BABOON troops lounge nonchalantly on trees along a footpath while monkeys scamper nimbly between branches. An excited whoop erupts thereafter from deep in the forest, boosted immediately by a dozen other voices, rising in volume, tempo and pitch to a frenzied crescendo.
I imagined each voice, trying to distinguish between individual cries, pants, hoots and screams that define celebrities, the power brokers and the supporting characters. Like humans, they are quite a community!
I was later to be told by a wildlife expert that this was a bonding ritual that allows baboon or monkey families to identify each other, through individualised vocal stylisation. Butterflies flit in dappled sunlight and again you come across another family of monkeys, preening each other’s glossy coats in concentrated huddles, squabbling noisily.
Suddenly they bound onto the nearest gallery of trees and swing effortlessly. Birds, flies, bees and butterflies erupt from a riotous wild flower display of breathtaking scale and diversity.
This must be yet another community of nectar collectors. Orchids and hibiscus grow on the tangled slopes and lobelia heath and many species of meadowland wild flowers carpet the intermittent savanna plains.
Then we come across a pair of kilpspringer, silhouetted on the rocks and like a bullet, they take off and disappear into the rolling valleys beyond. There must be scores of interlocking valley, there. These are scenes synonymous with Chimanimani Mountain National Park, which is straddled by steep slopes that hem the eastern sky, and river valleys and for tourists this is a different place altogether.
Chimanimani is not a game park, but has baboons that scratch through the night and several species of retiring antelope, including blue duiker, nimble-footed klipspringer and shaggy water-buck.
Leopards are common, though rarely observed and lions and buffalo are occasional visitors to the park’s remote southern extremes. A place for discerning tourists determined to scale greater heights and get a helicopter view of the country, albeit on foot. Rolling grassy hills enclose the tranquil beauty of mountain forest, each one a different hue of green and blue where it meets the sky.
It is only at dusk or dawn that the veil of cloud on the eastern horizon is most likely to clear, otherwise everything is at the benevolence of the oracle of the sky.
An hour’s ride from Chimanimani Village, the park includes the magnificent Chimanimani Mountains, a massive barrier of ancient and jagged crystalline rock forming the border with Mozambique.
The breathtaking beauty and pristine environment of these mountains have always drawn adventurous travellers.
The park provides basic facilities, catering for the self-sufficient explorer. Hiking, rock climbing, birding, camping in caves among the sparkling waterfalls and natural swimming pools. In the village itself one can book a visit to a traditional Shona village, chat with the locals at the village cafe, arrange a horseback ride in the forest, explore the local marketplace or book a round of golf at the nine-hole country club.
A walk takes visitors to the Bridal Veil Falls – a favourite picnic spot – and in the hills above Chimanimani Village there’s an Eland Sanctuary. Outward Bound organisation has a facility at the foot of the mountain, and the challenging terrain is occasionally used by other organisations for team-building, super-fitness training and orienteering.
The formidable mountainside opposite Chimanimani Village is the heart of Chimanimani National Park, a wilderness of steep sand stone peaks and towers, crystal clear rivers, savanna valleys and forests of stone columns.