It’s February 2004 and …

 

It’s February 2004 and …

It’s Monday 2nd and messing about on the river

Yesterday started wet and cold. I woke at 0500 to the rain easing but still very wet underfoot. I am not prone to seeing this hour on a Sunday morning but there was a good reason. Last week Nsefu has a lightening strike on their radio antenna. This knocked out the radio and ‘fried’ the antenna and cabling as well, and so we had to take up a replacement. Adam and Rueben first travelled up on Thursday to assess the situation and try to fix the antenna but it was passed fixing and a new one was ordered – however on the way up they saw the most amazing thing. A small family of elephants were swimming across the river. The matriarch was leading the way with 2 juveniles following behind and a very young one swimming in between them. Following along behind was a huge crocodile. He approached the group and actually got his head between the back two elephants and was within striking distance of the baby. The ‘bodyguards’ however, performed a bit of a shimmy, wiggling there backsides around and the croc eased back. He continued to swim just behind them but they managed to get to the other side and safety. Quite a sight to see this croc sandwiched between the elies.

Riding shotgun

Then yesterday, Adam and I set off at first light for Nsefu. All was pleasant, with me riding shotgun, looking out for hippos and tree stumps. The river is rising rapidly and the expanse of water is hard to compare with the almost trickle that was the Luangwa River back in October.

As we moved up river we noticed many small streams pumping water into the main river. The Luwi River is really flowing and bringing a huge amount of water into the Luangwa. Those of you who have been on one of our mobile safaris will remember crossing the Luwi. It would have been a wide, sandy river bed – now it is a torrent of flowing water.

When you see this mass of water, it is easy to see how the river changes course and form the oxbow lagoons it is famous for. The sides of the river are eroding in places and trees falling into the river where the soil is washed away. A constantly changing landscape – as in all countries but somewhat more extreme here as each year the river changes course at a dramatic speed.

Bank erosionTree in riverFull streams

We saw three beautiful lionesses lying on the bank just passed Chibembe. There was a hippo in the water who was not looking too well and they were probably waiting for an easy meal, however, when we came back down the river there was no sign of either lions or hippo so maybe he lived to fight another day. We stopped at Tena Tena to deliver supplies to the watchmen and then the heavens opened. It seemed to be raining horizontally and we got soaked to the skin. Arriving at Nsefu, the watchmen thankfully had water on the boil and my first job was to make a hot cup of coffee to try and stem the shivering. Radio fixed we moved on to meet friends at Kaingo Camp for a picnic – not an ideal day for al fresco dinning but none-the-less fun. After a bite to eat the sun ca nd 2 old buffalo bulls who were looking very grumpy and not too impressed that we had disturbed their peace and quiet. Whilst the rest of the party went for a trip up the Mwamba river we returned to Nkwali. Unfortunately we missed out on seeing a big croc, who had just taken a zebra, dragging it by its’ hindleg down to the edge of the river, before plunging under the surface with the zebra gripped firmed between its teeth.

Luangwa in full flow

The trip back to Nkwali was much more pleasant with the sun peeping through the clouds. The sky is stunning at this time of year with all shades of blues and greys. We saw some amazing crocodiles basking on the sand banks as well as many storks who are now thinking about building their nests. Soon the stork colony will be back in business. We saw lots of birdlife – the highlight for me being a malachite kingfisher.

Stay well and have a great week
Kim

It’s Monday 9th and no wellies

The gods are smiling on us – the heavens have not opened for about 5 days and we are once again basking in the sun. Blue skies and sunny days mean that the frenzy of building work is continuing a pace and the bar is now looking “bar-like” again rather than just the beautiful tree that it is. We are now starting to build slightly down to the river and it will be much easier to get into the boat next season.

Nkwali bar this week At the moment the river is low and if we do not get rain soon we will not be boating for a while – very unlikely that we will not get another downpour in the next few days. Since the river dropped about 2 metres this week it will surely rise again as quickly.

There are not too many people left in the valley but it seems that everyone is either having water pumps break down or running out of building materials and all of the lodges are doing a great job of co-operating. The barter system is certainly being used to full effect. Lorries are flying around exchanging bricks for thatching grass and poles for stones, not to mention the borrowing of everything from lifejackets to butter – the only non co-operation is where skilled staff are concerned – if you find a good carpenter or thatcher, you keep hold of them, otherwise as in most countries, they are trying to do three jobs at once and not finishing any on time!

On the wildlife front, I am afraid I can not report a great deal this week as I have not been out of camp – apart from a supper party where the emphasis was on food and booze rather than wildlife. However, the drive back was beautiful, it was almost full moon and you could drive with no lights on and see perfectly. We saws a lot of elephant on the drive into Nkwali that night and indeed this morning we had two elephants in camp.

I have been doing some gardening in front of my house – well I have to admit, I have been directing someone to slash the grass and give me a better view of the river and sky, but would really like to plant a few shrubs around the house. The problem is that hippos are very partial to flowers and I am sure that they would not last long. Therefore I am in the process of making a bamboo wind chime instead – yes this I am doing with my own fair hands – I even have a big blister on my thumb from whittling away at wood most of yesterday afternoon! I now just need to find a friendly fisherman to let me have some line and I will be there.

Stay well and have a great week
Kim

It’s Monday 16th and Kim gets over excited

Finally last night the heavens opened – not dramatically, but enough for the wellies to reappear. The river had become so low that the sand bars in front of camp had reappeared and there was certainly no hope of sundowners whilst drifting gently down the river. At the beginning of last week we did make it as far as Wildlife Camp to drop off some papers and have a quick Mosi but we could not get very close to the bank to jump off the boat and I ended up knee deep in mud, arriving at the bar covered in grey slime having “ice-skated” across the polished concrete floor. I am sure a lot of people would pay good money for a luangwa mud treatment but I have to stay it was not particularly pleasant as the grey, smelly crust formed around my calves…

Muddy feet

We have seen some stunning cloud build ups this week but until last night the rain just kept missing us. We would see lightening flashes and hear the thunder rumbling in the distance but it skirted around us on each occasion – hopefully this is the start of some steady rain as so far, we have only had just over 50% of the average rainfall for the season.

Sunset

Big news this week on the wildlife front – I saw an aardvark – yup – many people live in the valley all their lives and do not get to see one. I was so excited I could not sleep after seeing it. Adam and I were driving back from touch rugby, which has just start up again at one of the other camps. It is good to get together and do a little exercise – although it is always followed by the obligatory beer or two of course. We got to Reuben’s bridge, not far from Nkwali, and the aardvark just walked out in front of us, ambled across the road and disappeared into the bush on the other side. It was amazing and you can see why it was named “earth pig” with it’s long nose and hairy skin.

Rains

The bar is coming along and looking good. The thatchers should be starting in a couple of days and the area down to the boat is very smart. Last week saw 30 guys trying to move a huge tree trunk which had fallen down near the workshop. This wild mango tree will hopefully form the new bar but is proving quite tricky to maneuver as the ground is wet and all attempts to use machinery, or even rolling it as the Egyptians would have, proved impossible. Therefore it was all hands to the pump and they just managed to get it over a hole where it can be cut down to size and then we will just have to get the massive piece of wood to the bar area. Easier said than done – I have to admit that I keep well away and just wait for the arrival of men with broken toes and fingers, thankfully none yet.

Clouds buildingRobin and Jo are now back in Lusaka and beginning the buying spree for the camps. This is always a mammoth task. You can not imagine that amount of glasses, coffee pots etc that get broken each season – as well as the excuses – you may remember the hyena and the coffee pots incident or the bar jumping waiter and the hippo face off…. In Africa everything is believable – how many times can you get away with being late because you were “stuck behind elephants” in Europe or America?

Stay well and have a great week Kim

It’s Monday 23rd and rain tree relish

Well it must be a Sunday night thing – after a week of no rain we have had 70mm since 1a.m. this morning and it is still going strong. Robin and Jo just phoned to say that they are leaving Lusaka to drive back to the valley with one of the minibuses that was having an overhaul and expect to be here at about 10 pm. Looks like a long night is on the cards as we wait up for them with a welcoming party. Robin and Jo have been on the annual buying trip, armed with lists compiled by Shanie before she left for the UK, we will be unpacking new bits and bobs over the next few days and generally getting ready for the season. It is quite unbelievable to think that we will be open at Nkwali in 6 weeks time. Our first guests however, arrive on 7th March as we decided to open Robin’s House for March this year.

I saw an extraordinary sight this week – a rain tree literally covered in caterpillars – kapale as they are locally called – these brightly coloured bugs are apparently delicious when fried and used as a relish for nshima (maize porridge) – I am adventurous but am not going to try them and report back….. Ephraim who works in our office tells me that without salt they are tasteless but with salt they are fabulous – tasting of dried meat – yum you be the judge. (Picture on website next week).

We have a gymnogene resident in the camp – he flies over us each night when we are having sundowners on the river bank. Their call is very distinctive and sounds like an old fashioned kettle whistling when it gets to the boil. I think he is interested in a pair of squirrels who have made their home in a hole in one of the sausage trees near my house. These squirrels are certainly not hiding the fact that they are there, as they chatter away all the time – quite an advert to a hungry bird of prey.

Gameviewing has been good this week – well from the chair in front of my house that is – but I have been lucky enough to see lots of elephant, hippos and on one occasion 3 lionesses walking along the opposite bank. Last night a flock of abdims stocks circled and then landed on the sand bank and then a flock of cattle egrets flew overhead. They were a bit of a messy bunch and could not quite get their v-shape together. However, they looked like sparkly stars reflecting on a still pond as the light caught their wings, turning them silver.

The building work is now beginning to look like it is getting somewhere. The new staff dining room area is finished and a coat of paint is being slapped on as we speak. The bar is about to be thatched although this rain will put paid to that for a day or so. Looks like it will be ready for opening which is always a concern when you start these things. The main problem at the moment is finding wood which is in short supply. It is never easy to do these sort of jobs here in the bush. I decided to paint my house a few weeks ago and order paint – burgundy matt and forest green gloss – not the most difficult colours but what turned up was an orangey pink and luminous green both matt – so eventually I found some brown in the stores and started mixing. Super – colours ok but no paint brushes smaller than 5″ – not easy to paint windows etc but I made it eventually and now have colourful house instead of the usual magnolia…We can always make a plan.

Stay well and have a great week Kim

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