Thursday, July 7, 2016
By: Steve Okonek
Destination today is Majete National Wildlife Reserve, about a two hour drive from Blantyre, virtually all of it downhill through the Malawi section of the Great Rift Valley of Africa.
We stopped at a vista to look at the final descent segment through lush hills. The last downward push for the van takes us to a bridge crossing the Shire River, a substantial, wide waterway that ultimately flows into the Zambezi. Hydro-electric power is the backbone of Malawian energy supply, and ESCOM has a plant nearby. It is 17 km from the bridge to Majete, the first straight road all day. We accelerate considerably to make our 9:00 a.m. slot. Obvious at the gate is a tall electrified fence to keep the 700 km sq area enclosed. The reserve, founded in 1955, faced immense poaching in the late 1990’s, and nearly closed. A mass translocation of wildlife began in 2003, and the Big Five are now all back.
We divide and climb into two Jeeps riding high with ample space. Directions include keeping all limbs inside, no cell phones, and not shouting. A roller coaster ride ensues with humongous pothole produced bumps and brushes with branches. Indiana Jones country! Chris’ glasses fall off and we circle back to retrieve them-lenses survived-frames did not.
First sightings in the brush: kudu, grysbok, and impala. Heading toward the Shire, we encounter our first elephant herd intently returning from the water. We pass numerous signs identifying creeks, but dry creek beds are all we see. Flash floods must occur during rainy season (November through February).
Jimmy, our guide, is comfortable with English, and a fount of all sorts of minutiae. Is that warthog a male or female? What kind of crocodile is basking on the sand? Is the elephant left or right tusk dominant-like us being left or right handed.
We watch an adolescent elephant efficiently tear apart a massive tree limb, making loud cracks with each break. Three groups of hippos crowd together and occupy large stone blocks near the shoreline. I bet these are submerged in rainy times. Further down stream suns the largest, most lethargic hippo I’ve ever seen and Jimmy suggests she is
pregnant and way overdue. The coup de grace is another larger herd of elephants meandering closer to us, especially the moms with the tiny but energetic babies.
We dine at the park’s Mwembezi Restaurant, and spy a few monkeys down at a waterhole. Our uphill return coincides with a period of showers and many semi trucks take on the hills toward Blantyre as well. Sometimes people ride atop the trailer.