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Survival Skills

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Teah and me in front of Byron's Land Rover.
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Wow, am I happy to be back in Harare with the rest of the team. After the crazy adventure I just went through, I'm even happy to be typing on the computer and walking through these polluted streets! I'm just happy to be alive!

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Rhinos are especially dangerous when they think their young are threatened
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It all started when I decided to take a trip with five friends to Mana Pools National Park in northern Zimbabwe. Mana Pools is knows as the WILDEST national park in southern Africa. Not only do lions, leopards, cheetahs, wild elephants, buffalo, hippos, hyenas, and crocodiles call the park home, but unlike any other park in Zimbabwe, adventurers like myself can explore freely. Most national parks with dangerous wildlife restrict visitors to cars on special roads. The only way to walk through the bush (where the animals roam) is to go with a park ranger or specialized guide. Other travelers had told us incredible stories about adventures in Mana Pools:

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  • An enormous elephant charged through a friend's camp site while he was sleeping at night... luckily his tent wasn't in its path!

  • A canoe safari guide lost six canoes there in just four months! Hippos hiding in the river would suddenly take a huge CHOMP out of the boat, sending sleeping bags, coolers, backpacks, and people floating downstream.

  • One of my friends that I went with, Byron, had visited the park many years ago and had to climb up a tree to escape an angry buffalo.

After hearing such stories about Mana Pools, we must have all been crazy to go, especially Byron, since he actually lived through it before.

So six of us set off in Byron's old Land Rover and arrived at our riverside campsite just as the sun was going down. The park rangers had warned us to stay within our camp after 6 p.m., as the animals can be more dangerous after dark. That night I lay awake in my tent, unable to sleep, thinking to myself, "What was that noise? Was that a hippo's growl or a lion's roar? Were those the thunderous footsteps of an elephant or of something else? How close was it to my tent?" In the morning, I waited to hear my friends unzipping their tents before I got out of my sleeping bag.

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Here a zebra, there a zebra, everywhere a zebra zebra
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During our morning game drive, we got a closer look at impalas (a close relative to Bambi,) zebras, baboons, elephants, buffalo, hippos, crocodiles, and vultures. We then decided to rent canoes to get a closer look at the land animals that come up to the river to drink. We were completely unaware of the hidden creatures living in the river.

Enter the Hungry Hippo and the Creepy Crocodile...

Now I understand why hippos are so dangerous!
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Almost immediately, a huge hippo emerged from underwater right in front of our canoe and let out an enormous roar! I screamed, "Stop the canoe! Go left! Get out of its way!" We didn't know how to control the canoe and the forceful river led us closer to the hippo, the most dangerous of African animals. Luckily, we floated right past him and continued up the river. The water seemed too calm and I began to get scared. We started to bang on the canoe and make noise so the hippos would know we were coming. Sure enough, within minutes we saw the eyes and noses of 3 or 4 hippos up ahead on the left shore. We all started to panic because we couldn't get the canoe moving to the right. When we finally made it to the banks of a small island, we stopped to catch our breath. Within minutes, the sand and rocks we were resting on started to move. We were resting on a camouflaged crocodile! We almost tipped the canoe as we screamed and pushed off the shore.

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I can take a little adventure, but that was enough. I asked to be let out of the canoe as soon as we got close to shore. My friend Teah was already standing on the shore ahead and I was so happy to join her on firm ground. The boys paddled away reluctantly as Teah and I walked away relieved. "I never thought I'd be so happy to be walking on land!" I exclaimed. But maybe I spoke too soon...

Enter the sinister swamp... We started walking towards camp, and realized that what we thought was safe, solid land was really an island! Surrounded by the Zambezi River on one side and a big, disgusting swamp on the other that was probably crawling with crocodiles, bugs, and germs. Teah and I decided to go back and wait for the boys on the shore of the river.

Enter the Buffalo...

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Big herd of buffalos
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Returning to the river, we found ourselves face to face with an enormous and angry buffalo. Okay... here's where we really panic! The buffalo was blocking our path back to the shore, so we had no choice but to cross the dreadful swamp. We were terrified but there was no time to think about how gross the water was because the buffalo was getting closer.
"You go first," I told Teah.
"No, you should, you're older!" she exclaimed. "And you've been all over the world!"
"What does that have to do with anything?"
Holding hands, we took a step forward together. If we walked quickly, the green plants growing on the surface could support us, but if we walked slowly, we would sink into the mushy, slimy swamp. I was making good progress, when all of a sudden my foot slipped through the overgrowth and the vines wrapped around my legs and pulled me under. At that moment, I thought I was going to die in that stinky swamp. I finally freed myself from the tangled vines and jumped for the shore.
Teah followed me and eventually we made it to solid, stable land. We were out of breath and covered in smelly dirt from the swamp. We were just so thankful to be alive that we hugged each other. We went back to our camp, bathed, relaxed, and waited for the boys to return. That night we sat around and laughed about our tiring adventures. But tomorrow brings a new day, and with a new day comes new adventures, right? I'll have to tell you about our next day in the wild Mana Pools National Park sometime.

Enter the King of the Jungle...

Kavitha
 

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