Tag Archives: Safari

Is That A Charging Elephant or Is He Paying Cash?

The highlight of our time in Zimbabwe was a trip to Mana Pools, about two hundred miles north of Harare. Totally unknown prior to our arrival, we heard numerous stories from guests at the UZ Visitor’s Lodge about a wildlife viewing experience thoroughly unlike that of more well-known destinations such as the Serengeti or Masai Mara.   Mana Pools is the only game park in Zimbabwe offering walking safaris that attempt to recreate the classic big-game hunts of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—before the advent of satellite phones, Land Rovers, GPS location systems, and trucks laden with luxury provisions and all the comforts of home. Back then the only game you saw was what your guides could locate on foot, and the only provisions available to you were those carried on the backs of porters.  It sounded fascinating so Ruth and I purchased a four-day packaged tour to Mana Pools from a local travel agency.

We were met at the park’s front gate by our guide, Willie DeBeers, a grizzled sixty-something Afrikaner toting a massive elephant gun and missing two fingers on his right hand, courtesy of a close encounter with a spotted hyena. Each day our group of a dozen or so would walk for six to eight hours searching for game as Willie kept a watchful eye to the front for unfriendly beasts; the porters had our backs. Since we were on foot and without access to a locked vehicle for safety, we would stop when passing a tall stand of grass to let Willie make sure nothing unfriendly was lurking in the shadows. Our daily route was not preplanned but dictated by any signs of animal life spotted by the guide—footprints, spoor, recent kills—as well as the presence of irritable beasts that required a large cushion of space between themselves and human intruders.

Coming Across A Bull Elephant in the Wild. A Few Seconds After This Photo Was Snapped It Charged Directly At Us

One morning we happened across a massive bull elephant only a few hundred feet ahead, bellowing and scraping the ground with his right front leg. Willie informed us this behavior meant he was about to charge, and right on cue he did–all four tons of him, heading straight for the group at a full gallop. I froze in utter terror until he came to a dead stop not thirty feet away. Willie laughed and informed us he could tell from the animal’s demeanor this would be a “false charge,” and that the elephant would stop before reaching us. We were then told to move slowly backward from the angry beast—still standing in front of us—and everything would be just fine. He had let the elephant charge to give us some excitement and provide a great story for friends and family back home.

Three weeks later a story appeared on the front page of the Zimbabwe Herald about a University of Zimbabwe geography professor trampled to death by a rogue elephant at Mana Pools. I can only assume this animal was uninformed about Willie’s rule requiring all elephants to clearly indicate a false charge. This was a little too much for me in the way of recreating nineteenth-century realism, but Willie was right about one thing. I did end up telling this story to family and friends as soon as I got back home.

The Most Beautiful Place on Earth

The most frequent question I get from friends and family is “What is the most fabulous place you have ever been?”  My stock answer is that I’ve enjoyed them all—exactly the cop-out reply you get from any parent when asked which of their children they love the most.  However, if you were to insist I not weasel out my response would be the Ngorongoro Crater National Park in Tanzania, a hundred-square-mile volcanic caldera encircled by mountains rising two thousand feet above the valley floor.   (Readers:  I would love to receive comments on what you think is the most beautiful place on Earth!)  My wife and I arranged for a tour from a local travel agent, drove 120 miles from Nairobi to the border city of Namanga (in our ancient Nissan), walked through customs, and were met on the Tanzanian side by our tour guide and van.

Example Of The Abundance of Wildlife Found In The Ngorongoro Crater National Park

The Ngorongoro Crater contains more than twenty-five thousand animals, including herds of zebra, gazelle, and wildebeest, large flocks of flamingos, and the important “big five” of all safari goers—rhino, lion, elephant, leopard, and cape buffalo.   We stayed at a lovely hotel perched on the crater’s edge with stunning veranda views of the landscape a half-mile below.

As we descended into the park each morning via a dirt track dropping at a stomach-wrenching 17 percent incline, the feeling was reminiscent of the undiscovered plateau in The Lost World, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In this case, however, it is not a plateau keeping the animals in but a half-mile high mountain range.  Within its small area, the sunken crater includes a number of environments–lakes, swamps, highland forest, open grassland–that support an enormous range of wildlife.  Although the animals are generally free to migrate in and out of the crater, the area has the feeling of an unfenced enclosure in which the animals have been placed for your viewing pleasure.  In Ngorongoro it would not be uncommon to sit in your vehicle enjoying the sight of a large black rhino while directly behind you a pride of lions is stalking its next meal.  In virtually every direction you gaze you experience a diversity of animal life found nowhere else on earth.

Typical Veranda Views From Hotel Rooms On The Rim Of The Crater

That four-day Tanzanian safari was an unforgettable experience, especially as it was not a long-planned, carefully researched expedition but rather an impromptu “let’s get out of town” jaunt taken during school vacation, much as you might impulsively head to the beach or a lake cabin on a three-day holiday weekend.  Rather than having to pre-plan and pre-book your entire holiday, which can be difficult in an unfamiliar country, a two- or three-month working vacation affords you the time to settle in to a new residence, talk to locals, learn about those special out-of-the-way places that you really must see, and book a tour from a local travel agent at your convenience and at a fraction of the cost. The end result is that your holiday becomes much more like life back home where you may read about an event or see a travel deal advertised in the newspaper and, on a whim, give it a try.  It is a wonderfully  spontaneous way to travel.