where, again traffic was absent although this time we met 100 per cent more traffic than before: one pickup, loaded with cotton. We did hit a number of rather large potholes but reached the asphalt unscathed, only dusty.

Leaving Mabalauta the railroad is crossed prior to reaching the main road.

Leaving Mabalauta the railroad is crossed prior to reaching the main road.

The first road junction leaving Mabalauta.

The first road junction leaving Mabalauta. Rutenga (via Boli) to the left and Mozambique to the right.

As agreed, about 40 kilometres from Beitbridge, I called Tourism and I was told that there was a person already at the border and, after contacting him we agreed to talk later at the border itself. Not what I expected for a supposedly “excellent service” I thought but kept the reflection to myself as we continued. About one hour later, already in Beitbridge, as agreed, we phoned again only to be told that the person was busy with other clients and he could not be with us! All of a sudden the “border terror” assaulted me big-time on hearing the bad news and I did not want to cross. Luckily my wife persuaded me to attempt it while I was thinking of plan B, a deviation through Botswana!!!

Gathering my wits as well as I could I entered the buildings and was welcomed by no queues! “We are in the wrong place” I said, and went to ask at a window but, relief of all reliefs, we were at the right spot and, five minutes later, yes five minutes later, we were through immigration, customs, police and free to go! The same happened on the South African side: 10 minutes (because of the use of a more advanced computer system!) and off we went. No need to search for psychiatric backup but only to drive on! So easy was it that I kept waiting for something to go wrong for a few kilometers after the border but nothing did…

As we crossed so fast we now had extra time on our hands and decided to push on to Louis Trichardt as we find Musina -like most border towns- rather unattractive and even unsafe. So we happily drove on and got to Louis Trichardt by mid-afternoon, with sufficient time for some shopping for our sojourn to Kruger National Park and hoping to find a nice place to stay. As we did not know the town, I decided to ask a customer in the supermarket for a hotel and she sent us to one nearby that was clean and quiet, she said.

It was a small pub with four rooms that looked OK but that really was not. The place was being refurbished so parking space was severely reduced and the hot water was very limited and finished before both of us could have our showers. Food came in small portions, particularly my wife’s quarter chicken that was as she defined “quarter pigeon”! In addition, the floor of the dining room shook and squeaked very badly when patrons and waiters walked by and making knife and fork use a real hazard. The waitress also squeaked not to be left out! That they served us the best mashed sweet potato that we ever tasted, I am afraid, was not sufficient to offset all other inconveniences.

I was sure that such an easy border crossing could not end well! Next time I will contact Psychiatrics Anonymous to prepare me for both: bad borders and poor quality hotels!

Gonarezhou National Park Safari Diary. Day 3

The 28th started cloudy again by the time we were up, about 08:00 hs. Footprints interrupted our exit from Swimuwini again. This time there were African Wild Dogs’ footprints. They were inside the grounds of our rest camp, just before the gate! Although we strained our eyes in all directions, we did not see them and moved on. We have often seen these animals in the proximity of humans. In fact, the first pack we ever saw was resting at the football field in Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe.

Today our goal was the Samalema gorge. We traveled in the opposite direction of yesterday, i.e. up river (see Map page for directions). On the way we stopped at Makwakwani picnic site where more open rock pools could be seen. Further towards the gorge we saw the reasons for the lack of electricity and the earlier Chef’s disappointment.

The cut wires.

The cut wires.

We were told by Fungisai, our lady camp attendant, that Samalema gorge was the place where people born with defects would be thrown to their deaths a long time ago. I will try to check this but I must add that it lent an element of drama to our visit and the expectation of a dramatic canyon in my mind.

The first view of Samalema gorge.

The first view of Samalema gorge.

On arrival the place looked like a rocky field with very little water and a total absence of the expected high cliffs from which people could be thrown to certain death to the river below! It felt like an anti-climax. A trunk ladder was placed to bridge the height from the viewing platform to river level so we decided to investigate. As the ladder looked rather rickety, we opted for the wiser, if a bit longer, bush detour that took us there over stony but firm ground

The gorge started to open up as we walked on.

The gorge started to open up as we walked on.

The rocks were predominantly brown and very smooth and, as we approached the river, water-carved formations started to appear that complicated our walk and soon began to be quite hard as we needed to negotiate bolder after bolder. I was relieved when my wife went in front as I still had present in my mind the information about people been thrown into the gorge for being born with deformities and I was wondering if being a snob was one of the criteria to get the “definitive” push! My fears were far from allayed when it started to drizzle, transforming the rocks into soap!

The gorge starting appearing as we walked on.

The beginning of the gorge.

Another view of the gorge.

Another view.

We continued walking and discovered that the river had excavated its way among the rocks and carved the most beautiful arabesques imaginable. There were perfectly rounded pools, bridges, pyramids and sculptures of all kinds, the types that only water can help nature to create. The crystal clear water ran through and formed a number of waterfalls and rapids that added to the overall beauty, contrasting with its sacrificial history!

Some of the rock formations.

Some of the rock formations.

Nature's rock art.

Nature’s rock art.

We did not see many animals there though. A couple of Egyptian geese, Cinnamon-breasted rock buntings, African pied wagtails and Water dikkops were the only visible inhabitants of the rocks. We did not see much fish activity either but saw a terrapin in the distance down river and another very close and very dead.

By the time we got back to the starting point a couple of hours later, we were knackered and needed to rehydrate and have a deserved cup of coffee before going back to the rest camp for a light lunch and a siesta. While walking towards the car we found some animal dung that we could not identify and that I present to you to see if anyone is able to tell me the “creator”.

Unknown spoor at Samalema gorge. The shoe is there for sizing.

Unknown spoor at Samalema gorge. The shoe is there for sizing.

It was on the way back that we came “face to face” with a tusker by the side of the road. None of us expected each other so, before I managed to completely stop the car, the elephant was already crashing into the bush, tail up. It ran for about 50 metres and then it stopped as suddenly as it had started. I was pleased that it decided to run in the opposite direction from us! It remained completely still for about 20 minutes, showing us only its rather wrinkled rear end. Suddenly, the posterior defecated and it slowly moved off. That was it, our only elephant (bottom) sighting, which although a good thing, left us wanting.

The afternoon drive down river was a re-visit to the jackals and we had the magnificent views of two giraffes coming to clench their thirst in the water pools of the sandy riverbed. When it comes to drinking, nothing beats the giraffes in wariness as -neck down- they are very vulnerable. After a long while they finally get to the drinking position after moves worth of a a contortionist!

Giraffes coming to the river bed for a drink.

Giraffes coming to the river bed for a drink.

A bunch of vultures were perched on a dead tree in the middle of the sandy river. They took off after a while and so did we as cooking on the fire waited for us and this takes longer than normal. Although the showers were there for the taking, we declared ourselves clean and, this time bat-free, we fell asleep early and soundly.

The vultures took off when they saw us stop the car.

The vultures took off after a while.