vickygoestravelling

my journey to health and well being via exotic destinations

Searching for the elusive blue-eyed leopard in Mana Pools, Zimbabwe – Final version!

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Manablog-21

The year is not complete without our annual pilgrimage to Goliath Luxury Tented Camp in Mana Pools,owned by our dear friends Stretch Ferreira and Flo Coughlan. It is here we repair to for spiritual renewal and to commemorate our darling Louise, whose ashes we scattered into the swirling Zambezi just over four years ago. Sadly Flo is not able to make it this year as her son is marrying Stretch’s daughter – gotta keep it in the family!

The three of us about teh launch a barque of exquisite flowers into the confluence of the rivers, where we scattered Louise in 2011

The three of us about to launch a barque of exquisite flowers into the confluence of the rivers, where we scattered Louise in 2011

Cindy and Flo catch up

Cindy and Flo catch up

This September our team comprises son Tommy and his girlfriend Olivia; our veteran of several previous visits, Rick and his two boys, Joe and Johnny – latter being Tommy’s best friend; ‘good eyes’ Cindy, who introduced us to Mana and remains Queen of spotters but a Mana leopard virgin despite 7 visits; her friend Dan from the US and my dear friend ‘the Doc’ Fi and her husband Richard.

Tommy and Johnny compare beards...long time no see

Tommy and Johnny compare beards…long time no see

Jacaranda trees in York Lodge garden

Jacaranda trees in York Lodge garden

After a delightful one-nighter in York Lodge, where I catch up with my mum’s best friend Jane Soper and give her a copy of the book, we depart in the early hours on a mission to break the leopard jinx. Cindy is armed with a photobook for Stretch, which she has called Leopard spotting for Dummies, compete with photos of the 20 odd she has seen in India! The game is on!

With Jane and mum's book

With Jane and mum’s book

Manablog-5

Team prepared for take-off

Day 1 produces its normal excitements – some low-hanging lions, three adults and older cubs by the side of the road as we arrive, and by the second day we have been rewarded with at least 9 lionesses and two tiny cubs, feasting off an elephant carcase, with a growling mating male telling us clearly to keep our distance (all this on foot of course!). A hippo surprises us by emerging like a giant apparition from the pan to graze; we know this is trouble when Stretch says, ‘Guys, quickly now, as quick as you can, get out of the way’ and we dash – yes, we run – for safety, breaking every rule of the bush book as he canters past. Plus a huge tribe of 26 wild dogs with 5 pups. But no leopard.

Dear little 3 month old cubs by the kill

Dear little 3 month old cubs by the kill

Team on the move

Team on the move

Every day we sally forth tracking Mr Spot, alerted by early morning alarm calls.  On Day 2 the not-so-serious party including yours truly is rewarded by the glimpse of the spotted one far away stalking along the ridge in the early morning light. Two flicks  of a tail and he’s gone, but we did see him. Cindy of course was in the other vehicle with Stretch, while we were with Sean Hind, the other guide, and Reuben whose sharp eyes pick him out in the breaking light.

Tea time!

Tea time!

The incomparable Reuben, chief leopard-spotter

The incomparable Reuben, chief leopard-spotter

By day 4 Stretch is a man on a mission and, again, alerted by baboon alarm calls, Ross, Tommy, Olivia and I set off. He knows the elusive one is right there as the spoor is mint fresh. Round and round we go in thick bush – a crashing nearby as we startle a honey badger (exciting),  followed by a charge from a young bull who thinks we are after his acacia pods “Don’t bully me, I’m a pensioner!’ yells Stretch as he trumpets towards us, ears flapping. ‘Just because I’m menopausal don’t think you can behave like that, my boy!’ But, ‘Dammit’ – no leopard. ‘He’s hiding there laughing at us.’

Olivia being introduced to Big Vic, much less scared than the three boys. Johnny said it was the most terrifying experience of his life!

Olivia being introduced to Big Vic, much less scared than the three boys. Johnny said it was the most terrifying experience of his life!

Rick and Oliva watch anxiously as the boys quake in front of Big Vic.

Rick and Olivia watch anxiously as the boys quake in front of Big Vic.

So the week passes with a series of expeditions and walks  – and close encounters. Creeping up on three sleeping lionesses is not so smart, especially when they wake up and snarl menacingly (watch nine people jump out of their skins) while their little cubs look on; and that naughty JD (Juvenile Delinquent) lays waste to the camp kitchen one evening, with us just a few feet away. ‘You old bugger, that’s no way to behave,’ admonishes Stretch  – to no avail. He’ll go when he’s finished the juicy branches…

Extremely grumpy lionesses dont appreciate being stalked!

Extremely grumpy lionesses don’t appreciate being stalked! See the cub sheltering on the left

The greatest joy of the holiday is introducing Tommy and Olivia to one of our favourite places on earth; but ranking high are celebrating Fi’s birthday in fancy dress (theme is leopard, it goes without saying); dancing to music made by Johnny and the Gentile (or was it Genitals?) Watch the film:

and to a band made up of the camp staff, Reuben doing a Stretch impersonation by stuffing a pillow up his shirt.

Camp band, Reuben central, flanked by mechanic Geevas.left and cook, Nicholas, right

Camp band, Reuben central, supported by mechanic Geevas, left and cook, Nicholas, right

Stretch flanked by Tommy in the ones and Cindy

Stretch flanked by Tommy in the onesie and Cindy

The Soggy Bottom Lewin Boys (cook Richard took possession of the wig and beard and had us all in hoots of laughter)

The Soggy Bottom Lewin Boys (cook Richard took possession of the wig and beard and had us all in hoots of laughter)

Birthday Cat Woman and her Buffalo Soldier

Birthday Cat Woman and her Buffalo Soldier

Tommy with his mama, resplendent in Tiger top from Cindy

Tommy with his mama, resplendent in Tiger top from Cindy

Dan clad in my sarong, with Cindy

Dan, clad in my sarong, with Cindy

Tommy and Olivia - onesie too hot for more than 5 minutes

Tommy and Olivia – onesie too hot for more than 5 minutes he avers 

Memories to treasure include the glorious picnic on Vundu point, first-time fisherwoman Olivia beating the boys hands down in numbers of fish caught;

Fishing at Vundu point

Fishing at Vundu point

Caitlin with picnic spread at Vundu

Caitlin with picnic spread at Vundu

Sleeping Cindy at Vundu!

Sleeping Cindy at Vundu!

Trying to catch teh Malachite kingfisher

Trying to catch the Malachite kingfisher

discovering the new Wilderness area that Stretch has been pioneering, where the views over the Zambezi are golden and the sunsets to die for – the reddening sky dissolving in the dust generated by the thundering hooves of 200 buffalo, startled by our arrival.

Sunset in the Wilderness

Sunset in the Wilderness

drinks by the river, watching the sun go down;

Tommy and Olivia

Tommy and Olivia

Stretch and Cindy

Stretch and Cindy

Fi and RIchard

Fi and Richard

Those Lewin boys again!

Those Lewin boys again!

fireside chats – Dr Fi with Dr Johnny; barrister Richard with lawyer Joe; old chums reunited Cindy and Dan; Rick and the oldies, me and Ross…

Johnny and the Gentile

Johnny and the Gentile

Apero at Vundu

my ‘sharp eyes’ finding TWO, yes TWO different prides of lions, plus a gang of 6 hyenas. Did you know by the way that the collective noun for mongoose is a business! Thank you Sean;

Always a poser - be careful Tommy those social media police will have you on a hate list soon!

Always a poser – be careful Tommy those social media police will have you on a hate list soon!

Stretch’s infectious laughter at the boys’ jokes and guitar playing; impromptu bush cricket improvised by Cindy…

Bush cricket....Joe takes strike

Bush cricket….Joe takes strike

Where are all the bloody fielders - Unwin stop taking photos!

Where are all the bloody fielders – Unwin stop taking photos!

beating my bird count with an all time high of 114 species – camp record 123, so next time, next time…and there will be a next time.

Carmine bee-eater

Carmine bee-eater

But in Zimbabwe you are never far from a reality check. Our park fees of just under $4000 disappear into the Warden’s locked safe – but there is not even a functioning vehicle to stop the marauding South African ‘picnickers’ whose wilful running around after animals led to a walking ban last year, let alone poachers and hunters who are preying on the wildlife. The elephants in the wilderness area – indeed in the whole park – are noticeably skittish and jumpy this year. ‘They’ve been shot at, can you blame them?’ Two young bulls have died mysteriously, one carcase is untouched by predators – suspicious in itself. Stretch is worried about the future of this UNESCO World Heritage site, and rightly so.

Watching the elephants crossing

Watching the elephants crossing

And there’s a tragic PS to the Cecil story: a young guide, walking with a group, was charged and killed by a lion as he was too afraid to pull the trigger in case he was accused of the wanton destruction of a trophy animal. Social Media stinks sometimes.

Sometimes I sits and thinks, sometimes I just sits

Sometimes I sits and thinks, sometimes I just sits

Leaving is always hard, and Cindy returns to India convinced that Mana is a leopard-free zone…the jinx remains. But Fi and I spin it out a bit and head off for three days girl time at Vic Falls…see the next blog!

PS see Ross’s website for seriously good animal photos; these are taken with my Samsung edge, apart from the wildlife, which are Ross’s.

The three of us....

The three of us….

Mana Sunset

Mana sunset

Author: vickyunwin

I am a writer and traveller. Our darling daughter Louise died on 2 March 2011, aged 21 (www.louisecattell.com) and I started writing as therapy. We never know how long we have on this earth, so I live for every day...in November 2013 I was diagnosed and operated on for a malignant soft tissue sarcoma in the calf, followed by 6.5 weeks of radiotherapy, so am embarking on a different kind of journey which you can follow here. I also have another site www.healthylivingwithcancer.co with my blueprint for health and well-being. My husband works in Switzerland so we flit from place to place anywhere else that takes our fancy

10 thoughts on “Searching for the elusive blue-eyed leopard in Mana Pools, Zimbabwe – Final version!

  1. Rick wants to know who is designing the dress?

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. what a fabulous post Vicky – I felt I was there with you
    those baby cubs – and that lovely pic of you and Tommy!
    have just sent an enquiry to Goliath Camp to enquire their rates so i can start saving up 😉
    xxx

  3. fabulous blog, it looked such fun so happy you all were there Much love xxx

  4. Thanks my dear, makes me less sad I wasn’t there -)

  5. Makes me feel homesick! All those years in Tanzania and I’ve never seen a leopard either! Looks like you all had great fun. Nise xx

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