It’s December 2002 and …

It’s Monday 2nd and Simon found wild dog!!

Everything around here is now starting to go a bit GREEN! Yes, we have finally enjoyed some refreshing rain over the past week – very welcome indeed! As you look around a shimmer of bright green hovers close to the ground. Not enough to resemble rolling pastures but evidence that things are not so dry anymore!! Lots of fresh grass shoots are sprouting up all over the place along with all manner of other seasonal plants. And with rain comes lots of interesting insect activity – long skinny things with lots of legs running all over the place, burrowing insects digging holes in the soil (funny to watch a little clump of earth suddenly fly into the air and land on a miniature sand pile!) and, after rain in the early evening, hundreds of flying termites swarming around light for a short period and then they are gone (minus their wings)! Fascinating!!

The sighting of the week comes from Simon, unfortunately without guests!
The river has risen enough to make driving across the river unwise. So early on Saturday morning Simon was busy driving one of our gameviewing vehicles around to the other side of the riverbank from Nkwali so that after breakfast guests could quickly boat over, hop in and drive off. As one does, Simon’s mind was wandering as he drove along and he thought how wonderful it would be to suddenly see some wild dog. It hasn’t been since the last rains that he saw any and the area across from Nkwali was the location of a wonderful spotting he had last year. He also knew that a pack of 10 (with young) are in the area.

Wild dogI would love to say that as if on cue the wild dog popped their heads up from under the bushes and made themselves known to Simon – “Hello there…here we are”!!!!

However it was not far off the mark for about 20 minutes later he saw four adults hunting!! He was so excited he could hardly wait to radio to camp and tell everybody. Keyala took the troops quickly across river but unfortunately the dogs had moved off. But fantastic that they have been spotted back in the area so soon in the rainy season!!!

We have had lots of variety to gameviewing this week but particularly good lion, leopard and python! I saw a python for the first time the other night – it was on the side of the road and had its head raised high off the ground as it sniffed the air for prey. One of the most beautiful snakes I have ever seen!!! The patterns on its skin are quite extraordinary and the way it moves along the ground (quite fast for such a large reptile!). It was very long indeed but I couldn’t tell you the length accurately – possibly over 10 feet? The staff looking after Tena Tena during the rains have just told us via radio that they’ve had five lion wandering about the campsite over the past two days and one leopard coming into camp at night on regular forays!!

Robin has just returned from the UK where he spent 10 days unwinding and visiting relatives with Jo. He loved the cooler weather (yes, a novelty for us!). They spent a few days in Wales and much of the rest of their time annoying their nephew Mzuzu who Robin says is VERY lively and always smiling!

On the subject of babies a quick update from Matthew and Sara – baby Reuben doing very well and mother recovering quickly. Sara told me they took him for a walk around the neighbourhood in a pram the other day – another novelty for us lot in the bush!! Apparently Matthew is being the devoted and very helpful husband (no doubt in between rounds of golf!!). After Christmas they will be doing it tough for a month on a tropical island in North Queensland – not a bad way to become accustomed to parenthood!!!

sunsetWe had a night without guests last night and, along with Robin’s return, decided it was a good excuse to invite some locals over to enjoy one of our very special sunsets! With all the recent rain and the fresh green about the place I have to say that the light effect was quite amazing!

I remembered that I brought back to Zambia with me earlier this year lots of essential ingredients so that I could indulge in some of my favourite things – Vietnamese and Japanese food! I have hardly made use of them all year but yesterday I spent all afternoon in the kitchen preparing and the results were gobbled up within minutes – sushi (with prawns brought over from Malawi!) and vegetarian Vietnamese spring rolls! Yummm. Sorry – the chefs at our camps are not about to start plying our guests with these delectables. Some would probably say thank goodness!!!

Anyway have a fantastic week ahead and thank you for the suggestions and helpful advice received for Keyala’s northern hemisphere adventure early next year. I also neglected to mention that Daudi is also heading north (to the
UK) in March – cannot wait to bring to you their tales after they have returned home.


It’s Monday 9th and more Fantastic News

Jeffery is taking a well earned break in Lusaka for 5 days and I am back in the saddle. With everyone away it has been only Robin and myself here supervising – makes quite a change. It has been a long time since we have answered the bookings, sorted out the kitchen, checked on the builders, delegated the staff jobs for the day etc! However, with the camp empty for the week it was not that difficult and we managed!

I have just returned from my annual trip to the UK. I love seeing my family and friends, but I always love coming back to the bush. Each December seems different and this year it is hot and dry. The clouds are starting to build again in the afternoons but as yet the storms are very sporadic. We certainly need some rain now.

After a week of being closed, we welcomed some guests yesterday. We have Keyala and Daudi here to look after them. On their first drive South Luangwa kept up it’s reputation of superb gameviewing. After watching a lovely group of giraffe on the way into the park they saw lots of elephants coming down to the river to cross – a typical sight during the month of December. And then two seperate sighting of leopards – both males. One so full that is could hardly move and the other hunting, but failing to catch, impala. Not a bad start to a 3 day safari.

We had some most exciting news this week – Simon proposed to Shanie. And she accepted! Put very succinctly by Shanie in an email:Shanie and Simon - July 2002

“This is what happens when you let people out of camp – the excitement went to Simon’s head and he took the opportunity to ask me to marry him – the excitement went to my head and I said YES – must have been a long season. But seriously this is to let you know that we are engaged to be marriiiiiieeeed!!”

As you can imagine, we are both delighted and cannot wait for the celebration when they return next week. “Well done well done, Simon” as Robin would say.

This week a team of 20 workers arrived to start cutting a path through the bush for our new electricity line. After 10 years at Nkwali, with all our computers, freezers, workshop machines etc all being supplied by generators we finally took the plunge and decided to go onto ZESCO (Zambian Electicity Supply Company). Half of me wants to remain “bush” but of course it will be wonderful to have fans at night in the hotter months. And if I think back over this year when the generator broke down…. twice – then yes – bring the power in. It was a nightmare!

That is it for this week – short but I hope sweet!

Have a great week.
Jo and Robin

It’s Monday 16th and the heavens have opened!

I’ve just realised that Christmas is next week!! How the time FLIES by!!
Especially so here in the Valley. I hope you are all enjoying the festivities and looking forward to some rest and relaxation in the coming weeks. I have just returned from Lusaka to take a break myself and do some shopping – the sight of a shopping mall actually excited me after four months in the bush! I took the opportunity to DRIVE back to the South Luangwa with our workshop manager instead of flying – a chance to see the Zambian countryside outside of the national park environment.

It was very interesting – if you think Zambia if flat think again!! Rolling hills dotted with colourful bush, crops being sown, old farmland being reclaimed by nature and lots and lots of traditional villages. As is normal all over Africa people were walking all over the place…most of them sucking on the wild mangoes that are growing EVERYWHERE!! For mango lovers this is the best time of year! Mangoes are falling all over the place – it seems almost criminal to see them falling on the ground to rot. If they were dropping to the ground around the National Parks the elephant populations would ensure they do not go to waste!!

I arrived back to a transformed Valley! Almost overnight the heavens opened up – the taps are fully on! We have had truly amazing rain this week – on one night alone an incredible 85mm (nearly 4 inches) of rain fell at Nkwali!! Other nights we have had about 25mm fall! Nature is providing dramatic changes: the river has risen incredibly, streams are running, pools of water are everywhere, it is much much cooler day and night (we are sleeping so well at night now!) and the ground is soaked with mud.

Jake (who runs Flatdogs Camp) and his pregnant wife Gilly (who operates Tribal Textiles) held a farewell party at their house on Friday night before heading to the UK for Christmas and to ready themselves for the addition to the family. On departure (after much rain) four vehicles had to be abandoned after slipping off the road!!

The light at sunset has been totally amazing with the backdrop of dark dark clouds and sunlight peeking through the gaps. Jo said it looks like the Andes! The burst of light against fresh green leaves after heavy afternoon rain just as the sun is setting really is a photographer’s delight – I’d never seen anything quite like it the other afternoon!

With Simon, Shanie and Keyala away Robin and Jo have stepped in to help with hosting the guests (yes, back to basics for these two!). This morning they boated the troops across the river after breakfast to Daudi who was waiting on the other side. They were off to take a walk around Chichele Hill. The Popes returned and emerged from the river bank completely covered in mud – the river had risen with the recent rain but has now subsided a little…leaving lots of fresh mud!

They were rather excited because on the way over they saw a whitebacked night heron. It was fully exposed hopping around the branches of a dead cordylla tree! It is very unusual to see this bird as it likes to hide in secretive parts of the riverbank. They also saw a narina trogon, a very colourful bird of about six inches…on migration through the area. Grab your Robert’s guide – check these birds out!!

The most amazing avian sighting of the week would have to be the discovery of a wood owl nest…in the branches above Robin and Jo’s house! We have regularly heard them in camp and they were recently spotted – mum, dad and 2 very fluffy and absolutely gorgeous chicks! They are also very curious! Robin raced over to grab the guests…so there were four humans looking up with their binoculars and four birds staring down at them. The chicks are not fully fledged yet and can be seen hopping around on the branches, attempting short fluttery flights within the area of the tree. It will be a while until they can fly from the nest but we will keep you informed of progress.

Gameviewing has been great for guests this week – including beautiful giraffe behind camp. During breakfast at the fireplace some guests saw 2 leopard walking along the opposite bank from Nkwali. Very beautiful!

With all the rain the last truck bringing in the last of the fund raised maize got stuck in mud on the other side of the nearest hill before you drive into the Valley from Chipata! It is busy being rescued as I type! When it arrives, the fund raised maize will be milled and then sold in 12.5kg bags for 15 pin (local speak for fifteen thousand kwacha)….currently bags that size are on sale in the marketplace for 42 21 pin! .

Selling of this fund raised maize will begin in January with the vulnerable (this is the new AID-speak for the very elderly, orphans or the sick) being placed onto a token system to receive free maize for 3 months. They will begin to receive their tokens once they have been properly identified and vetted by the Committee. Again, a huge thank you to everybody who has supported the maize relief programme – it has been a major success with over 60 tonnes fund raised! That is about US$15,000.00. Let me tell you – that is a lot of mouths being fed over the coming months.

Until next week – cheers!


It’s Monday 23rd and a Valley Christmas

Seasons Greetings!

We hope you are all looking forward to the coming week ahead – usually it signifies rest and relaxation with family and friends! Here it is very much like that – however as usual preparations are gathering pace in the kitchen for the delicious Christmas cheer that we are about to enjoy. Over the past week Shanie returned with Simon from their short break and out came the Christmas decorations which are now adorning the Nkwali bar area. This year we have a small but perfectly shaped crocodile bark (part of the ebony family) minus its leaves and it has been decorated with spray painted gold and silver items from nature such as various seed pods. Then casually thrown over the top are our ever-popular festive lights (with the optional light flash and Christmas carols switch firmly turned OFF). The effect is minimalist but very beautiful. Added to this we have those extremely large snail shells (also in gold and silver) climbing the large ebony trunk above the bar!

The Luangwa Bridge

Tomorrow at sunset we (guests and staff) will make our way to the Luangwa Bridge and join the rest of the South Luangwa community for the annual Carols by Candlelight sing along. All of the safari operators bring along drinks and delectable samples from their kitchens to share with everybody. Guests and staff mingle quite happily watching the sun set before a local choir arrives singing spine-tingling hymns (as only Zambians know how!!). We then all join in and it is loads of fun! After we cannot sing any more we will return to camp for our Christmas Eve dinner – it is always really lovely. And then the big day – and we will tell you all about this next week!

The burst of rain we enjoyed recently has slowed down so the area is drying out a little – I’m sure it won’t last for long! So the bush is looking very pretty right now and the river is up…creeping slowly over the sandbank….in a short time from now it will disappear altogether. This time last year we could walk down from the camp and onto the sandbank….all the way to the middle of the riverbed! The river has changed course slightly this year so there will be no kite flying on Christmas day this year!

Leopard (2 adults and a cub) have been seen again from the opposite bank of the Nkwali bar. Robin and Jo watched them walking along the bank casually at breakfast last week – the guests were already out on their drive which was
rather unfortunate!

The wood owls above the Pope residence had not been seen during the week but were observed back at the nest yesterday by Robin. The chicks have full wings and can now fly but they are still very fluffy! Brilliant that they have survived the nesting period!

The past week saw the departure of our workshop manager, Mr. Kevin Wright.
A Lusaka boy, he has returned to his home to take on new challenges – he will be missed! One of his last tasks was to arrange the purchase of Jo’s first private vehicle that she has owned since student days! Brought up from South Africa by some of Kevin’s Lusaka cronies, this Toyota “RAV 4”, four wheel drive in silver looks great and Jo is very pleased with it! It is permanently in 4WD so she can race around the Valley without having to hop out and lock the hubs before negotiating some tricky terrain. It has so many knobs and lights on the dashboard it reminds Jo of her aircraft!! Anyway, Kevin’s friends also know how to cook a to-die-for oxtail curry which was the main feature of his farewell “do” the other night. Delicious – I hope when he returns for a visit he brings the chefs to make it again!!

It has been quite a jovial time in camp lately and will continue over the coming days. We had seven guests (3 couples and a single) who didn’t know each other when they arrived last week but got along so famously they opted to do all gamedrives together! It was great to see them all having such a great time. And we now have Christmas and over the coming week some friends of mine from Australia are arriving – VERY exciting – to help me see in the new year!!

Safari Dreaming Many of you now have a copy of Jo and Robin’s new photo book “Safari Dreaming“. Jo received a wonderful comment from someone who had recently taken a look at her copy:

“I now have ‘Safari Dreaming’. What a remarkable book it is. The photographer managed to capture the essence of the safari experience by the use of soft focus and black and white. Safari has a way of being about altered reality and altered consciousness while at the same time having one riveted in the moment. What a masterful job.”

One correction from last week (I am known to getting my facts slightly incorrect from time to time!)…I made the current market price for 12.5kgs of maize highly inflated (double what it already is!). Currently 12.5kgs of maize sells on the street for 21 pin and the fund raised maize that we will be selling will be going for 15 pin. Much more realistic figures!

To all readers of “It’s Monday”, to friends and family afar, to those who have been “on the payroll” in the past and to those who still are but currently scattered all over the globe, to all of our WONDERFUL guests and everybody who supports Robin Pope Safaris we wish you a joyous Christmas and join you in hoping for a peaceful and prosperous 2003! Have a good one – we will raise our glasses to you all on the banks of the Luangwa on Wednesday!!

All the best…
Jeffrey and the RPS team

It’s Monday 30th and the last one of 2002!

Clouds over the riverIt is a beautiful sunny day and the river is rising! I hope you all had a great Christmas with your family and friends. Jeffery has some Ozzy friends staying and so is delegating the bookings and of course the all important It’s Monday to me again. Meanwhile I think that they are in training for the New Years Eve Masquerade Party at Flatdogs!

A week ago, whilst Jeffery was writing to you, Robin and I decided to take the day off and get into the park. I had realised that I had been back for over two weeks and had not yet gone in. We see so much from camp and of course hear about the walks and drives each day, that I often do not feel the need. But when we do go out I always say “we must do this more often”. We packed a picnic, picked up a couple of friends and off we went. The focus was to find a shady tree with a great view under which to spend the afternoon. Luponga Spur was the place, and after passing 7 huge kudu bulls we spread out the rug, opened the wine and had a great afternoon playing card games. We had a 360 degree view of the sky and it was a spectacular show. The light constantly changing, white clouds racing against the dark dark horizons as the storms built up and the walls of rain against the escarpment. Amazingly we stayed dry all day.

On Christmas Eve, Robin decided we needed to get into the festive mood and so set up a pool umbrella in the middle of the sand island opposite camp. After the morning drive, we all boated over to where Robin was waiting with Pimms! It was hot, very hot – but we sat in a tight circle in the shade and had a few, as they say! Mad Dogs and Englishmen did come to mind.

That afternoon the rain arrived again and so Christmas carols on the bridge were looking very threatened. However, a nearby lodge offered their conference centre, overlooking a lagoon. There were over 100 people, 2 local choirs who had been practicing Silent Night, candles and good voices. It was a magic event – with the fireflies being the christmas lights over the lagoon.

Christmas lunch – what a fabulous spread Shanie had prepared. We were just coming to the end when the heavens opened. And it rained! Shanie entertained us all with a spectacular slip on the path – ending up covered in mud. By the evening we were all feeling soggy and so everyone retreated to our house to eat turkey sandwiches and watch the BBC documentary Blue Planet!

leopardThe gamedrives somehow have managed to avoid most of the rain. And the guests have been amazed at how much they have seen. There have been 3 packs of wild dog around. Spending most of a morning with one of the packs, it was noted that they seemed to be very intrigued by the bright red shirt of Robert on the back of the vehicle. The dogs repeatedly came up to the vehicle to check him out! However, the dogs ended up feeding on a puku!!!

There have been five leopard sightings this week. Last night Daudi and Keyala in 2 vehicles were watching a leopard for quite a while. Paul was nearby and also keeping very silent and still. So they assumed he was watching from a distance so as not to disturb the viewing. In fact Paul had 2 male lions very close to his vehicle and he thought Daudi and Keyala were watching the lions from a distance. After some time, all 3 vehicles left the scene and it was only when they got back to camp that they realised what had happened! You can imagine how silly they felt!

Flying over the LuangwaThe Valley has thousands of butterflies flitting through the air. Many different species, with lots of wonderful colours. It is a magical part of the rains. The land has really turned emerald green after the recent rain and so I wanted to take a look from the air. My flying career has not gone too well this year. I have not managed to convert onto my plane (Cessna 210) as I have not had access to an instructor. And to be honest I find it fast after the smaller planes that I learnt in. But with Ryan, our pilot, I can fly from the right seat. I took John and Jill, guests who are staying with us for 10 days, up for a birds eye view of the valley. John is a PPL (private pilots licence) as well so he was very keen to get up there.

We flew up the river past Nsefu, over to Mupamadzi, checked out the Mutinondo waterfalls cascading down the Muchinga escarpment, returning via the Frank’s lakes, flying low down the Luwi to Tena Tena and finally buzzing Nkwali at 50 feet! What fun. buffaloThe valley, as we suspected, was a carpet of green (but we did need to confirm it!!). We saw a number of big buffalo herds and Tena Tena had well over 80 elephant in the area.

It will be 2003 when we send the next It’s Monday. To all of you, from all of us at Robin Pope Safaris, we wish a happy and peaceful year.

Take care

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