Two tone tour Matusadona 2018

Article and Images Mitch Riley

After many months of preparation, meetings and training, it was finally time to begin. The Two Tone Tour was off, across the vast eastern basin towards the Ume River with the golden rising sun at our backs.

The calm waters of the Gubu some 10km up the Ume River gave way to an oasis of green networks of rivers and tributaries like capillaries. The river came alive; swaths of birds added specks of colour as Carmines flitted in and out of their nesting holes, hippos and crocodiles ladened the banks, ours heads swaying back and forth trying to take in all the splendour .

A hippo path was our exit point from the boat. This would be the first steps of many to come. Spirits were high and backpacks were heavily loaded. Not a minute into the walk and a male bushbuck, with his white dotted flanks, slunk across our path. Then a small family of kudu rushed out from under a fruiting Tamarind. A herd of impala moved off after a quick drink from the trickling river. Mother Nature was spoiling us from the start.

Before teatime, we had negotiated our way past a magnificent elephant bull who boasted some superb tusks and a lonely Dagga boy who stood in disbelief at our presence, possibly never having seen a human before in his life. The Dagga boy watched us quizzically as we boiled water for our tea and biscuits. We moved off slowly after tea and an already exciting morning got better. As we rounded an ox bow, a leopardess melted off a rock and blended into the brush after a few precious seconds.

We couldn’t believe our luck. There was a hum in the group and smiles all round, but before we could finish discussing this rare incident a large brown bird flew out from an entanglement of green over- grown trees, a Pel’ s Fishing Owl. A once in a life time spot for some! It flew into a bare Sterculia and posed for us until the harassment of Drongos and Bulbuls became too much. All this happened before lunch. From this point we started to climb. The river became narrow and rocky. We were now seeing more animal spoor than the actual animals themselves. The sheer beauty of the rock formations and waterfalls took over. Succulents, creepers, climbers and euphorbia clung to the rocks and their roots stretched far in search of water.

The sun was now setting at our backs over the Ume River which was now just a glimmer in the distance. A sign the day was drawing to a close. Our feet hurting slightly at this point and ruck sacks digging into shoulders, the evening chorus rang out through the cooling air. White -browed Sparrow-weavers busied about their scruffy westward facing nests above our tents. The Shelley’s Francolin, which is not found on the valley floor, called its almost mocking tune of “lets drink some beer, lets drink some beer” as we all had water dug and filtered from the river bed.

The night settled in. Sitting around the crackling fire with the cool river sand between our toes, we were mesmerised. These campfires were often referred to as bush television for their almost trance like effects. The first night was a treat of steaks and potatoes as we could only afford the extra weight on the first day before our legs and backs became weary. The rest of the trip would be well thought out noodles, tuna, and soups – easily prepared on-the-go meals with regular tea and coffee breaks that allowed us to stop and take in the surroundings. During one

of our tea breaks, we were joined by yet another lonely buffalo bull who watched us from less than 5 meters away before trotting off into the 6 foot Hyparrhenia grass that skirted the river’s edge.

Our goal for Day Two was the base of trig, the highest point in the area. After a gruelling day of mountain climbing, elephant path finding, and (some might say) getting lost, we found ourselves in the shadow of trig point! The sandy patch around made for a great campsite, with a small seep from which we collected our water for the evening. We, however, were not alone that night and shared the vlei with a chorus of calls: Nightjars flitted overhead, Weavers and Quelea chirped in their hundreds as they gathered in their roosting spots and a hyena’s woops and drawn out howls echoed eerily down the valley with the cool still air amplifying his voice. Obviously curious, the hyena circled the camp while keeping his distance trying to work out who was joining him for the evening.

Thanks to an early start with the goal in our sights, Day Three was triumphant! The summit of trig is one view that cannot be described and pictures do it no justice. We had a 360° view of Matusadona National Park, from Ume to Sanayti River and all the folds and valleys in-between. We spent time taking it all in. It feels like you are sitting on clouds with the entire world below you. Amazingly, we had not been the first ones at the top that day as the trampled grass and fresh bug- ridden dung of elephant was all around us. These giants may actually enjoy the splendid views atop trig point too!

Our descent started midmorning. A swift drop into the Jeckecha River (first cross roads river) is where we found trickling water that seeped through the rocks and filtered through the tonnes of sand to quench our thirst. Our last day’s camp was perfect, nestled under a grove of giant green Mahogany trees with a crystal pool of water. The campfire’s smoke rose straight up the still air. A Red-faced Cisticola called in the tall grass, a cubby of Crested Francolin shuffled through the leaf litter, and Drongos darted back and forth through the smoke catching insects. Another unforgettable day had come to a close.

Our walk out on the last day was again a slow and careful trek. We rock hopped like Klipspringers down the boulder river, dropping further down to lake level. As we rounded the final bend, the welcoming sight of the boat with cold drinks and snacks brought life back into everyone. Legs and backs were no longer so sore and the silence said it all. A great sense of accomplishment was evident in all the smiles – a tour that not many have done. Magical Matusadona is a truly wild, untamed experience. No paths or signs, except those offered to us by nature. And should you accept Mother Nature’s offers you will find your way.

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