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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.
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.
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 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.
stopped to watch
an army of Matabele ants crossing the path on their way to raid a
termite mound. We peered into the
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
passed a sausage tree – never sleep under a sausage tree for if a
on you, you can get concussion!
reached the river and climbed into a metal boat with a flat bottom. The
an engine in the rainy season but the river is so low now that the
to pole the boat across the river. There is no charge as it is part of
service for the workers.
hour's walk we reached Vinho village It consists mainly of clusters of
surrounded by mango and pawpaw trees and small plots of land, still
overrun by weeds. We passed the brick house of the
quarters and the clinic. On the roof there were solar panels – not for
water – but to give light and run a fridge for the medicines. At the
pump I tried my hand at pumping water. Not too difficult, but there was
I could raise the 20kilo yellow jerrycan onto my head as all the women
fact I could hardly lift it.
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
afternoon we did another drive and saw many birds and much the same
we saw yesterday, except we were meters away from MO2, the collared
gave us a little show by getting up, scratching himself and then
us, stopping to scent the air as the sun was shining through the hairs
his mouth and emphasizing his huge teeth. Afterward he plopped himself
shade. Our lion experts assured us that at nightfall he would give a
and his pride would gather around him for the night. Had he been
mystique and appeal was
displayed before us as as the red sun slowly slipped behind the
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