Friday, January 25, 2013

The Next Highlight of Our Trip

Ruckomechi Camp Mana Pools Zimbabwe Day 1

The camp is a private concession leased from the National Park. LUXURY tents right on the river. Because they are private, they are able to offer night drives.

Thursday 6 September

A young guide named Sean picked us up at Zambezi Lifestyles and drove us to Ruckomechi, our next camp.

As we came into camp, we saw several elephants in the parking lot. This one mocked charged two of the employees, who were quick to put the jeep between themselves and the aggravated beast.

We were warmly greeted by Sarah, Sean's girlfriend, and fed lunch. Our petite new rifle toting guide, Rachel, escorted us to our tent. Along the way, she explained that whenever we went outside the tent, we must be aware at all times of elephant activity. If there was one in the near vicinity, you had to wait patiently, not moving, until the elephant had wandered on. Greg was quickly to forget that advice.

This tent wasn't a tent as much as it was a suite. I'm not kidding, add a kitchen and I could have lived there forever. The front side was open to the riverview. Guests were not allowed to walk between the tents and the river (for obvious reasons) but were confined to a wooden walkway. Our cabin had a big bedroom and an almost as big bathroom - a real bathroom with a toilet that flushed! It had an outdoor shower as well but we were soon to be glad we'd never used ours.

During the post lunch siesta, we got our room organized. I sat at the desk to catch up on my journal and Greg sat in a chair outside to see how well our GPS worked. That's when he forgot the rule and stood up suddenly to come back into the tent. And there he was ... eyeball to eyeball with a Mamma Elephant and her baby. Mamma eyed Greg. Greg eyed Mamma and backed slowly into our tent. Luckily, Mamma seemed okay with that.

After tea (they feed you constantly at these places), Greg and I clambered into the Land Rover with Rachel, pleased that we had her to ourselves.

Rachel took us to a river bank overlooking a spit of land where an adult hippo had died a day or two previously. When we asked if we could walk down on the plain, Rachel told us that she didn't have her walking licence. Why not? Turns out that in order to get one, the guide had to shoot a couple of Cape Buffalo and an elephant and had to participate in a safari where a lion was killed. Rachel wasn't willing to do that and we applauded her decision. Still, we would really like to get closer to that hippo ...

Rachel solved the problem by driving down the steep bank onto the plain. We got close enough to see crocodiles, of all sizes including a couple of whoppers, surrounding the carcass. Rachel counted 55 and figured that meant there might be as many as 80 when you counted in submerged crocs. She explained that crocodiles can't chew through the tough hippo hide and so have to wait until the gasses build up inside the carcass and the belly explodes. Luckily for us, this had already happened and we watched as a croc stuck its head in the carcass, grabbed a hunk of meat and then spun its body around to detach the meat from the hippo's body! ALL RIGHT! Dead meat. Now THIS is what we'd been looking for. We stayed a while, taking lots of pictures.

Check the abdomen. You can see water splashing where the croc is spinning.

Then Rachel casually asked if we wanted to see lions. Hell yes! Two days before, she'd come across a young Cape Buffalo stuck in mud. His bellowing was piteous and it had taken him the two days to die. The Camp staff had even debated ways to rescue him even though it was against park policy. They figured they could get a rope around his horns and drag him out but then they were left with the problem of how to get the rope off without getting gored in the process. In the end, they decided to let nature take its course.

What was a tragedy for the young buffalo was a godsend for a pride of lions - Mom, Dad, her older (3 - 4 year old) son, a tiny 2 month old cub, and Grandma. When we got to the carcass, we parked the car on the bank just above the gulley with the carcass. The young male lion was lying near to the carcass covered in mud and his belly so distended, he looked ready to burst. The flies from the carcas were causing angry swats with his tail but he was too fat and complacent to move. But after a while, he decided just a small snack might fit into that engorged belly of his and he stuck his whole head into the carcass!

We decided to join in with a feast of our own and enjoyed our Sundowner (white wine and chicken bites) right there. A herd of nine elephants, including a wee baby less than 6 months old, walked past, still wet from their bath.

As dusk was falling, along came Mom and the cub. The mother was sated and made no move toward the carcass but lay there. The cub played with some bushes and then began to nurse. We hated to leave but it was getting too dark to see so we headed back to camp. It wasn't our fault - well, not that day anyway - that we were late for a meal. Halfway back to camp, a young bull elephant wandered onto the road and stopped. Would you argue right of way with something that outweighs you by a ton or so? Neither would we. Dinner, like in most camps, is served family style and the other guests weren't too happy that we were late.They seemed very standoffish until I discovered that one group of six was from Canada and then the ice was broken. We Canucks tend to bond quickly.  Our night ended companionably chatting around a large fire pit overlooking the river surrounded by the sounds of Africa.

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