Looking back on our holiday, we all agreed that our favourite place that we stayed was Dan’s place – or, as officially named, Mavunje campsite run by a cheerful Englishman called (you guessed it) Dan.
Dan is contagiously enthusiastic about the region and spent many hours sharing stories with us over a glass of wine or dinner. His campsite is run as a part of what is otherwise a business focused on expert tours of the Kwando / Mashi river system (Mashi River Safaris). Although his focus may be on the river safaris but this does not mean that any corners have been cut in building his campsites. The sites have been set up with a lot of care and consideration. The end result is that they are private and about as comfortable as you can get while still being in the wild. There are 2 campsites, each with their own view of the waterways. They have a fully equipped kitchen; private shower, toilet and basin (with paraffin lamps!) and a little covered dining room complete with table and tablecloth – a real delight for someone like me who loves soft furnishings!
The campsite was so separate from anything else that it felt like we were completely isolated from civilization. This was made more real when we discovered the hippo path next to our campsite and learnt that we were right next to an elephant corridor. So, we had two nights of hippo grunting symphonies to lull us to sleep and one night of nervously listening to grumbling elephant passing by our camp.
Mudumu National Park by car
The campsite is only 20 minutes from the entrance of Mudumu National Park. Although we had already booked a boat ride with Dan for the afternoon, we couldn’t resist popping into the park to have a look. Dan had made it sound even more appealing by letting us know that this would probably be one of the most rule-free parks we would visit. Unlike Chobe in Botswana or Kruger in South Africa, game viewing here is pretty relaxed. We could sit on our roof racks or explore off road a bit without any trouble.
It wasn’t hard to find elephant in the park. We headed straight to the water and straight into a drinking herd. They weren’t too pleased about our presence there and a few of the younger bulls started walking towards us and waving their ears. I was (predictably) very nervous but everyone else was calm saying that they were probably just worried that we were in their path. (I was worried about that too so not sure how that was supposed to calm me down.) We were in a tricky position. They wanted to come our way and we wanted to go their way. Hmmmmm. Luckily Don drives a Landcruiser and an adventurous spirit and we headed off road into the bushes to try and go around the herd. We came out (a bit bumped and scratched) the other side and the elephant moved on peacefully.
After that, we made the mistake of heading inland away from the water. Don’t do that. There is nothing there in the dry season. So, we headed back to the water for a quick snack. As we were approaching the ‘hippo pool’ a spotted a large rock about 10m from the road which looked a lot like a hippo. It seemed unbelievable as we were still a few kms from the water. Despite this, we headed back off road and, sure enough, we found a huge lump of a hippo lying in the sun. This was highly highly unusual. In all my years in Africa I had never seen a hippo this far out of the water in the middle of the day. We were convinced that he must have been kicked out of his pod and had come here to die. He even had wounds to back up our story. This turned out to be a bit overly dramatic. Dan later told us that hippo often do this when they have been hurt, using the sun to dry out their wounds. After that I just felt bad for disturbing the poor old chap!
Bwabwata National Park by boat
Not satisfied with our morning game viewing, we spent the afternoon on a river cruise closer to our camp. Dan was in his element at the helm of his boat showing us around his neighborhood. He seemed almost familiar with the pods of hippo floating on our route – I wouldn’t be surprised if he recognised each and every one – and had an almost childlike delight each time he spotted something to share with us. He had boasted to us that he knew the paths of the animals by heart and we teasingly told him we would not pay unless he found us some red lechwe (a type of buck only found in this region). True to his word he hunted out a herd and, once all the obligatory photos had been taken, he expertly maneuvered the boat into a position for us to watch them running away and pronking across the water.
Animal watching from a boat is very special. Where cars are noisy and intrusive a boat is able to silently float right up next to the animals. We managed to sit right on the edge of the water while a glorious male Kudu ate from a bush and also snuck up on a hippo out of the water who got such a fright that he belly flopped back into the water right in front of our path. Probably the most special encounter was when we cam across a large bull elephant in the process of crossing the water way. The water mark came right up to his eyes but the time we saw him he was only knee deep and making his way slowly to the edge. He passed by a fish eagle, sitting on the waters edge and gave us a photo opportunity of note – two great African icons in one shot. Once he was out of the water, he went in to the bush and disappeared silently. It never ceases to amaze me how those giants can simply disappear in the bush.
Dan kept us out on the water a little bit longer than usual. He wanted to share with us the beautiful African sunset over the water (and I think also wanted us to have some close encounters with the hippo leaving for their evening meal!) The sunset was spectacular, especially the way it reflected off the ripples in the water following the water. Just another day in Africa I suppose.