16-20 OCTOBER 2013


For more on our SA trip, click here.

The three hour drive from Beira to Gorongosa was a sobering experience as we passed from poor city to even poorer neighboring areas and then through outlying areas that to us, were in abject poverty. The severely rutted roads were busy, mainly with trucks, but also people walking and men riding bicycles. We saw mud huts, some really ramshackled and dilapidated, but we also saw some that were well kept in orderly gardens. By the road side there were women selling tomatoes, some cabbages, clothes and farther out, bundles of firewood. Everywhere we saw yellow jerry cans, their water containers.  Everywhere there were mango trees and many banana plants, and in one place where trucks had to slow down for customs inspection, young boys were selling small packets of delicious cashew nuts. And yet, we had to face it that these villagers at least had fertile land and abundant rain; there are many places in Africa where the land is parched and the people starving.

We arrived at Gorongosa and were taken to our spacious rondavel with internet!  A nice surprise.  We made our way to lunch and ordered a starter. 35 minutes later, as we watched the large table next to us being served, I remarked to Anthony that they obviously don't know about multitasking. He replied that they most probably don't even know single tasking.  We burst out laughing when the wrong starters were eventually placed in front of us!  But the food was good and we weren't in a hurry to go anywhere.

Gorongosa is not a Park for first or second time safari lovers. Gorongosa used to be one of the areas most densely populated by animals until the 1960s when civil war broke out. When order dissolved, 97% of the animals were killed for their meat or for their tusks, in order to buy ammunition or just get money.  Today there are no zebra – although the first 30 have been introduced to the sanctuary together with eland – and rhinos and wildebeest will be introduced in the future. There never were giraffes here.

Greg Carr is an American philanthropist who made his money in voicemail application. Greg has as his vision the re-establishment of the decimated Park. With an eye to maintaining the various ecosystems scientists are here to study lions and elephants as well as do research on insects.  He has also sponsored efforts for improvement of villages around the Park, building clinics and schools. By employing the (male) villagers he is enlisting their help in his conservation efforts. He hopes to eliminate poaching and provide sources of eco-income for the local population.

Gorongosa_fever trees

With Simba our guide we set off for an afternoon ride. There had been a planned bush fire two weeks ago and after rain the new grass had that fresh lime color against the blackened trunks of the trees. The habitat was constantly changing from forest to palm forests, large flood plains with no trees at all to fever trees. Dr. Livingston advised avoiding the trees as they like water and attract (malarial)  mosquitoes. These eerily yellow fever trees (an accacia) look like an illustration of a horror story for children, but the elephants love to topple them and eat their leaves.

We did see warthogs with their piglets, plentiful herds of waterbuck, reed buck, and impala. Impala have the ability to delay gestation by up to 2 months in order to time the birth of their offspring to the rains. We also saw many oribi (the smallest buck), nyala, kudo and sable antelope. Most of the rivers have dried up and the pools of water that we saw were covered with water lilies and a great spot to see birds. We watched as a crocodile moved in the water, discernible by the waterlilies floating on his back.  Later that evening when I went to swim in the pool I looked hard at the clean but somewhat green water. When the water gets really low crocodiles will migrate to other bodies of water and they once found a crocodile in the swimming pool!





We even saw 1 elephant; the only sighting that week by visitors. There are many elephants in a certain area of the Park. Two weeks ago when a rogue elephant attacked a private car the area was closed off. The scientists Peter ranli and Joyce Poole are studying the elephants in an attempt to discover whether this behavior will be repeated because the elephants remember the poaching and the killings of their tribe by the rebels in the civil war or whether this is just display behavior and the elephants will calm down. In the meantime you can go to their website to learn about their Gorongosa project.

When we stopped on a huge flood plain for drinks to sip beer, Simba suddenly rushed for his binoculars and told us to get back quickly into the jeep. We drove 250 meters and managed to see a lioness chasing a waterbuck while the lion gave up and stood in the grass.  Later on the same flood plain we saw a magnificent lion lying in the grass with two lionesses a few meters behind him. Simba said that was most probably Chinga, the lion that took over the pride the night before.  It was quite thrilling. At dinner we learnt from the researchers and the National Geographic photographers that a while ago it was  decided to collar MO2 (see This Week's Picture). When the team drove up and fired a dart into MO2's side he began to wobble. To the amazementof the researches, one lioness actually pulled out the dart from his side and chewed,  then spat it out.  When he began to topple the lionesses did not leave him as was expected. The lionesses were a potential danger to the lion and a definite danger to the researchers and photographers  and with some difficukty they chased the lionesses away. After placing the collar with the GPS around his neck, they circled the lion with the truck to protect him until he regained consciousness.


Chinga, the lion we saw at a distance lying in the grass, attempted to displace MO2 this week. The photographic team for National Geographic were concerned when 2 of the 5 lion cubs disappeared and they were afraid that Chinga had killed them. But the next day when we saw MO2 they thought that MO2 had reinstated himself and perhaps the cubs had joined a different pride.

Our second day at the Park was very different.  It was a day spent at a different rhythm from our ' now' culture and internet dependence.   After breakfast we met Simba and walked toward Vinho region. As we walked along the path, men walking or on bicycles passed us in the opposite direction on their way to work in the Park. Over 400 people from the surrounding villages are employed either in the hotel or in the Park.

We stopped to watch an army of Matabele ants crossing the path on their way to raid a termite mound.   We peered into the tiny volcano-like depressions that the lion ant makes to catch its prey We examined the fibrous inner body of the pod of the cucumber tree which is used like a sponge. We passed a sausage tree – never sleep under a sausage tree for if a sausage falls on you, you can get concussion!

We eventually reached the river and climbed into a metal boat with a flat bottom. The boat uses an engine in the rainy season but the river is so low now that the boatman had to pole the boat across the river. There is no charge as it is part of the park service for the workers.

After about an hour's walk we reached Vinho village It consists mainly of clusters of mud huts surrounded by mango and pawpaw trees and small plots of land, still overrun by weeds. We passed the brick house of the nurses' quarters and the clinic. On the roof there were solar panels – not for heating water – but to give light and run a fridge for the medicines. At the village pump I tried my hand at pumping water. Not too difficult, but there was no way I could raise the 20kilo yellow jerrycan onto my head as all the women do. In fact I could hardly lift it.


We continued to the primary school. The clinic and the school buildings are funded by the Carr Foundation. The teacher of class five and the headmaster came out to speak to us. The school has 600 students, 7 teachers and about 60 children to a class in two sessions a day. Schooling is free mainly because they don' have the money to pay. Children who go on to high school, after grade 7, must move to Beira, so few children do.  When we entered the class all the kids jumped to attention and greeted us in Portugese. We were surprised at the number of locals who speak Portugese in addition to Tsonga, their local tongue. In the teachers' study room Eitan noticed that they study a single subject the whole day.


We continued along the dusty main street and saw the local cinema – wooden benches in a hut with the movie powered by a solar panel. The few shops were shut as everyone was at work. Two women were frying piles of dough and placing them in plastic bags to sell later. On a table selling  tomatoes, cabbage and some lettuce leaves, we saw two dry little cobs of pale yellow corn, nothing like the corn we eat. In the fields it was mainly women, often with children on their backs, who were hoeing the patches, before planting  maize in preparation for  the coming rainy season. It is back-breaking work

When we crossed the river there was a young boy wheeling his bicycle across the river. Unfortunately our guide wouldn't let me cross by foot.

In the afternoon we did another drive and saw many birds and much the same animals as we saw yesterday, except we were meters away from MO2, the collared lion. He gave us a little show by getting up, scratching himself and then ambling past us, stopping to scent the air as the sun was shining through the hairs around his mouth and emphasizing his huge teeth. Afterward he plopped himself in the shade. Our lion experts assured us that at nightfall he would give a huge roar and his pride would gather around him for the night. Had he been displaced?

 One day we drove three hours to Mount Gorongosa. The roadside was lined with logs of charcoal for sale and  when we got to the mountain it was virtually denuded of trees.  The Mocambique government agreed to add the mountain to the Park Reserve on condition that the Carr Foundation reforested the area. We met an agriculture specialist from England who is helping plant coffee trees in the shade of the other planted. trees. Native to Africa coffee will also help supply the locals with a source of income. We walked for 1 1/2 hour past scattered huts and stalls selling second hand clothes (to whom???), and banana and pineapple plantations and arrived at the magnificent Murimbodzi waterfall.Unending plentiful water. What a treat! When I dived into a pool of water half way up the mountain I thought I would have a heart attack as the water was so cold. On the way back by the river we saw women pounding maize which they then washed in the water.


On our last drive we went to Bua Maria to see the sunset. As we stood on the ridge we looked at the long Pungue River winding its way to the Indian Ocean. "Afrika," in all its
mystique and appeal was displayed before us as as the red sun slowly slipped behind the mountains,
Gorongosa - Bea MariaAnother great day!


For more on our SA trip, click here.