By Bert Duplessis
SOUTH AFRICA AND ZIMBABWE TRIP REPORT: PART 5
Nov 12 & 13: Ruckomechi Camp, Mana Pools
Much too early this morning – at 06:30A – we had to leave the Vic Falls Hotel to catch a charter flight to Ruckomechi Camp in the Mana Pools area. Maybe there were legitimate flight safety issues which necessitated such an early departure but surely an extra 30 minutes for breakfast would not have been too much to ask? Nobody is very happy traveling on an empty stomach with no prospect of getting something to eat until midday.
We took off at 07:30 and about 1hr 45 minutes later we landed at a bone dry Mana West airstrip. The first rains were imminent (usually mid-November) but clearly had not fallen yet. The wooded areas surrounding the airstrip were totally bare of ground cover, with large patches of red sandy soil visible everywhere.
Mana Pools National Park is known for significant habitat diversity, and it was quite visible on our drive to camp and on later game drives. From mature woodland we drove through mopane scrub which gave way to riverine thickets and soon enough to a wide floodplain adjacent to the Zambezi River. In the dry season this area acts like a magnate for wildlife, and over the next couple of days we would often see 4 or 5 species of mammals congregated along the floodplain. These included large numbers of baboons, impala, kudu, zebra, waterbuck, eland, warthog and elephant, with hippo in the water.
One of the main features of Mana Pools is its view over the Zambia escarpment to the north. The hills loom into view from everywhere: the porch of your tent, while dining and of course most noticeably while enjoying water activities such as canoeing, on a boat cruise, or while having sundowners on a bluff overlooking the Zambezi.
On game drives, we had exceptionally good looks at a small pride of lions (2 females, 2 cubs) and eland, in addition to all the other more common species. Wild dog and leopard had also been seen a day or two prior to our arrival.
Our fishing expedition on our first afternoon at Ruckomechi was not successful but another guest – Al from Portland – caught four Tiger Fish on an afternoon outing. Hint: his guide’s name was Champion.
Kathy and I both enjoyed the boat cruise on the Zambezi very much. The vessel is a stable pontoon with comfortable seats, providing unobstructed views of hippo, elephant on the islands, carmine bee-eater colony (summer) and many others items and things of interest. And always the beautiful Zambia escarpment in the background.
The best feature of Ruckomechi Camp is the pool, at least in the hot summer months of October and November, when it offers a welcome relief from the extreme heat which often reaches 40C (100F) with relatively high humidity. On two occasions we tried to take a nap during the siesta period only to abandon it in favor of the pool where a dip in the cool water felt really good! This camp is probably not the best choice for October and November, unless you are impervious to heat and dead set on experiencing the amazing concentration of wildlife on the Zambezi River floodplain.
The tents at Ruckomechi are good, yet they have a couple of design issues. It would have been nice to have some sort of partition between the sleeping area and the toilet/bathroom. Also overhead fans are sorely needed – the portable one in our room was of very little use and it was exceedingly noisy.
The Ruckomechi staff were superb without exception – they could not have tried harder to meet our expectations and needs. Our vegan food preferences were handled very effectively with special meals and snacks ranging from lentils to veggie kebabs and sadza. Our guide Damesh was fantastic and really a most engaging and all-round interesting guide with a great ability to expand on a question and turn it into an appropriate and interesting ‘nature lesson’ without being pedantic or long-winded.
On our last afternoon at Ruckomechi we enjoyed an excellent sundowner on a high sandy point overlooking the Zambezi River and the escarpment in the background. Beautiful sunset!
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