More from Mana

Don’t expect this many posts from each place we go. I’m just excited and wanted to share. Here are some more pictures in no particular order of some other good memories from Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe.

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Michael and Lisa bought us all shirts with our Zulu names on them for this trip. Mine was “Scorpion King” Cheryl’s was “Soju Queen”. Names can be explained at a later date over some (read: many) beers if you don’t already know the stories.

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Michael taking a picture of an elephant walking through our camp

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Eating breakfast on the banks of the Zambezi. I think Cheryl was waiting for me to finish the eggs at this point.

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Our wild campsite in Mucheni on the banks of the Zambezi River. Just us and the animals. No fences and no neighbors (unless you count the troop of baboons that came around to welcome us to the neighborhood)

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Cooking a poitjie (spelling?) or “pot” for dinner. Slow cooked in a cast iron pot over a few hours. Nothing better then slow-cooked meat. (Wayne: I know the coals are too hot and I’m not supposed to open the pot the whole time.  I did it anyway!)

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I became the official breakfast chef. Fried eggs and bacon for everyone!

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Sometimes we’d get onto the roofs of our cars for a better view. A great time to pose for a photo.

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I can’t upload all 1000 photos so here is a Zebra looking fabulous while eating some grass to send off the Mana Pools posts.

Mana Night Life

I’ve already told you about the lions and the elephants in our camp. Incredible. We saw more lions again (this time just 4 of them, 2 male and 2 female) as we were getting ready for a morning game drive two days later. They were casually trotting through the camp site right next to the bathrooms and off into the bush (this site had bathrooms, the next place we went for 4 nights did not.) Naturally we got ready as fast as we could and followed them (after deciding to drive the 70 meters to the bathroom instead of walk like we usually do…)

That night in the camp we saw a couple of hyena lurking in the shadows. They always look so mischievous. I think they look like little boys who were caught with their hand in the cookie jar. None tried to steal our braai meat though as we had been warned they might. That’s when it helps to have a 6’7” German at your camp. Even Hyenas won’t mess with him and his braai meat.

When we moved to the remote camp site the sightings continued. We had elephants next to our camp almost every evening and on one occasions two of them came with a couple of meters. The red spotlight again proved to be a great asset to light them up enough for some night photography without scaring them away.  Michael and Lisa referred to this as the animals hanging out in the “Red Light District” of Mana.

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An elephant passed right next to our camp to drink some water.


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We took down our washing as soon as they left…


Throughout our time at that camp we saw hippos, hippos and more hippos. We were right on the banks of the Zambezi with multiple pods of hippo all around us. We could hear them all day and we often saw them walking past our camp at night. We made sure not to set up our tents in any of their paths to the water. Hippos are the most lethal (to humans) animals in Africa and its mostly because people get between them and water. We didn’t want to test that statistic.

The last night we were there Cheryl and I were still packing and organizing our things while Michael and Lisa had started on dinner. They called to us to come quickly because hippos were getting out of the water. “Big deal,” we thought, “we’ve seen those many times over the past few days, let’s just finish packing.” After insisting we begrudgingly went over to them to be surprised with the tiniest baby hippo we had ever seen. It must have just been born. It definitely won the prize for cutest hippo in Mana Pools.

Sadly most of the photos of these animals didn’t really turn out because it was night time and they wouldn’t stay still for the long shutter speed. The stories will just have to live in our memories.

Wild Dogs (aka Painted Dogs we later found out)

Seeing wild dogs in the bush always gives me a sense of joy. They are so playful, yet so lethal as a pack. On our fourth day in Mana Pools we came across a pack of 17 wild dog running alongside the road. Another car had already been following them for a few kilometres. There were on a hunt.

Getting tired they laid down to rest shortly after we started following them. We weren’t to be lucky enough to see them finish the hunt.

After sitting and watching for 15 minutes or so and having a nice bowl of cereal we decided to take advantage of one of the rules that makes Mana Pools unique in the safari area world. We decided to walk up for a closer view…

Mana is the only park I know of where you are allowed (encouraged even) to get out of your vehicle and go for unguided walks into the bush. So far we had stayed relatively close to our vehicle to check on paths through the mud (more on the mud later) or to stand and view some lions in the distance. Since we were with another couple from Zimbabwe who assured us it was safe we ventured with them on foot around 50 meters from the Hilux. The dogs could not have been less concerned about us.

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A closer view once they laid down

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Later we actually moved around to the side further from the vehicle to get a better look. To be clear though, we were in an open area where we could see for quite a long distance in any direction (except for right around where the dogs were of course. There, bushes and trees were obstructing our view, hence the need to walk). We were safe. Plus, what’s the difference of walking around there vs. in our unfenced camp where an elephant had come within 5 meters of us the night before anyway?

It’s an awesome feeling to be out in nature like that. And a wonderful way to spend an hour just observing a really cool animal which is sadly endangered.

On our drive out of the park a few days later we saw the same pack playing, this time right on the side of the road (some even used our car as shade for a few moments.) This time we didn’t get out but got to see them much more active as they jumped and played with each other.


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Taking a rest from playing in the shade behind our car

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Very focused

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Cheryl sitting and watching the dogs before we walked up for a closer view


This is why we came to Mana Pools!

I wasn’t anticipating writing a post so soon after we arrived. I figured I’d only write after a few days. Relaxing today however, I feel yesterday’s story needs to be shared.

The day started slowly with a relaxed wake-up call before we headed out on our first game drive. As we expected, it is too wet here and the game is scattered throughout the park so we weren’t seeing much besides impala, warthogs and mud. Lots and lots of mud.

We thought the drive into the park the day before was hectic with long pools of water and mud constantly spraying up and around our Hilux. At least it was driveable. (More on mud in another post.) Yesterday however we got stuck for the first time. Well, Michael and Lisa got stuck. And stuck again. They were in front so Cheryl and I just stayed back. Cheryl kept an eye out for leopards and lions while the rest of us got the vehicle unstuck. And unstuck again. After that stress we said it was enough fun for one day and we backtracked back to a calm place on the riverbank. We had the place all to ourselves so we set up our awning and cooked some delicious eggs and toast for a late breakfast. This is living.

We did see a few lions on our drive back to camp but they were quite a ways into the trees so the view was obstructed. The only way we noticed them in the first place is because two guides had stopped in another vehicle and pointed them out to us. We never would have seen them ourselves. That afternoon however, we went for a hike through the park for an hour specifically to track those lions with a ranger. We saw nothing. Just impala. And an elephant way in the distance completely unconcerned about us. Time to return to camp and start the fire for dinner. A fun day but a little disappointing on the game viewing front given our heightened expectations for this wild park we’d dreamed about for so long.

Back in camp the beers were opened and we toasted our first day of adventure. I had the fire going and we were sitting and relaxing when the campers next to us said to get the camera. Two elephants were approaching. The came right up and walked straight through the camp site. Incredible! This is why we came to Mana Pools! To see elephants in the camp. It doesn’t get any more wild then this. Until it does…

After 30 minutes of posing for photos and doing tricks like standing on their hind legs to eat leaves from the top of the tree, the elephants moved on. We got back to cooking and reveled in our good fortune. By chance Michael decided to go wash his hands at the spigot around 30 meters from our site. He stopped in his tracks and called to me. “What is that just there?” It was a lion. Stalking an impala. No way. Yes.

Wait. Not just one lion. There’s another. And another. Wait. There are 14 lions!!! Less then 50 meters from camp! By this time it was dark so we took out our new fancy spotlight that I got from Morris and Gill for my birthday and tracked them as they walked back and forth, laid down for a while and moved on again. 14 lions, < 50 meters from camp, for around 30 minutes. Unbelievable. We’d heard stories like this and hoped it would happen to us. But our second night on the trip? The bar has been set.

Just to add some flavor to the night we later saw two hippos come out of the water and walk right next to our camp and back into the woods. They are massive creatures. The amazing part is how quiet they were. If I hadn’t been looking out we never would have noticed them go past.

After only a few short sightings during the day we could not believe the incredible experience as the sun was going down in camp.


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Elephant enjoying some lunch

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Driving into Mana Pools the roads got a bit muddy

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Our campsite at the main camp where lions and elephants walked past.  We haven’t set up the ground tents since Mana Pools but because we were in the same campsite for 4 days it made sense to have them as a place to store some of our stuff.  We sleep on top of the vehicles.  Cheryl’s and mine is the one on the right.