We’ve had three sets of houseguests in a very short time span, and today is our first day of ‘normal.’ We saw our friends off at 0430 (we used to call it oh-dark-hundred) and I couldn’t get back to sleep, so by the grace of God (and I mean that literally) I got up and walked.
I know I need to walk. I’ve always walked. I used to run, but I suffered for it – the knees – and decided I didn’t want to pay that price. But when my sister was here, we decided to take a walk and I said “don’t worry, I walk fast” and she said “I don’t, I am so slow now, my body has to warm up.” Confidently I started – and starting is uphill from my house. Very shortly, I discovered my fast was her slow, and I was HUFFING and puffing, and so embarrassed because I guess it’s been a while since I did this walk . . . but we did it. It felt good. And I was happy for a nice cool morning so I could do it again.
I ran into a neighbor, ignored that she was in her nightgown, we both pretended she was as fully dressed as I, had a brief conversation and she went inside with her newspaper and I carried on. About halfway through my walk, as I puffed along, I heard it.
The baboon coughed.
I could even smell a faint drift of wood burning fire. I could hear the doves. But it was only very briefly, very intangential, and I quickly realized it must have been a dog barking distantly; I could still hear him. For one brief moment I was back in Zambia, and while I love the magic of Zambia, I would not be out for a mile long hike early in the morning while the lions prowl for a last meal before they settle down for their day-long snooze.
We are off this morning to a grand plant sale across the bay in Milton. Symphony tonight. Back to “normal” for Pensacola.
Oh! What luxury! To sleep in until 0615 and to watch the sun rise from my bed, hearing the Egyptian Geese, the hippo, the Fish Eagle- and across the river, from the Lower Zambezi River Park, the sound of the roaring lion, one last thrilling morning at Chongwe River Camp.
I dress quickly once I am up – it’s not yet 0630 – but the mornings are chill in late June, and we have learned to lay our clothes out so we can jump into them soon after we arise, so as to keep warm. We are dressed to travel today, so many flights, so many people. . .
Although it is chilly, it is not cold this morning, and there is no wind. When we look out, there is this perfect reflection:
Victor joins us for breakfast, and CJ, and . . . we hate to leave. We are packed on time, our bags go, but we linger. . .
Victor says it’s time to go, he wants to take us by the Chongwe River Lodge – we had asked to see it. It is a marvel, sort of Gaudi-on-the-Chongwe, all natural materials and space, all privacy and perfect for family or a group of friends. There are four bedrooms with King sized beds, and more beds can be moved in to each room or the common rooms, if you really want to fill the house.
We head out to the landing strip; we can hear the plane coming in, but here is what is cool – the plane is for us! If he dawdle, he will wait! LOL, we don’t dawdle, we are there to check in – check in is the pilot asking if we are the passengers, and we can go whenever we are ready. Oh, I could get so used to this
The check in counter:
A few last photos with Victor, promises to write, we scramble aboard. Sigh. Farewell, Chongwe River Camp Adventure . . .
I’ve really dragged this out as long as I can; as long as I am telling you about the trip, I get to relive it. In truth, I don’t want to let it go. We’ve been to Africa so many times, but this was one of the best trips ever.
It’s a little colder in the lower Zambezi than in the South Luangwa, so we dress in multiple layers, and we wrap up our heads, too. Victor and CJ join us for light breakfast and we head off on our last game drive. We have had so much fun with Victor; he works so hard to find us what we want to see, even trying to track down a leopard on a limb, with one of our party is eager to see. This morning, first thing, he takes us to a giant Baobob tree, which looks like it has Christmas decorations on it:
When you get a little closer, you can see it is full of Baboons, huddling together, trying to warm up after the chilly night.
He takes us to a sector of the Zambezi with severe erosion that reminds me of Cappadocia and there we spot a group of Zambian anti-poaching rangers, heading off on their day’s duty. These guys are real heroes. They leave their families and live outdoors, spending their nights out among the wild animals. There are real dangers, not so much from the animals, but from the poachers, who will kill an elephant just to cut out the tusk.
Victor spots a very cold little jackal, all curled up, trying to grab a couple winks:
We find a group of Cape Buffalo, still moving a little slowly so we can photograph them, but kicking up a lot of dust!
Yesterday, Victor found a leopard was on the limb but jumped down just as we arrived. Today, we see a beautiful large male leopard, being chased by an elephant. We get between them, not the smartest thing to do because the elephant is just behind us! I’ll show you photos of the elephant later – right now I want to talk about taking photos on safari.
You might guess I took a lot of photos. You might suspect you just get to see the best ones, and sometimes even the best ones aren’t all that good. Here is the problem. You don’t have a lot of control. You sometimes only get a quick glimpse. You can have an amazing experience, and then look at your photos and they are all too far away, or there is a small but important problem. I am going to be very very humble and show you the things that can prevent a good leopard shot:
And then he walks away – leopard butt!
The perfect shot! Oh wait . . . he’s blurry:
And this might be good . . . if he weren’t walking away, and most shots of leopards are them walking away:
I’m not kidding you, that is the exact sequence of this day’s leopard shots. But! He who persists, prevails!
Now! The Payoff shots:
Can you imagine our exhilaration? Of the four of us, I have the smallest camera, with the least capability. I can only imagine how beautiful my friends’ photos are. This was a special moment, the moment the leopard stood still, out in the clear. You cannot make those moments happen, you just have to cherish them when they do.
LOL, this is what comes next – more humility:
It’s time for coffee, and Victor knows just the place – a palm grove:
It looks warm, but we still have one long sleeved layer on.
We head on searching for lion, which we do not find today. We find other things:
It is getting later, and we reach the camp boat waiting for us in Lower Zambezi National Park to head back for camp. . . About fifteen minutes into the drive, after spotting five huge crocodile sleeping on the riverbanks (each rolling off as we approached before the boat could stop rocking long enough for us to shoot until
the last one)
We approached a bank, not our camp, where a picnic was set up on an island – for us! We had no idea! Our Albida House butler, Steve, was there to greet us, as he is when we return to camp, and a crew including a chef, who is cooking a late breakfast with lamb steak, sausages, several salads, and fried eggs. We are set up out under a shady tree in camp chairs, at a table with tablecloth and napkins, and it is so elegant and so glorious, and it is a little paradise.
After our picnic, it is a five minute ride back to camp, where Victor drops us off
I have to wash my hair! I intended to yesterday, but there was a very cold breeze blowing and our bathroom is open to the elements, so I skipped a very chilly shower. Today, I must shower and wash my hair! It is a brighter, warmer day, so I do, and it is delightful, showering in the huge open bath area, nice hot water, a tiny chilly breeze, but big thick towels and a warm robe to wrap up in.
It feels so good to be clean! We get so dusty on our drives!
AdventureMan follows, showers and shaves. We are leaving tomorrow morning, and he knows it will be chilly in the morning and wants to get it done while it is warm, so while my hair dries in the soft breeze, we chat about how much we love this place.
For me, the greatest luxury is privacy. I do enjoy the people I am meeting, and at the same time, I need some quiet and some time alone. The great gift of being upgraded to this family suite has given us some wonderful dinner conversations, the ability to dine informally and earlier in the evening, and the joy of space and time. We have been less regulated here, more able to be ourselves. It is a great luxury.
After our quiet time, we had tea . . . well, really, I had mocha, decaf and cocoa. And cake. For all our protestations of wanting to eat healthy foods, they keep bringing us the most delicious cakes and desserts, along with a big bowl of fruit. We never choose the fruit. We are able to hold ourself to half portions. Well, some of the time we are.
Today I stayed back while the other three of us went canoeing in the afternoon, imagine, canoeing on the Zambezi, what a thrill. I packed, thoughtfully, and watched the hippos transfer from their sunning spot to their sand spit. I always loved what I thought of as hippo-laughter, but I am told it is simply an announcement of “I am here.” Like a space – I am in it. I wouldn’t want to get between a hippo and where they were going, but I do find them charming, and I still love hippo sounds. For me, another day in paradise is having the luxury of some time to myself, not to do anything important, think through my packing, read a little of the book I am reading, watch the hippos, just enjoy my own company for a few minutes.
They have brought in a large barrel and put it by the fire; it looks like a kind of a grill . . . hmmmm. They are so full of good surprises here. I wonder what this one is all about.
It IS barbecue, and when the three canoe-ers come back, all full of a really fun adventure, we sit by the fire with our wine and watch dinner being cooked. It is dark, but the cook has a headlamp so he can see what he is doing:
Our last dinner – awesome!
We fly tomorrow, first from “Royal,” which is really just a strip, to Lusaka, then from Lusaka to Johannesburg, then from Johannesburg to Atlanta and then Pensacola. We have only confirmed two flights . . . there is no internet connection in the bush, not for guests. It makes things more complicated. I am just hoping they make allowances for such, especially on the Delta flight out of JoBerg, but as our travel friend says “who cares if we get home on time? It was only getting here that mattered!” and she is right!
As we get into bed, we have hot hot water bottles, in cheetah-patterned flannel covers. ZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz . . . . .
Have you ever thought you might like to be a safari guide in Africa? It sounds so romantic, doesn’t it? What a great life, you take people on drives a couple times a day, tell them about the wildlife, eat meals with them, it’s all fun . . . right?
These guides work hard. First, in order to qualify as a guide, you have to take – and pass – a national exam, an exam in three parts. If you don’t pass any one section, you have to take it again. You have to know the common name for animals, birds, trees, bushes and flowers, and you also have to know the Latin names.
If you are a guide, people will ask you the craziest questions, and expect you to answer. If someone gets sick on the drive, you have to know basic First Aid. If something goes wrong with the car, as a guide, it is your responsibility to fix it, or to get the people you are responsible for back to camp.
If you are a guide, you can go back to where the leopard ALWAYS hangs out, or to where another guide spotted mating lions, and today, with your guests, they won’t be there, and you won’t see any sign of them. If you show them two prides of lion, they will be elated until they hear that the other guests saw mating leopard, and they will be mad at YOU, the guide, because they didn’t see them. If the day is too hot or too cold, you have to find a way to make your guests comfortable.
At the end of a long day driving and trying to make people happy, you have to sit with the same people at dinner, making polite conversation, answering their questions, and you’d be surprised how often it is the same question.
We really admire the guides. They work hard. They can make or break a guest’s perception of a camp. It’s hard work.
Our guide at Chongwe River Camp, Victor, knocks himself out. Although we didn’t show up until after four the day we arrived, he had us out on the river by five
Early the next morning, we have a campfire by the river, with a pot of porridge, home made hot muffins and a glorious sunrise:
We head out on a game drive, passing the waterbuck once again, and spot a stork fishing for his breakfast:
The morning light is achingly beautiful; we can’t stop taking pictures:
Victor is leaning over the side of the car; that is always good news. He’s spotted a lion print:
The Cape Buffalo are still sleepy and a little slow, so we get some good photos:
We get to the entrance to the Lower Zambezi National Park:
And we see a jackal! The only other jackal we saw as at the salt pan, and that at a distance!
We are driving around looking for lion when suddenly Victor stops the car and backs up. There, on the grass, under a tree, is a leopard, just waiting for us!
Now here’s the thing – I probably took about fifty shots of this leopard, but I am not happy, and this is normal for trying to shoot leopard, or lion – many times they are in grass. Sometimes it can confuse your camera, you think you are shooting the leopard, but your camera focused on the shoot of grass just in front. Or you think you’ve taken the perfect shot, and there is this leaf, or grass, just marring the perfection of your shot. Or the leopard is facing away from you. Or the leopard is walking into the brush! Oh no!
This nice little female leopard put up with us for about half an hour, then leisurely walked away, all of us still snapping, snapping, snapping . . .
I love this elephant, I love this elephant’s ear. We’ve taken a lot of elephant photos, but I really love this elephant:
We can’t believe what a wonderful morning we are having, and just as we are feeling life can’t get much better, Victor spots two young lions. He says they are part of a larger group, but the larger lions have gone off hunting and these have been left tagging behind:
Just after the young lions have wandered off stage, we see this big boy coming down the road, and he is terrifying. He has one thought on his mind, find that lady elephant, and we do NOT want to get in his way:
I know, I know, this is a family blog . . .
It’s been quite a morning, and we head back to camp, but we are all too excited to sleep after lunch. I intended to wash my hair, but there is a cold breeze blowing in off the river, and our wonderful open air shower is just a little too shivery for me today.
We take a walk into the main camp – here is the main camp lounge:
And the dining table overlooking the Chongwe River:
And overlooking a huge pod of sunning hippo:
We run into Chris, one of the Chongwe River Camp owners, with whom we flew from Lusaka to Royal, the airstrip for Chongwe River camp. He talked about the new direct flight from Dubai to Lusaka and how he wants to market to expats in Dubai, Qatar, Kuwait, etc. to get them to come down to Chongwe for their holidays. We tell him we did most of our Africa travel from Kuwait and Qatar, that it was a piece of cake with a time zone change of only an hour, not 8 hours, and travel time usually just overnight, and the price is a lot cheaper from there, too. It’s a great trip out of the Middle East, and we think he has the right idea, to market the camp to expats and locals there.
After tea, we head back out on the river, three of us, while one goes fishing. What we love about Chongwe is that there are so many things to do, and so much fun!
Victor finds a spot near the White Fronted Bee Eaters for sundowners, and we meet up with the fishermen, who, alas, did not catch anything:
Back at the AlBida Suite (the Family Suite) Steve-the-Butler has laid out a beautiful campfire to welcome us back.
It has been a perfect day. Victor joins us for an early dinner, and as we finish up a chilly breeze starts blowing and we all say goodnight, knowing morning will be coming early once again.
Early, early the next morning we heard a crashing and crunching – sounds we can easily identify as elephant. At first we continue sleeping, our only morning for sleeping in, but I can’t resist, I have to get up, and lo! The elephant is between our cabin and the next, obliviously chomping and breaking and tearing the tree for an early breakfast.
I decide to get up and get dressed so I can get the iPad charged before the generator goes off at 10, but I can’t go out until the elephant has departed, and she heads in the direction of the lodge, which is where I need to be. Deb Tuttle, the walking guide, walks with me once we see the elephant walk a little further down the valley, I’m able to get the iPad charging and grab a cup of coffee so to be able to say farewell to some of the guests whom we will not see again.
It is so nice to be able to pack in daylight! My iPad is at 100%; I have finished The Paris Wife and am starting Wolf Hall, which also holds my attention. While carrying books is bulky, this constant underlying awareness of needing to recharge camera batteries and iPad is also a deterrence. I find I am less desperate about the camera batteries, I always carry at least one back-up so I always have a charged spare, but when the iPad goes, it has to be recharged before we can use it again.
A couple of the travel agents who didn’t know each other had to bunk together in Nsefu. I don’t feel sorry for them; they get to come free. It seems to me, though, is hard to come on these trips as a single person and not feel the odd one out when the game drives go out. They say it is no problem, but I’ve been the odd one on trips to Kawazaa, etc., when AdventureMan wanted to do some activity and I wanted to do something else. It is possible, anything is possible, but sometimes it is just a little awkward. Sometimes people are nice; sometimes they are not so happy to have someone else with them. We are finding that the best of all worlds is to come with your own little traveling group.
The first time we came as a small group was with our son and his wife. We were able to do game drives with people who share our preferences, have people to talk to at dinner if everyone else has their group, etc. We like meeting up with other people, and at the same time, it gives you more confidence to have a group with you, if the other people are all absorbed in one another, or not great company.
The most difficult people are those who don’t understand that this is not a predictable experience – that’s why it is an adventure. There is no guarantee that the lion will crawl over the lip of the riverbank just in front of your car. There is no guarantee you will find the same great, shaggy maned lion at the salt pans that the other guests found the day before. There are NO guarantees, and so you have to treasure all the moments, great and small, and if you are blessed with an extraordinary experience, you celebrate, but honestly, just being here is cause for celebration. Those whose noses get out of joint because you might have seen something they haven’t aren’t a lot of fun to be around. We had one experience when a group that had been friendly to us got all sour and disgruntled because we had seen the lions at the salt pan and they had not. Hey! The lion don’t always show up! The leopard are elusive. This experience is one that totally has to be lived in the moment.
You have to love the smell of the campfire in the morning, and be willing to sacrifice your one morning of sleeping in to spot the elephant chomping outside your bathroom wall. You have to love the little elephant shrew as much as the elephant. There are some drives that are just quiet. It’s like you can’t expect Christmas every day, and if it were Christmas every day, it wouldn’t be special any more.
Just before Holly arrives to open up the Bend Over Store (LOL, it’s a trunk full of goodies) we are blessed with one last elephant crossing! Two days earlier, the elephant were crossing back and forth like a street in New York, then yesterday – not an elephant! It was so unearthly quiet! Today, groups are massing once again, and crossing. We love watching the baby elephants as they learn how it is done.
On the way to Mfuwe airport, we see Eland – we’ve been looking and looking for these large elk-like ungulates, they are shy and elusive, but Jonah spots them off in the distance, a parting gift from Nsefu.
We have an all-too-brief mad dash through Tribal Textiles, where we ‘invest’ in tablewares, cushion covers and deco for children’s rooms. AdventureMan befriends one of the Tribal Textile cats while I am busy shopping. I have cleared out my backpack so I would have space to put my purchases.
We have a full flight from Mfuwe to Lusaka, and not a lot of time to spare before our next flight. Smooth flight to Lusaka, just minutes to pick up luggage and transfer to next ProFlight flight, this one is not even on the departure board, only eight passengers, our party of four and a German family from Bavaria. At the very last minute another man comes running, running to catch the plane, we are all busy chatting, it is already a family. They are en route to Chiawa.
It’s a short flight, but here comes the most exciting moment in our day. The pilot is looking at a cheat sheet and the suddenly the plane is saying loudly “Pull Up! Pull Up!Terrain! Terrain!”
The pilots are looking confused and annoyed, one still looking at the instruction sheet, a mountain is rising in front of us, the plane is banking and the loud voice keeps saying “Pull up! Pull up! Terrain!”
I thought I had a movie of all this. I remember making a movie, thinking that if these are my last moments, I will record what happened and try to store the iPad in a place where it might be safely found. Of course, as it turns out, we landed safely and . . . somehow, I don’t have the movie. I must have shut it off too quickly and it didn’t save; I was in a hurry – just in case those were my last moments. I have to admit I am disappointed not to have it to share with you.
Waiting at the airstrip is Victor, our guide, and we rode with him and Chris, who turns out to be one of the owners of Chongwe, to the Chongwe River Camp.
(This is a waterbuck we passed on our way into camp, and again on our way out of camp the next morning; so so sad, part of the circle of life and death, but as we departed Chongwe, his bloated body was in the same field; they suspect he was bitten by a snake and died.)
Arrival is lovely, we are greeted at a tall stand, so we are not climbing in and out of the Land Cruiser, we walk right out onto this stand and down the steps. Flossie greets us and then they tell us that we have been upgraded and put in the family suite.
The Family Suite . . . As soon as we see it, we remember. We had totally forgotten . . . we loved our cabins at Chongwe, we were delighted with all the amenities, and we also remember our first boat trip riding by a place that looked like a fantasy from 1001 Nights, a tented living room and dining room, with carpets and nice furniture and linen tablecloths and gleaming candles – it was so lovely. We remember, it was the family suites. And now, the family suite was ours!
We were a little dazed by our good fortune, we couldn’t believe this lovely place was ours. Our butler, Steve, offered us drinks, Flossie, the camp hostess showed us to our bedroom/bathroom/dressing areas and explained how everything worked, where the electrical outlets and switches were, how the double shower works, where the bath oils were for the claw-footed bathtub, gave us the white cotton pique robes and the fluffy thick Turkish Towels.
And this is the desk area, also where we can charge our batteries and electronics:
This is the view out over our swimming pool to the Chongwe and Zambezi Rivers, and the hippo pods:
There are woven mats and kelim carpets, and we feel at home, if home can be a huge octagonal tent with an indoor / outdoor feel. Victor comes back, pulling up in a boat next to our swimming pool,to take us for a sundowners up the Chongwe and then back down into the Zambezi.
And Victor has fishing equipment with him for the fishing enthusiast in our party. He is able to cast to his heart’s content with a rod and reel trying to hook a Tiger Fish (catch and release) but no luck.
We see lots of animals coming down to drink at dusk, just across the Chongwe:
Our first Chongwe sunset:
Dusk settles on the Zambezi:
After sundowners, we head back and go to our luxurious tents to clean up, then reassemble around the fire to have a glass of wine before dinner.
The ultimate luxury is privacy. We have met such lovely people in the camps, and still, I am who I am, it is hard for me to exert myself to be charming every night at the end of a long day. I do fine at breakfast around a campfire. I manage at lunch, although after an early start and a long game drive, I am usually eager for a quick snooze. But by night, at the end of the game drive, all I want is comfort food, quick, like tomato soup and a cheese sandwich, not so much chit chat and good night, see you all in the morning when I am more chipper.
I recognize there are people who do well later in the day. I recognize that there is this thing called civilized behavior. I do have manners, I know what is important, and . . . yet . . . late in the day, I have the nature of a curmudgeon. I need some quiet. AdventureMan and our friends are out having a great conversation in our living room area, I can hear them, I delight that they are having such a great conversation, and I really, really need to be in here, writing up my notes. By the grace of God, they understand me and have compassion on me. I am able to join them a little later, and we have a lovely laughter-filled dinner in our private dining room and then off to bed – we have a full day tomorrow in Chongwe!
We did nothing to deserve this beautiful upgrade. We loved the spacious tents we had the last time we were in Chongwe River Camp, but this . . . this is a totally unexpected, undeserved blessing, it just fell in our laps, and we are so appreciative. We feel so cherished, so blessed, so beautifully taken care of. We go to sleep with the sound of hippos . . . . .ZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz . . . . . .
We are up only half an hour earlier, but it feels lime the middle of the night. We dress quickly, although it seems a little warmer this morning, and head directly for the game tracker, where we meet up with Jonah, our guide. Jonah was up early yesterday, taking our friends to Kawazaa, got back in time for tea, and then took us out for an evening drive. When does he sleep?
This morning, our goal is to head out to the salt pans before it gets too hot, and thank goodness there are nice thick blankets, because once we get going, it feels a lot colder, and we are all bundled up.
We are on the road before sunrise!
On the way into the huge, flat plain, Johah stops to pick up some leadwood to use for a fire. As we near the hot spring, we spot a jackal! He is cold, and shy, and the light is dim, so no jackal photos, not this time . . .
We arrive at the hot springs just as the sun is coming up, we all help unload and set up the chairs, and our two German lion-hunters from the last time we were there drive up and we exchange greetings and information. The hot springs area has its own unique kind of beauty, and we are all busy taking photographs while Jonah builds a fire.
The cooks have pre-cooked the bacon and sausages, which is a good thing when for a hearty, delicious, totally non-healthy breakfast out on the salt pan where there may be hungry lion hanging about.
On the way back, we stop now and then for some heartstoppingly beautiful photos – pukus and zebra against a lush green grassy background, eagles and fabulous birds, and it is one of those wonderful mornings altogether, nothing spectacular, but a series of lovely moments. No lions. Not every day can have a lion. But every day has its wonderful moments, and this morning, we had several.
Men from the village ride by, but there are no lions, no elephants, and nothing we have seen to warn them about:
I couldn’t help it, I love the way these two zebra seem to join at the hip:
The camp is full when we arrive back, three tour agents here to learn about the Robin Pope culture, take a drive, take a guided hike – and it is a warm afternoon. We have lunch, and we all head to our cabins; no elephants crossing today, maybe it’s a Saturday thing. I wash my hair; I need to do it in the afternoon because there are no hair dryers, and I have a lot of hair. It dries in the warm afternoon breezes, and is fully dry by tea, before we leave on our afternoon game drive.
This is a Wydah and its tail gives it a loopy up-and-down kind of rhythm:
We stop for sun-downers by the river, our last sundown on the Luangwa, and what a gloriously pink sunrise it is. The hippos are getting ready to leave the river to forage for supper, and are busy yawning in the pink twilight, but every time I look away to answer a question, one chooses to yawn and I miss it. It happened so often, with such regularity that I figured I simply wasn’t meant to get that hippo-yawning-in-the-pink-sunset photo, at least not here, but it’s been a great lovely sunset, a magnificent sunset, and a lovely way to say farewelll to the Luangwa.
Of all our trips to the Robin Pope Camps in the South Luangwa Valley, this has been one of the very best.
I’m tired when we get back, it’s been such a lovely day. I beg off going to dinner; I need some quiet time. The cook sends me a poached egg on toast, just what I need. Every meal has been so good, so filling, but occasionally, like a tired child, I need quiet, and a simple meal. I plan my packing for the next day in serene peace.
Friday, June 8
The sun rises on our first morning in Nsefu, we eat our porridge, and we head off on a game drive with our old friend Daudi.
Our friends are off to visit Kawazaa village, warning us NOT to find lion without them, and we take off – of course, we are looking for lion! We are always looking for lion! We don’t find lion, but we find lots of raptors, the biggest eagle, cranes and herons, we watch hippos, and once back in camp, we spend hours watching the elephant families crossing the Luangwa.
As you might guess, it feels like we are eating all the time, but when we get back, we haven’t gained an ounce. I think it is because we are doing a lot of active riding; the roads are bumpy and you have to steady yourself, you are climbing in and out of the game vehicles, and there are a lot of crossings where the guide says “Hold on!” Here is Daudi, taking us across one of those river crossings:
As you can see, not every game drive stars lion, or leopard, but there are thrilling moments with birds, elephant, hippo – or crossing the river.
This is a Lillian’s Lovebird, one of my favorite birds in the world. The camps are full of them, but they are fleeting and flitting, and very difficult to capture in photos.
Morning tea at a hippo pond – you know how I love hippo:
Back at camp, it seems to be elephant river crossing day. One group will gather, and cross, while another group waits across the river. They meet and greet, and then head on their way, while another group crosses.
This group has a baby. The baby can actually walk most of the way, but when it is too deep, there is always a barrier of larger elephants on the downstream side of the baby elephant, who is holding on to Mama’s tail, and is supported from behind by another elephant.
At one point, something spooks the elephants crossing close to the dozing hippo, they start running and splashing, maybe an elephant accidentally steps on a hippo, and a loud ruckus breaks out. Elephants trumpet, hippos scold loudly. Fortunately, it is all show and no go, no real fight and no bloodshed, the elephants continue on and the hippos go back to slumber.
Our friends came back just in time for tea, and begged off the afternoon drive, saying the mating lions they had seen on the way to the village would have to be enough. They’ve been to the Kawazaa school, and to the village for lunch, visiting the clinic and even helping kill the chicken for lunch. It’s been so much fun, but also very stimulating, and they want to take a break.
Mating lions?! You saw mating lions? Let’s go see the mating lions!
Jonah found the mating lions in no time, which was a thrill, except that they had mated with such great vigor that now they were lying in sated stupor. We took some photos, but how many photos can you take of exhausted sleeping lions?
We started back, but on the river road, saw an unusual sight – lions on the river banks across the river, and a lion climbing up the bank we were on.
He wasn’t wet, but he was calling to the lion damsels across the river, and had clearly made them some promises he intended to keep.
We tracked him for a while at a distance as he gauged his chances for a safe crossing here and there, and finally, we left him with our best wishes for a safe passage to lion nirvana.
At dinner we finalized plans with Jonah for an early departure for another trip to the Chichele hot springs with hopes of finding that dark maned (older) lion Madolyn was able to photograph with her iPhone, with breakfast at the hot springs and back at Nsefu Camp noonish.
“Happy Anniversary to You! Happy Anniversary to You! I Love You! I love you! Happy Anniversary to you! Happy Anniversary to you!” AdventureMan sings me awake to the tune of the Superman theme. He always knows how to make me laugh, and after 39 years, he can still surprise me. We are so delighted to wake up here, in Tena Tena, on our anniversary. Life is sweet.
Morning at TenaTena Camp:
AdventureMan is walking to the next camp, and I am spending the morning catching up on notes, organization, small things, charging up my iPad, etc.
As I was saying earlier, you’d think this would all be very restful, and everything is done for us, but it all revolves around our game drive schedule, and any necessary re-charging depends on the generator schedule (unless you are in Nkwali, where you can re-charge everything in your own rooms; there are lots of electrical outlets) and at the same time, why on earth are we bringing all these electronic devices to the bush???
I’ve discovered a program on the iPad called Notes, and it allows me to write so much more than I would if I were writing by hand. I forget a lot of the smaller details and some of those small details are what makes camping life here so much fun.
The Robin Pope camps pay a lot of attention to detail. One of the things they provide is an insect repellant that is also lotion; it goes on easily, it smells good, and it really seems to keep the insects away, so I gladly use it instead of the Deet we brought with us which melts plastic if it leaks. How can that be good for our cameras?? How can that be good for us? And it is oily, and it smells so bad, and the tsetse flies just ignore it altogether. The insect repellant lotion, on the other hand, seems to work . . . and it smells like lemons.
We are all discovering new ways to use our cameras. I have discovered a program called Night Scenery, which allows me to take spectacular sunsets, and even photograph the essence of a night drive with some clarity – how cool is that? We are a good group in that we can sit patiently and shoot twenty or thirty shots of the lilac breasted roller, experimenting with various shutter speeds, aperatures, and compare them to the automatic function.
(I love my Lumix. I get great shots, and it takes me close to get the finest detail of a bird feather. It is lightweight, easy to handle, and doesn’t need as much light as many of the longer interchangable lenses on other cameras. I have two batteries, so I can be charging one and using another. I have another, smaller Lumix also with me as a back-up in case the unthinkable happens and something goes wrong with the bigger Lumix. My one gripe – the back-up battery is not a Panasonic battery; it works, but it doesn’t show how much battery is left, so just at the worst moment, my camera can just die if I don’t remember to change the battery out when I think it might be time.)
Our new Scottish friends, Mark and Madolyn, show us photos they took at the salt pan and they saw lion with a big huge bushy dark mane, and she took a photo – are you sitting down? – with her iPhone, that I would have killed to take. It is close, it is detailed, it is every bit as good as a photo taken with a camera. So much for all the control we are trying to develop.
They also ran a rescue mission for all the village men passing on bicycles, telling them of the lion ahead, loading bikes into the Land Cruiser, ferrying them past the lion and dropping them off past the danger zone. Some of the pride of lions have 10 – 20 members. Most avoid humans, but . . . would you want to bet on that, riding by a pride of lion, say . . . hungry lion . . .on a bicycle? (shiver) Not me!
It is approaching deep winter here, so it can be cold, not bitterly cold, but cold enough to make you stupid when you get up in the morning, cold enough that you want a fleece and a scarf for the first few hours of the morning drive. Around mid-morning you start stripping off layers, until around noon when it is very hot and you know the sunscreen won’t be enough; you have to put on some kind of cover against the strong African sun, even approaching mid-winter.
On my way to Nsefu, our last camp in the South Luangwa, I am with our old friend Daoudi, whom we first met twelve years ago, on our first trip to the South Luangwa. We talked of our families, and changes, and I thought to ask him about a conversation I had had the night before, with our Tena Tena guide, Julius. I had asked him how his wife coped with him gone guiding several weeks each month, and he began his response with “She is a well-mannered girl . . . ” going on to discuss how they problem-solve and work with the situation. It’s of interest to me, as a former military wife; military wives also spend time apart from their husbands.
So I pondered this, it was the first thing he said, “she is a well-mannered girl . . . ” and that tells me being well mannered is the most important thing, but well-mannered behavior differs, I have learned, sometimes painfully, from culture to culture.
“Daoudi, when a Zambian girl is said to be well-mannered, what does it mean?” and he explained it meant from her earliest days, her parents had instructed her on proper behavior.
“OK. I understand that. But I might not understand well-mannered the same way you do. Like when we lived in the Middle East, you know I learned to wear clothes that covered me to the elbow and to the knees, and did not have a low necklline . . . “
“Yes, modest . . .” he said, thoughtfully.
“Yes, exactly,” I affirmed, ”but also things very un-American . . . I learned to keep my eyes down, or at least not to look directly at a man and smile – that for us it might be friendly, but there it might seem forward. And I learned to use my quiet voice in public, and not to laugh out loud in the souks. Things like that, things I would not have even known if I had not been told.”
“Ah, yes!” he agreed, “these are also what it is to be a well-mannered Zambian woman. To speak softly with your husband, not to be shouting at him when you disagree, but to talk softly so you can come to agreement. Like that.”
We rode together in a comfortable silence, then I had another question.
“Would it be OK for a Zambian woman to be sitting here in the car with you when she is not your wife or your sister or a closely related woman?” and he laughed and said “Yes, it is helpful! Like you give someone a lift to help her get where she is going, there is nothing improper in that.”
So while some of the manners are like the manners of the Middle East, there are differences, too, and a person could spend a lifetime learning all these little distinctions and still not get it all right. Learning another culture is a never ending task, and it makes you envy those children who are born of two cultures (or more) and can pass fluently from one to another, knowing the subtleties of each.
We have American nieces and nephews who have lived most of their entire lives in a foreign country, and while they are not born of different cultures, they played on the streets, attended social functions, the local culture seeped into them by their daily lives. They are idiomatically fluent and inter-culturally fluent, but it takes a lifetime of bi-cultural living to attain their level without a dual-culture mother and father.
Everyone arrives hot and tired from the walk, and delighted with all they have learned. We have a lovely lunch, and AdventureMan sleeps soundly for an hour before afternoon tea.
Afternoon tea is a lot of fun; the chef has baked a beautiful chocolate cake for our birthday girl, and seven men enter singing “Happy Birthday” with the birthday cake for tea.
On the afternoon game drive we spot a civet cat, which we have never seen so clearly before,
and we see a porcupine family. When we first spotted them, it looked like the big porcupine was dragging something, but no, it was a little tiny baby porcupine sticking to Mom’s heelslike glue.
(Sorry, it’s just hard to get good clear sharp shots at night)
Again, a gorgeous night sky and a lot of fun trying to find constellations. Dinner was a Mongolian barbecue, with sparkling wine provided by the Australian honeymooners, who had a true honey moon – the moon rose huge and red in the sky as we were eating our dinner.
We’re all doing a lot better in terms of sleep. We think we are pretty much over jet lag, but it is harder getting up at 0515 in the morning. I straggle to the campfire for breakfast, and all the happy conversation wakes me up. The moon is also just rising:
We have a great morning game drive, stopping wherever we want just to watch – herons and cranes fishing in the lagoons, baboons warming themselves, some with tiny tiny baboon babies. We see greater kudu, so shy, and we feel so blessed to see such amazing creatures. It’s just another great morning in the Luangwa valley.
AdventureMan spotted this, and called it Immature Impala Arrangement:
This elephant, fortunately across the canal, was seriously angry with us and eager to chase us. We left in a hurry:
I loved this quiet hippo, walking up the canal looking for the right spot to soak:
Mama Giraffe told him to stay put, and he did:
Back to camp for another nice lunch, and we think we are going to take a little snooze, but . . .
No napping today, we have visitors! A herd of elephant are breaking down and eating trees outside our tent.
At afternoon tea, where we all gather preceding the afternoon game drive, the elephants came into the camp, down between our tent and the last tent, blocking access to the game vehicles. Once they sauntered off a little ways, we took the path to the other side, got in our cars, only to discover the elephants blocking the drive we take to get out. We waited fifteen minutes or so until they finished with the acacia tree, then moved far enough inside the bush – maybe eight feet – that our drivers felt comfortable passing.
Down the road, we are once again blocked, this time by the (normally) shy giraffe.
We sit patiently, knowing eventually the giraffe will get tired, or scared, or annoyed and move on . . . but that doesn’t happen. After about a half an hour, we leave the road and drive around, giving the giraffe plenty of space. Look at those colors! The sun is setting! Giraffes, be shy! We need to go!
Sunset is spectacular, and we almost miss it because of the giraffe blocking the road.
The hippo are all active tonight, and I want to get one of those classic shots with the wide open jaw, but every time it happens, someone has asked me a question or I am listening to a joke and I miss it! By the time I get focused, the mouth is closed. It’s like a great cosmic joke, on me, so I figure I just need to be happy with what I have.
The sky is so clear, the first night without some cloud cover, and on the way back, we stop in a clear glade and Julius points to constellations we don’t see in our hemisphere. The big dipper is there, but down low, near the horizon, and the north star is not visible at all. We see the southern cross, and the scorpion, and the long length of the milky way, and I am reminded of being a little girl in Alaska, where the stars shone bright and clear in the dark sky. We get so used to the ambient light ever present in our cities, that we have no idea
what the stars look like without it. The moon has not yet risen, so the sky is very very black, and each star is clear and sparkly.
It is such a luxury, just leaning back and seeing this vast expanse of black with the sparkling stars. We also see a shooting star, and we can spot several satelites as they speed across the sky at enormous height and speed.
Dinner, back at the camp, is wonderful, an outdoor barbecue under the trees, steak, chicken, kabobs and nshima, the Zambian staple, like polenta, a corn based starch, accompanied by tomato relish, and it is very similar to comfort food served in the southern USA, grits, and also similar to a family dinner dish served with rice in Kuwait.
We all proceed very cautiously to our tents, and it is a good thing. Shortly after our arrival, we hear the howooooot of the hyena, and we can hear the munch munch of the hippo. Elephant come back, between our tent and the last, and crash and crunch. In spite of it all, we sleep soundly and awake all too soon to the day we will leave Tena Tena.
When that wake-up call comes, you really need to have everything ready. It’s cold, and while I like colder weather, I find it slows my thinking, especially early in the morning. By the time you load up in the car, you need to be sure you have drinking water with you, your spare camera battery charged, your camera in the backpack, heavier clothing for early in the drive, lighter cover ups for later, when it gets hot. You need sunscreen with you, and insect repellent, and anything else which makes you comfortable, like kleenex tissues, and lip balm (it gets very dry out on the game drives.)
It’s approaching mid-winter, so it is getting colder. If you could see us first thing in the morning, in all our layers, you would laugh, and you would wonder if we are in Africa or Alaska. We are all wrapped up in T-shirts, sweatshirts, sweaters, hats, scarves wrapped around our faces, blankets . . . it is early in the morning, we are in an open vehicle, and it gets COLD in June!
We are on our way out to the salt pans. The last time we did this, four years ago, one of our passengers got really really sick. It was awful. There was nothing we could do for him, except to pretend we didn’t hear him retching in the back, throwing up over the back of the truck. We all felt so sorry for him. We all knew, there but for the grace of God, it could any one of us.
Dawn coming up on the way to the salt pan:
This trip was totally different. We had an unexpected cloud cover much of the morning, which kept things cool. We kept passing villagers, men on bikes coming from the north with baskets of chickens to sell, to buy necessities to take back to their northern villages. Once, we saw an elephant, and warned some of the men on bikes that there was an elephant ahead. We found one man just mounting his bike; he had seen the elephant and had dropped his bike and run. These elephants are massive and if grumpy – or in ‘must’ – they can be lethal, and mean. If the man runs away, the elephant might stomp his basket full of chickens, or his bike, just out of meanness.
We couldn’t resist shooting this herd of impala, just their heads peeking up over the tall golden grass:
As we near the salt pans, we spot lion on the road ahead of us. We can see a mother and her cub.
Julius knows a way around, so we go around to the other side, where we can see four lion – and then six lions! They are all young males, females and cubs, and are resting.
Julius tells us not to be fooled by their sleepy expressions; the lions are actually taking in everything, the sounds we make, the way we smell, and the way we move. Did you know male lions are “tri lobal?”
Then the lions decide to hunt, they stand, stretch, and walk off into the tall grass – and we love the way they just disappear, their golden color matching nearly the color of the golden grass:
We spend about an hour just enjoying watching the lions, then head for the borehole hotspring for tea. The vista is both bleak and lush – where the water from the borehole has trickled, you can see green. The water is very hot, and you can smell the sulpher.
There is a funny story about the bore hole. A lodge was being built, Chichele, which wanted a borehole. The bore hole drillers asked the locals where was “chichele” (which means salty) and they didn’t know about the lodge; they sent the drillers to the old salt pan, also called “chichele.” They drilled a bore hole – out in the middle of nowhere – only to discover they had drilled in the wrong spot. They capped it, and today there is an oasis of green out in the middle of an otherwise fairly barren plain. It attracts a lot of wildlife – and those who prey on wildlife.
As we leave the hot spring, we spot more lions, maybe ten, a different pride. I say we, but it is really Julius, who sees the vultures circling and thinks there may be a kill in the area. We spot the lions, and then start the long drive back, stopping here and there along the way to take pictures or to learn about a whole lot of things we don’t know much about.
On our way back to Tena Tena, we pass through “The Colony” where the Yellow Billed Storks are nesting, hatching their young and teaching them how to fly. It is noisy, and hilarious; there is a lot going on. We particularly love the ‘flight school’ as young stork hesitate to take off, then practice their take offs and landings. Occasionally, one doesn’t make it, and there are Marabou Storks on the ground, who finish them off quickly.
We are late, and fortunately Claire has had sandwich plates made up for us so we won’t starve (LOL). We eat at the bar, and head for our cabins, but it is not an afternoon for resting – we have a visitor:
Most of the time, these little bushbuck are too shy for us to photograph, but here in the camp, there are a couple who have become used to the smells and noises of us intruders, and is oblivious to our cameras.
The afternoon drive starts off sedately along the Luangwa:
But we find beauty in the small things as we head toward sundown. These are Egyptian Geese settling in the lagoon nearby:
There are also elephant, an entire family, playing in the water:
Sunset is spectacular. I am drinking Campari and Bitter Lemon, and because we are heading back early, I drink the whole drink.
Julius and Davis serve up sundowners:
We had asked for a short night drive, but after ‘sundowners’ by the river, we find a pair of mating leopards, and the drive goes on a a lot longer than we intended. Mating leopards are exciting, they make a lot of noise, and are well worth a late drive, especially with a sky full of stars. NOTE TO SELF: No matter how tempting, limit your liquid intake at sundowners! Once the sky is dark, there is no safe bush to step behind and the roads are bumpy!
Julius helps us find the Southern Cross on the way back to camp, and shows us how to identify the Scorpion. The skies of the southern hemisphere are strange to us, but the stars are so bright and the night is so dark we just lie back and revel in the beauty of the heavens.
A very lively dinner, with the Swiss foursome, a new Scottish couple and us, eating ‘gammon’ which is ham, with pumpkin and mashed potatoes. Dessert is an amarula ice cream, which leads us all to the bar for shots of amarula liquer before he head for bed. It’s a lot harder organizing for the next early morning after a glass of wine and a shot of amarula, but we sleep like babies. We do hear lion roaring, but we just go right back to sleep.