Saturday 13 October 2007
Amazing. 14 hours after sitting in London at Heathrow, we were drinking a beer at Chikoko, a small bush camp in the heart of the Luangwa Valley. I am not sure why this still amazes me, I am lucky enough to have done the journey from the UK to Zambia many times, but it does. It is a really humbling experience to suddenly find yourself in a wildlife rich area which bears no resemblance to home, and yet which offers all the creature comforts you could possibly want… a bar serving ice-cold beer, a room with a view (and it really is a view), a comfortable bed, a cooling shower, and fabulous food. The view of course in this case being of a rich fertile plain with zebra, puku, impala and baboons. What a great way to begin a week-long safari.
After lunch and a siesta we went out with Isaac for a short afternoon walk (I think the afternoon walks are my favourite, especially at this time of year) as you know that it is going to get cooler as you walk and not hotter! So what did our walk produce – well (only!) puku, impala, waterbuck, nine male kudu (two sparring with their great twisted horns), five hyenas, and a herd of around 300 or so buffalo – not bad! The light was soft, the smell of the bush was beginning to ingrain itself in us, and the safari seemed to be getting off to a good start.
The contrast between where we have come from and where we are now is really a world apart – and unless you have experienced it, anything that I write or say, or show photographically won’t be able to do it justice.
So, after a beer, dinner and an early night, tomorrow will be our first full day here in Luangwa – but we have got the sounds of the night to discover before we get to morning, and we have already seen a fruit bat and heard Scops Owls calling.
Sunday 14 October 2007
I am not quite sure what it is that is so amazing about being in the bush. Here I am sat at Crocodile Camp looking out over a ‘Luangwa Wafwa’, a ‘dead’ Luangwa or a dried up ox-bow lagoon. The shape of it is very distinct – it curves away from me in a beautiful arc. It is bounded on my side (the outer curve) by a lovely grove of shady Mchenja or African Ebony trees, and on the other side by Sausage Trees and a variety of bushes – mainly I think combretum – it looks scrubby over there. The ‘lagoon’ floor is covered in a light minty green broad leaved plant which doesn’t seem to be enjoyed by any of the mammals. Over the past hour or so, there have been countless Impala ambling over from one side to the other, a small group of Vervet Monkeys, four Kudus and a couple of Puku.
It is still now, and hot, searing heat in fact, but not oppressive, and occasionally there is a strong and cool breeze which is a welcome relief from the intensity of the heat. And, when the breeze comes it brings with it the sound of the leaves in the trees above, which in itself is a welcome relief from the droning of the nearby bees who are busy seeking moisture.
The Elephants on this mornings walk were wonderful. The came out of the bush, in their usual quiet but stately way, going from A to B as they do, two females and two young, and came towards a nearby waterhole. The wind direction was good for us and one of the females came down to drink. Overhead their were a pair of adult Fish Eagles, calling – throwing their heads back as they did so – their unmistakeable call of Africa.
Monday 15th October`
This morning began with Lions – not one, but five. A big male, one cub and three females. In truth we didn’t have to work hard to see them. We came out for breakfast and as we were eating our muesli Isaac said ‘lion over there’ in his rather gentle but matter of fact way. We watched them for 20 minutes or so over breakfast and they then moved off. We packed our bags and geared up ready to head off on our walking safari back to Tafika. We went out gingerly with our scout Batwell leading the way and Isaac working closely to direct him and sound out the best way that we might be able to get closer to the Lions which Isaac was sure were hunting. Skifully he manoevered us around a huge buffalo herd, ensuring at all times that we were downwind of them so we couldn’t be detected, and we searched for the Lions. At various stages along the way we stopped – to check wind direction, to see where the Impala’s were looking, to see where the giraffe were looking and finally (sadly) to admit defeat. It was extremely exciting though – a complete adrenalin pump.
We stopped mid-way through our walk on the edge of Big Lagoon for tea and cakes and were visited by a curious pair of Warthogs who trotted up to us and then past, and then galloped off at high speed once they realised we could potentially do them some damage!
This afternoon was the real reason why we were here though. We spent the afternoon at Mkasanga Basic School, chatting to the teachers and the Headmaster, talking to some of the children and looking at the classrooms that they learn in. The walls are cracked, the floor is cracked and they have hardly any desks, and yet, it still seems to have an amazingly positive atmosphere with enthusiastic teachers and classroom assistants, and pupils who adorn a near permanent smile.
They showed us all their classrooms, the children sang for us, and they danced their hearts out and this is why we are so delighted to have been able to co-ordinate a significant amount of funding for the school over the next two years. You will need to re-visit these pages over the coming days and weeks to read more about what is happening at Mkasanga.
Our day concluded with four Lions drinking in the Luangwa and a Giant Eagle Owl perched on a low branch preparing to hunt.
Wednesday 17 October 2007
How amazing is Zambia – I never seem to miss a day here without being completely blown away by someone’s story or something that we see. Today I had lunch at Kapani before driving up to (a recently rebuilt) Nsolo where I am to spend the night. My lunch was enjoyable, jovial and was overlooked by three giraffes, which is never a bad thing!
Rose Jere… mean anything to you? It just might if you have been onto the Norman Carr Safaris website, or if you regularly take the Times on a Saturday. She is the first lady safari guide in Zambia.
I have met Rose once or twice in the past, but have never been engaged in conversation with her until today – she drove me from Kapani to Nsolo. Her story is a quite remarkable one. Rose is from Chipata, the closest ‘reasonable’ sized town to the Luangwa Valley. It is a fairly sprawling place near to the Malawi border. Rose didn’t want to take the path normally trodden by Zambian girls, and after having a baby, decided to break into a man’s world and become a mechanic. She spent some time listening, learning and studying and became a qualified mechanic and progressed to being the ‘foreman’ at a local garage in Chipata in charge of all the other mechanics – all male of course.
She then went to see one of her friends who lives in the Luangwa Valley, and took a shine to it. She stayed in the Valley for a bit and started to go out walking (on her own) and look at the plants and the trees, and the animals. Rose then went to work at Kapani Lodge as a chambermaid. This was fairly amazing in itself since she was one of only three ladies working at the lodge. Rose became more and more interested in the wildlife and asked the then manager if she could begin to (officially) learn about the wildlife and train to be a guide. He wasn’t too keen,and in fact was strongly against the idea. Being a lady of determined character, and being protected by her immediate (male) colleagues who were not only very forward thinking, but clearly aware of her strengths, she decided to learn more without the knowledge of the manager. This obviously went on for some time until she spoke to the owner of the lodge, Nick Aslin, and explained what she really wanted to do. In a quiet moment Nick asked her to check over one of the vehicles and pretend that he was a client and take him out on safari. She did, and he was impressed. The rest is history. It took Rose three further years and three failed attempts to get her guiding exams before she passed with flying colours as the first ever female guide in Zambia last year.
Rose’s pride was also Kapani Lodge’s, Luangwa’s and I suspect Zambia’s. Rose made local, national and international news – and it doesn’t get much better than that.
We got chatting about birds (since this is her favourite wildlife topic) and just as we started to talk birds we saw some European Swallows – the first she had seen this year. I mentioned that we had seen some earlier in the week and that we had also seen a Broad-billed Roller and heard some European Bee-eaters. Rose became even more interested when I said that we had seen Thick-billed Cuckoo. I asked her if it was early to see them (since they are also migrants), and she said that more than likely it was a young one from last years brood that had never left, and that more than likely there were Red-billed Helmet Shrikes around when we saw it (which there were). The Thick-billed Cuckoos parasitise the Red-billed Helmetshrikes nests. There is always something to learn here – and I am very much looking forward to going on safari tomorrow!
Saturday 20th October
I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that last night’s game drive (our last in the Valley on this trip) didn’t produce any big cats – they don’t always. It is great when they do, and it would have been great if it had, but it didn’t. Our drive began at around 4pm as we crossed the silt-laden Luangwa and entered the national park on this sweltering sunny afternoon. Abraham, a close personal friend of mine and one of the Valleys most distinguished guides, drove us down Mbangula Loop with a view to heading on down to Mbomboza Wambilombe as there is a great Carmine Bee-eater colony there. As we came off the ‘main’ road and headed down the dirt track we watched a small family group of Elephants walking and foraging and coking closer to us, undisturbed by our presence. We stopped and waited, listened and looked, and they approached to within a few metres of our vehicle. One of the ele’s seemed to have a damaged trunk, and whilst it was beginning to heal up it was clearly itching in the way that wounds do as they heal. He was rubbing it on the ground and gently kicking dust over it which apparently gave it some relief. We were initially concerned that the Elephant’s trunk may have been caught in a snare, but the nature of the wounds suggested that in fact this wasn’t the case and that it had probably been attacked by a croc – surviving to live another day.
The Elephant was lucky, the zebra wasn’t so lucky. As we drove out in the morning yesterday the animal tracks were very clear for all to see – it had rained quite hard the previous evening, wiping away all the previous tracks and allowing us to see a completely fresh set, and to put together a picture in certain places of precisely what had passed by. So as we went past Mfuwe Lagoon (near the entrance to the park) there was a huge area frantically cross-crossed by tracks of two or three Lions, a single Zebra and a truly gigantic Crocodile. At first glance it wasn’t immediately obvious what had happened, but with a certain amount of Abraham’s detective work and a closer look at the wider area it became clear. Lions at brought down a zebra fairly close to the lagoon, and whilst they were no doubt beginning to feast, the scent of the kill was irresistible to one of the crocs from the lagoon who came out and stalked it. There was a complete imprint of the croc on the sand, and it was a good 3 metres long, its feet the size of a pair of size 12 wellingtons. It seems that the Lions and the croc fought for the kill and the croc won and dragged the hapless zebra across the road and into the lagoon.
We had sundowners on the beautiful stretch of the Luangwa right at the Carmine colony, we looked at the baboons feeding nearby, and watched the hippos jostling for position in the river channels, and the crocs like stealthy submarines keeping a watchful eye over everything in sight.
So, our night-drive didn’t produce any cats, well it didn’t produce any big cats, that is Leopards and Lions, but it was a great drive all the same. We saw a Bushy-tailed Mongoose (not a common sighting), we watched a Genet attack a fleeing 2-metre long Spitting Cobra (it disappeared into an invisible hole in the ground much to the Genets surprise). Next we saw the first of the arriving Pennant-winged Nightjars, and finally after we had left the park and were heading back to Kapani we saw a heavily pregnant Spotted Hyena and shortly after found a beautiful African Wild Cat – so who needs the big cats!
Up early this morning for a 5am departure from Kapani, a couple of us were waiting for the rest of our party to appear. They couldn’t get out of their room as a large male Elephant with crashing great tusks was walking along the path feeding as he went. And, as we left Kapani heading out to the main airport road a small group of Giraffes silently crossed. A fitting end to another wonderful week in Luangwa.
Click here for the full gallery from Chris’ Trip.
Click here for our selection of Zambia holidays.