It’s January 2003 and …

It’s January 2003 and …

It’s Monday 6th Jan and a wet start to the year!!!

Happy New Year!!

I hope that however you saw in the new year was just as you wanted it!
Assembled staff and guests did as they pleased this year – some opted to stay at Nkwali after another of Shanie’s masterful feasts while others took off to Flatdogs to join other Valley revelers (me included). The Masquerade Ball, as Jo mentioned last week, might well have been the theme but it was largely forgotten by all. Everybody just wanted to have a good time without having to worry about what to wear! Funnily enough, when the decision was made that a prize might as well be awarded for the best mask, the judge won!! Normal rules obviously don’t apply in the South Luangwa!!

I enjoyed some time off with Australian friends over the new year period and took the opportunity to get into the Park, much like Robin and Jo did the week before. It had been a while since I ventured inside and was quite surprised. Giraffe and PukuNot only for the reason that I didn’t get stuck in the mud but also because the scenery was vastly different! The brightness of the green that covers EVERYTHING, in contrast to the browns and grays of only 2 months ago, is quite extraordinary! And vast quantities of water cover the ground – paradise for those waders and water birds! We sat and watched yellowbilled stork fishing for food in the waters left by recent downpours. Little sparkling streams of water trickled over rocks and roadways. Plenty of food and water for all the game – and as a result the animals look so healthy! Bright shiny coats on all the impala and puku. The giraffe look particularly stunning at sunset, semi-camouflaged by all the greenery.

We picnicked at Wamilombe with a spectacular view up the waterway towards Chindeni Hills. The air was perfectly clear. Hippo and zebra were in view.

Lone Chameleon

The most bizarre sighting were 2 chameleons mating!! They were various shades of bright green, blue and yellow and they were standing halfway up a large tree trunk. I think they are very beautiful creatures but local Zambians think they are evil and bring bad luck to those who see them!

Our last guests at Nkwali for the 2002 season enjoyed excellent gameviewing overall. There was an abundance of leopard and lion sightings for all, including a pride of lion feasting on a zebra kill. Smaller herds of buffalo have been seen which is quite unusual at this time of year. There have been small buffalo herds seen behind Nkwali as well as a family of giraffe (more commonly seen along the drive into camp). Boating can now be offered now that the river is up so high. I’ve often heard the boat zooming up and down river – Keyala taking the troops up beyond the Luangwa Bridge at mid afternoon (instead of an afternoon drive) and returning in time for sundowners. At the moment you can boat downriver from camp and right into Wakumba! Quite a different way of seeing this area.

The sun is shining brightly this morning but exactly 2 days ago it became very dark at about 8am and then the heavens opened big time!! 78mm of rain was dropped on Nkwali in just over 2 hours!! It was awesome! The rain pounded down making ourselves unable to be heard in an office with a tin roof! Then the lightning and thunder orchestrated directly above – I’ve not heard such loud claps in my life!! It was all very odd to have an early morning storm in early January – it is usually typical of March! It took about 24 hours for the pools of water around the camp to sink into the soil after this deluge and ever since then it has been sunny, cool and fresh.

Yesterday our last guests were farewelled after a picnic lunch by the pool. And now, as I type, the Nkwali staff are packing up the camp and putting everything into storage until opening again in late March. Camp closure is always conducted at frenetic pace – Shanie, Simon and Keyala have 3 days in which to do a stocktake then pack up and put into storage all the contents of the chalets, the bar, the dining room and most of the kitchen before they have to be in a car and off to Lusaka. Shanie has a plane to catch out of Johannesburg to London shortly after that! Simon will be following a week or so later (no doubt to allow her the chance to catch up with all of her friends and show them her engagement ring!).

So it’s the end of another season and time to start planning for the next one! It won’t be long before we are welcoming visitors back to our camps.

In the meantime Jo has asked me to mention something that she ommited last week.

Mfuwe Airport

As she was walking out to her aircraft at Mfuwe Airport with guests, John & Jill, last week to see the Valley from the air, they saw the most incredible moth on the tarmac. It was very large and bright bright green with two sets of eyes! It had a width of about 15cm and a tail that was probably just as long. Jo thought it would get run over by a taxiing aircraft so decided to encourage it to fly away. She picked it up and it resembled a bird, fluttering beautifully away. Suddenly a bee-eater came from nowhere, swooped down, caught the moth and flew off, leaving the observers in a state of shock! Jo always thought it best not to tamper with nature and here was her perfect reminder!!

Until next week, keep well!


It’s Monday 13th January and the ear lobe

The tin roof of the office is making such a noise as I write to you. Yes, you guessed it – the rain is here! We have had 556 mls (22 inches) since start of November. That is 65% of the average annual rainfall of Mfuwe but we have not yet had the wetest month. With the river rising and the rain falling the flood anxiety will no doubt start soon. I have just jumped a mile as a large branch fell on the roof! What a noise.

Now that the camps are all closed, we are beavering away getting ready for the auditors in 10 days, there is less bush news as we are not out there so much. However, every little excersion tends to throw something up. On Friday night four of us set off in the dark and in the rain for the last Friday Valley All at Flatdogs for the season. I was driving my new car – a zippy little number called a RAV 4 (RAV 4which, much to my annoyance, I have repeatedly been informed is a hairdressers car! Hardly the bush image but never mind – it is fast, easy and I love it).

Just after Robin’s bridge Jeffery shouted “watzat”. I reversed and with the torch, we searched the bush. It was a leopard slinking along, from bush to bush and obviously shy of us. On our return we drove through the middle of 2 herds of ellys but in the dark, and especially in the rain, you only see them when you are right in the middle of them. Only thing to do is to keep going (although I admit, the heart increases a pace or two for a second). Two small porcupine rounded up the evening just as we got back into camp.

Matthew has returned to the Valley to pack up his house – he and Sara are moving on after 4 years. We are very sorry to see them go, but understand that with the new baby and other reasons it is time to say goodbye. He is such the proud father and we all enjoyed the photos of every stage of Rueben’s life (well there has only been 6 weeks!). He also entertained us with the following:

  • think of a number between 1 and 9
  • multiply it by 9
  • add the two digits of the number together
  • take away 5
  • if A = 1, get to the corresponding letter of the alphabet
  • think of a country beginning with that letter
  • think of an animal beginning with the second letter of the country
  • what is the colour of that animal….
  • and you are thinking of…….

see at the end of the newsletter for more…….certainly had us amazed until explained.

Anna from Chipembere came passed through today. She has a very small baby vervet monkey that was confiscated from some local children by the wildlife staff and passed onto her. It is tiny and cuddles up to her neck, constantly sucking her ear lobe as a teat. She drives along with it in this position. I tried to hold the wee thing but is screamed and promptly peed on me! Leaping up Anna’s arm it instantly latched back onto the ear lobe and snuggled in. Very sweet.

That’s it for this week.
Have a wonderful time.

So….did you get to “grey elephant“. If not then you are one of only 2% of the population. Apparently 98% get to the same answer. Of course, if you have got the arithmetic right (which I have to add not everyone did around our table) then you all get to 4 then D. It is a feature of the number 9 that adding the numbers after the multiplication will always be 9. D leaves not many countries to choose from…. etc. Ok Ok, life in the bush during the rains does get a little limiting.

It’s Monday 20th Jan and bold mothers

First of all, I’m pleased to announce that Jo made a little “typing error” last week by getting her arithmetic wrong. Well that’s her argument and she’s sticking to it!! When explaining the quiz that she shared with you all last week that if you did your sums right you would get to 5 then D, Jo has just realised that you will get to the number FOUR then D! Apologies for potentially mass confusion and we promise that Jo has done other things in the past week than go over this game in her head again and again and again!!

Whilst this week’s newsletter is being sent out at the usual time I was a little delayed getting onto the keyboard this morning because there was nobody in camp who knows how to turn on the generator! Robin is the one who can do it but he was out of camp early for the weekly Nkwali staff change-over and was experiencing a slight delay. All the camp staff who have been on duty for the past week were driven home early this morning and on the way back Robin collected all the guys who are “on” for this week! So with most of the staff away Robin has had to get in there once again!

Anyway, on the way back to Nkwali at about 7am they encountered a group of elephant on Robin’s bridge (closest to camp). There was a baby of about one month old who was feeding and being boldly protected by its mother. She was not about to move to let the vehicle pass and all of the family members stood their ground. So Robin and the crew had to wait for over half an hour until the baby finished feeding and the herd moved on! At this time of year the elies love using the road as they like the height it brings and the dry ground underfoot. They don’t like being nudged off the road into muddy soil!! A drive out of Nkwali at the moment involves driving over large quantities of elephant excreta and coming across the occasional large grey mammal or two!

We are experiencing days reminiscent of April at the moment!! Whilst we’ve enjoyed a lot of rain up until recently there hasn’t been a single drop since last Sunday, the day I went down to Lusaka. It was raining and cloudy all the way down on the flight. Every day since then from Lusaka to Mfuwe we have seen bright sunshine and less humidity…I drove back to the Valley on Thursday with Sandi Lye (Nsefu 1999 caterer for those who remember) and her partner Peter. There was hardly a cloud in the sky all the way back here and since then it has been dry. The air is clear and fresh AND the river has dropped 2 metres in one week!! At this time of year we are normally obsessed with potential flooding possibilities and talking about plans for evacuation. At the moment we are obsessed by how much the river level has dropped!! It is just like April! Having said that, I’m sure the next wet weather pattern is just around the corner.

That drive back to the Valley with Sandi & Peter was something else! They are now living and working in Botswana and Sandi wanted to show Peter the beauty of the South Luangwa as she remembered it so they’ve popped up here on a short break. I had eaten something in Lusaka that didn’t agree with me and had an upset stomach all the way back….half of the drive from Lusaka to Mfuwe is on some very pot-holed and badly neglected roads – it was a rough drive! As it hadn’t rained for a while the roads were very dusty and Jo said I emerged from the vehicle, on arrival, looking like I had a face full of makeup on!! Very glamorous.

Sandi and Peter have been enjoying some gamedrives with Keyala whilst staying at Nkwali (we volunteered Keyala out of his holiday!). They started out early one morning as Jo was taking her daily swim. Jo suddenly heard elephant trumpeting loudly nearby just as they drove out…and the trumpeting continued for quite some time leading Mrs Pope to think that the gameviewers could be in trouble. Not so. Peter is a professional guide with many years experience and noticed that they were a group of adolescent elies who were having a bit of fun. It was as though they wanted Sandi, Peter and Keyala to play with them – pretending to “dare” the vehicle to come forward with their mock charges then running behind a bush and peeking back to see what the humans were doing! Sandi said that they were just “talking” to her….”welcome back Sandi”!!!

They also saw a heavily pregnant female elephant “about to drop” further up the road. She had extremely beautiful, perfect tusks and was within days of giving birth. Sandi thought she was so wide she was probably having twins!!

Robin saw her this morning still very large indeed! In the Park there was lots of game though harder to see as the bush is so very green and thick. Lots of antelope and warthog! On one tree they spotted a monitor lizard, a sun squirrel, a huge active beehive and a cuckoo.

Weekends during the rains are always very relaxed and can be quite social!
On Saturday night we were invited to a 30th birthday party at Croc Farm. It was a magical night with a full moon and lots of stars, lots of water flowing past and fairly lights in the trees – quite a surreal atmosphere…you could have been anywhere! It was amazing how many people are still in the Valley and much of them are young American men in the Peace Corps. They should be out in the villages on a permanent basis but always find themselves with an excuse to come into town for a beer!! Jo spent a lot of time talking with them and they made her feel old!!!! On the way back to Nkwali a beautiful large giraffe was standing on the middle of the tarmac road and it was clearly visible in the bright moonlight. We approached with lights off and stopped to watch. Suddenly Jo leapt out of the car and started walking towards it to see how close she could get! What a wonderful moment with nature…..the giraffe stood quietly for a moment then turned its big body and ran off into the bush!

Next morning some of us were a little worse for wear (Robin had drunk one or two margueritas!) and we were going to have a picnic in the Park with Sandi, Peter and some of our friends at Flatdogs. However we were feeling too lazy so had it in front of chalet 3 under big shady trees. Lots of food, soft drinks, rugs and cushions and general lazing about gazing up at the bright blue sky. Whoever said this was the RAINY season???!

Hoping it is bright and sunny in your part of the world this week!

cheers for now

It’s Monday 27th Jan and bound for the big smoke!

I hope a great week was had by all! I was correct in last week’s newsletter
– a new weather pattern including rain was indeed around the corner and we enjoyed about 30mm on Friday afternoon! It was not before time – it was getting very dry around here with the river getting lower small ponds drying up. The lead up to the downpour included some truly deafening thundercracks and lively lightening shows. Since then we’ve had very little rain though 85% plus humidity and lots of cloud! It’s all very bizarre and the river is still quite low!! One thing remains constant – the spectacular sunsets!!

With Nkwali closed for the rains we still manage to see and hear a lot of wildlife activity. As I went to sleep last night what sounded like a lot of shouting way off in the distance became a group of baboon barking very loudly. It would have been across the river and upstream – a very faint sound but it did make me wonder what was out there. Early in the morning we heard lion calling from a similar direction – that might have answered the question! It’s been a while since we heard lion calling near Nkwali.

Around camp we’ve seen lots of impala, bushbuck and warthog rambling through the thickets. And just after sending last week’s newsletter we were visited by a small herd of elephant feeding around the camp. It was WONDERFUL to see them from the office window again – it’s been a while! Over the last couple of days from my house I’ve sat and watched a pair of African Goshawk with much interest. I think they have been quite interested in looking at me as well!! They are obviously nesting nearby as they fly about together everywhere looking for food, following each other from branch to branch. Quite often they just sit on the fence or a low-lying perch staring at me, stretching their wings or attempting to catch lizards climbing up the side of the house! I hear lots of squawking in the distance when they fly off to their nest.

On a drive to the Chichele area during the week I saw good concentrations of wildlife including zebra, puku, impala, giraffe, elephant and baboons. With all the green grassy plains it is great to see the animals enjoying a season of plenty!

Back in camp Robin has been busy with his various little projects on the go! Thinning the area of perilous looking tree branches is one such activity. One of the branches from the tree above the bar is now being used as a part of the bar structure. It’s not finished yet so I’m not going to try to explain it!! Chalet 3 had some branches above it which looked a bit dubious so they’ve come down. The baboons have also taken to ripping the thatch off the roof from chalet 3! So the Nkwali staff have been taking it in turns to sit and read near the bar, warding off those naughty baboons as they try to take more thatch! It was quite a surprise at first….when trying to find Lameck (the chef) to be told he was “at the bar” and it wasn’t even afternoon yet!!

One of the biggest projects Nkwali has ever seen is slowly moving ahead – the electrification of the camp by connecting to mains power! It was agreed to proceed with electrification of Nkwali around November last year and since then contracts have been signed and ZESCO (the local power authority) have our seventy eight million kwacha to undertake the job! The poles have arrived and it was hoped that they might be erected during the recent dry spell but it looks doubtful now – it might be delayed until March!! We anticipate the connection to be ready earliest in April and the latest in July!! These things take TIME!! However when the auspicious moment comes to “flick the switch” over to mains we will keep the generator for emergency backup.

Jo and Robin have resisted the urge for electrification for so long but using a generator to run the camp plus everything else out the back including the “head office”, workshop, swimming pool and staff amenities it has become much less economical over time. Much diesel and money will be saved with mains power over the longer term and I guess we can now work 24 / 7 in the office instead of the daily routine being dictated by generator “on” times!!! But the important things will not change and Nkwali will firmly remain a bush camp – we will install cooling fans in the guest chalets but we WON’T be supplying hair dryers!!!

I am now entering my last month with Robin Pope Safaris – after three nearly three years with this wonderful company it is time to seek new challenges! I have loved every moment of living and working with the RPS team but it was always part of “the plan” to spend about 3 years working for Robin and Jo. At the end of February my work permit expires and off I will trot into the big wide world!!Kim in July 2002 I’m pleased to announce that Kim Brake, who joined us as catering manager at Tena Tena last year, will be taking over my position as Reservations Manager. Kim arrived two weeks ago to start working alongside me but it didn’t take her long to learn the ropes and she is now telling me what to do!! She’s also taken the opportunity to stop smoking and has suddenly become rather hyperactive as she copes with the nicotine withdrawal!!! So the pace of things in the office have moved up a notch or two!!

Speaking of the office and change in the air…we are about to set forth on a new adventure. This weekend Jo, Robin, Kim and I are packing up our office files & our personal belongings and we are MOVING to the bright lights of Lusaka until early March!! So this will be my last week in the Valley!! Whilst we LOVE living here in the rains we also thought we needed a change of scene. We are bringing 2 vehicles with us, we will be living in two houses close to each other in a rural area 30 minutes from the centre of town and will be working from a modern office in the city…it has been along time since I’ve had to commute more than 20 metres to the office each day!! So we are all set!! A change is as good as a holiday as they say and Robin and Jo will be able to prepare for the 2003 season much more easily from Lusaka than from the remote bush. Do not fear – we will have our spies back in the Valley to provide the all important wildlife and weather updates! Provided that the move goes smoothly (ie phones are connected and email redirection sorted) you will be hearing from us again next Monday from an URBAN location – spooky! Think of us on Sunday as we head off on the long, bumpy road to Lusaka!!

Until next week, cheers!

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