What a fabulous position we have here in our camp at Mana Pools. We are directly on the banks of the wide and swiftly-flowing Zambezi River with the mountains of Zambia over the other side shimmering in the sun. An island in the river right in front of us shelters hippos which we can hear snorting and grunting over the water. It is simply one of the most beautiful places we have ever camped at.
Vervet monkeys and baboons are very cheeky here and we have to keep everything out of reach all the time, keep the tent closed and zippered and the car doors only open for as long as you need to grab something from inside. In fact baboons know how to undo zippers and the tents have to be collapsed in a heap when you leave the campsite for any time.
We went out early on our own in the car to check out some of the pools where we were rewarded with fantastic sightings of crocs and hippos. We also came across impala, warthog, zebra, a beautiful saddleback stork and rainbow bee-eater, and we surprised an elephant as much as he surprised us when we came around a blind corner!
Back at camp around 11 we had a late breakfast, a huge plate of bacon and eggs, the first breakfast that hasn't been boring old cereal (which is the easiest thing to have when packing up at godforsaken hours in the morning).
Later in the afternoon we ventured out again following more tracks and pausing at pools to see what was around. At one pool I was ready to leap out of the car to get a closer shot of a group of hippos when Russ said he would drive just that bit closer first. Imagine our surprise when a huge croc jumped up and slithered into the water from just the spot I was going to photograph from. Every now and then, one is reminded that Africa is not a place to simply wander around in the bush like at home!
I took a few short videos of the snorting and bobbing antics of the hippos. One was lucky timing: an egret was perched on one hippo's back and was rising and falling as the hippo did. While the camera was running, the egret leaned forward and snapped up a fish in its beak! Wi-fi speed permitting, I'll try and upload it.
With a full moon in a clear sky, we watched the sun go down and cooked up a storm (chicken legs in bottled butter chicken sauce - everything here is a one-pan dish) for dinner before our usual gathering around the campfire before an early night.
What a night! Despite an early night, we had a remarkable lack of sleep. We know from past experience that hippos come onto the riverbanks to feed on grass by night. Hippos are the most dangerous large animal in Africa and venturing from the tent at night when they are around is strictly not to be done. So we listened to the snorts and grunts and chewing of an unknown number of animals from about 11pm or so. At about 4 in the morning there was the most fearful noise as two hippos fought each other with shrieks and squeals… right behind the car next to our tent! It then seemed that one gave in and we heard the heavy running footsteps of first one then the other and two huge splashes into the water where the fight continued for a while. Amongst it all, the night also gave us lions roaring and hyenas with their peculiar howls. Not a scenario conducive to sound sleep!
We had another day here to explore and we returned to some of the pools we visited yesterday and drove down some other tracks to see some new sights. Again Mana Pools did not disappoint and we had many close up sightings of elephants with babies, zebra with babies, hippos with babies, warthogs with babies, the beautiful waterbuck who has an unfortunate pattern marking on his rear end shaped like a target, a pied kingfisher, some storks of various kinds and the superb iridescent blue-black Maeve's Starling.
Monkeys again came to annoy us at lunch and tried valiantly to snatch anything from the car or from the table that they could. They are indiscriminate with what they take - they go for anything they can carry, taste it high up on a branch and, if it is not to their liking, toss it down to the ground, hopefully somewhere you can retrieve it… and not into the hippo- and croc-infested water! So far we haven't lost anything to them, but some of the others here haven't been so lucky.
Just sitting on the banks of the Zambezi watching the water flow by and listening to the grunts of the hippos over the water on the island in front of us is about as relaxing as it can get. But tomorrow we have to pack up and head west again, so early start here we come.