The 28th started cloudy again by the time we were up, about 08:00 hs. Footprints interrupted our exit from Swimuwini again. This time there were African Wild Dogs’ footprints. They were inside the grounds of our rest camp, just before the gate! Although we strained our eyes in all directions, we did not see them and moved on. We have often seen these animals in the proximity of humans. In fact, the first pack we ever saw was resting at the football field in Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe.
Today our goal was the Samalema gorge. We traveled in the opposite direction of yesterday, i.e. up river (see Map page for directions). On the way we stopped at Makwakwani picnic site where more open rock pools could be seen. Further towards the gorge we saw the reasons for the lack of electricity and the earlier Chef’s disappointment.
We were told by Fungisai, our lady camp attendant, that Samalema gorge was the place where people born with defects would be thrown to their deaths a long time ago. I will try to check this but I must add that it lent an element of drama to our visit and the expectation of a dramatic canyon in my mind.
On arrival the place looked like a rocky field with very little water and a total absence of the expected high cliffs from which people could be thrown to certain death to the river below! It felt like an anti-climax. A trunk ladder was placed to bridge the height from the viewing platform to river level so we decided to investigate. As the ladder looked rather rickety, we opted for the wiser, if a bit longer, bush detour that took us there over stony but firm ground
The rocks were predominantly brown and very smooth and, as we approached the river, water-carved formations started to appear that complicated our walk and soon began to be quite hard as we needed to negotiate bolder after bolder. I was relieved when my wife went in front as I still had present in my mind the information about people been thrown into the gorge for being born with deformities and I was wondering if being a snob was one of the criteria to get the “definitive” push! My fears were far from allayed when it started to drizzle, transforming the rocks into soap!
We continued walking and discovered that the river had excavated its way among the rocks and carved the most beautiful arabesques imaginable. There were perfectly rounded pools, bridges, pyramids and sculptures of all kinds, the types that only water can help nature to create. The crystal clear water ran through and formed a number of waterfalls and rapids that added to the overall beauty, contrasting with its sacrificial history!
We did not see many animals there though. A couple of Egyptian geese, Cinnamon-breasted rock buntings, African pied wagtails and Water dikkops were the only visible inhabitants of the rocks. We did not see much fish activity either but saw a terrapin in the distance down river and another very close and very dead.
By the time we got back to the starting point a couple of hours later, we were knackered and needed to rehydrate and have a deserved cup of coffee before going back to the rest camp for a light lunch and a siesta. While walking towards the car we found some animal dung that we could not identify and that I present to you to see if anyone is able to tell me the “creator”.
It was on the way back that we came “face to face” with a tusker by the side of the road. None of us expected each other so, before I managed to completely stop the car, the elephant was already crashing into the bush, tail up. It ran for about 50 metres and then it stopped as suddenly as it had started. I was pleased that it decided to run in the opposite direction from us! It remained completely still for about 20 minutes, showing us only its rather wrinkled rear end. Suddenly, the posterior defecated and it slowly moved off. That was it, our only elephant (bottom) sighting, which although a good thing, left us wanting.
The afternoon drive down river was a re-visit to the jackals and we had the magnificent views of two giraffes coming to clench their thirst in the water pools of the sandy riverbed. When it comes to drinking, nothing beats the giraffes in wariness as -neck down- they are very vulnerable. After a long while they finally get to the drinking position after moves worth of a a contortionist!
A bunch of vultures were perched on a dead tree in the middle of the sandy river. They took off after a while and so did we as cooking on the fire waited for us and this takes longer than normal. Although the showers were there for the taking, we declared ourselves clean and, this time bat-free, we fell asleep early and soundly.