Thursday, September 3, 2015

July 17 - Tracking Rhino & San Bushman Cave Paintings in Matopos Nat’l Park

Our morning started with hearty breakfast of eggs to order, muffins, yogurt and other options.

We set off in two comfortable open seat land cruiser safari vehicles with tiered seating raised high towards the back so that everyone has a great view.  After a short drive we met up with the rhino trackers who are armed rangers that live with the rhino to protect them from poaching.  They guided us into the bush through grasslands with scattered Mopane trees.  We walked single file with a ranger in front an done taking up the rear.  We walked as quietly as possible and it was exciting to be on foot in the wild knowing that rhino were nearby.  We absorbed the silence of the bush and started to grow accustomed to the sounds all around us.  Here are there birds darted by and it was not long before the lead ranger made a hand signal to stop.  We slowly emerged from the bush to find 4 adult and 1 rhino calf grazing just yards in front of us.  We slowly made our way to them and the excitement built as we were allowed to approach these prehistoric looking creatures to within just about 10 feet.  Fortunately white rhino are very sociable animals and showed no fear or irritation from our presence.  What a far cry from the extremely dangerous black rhino that my brother Marc and I had tracked in Namibia the year before.  It is hard to capture in words the feeling of standing in the remote African bush just yards away from these powerful creatures.  What a privilege to be able to observe them at such close range.  Certainly a great start to our safari and one we will not soon forget.

After a delicious lunch we set off on a drive into another area of the park where we alighted from our vehicles and hiked up a steep ridge peppered with forests and boulders until we reached a magnificent cave.  The cave was set into a cliff with several holes in a vertical line at the back which indicated that fresh water poured from the walls during the wet season.  Along the back wall of the cave about 2-3 meters high was a collage of fine images painted between 2,000-5,000 years ago by the nomadic San bushman, the earliest of tribes in Africa.  These images were of gazelles, humans, buffalo, and several exquisitely elegant giraffe all painted in a gorgeous ochre color with brown dots.  We learned from our guide that the bushman had been pushed out of the area towards Namibia first by the Bantu Tribe coming from central Africa and then by the Shona Tribe from the west.  It is very difficult to date these images but they have been preserved in a fantastic state and are clear against the cave wall.  These are some of the best San cave paintings in the world and we felt privileged to witness them in such a beautiful wilderness setting.  As we emerged from the cave the sun was low in the sky, the liken
and granite outcrops once again taking a life unto their own.  Orange and purple lit up the rocks and the liken glowed green and yellow.  Very spiritual vibe…

As we drove back to camp the darkness enveloped us and the the,temperature dropped rapidly as the winter night approached.  The open air vehicles get very cold both pre dawn and post dusk so we were glad to have brought warm clothes including hats and gloves.  Many people assume Africa is a hot jungle but that is far from the truth.  There are large sections of arid lands, lush deltas, riverine valleys, sandy desert and more just within several hundred miles of our location.  

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