September 18 —
We arose at 5:30, and during breakfast said our goodbyes to our German friends who had capsized and lost equipment in heavy wind conditions the morning before. I told them how happy I was to make their acquaintance, and quickly added, “Of course, not under the actual circumstances.” They all laughed in agreement. What a great group. I was sorry to see them go. But they decided to take their leave of the river and continue on with their tour of Zimbabwe.
We set out on the river some time around 7:00 am in a light wind that was manageable. The cloud cover had vanished and the day was heating up within an hour; good reason to set out as early as possible. Also, the morning light is beautiful — soft but luminous, with the sun ahead of us as we traveled east down the river.
Bono, River and Walking Guide, and apprentice, Ali
September 17 — Soon after we arrived at our new river camp, the wind was still blowing strong. A group of 6 canoers, who had all capsized, were brought in by boat unexpectedly. They were still wet, wringing out their clothes and checking what they’d managed to prevent from being lost in the river. Our plan was to get out on the river just after lunch, but the other couple we would be canoeing with arrived much later at the camp than expected. Emily, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, and Steven, the founder of a business management consulting group had just climbed Mt Kilamanjaro in 3 days, and made transit from Tanzania to Zimbabwe, (and exhausted, had slept in late somewhere between here and there!) before making their appearance. We did not set off until around 4 pm by which time the wind had calmed significantly and I felt less hesitant.
Mana Pools is part of a larger Parks and Wildlife Estate that runs from the Kariba Dam in the west of Zimbabwe to the Mozambique border in the east. With no physical boundaries, the wildlife is free to move throughout the area – even north of the Zambezi River into Zambia, where there are also large areas set aside for wildlife conservation. The Zambezi River flows through the middle.
Mana Pools extends southwards to the summit of the steep Zambezi Escarpment and the Zambezi River’s southern banks form its northern border with a view of the Zambia escarpment on the other side. Within this floodplain area, the river flows into a broad expanse of lakes, islands, channels and sandbanks. Mana means ‘four’ in the Shona language, and refers to the four large permanent pools inland that remain of the oxbow lakes the Zambezi River carved out thousands of years ago in the process of changing its course northwards.
A World Heritage Site, Mana Pools is one of the least developed National Parks, and the only one where walking is allowed. As much of it is seasonally inaccessible, it remains unspoilt. During the rainy season, most of the area’s wildlife moves up into the escarpments. But during the dry winter months Mana Pools arguably has one of the highest concentrations of large game on the continent. As the waters of the floodplain recede, great herds of elephant and buffalo return to the same places, and lion, leopard, cheetah, kudu, eland, waterbuck, zebra, impala and other antelope as well as 380 bird species move back in toward the river. Certainly one of the largest concentrations of crocodiles and hippopotami in Africa is found along the river in Mana Pools. It is unquestionably one of the most exciting places to camp, to explore on foot, and by canoe, for the varied amount of wildlife that can be seen in its true wild state.
I had no real idea what I was in for.