by Mike Garden

There are places around the world where, when you turn a corner or reach a given location, your long weekend is suddenly transformed. Your concerns about work and the office are shelved and immediately replaced with holiday vibes. That is the feeling that grips one as you reach the foot of the escarpment on the Chirundu Road, some three hours from Harare, and turn onto the heavily corrugated road that takes you to the Mana Pools National Park. Steve Bolnick and Craig Chittenden run a simple, yet very classy, safari camp on the banks of the Zambezi River some 15km west of National Parks’ Nyamepi campsite. This mighty river is a lot lower than normal this year so there is a large section of floodplain right in front of the Bedouin Tent that marks the centrepiece and general gathering point of Camp Mana.

The camp has a total of six sizeable, self-contained tents for guests with each having its own en suite bathroom comprising a warm shower and flushing loo courtesy of some clever use of solar energy. Our long drive from Harare had us arriving late afternoon to be greeted to a wonderful view of large herds of impala, waterbuck, kudu and zebra lazily grazing just in front of the camp seemingly unfazed by the townie visitors. Nothing quite like sitting down in a comfortable deck chair after a long drive, being given a cold beer and a few sticks of biltong to just take stock of your magnificent surroundings. Then, as the sunset darkened the evening skies, we were escorted down to our tent for a freshening hot shower and change before returning to an excellent three-course meal prepared by one of the finest bush chefs. One of the better parts of the first night in these camps are the introductions and chats with fellow guests. More often than not, you have interesting conversations with total strangers about subjects you would never have dreamed of talking about back home. World-class guides are an essential component for trips to the wilds of Zimbabwe so with the clear winter skies allowing an excellent viewing of the Milky Way our guide, John, gave a lengthy analysis of the more prominent constellations. An understanding sense of humour goes a long way too: – female impala (ewes) always excrete at a central midden and when they browse their excrement is harder and more compact than when they graze. So John stopped our group mid-stride, drew a line in the sand and gave us all one of these hard droppings. He then put one in his mouth and spat it out marking the distance it had gone. Our job was, of course, match or better his feat all the while keeping our mouths watering for the tasty breakfast that was to follow shortly afterwards!

Lying snugly in bed, long after lights out, came the sound of a lion roaring followed by the inevitable laughing from the ever present, hyena. ‘Hoooooop, Hooooop’. The first indication of the approaching dawn is the noise coming from a nearby pod of Hippo. These, along with the call of the iconic Fish Eagle are “The sounds of the African Wild” – something that remains etched in the hearts and minds of all who travel these roads. As the sun rises slowly over the floodplain, we gather at the central boma for an early morning coffee with rusks. Some decided on the game drive in a comfortable Land Rover. For the more active, there is the option of a two-hour game walk. Brunch is, like the rest of the weekend, a drawn-out relaxed affair with lots of delicious food followed by a mandatory afternoon kip. One of the highlights of our trip occurred whilst we were sitting down to dinner on day two. A young elephant with a new born calf was being harassed by an persistent hyena just 50 meters away from where were dining. The poor mother spent a good 45 minutes fighting off his attacks before wandering off with the predator lurking not far away. Tracks seen by us on our early morning walk the next day were, according to our guides, those of the two elephant signifying their safe withdrawal the night before. Although the emphasis by the hosts is that it is not a “Lion Chasing Safari”, we heard roaring lion and laughing hyena every night so one knows they are in the vicinity. Camp Mana sets out to entertain guests who really appreciate the African Bush yet don’t want to be pampered; leave knowing that they have truly had an African experience; serious about the environment and want to take quality bush photography.

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