It’s June 2001 and …


It’s Monday 4th and the Celebration

The Celebration of South Luangwa was in the last week of May. We have been planning the Celebration for a year and suddenly there we were – it had arrived. What a week. David Shepherd was delighted to be back in the Valley after so many years. He used to bring his family here in the eighties, and a number of his famous paintings are of the Luangwa. So it was “coming home” for David. The group was small and very receptive. The week was a combination of gameviewing, spending time with the community, learning about conservation and visiting projects.

The first presentation was a lunchtime visit from SLAMU – South Luangwa Area Management Unit – who basically run the National Park. They explained about how they are trying to give the community the “ownership” of the game outside the park. Lots of theory and ideals. Some successes but still a long way to go.

RATS on parade

At sundown that day the RATS came to present. The Rapid Action Team is a group around 12 dedicated Zambians who do as much antipoaching as possible. They are sponsored and run by the Safari operators. A great team headed by Delux – a man of martial arts skills and discipline. The RATS performed a very funny and spontaneous play about catching poachers. Alec then gave a short slide show and with great passion explained what the poaching problems were. By the end of the day the Celebration guests now had a clear picture of the problems that are faced in conservation in the South Luangwa.

The following day was spent at Kawaza Village where the skills of the locals and the rural way of life was experienced. Visits to Kawaza Village are always a great success. This time the villagers had all gathered to show their skills – the potter, the mat weaver, the blacksmith, the carvers, the furniture makers and others demonstrated how they produce the implements of life in a village. The children at the school performed, read poems and danced. As ever, the children dancing was highly entertaining. A young boy and girl were joined at the pelvis in a rather interesting child’s perspective of adult life!

A visit to the new Chipembere Education Centre was inspirational. This has been set up by two African lovers from England, Steve and Anna – a centre for local schools to visit to learn about conservation. Ten children from Kawaza joined the Celebration guests for the morning visit. Everyone came back incredibly impressed with the imagination of Steve and Anna and how they have set up the centre. David was bowled over.

There was a short visit to the local clinic – Kakumbi Rural Health Centre – where the four dedicated staff treat people from a catchment area of 15,000.

The building is simple and there are many problems – including no running water at the moment. So this was quite an eye-opener for our international guests.

Elephants at Nkwali

The final evening we gathered for a champagne sundowner on the banks of the Luangwa. A group of 25 elephants came to the river, splashed around and then cross the river in clear view of us. Lots of jokes about how we had managed to arrange it. Then on to Flatdogs where everyone in the Valley gathered to see the Malambo Theatre Group to perform their play “Horn of Sorrow”. This is the professional theatre group of the South Luangwa. A funny, moving and dramatic play. There were around 100 people there so a great atmosphere. The finale was an auction of some of David’s books with original drawings. Jake of Flatdogs, along with David, held a great auction – it was very tense. One book went for USD700 and the other for USD1550. Quite amazing.

Delux

In total the week raised USD10,250 for RATS and this is staggering. RATS can now buy a vehicle, radios, uniforms – all very much needed. This was really beyond our wildest dreams and without doubt made the Celebration a massive success.

All the guests of the Celebration of South Luangwa said the insight they gained about rural Africa life and the problems we face on conservation front was immense. They all said that the week gave them far more than they had expected. And that we should hold the Celebration on an annual basis. Now there’s a challenge.

And a great thank you to David Shepherd for hosting the week and being such an inspiration to us all. His dedication to conservation is incredible.

Have a wonderful week
JO

PS twenty two wild dog are living across from Nkwali at the moment. We are seeing them twice a day! Exceptional.

It’s Monday 11th and Wildlife Galore

With our three main camps up and running and guests commencing the first walking safaris for the season it is just as well that all the wildlife have come out from behind the bushes! It was touch-and-go for a while there as we had reports of a very quiet first week at Tena Tena and Nsefu. It is amazing how the bush is not quite so dry as it was this time last year – we continue to see river beds that still have water & mud in them so one cannot put that winch away till December just yet! Everything still looks rather green and the grasses are thick. However each day that passes is DRY and SUNNY so we are beginning to see all the animals come running down to the rivers and big lagoons to drink and keep the photo laboratory owners happy!

This week has been quite amazing for animal spotting. Nkwali continues to excite guests with unexpected surprises. Simon was sitting at the bar one afternoon and spotted hunting dog on the other side of the river! On the same afternoon a leopard was seen from the same location. Driving out of camp one night last week I saw two female lion yawning and stretching in the middle of the road and they had no intention of moving out of my way! About five minutes up the road I saw eight zebra looking around rather nervously. I cannot remember a time when I have seen zebra along the road to Nkwali so I was rather excited! And basking in the sun on the sandbank across from camp yesterday were approximately nine enormous crocodile lying side-by-side with a few hippo.

Giraffe crossing the Luangwa

Marcus was taking guests out near Wamilombe last week and spotted 8 male giraffe crossing a river. It is not often that one sees giraffe crossing rivers so this was a sight worth sitting to watch for a while.

Tena Tena is currently enjoying the return of Chris Holt before he takes his first group out on a Walking Mobile Safari next week. Guests have enjoyed some wonderful kudu and eland sightings this week – these sightings are quite rare so very much enjoyed by all. Some rather large elephants have been spotted near camp as well as a female lion with her three cubs.

Some very exciting reports are coming from Nsefu this week. Noodles was delighted to report that during breakfast recently a leopard came down to the lagoon near the dining room to drink – beautiful! She has also seen more leopard and hyena on driving out of camp much to her endless excitement AND I hear reports of two groups of hyena fighting over a lion cub that had died!!

Wendy tells me that a dead bushbuck lies not far away from the dining room as I write but it has not yet been touched by the leopard that killed it. She’s hoping to see the leopard return soon and do something with its kill!

The stork colony at Nsefu

The stork colony is providing the most exciting viewing of the week. Nesting is fully underway at present so it’s a viewing privilege for guests visiting Nsefu in June. Guests have watched as hungry marshall eagles take baby storks from their nests. The stork mothers were going mad trying to protect their babies, stretching out their enormous wings to cover the chicks. One mother had one chick protected under her wing whist the other was lying defenceless nearby on the ground. She could not make up her mind what to do so went to the rescue of the other chick. This chick lived but the other one was not so lucky. Tough times out in the colony!

Not all the highlights of the week had to do with animal spottings…Kevin at the workshop has just taken delivery of two near-new Toyota landcruisers.

These beauties will be modified to RPS gameviewing standards and will soon be seen bouncing around the Park along with the rest of our fleet. The big question is…what shall we name them? With names in existence such as Thumper, Wangle, Queenie, Maria & Christine careful consideration must be taken before we smash those bottles of bubbly against their bumper-bars! Naming decisions shall be revealed soon.

Until next week, all the very best!
Jeffrey

It’s Monday 18th and Bonding with the Wild Dogs

Wild dog

There has been phenomanal game viewing this week, most of it from the comfort of the Nkwali bar! Yesterday wild dogs spent the day on a sandbank just opposite camp. We boated across and watched them for ages. Simon then crawled right up to them and it seems to me that he may have become part of the pack! They walked towards him to try to figure out what he was, standing on their back legs to see over the bushes. Once they realised it was it was just Simon they sat back down and went back to sleep! After seven years of guiding in the Valley this was Simon’s most incredible experience.

As you can imagine the whole day revolved around the dogs. Buffalos attempted to steal the lime light later on in the afternoon as they came down for their evening drink, but I’m afraid they paled into insignificance.

The bird watchers among us were highly excited when a black egret appeared on the opposite bank earlier on this week. It seems that gamedrives should be made redundant!

Nsefu have also had their fair share of excitement, with leopard hunting impala, a 10 foot python sunning on the road and lions through camp every night. I certainly wouldn’t recommend being an impala within the vicinity of Nsefu.

Arriving at Mfuwe last October

Mfuwe Airport is a hive of activity as the eclipse looms closer and closer. Going to the airport has become a real social event with the Valley tourism industry in full swing. It is very interesting to see the number of people coming to the South Luangwa for a safari before heading to Lusaka or other areas in line with 100% totality of the eclipse. We are anxiously watching the sky for clouds but I think it would be tempting providence to say anymore than that!

All the best
Sandra

It’s Monday 25th and Eclipse Picnic

It was the week that we had been waiting for all year! Accommodation had been secured almost two years in advance for many of our guests and after months of planning the biggest event yet seen in Zambia was upon us. The total eclipse last Thursday, that covered areas from the North Kafue, through Lusaka and the Lower Zambezi, resulted in more visitors to the country than ever before. I am told that Lusaka has never seen anything like it!! The South Luangwa experienced 90% totality so the big issue at RPS was how to convince the serious eclipse followers to come and stay in our camps and see 100% totality all at the same time!

The answer was a fly-in champagne picnic lunch at an exclusive location near the Royal Zambezi Airstrip, located just outside the Lower Zambezi National Park. In line with totality and only 1.5hrs flying time away from Mfuwe this was the perfect spot to take all of our guests to enjoy this out-of-world experience. It was a complete success! There was not a cloud in the sky (the week leading up to it was very cloudy!). The end result was many happy RPS guests and staff with smiles from ear to ear as they arrived back in camp.

With military precision seven small aircraft transported guests from the Valley down to the picnic site, arriving late morning. A waiting vehicle transferred each aircraft load of people to a tranquil, peaceful spot on the edge of the Zambezi River. What awaited them was a private eclipse picnic…chairs, woven mats and blankets were scattered around the site with a large canopy of trees offering shade. Guests were offered short boat trips onto the Zambezi River to get a feeling for the area and enjoy the stunning birdlife. Meanwhile a hive of activity was taking place at the picnic spot with the serious eclipse watchers setting up photo equipment to capture the moment they had been waiting for.

It was RPS re-located…chilled champagne, smoked salmon and blinis prepared by the fair hands of Noodles, Shanie and Corinna. How civilized!! Guests then drank and ate their way through a superb finger food picnic as the moon crept slowly across the sun. Shadows lengthened and the air became noticeably cooler as the eclipse neared totality by mid afternoon. Everybody wore fabulous special eclipse glasses to safely enjoy the sight of the sun being covered by the moon. Finally the birds stopped singing and flew off to roost. At totality darkness fell and a 360 degree sunset filled the sky. Amazing shades of orange and pink reflected off the river and Shanie noticed weird shadows racing across the ground (or was it just too much bubbly??). Once the sun was fully covered everybody could remove their eclipse glasses and observe with the naked eye. A very bright ring of pink light circled the moon.

For three minutes the stars were out, the birds were quiet and the crickets were singing. Soon eclipse glasses were back on and slowly light returned like the dimmer switch to a light bulb was turned up. All that was left were some highly charged and moved people all looking at each other in awe! Once composure was restored everybody flew back to Mfuwe where a big bbq awaited. It was dark by then and even though everybody was tired it was certainly worthwhile and our staff will keep talking about it for months!

It didn’t all happen at totality I must say! Here in the Valley during the eclipse-induced twilight I watched a bunch of baboons climb the trees as if to sleep for the night and then a few minutes later they were all clambering down the trees again! They must have thought the night went very quickly! Kutandala Walking Camp in the North Luangwa, where many of our guests will enjoy a walking safari this year (full summary next week!) experienced a truly Zambian side to the eclipse. Rod from Kutandala writes:

“We meanwhile enjoyed the eclipse here, not least due to the reaction of our staff – as it started to darken and I was looking for our waiter I found that he, along with the rest of our crew had taken to their beds! They had heard the warnings on the radio telling them not to look at the sun and were evidently going to heed them. I tried to coax them out in order to watch events safely. Eventually they all appeared, with their heads shrouded in their shirts, waiter’s tray held up against the light and walking backwards. Nothing I could say would convince them that they wouldn’t be blinded instantly without these precautions. Fortunately as the eclipse ended and the sun’s full brightness once again fell on the camp, everything returned to normal.”

And indeed everything has now returned to normal!

Until next week, take care!
Jeffrey

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