PUMPING LEGS FOR WATER - HWANGE NATIONAL PARK

by John and Jenny Brebner
(Friday 25 and Saturday 26 July 2014)

There was the faintest of pink tinges on the eastern horizon, the temperature was 5.6 degrees, a small herd of impala were just vacating the area near the restaurant while the first baboons were clambering down out of their nightly perch, mingling with the impala herd, as organisers and the first riders, huddled in jackets and beanies, (except for Barbs who was trying to blend in, in her leopard skin onesy!), gathered for breakfast at Waterbuck’s Head to begin this year’s first day of the Pumping Legs for Water ride.

The previous day had seen an incredible flurry of activity all around Main Camp with accommodation filling up and several groups of riders also staying over at Safari Lodge. Registration of the ninety six riders went smoothly and the evening’s briefing, attended by all, was soon over with everyone managing to get an early night.

The first day of the ride was, as in previous years, the 56 km stretch down to Ngweshla and the riders were delighted to find that the road was way less sandy than last year. We are not sure if much game was seen during the ride but there were sightings by two of the escort vehicles of two male lion moving off into the bush just before Kennedy One. The half way stop was at the Kennedy One picnic site again with the various teams – Sable, Kudu, Impala and Zebra – coming in at regular intervals and all managing to get drinks, biscuits, sweets and oranges and to top up with water or cooldrink supplies for the next assault. Unfortunately, part of the road from Kennedy Two to Ngweshla proved pretty tough this year with horrible corrugations making it difficult for some riders, particularly at the end of the ride when exhaustion is beginning to set in. A very festive atmosphere at Ngweshla prevailed as riders and support teams were given boerewors rolls, before bicycles and people were all transported back to Main Camp. Getting all the bikes and riders back is no mean feat so thank you to all concerned.

While folks were down at Ngweshla, we took the opportunity to drive past Caterpillar and Dopi, both of which are holding water and have recently been pumped and on down to Guvelala to check out the water stop for the next day. Fortunately, we found a team there trying to sort out the ablutions and to make sure that there was water in the tank for the following day. We didn’t encounter anything out of the ordinary but did see a couple of large breeding herds of elephant, some gorgeous kudu cows and a small group of elderly kudu bulls, waterbuck, impala, zebra and were astounded at the numbers of warthog sounders, butts up, rooting around in the drying up muddy patches – they certainly have bred well this year. Quite a number of natural pans are now dry but there are others that are still holding reasonable water.

On Friday evening, some folks gathered again at the restaurant for a quick chat and to swop stories about the day’s events and to be informed of the following day’s order of ride. This was followed by an informative talk on the Painted Dog Conservation Project outlining their aims and objectives. It wasn’t long before the camp had quieted down for the night in expectation of another long day.

A second rosy dawn, a tad warmer this time, heralded another fine day as riders and organisers began gathering, bikes being lined up along the fence in the car park, awaiting starter’s orders and the impala moving off in the dusty morning light, with their querulous bunch of baboons. Saturday’s ride was down to Guvelala and back, a much easier ride along the “tar” road – easier as long as riders kept away from the potholes! As we arrived at Guvelala we watched an enormous hippo, obviously returning late from its nightly foray, lumbering at speed towards the pan and doing a rather ungainly belly flop into the water. The hippo must have been a pretty shy animal as it was very hard to detect in the water the whole time we were there. Zebra, kudu and impala were around a bit as riders came and went and an argumentative quartet of Egyptian geese disturbed the other waterfowl contentedly paddling around in the pan. Guvelala is holding good water and although there had been an effort to get the ablutions working for the day, it is sad to see the state that the platform is in with its rickety stairs and lack of thatching.

After packing up the water point, we took a drive through to White Hills and back to Main Camp along the White Hills loop road in order to check up on the water along that route. White Hills still holds good water, Mabuya Mabema has a little water but the windmill is not working there, Garakamwe is drying up although it is difficult to see how much water is still lying around in that vlei area, Kaoshe has good water, Tshebe Tshebe is just a smelly muddy puddle and is not being pumped at the moment, the two Ngwenyas are also fast drying up although the first Ngwenya still holds good water thanks to last year’s scooping, and finally, Balla Balla is holding reasonable water for the time of the year. By the time we returned to camp, most of the riders had wandered off but there were several groups sitting around socializing. We received the news that one of the riders had unfortunately come off his bike, while assisting a fellow rider, sustaining a broken collarbone and had been taken through to Hwange hospital. The long and short of it was that there wasn’t much they could do for the poor fellow, so, at his request, he was taken back to Harare. This was the first incident of its kind in the seven years that the ride has been operating. We send best wishes to Evans for a speedy recovery. Most folks took the opportunity for a late afternoon drive into the park, returning in good time for the prize giving and final wrap up of events before partaking of a tasty braai.

Most participants left on Sunday morning but some riders, eighteen in all, took the opportunity to ride from Main Camp through to Safari Lodge and back, stopping at Saf Lodge for coffee and drinks before returning to Main Camp. This ride along the tar, is always most enjoyable and extremely pleasant riding through the teak forests. One of our party went off for an early morning drive and was extremely fortunate to see a large leopard, watching it cross both the road to Nyamandhlovu and the Balla Balla road, before it disappeared into the bush. Later in the day, our party went off for a drive down to Ngweshla, calling in at Sinanga on the way. Along the road we came across some buffalo lying in the bush, so on our return we stopped in again at Sinanga and suspect it was the same small herd now drinking and grazing around the pan. During the drive we saw an amazing number of Kori Bustards and as always, a bunch of old elephant gents were drinking at Kennedy Two. There were several fairly large breeding herds of ellies along the way too. A drive through one of the erioloba forest roads was as glorious as usual although we didn’t see any animals. While at Makwa for a quick sundowner watching a male giraffe drinking and several kudu and impala meandering around, one of our party suddenly looked behind the vehicles and saw three cheetah sneaking along. They were amazingly camouflaged while sitting on an anthill at the base of an old ebony tree. Unfortunately, there were rather a lot of people and vehicles so there was very little chance of them coming any further.

The following morning we took a quick drive to Nyamandhlovu and to Boss Long One as lion had been reported in the area. We came across a stunning group of kudu bulls, browsing and grazing contentedly just near the turn off to Nyamandhlovu pan. As we were trying to get some photos, we heard lion calling so ventured off in the general direction to see if we could find them but no luck. On our way back to camp, the warthog sounders were all out by now in the sun, butts up and rooting around in the vleis which seemed to still be a bit marshy.

As can be imagined, a tremendous amount of work goes into organising an event such as Pumping Legs for Water, both before hand, during and after, and there are so very many people involved and to thank. The PLW committee has, once again, done an outstanding job. The many sponsors, both large and small must be commended and heartily thanked, particularly Sandvik who put in so much extra. Thanks to National Parks for allowing this ride to take place through this astounding and beautiful piece of Zimbabwe – what a privilege. Elson and his restaurant staff kept everyone fed and watered. The back up teams and families, we hope you enjoyed sharing the weekend with us. And finally, the riders, without whom there would be no event, who bring in much needed funds for the water project and who make the days fun and enjoyable and in keeping with the spirit of the ride. Thank you one and all and WELL DONE! We hope to see you all back next year.

John and Jenny Brebner.

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