August 8: Matobo National Park, Zimbabwe
With some of the most significant scenery in the entire country, Matobo National Park has caught our eye as a destination point. Our cue has come from Cecil John Rhodes himself who, like the megalomaniac he was, made certain to be buried at the highest point in the park, in a sense forever watching over his adopted land.
It's a short climb to the outrageous vista--called World's View--where Cecil John lies. The park is nothing short of fantastic, with gorgeous lava rock glowing an incandescent red. Monique calls it a Lego Metropolis--bizarre tetrazoid rocks piled atop equally craggy oblong boulders in odd angles and boldly defying most of what I remember from Physics 101. Lizards in vibrant hues of blue, green, and orange sun themselves on the heated rocks.
On the way to serious game viewing the next day we roll past armed officials, which remind us of the complexity of maintaining these preserves. Matobo National Park has one of the largest populations of rhino in the country--both white rhino and the more scarce black rhino. Rhino horn garners a premium on the black market, so the animals are guarded closely.
Though the morning brings no rhino, it is full of wonder. We catch a family of giraffe sunning, drinking, and playing with each other. Their short horns peek out above the trees. They stretch their elegant necks to eat and tromp across the road behind us.
We scour every inch of the park, taking every loop imaginable and stopping at viewing platforms when they spring up. We spy warthogs (whose tails shoot straight up when they run), baboons mowing down their lunches, zebra, and wildebeest--but still no rhino.
Stopping at an overcrowded game platform--five nationalities, four tour buses, and three brands of cigarettes all present--rhino are spotted far off in the distance. The dirt road beckons us and we're in search of our elusive prey, following dung and tracks as best our Mazda 323 can take us. Another two hours later, we've seen still more game, but we are rhino-less. Defeated, we slink to the gates and as we're exiting, the guard informs us that our elusive friend is just around the corner.
It's rhino time. The sun dips behind the mountains, backlighting the gargantuan dehorned beasts. (As part of a controversial nationwide program to thwart poachers, rhinos throughout Zimbabwe have been dehorned). They're surprisingly cute and seemingly harmless. We, and about 40 others, stand within 10 meters of them. There's no doubt the 20 minutes we spent eyeing them was well worth the full-day effort.
NEXT: The wild kingdom, as seen through the railcar window
Photograph by Monique Stauder
| Postcards from Africa
Hide and seek, rhino-style