Goliath Safari Camp at Mana Pools National Park sits on the mighty Zambezi, downstream from Victoria Falls, on the Zimbabwe side of the water. It was a floodplain before the river was dammed, and now it’s a paradise for wildlife: elephant, buffalo, lion, troops of baboon, monster crocodiles. I’ve been going there since the early 1980s and I know of nowhere else like it in Africa. It’s a 24-hour orchestra, from the lions calling at night, to the hippos during the day. It’s a place that just thrills me.
The man who owns and runs it is called Stretch Ferreira. He’s been there for about 35 years. He meets you right off the plane – this big, tall, bearded bushman guide with a laugh like a hippo. His relationship with the environment is extraordinary; the river and the animals are his community and he has an almost clairvoyant understanding of how they behave. He follows their footprints in the dust, knows which animal ate what out of the elephant dung and drafts mental maps to find families of wild dogs or a pride of lions. Because he’s spent so many years out there, Stretch has become a bit of an elephant whisperer. He’ll stand up against a big bull elephant and have the same conversation he’s been having with that elephant for quarter of a century.
There are six basic but totally comfortable tents under mahogany trees on the river that blend into the landscape. Each has an open-air shower and local fabrics on the beds. You can be showering and an elephant will brush right past, or lions will pad through the sand outside your tent flap at night. That’s the same as a lot of places, it’s true; but with Stretch in residence it somehow makes for a different atmosphere.
You’re hardly ever in a vehicle, by the way. It’s all about walking and tracking in this vast terrain – 600 square miles, where the only noises are of wilderness and the creatures rule. I once saw a hippopotamus throw a canoe carrying a friend right into the air; it went cartwheeling. He survived, thankfully.
Magnificent baobab trees surround the camp, many around 2,000-3,000 years old. Their hollows are home to beehives and hyenas. Vultures nest in the branches and they have massive scars on their trunks, testament to a thousand years of elephants taking bites out of them. When you sit down to eat at night and listen to Stretch telling stories, interrupted by hippo grunts or lions roaring or the call of tiny owls, you know you’re well out of your neighbourhood – and you’re in awe.