A Travellerspoint blog

Can’t believe how close we are to that Rhino!

Trekking in search of white Rhino, Motobas National Park, Zimbabwe

sunny 33 °C

The sign on the Park gate said: “stay in the jeep at all times”, “firearms forbidden”, “exit by 6pm”, “no open top jeeps” and “always stick to the tracks”. We broke all the rules and wow! what a great day. Trekking in the Matobas National Park in search of white Rhino was an opportunity not to be missed; the chance to leave the jeep behind and head into the forest on foot just too good to pass by. Our guide for the day: Andy was as rugged as they come – a white Zimbabwean, born to be a park guide, hugely knowledgeable, passionate and not afraid to use his rifle if need be. Just the sort of man you want with you on foot in the bush when actively looking for a huge stampeding horned wild animal. Andy’s an interesting, genuine guy; tourism providing him the perfect opportunity to spend every day in his beloved bush. He would often stop the jeep, leap out and either scoop up an insect/bug/small animla for close inspection (like a cameillien) or point out some feature of the bush none of us had ever considered before (like being able to tell which way a giraffe walks, how long ago and how old her baby is by the height of the branches they were munching). He entertained us with snake stories, camping disaster stories, and stories about his Zimbabwe. There is quite literally nothing he doesn’t know about life in the bush and we learnt more from him in a day than we ever thought possible.

The day wasn’t about “just another game drive” though – this was a trekking expedition, inside the National Park, in search of the rhino. Our Rhino sightings to date had been pretty disappointing: two horns through the bushes in the Mara, another two off in the distance in the Serengeti; each time photos way out of range. We got close to the Rhino at Mubayo camp over New Year’s but those Rhino are tagged or clipped so not the true wild animal we would have liked to experience. Andy stopped the jeep for our first little walk about and laid down the rules of the bush: single file, no talking, follow his hand signals and in the unlikely event that he ends up shooting something we back him up and support his side of the story absolutely. Right off we go then. There’s something really exciting about not knowing what’s going to happen; if you’ll suddenly spot a zebra around the next rock or if a rhino decides to charge and you’re literally hundreds of meters away from the safety of the jeep and the track. Part danger, part excitement, part trepidation. I love it!.

On that first foray into the bush we didn’t spot any rhino; only some deer, dung beetle and birds. Back to the jeep for some much needed liquid refreshment – and to try a different location further into the park. Mike spotted the first rhino, later that morning. Slightly contrary to our enforced stealth silent mode, he couldn’t help but shout out “rhino” in his excitement. Andy stopped the jeep, we all jumped out and in single file proceeded to get as close as possible to that rhino. And just how close would that be? – well there’s no zoom on those photos so that should give you a pretty good indication: about 5 meters away from the biggest male rhino I’ve ever seen. He didn’t seem at all bothered by our presence, continuing to munch grass the entire time with his head down despite the fact that we were all trying to get the classic horn in the air photo. We stayed with the rhino for about 30 minutes, getting progressively closer all the time. Individual photos were taken from all angles and all manner of facts learnt about the animal and its environment. Every single person in the group must have said the words “I can’t believe how close we are to that rhino” at least half a dozen times. Despite Matobos Park having a healthy population of Rhino – that male would be the first and only rhino sighting.

Also on the day’s agenda were cave paintings: estimated date of drawing the middle to late Stone Age which makes them the oldest of all Zimbabwe’s archaeological discoveries. On the way down from the caves we tried to take some ‘jumping’ photos as the view of the rocky landscape was just awesome, although the photo doesn’t do it justice. It was good to have some ‘culture’ on the programme, as just the previous day the group decided to veto a trip to the Zimbabwean ruins to avoid two long driving days.

Andy didn’t need much encouragement to delay getting us back to our campsite, preferring to stay in the park for as long as possible. He certainly did his best to find us a leopard late that afternoon but unfortunately to no avail. Mike and I were again congratulating ourselves on doing the Mara add on at the start of our overland trip as this has been the only place they have been seen (so far) in Africa. As the light began to fade behind the rocks, we were enjoying hot tea with ginger biscuits out the back of the jeep while Andy regaled us with stories from his boyhood: about sneaking out of boarding school to go bush camping and getting caned when caught by the head master.

To follow: Victoria Falls – white water rafting and jumping off cliffs.

Keely

Rhino bones

Rhino bones

Good skills with a brush

Good skills with a brush

I can see my house from up here

I can see my house from up here

I can't beleive how close we are to the Rhino

I can't beleive how close we are to the Rhino

Hope he doesn't charge us

Hope he doesn't charge us

Mike and I with the Rhino

Mike and I with the Rhino

Do NOT walk in the National Park

Do NOT walk in the National Park

Don't make any sudden movements

Don't make any sudden movements

Posted by Mike.Keely 08:44 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged animals trekking rocks safari jeep Comments (1)

Lions, lions and more lions!

Antelope Park, Zimbabwe: Good idea or bad idea?????

sunny 31 °C

Antelope Park is hard to describe. Part private game reserve, part commercial enterprise, part conservation giant? Two people set out, in 1999 to create and maintain a programme that would eventually see lions re-introduced into the wild; a feat that has never been successful in the past. Remember Christian or Elsa? Lion numbers in Africa are definitely on the decline – in the 70’s a staggering 250,000 lions were reported. Nowadays the figure sits at a mere 25,000. Countries such as Ghana or Swaziland now have none. Poaching, trophy hunting, feline HIV, habitat destruction and inbreeding have all affected the lion one way or another. But is there a solution? Is extinction inevitable? What will happen to the African lion if we do nothing now?

Antelope Park think they are on to a winner! It is a hugely ambitious 4 stage project staffed with passionate people; local and volunteer alike. The point is “the release of wild born off-spring from rehabilitated captive bred lions”, a process that takes approximately 12 years, and for each pride costs a staggering amount of money. To date they are ‘stuck’ at the second stage: 1 self-sufficient pride with one male, 7 females and 4 cubs born this year, the cubs being semi wild as they have not been hand reared or touched by humans in any way. Stage 2 is characterised by relatively small enclosures, a steady and never-ending delivery of zebra and gazelle through the back door and no other competition for it. All the stage 2 lions have to do is kill their own food and survive. Stage 3 would be surviving and breeding in a much larger environment but still under very controlled conditions (i.e. the number of prey going in, and the number of say hyenas for competition). Stage 4 would be surviving and breeding in a normal wild environment/National park with no controlled conditions whatsoever. The park is ‘stuck’ because, being a private venture, they don’t have the ‘staggering amount of money’ needed to create the various stage 2 and 3 areas. There is land available in neighbouring Zambia for example but getting the lions there is fraught with red tape.

This is where the commercial enterprise part comes in. On offer are all sorts of animal related activities ranging from the sedate (horse and cart rides, or elephant training) to the adventurous (lion feeding or lion night encounters). All cost various amounts of money, and there are of course package deals to entice even the most budget conscious traveller. We had 3 nights at the park so for the lion lovers that we are plenty of time for plenty of activities. And as we’re doing it all for “conservation purposes” it was remarkably easy to justify doing the “King Lion Package – 10% discount on all lion activities”! Only catch is you have to do every single lion activity. Lol.

Over the three days we both did a lion walk with two 12 month old lionesses, a tour of the breeding programme and the lion’s sick with feline HIV, cub feeding, lion feeding and a night encounter which is essentially a game drive by moonlight and a sweeping infra-red spotlight. We hoped to see the lions headed for stage 2 make a kill that night (they had been unsuccessful on the previous 3 nights hunting so our chances were fair). Unfortunately out of the 3 lioness and 1 lion that we followed only one had any real hunting and stalking ability, as a team they were rubbish. At one point the young male went charging in making the impala scatter in all directions; someone needs to teach him to let the lionesses do the real work. We think it will be a while before that group actually kill anything for themselves; the park feed them every 4-5 days anyway so they don’t starve. It was however really interesting to see how the lions were learning to hunt and work together in a pride like environment.

A real highlight for me was accompanying the research worker, Yvonne into the stage 2 area. Yvonne started out as a volunteer but was soon asked to stay and take over all the research work. Three times a day she enters the stage 2 area, each session lasting two hours, and records all manner of information: GPS locations of all the cats, whose sitting/lying/interacting with who, have they made a kill, any injuries, how their coats are looking and anything else that seems even remotely interesting. I had the briefest glimpse of a cub dashing from one clump of grass to another but despite staying in that area for the remainder of the 2 hour session and going in for another session we weren’t to see those cubs again. These particular cats are waiting for a stage 3 area to become operational – hopefully very soon.

Of all the activities we did, the lion feeding was without doubt the best and most thrilling. 5 fresh cow carcases were carefully positioned before a thin wire mesh fence – literally 1 meter from our viewing place. It was several minutes before they let the lions out so we had plenty of time to appreciate what was before us; the smell of rotting meat and flies will stay with me for a while. All was forgotten the second the cage door was released. 5 male lions charging towards you is an awesome sight, and the sound of them ripping the meat apart and growling was just remarkable.

From the hundreds, no strike that thousands of photos we took I have selected a handful for the blog. I also copied some from Gilly’s camera (Aussie, 40, teacher) who I’m sure you will agree should be a professional photographer. Simply stunning.

I left the park wishing them well, and sincerely hoping they get the funds/land/permission etc. they need quickly to make some real progress and maybe one day fulfil their vision (however ambitious and in the distance it may seem now). I wasn’t to know it then, but just two days later we would meet a guide from Matobas National Park (just down the road) whose opinion of Antelope park is definitely less than favourable; that it will never be possible to re-introduce lions back into the wild and that in certain places in Africa, where the lion is being left alone, numbers are increasing naturally. His arguments were all sound, realistic and intelligent and I was left wondering if indeed Antelope Park (although their heart is definitely in the right place) can or will ever be successful. Two things I do know are that I had an absolute blast at the park, and I don’t want to live in a world where there are no lions. They are magnificent beautiful creatures, the heart of Africa and everybody’s favourite. To see a lion, part of the big 5 on safari in Africa anywhere is the stuff of dreams. I know myself that the lion sightings I saw in the Mara and Serengeti will stay with me forever. If I can do something, anything, however small, to ensure their survival here then my support (and cash) will be readily given. I’ll let you decide for yourselves how best to contribute?

Lion walk, Me with 12 month old lioness

Lion walk, Me with 12 month old lioness

Lion walk, Mike and I

Lion walk, Mike and I

Yum! Dinner.

Yum! Dinner.

Thirsty work

Thirsty work

Great friends

Great friends

They really are great friends

They really are great friends

King of stage 2, Mojo

King of stage 2, Mojo

I'm tired, after all this posing for photographs

I'm tired, after all this posing for photographs

Cow for dinner tonight

Cow for dinner tonight

Can't take the credit for this photo, thanks Gilly

Can't take the credit for this photo, thanks Gilly

Can't take the credit for this one either, thanks again Gilly

Can't take the credit for this one either, thanks again Gilly

Posted by Mike.Keely 00:58 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged animals Comments (2)

Zimbabwe here we come!

Farewell Malawi, Bush camping in Mozambique and happy 2012!

rain 24 °C

Our last day in Malawi was spent snorkelling: which was cool as the lake is fresh water and all our other snorkelling has been over coral. The rocky island just off shore provided the perfect environment for an hour or two of snorkelling, a bit of jumping off rocks (well just the once for me), and a futile search for otters. The hope of seeing an otter had me scampering all over the island, over slimy florescent green rocks in wetsuit boot/sock things mainly so that I could report back to my future brother in law – who is otter mad. But sadly no otters for us that day. In the evening we attempted to play football with the local (semi-professional) team but it was the little kids who provided the best entertainment, and captured our hearts. Most simply wanted to hold hands, the girls being more popular for this, or be swung into the air over and over again by the boys. The final score: 7-3 was largely thanks to Mike aka Little Pea, who scored the first two goals and was without doubt the best player on our (only slightly hangover) team.

1 Mike with local Malawian boy

1 Mike with local Malawian boy

Our next objective was to get to Zimbabwe. Sounds easy enough but think again. First a day in the capital of Malawi: Lilongwe just chilling, doing jobs and buying supplies for the upcoming days while our guide spent the best part of 8 hours sorting out our visas for Mozambique at the embassy. Nice! 2 days of driving and one bush camp later we crossed the border into Zimbabwe, just in time for New Years, and another dress up party (Mike bought himself ANOTHER women’s top to wear). Our passports, previously new, unused and in pristine condition now have a very healthy collection of interesting looking stamps as we crossed three countries in as many days.

2 First bush camp, Mozambique

2 First bush camp, Mozambique

Bush camping was great fun – getting back to nature. Think roaring camp fire, gooey marshmallows, total darkness and a sky full of stars. Think also a trillion flies (not an exaggeration), intense humidity, scorpion warnings (luckily none in our tent) and a broken head torch. Sitting around the fire after dinner that night enjoying the company of new friends and telling tales is what camping is all about, and what better place than Africa to enjoy it in? So roughing it in the bush: awesome. Even more awesome was putting the rain fly on the tent – before it rained!!!!! We are certainly getting the hang of this camping business, and now we can add bush camping to that also, which is reassuring as we have many more bush camps to come in the next few weeks.

Just to clarify, bush camping is when we stop the truck in the middle of nowhere, side of the road kind of stuff whether it be jungle, desert, National Park or whatever. We have to ensure we can’t be seen from the road for security reasons as it is a little bit naughty. Good fun though!

3 Humidity and flies  - fun times

3 Humidity and flies - fun times

First stop in Zimbabwe was Mubayo camp. 3 nights of relative luxury; the decision to “upgrade” to a dorm made easy by the torrential and unrelenting downpour. We thought the budget could accommodate USD $5 for a bunk bed. We were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves, perhaps even a touch smug as we watched other people put up tents in the rain. Karma is a bitch though; the roof of our not so nice dorm leaked during the night and my backpack copped the brunt of the water flow. We got the dorm for free that night in compensation. Result. And we got all our clothes washed and pressed for free also. Even bigger result.

Mubayo camp kept us busy for a few days: a bird park (the only one in Zimbabwe), turtles, speed boat rides to white Rhino hotspots, enormous crocodiles (swimming in the lake is definitely at your own risk though) and lots of free roaming Zebras to watch outside our front door.

4 Don't get too close

4 Don't get too close

5 Anyone keen for a swim in the lake.

5 Anyone keen for a swim in the lake.

6 Mubayo camp, Lake chivera, Zimbabwe

6 Mubayo camp, Lake chivera, Zimbabwe


7 Me and the owl

7 Me and the owl

And of course Mubayo camp was our destination for a much anticipated New Year’s Eve Party! All I will say is that it was EPIC – the bits I can remember!  I rolled into bed at 5am, Mike a little before that at around 4am (he thinks?). The pictures on the camera are damming evidence indeed; multiple bottles of flavoured vodka, malibu, various other liquors, group photos inside canoes, confetti at midnight, silly poses and of course tons out of focus or without the flash. I can’t remember taking the majority of them, but we can be sure of one thing – everybody had the time of their lives!!!!! Nothing was achieved on New Year’s Day – except it was my turn to be on cook group again, and we made a very tasty chilly beef with rice served with yogurt, avocado slices and garlic bread. Everyone went straight to bed afterwards.

8 Derek (tour leader), Me, Chris and Kat

8 Derek (tour leader), Me, Chris and Kat

9 Happy New Year, 2012

9 Happy New Year, 2012

Posted by Mike.Keely 00:41 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (2)

Cook group again!

What culinary delights to have tonight?

sunny 30 °C

Here we are at day 18, and my turn to cook again. Great! First we had to re-shuffle the groups as three people leave us at Lilongwe, and by mutual agreement the group has decreed that no-one has to cook on their last night. With me on cooking duties now are Cordelia (34 years old, Canadian, doesn’t like cooking), and Kat (25 years old, British, can’t cook). I had a flick through the camp cook book (the equivalent of Edmonds on the truck) and decided on veggie burgers with coleslaw and chips. Simple. We were dropped off in town with only 6000 Kwatcha to spend (we’re in Malawi), which is equivalent to USD $24 again to feed 17 people for dinner and fruit for everyone’s breakfast the next morning. In an hour we visited the bakery, the supermarket, and the local fruit and veggie market and came in at 20 Kwatcha over budget, with only a few items short. Result. Camp cooking is a slow process. We attempt to keep everything semi-cool with ice blocks in chilli bins/eskies/cool boxes but often can’t rely on getting the ice blocks in the first place, so this limitation has to be factored in when doing the group shop. As does availability: we eat what the locals have going. We purify all our own water, the process of re-filling the jerry cans taking over an hour and needing to be done every week or so. Mike knows all about this as its “his” job at the moment. Mine is keeping the condiment locker stocked and in order: a job that only takes me a few minutes!  But back to cooking – all the non-perishable food is kept in various storage lockers around the truck: under the seats, under the floorboards, in the outside side lockers. All the outside access panels have to be locked and bolted and the keys distributed amongst us. Truck security is very serious business. We have what we call the “fridge” but this is where we keep all the money not the milk. Getting a spoon to stir coffee or a bowl to wash fruit is not as easy as back home. Needless to say it took forever to make chickpea and mixed bean patties for the burgers; every bun had to be individually toasted on a hot plate, and the fries cooked in 3 separate batches. In the end we produced quite a good meal: our fellow travellers were thrilled to get cheese and our ‘chilly’ fries packed a punch. Gilly (40 years old, Aussie guy, travelling for 13 months with wife Lauren) said it was his favourite camp meal so far! Get in there! Next time though we’ll be making something quick and easy, something that doesn’t require too much washing, peeling, scraping, chopping or grating of vegetables. And hopefully I’ll remember to take a photo of it before it all gets eaten!! Lol.
Keely

Posted by Mike.Keely 10:37 Archived in Malawi Tagged food camping Comments (1)

Malawi Magic

Hiking, competitions and Christmas

sunny 35 °C

We knew we were going to like Malawi straight away. First of all USD $130 converts into the biggest stash of local currency you’ve ever seen so for once on this trip, we felt rich! Lol. And secondly the humidity dropped, just a fraction, to a somewhat tolerable level. On our first evening in Malawi I found myself sitting on the shores of the lake, cold alcoholic beverage in hand, mossie repellent liberally applied watching the most amazing lightning show on earth. Africa does thunder and lightning like no-where else I know! Mike, being on cook group unfortunately wasn’t able to enjoy the front row seat that I did but the spag boll his group served up later was pretty good.

After a couple of pretty long butt-numbing days on the bus the prospect of getting out and about in the Malawian countryside was too good to be true. Had we investigated what we had signed up for in more detail we may have reconsidered? It wasn’t until we were already 2 hours in, after going mostly uphill all the way that it dawned on us that this was a 30km trek. While it was good to get some exercise and see countryside that wasn’t whizzing by the window, still walking in 38 degree heat and unreal humidity was hard work. Drenched in sweat within minutes, and guzzling water by the litre the 4 of us who did the walk could definitely pat ourselves on the back afterwards. The highlights of the walk included the stunning scenery: rainbows, waterfalls, maze fields, banana and pineapple fields and tons of the cutest kids ever wanting to shake our hands. Mike tried his hand, or should I say his head carrying a bag of maze – the young girl, indeed all the local people make it look easy but Mike can confirm it is not.

If you look hard enough, there's a rainbow

If you look hard enough, there's a rainbow

Pina Colada in the making

Pina Colada in the making

Waterfall, Livingstonia

Waterfall, Livingstonia

Waterfall up close, Livingstonia

Waterfall up close, Livingstonia

Mike need to improve his head balancing skills

Mike need to improve his head balancing skills

The next day (and feeling just a wee bit sore in the legs) we headed further south to a camp site called “Kande” (pronounced candy) beach, and although the name is a bit cheesy the camp site is not. On route to our Christmas destination our tour leader hosted a quiz in the back of the truck. We needed a group name but while trying to think up something festive and cool, ended up with the name: “come back to us, sorry”. Brilliant – unlikely to be the winning team then. I was pretty awful, hardly knew any answers (music and sport not being my forte) but made a great team scribe. Why is there never a cancer category in quizzes I ask you? It’s all I know. Anyway we were doing pretty good; I had a few moments of pure genius but Mike’s team “the Christmas elves” were still winning at the start of the last round. Round 5 had 5 questions, worth 2-4 points each. Time to stage a comeback. The round ended with us “come back to us, sorry” tied dead even with “the G and T’s”. Mike’s team suffered a terrible fall from grace at the last post. Hilarious. One of my team mates, Kim wanted to fight it out with fists and feet but a compromise was reached in the form of an egg and spoon race on the beach. The course was measured up on the beach when we arrived, santa hats donned (it was Christmas Eve after all) and eggs and spoons carefully selected. I went first for my team and established a considerable lead, so much so that the other team were unable to catch us. Then it was a mad dash to the end of the line where all the prizes were tantalizingly dangled by Mike and two other people. A few dangerous tackles and a lot of rolling around in the sand later I was in possession of my prize: a Malawi wood carving of a hippopotamus engraved with “quiz camp 2011”. Result.

Christmas Eve also required a fancy dress night, and of course it was no problem getting a costume in Malawi. ??? We had 30 minutes at a local market to decide on what to wear, haggle for the best price and “construct” an outfit out of whatever we could find. Not an easy thing to do. Mike and I had even less time as we’d both volunteered to help buy the vegetables for Christmas Lunch and lug it all back to the truck. There were some pretty interesting costumes but Kat gets the prize in my book – she managed to style herself an elf queen to perfection, red shoes and all. Mike was a candy cane (in red and white stripes) wearing a women’s top no less. Yep – you read that correctly. I had to resort to wrapping tinsel around myself as all I found in the market was a Christmas penguin thing which I wore as a top.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

The camera was set to"super vivid", hence why we look so red!!!!

Merry Christmas everyone! A guide from another truck had volunteered to cook lunch for our group as well as his own. As he previously worked as a pastry chef for Princess Diana we were inclined to agree to this arrangement whole-heartedly and thank our lucky stars because the next cook group would have been mine! While almost everyone woke up on Christmas morning with a headache of some sort, Jeff’s headache must have been off the charts. Most guides can party like its 1999 every night and Jeff is no exception but by 5pm we had a feast like no other: chicken, turkey, pigs in blankets, a mountain of roasted veggies, soup, stuffing, nut roast, cheese sauce, gravy. It was seriously impressive, and all cooked with basic camping equipment (although their truck is ever so slightly pimped out more than ours). Lol. For desert we gorged ourselves on chocolate brownie, mince pies, fruit trifle, mango sorbet and whipped cream (dairy is hard in Africa so this was a real treat). Thanks Jeff – you’re a legend!

Boxing Day was spent doing what most people all over the world do on Boxing Day: not much! After watching the sun come up and a delicious coffee (Kande beach is owned by a Kiwi so the coffee is good) I updated the blog, chilled by the lake reading my Kindle and in general tried not to eat my body weight in food (again!).

Dog watches sunrise with me

Dog watches sunrise with me

Up next are a few more days in Malawi while we wait for our Mozambique visa’s to get sorted, then full speed ahead to Zimbabwe for New Year.

Keely

Posted by Mike.Keely 01:57 Archived in Malawi Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises lakes animals trekking Comments (2)

(Entries 46 - 50 of 62) « Page .. 5 6 7 8 9 [10] 11 12 13 »