10-12th September – Nkupe, Mana Pools
10th September – Chitake to Nkupe, Mana Pools. Camp of fire and water
We are once again destroyed having stayed up all night scouring the surroundings with the flashlights and taking little naps in between all the lion roars and elephant screams. To be honest I almost expected to find a dead elephant in the riverbed considering the screams that we heard but they all lived to see another day.
First thing we do is to read the bush telegraph: looking for tracks in the sand. This is an everyday ritual when we are in the bush – African CSI! We want to confirm beyond doubt our cheetah sighting. It takes us a while to find tracks that confirm cheetahs on a walkabout.
Then we have breakfast on the riverbed – it is full of lion tracks. And to complete the big predator set the wild dogs also make a showing – although it was very brief, fleeting and quite far away. They simply came for a quick drink and then disappeared. I believe there were around 10 or 12 of them. Meanwhile the baboons are out and about greeting the new day and keeping us company.
We slowly prepare ourselves to say goodbye to this magical place – we will be back for sure. It is now time for Mana Pools proper, an hour and a half’s drive away. The road was in relatively good condition compared to the rumours, but it was quite corrugated – but as soon as we deflated the tires and hit the speed sweet spot it was just fine, albeit boring.
We arrive at Nyamepi and our hopes of changing campsites to something better is dashed – all is booked solid, except Nyamepi. We double check this in the few days and yes it is true, all the exclusive campsites were indeed booked solid. So we stick to our booking which was 3 nights Nkupe and 1 night Nyamepi. That is all we could find in January when be booked the campsites! Mana Pools is becoming popular which is good news for Zimparks but not for us, we should have come here a couple of years earlier.
Nkupe is a couple of km’s away from Nyamepi – there is a brilliant view of the floodplain, the escarpment and the Zambezi in the distance. Waterbuck, elephant, birds and hippos abound. It is a huge site and very isolated. I never heard of much happening here so we thought we would be pretty relaxed so we just chilled out for a while and deferred dinner to the usual after nighttime routine.
We then went out for a game drive along Long Pool – not much seen along the way – during our stay in the park we notice that all the game is concentrated just parallel to the Zambezi. Mana Pools means four pools in Shona, and Long Pools is one of the pools giving Mana Pools its name.
The light is already failing and we decide to take the road closer to the Zambezi to get back to camp. Bingo – on the road leading from Long Pool to Mucheni we findd 3 lions, a male and two females. Clearly the male and one of the females were mating and we are treated to quite a spectacle. I believe the mating pair are called Blondie and Blackeye – and it looks like they have had a long and rough life judging from their battle-scarred faces.
We then returned back to camp which was quite a stretch away and set about to make dinner. We noticed that one of the mountains of the escarpment on the Zambia side was on fire which was spreading by the minute, so much so that by dinnertime that it looked like a volcano flowing with red hot lava. Quite a sight. The ellies were grazing in the floodplain.
After dinner we hear some really bone chilling noises resembling growling and crying which were coming closer and closer. Needless to say we shot up to the tent in quite a rush and still remained unsure as to what was causing the noises – perhaps a scrap between lions and hyenas? We will never know. We decide this is not really a safe place for safe nighttime cooking and dinner either, so from the next day we start again having our mail meal in the afternoon. In the night some elephants amble around the campsite munching at the various trees and some even take a dip in the pools of the floodplain.
September 11 – Nkupe campsite, Mana Pools. Mana Magic
After enjoying a beautiful sunrise at the campsite today we head off to see whether we could find the lions near Mucheni again as we know mating lions tend not to move for a few days.
There are elephants all around, some with very tiny babies. They are extremely relaxed and the moms won’t even try to protect the babies which is remarkable. But the most amazing sight is the mahagony forests with their hazy dappled light, especially magical when the elephants roam in between the trees – it really looks like an enchanted forest from a fairy tale.
Further on, the lions were still in the same place as the day before, alternating between sleeping and mating. They seem to have lost the third wheel during the night too, as the other lioness that was with them yesterday wasn’t to be seen.
But our real targets for today were the wild dogs so we went around to Vundu point as we heard that there should be a pack there, but no such luck. The mopane forest road on the way there was quite pretty as was the view at Vundu point, just along the Zambezi with a nice view of the escarpment. There is good cellphone reception at this point, I believe from Zambian carriers.
As we head back towards the campsite a guy from Goliath safaris asked us if we had seen the wild dogs near Ndungu (which is near Vundu) they were out and about it seems and we have missed them! We proceed back to the campsite for lunch/dinner and I took a bit of a walkabout to explore. There is one elephant in the water eating – it must be nice to be swimming in a giant salad bowl – I am actually envious as it is so hot and I would like nothing better than a refreshing swim. Needless to say the ellie seemed quite content. It gets very windy in the afternoon at Nkupe in this season, so it is a bit of a challenge to prepare lunch – delicious peri peri chicken wraps, so we have to use the car as a shield. Our multipurpose truck!
In the afternoon we set off for another game drive and we get to see the usual suspects. We also meet the honeymooning lion couple again and we take some pictures of them on foot. We go back to the Vundu area to look for the wild dogs, but they are as elusive as ever.
During the night just as we are preparing to go to bed an elephant arrives and starts eating from a bush right outside our tent – a very big bull and very close. We freeze and after a while we notice he isn’t particularly bothered by us at all so we continue with our chores as if it weren’t there. He remains there for quite a while, munching and stomach rumbling. If it takes one step back it might squash our car, and possibly us too.
September 12th – Nkupe, Mana Pools. The holy grail and a surprise in camp!
This is our final day at Nkupe and we are scheduled for a walk with Mr Lovemore, one of the park rangers, today. We pick him up at Nyamepi at 6am and we drive a bit further before we alight from our vehicle. We walk around the BBC campsite area on to the Long Pool through the beautiful forest. We see some animals such as elephants, warthogs, elands, waterbucks etc – but no predators. Mr Lovemore is very knowledgeable about the animals and their scat and behaviour.
We then take Mr Lovemore back to Nyamepi, pay him $60 and give him my boyfriend’s old camera which is much appreciated and he promises he will treat it like a second wife Whilst toying with the idea of having our shower at Nyamepi we get a tip from a kind camper that the wild dogs were at Mana Mouth, close to our campsite and so set off to look for them – the wild dogs are really turning out to be the elusive holy grail: despite seeing them twice in the wild in our travels in Africa we had no pictures at all of them as they were such fleeting moments, even though in Botswana they were right in our campsite a metre away from my feet – in almost pitch black darkness. True to their holy grail status we still cannot find them so we set off towards our campiste where we have a bit of a surprise.
There were some cars in the campsite, and we are curious to discover why since it is a private campsite. To our disbelief we find a welcoming committee of some lions under the trees – right in our campsite! We could see 4 but we knew this pride had about 12 so there must be others around. They seem to be very interested in us – whilst they are not napping that is.
There is a car from the nearby Croton camp rudely occupying the best spot and blocking our view so after I let them click away for a few minutes I remind them it was a private campsite to please move a bit so that we can get some pictures of our own as well. With a huge look of disgust they leave. Soon another car arrives with a guide and 2 people. They come down from the car, the guide cocks the rifle and the lions run like the wind, terrified. I wasn’t too pleased but somehow I bite my tongue and say nothing – ok I do mutter something but not too rude.
We are even less pleased when we notice that while we were away someone had stolen our chairs, table and frying pan from the campsite which we had left behind to show the campsite is occupied. We decide to go back towards Nyamepi to report the missing items, maybe someone thought we had forgotten them and took them there. On the way we come across the car that scared off the lions and explain to them about the disappearing items, it was a good move as the guide tells us to look for the people from Goliath Safaris as he saw their car there earlier. Seems like everyone was in our campsite looking at the lions while we were on a wild goose chase looking for the wild dogs! The guide seems to have our same rotten luck with the wild dogs.
We proceed to Nyamepi to report the issue but they don’t anything about it. So as a last resort we go to the Goliath camp where thankfully we do not need to trespass too far before we can get someone to help us. A guide there does not seem too surprised at our weird question and radios around and our stuff is found – one of their guys took it!! “yeah, Reuben does that” is the explanation. But once again, TIA, so we just don’t question it.
To make up for the inconvenience the guy lets us know the exact position of the elusive wild dogs – they are under a particular tree near Mana Mouth. So we drive off to see if we could see them, and there they are! Fast asleep. The holy grail – pictures of wild dogs! This is so worth getting our stuff stolen for! We watch them for a while and it is quite obvious they are not going to be up to anything in the midday heat and the light is very harsh so after an hour or so we go on to have our final midday dinner at Nkupe – delicious pizzas, perfectly done in a makeshift oven made of foils and coals! We are pleased with this accomplishment since we do not even have a proper grill thing at this point as we forgot it somewhere in Zambia but the guys at the Nyamepi made a new one for us out of some fencing thing we found at the workshop.
The lions aren’t to be seen at the campsite, and I doubt pizza would attract them. After our scrumptious lunch we of course head off to spend some time with the wild dogs. They aren’t up to anything but it is so rare to see them we don’t want to let them out of our sight. At some point they all get up and excitedly go through their greeting ceremonies and promptly fall asleep again. Some of them look a bit sick and scraggly, scooting their bums on the ground apparently to relieve some itching.
At sunset we head back to camp for our final night in Nkupe. We cannot see any lions around, but with all these bushes, grass and darkness who knows what lurks in the shadows? Just before we head up to the tent to sleep we are visited by 4 hyenas, which seem curious and fearless. They close in on us even as we go about our camping chores, but soon lose interest when they figure out we left nothing edible around camp. They hang out in the campsite for a while and they leave at some point during the night.