Mana Pools National Park

IMG_1380We spent the tail-end of our incredible Zimbabwe trip at the beautiful Mana Pools National Park. Set along the banks of the broad and peaceful Zambezi, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is lush and teeming with wildlife.

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Friendly visits at our tent.

We stayed at Ruckomechi,  a tented camp right along the river. One of the highlights of the stay was the frequent occurrence of animals making their way though camp down to the water for a drink. One afternoon, reading my book on the deck, a mother elephant came within a foot of me, waving her trunk and staring me down with her soulful eyes. She must have decided I was harmless, because after 30 breathless seconds, she turned away and continued to munch on fallen leaves. The brief moments were among of the most intimate I have ever experienced with nature.

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What a whopper!

We continued our jam-packed daily schedule, led by our knowledgable and patient guide Engelbert. Our second afternoon, we set out on a pontoon boat for a bit of fishing along the Zambezi.  Spencer made the only catch of the day, a whopping 8-inch tiger fish.

IMG_1526.jpgIn the early mornings and evenings, we continued with our game drives. The only one of the Big Five that Spencer and I had not yet laid eyes on was the leopard, so that became our all-consuming goal.  But we also a host of other cool animals. An 11-foot nile crocodile was sunning himself on the bank. Cat-like genets darted between the grasses in the dark. Families of warthogs tromped along in a line. An elephant standing on his hind legs to reach a tasty snack of leaves. And a personal favorite, curious lion cubs tumbled down a hill to inspect us, before they resumed their rambunctious games.

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IMG_1543.jpgA unique feature of Ruckomechi camp is the star bed, a bed set out a ways out from camp on an open tree stand. Spencer and I slept up there the first night. We lay awake for a while in awe of the endless stars overhead and the mysterious sounds of the wildlife all around us.

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The staircase to our open-air star bed

On our last day, we climbed into canoes and floated our way down the river, careful to avoid the numerous hippos that popped their heads up every once in a while. Down river, we climbed out of the canoes to find a bonfire set up for us on a small plateau at the river’s edge. We were served gin and tonics as a chef cooked up chicken wings and popcorn over the fire. Then we had birthday cake for Nick, Spencer’s brother, and toasted to an incredible, unforgettable African vacation.

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An elephant crossing the Zambezi, as a hippo looks on.

(We left Mana Pools without having seen the elusive leopard, although we did hear it’s call in the night. We still have 5 months in Africa, and I am determined to spot one before we live this continent. Next chance will be Botswana with my parents. Fingers crossed!)

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