Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Nkwali Camp, Day 2

We’ve booked three nights at each camp, so we get at least two full days at each, and additional drives or hikes for the transfer days – there is never a dull moment.

The drums, the drums, and we are ready and out the door in no time. Today, as we are walking down to catch the boat, my toe catches on a root and I almost fall into the river. Even though the Luangwa is shallow, it would still be humiliating, and I would have to go back and change clothes, and then (gulp) there are those crocodiles . . . . The path is rough and I am a little unbalanced by my backpack, and by the grace of God, the guide, Keyala, steels himself, I hit him and he doesn’t fall in the water when I hit. He holds steady. Thanks be to God! (By evening, there was a new set of stairs, and no roots.)

Our day starts with leopard. We are once again at a green lagoon, watching ducks and cranes, when Keyala says “look, there is a leopard!” and about two hundred yards back, he is at a pond, drinking, then quietly, slowly, turns and walks back into the forest. What a great way to start!

Sorry, the leopard is in the distance and you learn to shoot fast. It doesn’t always make for the sharpest shot, but by the time you get all the settings right and the focus set, the leopard is gone and you have a photo of the lagoon where the leopard was, who wants to see that?

We have a lively morning, full of birds and more elephant and giraffe:

These giraffe are young males, and they are fighting with their necks, sort of comical to watch, but they can seriously hurt one another. I think these ones are more playing at fighting:

This hippo has gotten tired of the fighting for a spot in the river and has found a lovely isolated spot in the lagoon. You can tell he is a weathered old soul by the scars on his body.

We also get a chance to photograph that glorious fish eagle in a tree – this is how you usually see them; the one I shot in the previous post on Nkwali was actually catching a fish. You don’t get that shot often:

Many stops later, we are driving along and we smell sausages. Keyala says it must be a nearby lodge, but there is no lodge near by. . . We turn a corner and there is a crew, with a fire, and camp chairs all set up, and we realize we are about to experience one of the infamous Nkwali BBQ cook-outs, oh what fun. We are overlooking another great lagoon, full of hippo, Cape Buffalo, baboons, and all kinds of wildlife. Robert, the stellar camp cook, is there asking us how we like our eggs, and with our eggs are sausage, bacon, corn fritters, fried onion, baked beans and toast from loaves of bread made in camp, big thick slices. 

On our way back to camp, we will cross the river again:

And here is one of many of the crocodiles sunning on the river sand:

Just before we get back to camp, we see a Zambian local, fishing in the river. Look closely at the canoe – we used to see canoes like this in Alaska, too, dugouts. Imagine the hours it takes to hollow out a tree so that you can use it as a boat, and imagine that if you have very little, the man who has created for himself a boat can be a man with an enhanced opportunity to feed his family . . .

Once again, we arrive back at camp, and snooze a little until dinner. Bumping around in the Toyota trucks wears us out, and we are still jet lagging, some times we think we’ve beat it, and then when we least expect it, it beats us. I really need to wash my hair, it gets so dusty from the trails, but I really really need a nap and a nap almost always trumps washing hair.

As we head out on our last Nkwali game drive, there is an air of excitement. We find the noble-looking kudu, so shy, and he astonishes us by walking across the road so we can get a clear shot of those amazing curled antlers.

You’d think there would come a time when we might think “Oh, it’s just another elephant family,” but for us, that time never comes. We always watch them with fascination, thinking how very smart they are, how far they range, how they communicate, and how they mourn the deaths of their group. Elephant are huge, and they have their own agenda, they are not there for our entertainment but for their own survival, so we watch them with great respect.

Keyala takes us across the river and we head up to the highest hill for sundowners, half-searching for lion and leopard on the way. The highest hill has a 180 degree view of the land all the way to the escarpment, and the sun sets at just about 90 degrees – right in front of us. Behind us, about the same time, the full moon rises. It is awesome.

This is Keyala and Keyfus. Keyfus (Kay-fus), on the left, is the same as Cephus in Greek, meaning rock – Saint Peter’s name. Keyala is our guide, and recently marketed for Robin Pope Safaris in Seattle. 🙂

On this high hill I spot a tree, Sterculia quinqueloba, a tree I have never seen before, and Keyala tells us the name. It is such an unusual tree:

Sunset from the high hill in the Chongwe Game Park:

Moonrise in the east, magical:

Dinner conversation is fast and furious back at camp, and we excuse ourselves to make sure we are packed up and ready for departure the next day for Tena Tena. We say a sad farewell to Chris, and Tina, and Keyala, who have taken such good care of us and gotten our Zambia safari off to such a great and happy start.

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June 20, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Beauty, Cooking, Cultural, ExPat Life, Hotels, Sunsets, Travel, Zambia | , , , | 2 Comments

Lusaka, Zambia to Nkwali, South Luangwa Valley, Zambia

Lusaka to Nkwali

“The shuttle will leave promptly at one” the concierge scolded, as if we had been late for any shuttle before. 

“We’ll be there!” we responded, and we were. We had our bags packed and ready, and were in the lobby by 12:45. The shuttle, this time a big bus, was just for us, and in spite of Friday afternoon traffic, made good time to the airport.

For all our efforts to be on time, we learned that our flight would be delayed another hour and a half. On one hand, we are always glad when airlines make needed repairs . . . we’d rather have a safe flight. On the other hand, the sun sets early, it is winter in Zambia, and it would be nearly dark when we arrived. It isn’t like the US, or Kuwait, or Qatar, or even Lusaka, where there are strong lights so you can land after dark. If it is dark in Mfuwe, your plane can’t land. We really, really don’t want to stay in Lusaka another night when we really want to be in the bush.

It was very nearly dark when we arrived, but we did arrive in time to land. We missed the sunset, but we got to see the villagers all en route to the nearest markets for Friday evening shopping, and got to camp just in time to set down our bags and have dinner. Earlier campers have left, and for the first night, the four of us have the entire camp to ourselves.

Here is a view that thrills me – the full moon, as seen from our shower:

Nkwali is a Robin Pope Camp, and we have been coming back regularly since our first trip about 12 years ago. We were last there four years ago with out son and his wife.

“What would you like to see?” our hostess Tina and camp manager Chris asked us.

“I’ve always loved giraffe,” one of our group replied, “Can you arrange for a giraffe?”

“Yes, we can arrange that,” he smiled.

Meanwhile, camp wildlife joined us for dinner:

Still jet lagging, we went to bed and AdventureMan was sound asleep quickly, just after hearing the “hahahahahahahaha” of the hippos. Just as I was falling asleep, I heard what I thought were the guards footsteps around our cabin, but they went on and on, and it sounded like he was sitting on our front porch. After about five minutes, I got up and peeked out the curtains. A hippo! A hippo, not ten feet away, munching on greenery just off our patio. It’s amazing how quietly a hippo walks – soundlessly, on those big round feet – but how noisily he munches. It was the munching I had mistaken for footsteps.

There are also monkeys, which are adorable, like tiny kittens, playful and scampering, but they like to come in the cabin. We are told that they don’t bother with anything except food, so not to keep food open in our cabins, but our neighbor had her medications knocked about, and a glass full of soda sent crashing to the floor by monkeys – while she was right there showering!

Morning came too quickly, the drums drumming at 0530 to wake us for a 0545 breakfast and 0600 departure for the bush.

It’s a beautiful day, we eat some hot porridge and load up for a morning in the bush.

Just leaving the camp, we saw hyena ahead of us on the road, and a warthog family, and then giraffe! One, off in the distance! Later in the day we would see more of these Thornicroft giraffe, endemic to this part of Zambia. 

We drove up to the river cross barge, a private barge funded by the local camps to help get their guests across to the national park on the other side. The barge trip is an event in itself, hand pulled across the wide, but shallow Luangwa river. Shallow, but full of hippo, and full of crocodiles, too.

The best part of the morning was reaching a huge lagoon, full of exotic birds, and with a constant stream of animals coming to drink, parades of zebra, elephant, a fishing eagle, ibis, Egyptian duck and many others. We are a patient bunch, and we loved just finding a good position and watching the game pass through, getting a good shot when we could. By the time we headed back to the lodge for lunch, we were exhausted.

This isn’t the most crisp photo, but I love the length of that loooonnng trunk reaching out into the lagoon for water. Sometimes you only get one shot:

This is a fish eagle. The next shot, he has a fish in his claws, but it isn’t a very clear shot:

Nkwali Cape Buffalo

Then, just for our companion, we came across giraffe – lots of giraffe, but it’s not easy to get a good clear shot, because you are mostly shooting them against trees, head in the leaves, and you have to shoot fast or all you get are giraffe butts, walking away:

We leave the Land Cruiser on the National Park side of the river, and men from the camp poll us back. The river is so shallow that we almost get stuck on the sand bar.

You’d think we could just walk across, but there are territorial hippo and hungry crocodile, and we don’t want to tangle with either of them.

One of the funniest continuing jokes on the trip are the questions from people who have never traveled in Africa who with great concern ask “But what will you eat?” We took photos often, because we ate often, and well. This is our lunch the first day when we got back:


 

I always have a list of things I need to do. Like at these camps, women need to wash out their own underwear, it’s a cultural thing, men are doing the laundry but they won’t touch womens underclothes, so I always have some clothespins to hang things to dry. I also wanted to wash my hair, which gets dusty quickly out driving on the game drives. I have to do it in the afternoon, so it will dry (no hair dryers in the bush), and then I need to lay down, because I’m really sleepy, still jet lagging. When I wake up to the “tea-time” drums two hours later. I felt so good! I felt like it was the best sleep I had gotten since leaving Pensacola, and it made me feel good, and full of energy once again.

Here is what our cabin, and Nkwali Camp, look like:

This is our writing desk; there is one in each cabin:

This is where you can unpack while you stay here, and where I lay out my clothes the night before so I don’t have to think when we get up early the next morning. When you are getting up really early, and only have about 15 minutes to get ready, you need to be able to get dressed without thinking too much about it. (It’s kind of like going to kid’s camp, only this is grown-up camp, LOL)

I almost hate to show you too much, it’s all such a wonderful surprise, finding these lovely cabins in the wild, but some people are so afraid to give it a try, I wanted to reassure you that it is quite civilized:

This doesn’t look like a lot, but the screen is enough to keep the wild animals out of your room when the sun goes down:

We love this bathroom:

We really really love this, this huge shower, with dual heads, big enough for both of us to shower at the same time, in the hot afternoon.

This is the Nkwali dining area:

This is the pool area and lagoon adjoining the dining area:

This is the gathering area/bar, and also where the campfire is, and where we eat breakfast around the campfire:

It seems to me that Nkwali is pretty much the intake area, where they help us all understand how things work, then they send us off to the other camps, Nsefu and Tena Tena, or to the fly camps (outdoor camping), or the mobile tented safaris. Before you go, you have to know the protocols, so Nkwali sort of educates you.

Your day goes like this – drums, get up, get dressed, go eat, load up into the car, go look for game. Back to camp for lunch, take care of washing underwear or hair, take a nap, drums, wake up, drink tea and eat cake, go for a game drive, stop for sun-downers, see lions (if you are lucky), back to camp, meet up in the gathering area/bar for drinks, drums for dinner, eat dinner, lay out your clothes, fall into bed (repeat)

After tea, we took a boat, polling back across to the national park, where we left the car. We drive, admiring giraffe (many!) and elephant and hippo. We run into one elephant who seriously, seriously does not like us. He does several mock charges, but he doesn’t walk away, he keeps charging.

We had a beautiful sunset on the river, and then went seriously looking for lion.

At the same time the sun is setting in the west, the full moon is rising in the east, fabulous:

The most exciting part was coming across a group of three young lions, one with a battered and bleeding ear, who tolerated our photo-taking until they didn’t. Then, one got up with a roar, and started walking and roaring.

Have you ever heard a lion roar? It is very very impressive; very loud, very resonant, it shakes your bones with its power. Shortly, one of his brothers joined him. They walked away down the wadi (what we call dry river beds when we live in the Middle East) and we thought we had a great night. Little did we know we were also going to have a leopard walk right next to our vehicle, and each of us was working frantically to figure out night time settings, so totally unexpected that not one of us got a photo. It didn’t matter. The very closeness of the passage and his utter disregard for our presence, his focus, was amazing and memorable.

All this fresh air and fabulous meals – Now I am back on schedule and sleeping through the night. I can hear the hippo outside munching as I am drifting off – but I just smile to myself and go happily straight to sleep.

June 18, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Beauty, Civility, Community, Cooking, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Food, Living Conditions, sunrise series, Sunsets, Zambia | , , | Leave a comment

Things We Love About Robin’s House

We had reservationsin Nkwali, the jumping off place for most of the Robin Pope Safaris, but we had to change the reservations by a couple weeks, and that meant a total reversal of the reservation. We started off in Tena Tena, then we went to Nsefu, then we ended up in Nkwali. We have always loved Nkwali, loved the cabins there, but this time we were happier than happy – they put us in Robin’s House.

Robin’s House is where Robin and Jo Pope lived before they built a gorgeous house on the other side of the camp.

It is perfect for two couples, or two couples and children. It is perfect in so many ways that I had to make a list of all the things I loved about being there.

* Space – spacious bedrooms, spacious, private bathrooms on each side of the house with a spacious common living/sitting/dining room in the center.

* Indoor/ outdoor living – the windows have screens on them to keep out critters, but indoors or outdoors, it all feels a part of a whole.

* Wrap around windows – a view anywhere you look

* Huge walk in shower, with animal prints molded into the painted cement floor. Love the whimsy.

* High, airy ceilings, with ceiling fans

* natural materials, canvas colored curtains, a neutral palette with beam accents

* great big soft fluffy bath towels

* all our favorite drinks stocked in the refrigerator, and a liquor bar, which we barely touched, that had Amarula, which I love.

* electricity! We could recharge our own camera batteries without going to the camp itself

* being taken care of by a hostess, a cook, a dedicated guide and Thomas and Amos, who took care of us without over-taking-care of us – they gave us plenty of privacy when we needed it, and were there when we needed them.

* variety of seating for people of different heights

* Tribal Textiles accents – pillows, covers, etc – in rooms

* a book case! With books! and games!

* multiple views of hippos, and hippo sounds at night

* grand, comfy beds with good sheets, good pillows and good mattresses

* kikoys provided for our use

* shaded porch with a variety of seating options

* a hammock with a view

* insect repellant – with a good smell and nice texture, and it really seemed to work

* ditto shower gel and shampoo and conditioner provided

* a drying rack for swimming towels, washed clothes, etc.

Our last day there, LawAndOrder Man and EnviroGirl had to leave for their 32 hour return to the USA, flying Mfuwe – Lusaka – Johannisburg – Dakar – Atlanta – Pensacola – imagine. And they had to work the next day. It was such a sad parting, and we were all glad to have had the last days together in this beautiful, very private location.

Photos:

This is the wing of the house where AdventureMan and I stayed

This was our room (sigh!)

And this is the shower we loved

This was the living room/sitting room where we would gather

This was the second bedroom – there were additional beds for kids

This is the pool. Other guests from the camp could use it, but no one did while we were there. It was separate from the house but very close.

These spaces for outdoor sitting were outside the other wing, where our son and his bride slept

They served our meals privately, too. What wonderful luxury privacy is

You know, the little Alaska girl is still alive and well inside me, and I am always fascinated with fishing techniques. This was right across the river from Robin’s House, and they caught quite a few fish.

Robin and Jo Pope have expertise, and also VISION. Problems, to them, are opportunities. Need to get tourists to the camps? Invest in an airline. Need to get them to the national park across a river? Build your own pontoon bridge – it gives Zambia additional park revenue, provides additional employment, and gives tourists a thrilling experience. When they solve a problem, everyone wins.

We crossed several times on this boat, and once, in pitch dark, got caught on a tree snagging us from under the water. It took about 15 minutes to maneuver us off, and to get across, but it is not like this ferry is on a schedule. It goes back and forth when vehicles are going into or coming out of the park.

How the boat is pulled across the river

We had some fabulous game drives; I will only bore you with this one. The hippo ponds are covered with nile cabbage, and I just loved this hippo with his nile cabbage blanket

July 7, 2008 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Arts & Handicrafts, Building, Community, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Holiday, Living Conditions, Lumix, Photos, Travel, Zambia | , | 2 Comments