Jumbo update 28 June 2013
The final saga of our Jumbo supporters visit is our trip to Majete national park in southern Malawi. Majete Park is operated by African parks who have done a truly incredible job of re-stocking the park and keeping the animals safe with a very professional anti- poaching regime.
Our trip started off with Louise cracking the whip at some unearthly hour of the morning to get us all motivated and into the car which had already been loaded with all of Catherine’s things, travelling with a baby requires a huge amount of luggage and I think Matimat was relieved to see that at least the kitchen sink had been left behind. I barely had time to finish my cup of coffee before I was bundled into the car together with Wayne, Ronnie, Catherine, Rose and Louise and we set off on our adventure. The drive took us from Lilongwe, through Dedza to Blantyre and then down the escarpment to Chikwawa and as we were heading towards the Dedza mountain we watched a magnificent sunrise – well some of us did – Ronnie and Catherine were both fast asleep.
We stopped briefly for fuel at Dedza, a border town with Mozambique and a magnificent mountain and whilst we were stretching our legs I noticed Wayne eating an apple which he had been hoarding for times such as this thus earning him the nick name of Oliver Twist. Our next stop was at the half way point of Zalewa on the banks of the mighty Shire river where we stopped for “brunch” which consisted of samosas and a coke and Ronnie experienced an “African toilet” for the first time – her face was a picture as it was a long drop and not the most hygienic but when you gotta go you gotta go and we still had quite a few more hours of driving to do.
The drive down the escarpment to Chikwawa is very scenic with great views of the Shire River wending its way through the mountains and we were soon on the dirt road to Majete. We had our first “wildlife experience” before even entering the park when a hug black mamba reared its head up to window height and struck at the car – neither snake nor people were injured but there was an air of excitement in the car.
From the moment we entered Majete it was obvious that this was a well maintained park with excellent protection of animals as all the animals were very relaxed and unperturbed by our presence. By the time we reached the pick-up point for Mkulumadzi lodge where we were staying we had already seen numerous impala, waterbuck, zebra and a young bull elephant. This young ele was not too happy with our presence and flapped his ears slightly as a gentle request to “please move on” this body language was something that I learnt from living with Moses and reading his subtle body language. We moved slowly on and I think this respect was appreciated as later on in the trip when we came across the same young bull he was far more relaxed and let us share his space for a lot longer
We were met at the pick-up point for Mkulumadzi lodge by a friendly efficient group of staff who carried our luggage across the swing bridge for us and loaded it into the game drive vehicle for the short hop to the lodge. In true Robin Pope safaris style we were met at the lodge by a smiling Emma and hot towels to freshen up with. I cannot sing the praises for Chris, Emma, Jimmy and the rest of the Mkulumadzi staff loud enough. Their hospitality and ability to think of every possible thing that a guest may require is amazing and I would rate this lodge as one of the best in Africa. The chalets are roomy, tasteful, comfortable and private with magnificent views of the river with the sounds of hippo and fish eagles and the food is excellent – Gordon Ramsey you have competition!
On our evening game drive we were treated to a wonderful ele experience with a herd of Mums and babies and one of the most magnificent bulls that I have ever had the privilege to see, He was in must but was still gracious enough to allow us to spend a good length of time with the herd before “asking us to move on” with the small ear flap. It is truly special to witness how relaxed these elephants have become since being in a safe environment as prior to moving to Majete they had been persecuted by man and were known as aggressive animals. It just goes once again to show the intelligence of elephants and the fact that they are not naturally aggressive – they just become so when they are tormented and abused by man and they can revert back to their natural gentle selves once they realise that they are safe and that not all humans are going to try and hurt them.
Other great animal experiences included a huge herd of buffalo crossing the road in front of us, a rhino sighting, some lovely kudu, warthogs, a huge eland bull and numerous waterbuck and impala. Whilst walking back from the chalet I came across the “resident buffalo” looking at me across the pool and the next morning Rose spent a few minutes waiting for him to move along before she could get to the chalet to collect Catherine. Whilst having a morning cup of coffee I was watching the resident pod of hippo in front of the lodge interacting with a rather large crocodile who was sunning himself on a sand bank. The pod had all clambered up onto the sand bank including a baby estimated to have been about a year old and like all youngsters he was curious, also like all babies, he investigated everything with his mouth, he put his mouth over the crocs tail and gave a gentle nip which resulted in a lot of tail thrashing by the big croc and a mass exodus into the water by all the smaller crocs – the little hippo just watched all of this activity and then went back for a second slightly harder nip at which stage the disgruntled croc slid back into the water and the little hippo carried on investigating rocks and bushes on the sand bank
Little Catherine thoroughly enjoyed going on game drives even when we had unseasonal cold rain and were all wrapped up in waterproof ponchos like eskimos. She was slightly unsure about the hippos grunting at night though and needed a bit of reassurance that she was not on her own.
We had an uneventful trip home and an exciting start to the next day when Matimat woke me at 4.30 am asking if I could take his wife to the hospital as she was in labour ad a few hours later a little girl named Pauline was born. The next day we had to say our sad goodbyes as Ronnie and Wayne left for the wildlife camp in Zambia and I am afraid that both Ronnie and I were rather tearful ad emotional.