As we arrived June 17 at the airstrip we were greeted by Nick Murray our 42-year-old professional guide from Zimbabwe. Nick was born in Zimbabwe and attended university in South Africa where he graduated with a BSc in Zoology. He informed us during this trip that he was working on a Masters degree based upon the local wild African dogs. We were lucky that a pack was present in the area and we had a good chance of observing them in their natural environment. He has guided throughout Zimbabwe and had toured Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania. He is very experienced in wildlife management, game ranching and game capture. From 1995-1998 he was a freelance guide in various lodges and camps in the Kariba, Hwange and Mana Pools areas. Nick is now based in the Zambezi Valley at Vundu Camp which is the only semipermanent campsite in Mana Pools. The main lodge is set in a canopy of riverrine trees on the bank of the river. It is raised 10 feet off the ground with a thatched roof and was definitely an ideal place to enjoy our dinners and cocktails. On-site accommodation included eight large tents again with en suite showers and flush toilets. This would be our home for the next two days. We were very lucky the first night when we were informed by other guides that a Pangolin had been spotted so we ventured off in a flurry to look at this prehistoric looking animal. It is extremely rare to see this elusive animal. Nick had not seen one in 15 years!
This camp experience was going to be different than the one we had in Botswana. We were certainly going to do game drives but the focus here would be on canoeing the Zambezi River for a good portion of our time. In addition to Nick (and Desi, his wife and also professional guide as well as his two adorable children Tate and Jed), we also had two female guides in training- Danni and Tanya- who would assist him with guiding individual canoes. For our outings we would use three canoes-one canoe with three people and the other two with two. In most cases we were not required to paddle except in certain circumstances. I will come to this. You may not realize how extensive the training is to become a professional guide. The entire process takes up to five years. The breadth of knowledge they must acquire is extensive. Usually guides in training will be mentored by a professional guide such as Nick.
For the first two days we would be based out of Vundu camp and then the following two days we would travel to two different mobile camps. Again, our itinerary was consistent. We usually got up at 5:30 AM with a light breakfast and coffee and then went on a morning game drive. We would return to camp briefly and then prepare for our canoe trip. We usually had lunch at a beautiful rest stop along the shoreline during our canoe trip. We did not have the two-three hour break in the middle of the day that we had in Botswana. We would usually arrive back in camp late afternoon or early evening, shower, and then sit down to a wonderful meal followed by sitting around the camp fire regaling our adventures of the day before going to sleep.
One does not realize how many individuals it takes in order to run a remote camp. In the background we had six staff responsible for providing for our needs. They were always extremely polite, efficient and made us feel like we were at home. This left us to focus on experiencing the landscape and concentrating on photography. This is the only way to see wild Africa.