It’s December 2001 and …

 

It’s Monday 3rd and waiting for rain

Even though this is only my second rain season as resident in the Valley I get the feeling that things are running behind schedule! Perhaps it is just a normal aberration. Whatever…since I last wrote we have not had a single drop of rain in the area around Nkwali with only minimal showers in other areas of the Park. Then this morning we were all woken up by the rare sound of thunder. Excited, I sat up in bed, only to see very boring non-stormy clouds high up above. Nothing came from them except for a few spits. Defeated, I lay back down again and dreamed of lovely, cooling, day-long showers!! Each day this week we have had high humidity and hot hot sun followed by impressive late afternoon dark cloud build-ups that turn to nothing. The river continues to maintain its lowest level for the year. We continue to pray for rain!

This time of year does provide gameviewers with wonderful opportunities to see lots of young. There are baby impala all over the Park at the moment – very beautiful. Also baby warthogs (wartlets) are seen all over – quite often just outside Nkwali. Marcus saw two young lion cubs with their mother not far from the Mfuwe main gate recently. He has not been able to verify or reject the ‘female with horns impala rumour’ – it hasn’t been seen since the original sightings of two weeks ago!!

Speaking of young, mother bluegrey flycatcher nesting in a hole in the wild rose tree outside the office is now proudly rearing two fluffy little chicks! They are big enough to fill the hole in the tree so I wonder what might happen to them as they get older and start flapping their wings?? Mother sits over them a lot, in between darting off to collect more food to feed them. When I went over to take a peek this morning, in order to provide today’s update, I managed to get caught in the thorns of the tree…reminding me that nature can be cruel! Another reminder was those little darlings, the vervet monkeys, who look so cute and are fun to watch as they run up and down all over camp, all day long. It is now the season for the glorious mango and we have been devouring them as often as possible lately! Keyela brought a huge bagfull back to camp recently and we were all looking forward to consuming them (I fancied a few mango daiquiris for sundowners actually!). Well, they were left unattended just inside the office for a few minutes and that was enough for the cheeky monkeys to make off with most of the contents of the bag!! How disheartening it was to watch them sitting high in the trees, happily munching on the mangoes without a care in the world! The baboons are just as bad – they stole my last jar of vegemite the other day, which I found lying discarded under a bush! What am I to do??

Simon and Shanie returned to camp on Friday in a vehicle that was bursting with all sorts of goodies – most of them for Christmas! It will be so much fun and very festive! Shanie is busy preparing menus and has even bought a few of those annoying Christmas carol cd’s which she intends to play in the kitchen “to get the chefs into the festive spirit”! If I were subjected to that noise I’d most likely hang up my apron for the last time!! Still it is the thought that counts – how lovely! Christmas updates will continue.

Whilst Shanie is busy organising camp for Christmas, Kevin and Simon are overseeing a big make-over in the bar. Yes, the Nkwali bar roof is being re-thatched! It is no small job either…it will take about one week to complete the job so we have closed the camp for the period. So guests will arrive shortly to a revitalised Nkwali bar roof! Work has also been done on creating a higher bridge over that section of the Nkwali road which can often flood in the height of the rains. It is all rather impressive…and a relief that Nkwali may no longer become an island in February!! And behind the scenes, I’m pleased to report that the concrete floor in our office has had all the potholes in it filled up – it used resemble an average section of tar road between Chipata and Lusaka!!

Have a wonderful week and happy Christmas shopping!
Jeffrey

It’s Monday 10th and winds at Nkwali

The silly season is well upon us in the Valley. It is quite a sociable time of year for all of us who remain during the rains! Quite common to be invited over for a braii (or barbecue for most of us!) or sundowners or any other excuse for a party. I’m sure there will be a few tales over the coming weeks of locals letting their hair down! A rundown of Christmas and Carols on the Bridge will be coming soon.

Jasmine

It is also such a lovely time of year to get out into the Park – yesterday I was invited into the Nsefu sector for a pre-Christmas picnic and it was like a visit to another country! The Nkwali area has still not managed more than a few spots of rain in the past week so the ground is still dry and there is not much by way of grass or fresh green groundcover around. In the Nsefu sector it is lush…everything is bursting with regrowth and there are puddles all over. There has been quite an amount of rain up there but not enough to make it too difficult to negotiate the roads.

Jasmine

Those who visited Tena Tena or Nsefu in October would have noticed lots of jasmine growing – you will be pleased to know that it is all still out and looks beautiful. In the afternoon we saw large herds of eland and buffalo, lots of warthog, zebra, baby impala, an ‘almost confirmed’ sighting of Lichtenstein’s Hartebeest (apparently they are seen sometimes in the South Park), a brown snake eagle, a buffalo carcass being finished off by a pack of hungry vultures and a hippo lying dead in a road puddle! The dead hippo was spotted the previous day and in that time it remained mostly intact except for the big hole in the top of its head – something was obviously enjoying it. The smell however was unbearable!! Apart from that the area was alive with migratory birds all feeding in the new water areas, amongst the fresh grasses. All of this plus good food, ale and a brilliant distant storm show – huge clouds with sheets of rain way off, lightening and the rumblings of thunder – makes a day in the Park in December very exciting and fresh!

Back at Nkwali, the bar is re-thatched and we are open for business! The “new do” looks rather shaggy, not dissimilar to that of a certain Mobile caterer’s by the end of October!! One or two doses of rain will fix the new thatch at least! Gameviewing at Nkwali reopened with a bang – two leopard on one gamedrive! Fiona, one of our guests in camp who had not been back to the Valley in fifteen years, was certainly not expecting to see these leopard so quickly..so she is very chuffed! Fiona has a strong affection for the Valley and knows the area well. She even holds the honour of selling to Robin his first vehicle – Dobbin for those of you who may remember! So is it wonderful to have her back and I’m sure she and Robin will be able to reminisce about old times and discuss Robin’s favourite topic – motors!

It has also been a rather dramatic week at Nkwali, which is quite typical at this time of year. First of all those elephants returned to camp in the middle of the night and ripped off the veggie store roof AGAIN – the third time in one month! The next evening, during a typical stormy build up with lots of humidity, we thought we might actually get some rain. There were indeed a few big spots but nothing more…then suddenly five minutes of increadibly strong winds! It was strong enough to bring down a large tree in front of my house – fortunately the tree fell over the riverbank and not over my roof nor the jag! It was my favourite tree…an old Trichellia Emetica which housed a large beehive last year in the main trunk.

Monitor Lizard

Much of the trunk had rotted away so a strong gust of wind was all that was needed to finish it off! It was also this wind storm, we believe, which saw the end of the bluegrey flycatcher chicks. They were in the nest that day and gone after the storm – very sad but it was a rather clumsy nest. However other babies are rather enjoying this time of year…

Shanie is very excited having just seen a monitor lizard hatchling near chalet 5!

Kevin and Marcus have driven to Johannesburg with the purpose of buying motor spares. I have no doubt that they will also have a good time and hopefully will have a few stories to share on their return next week. This week sees Robin and Jo’s return to Nkwali, after a visit to South Africa and Namibia. Jo might have a few words to say about her travels next week so stay tuned!

All the best for the week ahead.

Tsalani bwino
Zikomo!!

Jeffrey

It’s Monday 17th and babies galore!

Hello and seasons greetings!!

It’s been a festive and exciting week at Nkwali! One night last week the elephants decided to join the festive spirit by once again attempting to help themselves to the contents of the fruit and veggie store! This, as you would now realise, is the fourth time in as many weeks that they ripped off the thatch roof, keeping the thatchers employed for just that little bit longer.

This time the damage was more extensive with the bricks on the top of the walls knocked off by the heavy weight of ellies leaning over in an attempt to grab the fruit. The ellies went on the rampage that night, tearing off branches and knocking down small trees along the way. The morning gamedrive was blocked just outside camp by a tree felled by the elephants..a few staff had to be ‘volunteered’ to move it out of the way! On top of all this, during the same action-packed night, a hyena ate the drum our waiters use to announce meals in camp and a baboon was found dead under a tree from which it had fallen! Heavy stuff – and we all slept through it! Simon has now erected an excellent electric fence around the fruit and veggie store which will hopefully deter the ellies from coming back. The current is enough to shock them and keep them away.

It was certainly ‘baby week’ on the gameviewing front! It started off with Daudi spotting a baby civet, quite a rare find. Shanie then found a very cute baby terrapin in the swimming pool…she rescued it to live another day and it looked very much alive and well when she brought it over to the office to show us! An afternoon gamedrive with Jacob inside the Park included a superb sighting of four month-old lion cubs. They were wide-eyed and utterly adorable – I wanted to take them all home!! Mummy was somewhere in the bushes, presumably on a hunt, and it looked as thought she had told her little ones to “sit still and DON’T talk to any strangers”! They lay in the grass, just off the side of the road, staring at all of us with a combination of intense kitty-style curiosity and bewilderment. They didn’t know whether to get up to take a closer look or retreat or sit still as mummy told them
to! Each of them had slightly different colouring and patterns on their coats. When we started to move away they stood up and wobbled in single file into the safety of a nearby bush..their little back legs were still getting used to the idea of walking properly. We didn’t see mummy anywhere so thought it was just best to continue with our drive and leave the family group alone.

Baby elephant at Nkwali

The same drive with Jacob also encountered a baby giraffe with mother and other family members…it was about the same height as an average human, pale in colour, and being well protected by it’s mother. Back at Nkwali a group of ellies have continued to visit the lagoon near the dining room. One female was looking so heavily pregnant one week ago it was painful to watch – imagine carrying all that extra weight!! A few days later she was back again minus the weight but underneath her was one of the weeniest baby ellies we have ever seen – barely high enough to reach her mother’s belly for suckling!! A very beautiful sight – only days old and very unsteady on its feet. And as I write Shanie has just sent through a radio message that she has spotted another baby giraffe, only a few days old, with the umbilical cord still attached…just on the staff road into camp!

Robin wasted no time on his short visit to take a drive up to Tena Tena this weekend. He was pleased to find that everything was fine and that the site looks absolutely stunning at this time of year. He was taking a drive around the camp and near the turnoff to the south loop near Tena Tena noticed a disturbance in a tree covered with vines. Reversing back a fully grown and rather heavy looking female leopard darted out of the foilage. She moved out towards the road and then sat and watched the vehicle for a while. It was difficult to tell if she was heavily pregnant or had just finished off a kill. Robin couldn’t see any evidence of the kill near the tree. Perhaps more babies are on the way!

We thought that we must share some rather interesting advice on travel and safety which was spotted in a local Zambian magazine:

“The correct approach to this problem is not to stock an extensive first aid kit but to prevent accidents and injury in the first place by heeding the basic rules:

  • Always wear a seat belt, do not drive faster than the terrain will allow, do not drink and drive, do not sleep and drive, do not drive at night in rural areas
  • Do not act irresponsibly, i.e. diving into unknown waters or scaling heights unless with the correct training, equipment and back-up
  • Do not attempt difficult river crossings etc late in the day
  • Don’t die alone in the bush
  • Establish where the nearest reliable ambulance service may be when planning your trip
  • Know the local emergency numbers and better still – programme them into your mobile phone” Draw your own conclusions!!

The Popes are back for a short visit, so to conclude this week here’s an update from Jo:

“I have just returned from my 6 weeks stint away. Quite a long time. After a month in the UK, I met up with Robin in Joburg and off we went for another stint at the health farm outside Cape Town. Only 3 nights this time – turned out it was not long enough to get me on the straight and narrow. So next year it will have to be longer. We had 2 wonderful days in Hermanus – with the last of the whales. Quite amazing to be clothes shopping and while I was trying on clothes to purchase Robin was giving me the low down on what the mother and calf whales were doing in the sea just below us!

Then off to Namibia for the Classic Safari Camps of Africa AGM at Wolvedans Dune Lodge. Our second visit there – and what an amazing place. The scenery is quite breathtaking. The colours change constandly throughout the day over a vast desert with dunes, mountains and long valleys. On our return flight, the Schoeman’s of Seleton Coast Safaris gave us one of the most spectacular days of our lives. They run their famous safaris by air – landing in various places in the desert and on the beach. The tandem flying, with radio communication between the planes, is very exciting. Through the dunes, up the coast at 100 feet, down the canyons – you feel such a sense of freedom.
We were so amazed by the day. Both Wolvedans and the Skeleton Coast Safaris come highly recommended.

So back in the Valley for a few days of catch-up before we go to Tanzania for a holiday (of course all of the above was work! – well most of it). I am then learning to fly at a flight training school in Port Elizabth for January and will be back at the camp in early February. Lucky me! So, have a wonderful Christmas and New Year! Robin and I will raise a glass to you all on a Pemba Island beach.”

Cheers!!
Jo & Jeffrey

It’s Monday 24th and Christmas Eve

Happy Christmas!!

Where has the year gone?? It doesn’t feel very long ago when we were enjoying a rather extravagant Christmas lunch at the Nkwali bar last December…and here we are again! From what I am told that is being prepared in the kitchen over the coming week….it will be a wonderful feast! And lots and lots of fun! Shanie is just bubbling with Christmas cheer…I’m not sure quite how we can calm her down!!! Hopefully she will make some of her lovely mulled wine…one or two glasses of that ought to do the trick! The Christmas tree has just been decorated and it is beautiful.

A perfectly shaped knobthorn which has been decorated with natural and locally made mobiles of various shapes and ‘bush colours’. To top that off it is now adorned by a set of 80 flashing ‘musical lights’ which has just been sent up from Lusaka! You can press buttons to control the speed of light flashing and choose from a selection of ‘electronic’ Christmas carols that offer too much noise pollution for my liking. It really does look beautiful but we have decided to keep the music button OFF!!! Much better to hear the sounds of the Luangwa whilst sitting at the bar enjoying a festive ale!

The bridge is in the distance

On Christmas Eve guests and staff will join the rest of the Valley at the Luangwa Bridge for Carols on the Bridge. It is one of the best local events of the year and brings everybody out to sing and be merry. All the safari operators in the Valley set up a table along one side of the bridge. Each table is laden with little goodies their kitchen staff have come up with – and with all the alcohol that goes with it, it is a bit like a mini food festival! At sunset everybody bursts into song – lots of fun. A summary will appear next week along with a report of our Christmas Day activities.

Kevin and Marcus returned from Johannesburg last night – they both look rather well despite the very long drive and really enjoyed their supply run/holiday! Marcus looked as though he had arrived for the beginning of a new season, all decked out in brand new safari-guide kit. I had to remind him that it is, in fact, nearly the end of the season! They also brought back the most bizarre looking bottles of alcoholic beverages – they would not be out of place under the Christmas tree!

At last I can report that THE RAINS HAVE ARRIVED! Just before dawn on Wednesday morning we had a good solid downpour, which was very much needed as the area was very dry. It happened again the following morning and we have had intermittent rain ever since. The guests have enjoyed an unexpected sleep-in during these mornings with gameviewing activities later in the day.

The thunder and lightening shows have been very dramatic and when the sun comes out in the middle of the day it feels quite tropical with the feeling that an afternoon storm could be coming – all very exciting! Needless to say the bush looks fresh and the river edge is starting to rise slowly over the sandbank in front of camp. The migratory birds and the frogs are loving it!!

And finally on behalf of everybody at Robin Pope Safaris, I wish you all a very happy and safe Christmas and all the very best for the year ahead. We have had an exceptionally good year..it has been so much fun, the gameviewing has been increadible and it has been wonderful to host so many happy smiling guests! Thanks so much for all of your support and your continued enthusiasm for what we offer in the South Luangwa. We REALLY appreciate your comments that we have received through the year – thanks very much!

Warmest regards
Jeffrey

It’s Monday 31st and New Year’s Eve

If you are feeling like your waistlines have expanded over the past few days you are not alone! At Nkwali we are all pretty much the same but, of course, it has been worthwhile! It has been a wonderful week – very relaxed with great food and great company. Carols on the Bridge on Christmas Eve was very lively with honking hippos joining the local choir singing! Zambian staff from each lodge sang a few traditional carols – their singing voices no match for anybody else’s. Then a round of carol singing by all at sunset, glass of wine in one hand and a candle in the other – perfect! The weather was kind throughout!

Christmas Day saw lots of merriment from the moment the smoked salmon and bubbly came out mid-morning!! Lots of present-giving and relaxation before a very long lunch commenced in the early-afternoon. A long table was set up under the bar roof and it was quickly covered by a mountain of food, glasses, wine, crackers & streamers, plus some amazing centerpiece decorations made of local flora materials. The afternoon became evening with everybody joining in with various games and enjoying a lightening show (as we did last year) in front of the camp..with another drink in hand!

The weather held out during the whole day and early evening. Then we were all woken up in the middle of the night by an impressive thunderstorm and very heavy rain. The winds picked up, making the rain fall vertically as well as horizontally – about 3 inches falling in just 2 hours! Sunrise, and an early morning gamedrive was stopped in its tracks by a fallen tree..and then another.. and then another! It quickly became apparent that what seemed like a mini-tornado moved through the area around Robin’s bridge. A trail of fallen trees in a neat line on both sides of the road were evidence of what could only have been SERIOUSLY strong winds! Grown trees were uprooted and had fallen flat on the ground, others were snapped off at the base of their huge trunks and many others bore the loss of enormous branches. It was quite bizarre as the damage was confined to only one area. Apart from that, all the ground was a sea of water which hadn’t yet seeped though the soil. Further away from camp a stream flowed across the road which brought a few baby crocodiles with it, and I saw a freshwater crab with red colourings in a pond! It was a big surprise to see a crab in the bush!! Also a bright blue-headed tree agama (a lizard for those of us who don’t know!) on a tree stump – a very rare thing to see!

With all this rain I can report that the RIVER IS RISING!!! No doubt the river level will now be a regular feature of each week’s newsletter!! On Boxing Day it only took about two hours for the river to seep over some of the sandbank and connect with water on the other side! The river is now steadily flowing which is a great sight after all this time. In the space of three days the river has risen approximately three quarters of a metre and there is not much left of the sandbank in the middle!

Gameviewing has been excellent this week. Nkwali staff went on a picnic to Chichele plains recently and set up their picnic spot with a large group of elephant way off in the distance. Enroute we came across a lion kill – three lioness devouring what was left of a hippo with four lion cubs nearby. These are the same cubs that were spotted two weeks ago. They were now a bit larger and more inquisitive, spending part of their time suckling and the remainder playing. Whilst they were playing one of the adult females dozed near the carcass, keeping away the vultures who were keen to get their share of the feast. Yesterday the same pride were spotted on the road with a fifth (and much younger) cub. The younger cub didn’t want to lose sight of its mother while the other four happily played on the road, rolling down a small slope and attempting to climb small trees with little success. Each one would get half way up the trunk and realise that they were stuck and plopped quickly to the ground again!

There were many other remarkable sightings in the Park yesterday, included a group of more than 15 Thornicrofts Giraffe walking through the bush together! It is quite rare to see them in such large numbers and the sighting was very impressive. On coming across a couple of mating lions, suddenly right next to them appeared a monitor lizard killing a snake!! We also came down a road to a stream which was flowing over a concrete drift. Suddenly a number of large catfish jumped up onto the drift and wriggled across the concrete slab, AGAINST the current, and shot off the other side!! A number of them swam/wriggled over the bridge against the current, rather than with the current! It was a delight to watch! They are not like salmon moving upriver to spawn though – these catfish were most likely just delighted for the rain after having buried themselves into the ground for months!

So along with incredible bird spotting in a very lush and green South Luangwa, the year draws to a close with some outstanding sightings. It caps off a rather remarkable year! Even though Nkwali closes for the season next week there will be much to see and report and we shall keep you all updated.

In the meantime I hope you enjoy your New Years Eve celebrations wherever you are. We shall raise a few glasses to you all; and hope for a safe, happy and prosperous year ahead for everybody.

Happy New Year!!!!!!!!!

cheers
Jeffrey

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