Matabo National Park (ZW)

Andy was back, filling in for another guy. In fact this area is his home turf but he goes where people book him. Today the mission was a walk with the rhinos; reading tracks and finding them on foot. Before we did that we checked out more bushman paintings, tried to visit the village of the local Ndebele tribe (no luck because the main guy was not around and Andy didn’t want to disturb them) and did a whole lot of bird and crocodile watching from the jeep.

At lunchtime we discussed Zimbabwean politics and much like the old lady Andy feels no need to escape the country despite all the problems. Nobody in the country has any high regard for Mugabe yet “the Africans are lazy” and would not topple the government because of that. Also, they “have no guts” which is why you can’t publicly criticize the government (we were sworn to secrecy as he could get into real trouble for saying this) and which is why you might win any kind of argument as well- if there is a problem and you consider a bribe simply stand up to it and it may go away as nobody expects this reaction.

Andy has lost lots of money when the local currency was converted to US$ and like everyone else he’s trying to survive but he says he was born here and although he also has a European passport he would never think of leaving as he wouldn’t even know where to go and what to do there. He said he spent a week in Italy where he inherited a house by his grandfather and he hated every minute of it. He grew up like a modern version of Crocodile Dundee, he has a full hunting and rangers license and he walks around barefoot with a bush knife and a rifle on his tours. He lives in the city for business but prefers to be in the bush with wild animals and that really shows.

Needless to say that we learned a whole lot about hunting and tracking wild animals. By the shape of a footprint we could not only see which animal just waltzed by but also when (color, depth) and its intent (smell, wind direction, etc.). He was spot on. At one spot he declared that a giraffe had slipped here and sure enough a few minutes later we saw a giraffe with a baby, the mother had mud on her hooves.

However the mission was to find a rhino and after an hour of following tracks I spotted two white ones (before him!) not 100 yards from us. This was truly amazing, all we did was follow this barefoot guy who smelled the air, looked at prints and successfully fooled baboons and other animals with his bird impressions. I don’t think we took it too seriously until these two huge rhinos were suddenly facing us and he indicated that we should duck and shut the hell up. So from then on the mission was not to piss the rhinos off as they are seriously dangerous when they charge, and our survival rate solely depended on his rifle. We followed the rhinos for about 15 minutes while trying to be as quiet as possible which is not an easy task in nature at all. The rhinos were nervous and often interrupted their grazing but luckily they never came for us.

Photo

We also hung out with some hippos, the other seriously dangerous species you don’t want to meet up too closely. Hippos make this really funny “ho ho ho” sound, like a sarcastic laugh but really deep, which apparently is their first warning. The second warning supposedly is them defecating into water while wagging their tails to spread the goods, this marks their territory. We never got to see that though. The third warning is the yawn, the mouth wide open shot everyone with a camera is always waiting for. If you’re still too close and you ignored all of this hippos will eventually come for you.

Andy’s part of the day was long over but he worked overtime again just to show us “his world”. We got the full package, sunset, birds, more animals in the dark, stars on rocks… If anyone ever comes this way they should definitely book him, the guy is a trip.

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