Yesterday I got my first glimpse of Mozambican wildlife when more than forty baboons scattered from in front of the car to effortlessly ascend tall trees or hide in the long grass by the side of the thirty kilometer dirt access road to Chitengo Camp at Gorongosa National Park.
I had been quite happy and content to drive away from Chimoio and watch the countryside slide by, but at the moment I saw the baboons I began grinning in awe- two old dreams realized simultaneously- the original childhood dream of coming to Africa to see the animals which developed from watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom on Sunday evenings- and the dream of coming to a restored Gorongosa after being occupied and destroyed by RENAMO during the war.
The afternoon only got better. After a quick lunch I went on a game drive through the park and saw warthogs, Vervet monkeys, impala, eland, Waterbuck, Reedbuck, guinea fowl, oribi, fish eagles, herons, crocodiles, more baboons, hippos and elephants.
In contrast to Chimoio, the air here smells alive and fresh. The shades of green and blue are stunning.
This has been a much needed break from moving around dusty Chimoio everyday and having to ignore the ubiquitous street sellers selling everything I don’t need or want. In Maputo in 1990 I bought many things on the street- fried cassava root, spicy empanadas, chocolates, commemorative capulanas, matches, and interesting crafts. Now most often a strip of MCEL recharge cards is shook a few inches from my face or I’m offered high heeled shoes and clothes far too small for a woman almost six feet tall. There are also many more beggars who quickly spot the tall, blond white woman. Early on Sunday morning a man who had come to do some small chores for the family I’m staying with called through my window to ask me to give him 10 medeicais. Needless to say I’m not used to someone peering in my window and asking for money. I jumped and yelped.
This morning I also jumped from excitement. I saw a sleepy lion just settling in for a nap as he had been up all night roaring in defense of his territory.
His roars were clearly heard in Chitengo Camp. He is about twenty-five years old and lost all the toes on his right front paw to a poachers trap about two years ago. On the drive back he was still there but had come out of the grass to enjoy the sunshine.
We stopped and sat with him for about 15 minutes.
When relaxed he crossed his front paws like my calico cat Izzy, stretched on his side and rolled around like Mac, and looked like Annie when he intently stared at the work truck that arrived just as we were about to leave. So like at home, I am spending my down time watching cats.
I’ve been very lucky in just two days I’ve seen nearly all the animals in the park. I’ve only missed seeing the two rarely sighted leopards, and the zebra which are currently living on the other side of the lake can not be accessed until June or July. My only disappointment (and it is a very small one) is that while the food is tasty and quite fresh it is not Mozambican nor is it quite Portuguese. At every meal I’ve had to ask for piri piri (sauce made from chopped small hot peppers, mixed with oil and salt), but it is by far the best I’ve had this trip.