Our last trip to Mana was quite an adventure with huge numbers of bugs, strong winds, rain, a rampaging wind scorpion, and a hyaena seige of our campsite combining to make of of the most hectic nights of camping I have had. But having scared Annie with all of the stories, I am was confident that it would be unlikely for such adventure to find us a second time in a row. I was wrong.
Our first adventure happened before we had even found our way to the camp. I had been told tales of a huge Baobab tree, possibly the largest in Africa, maybe even the world! This mythical tree was to be found, around 20km from the first checkpoint after entering the wilderness area. Despite asking every National Parks person that we passed in the different Parks checkpoints, I they could not narrow it down more than, just off the road on the left, between 18km and 20km from the boom. Being a keen photographer I was of course very interested in seeing such a tree, but as we drove it was obvious that the lush bush, which would be very dry at other times of the year, would make it difficult to spot. So come 18km we crawled along with our eyes peeled. Of course there were no signs saying “Largest Baobab in Africa to Left”, or even a track or path for that matter. Shortly after 20km though there was a track to the left. Surely this is the way! We head off down the rough track. It is not long before our four wheel drive is tested with a quite hectic crossing of a dry river bed. After a few km there is no sign of any overly large Baobabs. Looking at our trusty map of Zimbabwe, I notice a green line that follows where we have gone and joins up with the main road 20km or so along. The bush is beautiful so I decide to continue on, trusting that we will join up later. We cross a couple more dry rivers and charge through a few more muddy puddles. At some points we temporarily lose the road. It’s easy to do as many areas are very open and flat and one can choose their own route through. I am not really paying attention to which direction we are heading, confident that the green line on the map will deliver us eventually.
At 30km we still have not joined up with the main road. Normally at this point logic would have kicked in and told us the very obvious course of action would be to go back, especially after Annie looked at the map and realised that the green lines signify park borders and not in fact, roads. Maybe it was the stunningly lush green bushland that we were driving through, maybe it was our indominable spirit of adventure or maybe sheer stupidity, but we drove on in the hope that we would end up somewhere. Having given up on the illusion that we would meet to the main road we now paid attention to where we were actually heading. Had we been doing this earlier it would have been obvious that the road was heading north and not east as it was meant to. We were now hoping to reach the road that runs along the river. I was really regretting that I had inexplicably not taken the shiny new GPS that my dad had offered us.
We drove on through more amazing bush scenery, which was now beautifully lit by the late afternoon sunlight. The hills to the north of us seemed to gradually get closer, promising that we were nearing our goal. The road splits off a couple of times and try keeping north.
50km. The sun is down, we’re not at the river yet. Time to face the reality that we’re going to have to set up and sleep in our flimsy tent out here, “Somewhere in the bush near Mana Pools”. I set up the tent while the girls start preparing our elaborately planned first meal. Its dark by the time the tent is up, and I am not happy being out in the open so dinner is canned and we have peanut butter on bread huddled in the tent. Through the night we can hear hippos bellowing and snorting, there are distant lion sounds, and very un-distant sounds of large animals moving near the tent. I spend a fair bit of the night praying that it does not rain heavily, as it is prone to at that time of year. I have finally come to the fairly obvious realisation that if it does, the numerous muddy puddles and dry beds that we only just got through to get here will be innavigable and we’ll be stuck in the bush 50km from the nearest road that we should have been driving on. I don’t mention this to the girls and hope they are sleeping well.
We rise with the sun in the morning and get to walk around the tent looking at all of the footprints of all the animals that have been wandering around our tent during the night, antelope, baboons, hyaena, elephant and a few that I don’t recognise. Although I am fairly sure we are now on, or at least near, the river road, we have no idea how far we have to go. As much as it pains me to backtrack, we wisely decided to head back. Luckily the cars tracks are still fresh on the ground so we have no problem following our path back. We manage not to get stuck and I am very relieved when roll back onto the main road two hours or so later. We take no more detours on the way to camp, but not far along the road we see a large pack of twenty wild dogs. Endangered, and very seldom seen, it is a real treat to see them, even worth spending the night in the bush. We watch them for a good while as they relax and play by the road before going on to our lodge.

Our last trip to Mana was quite an adventure with huge numbers of bugs, strong winds, rain, a rampaging wind scorpion, and a hyaena seige of our campsite combining to make of of the most hectic nights of camping I have had. But having scared Annie with all of the stories, I am was quietly confident that it would be unlikely for such adventure to find us a second time in a row. I was wrong.

Our first adventure happened before we had even found our way to the camp. I had been told tales of a huge Baobab tree, possibly the largest in Africa, maybe even the world! This mythical tree was to be found, around 20km from the first checkpoint after entering the wilderness area. Despite asking every National Parks person that we passed in the different Parks checkpoints, I they could not narrow it down more than, just off the road on the left, between 18km and 20km from the boom. Being a keen photographer I was of course very interested in seeing such a tree, but as we drove it was obvious that the lush bush, which would be very dry at other times of the year, would make it difficult to spot. So come 18km we crawled along with our eyes peeled. Of course there were no signs saying “Largest Baobab in Africa to Left”, or even a track or path for that matter. Shortly after 20km though there was a track to the left. Surely this is the way! We head off down the rough track. It is not long before our four wheel drive is tested with a quite hectic crossing of a dry river bed. After a few km there is no sign of any overly large Baobabs. Looking at our trusty map of Zimbabwe, I notice a green line that follows where we have gone and joins up with the main road 20km or so along. The bush is beautiful so I decide to continue on, trusting that we will join up later. We cross a couple more dry rivers and charge through a few more muddy puddles. At some points we temporarily lose the road. It’s easy to do as many areas are very open and flat and one can choose their own route through. I am not really paying attention to which direction we are heading, confident that the green line on the map will deliver us eventually.

At 30km we still have not joined up with the main road. Normally at this point logic would have kicked in and told us that the very obvious course of action would be to go back, especially after Annie looked at the map and realised that the green lines signify park borders and not in fact, roads. Maybe it was the stunningly lush green bushland that we were driving through, maybe it was our indominable spirit of adventure or maybe sheer stupidity, but we drove on in the hope that we would end up somewhere. Having given up on the illusion that we would meet to the main road we now paid attention to where we were actually heading. Had we been doing this earlier it would have been obvious that the road was heading north and not east as it was meant to. We were now hoping to reach the road that runs along the river. I was really regretting that I had inexplicably not taken the shiny new GPS that my dad had offered us.

We drove on through more amazing bush scenery, which was now beautifully lit by the late afternoon sunlight. The hills to the north of us seemed to gradually get closer, promising that we were nearing our goal. The road splits off a couple of times and and we try keeping north.

50km. The sun is down, we’re not at the river yet. Time to face the reality that we’re going to have to set up and sleep in our flimsy tent out here, “Somewhere in the bush near Mana Pools”. I set up the tent while the girls start preparing our elaborately planned first meal. Its dark by the time the tent is up, and I am not happy being out in the open so dinner is canned and we have peanut butter on bread huddled in the tent. Through the night we can hear hippos bellowing and snorting, there are distant lion sounds, and very un-distant sounds of large animals moving near the tent. I spend a fair bit of the night praying that it does not rain heavily, as it is prone to at that time of year. I have finally come to the fairly obvious realisation that if it does, the numerous muddy puddles and dry beds that we only just got through to get here will be innavigable and we’ll be stuck in the bush 50km from the nearest road that anyone would ever expect us to drive on. I don’t mention this to the girls and hope they are sleeping well.

We rise with the sun in the morning and get to walk around the tent looking at all of the footprints of all the animals that have been wandering around our tent during the night, antelope, baboons, hyaena, elephant and a few that I don’t recognise. Although I am fairly sure we are now on, or at least near, the river road, we have no idea how far we have to go. As much as it pains me to backtrack, we wisely decided to head back. Luckily the cars tracks are still fresh on the ground so we have no problem following our path back. We manage not to get stuck and I am very relieved when roll back onto the main road two hours or so later. We take no more detours on the way to camp, and not far along the road we see a large pack of twenty wild dogs. Endangered, and very seldom seen, it is a real treat to see them, maybe even worth spending the night in the bush. We watch them for a good while as they relax and play by the road before going on to our lodge  and setting about preparing a huge and indulgent cooked breakfast lunch.