It’s June 2002 and …

It’s Monday 3rd and introducing RPS 2002!

Well, at last we have reached the official beginning of the ‘peak season’…that period of time when we have three camps up and running plus guests walking about the Park on any of five walking safaris that are on the go. Yet we hope, as a guest in our camps, that the highly personalised service you receive at all levels will enable you to concentrate on immersing yourself in nature, to learn about the African bush and delight in soaking up a truly remote wilderness experience . However if you sat ‘out the back’ like I do and see how everything comes together you would be amazed! The team at RPS know how to put on a damn good show that’s for sure, and we are very proud!! I’m extremely pleased to introduce the 2002 team (minus Nsefu – I introduced that mob last week!)…

Simon and ShanieLast year at Nkwali, that man who finds just about anything funny, Mr. Keyela Phiri, underwent camp manager training as the ‘number two’ behind Simon Cousins. Keyala came through brilliantly and this year he is now Nkwali’s camp manager, working closely with the very fabulous caterer/nurse/you-name-it-she-can-do-it Ms Shanie Norris, heading a colourful and fun team where nothing is too much trouble! They are suitably backed up by Mr. Marcus Wylie (fishing expert and crocodile enthusiast) and Mr. Zebron Chirwa, our very experienced, charming and knowledgeable Nkwali guides. There isn’t much these two don’t know about the wildlife and the area.

You will be pleased to know, however, that Simon can still be relied upon to prop up the bar at Nkwali most nights and at camp he will always be seen running about. This year Simon has taken on the important role of Camps Operations Manager, relieving much of the logistical behind-the-scenes and camp support work from Jo. Added to that, his depth of experience as a guide (both walking and driving) will see Simon focusing on walking activities this year.

RyanRegular guests will see a new face at Nkwali in Mr. Ryan Collis, the new pilot for Jo’s aircraft. Ryan, who hails from Durban, steered Jo through her pilot’s examinations earlier this year and when the pilot position became available on her aircraft whilst she was learning, Ryan was the obvious choice to take the controls. And he obviously loves his transition to the bush!

Tena Tena will see some new faces this year. Given Robin’s long history with this camp it is hard to keep him away, but this year the Big Bwana has decided to take a ‘back seat’ from camp managing. He has seen to it that one of our most experienced and capable members of guiding staff, ‘The President’ himself, Mr. Daudi Njobvu, is to take the controls at Tena Tena. Cool RunningsDaudi, who as I said before sports an excellent selection of gold-rimmed dark shades and also operates a successful local bar called Cool Runnings (which can be seen on the main road between Mfuwe Airport and the Luangwa Bridge), is commencing his sixth season with RPS and his cool, calm style very well complements his top-class knowledge. He has a very infectious way with everybody… he always has a beaming smile and something to laugh about! He is generous by nature and loves to share everything he knows – a huge bonus for guests with an inquiring mind! The role of Tena Tena caterer is being taken on by Ms Kim Brake. Kim hails from the UK but has spent many years working in Europe in various managerial roles, most recently running her own public relations and tour guiding company in Romania! Like Buffy at Nsefu, Kim is just the person to be an RPS caterer – Jo tells me she is an excellent organiser and administrator, is an experienced manager of people, is able to adapt quickly to changing situations (!), is very much a people person, level headed and practical – with those traits we welcome Kim with open arms!!

NathanMr. Ross Cumming will be joining Daudi and Kim at Tena Tena this year. Ross joined RPS late last year at Nsefu after camp managing for David Foot at Nyika Safari Company in Malawi. He has experience guiding by horseback, foot and vehicle! Ross is Malawian but was educated in Scotland and I’m told is not averse to bringing out the bagpipes in the most bizarre locations including on the roof garden of a Hong Kong skyscraper and inside nightclubs in Cairns, Australia! Watch out South Luangwa – maybe that stretch of water in front of Tena will suddenly be known for housing an unseen monster!!! Ross will be joined in guiding at Tena by Mr. Nathan Pilcher, who is returning for a second season. Nathan is Zambian born and bred and knows the South Luangwa like the back of his hand!

Along with Jason, Buffy, Jacob and Paul at Nsefu the RPS camps are in brilliant hands this year. Added to this we have will also be drawing from a highly experienced pool of guides who will be operating our walking safaris and also rotating at Nkwali, Nsefu and Tena Tena. WendyWendy Leach returns to RPS this year to undertake most of the RPS Walking Mobile and Lundu Walking Mobile Safaris. Jason Alfonsi will continue to delight walking enthusiasts with his unique guiding style around the Mupamadzi River. We are very pleased to be utilising the services of renown Zimbabwean guide Mr. John Nicholson, who has built an excellent reputation in the industry as a freelance guide for Wilderness Safaris Zimbabwe, Kangela Safaris, Wild Horizons and Ivan Carter Safaris. He came to us last year to complete his Zambian guiding exams (a mere formality for this expert!) and this year joins us properly to lead walking safaris. His expertise is very much welcomed by RPS.

Walking guests resident at our very VERY remote tented mobile camps along the Mupamadzi will be wined, dined and tucked into bed at night by Ms Isabel (Izzy) Howells, our mobile caterer under the stars! Isabel comes with a huge organisational background in running expeditions in remote locations, including one all-female foray into the Brunei Jungle, which later became a 3 part series “Jungle Janes” for UK’s Channel 4! Added to that her status as a qualified nurse and an adept manager of people, Isabel is made for her new role!

And of course the whole ‘up front’ operation is assisted again this year by various hard-working individuals in the ‘head office’ at Nkwali. Louise Counsell assists Jo in all areas related to marketing. Louise has spent many years working (on and off as a camp caterer and guide !) and living in the Valley and her assistance is much appreciated. Sara Taverner and I continue to ‘manage’ the reservations, here to assist in the ‘unlikely’ event of delayed flights or lost luggage!! Sara’s husband Matthew relishes his role as General Manager (and part-time It’s Monday writer) and Kevin Wright manages a large workshop and behind the scenes maintenance. Robin and Jo Pope…well, where would we all be without these two?? And in all camps we have an army of bedroom attendants, chefs, waiters, spotters, gardeners, maintenance people, mechanics and casuals!!

Here’s to a great season, fantastic gameviewing fun for all! Thanks to everybody for their continued support.

cheers for now!

It’s Monday 10th and winter has arrived!

Finally winter has arrived – we think! Over the past couple of days we have all been wondering around in the early mornings with multiple layers of clothing, most of it peeled off by lunchtime! It is a rare luxury (suffer everyone from the northern hemisphere!) to wear long pants and shoes during the day…I’ve almost forgotten what it is like!! It is especially lovely to sit close to the Nkwali campfire at sunset sipping some of Shanie’s rather addictive mulled wine!

Some of those more adventurous than I have taken to swimming in the pool in the early mornings (this would have to be Jo Pope of course!) and in the late afternoons. Sandra tells me she has to quickly remove clothes and dive into the water before her better judgement takes over! The water is lovely once immersed in it…but I cannot bring myself to go through the before-and-after surprise!! Of course this cold snap shock treatment will not last forever!!

Happily the chilly weather hasn’t stopped the wildlife from going about their business, much to the delight of the viewing punters. Nkwali has seen the return of the elies wondering through camp during the daylight hours.

Two large bull elephant, one with two large tusks and the other with just one, have walked along the edge of river feeding along the way. Twice they have stopped outside my house and have begun to tear strips off my favourite acacia tree! The other day I was trapped inside my house and unable to get back to the office until they moved on – better than being stuck in a traffic jam I guess!

Keyala was taking guests on an early morning walk in the Chichele area the other day. The group found some lion spoor and followed them for a while but could not locate any of the cats around. Later that same afternoon they took a drive back to the same area and were rewarded with the sighting of two male lion. Whilst the group were quietly watching them in the grass they could hear a very distinctive and clear lion cub mewing noises coming from underneath a culvert. From the sounds Keyala thinks that these baby cubs would only be a couple of weeks old, just being introduced to members of the pride. One of the two males would most likely be the father. How exciting!

Nsefu has had an outsanding start to the season. Jason and Buffy report that gameviewing has been really very good indeed. Paul has become known as the Cat King with every drive he has taken resulting in at least one leopard sighting! He is seeing lots of cats including a large male leopard sleeping atop a termite mound all afternoon (perfect camera moment!) and a serval at the salt pan. Leopard sightings have been ABSOLUTELY outstanding! On one night, between Jacob and Daudi (who had come across from Tena Tena) five different leopard were seen on the same night! Of course this sighting rate cannot be guaranteed throughout the season and I don’t want to press the point too often about leopard at Nsefu, but Jason was so excited I just had to share it all this week!

Jason also tells me that there have been quite a few sightings of Pel’s fishing owl this week and a large buffalo herd on Mtanda Plain. Daudi, on his way from Tena Tena, saw a bushy tailed mongoose chasing a scrub hare – quite a rare sight! So lots of action up in the Nsefu Sector along with the bush looking absolutely beautiful and the birding excellent. At this time of year everything smells so fresh..being the end of the rains and a lot of the bush is still quite green. It is the perfect time of year for early morning walks – extremely refreshing!

The Johnny Ambrose Cup was held yesterday – a beautiful sunny afternoon with a lot of enthusiastic participants and many more spectators. Held at the “Croc Farm” oval, the whole Valley turned out for this annual friendly rugby competition in memory of our much loved and often remembered Johnny Ambrose.

Our very own Kevin Wright played umpire! There were three teams – the Manzi Maulers, the Luwi Lions and the Wafwa Warriers. After 3 preliminary matches and a golden try the Luwi Lions came out overall winners after the grand final match! Jo was seen dousing cold water over all the players at the finish – they all looked very dirty, hot and bothered! After a photo session in the glorious sunset everyone headed for the bar to enjoy a few Mosi and a braai pack…all very civilized for a Sunday afternoon! One late arrival said it looked like a ‘day at the races’!!

Take care and have a wonderful week ahead.

It’s Monday 17th and lost lagoons!

For the first time since I can remember I woke up this morning to find giraffe droppings outside my door! It is very rare to have these wonderful creatures pass through the camp…let alone to actually see them! I woke during the night to hear a rather unusual sound coming from an animal walking past. A rather slow-paced ‘crunching’ accompanied by the rustling of leaves…leaves that are too high above the ground for shorter animals to brush against! It all became very clear in the morning when the evidence was lying there on the ground! And then Matthew told me that he and Sara nearly bumped into one of the giraffe as they walked to their house early last night. A group of them had been feeding behind camp at sunset which is always a welcoming sight!

SunsetSpeaking of sunsets I joined Shanie, Simon and Nkwali’s guests for ‘surprise’ sundowners on Chichele Hill on Thursday. A surprise because the guests had no idea that we would suddenly appear before them at the top of the hill, along with lots of bubbly and Shanie’s delicious basil, tomato & ricotta bruschetta and honey-mustard sausages! The vantage point was very special – uninterrupted views of the Valley floor with a very red sun setting behind the Muchinja Escarpment in the distance. Before long the entire Escarpment, going for miles and miles in both directions, was overshadowed by variations of a very rich orange and red. Perfect!

Once it was almost dark the troops were back on board the gameviewing vehicles for some nightspotting. Shanie, Simon and I returned directly to camp and missed all the action – lion all over the place (six were seen on a hunt), porcupine and two honeybadgers digging in a sand river. The two young lion cub heard last week are yet to be spotted so fingers crossed it will happen soon.

The following morning Simon took some of the same group on a very eventful morning walk. First up Alfred the scout nearly trod on a tiny baby puku hiding in the grasses! So small that it would have been recently born, it had most likely been told to hide by its mother in the grasses, away from lion. Later in the morning the group heard what sounded like a baboon being taken by a leopard. They went off in search but couldn’t find them. Instead they were rewarded with the evidence – drag marks in the sand from the leopard dragging the kill into the bush with leopard footprints on either side of the drag marks. And whilst enjoying a cup of tea opposite Nkwali the group watched as a female lion came down to drink from a nearby lagoon. A
very satisfying morning walk!

Jason has just sent by computer disk from Nsefu (yes we live with modern technology even here!) an account of an unbelievable sighting the other night. He went to such great effort to write about it that I feel dutybound to share it all:

The game has been fabulous at Nsefu this week – what a start to the season!

One of the highlights was finding six lion hunting at Warthog Park on Thursday evening. Whilst the lion were fumbling their hunt (usual lion style), our attention turned to a leopardess who had climbed an ebony tree to watch them. When the pride noticed a second leopard, a large male, lying on the riverbank by the tree, they proceeded to switch their attention from hunting to the two leopard. They shot after him, chased him through the bush below the tree where the leopardess was hiding. After failing to catch the leopard, the pride diverted their attention to the leopardess, having picked up her scent.

Marooned Leopard from 2001Three of the lion started to climb up her tree in pursuit. The leopardess by now was precariously balanced on the very thin branches, high up in the canopy of the tree. Two female lion, the first up the tree, lacked the confidence to pursue, not to mention handicapped by the comparable climbing skills of a leopard. However the young male lion following them was determined to get to the leopardess. One of the female lion decided to give way and lie down, the second lioness followed suit and they snuggled down on the branch to leave the young male lion a shot – he was snarling and spitting doing his best to scare the leopardess.

However the two lioness were in his way so he could not have a chance to follow through. The two females eventually retreated and moved back down the tree, leaving the young male with no alternative but to do the same. Just when the leopardess might have thought the coast was clear, the young male lion decided to return for another go, round two ding, ding! The leopardess continued to evade this young male by climbing further and further up the tree to the point where he did not have the ability to reach her. Yet again he gave up and retreated back down the tree.

Just when we thought the show was over, the male leopard stepped out from the bushes. He joined his leopardess safely on the ground. We stayed with them for another 20 minutes, following them as they walked around Warthog Park, marking their territory. We were all quite convinced that they are a courting couple and are hopeful that in the not too distant future we will be lucky enough to hear the patter of little cub paws around Nsefu.

What a wonderful storyteller Jason makes! Buffy also tells me that Jason has managed to lose a whole lagoon! He went off walking around the Hidden Lagoon area in search of a favourite spot from last year. However somehow he has managed to “misplace” an entire lagoon. They have now christened the lagoon “Brigadoon Lagoon” and no doubt Jason will continue his quest as the season progresses. I hope the guests continue to be patient and humour him accordingly!

Have a fabulous week!

It’s Monday 24th and the shocked lion

Our first walking safari guests for the season are trekking through the remote wilderness of the Nsefu Sector as I type. The Park is in a superb state for walking now with everything drying out and the weather very comfortable. Our first tented mobile safari up in the Mupamadzi River area takes place next week. Izzy, our new mobiles caterer arrived a few days ago and had the mobiles caterer’s bible thrust into her hands the moment she walked through the door! She’s now getting prepared for an imminent departure for ‘the bushes’ and we won’t see her again for a while!

Izzy had quite an adventure getting here in the first place! The ‘call to come’ from Jo came as she was at learning Spanish at a school deep in Guatamala only a couple of weeks ago. She had just completed an exciting trip in Central America as expedition leader for Raleigh International. So Izzy abandoned her Spanish lessons to figure out how to get from Guatamala to Zambia!! The main issue was how to get back to all her kit which was in Grenada, Nicaragua! So the journey began – a three day bus trip from Guatamala to El Salvadore, through Honduras to Nicaragua then on to Costa Rica. There she sorted out her flights and flew to London via Miami and Madrid, caught a bus to Devon to see her mum for about six days then back to London and off to Lusaka! I’m sure her head will still be spinning when she arrives at Camp One!!

The lions approach the fenceRobin and Jo had a wonderful time at Tena Tena last weekend. The camp is looking really fabulous and Kim & Daudi make a wonderful team. Wildlife spotting has not disappointed either. Some of the permanent residents around Tena Tena have not yet become re-accustomed to the presence of the electric fence that now surrounds the camp! Animals have been known to bump into it and receive a wee shock – nothing dangerous of course but just enough to remind them that what is on the other side of the fence is not worth bothering about!

One lucky guest, whose tent sits very close to the electric fence, awoke at 4am to the sound of lions roaring only metres away!! Four females and 2 males were on the hunt and their usual path through the Tena Tena campsite was halted when one of them bumped into the charged fence. It let out quite a loud roar according to Robin!! Eventually the pride moved along but it certainly was very exciting to be up so close. The same pride had been seen the afternoon before during a game drive.

Yesterday Nkwali guests were again treated to the lovely sight of a leopard down on the opposite river-bank to camp. I was wondering why all the vervets and baboons were barking madly at the time!! And I’ve been eye-balling a lovely male elephant lately as he forages for food in the bushes around the office. Such beautiful creatures.

Hope you all have a great week!


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