It’s February 2003 and …

It’s February 2003 and …

It’s Monday 3rd and closer to the big smoke!

This newsletter is not coming to you from Lusaka as promised last week! It is Friday morning and I decided to write It’s Monday now before the office is packed up (with all the computers) this afternoon and we drive off to the big smoke tomorrow. We won’t be able to get to our Lusaka office until Monday morning and won’t be up and running and “connected” with email until the early afternoon. So It’s Tuesday or Wednesday would have been the likely eventuality!!! I’m sure the next update will be full of interesting tales about our migration south!

Robin is staying behind for another week to finish off some business at Nkwali and ensure that everything is safely packed away. Thereafter Nkwali will be looked after by a handful of staff and poor kitty who will have to fend for herself until Simon and Shanie return in mid March!! As soon as I am finished writing we will start packing the office. Tonight we are having farewell sundowners for 30 at the bar and will kick them all out at a reasonable hour. Then off mid-morning where Jo, Kim and I will drive 2 vehicles in convoy to the Luangwa Bridge (about seven hours drive from here and thee hours from Lusaka) to stay the night with an old friend of Jo’s. Then cruise into Lusaka on Sunday! Or so we hope!!

Kim’s non-smoking endeavours are continuing to be successful and all her extra energy is thankfully being expended on coordinating the BIG MOVE. Jo and I are having minor moments of stress over the whole thing but Kim has taken control, bringing decisiveness and practicality to the fore – hooray!!

She’s obviously had recent expert experience with the not-so-long ago packing up of Tena Tena!!!

I must admit that we were all feeling a bit under the weather (yet again) on Monday morning after a rather large Saturday lunch at neighbouring Wildlife Camp which started in the morning and finished sometime during the night. Patsy and Herman, owners of Wildlife Camp, were going to have a big Christmas Lunch in mid December but the doctor told her that her baby could be born at any moment so off to Johannesburg she went and the great lunch was cancelled.

Happily Patsy returned recently with gorgeous baby daughter and a new date for the lunch that never happened. So we worked like trojans all morning then closed the office and drove around for some bloody marys (with hand made tomato juice no less!) before a sumptuous Christmas roast! After many bloody marys and glasses of wine Jo stood up to give a speech which seemed to go on for an hour and then it was all downhill from there! Sunday was a very lazy day and for the first time in years Jo spent about 7 hours in front of a television!! I apologise for not mentioning this in the last newsletter!!

After work the other day we took a brief sunset boat trip up river and around the bend towards Wildlife Camp. Descending down the bank into the boat I forgot to hold the rope that was provided for such purpose and slipped into the mud! Fortunately the boat prevented me from ending up in the drink but it didn’t stop the others from laughing heartily!! My composure restored we then set off – it is so wonderful to look at everything from the middle of the river!! The sunset was very bright and hit the edge of the riverbank and the tamarind trees with such intensity – exquisite!

Hippos were honking on both sides as we puttered up the river. We arrived in front of Wildlife Camp, and could see Doctor Steve, the latest resident medico, standing in front of his hut. Jo ordered Robin to land the boat against the sandbank and she leapt out and called loudly out to him (so everybody around could hear) that she’d been trying to radio him all day without success and please could he contact her in the morning. Message understood and back into the boat she hopped and we tore off back to Nkwali, about 10 minutes away – the bush telegraph is amazing isn’t it!

So for the last time I will now report on the weather and the river levels with my own eyes! We have enjoyed some terrific storms this week. We have dinner at the Nkwali bar every night with a round table right by the river. There always appears to be HUGE storms directly in front of us (ie north so along the Mupamadzi River area) with those enormous cumulo-nimbus storm clouds looming high above all the others. The lightening activity in and around these clouds is constant and ever changing – the air within them is very turbulent! The rumblings of thunder are always distant, proving that the activity is a long way away. The results arrived two days ago with the river rising one metre! The sandbank has vanished again and the river is on the rise and flowing faster than before.

Perception is an interesting thing…whilst we feel that January has been a rather dry month it is actually only one storm less than for the entire month of December, which we felt was really wet! It must have been the great storm we had earlier the month whose rainfall was worth 3 storms in one downpour! Overall the rainfall achieved so far is on par with the average.

Here is some new information for you:

Next week we will be able to report on urban Zambian life! Now, where did I put those computer boxes???!


It’s Monday 10th and playing office in Lusaka!

Where am I?? Is it all a dream?? No, it’s reality and here we are on the first floor of a relatively modern office block on the main street of Lusaka – gone are the sounds of baboons “at it”, of hippos honking, monkeys screeching and elies trumpeting. Gone are the sounds of the guys chopping wood and the smells of the bush (albeit the stench of damp and mould at this time of year!)…in its place we have cars hooting, vehicles revving their engines and the constant drone of traffic.

We now listen to people shouting and building construction sites in progress, the highlight of the day being the afternoon jackhammering which shakes us to our very foundations. Any bird that attempts to be heard will be shot down by the high-pitched drone of the sawmill two buildings up the road! And in order to get to it we sit through what feels like endless traffic bottlenecks as the buses, taxis and civilian jeeps and cars edge their way closer into the city centre during the morning rush hour.

Yes – I am beginning to feel at home again!! It isn’t all that bad, in fact we are rather enjoying the novelty of it all, but the first couple of days were a stark reminder of how lucky we are living in the remote bush!! I do, however, love the smells of fresh bread coming from the bakery directly below us! Added to that the barbecue smells coming from the bistro next door to the bakery makes me hungry all day!! I also like having internet access once again!!

Jo, Kim and I have laughed that it is as though we are “playing office” – we live in the same house, we have breakfast together, we drive to work in convoy, we walk into the office together and sit opposite each other….then we leave the office and more often than not go to the bar for a sundowner together before coming home for dinner and watch satellite tv or a video together – thank goodness we all get along so well! It is not difficult to tell us apart from the rest of Lusaka – we are the hill-billies in slightly worn clothing and unkempt hair!! I have to say however that Kim does look more the part than Jo or I!!

The last 24 hours of packing the office and our lives into two heavily loaded vehicles was a marathon effort and full of emotion, for me in particular. On Friday night a brilliant turnout from the Valley assembled at the Nkwali bar for sundowners and an early dinner. We did feel a little worse for wear on Saturday morning but we were off by 9am after long goodbyes to all the staff. Our journey from Nkwali to Lusaka was a lot of fun. It is very SENSIBLE to split the drive over two days – it is much less taxing and one arrives into Lusaka feeling like a human being.

We had not even left the Mfuwe area before we had our first little mishap. About 20 minutes into the journey we stopped off to visit Tony & Fil Green for morning tea and see their brand new house which is located two minutes off the tarmac road. Jo led in her vehicle and Kim followed in Piglet. Jo led us into the wrong property and after realising the mistake effortlessly turned her light vehicle around, driving over some grass in the process. We were out and back on the tarmac within minutes…but where was Kim?

She was sinking into the muddy, greasy black-cotton soil which was being well hidden by the grass above it!! It was one of the most spectacular scenes of stuck vehicles that I’ve ever seen – more than half the front wheel had disappeared into the mud and there was NO WAY it was going to get out! Tony arrived on the scene and after about 45 minutes of collecting bricks, sausages from sausage trees and large palm fronds and digging & winching, Piglet finally came free and we were off again on our journey! Robin was meanwhile half way to the rescue feeling quite alarmed that we were stuck so quickly and we “hadn’t even left the tar yet”!! Poor Kim felt dreadful but I assured her that I would have done it even more spectacularly had I been driving so she needn’t worry!! That grass was very clever to hide all that mud underneath!!

The rest of the journey was a piece of cake! No flat tyres, no mechanical mishaps. Just lots of laughter and chatter all the way to Lusaka via Bridge Camp. We had 3 near misses on the road, all within minutes of each other in the escarpment approaching the Luangwa Bridge.

  • A pig managed to get between the wheels of Piglet (how appropriate!) and didn’t get a single scratch!
  • Seconds later a luxury coach rounded a bend in the middle of the road sending both of our vehicles perilously close to the edge and then
  • a cyclist continued to drive in the middle of the road as Jo bore down on him from behind and he couldn’t hear her tooting. It was not until we were basically on top of him that he heard us and swerved not away from Jo but right across her path!! Jo let out a few choice words at him and waved her fists as she narrowly missed him…this sight was obviously too much for the man and he promptly fell off his bike!

The scenery was spectacular and there was lots of low lying cloud all the way. It had obviously rained heavily around Chipata as the road just out of town had water pouring over it in places and the dambos around it were full to the brim. It was wonderful to see all the village markets full of people as we drove past. We saw 3 chameleons on the road as well! We didn’t miss the potholes but the enterprising children throwing dirt into them to save us all from expensive shock absorber replacements and asking for money for the privilege made the experience rather entertaining!

In Lusaka word got out that Jo was in town and she’s been busy meeting people all the time and the office has had a stream of visitors. It is a small country – on going to a bar on Friday night we immediately ran into Marcus visiting from the Copperbelt!

Robin arrived into Lusaka yesterday after a busy week packing up Nkwali and tending to a few matters around the Valley. Yesterday morning, before flying to Lusaka, he had the opportunity to take a helicopter ride to the Mupamadzi River area around where our mobile camps are located in the dry season. He was full of stories about it – flying over the Park towards the northernmost section in a chopper provided a rare opportunity to see this remote area during the height of the rains. At this time of year it is not accessible by road.

Robin said that the terrain was bright green, the bush was very thick and there was water everywhere – the smaller rivers leading into the Luangwa were full. As they came into sight of the Mupamadzi there were good herds of elephant and buffalo to be seen.

Lusaka Airport (and the smoke!)

Lusaka Airport (and the smoke!)

The animals quickly cleared as the helicopter came to land! Robin then walked 2km to where one of our campsites were located. What a wonderful opportunity!

Jo isn’t to be outdone – she’s spent the past three days getting some flying hours in and as I type she is flying solo, practicing some take-offs and landings at Lusaka Airport!!

Have a wonderful week ahead!


It’s Monday 17th Feb and to flood or not to flood?

I hope you have all had a good week! Here in Lusaka we are acclimatising further to city life. Unfortunately I’ve discovered that I am quite partial to the patisserie downstairs. Kim is much stronger than I am about succumbing to mouth-watering pastries but I have decided that it is a rare treat so I’m indulging for a short while! The weather here is much the same as in the South Luangwa (ie wet!!) but a little cooler with less humidity. It is only when you leave the urban sprawl that you notice the effect the rainy season has in this part of the world with all the lush greenery around. Lusaka is, however, a gardener’s paradise with perfect conditions for growing most things green and there are many outstanding gardens to be seen as you drive through the suburbs.

Kim and I ran into Robin’s brother Jeremy on Saturday whilst at the cash register of the local supermarket (another novelty!) and he said that in the area north of the South Luangwa National Park the Luangwa River had broken its banks and had flooded a campsite! There has been so much rain these past weeks that the river is now full. Jeremy said that it would take about 1.5 days for this water to reach Nkwali where similar could happen!

Alarm bells ringing, and with Robin and Jo in South Africa, I phoned Nkwali and warned Keyala about possible flooding and to get prepared. Speaking with him this morning he said that the river has risen dramatically since Saturday and is now about 3 feet from the top! Tena Tena is partially under water with the river currently flowing through the kitchen!! Nsefu is not likely to flood. Tena is not such a problem because it is a tented campsite that has been packed away for the off season but Nkwali is a permanent camp!

Fortunately Robin moved all the vehicles to higher ground before we moved to Lusaka and anything stored at floor level was moved higher up where possible. Keyala said that whilst the area behind Nkwali is full of low lying water there is no water passing under Robin’s Bridge yet. It is only when water flows here that the Luangwa has reached its capacity. So fingers crossed!! If we were all up in the Valley now all we would be talking about is river levels and the rain!

I might be in the city but can still bring you news of the bush! This morning Keyala and the staff working at Nkwali saw a leopard on the opposite bank. The baboons were barking madly and it didn’t take long to see the female sauntering along the edge of the bank. Every night they have heard lion calling across from camp. I must say I do miss the sounds of lion calling when I’m tucked up in bed (we only hear cows mooing and dogs barking down here!). Keyala reported that four big bull buffalo moved through Nkwali early this morning!!! This is a first in a very long time…in fact I don’t think we’ve had any big bulls in camp since representatives from a South African brewery came for some R & R about four years ago!! The buffalo this morning circled Matthew and Sara’s old house to the east then moved along the riverbank past the staff accommodation and through to the main camp, around the bar and out through the car park! What a sight that would have been!! There was plenty of evidence left behind with all the steaming paddies on the ground! And I am told that every night giraffe move into Nkwali…and there is plenty of evidence left behind of this as well!!

As there are a lot less people around at the moment it is quite likely that the animals feel much safer about moving through Nkwali. That plus the amount of low lying water behind the camp. The wildlife don’t like to walk thought this vast amount of water (crocodiles a plenty!) so they have moved close to the riverbank. The hippos however love it!! I am told that a lot of Abdims stork have been flying overhead and the emerald cuckoo has not stopped singing (something I don’t miss!).

Boating last July

Boating last July

Keyala has been supervising general maintenance at Nkwali since we have been away. Five local ladies have been living in camp to undertake the grass planting (they do a much better job than the men!). One of them indicated to Keyala that they have never been on a motor boat before so he took that as a hint and off they went up and down the river and across to what remained of the sandbank opposite Nkwali at sunset. There was much laughter and their eyes were like golf balls! The ladies were completely blown away by the idea of charging up and down the river on a boat with a motor! Apparently they want Keyala to take them out again!! All in a day’s work I’m sure!

All the best for the week ahead from a soggy Lusaka!


It’s Monday 24th and down the Lower Zambezi

It’s Tuesday – and I’m sorry this comes so late! The newsletter below was written as usual on Monday morning but “modern technology” prevented it from being sent! Our service provider in Lusaka was down all day and we are at their mercy (I miss our bush technology – so much more reliable!!). Humble apologies – Jeffrey.

After over 3 weeks in the city of Lusaka I am now feeling quite urbanised…breaking me in gently for my relocation to London next week!! It rained through the night and this morning the roads were full of water and the traffic did what it does to perfection anywhere in the world during rain – move VERY slowly! As such there were all manner of problems on the roads as we crawled into work this morning!! We hardly got out of first or second gear all the way in!!

First up a car was left stranded on a busy two-lane road leading into town just next to an exit – surely the owner could have pushed it off the road?! No, I’m sure it would have been all too hard to contemplate! Then in a major intersection debacle complete with deathly black exhaust fumes, puddles and potholes deep enough to reach half way to the earth’s core it appeared that everyone wanted to change lanes at the same time!! Lots of tooting and horn blowing ensued. The driver directly to my right wouldn’t stop blowing his horn long after the others finished with theirs and I can tell you it was not music to my ears! Glancing over, I could clearly see that he was not blowing said horn – both hands were on the driving wheel!! And so he drove on into town oblivious to the discomfort he was dishing out to those around him!

Finally, and just as we were nearly in town, the traffic in front of me stopped once again and we soon realised that one of the blue minibuses (the major method of “public transport” for most in Lusaka), packed to the brim with office workers, had broken down on the road. And there was only ONE person trying to push it aside to allow the traffic behind to pass. Not one of those on board the bus showed any inclination to get out and help push!!

Phew – I finally have that out of my system! On arrival into the office I attempted to restore my inner peace and went to phone Nkwali to see how things were going. Modern technology was at work again and I couldn’t manage to get through!! So I cannot report on the latest happenings in the Valley this week!! Although I am told that the river is still very full. Robin is constantly on edge about it and possibly has his bags packed ready to head back there in case of an emergency! At this time of year the river level rises and falls quite dramatically but at the moment, with all the late rains we have been having, it has remained at a peak for some time now.

Jeffrey in 2002Well, that’s it from me, after nearly 3 years with Robin and Jo. It has been one of the most rewarding periods of my life and I hope that over the time I’ve contributed to this newsletter I’ve been able to successfully bring back the magic of the South Luangwa and Robin Pope Safaris to those who have visited before and enticed those who have not to do so very quickly! It has been such a privilege for me and I’m sure for many The Valley would have to be one of the most special places you will ever find anywhere. I can see myself being a frequent visitor herein! Thanks to all who have sent a comment once in a while – it’s great to see just how widely read this weekly update has become! I am now going to look forward to Monday morning the same way that everybody else does! Over to Kim below for a summary of her weekend with Robin and Jo.

Salani bwino!!

Hello from Kim…

Kim July 2002Well, the time is almost upon us when Jeffrey will be abandoning me to fend for myself in the big city whilst he goes off to seek fame and fortune in my Mother country. Most of you will be aware that I am taking on the mantle of reservations and indeed for next week will be writing to you all since Jo and Robin will also be in the UK for a week or so. Therefore I thought I would ease you into my writing style by telling you about our exciting weekend in the Lower Zambezi.

Jeffrey decided to stay in town and recover from his recent bout of flu, which I have to say he seems to have kindly given me as a leaving present! Robin, Jo and I set off with Robin’s brother Adam at the wheel on Saturday morning for a look at Kingfisher camp which is on the Zambezi River, just upstream of the Lower Zambezi National Park. After a slightly delayed start, due to lack of sleep by some the night before, we picked up Rolf Shenton, who is running the camp and set off for the 4 hours road trip over the escarpment to Luangwa Boma. Here we jumped onto a very smart aluminium boat and sped off down the Luangwa to the point where Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique meet and the river merges into the mighty Zambezi River.

The scenery on this section of the river is absolutely stunning, as we sped through “the gates” I was transfixed by the lush vegetation and hills coming down to meet the river on either side. We arrived at the camp about 45 mins later to welcome drinks, a nap and a walk!!

The next day we set off up the river to take a look at the Mpata Gorge. It had rained for most of the night and the clouds hung over the hills, giving a spiritual feel to the place. Passing the red cliffs, we were impressed with the variety of trees, including lots of baobabs, flowers and plants. I had not seen Aloe Vera plants before and here they were in abundance. We continued up to the end of the Gorge, where the river widens and then switched off the engine and drifted back to camp. We were birding all the way, highlights included Rock Pratincoles, Green Backed Herons and Goliath Herons. We also spotted hyena, bushbuck and a family of elephant, who took no notice of us as we drifted up to them.

This was my first glimpse of the Zambezi and I have to say that whist it was not the wide expanse of water I was expecting (and indeed this is what one sees further up river) the gorge, the sand banks looking like exotic beaches and the spectacular hills coming down to the waters edge have all left a lasting impression. This was also Jo’s first trip to this part of the river and we both agreed that a return trip will be a must.

Until next week!

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