BOB BONE'S TravelPieces  

Africa

Adventures in Zimbabwe

Text and photos by Robert W. Bone

Agatha feins a charge on our boats
MANA POOLS, Zimbabwe -- The weather was ideal for a late afternoon swim, and Agatha began to lead the way to her favorite deep spot in the Zambezi.

Agatha's extended family followed closely -- younger sisters, nieces, and nephews, along with Agatha's own daughter, Nana, and Nana's somewhat klutzy baby, Forrest Gump. 

There are lots of things Agatha is wary of in the river -- hippos, crocodiles, and anything mysterious. Agatha is the matriarch of the herd, and after more than 50 years of experience, she takes her role seriously. Her clan did as they were told, and today Agatha was telling them to stay behind her and not to enter the water unless she gave the high sign.

The mysterious element that concerned Agatha were two small boats, occupied by our tiny group of American visitors. Like most elephants, Agatha does not see very well. She also did not realize that we were more afraid of her than she was of us.

Members of this elephant family have been given names by guides at the nearby Chikwenya Safari Camp, here in Mana Pools National Park. We had seen Agatha and her herd on land, and there they paid almost no attention to us. Wild animals in the national parks are familiar with Land Rovers, our usual transportation in the bush. Even lions and leopards accept these motorized beasts as rather large but harmless creatures. Only monkeys and baboons, with their sharp, color-sensitive eyes, recognize people as people, even if they are sitting in an open-air, eight-passenger vehicle. 

On the river the rules are different. We drifted close to Agatha so we could take pictures, and she responded with a brief false charge -- flapping her ears wide and taking a couple of threatening steps toward us. (See photo.) 

We then motored much farther away so we could watch from a distance when the elephants finally went for a dip. We thought their entry into the water would silhouette them against a dramatic orange sunset.

But Agatha would have none of it. She allowed her kin to proceed only to the edge of the river. Using their trunks, they bathed as best they could for a few minutes and then drank from what is known as Africa's last major unpolluted river. At one point, Nana was allowed to take Forrest Gump back to play for a few minutes in a shallow pond away from the main course of the river. Darkness fell quickly and we felt a little ashamed for having interrupted this close-knit family outing.

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The national park system in Zimbabwe is one of the best in Africa. Guides must demonstrate a high degree of proficiency, and animals live there the way they always have.

Zimbabwe's attractions are actually three-fold: 
The most famous sight is Victoria Falls, a massive cascade which plunges into a deep gorge. In 1855 the explorer David Livingstone named it for his queen. The falls occur on the Zambezi at a major crossing between Zimbabwe and Zambia, the two countries known during British colonial days as Southern and Northern Rhodesia.

A second significant feature of the country is formed by the haunting stone ruins of an ancient city, today known as Great Zimbabwe. Nineteenth century explorers thought it might be the location of King Solomon's Mines. Today most archeologists agree it was constructed by Africans between the third and the ninth Century. The ruined city now forms the emotional focal point for the nation that wrested itself from colonialism only in 1980.

The third, and largest lure is the national park system which covers more than 1/8th the area of the country. It is this which attracts foreigners, many of them seeking to spot the "Big Five" -- elephant, lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, and rhinoceros.

Travelers stay in well-organized safari camps. There they learn to appreciate other handsome animals besides the Big Five, including the majestic antelopes (impala. sable, water buck, eland, kudu, and more), as well as many other wild species like giraffe, zebra, hippo, wildebeest, cheetah, wart hog, monkey and baboon. Intriguing bird life includes the beautiful lilac-breasted roller bird, and several others with dramatic plumage or melodious voices. 
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(There are several URLs on the internet featuring Zimbabwe in some way. One called ZIMWEB is at http://www.zimbabwetourism.co.zw, and there you'll find hyperlinked gateways to other sites.)

 

This tRAVELPIECE appeared in several publications: Information

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