We had some neighbours in a tent at Burkes, Mark and Nicky. Mark was Irish and Nicky was Welsh a powerful combination. As we got to know each other Sue and I started to discuss our home, Perth and I noticed that both of them had gone into a sort of trance and their eyes began to moisten. Were they on drugs I wondered or maybe mentally ill. No, nothing so sinister. Apparently they had met each other in Perth and had such a great time during their six month stay there that us prattling on about how good it was just brought tears to their eyes.
Perth was one of the many places that they had been, South America, the Himalayas and India to name but three, all of which we had targeted sometime in the future. These guys were getting around on the smell of old guidebook. Their budget made ours look like the national account of a small country. Somehow they managed to spend only US$1000 per month between the two of them. We were by then exceeding our original budget of A$100.00 (US$60.00) a day by the handsome tune of 25% almost double the amount Mark and Nicky were spending and we thought we were doing well! The fact is that they actually missed out on a few things simply because they didn’t want to spend the money. They wouldn’t for example hire a car, so unless an attraction was accessible by public transport, which a lot of sights in Southern Africa are not, or a budget tour then they missed out. Similarly, if the entry fee was high then they would not go or only one would go. They also carried their own tent and managed to camp pretty much everywhere and like us eat out of supermarkets. Personally I think that we are often in these places possibly only once in our lives and to miss experiencing or seeing something simply because of mere money is missing the point. But that’s their decision. They did contribute to the cost of our hire car for a day so that they could come with us to see Matobo National Park.
Matobo is around 34 kilometres south of Bulawayo and is one of Zimbabwe’s great Parks. Matobo means ‘bald heads’ and was so named by Mzilikazi, king of the Matabele who with his people arrived in the early nineteenth century, fleeing the ruthless Zulu king Shaka. Mzilikazi was referring to the impressive granite peaks that dominate the majority of the park. Some of these peaks are sacred to the African people and supposedly even just to point to them brings bad luck.
Of course like so many places in Southern Africa the San people were there first. There are hundreds of caves dotted all around the park that house ancient rock paintings.
The white man also has left some history. Cecil Rhodes is buried in a grave hewn out of rock at the summit of one of the granite peaks. Baden-Powell was inspired during a visit to this area to form the Boy Scout movement and its national training grounds are located in Matobo.
But we were there to see animals. The largest part of Matobo is taken up by the Whovi Game Park and it’s here that mainly white and some black rhino have been reintroduced and are thriving thanks mainly to armed guards that deter poachers. Of course there are lots of other game including the elusive leopard and the ever present variations of antelope. In fact, it’s meant to have the largest concentration of leopards and also black eagles in the world. Needless to say we didn’t see either. What we did see were a family of white rhino (mum, dad and two little ones) lumbering along the road side by side just in front of us as we turned a bend and applied the brakes to bring us to a jarring halt. Not that we hadn’t been jarred through to the bones up until now; the road was a typically bitumen or dust between the potholes track that we now almost routinely encounter.
Rhino are such ugly and at the same time beautiful beasts. They move with an ease that contradicts their size but look patently dumb! Of course the latter may because they can’t see, they rely on sound and smell to keep them on their guard against any unfriendlys. It is possible to tell the difference between a black and a white rhino. The white rhino has a wide mouth, somehow over the years the word ‘wide’ has been became white, and stands around 2 metres tall, weighs around 1.5 tonnes and is quite docile. The black rhino has a vertical mouth with a triangular shaped lip, stands around 1.5 metres tall, weighs around 1 tonne and is the most aggressive of the two. A Kruger ranger once told us that a white rhino is a grazer and the black is a browser. Why I remember this has nothing to do with the subject but more to do with the way that this Afrikaans speaking guy pronounced his ‘R’s. They seemed to roll around in his mouth, dig down into his throat come back up through his nose, back into his mouth and sound like a cross between a cat’s purr and a lion’s roar. But I digress. For those of you who haven’t worked it out yet a grazer chomps at the vegetation at ground or low bush level and browser, not wanting to hurt their back, intelligently chomps at the vegetation at head height, i.e. larger bushes and small trees.
Despite these white rhino being quite docile we decided to stay a safe distance away. It did occur to me whilst slowly following them down the road that had they turned around and decided to charge, I would not have the luxury of being able to do a three point turn. Reversing at high speed along this minefield of a road was probably more dangerous than standing our ground. Of course the rhino weren’t the least bit interested in us they were quite happy going for a family walk along the road until I think even they got fed up with the potholes and disappeared into the thick bush. We saw more rhino towards the end of the day but not before seeing hippos and crocs hanging out at the Mpopoma dam and a few giraffes from the distance. In this area of the park there are two viewing platforms and picnic spot where you can get out of the car. The view from one of these platforms is as typical of the African Savannah as you will find. A grassy plain dotted with clumps of umbrella acacia trees, single umbrella acacia trees stood away from these groups as if exiled, spread before us. In the distance we could see a couple of giraffes that were casually wondering across towards their lunch whilst we ate ours and watched Africa play out its life.
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