Chirundu Border crossing and Mana Pools
Chirundu Border crossing
A couple of weeks ago we decided only to visit Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and than continue to Zambia due to many police road block and the briberies you need to pay for the most ludicrous fines you can think of, i.e. your reflector tape is not 3000 square mm or you do not have a land code sticker (that we don’t have anymore in the Netherlands for more than a decade), etc… However so many people we met on route said that we really needed to visited Mana Pools. Even if we would not travel further into Zimbabwe. So we made our truck as Zimbabwean proof as we could. We went to a print shop in Lusaka and had two stickers printed; one saying LHD (Left hand drive) and of course the country code sticker. After an early start we drove again the scenic mountain road, we already knew from our trip to Lake Kariba, towards the border with Zimbabwe.
Chirundu is the border post between Zambia and Zimbabwe and is an (easy) ‘one stop’ border post. We got there around 01.00PM and the Zambian procedure is completed in minutes. Next stop the Zimbabwean immigration and custom office, we got our passports stamped and continued to the custom office for the truck. We find the right office and the lady mentioned that we need to pay carbon tax, before she can stamp our carnet de passage... At the office for the carbon tax, the lady informs us that due to the power outage we cannot pay the carbon tax until power is back on… so we just sat and waited for almost two hours before the generator was started (after they had filled it with diesel). We finally got the formalities for the car done as well and continued our way to Mana Pools.
Just 5 kilometres from the border post we were however stopped at a road block… a man in casual clothing (seems weird???) said they are going to check our truck for ‘vehicle defects’, meaning they want a bribe or will find the most ridiculous things wrong with our car to fine you. Zimbabwe has a list of at least 80 rules for your car. Wilfred has a pack of cigarettes in his shorts for these occasions, but doesn’t have to get out of the car. Wilfred gave a copy of his license to a police officer that seemed to have no interest at all to check it. A police officer on the other side of the car shouts something to the casually dressed man and he immediately said: ‘you can go, you can go’. While we head off, we saw a nice looking luxury 4WD car drive towards us (our thought; either officials -against bribery- or the next victim (they expect to get a higher bribe from).
Even though we started early on our drive to Mana Pools it is now late afternoon (15h40) and normally you are not allowed to drive to the campsite after 15h00. However, we get clearance and did our best to reach the campsite before sunset.
A campsite on the river normally costs $115,- per night. But we heard form other overland travellers that they also have campsites for only $23,- per person per night, so we booked one…also on the river…any different than the others?…not as far as we could see…
Mana Pools is a national park on the shores of the Zambezi River and on the world heritage list. It’s also the only park in Africa with large predators (lions, leopards, cheetahs and two packs of African wild dogs) where you are allowed do to unguided walks. The campsite is unfenced and a lot of animals walk through the campsite everyday and especially at night. The game viewing area is mostly concentrated near the riverbed and a few pans during the dry season.
We again met with the American couple that we had met while working on our truck in Cape Town and we had some very enjoyable evenings. The next couple of days we did two game drives per day (early morning and late afternoon) and the time in between we spent chatting with the people we met on the campsite. We saw many baby elephants, a huge bull elephant standing on his back legs eating leaves from a tree, lot’s of different antelopes (water buck, bush buck, impala, puku), different storks, and the highlight the endangered African wild dogs (painted dogs) hunting on impale. We also spent some time at a pan with a lot of crocodiles in it. One afternoon the pack of painted dogs came to drink there. Unfortunately a 2 year old dog got killed by a large crocodile (a sighting that was missed by the BBC crew, see below)…the hauling of that dog is a sound we will never forget. The next afternoon the crocodile –still hiding in his strategic low water hole- tried to kill a kudu but was unsuccessful this time.
During our stay at Mana Pools, the BBC was also filming in Mana Pools and they had hired the painted dog conservation project to search the different packs, so they can make good footage for their ‘Earth’ documentary (to be released mid 2018). One of the mornings we were out on our game drive and in one area we saw many BBC film trucks waiting to get the location of the wild dogs. We continued our drive and out of nowhere a herd of impala ran across the road right in front of our truck… seconds later, we find out the reason of their hurry. They are being hunted by a pack of wild dogs. We followed in the direction they headed and found the pack aside a small riverbed. As you are allowed to walk in Mana Pools, we walked to the small creek to watch the wild dogs that were resting after their failed attempt to kill an impala. The BBC and the painted dog conservation teams were nowhere in sight, but within 15 minutes they also arrived (using their electronic trackers, no doubt). One of the producers was very agitated: ‘I don’t know who the hell these people are, but I cannot work this way. Let’s have breakfast first’. We knew he was talking about us, but as we were there first on the scene, we had no intention of letting them dictate what we could or could not do. The project leader from the painted dog conservation project decided to come to us in an other attempt to remove us from the site. He reasoned that were not allowed to walk 50 meters to the right (were others working with the BBC had also gone) as the dogs would then be surround and would not have a good escape route. He sent the BBC members away (who obeyed interestingly well). As we were first to arrive, we concluded that the BBC crew had actually completed the circle and it would be more logical for them to move… We told him so and stayed put. We later heard we had not made friends this way… J (As one can imagine the whole purpose of our action… especially since the BBC crew had not made themselves popular with other tourists visiting Mana Pools the days before).
While we had dinner one of our evenings a hyena just walks by at about 25 meters from the dinning table. Later when we were in bed we heard hyena’s fighting close to our truck…we looked outside but couldn’t see anything. The next morning we learned that four hyena’s and a large herd of buffalo were between the truck of the American couple and ours. The American couple even had to flea into their truck as the hyena’s got to close while fighting with each other…
On our last full day in the park the owners of a private lodge in Mana Pools (that we had seen several times on our game drives) invited us for coffee at their lodge…coffee turned in to a very tasty breakfast. They even let us use their shower…a really nice hot shower! We ended up spending the morning and part of the afternoon at their lodge. What an amazing place with a waterhole very close and elephants walking right pass the breakfast area. Their son -born with down syndrome- had drawn his sightings at Mana Pools and had them printed on T-shirts. The drawings reminded Wilfred of Karel Appel’s Owl paintings and we ended up buying two of them; the Leopard and the Elephant.
Initially we only planned three nights in Mana Pools, but we loved it so much that we decided to stay two more. Wilfred mentioned it is the only place we have visited so far he would like to go back to.