Getting It Right - Camping At Mana Pools

Posted in Review

Getting It Right - Camping At Mana Pools

Position, position, position! No 20 is the sought-after campsite and we had it! With a large, ancient Wild Fig tree offering us shade we made camp just beyond the branches’ reach, where the early morning rays would be our alarm clock and at night the Hippos calling would send us off to dreamland.  I could put my hand out and in my minds’ eye, reach out and scoop my dreams out of the ever moving waters of the Zambezi.  With this perfect view I did the dishes, my laundry, prepped suppers and sipped early morning coffee while we waited to set off on our game drives.  This is Nyamepi Camp (the main Mana Pools camp).

Some upgrades have taken place. The ablutions have been retiled, hot water is on tap and the wood fire kindling the antiquated geyser is kept fired all day ensuring guests of hot water for a shower.   Some campsites have new barbequing facilities.  Due to heavy rainfalls during the summer a number of campsites have diminished in size or washed away completely. The numbering of sites is a puzzle and it's best to look on the only map in the office.  A couple from New Zealand were disappointed to learn that their request for site no 22 was no longer there, the river had reclaimed it.

I had a most extraordinary encounter with a tiny white frog one morning, he was clinging to the inside of the lavatory bowl.  My imagination went wild when I realised he'd been there all the time, not even a good flush unsettled him.  Thank goodness he had the sense to stay put and not leap upwards!  He was spotted by various people for a few days, I saw him again with a pal and then I think the boomslang got them...  oh my shattered nerves, let's not go there.

Each morning Shame (Shem) our camp guard would position the camp table exactly right so that Precious had the perfect view from his “office”. While he didn’t do much work there, he could reminisce about a childhood growing up in Zambia on the copper mines and visits to the Kafue River with his dad.

Shame, a local lad, who lives in the staff village with his Mom, brother, (who works in the office) and Mash, his step-brother, (Mash was our guide on a canoe trip) was there every morning at 6h00 to wave us off.  His job was to see to the monkeys and baboons who are a nuisance.  Monkeys make it their business to cause havoc.  Always ready to snatch, grab and pinch any morsel of food they’ll raid cars, tents, tables, ammo boxes and cool boxes if they’re left open or unattended.

Although we adored their sweet faces we soon realised they’re not only mischievous, they’re fast, dexterous and opportunists of note.   While they look you squarely in the eye, all coy and baby-like they’ll snatch your lunch right off the table.  Shame did a brilliant job keeping them at bay.  On the odd occasion we’d ask Shame to do chores for us like the heavy laundry, but his main duty was “Monkey Monitor”.  Each evening we’d get home to a welcoming campfire and immaculately swept campsite.

Shame (Shem) was willing to do anything we asked, he is very friendly, inquisitive and eager to learn.  If you should visit Mana Pools and would like to know your campsite is safe you need not hesitate for a minute.  Shame is your man.  We divided the day into two shifts one in the morning from 6h00 – 11h00 and then again from 15h00 – 18h00.  Meals weren’t included, but we’d always try to send something home with him.  We paid the going rate as suggested by the Office Manager with a handsome tip of gratitude when we left. It is heart breaking to know there are many honest, hardworking people eager to work, but, unfortunately there are no jobs.

Marie, my friend and travel companion, knows I do not do snakes.  NOT. AT. ALL.  My motto is simple.  “A good snake is a dead snake” End of story. I have trouble looking at them in a book and almost unfriend friends if they post them on social media.  Ophidiophobia.  So my reaction wasn’t surprising when first Chris then Butch and Shame reported sightings of a resident boom slang (deadly) who, at midday would slip from the tree to the river to catch a frog for lunch which he’d slither down his gullet as he side-winds himself back to the tree. 

I screeched like a banshee when I looked up from my book.  Fortunately I couldn’t move as my whole body rejected and paralysed what my eyes saw, the boom slang, heading my way. He was off to catch his lunch.  Precious knew he must come running, stiff kneed or not.  I don’t know who was more petrified, I think it was the critter (1 metre in length, I didn’t ask to look at his eyes) who was more afraid of my blood curdling cries, in a flash he turned, just as well, and slithered down the bank towards the river. I bravely sort-of conquered my fear.  It was the fastest exit my Precious Pumpkin has ever done from his hammock. 

Conclusion:  things that kill or hurt really badly, aren’t the big things like lions, elephant, wildebeest or hippos (although they do) but in our camp it was the little things e.g. Boom slang, mosquitoes, army ants, hornets, bees and scorpions (we never saw any, but I’m sure if we’d shined a light on the matter we would’ve).  When asked what would happen if a lion took my leg off, the official answer I got was: “madam, you’d make it into the Guinness Book of Records”!  There certainly wasn’t going to be a helicopter evacuation.

Promising Wi-Fi connectivity is a long shot.  We managed 20 minutes on the second afternoon, just managing to say “Hi!” to one or two loved ones, when it all went pear shaped. Unfortunately due to incomprehensible circumstances there would be “No Wi-Fi in the foreseeable future as the service provider hadn’t been paid”. The office had no means of communication without Wi-Fi.  Cell phone communication was too expensive.   That’s Africa for you.  Priceless.

Ten days at Mana Pools could’ve stretched to 10 weeks if I could have my way, but alas, it was time to head home. We’re determined to visit again, hopefully in our Honey Badger (Overlander), when we embark on our Epic World Trip.  Next time I’d like to camp out on one of the exclusive private campsites… watch this space.

Unfortunately my photographs can never do the place justice, it’s too awesome, but I’m happy to know I got a few, some a nostalgic reminder of the serenity, beauty and majesty I witnessed.  We’re back in our own bed again and just before I drift off my imaginings go off to the nights waiting for the hyena to sniff around, the wa-hu of the baboons as they settle their scores, the lion that couldn’t resist reminding us he was out there, never too far, and the hippos’ crunch when they come ashore to graze just behind our tent and the plop and splash of a bream at the river’s edge.  Fiery sunsets and spectacular sun rises are synonymous with Mana Pools. 

To those who say this is their favourite place, count me in. 

P.S  I'd really like to send Shame (plus Mash and Amos our two guides) the  photographs I took of them, unfortunately, the piece of paper he wrote on, giving me his brother's email address got wet and the ink bled, all is lost.  If anyone should visit Mana Pools and they can find out what the office's email address is (Shame's brother works in the office) I'd be most grateful.  My email address is: Thank you.

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