Isdore Guvamombe Saturday Lounge Reflections

UNDER the blistering heat, a breeding herd of elephants blocks the way and a cow nudges its calf under a huge baobab tree on the roadside. An irritated bull tells off a wandering calf in a no-nonsense mood, with a shriek, but firm voice.

The elephants tolerate our presence for a few moments, but as soon as their snorkelling trunks sniff us, they retreat in polite disgust.

A few metres away, giraffes forage the bush, heads up in indignation above stunted Mopane bush shrubbery. The Mopane bush shrubbery is level at about two metres high, on a browse line that looks as neatly trimmed as a schoolboy’s new haircut.

At sunset, a lion roars, sending shivers down the spines of every living species there, particularly the impala that scamper for dear life and the big baboon that strides to a huge tree in a hunched and swaggering gait. Stubbornly looking back, the huge baboon barks a loud “boohoo!”, as if shouting obscenities to the king of the jungle, before climbing up the tree.

Thereafter, three lions scramble out of the silhouette Mopane shade, but immediately melt into the thicket of trees so fast and silently that not all of us are lucky to see their frosty-brown faces or blurs of tails.

The impalas, kudu and waterbuck bound swiftly out of sight for, behold, the king of the jungle has spoken!

Then there is the appearance of python-like roots of sausage trees alongside the dry banks of Mwenezi River, the main source of water in the jungle.

The Mwenezi River itself turns silver and gold with strips of sand and smoothened rocks between steep banks and quiet deep blue pools.

Once in a while a kingfisher eagle hovers over the pool in aerial acrobatics and shutter our illusion with a splash on the murky waters. One fish is gone!

This is Gonarezhou, Zimbabwe’s gateway to the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park and epicentre of jungle life, where untamed wild animals roam wild and free.

Gonarezhou is a perfect theatre of the jungle where those who have not experienced the jungle save for snippets in fiction films must go and experience the real Africa.

The national park is situated in the south-eastern Lowveld of Zimbabwe and covers 5 033 square kilometres. Gonarezhou means “the place of elephants” and for real there are too many elephants there, so much that for you to spend a day without bumping into a herd of the grey mounds of flesh, you must really be cursed.

The park is extremely scenic and full of rugged, but beautiful landscapes.

Three major rivers — Save, Runde and Mwenezi — cut their courses through the park, forming pools and natural oasis from hundreds of species of birds, wildlife and fish gather to feed and drink.

One of the most prominent and enduring natural features of the park is the beautiful Chilojo Cliffs. I cannot do justice to my narrative without giving out my experience at Chilojo Cliffs.

The sun wasn’t yet up, but the sky was already softly aglow — a misty gold and yellow hue. An ethereal fog swirled over the cliffs, forming a low-slung cloud bank out of which rose a spectre of hills and mountains.

It looked like a line of ghosts from where I stood on the back of a truck. All around dew drops glinted on Mopane, baobab, acacias, cobwebs, mosses and the wings of dragon flies.

Suddenly, the serenity was broken by a herd of elephants, making all manner of noises as they scoffed their breakfast. They never looked worried of my presence.

In tow was a herd of zebras. I tried to snap photos, but they shot off like bullets, attracting the attention of elephants that seemed to notice me for the first time.

The sun rose imperceptibly and the Chilojo Cliffs bravely shouted: “Good Morning Zimbabwe!” shaking off the lethargy of sleep.

The Chilojo Cliffs are one of the most prominent natural features of the Gonarezhou National Park. Visible from 50km away, morning and evening light give the cliffs a rich hue and dramatically silhouette the distinctive baobab trees.

These trees are the source of the famous “cream of tartar”. The flowers are pollinated by bats and are a delicacy for antelopes. Composed of oxide-rich sandstone, the cliffs are spectacularly colourful at sunset.

South and south-east of Chiredzi in Zimbabwe, the slightly uneven Pliocene erosion surface extends across the Karoo sediments, basalts and granophyres, at an elevation of approximately 380 metres.

Along the northern boundary of the Chipinda Pools area of the Gonarezhou National Park, the Chiwonje Hills form a north-east-trending ridge with summit plantation.

The highest points at Makamandima (578m) and Mutandahwe (571m) are in accord with the lowest position of the Post-African erosion surface to the north.

The northern scarp of the Chiwonje Hills coincides with the basalt-granophyre contact, thereby showing the greater resistance of the more acid rocks.

West of the Runde River this same belt of resistant marginal granophyre gives rise to the Sibonja Hills.

The Chilojo Cliffs (previously called the Clarendon Cliffs) are composed of the coarse, terrestrial Jurassic, Cretaceous sandstones and conglomerates named the Malvernia Beds by Cox (1963), which occupy the extreme south-eastern corner of Zimbabwe.

The cliffs trend east-west for approximately 20km immediately south of the Runde River and 180m above the river course. The form of the cliffs is two-fold, with the near-vertical lower and upper sections separated from each other by a gently-sloping terrace up to 500m wide. This terrace is scored by gullies which cut through the lower cliff to the river bed.

South of the cliff face, the bevel extends into Mozambique territory at an altitude of approximately 370m, thereby forming the Chilojo Plateau.

This is clearly an erosion surface and is regarded as the Pliocene level. Eroded into the Chilojo Plateau are several small valleys and stream courses, lie the Nyamasikana River which, together with the Runde River and the widespread terrace along its northern bank, comprise the Quaternary erosion cycle.

Eastward, towards the confluence of the Runde and Save rivers, the Chilojo Cliffs fade out and the descent from the Plateau to the river bed is gentle with the two cycles merging into each other through a composite zone.

A line of waterfalls, all within the granophyre outcrop in the central belt of the Gonarezhou National Park marks the nick-point between the Pliocene and the Quaternary cycles on the northern side of the Runde River. They include the Chiviriga Falls on the Runde River, the Dumbwe Falls on the Pombadzi River and the Chivirira Falls on the Save River.

The confluence of the Runde and Save rivers stretches across several square kilometres of flat river bed, sandbanks and the Rupembi Swamp. Here wildlife gather for the life-saving water.

The magnificent red sandstone cliffs were formed through eons of erosion and they imposingly overlook the Runde River valley. Then there are the Tababomvu (red) hills, the buffalo bend, Simuwini (the place of the baobab), Mabalauta (the spear-making tree) and Makokwani (the old person), Samalema Gorge, Matombo Pools, Rose Pools — places where one should never miss for either game or scenic viewing.

The Chilojo Cliffs, are one of most spectacular features of Gonarezhou National Park, rising gracefully from the south bank of the Runde River, some 30km from Chipinda Pools. The cliffs consist of Cretaceous coarse sandstone and conglomerates arranged in a succession of horizontal beds.

There are slight mineral differences between the beds, leading to colour variations within the white-cream-yellow-ochre-pink-brown spectrum which are clearly visible along the cliff faces.

The several pedestals in front of the cliff faces have been caused by erosion along vertical cracks and joints.

The cliffs are two-fold, with the lower and upper almost vertical sections separated from each other by a sloping terrace up to 1 640 feet wide.

This terrace is scored by gullies which cut through the lower cliff to the Runde River bed, giving access to the water for elephants and other animals.

During the rainy season, November-December, some parts of Gonarezhou are impassable, so visitors need to consult National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.