Friday, 14 August 2009

Extract from "Ronda de África" (Outras Terras, Outras Gentes: Viagens em Moçambique)

(Henrique Galvão, 1948 (?)

This book, with amazing drawings and pictures, can be seen here:

We are going to Gorongoza, Cheringoma and Marromeu looking for S. M. o Zambeze. Gorongoza! This strong, sonorous name is famous throughout the area-- – and, one day, will be beyond the borders of Mozambique, if not as famous throughout the world as Kruger Park, at least it will have better reasons to impose a passionate curiosity on tourists.

Gorongoza certainly has some interesting economic possibilities. It may, for example, be one of the richest cotton districts in Mozambique. But no other riches of the earth will make it as famous as the amazing abundance and variety of its wildlife. In Mozambique it is the great Sanctuary of species. And in Africa it will be, if the actions that are being planned and promised are carried out in favor it, the most interesting of all the national wildlife protection parks or reserves. The perfect combination of different types of soil in the same region – the naked soil of the endless savannah, the gnarled soil of the forests, the high soil of the mountains, the humid soil of the marshlands - created ideal conditions for antelope in the savannah where they run and surveillance is easier; jungles and watering holes like those that the elephants like most; hiding places for carnivores; muddy banks for buffalo; rivers for the hippos and crocodiles - even wild mayten for the rhinos.

All the species of antelope, from the Pacala to the smallest jungle goats constantly graze in the savannah, especially during the fresh morning and afternoon hours. Zebras, gnus, and waterbucks, more than any others, abound. They come together in herds of thousands that fill the endless savannah with an ocean-like life and beauty. The spectacle that the multitude of buffaloes provide is unforgettable. Groups of monkeys and all species of small game jump like flees on the green carpets. In a certain place on the river hundreds of hippos are concentrated. During the hot hours of the day in the savannah, almost deserted they roast in the sun - but even then it is not completely unpopulated. Together with the green and humid spots that are maintained on the great burned carpet, there are slow, sleepy animals. The felines rest or watch in the large cane and grass; in the jungles elephants abound and the buffalo take naps.

Cars can travel in the savannahs in all directions, pass by certain jungles and penetrate others, drive near the rivers and roll into the pastures – and on all drives admire the multitude of antelope running or on statuesque alert, the herds of prodigious buffalo, the scatterbrained flight of the monkeys, the galloping of the zebras – and, frequently, raise lions from their beds, surprise leopards, hear elephants at their woodcutting work and see hippos in such concentration that it is surely the densest and most numerous in the world.

The great, incontestable superiority of Gorongoza over Kruger Park, as a zone reserved for the protection of species and world tourist park, resides, on the one hand, on the variety and hospitality of the habitat and a much smaller territory area – and on the other hand the, shall we say, spectacularly superior facilities that the terrain offers to the curiosity of the visitors. While Kruger Park (and we refer naturally to the southern zone, which is better equipped and more sought after by international tourism) is a park almost without horizons - Gorongoza unites the savannah, the river and the jungle in its geographic ensemble which is unsurpassably picturesque. It would never be possible to admire in Kruger Park the spectacle, common at Gorongoza, of herds of hundreds and thousands of head, nor the incomparable scene of dozens of herds grazing and resting in the same visible space.

At Kruger Park all the animals residing in the jungles, farther than one or two hundred meters from the tourist roads, escape the view of the visitors. At Gorongoza the spectacle is permanent. The savannahs allow the transit of cars in all directions and always in front of deep horizons and spaces populated by animals.

The great inferiority, also incontestable, of Gorongoza, relative to Kruger Park, is in the organization of the reserve. While at the latter it is impeccable, gathered by pleasure and study of a profound knowledge of the animals and men who travel it-- - at Gorongoza it is, more or less, random. Only a few years ago poaching was rigorously reestablished as forbidden. And beyond this little bit more was done. Those responsible contented themselves with ordering the building of five small, inelegant houses that have no provisions, given to the care and conservation of two soldiers, who put them at the disposition of whoever arrives. And nothing else: no acceptable lines of communication, guides, food resources, or signs – and also, no study of organization and observation conducive to maintain and permanently value such natural beauty.

After my last trip to Kruger Park I heard, or read, that the organization of the reserve was going to be considered practically with a larger and more interested spirit.

I don’t want to doubt that it will be so. I prefer to believe and hope that the good intentions, thus heralded, will finally reach the destination they have determined. We will try to indicate, more precisely at Gorongoza parkPark, noting the facts of a visit, under the current conditions and that, more or less without incident, showed me what any visitor can admire with the same itinerary that I traveled.

I remember the steps of the last visit I made to the reserve-- – hurried, quick, without any idea of exploring its riches as a tourist-- – the visit of someone who has already seen at Gorongoza all, or almost all, that the most fortunate can see. We entered the reserve during the night, by raft on one of the rivers that define it. Dark night, with misty fog on the river. There, at two or three hundred meters ? Tthe blacks[locals] on the raft say they see the buffalo drink every night. We will have to wait close to half an hour. The wait does not entice me; we keep going. During the crossing the light shines on the metallic eyes of the alligators in the slow waters; one, who is enormous, passes slyly close to the raft.

They separate us, by fifteen kilometers, from the savannah camp where we will spend the night. No one will notice them, despite the “jumps” in the road, if they shine the light and slow the speed of the car down to a diverting pace. In the jungles that dress more than two thirds of the way, sometimes crossing the road, other times only surprised by the luminous hits of the light, the apparitions are constant. In a low wooded area waterbucks were grazing; further on gazelles pass in magnificent flight; a solitary buffalo, muddy and heavy, eludes the light and dives in the shadows; at a bend in the road the zebras are waiting. The scenes repeat themselves-- –especially those of small antelope, waterbucks, gnus and wild boar.

A little later we break through the edge of the jungle and enter the savannah. Under the mist of the foggy night, one has the impression of navigating a large lake. A low sky, without stars, all full of powder, tops the enormous plain. The antelope rise up with imprecise forms, disguised in the haze.

We finally arrive at the camp.

A great, infinite peace seems to hover over the savannah, which is revealed as enormous and deep like the darkness. And through it all we know of the tragedy that this apparent tranquility hides-- - the continuous, unending tragedy of the wilderness; the Love that perpetuates Life, Life that must kill to live, Death which maintains Life, together in the same space and the same time.

How I feel comforted by the serene majesty of the nocturnal savannah, only very late do I lay down and sleep. I am then startled at the voices of the silence-- – sometimes points of almost turned off sound, that come from one does not know where, other times a piercing voice of agony that trespasses on the silence like a sonorous arrow.

Close to one o’clock in the morning five elephants pass a few dozen meters from the house I am in. They go quickly, certainly thirsty – but cause no tumult. They seem to be great shadows. I think I see, misted over by the fog, a pre-historic scene.

I go to sleep hearing the laughs of the hyenas and foxes tearing the silence of the night. Dawn on the savannah is dazzlingly original, only comparable, to the advantage of Gorongoza, to that of certain animated scenes that, sometimes, surprise one in the Moçâmedes desert.

The enormous plain-- – so enormous one loses the horizon, like an oceanic panorama-- - flooded with morning light, still lightly powdered with fog, awakens full of life and movement. At two hundred meters, at one hundred meters, the first groups of animals graze and rouse themselves. And, as far as the eye can see, the zebras, gnus, waterbucks, goats, monkeys and wild boar, give it grace of movement and animal life. It is not long before one’s unarmed sight demands more. Binoculars are necessary. And there are multitudes of herds that move on the savannah and look, from far away, like lively spots on the yellow carpet.

A shallow fuzz of burned grass covers the savannah. The sun drinks the last mists and broadens the horizons.

We draw near to the first groups. They don’t run away. They only draw back, taking care to keep the distance that separates us the same. Only the mothers are more elusive and observant.

We have breakfast on the porch before the magnificent spectacle further on. The savannah draws us like the sea. It is impossible to tear one’s eyes from its immensity and escape the enticement of following it, running, with the morning breeze to refresh us. We take the car on trails that a black [local] shows us. If not we would get lost like an ungoverned ship can be lost on the high sea. As the car approaches the herds gallop lightly in closed formations and show themselves off full-on with their movements. Happily hunting on the reserve is prohibited, rigorously prohibited. We are only allowed to contemplate mirages of animal life-- – and even a hunter understands that the spectacle of death would offend the beauty of the scenes. The animals run away only to show themselves off-- – and because, after all, we are men and therefore worse and less trustworthy that the carnivores that are their enemies.

As the car advances, constantly changing direction, more, many more, herds are revealed. When we lose sight of the camp and find ourselves in the savannah like a boat on the ocean-- – at the center of a great circle of horizons-- – the large, enormous arena offers us one of the most impressive spectacles in nature. One could say that we are in another world and that even the sky is closer.

After much rambling and agitating the savannah, we again near the edge of the jungles. A great spot of green announces permanent moisture. On it is a large black spot: it’s a multitude of buffaloes.
They wait for us for awhile, all with horns in the air, half rapt, half suspicious. And suddenly the whole herd stirs, as if it were one body. First a type of trembling that shakes the bodies and stirs the movement of a forest of horns. After that the commotion, the galloping, wound up in a cloud of dust, in the direction of the jungle. In a grassy place that was spared from being burned, two lions, who were resting, get up very secretively, from the night's work. We try to pursue them, but soon lose them among the tufts of grass. We draw near the river.

Looking for dry ground we are able to arrive almost to the bank, where the prodigious spectacle of a few hundred hippos in a herd is offered to us. “There are more hippos than water,” one of our companions said with enthusiasm. And, in fact, there do appear to be more hippos than water.

The animals on the bank role heavily to the river, bellowing, causing waves and eddies. Some, further away, feeling protected by the distance, do not move from the beds of mud in which they are stretched out. Concentrated there are, not only hundreds of bodies, but also all the spectacles that the hippos can offer to the curious eyes of man: hippos laying like pigs in the pen, stuck in the mud, that give the repugnant impression of the physical happiness of the fat; hippos on foot, standing, monstrous and full; hippos marching and running, showing off their lack of adaptation to the land; hippos swimming, bulky and gliding like canoes; hippos that dive and peep, not letting more than their curious horse's heads be seen above the surface; hippos that are not seen, but are guessed at, moving in the depth of the water; mothers with their pink calves, carried on their backs, navigating; excited males who fight-- – all the scenes, ultimately, of the lives of these animals unwind and move on the same documentary page of this book of Nature.

The time slides past without being noticed.

Close to eleven o’clock, with the sun almost at the midday position, the savannah seems one great furnace. Sparse densities and spots of herds can still be seen-- – now slow and wandering. The car obliges animals to get up that had lain down, vanquished be the heat of the hour.

We draw close to the jungle and proceed on shadowed paths. Suddenly we hear an explosive sound of splintered branches-- – and four elephants, that our proximity stirred up, arise immediately, running, at less than one hundred meters. They are lost far in the depths of the forest. We reach the road. And when we had gone less that half a dozen kilometers on it we find a buffalo that appears to be waiting for us. He has posted himself in the middle of the road, staunchly, looking at the car. Since he does not move we stop. Will he move? Will he not move? His attitude is of a guard defending the way. This “head-to-head” lasts close to a quarter of an hour.

Finally, the animal, disdainful and defeated, rambles into the jungle and goes to his destination.

And thus, a four or five hour trip in the Gorongoza savannah is shown. When will those men responsible for it resolve to make this park competitive with Kruger Park-- – and win, justly, more fame?

The first Gorongosa camp referred above by Henrique Galvão, known later as Lion House

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