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December 2009 Travel Zimbabwe 21

DID YOU KNOW? resting place Cecil Rhodes' remains are not the only bones resting in Matobo. Buried in secret caves, lost deep in the leaf mould of clefts and crevices or scattered in the thick grass of the valleys, are reminders of those who have made the hills home over thousands of years. Rock art There are over 3000 registered rock art sites here, with the main periods of painting being between 320 and 500 AD. In some of the caves and crevices, clay ovens have even been found. " Welcome to my little piece of paradise," with Boy Scout enthusiasm. He clearly loves his job and the surreal working environment. He went on to explain that we'd need to move quietly and carefully if we were to be safe and successful tracking rhino. " Although, we might have to run like hell if we encounter black rhinos," he added. " They're far more aggressive, and can charge. I was once trapped in a tree for four and a half hours." It wasn't long before we'd encountered a 15- year-old female white rhino and her 18- month- old calf. We edged closer. Ten metres. Seven metres. Five metres. The mother ignored us completely, grazing avariciously. Yet baby swivelled its eyes up at us and stared intently. " If baby squeals, mother might flatten us, so let's stop here," Ian cautioned. I was absolutely buzzing - it was an intense experience I can equate only to sitting with mountain gorillas in the jungles of Uganda. Ian then motioned towards the long grass. It was 45- year- old Swaziland IV, the biggest rhino in the national park. He paid us no attention, having eyes only for the female. Unfortunately for him and his heavy breathing, she kept her distance in a ' not tonight dear' fashion. Ian's rhino walks embody the raw, in- your- face wildlife encounters Zimbabwe offers best. This has as much to do with the wildlife as it does with the quality of guiding - the training in Zimbabwe for guides is rigorous and demanding. That evening at Big Cave Camp, where little stone cottages nestle between kopje boulders, I sat next to the campfire within a shallow natural cave and looked out over the hills. As night fell I felt a mystical aura descend over the Matobos, almost sensing the shifting spirits of Ndebele warrior chiefs and their gods, for whom these hills were a sacred place. F Mark Stratton stayed in Matobo National Park with thanks to Big Cave Camp ( www. bigcave. co. za). Thanks to Nesbitt Castle ( www. nesbittcastle. co. zw) for accommodation in Bulawayo. Balancing act The balancing ' castle kopjes' have been formed by billions of years worth of erosion exposing natural lines of weakness in the rock. As these lines in Matobo run north to south and east to west, it makes the kopjes look as if they've been carefully constructed. Because the boulders on the summits are more exposed to nature's weathering, they are more rounded than the angular blocks at the base of the hills. That's why many outcrops resemble human shapes. 22 Travel Zimbabwe December 2009 Matobo National Park MARK STRATTONCOLIN BRISTOW / ECOLOGICAL AFRICA MARK STRATTON CRAIG RIX