Gonarezhou - Alone Under the Cliffs

Slumped in our camping chairs, right in front of us Chilojo Cliffs were glowing red and golden, painted by the setting sun. And the best of all, we had them all to ourselves! Actually, we had the entire park to ourselves…

A quick look into the registration book at the gate revealed that nobody else had entered the park that day. We could pick any camping site we wanted, the ranger said. Naturally we set up camp at a prime location, at the Wilderness Camp Site facing the cliffs, right on the Runde River. During the dry season, the river is reduced to a small ribbon, exposing wide sandy banks.

In the evening a herd of about 50 elephants came to feed on the juicy grass next to the river. With no road or settlement within a hundred kilometers, it was dead quiet. All we could hear was the “rtsch, rtsch” of elephants tearing at the grass. They did not mind us and we felt safe on the other side of the small river.

At one point Jason pointed downriver. Three large bulls were marching down the encampment on OUR side, about 150 meters away. They looked at us. We looked at them and did a quick math. Elephants can run 40 km/h, could we cross the several hundred meters on sand to get to the car in time? Luckily, the bulls ignored us.

This did not calm Jason’s nerves. While Gilles and Heidi cooked dinner, he fervently started cutting up plastic bottles to create lantern to put candles inside. Lots of light he figured would keep the animals away. That plus the large camp fire, but the wood we had bought at the park entrance was soon gone. Though strictly forbidden, we started collecting wood to keep the fire going, very careful not to stray too far from the camp.

Despite all these luminary precautions, at some point in the middle of the night, something made Jason crawl into the car. We heard no animals all through the night, but a large hole and scratch marks on one of our plastic boxes gave evidence of some nightly visitor.

The roads inside Gonarezhou National Park are rough, at some points even challenging a 4WD. The thought of having a flat in this place was a troubling one that we tried to erase from our minds. Especially since none of us really knew who to change a tire! Of course, the rental company had explained things, even how to get out of a sand trap, but doing it is a different matter.