Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Mana Pools Twelve Step Program: Preparations

Step One: Convince friends (the Mullen family) who also have a free voucher with the national parks to go to Mana Pools with you.  Make sure they are not campers and are very hesitant.  This is perfect, as Mana Pools is a notoriously remote, rugged, and dangerous must-do on every traveler’s adventurous Zimbabawe list.

Step Two: Watch as every local around your friends freaks them out about things like flooding rivers, car problems, tsetse flies, and wild animals.  Find out the forecast for the weekend is torrential downpours and give your friends an out.

Step Three: Become surprised when your friends don’t take it.  But do listen to them joke constantly about cancelling or going home early.

Step Four: Remember two days before that everyone will need malaria pills.  Scramble to go to the first available dr you can find for a prescription.  Watch as she looks everything up in a medical book on her desk.  Try not to laugh out loud when chit chatting with the dr turns into finding out that she was actually a vet for twelve years before doing a two year “round” in a hospital to become a doctor.  Scramble to get to the pharmacy and start all eight travelers on malaria pills immediately.

Step Five: Change your departure time at least three times, dependent upon how timid or confident each family is feeling at the moment.

Step Six: Spend a day cooking and packing, getting extra petrol, ice, coolers, and tow-ropes.

Step Seven:  Drive 4 hours to the edge of Mana Pools, situated at the bottom of a mountain.

Here Jonas weathers the long car ride with a handful of dried meat known in Africa as biltong.
Step Eight:  Have the woman at the gate tell you that you need a permit to have two vehicles in the park. You must drive back up the mountain for said permit. (The permit is free, but it would of course be too easy to just keep a pile of them on hand at the gate.)

Sorry, Jonas.   No riding on top of the car today.
Step Nine:  Drive another hour and a half into the park. Pretend you are on The Dukes of Hazard.  Though the crossing rivers are not bad, there are killer puddles and pools of deep water and mud in the middle of the roads.  Make sure to get stuck and thank heaven for the tow rope.  Stop at least ten times to kick the cracking rims of your tires back on.

We are originally from rural Iowa, but somehow this is the first time we've ever had to do mud running.
Here friend Dan wades in what smells like fermented juice and elephant urine to tow our car.
Step Ten: Come upon a hippo kill on the only bridge into camp.  See hyenas and marabou stork and vultures, taking their turn after the lions have left.  Drive through the party after taking pictures, as you must get to the other side of the river.  Sorry, hyenas.

Step Eleven: Arrive at the national parks lodge to check in. Come upon a human party, where beer is forced upon you after you provide the hosts with salt for their meat.

At the parks lodge we are greeted with elephant bones and jars of elephant fetuses.  Ryan -of course- tries to buy some.

Step Twelve: Arrive at your lodge. You think it is awesome, until you read the last entry in the guest book:  SEVERE BED BUGS…