Day 2 – Natureways Safaris – Mana Pools Canoe Trip, Zimbabwe

5:45 a.m. wakeup call.

Our departure this morning is not rushed. Quite pleasant by the fire sipping coffee.

Before heading out I spend a few moments with the hippos just in front of the camp. To avoid these guys they bring the canoes a few hundred meters past the hippos where we begin the morning float.

The water level is driven by releases from the large hydroelectric dam upstream and has gone down more than a foot from the previous day. Craig and Elijah frequently have to get out and pull the canoes. In and out of the boat trying to find a channel deep enough to navigate without hitting bottom. Don takes his turn at helping Elijah pull the canoe.

As we approach the wider channel, the hippo pods become more numerous. Craig does a great job of keeping us on the safe side of the hippos, i.e., not between them and deep water, their safe place.

We reach a point where a hippo pod is smack in the middle of a narrow channel with no way to get around it. Craig gets out and tries to persuade them to move along, but they’re stubborn and stay put.

He decides that they’ll pull the canoes through the channel from shore and we’ll walk past the hippo pod. The plan worked. The hippos dive to deeper water and leave the canoes alone.

Despite Craig’s efforts a hippo surprises us both and pops up right in front of us. We quickly cross to the other bank and he stays away.

Finally past hippo city, pods of hippos everywhere, we have a calmer section of river before the big push across an open wide section to Chiwenga Island, a pretty wooded island. We make the push and reach the island just before noon.

Lunch is set-up – pizza, slaw, avocado and tomato salad, rolls, and a choice of drinks.

Craig clears out a shaded level area and rolls out thin mats for our siesta. Quite warm but tolerable in the shade with a soft breeze blowing.

Craig and Elijah head off fishing in different directions. Craig comes back empty handed and Elijah comes back later with a mess of fish.

We decide to try Elijah’s hot spot and take the canoes further up the island and then walk to the pools. Lots of game in the area – hippos, elephants in two directions and a herd of water buck. Craig tries to shoo away the elephants but they remain stubborn and don’t budge.

The guys fish the pools. Don catches a fish or two but Elijah again cleans up.

I find a shady spot of grass and watch the elephants in the distance. At one point Elijah calls me to come over to where they are fishing. I hesitate because I want to stay in the shade, but acquiesce and gather my pack. As I do I glance behind me and realize there is a large tuskless mother coming towards me. I make my way quickly towards the others but don’t run. Never run!!

This mother is very nervous to have us there and makes several false charges. Craig is nervous enough that he cocks his rifle. Finally another mother comes up to her and this soothes her enough that she backs off and they all make their way across the water to a mud wallow.

By now there are elephants in 3 directions and Craig decides we should head back to the canoe.

Only trouble is as we get close to the canoes four elephants are munching on the bush along the narrow channel that separates us from the canoes. We circle around the area to the river bank and back up stream.

Craig has us wait at the shore while he and Elijah sneak up to the canoes and bring them back to us.

We get in and make our way to camp. A croc passes close to the boat and I’m about jump out when Craig slaps the water next to him with the paddle with a load crack.

A couple more pods of hippos to pass and just when we thought we were through the worst of it a hippo jumps out of the reeds at the bank just in from of the canoe. We back away and cross to the other side all the while he tries to find the deeper water. The hippo, however, is stuck on the sand bank until we can back off enough for him to pass, a dangerous position to be in.

After all the excitement of the afternoon, the light softens and it’s a pretty float into camp where a mother elephant greets us.

A nice open camp with pretty sunset views over the water. Sun drops behind the mountain top. Sundowners around the fire with Craig and Elijah.

September 5, 2016

For links to all the posts in this series see the Botswana/Zimbabwe page.