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Matopos National Park

Awoke with a start at 3am this morning with an awful stinging/crawling sensation in my right arm. Even in my half dazed state at that time of the morning recognized that it was probably a spider. I immediately flew out of bed and went on a frantic search for the beastie. I completely pulled the bed apart, but to no avail, my attacker was long gone and had left me with the most awful sensation in my arm. I put on some sting ointment, which didn't really do much and went back to sleep, albeit in the second bed in my room.

My alarm went off at 7am, and I inspected my spider bite which was still stinging, I couldn't actually see any bite marks, so went off to breakfast and waited for Ian and the Rhino safari team to turn up.

Ian arrived with a big seventeen seater jeep and his partner Brian had another jeep. I proceeded to jump into the very front seat next to Ian. We took off towards Metopas National Park and Ian immediately started chatting to me about the local area. He apologised for getting a bit carried away, but I didn't mind at all, I was completely captivated, even when he was talking to me about the history of the cactus plant.

We arrived at the national park and immediately started looking for rhinos, we got out of the car and did some tracking. The first thing we found was a giant green locust, with amazing red wings, who looked like a giant butterfly when he finally got sick of us poking him. We found a few rhino tracks and some dung, so Ian said they must be in the general area. He suggested climbing up a nearby rocky outcrop to get a bird's eye view. I looked at said outcrop and remembered I don't like mountain climbing.

The climb was actually much easier than anticipated, it was nearly all rock, with basically no loose earth, and although I was somewhere near the back of the pack, I made it to the top to admire the stunning view of the park with no trouble. We didn't see any rhino from the top of the outcrop, so we proceeded to trek back down to the jeep. I was actually quite proud of myself, as I found an easier way down, and the people who were at the back used it and we managed to catch up to Ian.

We got back into the jeep and drove deep into the park, on the way passing the first scouts building which was started by Lord Bayden Powell in the 1800's. Ian started talking to me about the Zimbabwe ruins, which were built I think about the same time as the Valley of the Kings. He actually offered to put me in touch with the people who run the museum and the site, he said they need a proper qualified archaeologist down there, they would be really excited to have you. What an offer, I told him I would have to do some research on the ruins first to see if I could be of any use to them.

We drove through some really rough terrain for about forty minutes before pulling over at a clearing for a much needed drink. At the clearing there was a sign pointing in the direction of a cave, this was the cave where the prehistoric rock art was that Ian was talking about last night.

It was about a four hundred meter climb up to the cave, which again I managed with no trouble. Once inside the cave I was stunned at how beautiful the paintings were, these were not child like stick figures, but vivid depictions of animals displaying fluid movement. The giraffes looked as though they were running, the Sable antelope looked suspicious, like it would run away at any moment and the zebra looked content and fat.

Ian talked to us in the cave for about half an hour, again apologizing for getting carried away. It kind of reminded me of Mr. Wright's history class back at Plumpton High School when I was a teenager. That teacher could have the worst kids sitting in his class room and have them absolutely spell bound by what he was telling them. In the same way, Ian now had this usually quite rowdy group of people in this cave, totally transfixed on what he was saying.

Everyone slowly filed out of the cave, except me. I wanted to be alone with the history and have a proper look without people's heads in the way. It kind of reminded me of Tomb 100 at Heironkonpolis in Egypt. I trekked back down to the jeep and got in the front with Ian, we were now heading to a village to see the chief of the area, it was quite a drive and Ian and I chatted about the painting in the cave the whole way.

I vaguely remember last night being worried that I couldn't keep up with Ian on an intellectual level. I needn't have worried, conversation wise we bounced of each other, each one learning something from the other. We talked about Egyptology, the bushman of Africa, Quantum theory, cross cultural comparisons, astrophysics, my brain hadn't had this much exercise in a very long time. Ian was telling me about this supposed special ability that the bushmen have. When hunting they can sit and go into a trance and then predict the scene that is about to unfold before them, supposedly by skipping forward a few moments and witnessing it. As I had done a little bit of Quantum theory at uni, Ian asked me to explain the concept to him, I told him I would struggle a bit to find the right way to explain it and that I would work on it for next time, I of course had no idea how they actual do it, but do understand the science being referred to.

On the way into the village there were some local kids selling some fruit which Ian bought for us all to try, African Oranges. They were hard like a coconut, so we had to slam them against rocks to crack them, and when you opened them, what was inside kind of looked like a brown mushy brain. That being said that tasted absolutely delicious.

We arrived at the village and met the chief, an eighty year old man, who had been attacked by a leopard in his youth and now wore it's skin about himself as a trophy, he also wore porcupine spines around his neck and showed us the marks the leopard had left. He didn't speak any English, only this strange tribal dialect which Ian translated for us. We then went for another small hike into another cave to view his ancestors 150 year old storage bins and to hear the histories of the tribe. It was a tiny cave and I cannot believe we manage cram twenty six people into it. I ended up at the back, with my head against the roof.

After climbing out of the cave, we watched the chiefs eleven grand children dance for us, one little girl dragged me into it and I jumped up and down and danced with the kids. The chief also let us have his picture taken wearing another leopard skin and holding a spear, I made an angry face in my photo and said to the chief afterwards, Siaboma, which I had reasoned by now meant thank you in his language, I was right and he shook my hand excitedly and said Siaboma back with a huge smile on his face.

We left the village and Ian bought us more fruit to try, this time the smaller African orange. I cracked mine on the side of the jeep and inside were what looked like orange pebbles. These ones you had to suck the fruit's flash off the seeds inside, they were ok, but I preferred the larger fruit we had earlier. We headed for our lunch spot which was right in front of a beautiful lake, Ian had pointed out that I was the history professional (totally flattered to be called that by someone who drives the National Geographic team around and tracks rhino for them) and the group were now asking me all sorts of questions about the cave painting and about the star constellations valued by other civilizations, the bushman also value Sirius, as do the Egyptians. Of course I was in my element, and after lunch went back to rhino tracking.

This time we found Ian's four white rhinos with no tracking at all, we were driving along and there they were. Two females, a big bull and a baby, we jumped out of the jeep, got low and moved as close as we dared. We got to within about ten meters and Ian held up his hand to signal us to stop. We stopped and dropped as low as we could, it was amazing to be so close to these prehistoric wild animals. Ian proceeded to talk to the animals in a calming voice, one female and the baby became a little curious about our gathering and started to walk towards us. Stay still and keep calm, Ian said. The rhinos just kept walking towards us, the big female was heading straight for me, finally after thinking I was about to be trampled, or at the very least sniffed and licked she decided that three meters was close enough.

We all sat there for ages looking at the rhinos and taking pictures (no zoom required), as I laid in the short grass, Ian was talking to us about how bad the poaching problem is and telling us they brought down his big boy last week and how devastated he was. He told us that rhino horn fetched $60000 USD per kilo on the black market in China, the Chinese use crushed up rhino horn as an aphrodisiac and that's why these animals are nearly extinct. I couldn't believe how stupid the concept was, I put forward the suggestion that they open up a new safari, which allows the tourists to hunt the poachers. It is already illegal for anyone in Zimbabwe to shoot a poacher on site with no consequences. They could charge a fortune for it and put the money back into conservation, I'll be the American's would be on board with that idea. Ian said it was a good idea, but really dangerous, as the poachers are usually hunting with AK-47's and sub machine guns.

We left the rhinos in peace and headed out of the park, the sun was now setting and we drove back to camp, surrounded by an amazing African sunset, which just seemed to be all over the sky. I marveled at my life and the beauty that was all around me, I chatted some more to Ian, this time about Sudan and Ethiopia, which he was really interested in. The sun set and I was then greeted by one of the most clear night skies I think I had ever seen. Come on Africa, I said under my breath, You're just showing off now.

We arrived back at camp and George had cooked a Sheppard's pie for dinner, which was awesome. He asked me if I had enjoyed my day and I said it had been absolutely magic. Ian then came over to say goodbye and said he would have to brush up on his history for the next time he saw me, It's on, I said back.

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