The Mapungubwe Transfrontier Wildrun® – A three day trail running safari adventure through Zimbabwe, Botswana and South African game reserves of the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area.
Day One – Running in Zimbabwe.
As Kipling once said,”Go to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, and find out.”
I stood, barefoot, mud slurping through my toes, with my Wildrun kit bag heavy on my shoulder, as I contemplated the crocodiles and the knee-deep crossing from South Africa into Zimbabwe. On the other side, a table of crisply epauletted officials waited to welcome me.
It was the start of a great adventure – three days of trail running over 90km through the great wilderness areas of three countries. The Mapungubwe Transfrontier Wildrun® was a world-first, allowing a group of runners to traverse the Big 5 territories of the Mapungubwe National Park in South Africa, Sentinel Ranch in Zimbabwe and the Northern Tuli Game Reserve in Botswana. Months of negotiations and diplomatic bureaucracy by event organisers Boundless Southern Africa and Wildrunner, had paid off and we had the privilege of skipping the formal border posts and literally wading or running from one country to the next.
Camped under the massive Mashatu trees chattering with vervet monkeys, in the Maramani Community Base Camp on the banks of the Limpopo River in Zimbabwe, I watched the sun stretch over the horizon, as the the community cattle clattered up the beach for the night. The campfire drew us in and runners and crew settled into the crackle and smoke of evening banter.
“Run as a herd, stick together, keep your eyes open, the rangers will be at the front and the back – listen to their instructions.”
Day One saw development runners from local villages, immigration officials, and kitted out eager trail runners, lined up at the start, forming an egalitarian group, united by the thrill of running in the wilderness of Zimbabwe’s Sentinel Ranch.
We gathered to the drums and ululations of the kitchen and camp staff, clapping and gyrating as we set off across the veld. Acacia thorns, red dust, cattle dung, elephant dung, grass seeds catching our socks, we soon found animal paths and bounded out, adrenalin rushing, aware of the openness and our vulnerability.
“Watch out for the Baobabs.” Scratched and scarred by elephants, these upside down trees defined the landscape. We hugged and played and climbed around them measuring their girth with arms outstretched hands clasped to each other.
Zebra, antelope, giraffe, wildebeest, impala and troops of baboons startled and stared. Leopard and lion spoor marked the previous night. We raced laughing up hills, clambering to rocky viewpoints, striking yoga poses and pulling faces for selfies.
An oasis of 4×4 khaki clad SANParks Honorary Rangers appeared on the next hill, tables laid to serve us tea, coffee and rusks, with a buffet of snacks and water, all managed with military precision.
As we sipped tea, we learnt the legacy and ancient history of Sentinel Ranch. The sand and mudstones of Sentinel were laid down by geographical forces over 200 million years ago -a time of dinosaurs and fanged crocodiles predating the continental shifts. Fossils of the late Triassic prosaurapod, Massospondylus (210-190 million years old) lie curled up and resting in the stones from the time of Gondwana. Hunter gathers later marked their rituals on rocks, and cattle ranchers tried and failed to conquer the wilderness, eventually capitulating and allowing the reserve to become a conservancy.
The heat settled into the afternoon, and we ran on, down into riverine forest, stalling at the sounds of cracking branches and elephant stomach rumbles, we stepped cautiously through thick undergrowth, thrilled and pumping.
Finally through a swamp of cracked mud, Fever trees and deep elephant footprints, we scrambled up a sandstone hill and slid down over rocks back onto the edge of the great river, to complete the loop into camp.
Cold showers, lunch, massages, Zimbabwe beer and the sunset gin bar beckoned, as we whooped sweat encrusted dirty happy to the finish of Day One.