It’s March 2002 and …

It’s Monday 4th and down comes the rain

Whilst last week felt like we were back in full swing again for the season…at the moment Nkwali is back to its sleepy and peaceful self typical of this time of year! A mass exodus of staff on Friday left just Robin and I holding the fort (well three is an exodus at the moment!!).

Sara and Matthew, with their Aussie friends in tow, departed for their annual leave and no doubt will enjoy every minute of their month-long period of rest and revitalisation. Jo had only been back in camp for five days when a family crisis saw her returning immediately to the UK to be with her very ill father. Our best wishes and positive thoughts go to Jo and to the Holmes family.

Yesterday staff levels increased considerably with Kevin’s return from his annuals! Whilst Robin and Kevin immerse themselves in workshop activities and preparing the camps for the new season, I am suddenly rather busy managing the office, menu planning for us three blokes, keeping the food stores stocked and looking after kitty!! No sweat…nothing like a good challenge I say! Of course, no matter how busy the workday is, there is always time for a cold Mosi by the river at sunset.

Speaking of which, we enjoyed some lovely sundowners last week. On one occasion we all hopped into the motor boat and Robin took us to the slowly-emerging sandbank slightly downriver from camp. We leapt onto a narrow island of sand surrounded by fast flowing water and enjoyed the bright sunset…fantastic pinks and reds reflecting off the stormy clouds all around – picture perfect! A few days later Robin and Jo hosted a braai at their house which is set close to the river bank. Again, a magical sunset and at this time of year the sun sets almost at the head of the river, casting a very strong light all the way along Nkwali and beyond. Those locals who were in the Valley came to enjoy this sight and catch up with many returning for the new season. Not long to go now – Nkwali welcomes first guests just before Easter!!

We have had some spectacular daily storms this week. It has hardly rained for the past two weeks but lately humidity levels have started to rise. Almost like clockwork thunder rolls in the distance and then the dark clouds creep over. Strong gusts of wind are always then followed by incredible downpours that last for at least 30 minutes. Then the storm moves on to the west leaving in its wake huge puddles, lots of mud and a few broken branches! All very dramatic and exciting. It always happens in the late afternoon…prompting a very bright and colourful sunset.

I am enjoying the house-minding role at Sara and Matthew’s home which is located at one far end of camp, surrounded by thick forest….it is particularly beautiful after a good rain shower!

Not a great deal to report on the gameviewing front this week. I was told that there were lions calling outside my house the other night but I slept through it!! As we drove back from the airport yesterday with Kevin, we noticed a few very happy elies enjoying the mud and rain, and as if on queue, three very healthy bushbuck crossed the road in front of us and then two very fat looking warthogs trotted out. They are much harder to notice with the thick grasses at this time of year so it was rather a surprise when they darted out in front of the vehicle!!

All the best for the week ahead.

It’s Monday 11th and running for RATS

It feels like the calm before the storm this week! With only Kevin and I in camp everything is rather quiet, apart from camp opening preparations taking place in the workshop and in the office with me literally ‘holding the fort’!

By the end of this week Simon, Shanie and Marcus will have returned…bringing lots of fresh enthusiasm (one would hope!) for the start of a new season. And hopefully lots of stories to tell! The Nkwali camp manager/caterer duo commence their long drive back to the South Luangwa today…departing from Durban to Johannesburg, where they will spend the night with none other than Mr Jason Gifford, before driving up through Botswana, across into Livingstone, through Lusaka to pick up some supplies and then the gruelling last 8 hour dash to Mfuwe!! If anybody has had the pleasure of driving from Lusaka to Mfuwe in the rains, I am sure you will join me in wishing Simon and Shanie the best of luck and a pleasant trip!!

Once they return to camp, Simon, Marcus and Shanie will no doubt launch themselves immediately into the Nkwali camp opening programme. On 26 March Nkwali will be sparkling, fresh and ready to go once again when our first guests for the new year arrive. It will be very welcome feels like forever since we farewelled our last guests after New Years!!

One thing our first guests will notice, all remaining equal between now and then, is just how LOW the river level has become! It is way down and the sandbank in the middle is making a rather rapid return…quite amazing for this time of year. A lot of Zambia is in drought at present…not much rainfall around Livingstone or Lusaka apparently. Whilst we have had a good dose of daily showers lately it is clear that there has been a lot less rain further north in the Luangwa River catchment areas. Robin did say, however, that March can often bring lots of rain and the river can rise quickly if this occurs…so our vehicle fleet will remain on higher ground at Mfuwe Airport for a few more weeks yet!!!

The days are beautiful right now – very clear and sunny with the odd cool breeze. Lots of yellow and purple wildflowers blooming, grasses tall and beginning to dry out, bright green foliage all around too. And the odd fluffy white cloud. Picture perfect!

Whilst I sit here and enjoy the scenery others in different locales are building up a sweat! Karen Cousins, Simon’s elder sister, has decided to run the London Marathon! Why is a very good question!! Whilst Karen has made it perfectly clear on many occasions that, unlike her bush loving brother, her idea of a good holiday is not to head forth into the wilderness but to stay well within city limits, she has found a way to show that a staunchly urban life can lead to positive things for the South Luangwa Valley! Given that the London Marathon is one of the largest fundraising events in the UK Karen has decided to register as a running participant and raise money for anti-poaching in the South Luangwa!! She intends to raise GBP2000 and will donate all of the proceeds to the RATS (Rapid Action Team).

As you may know, the RATS are a group of 12 dedicated Zambians who do as much antipoaching as possible and are sponsored and run by the Safari operators in the Valley. They also receive much needed financial support through various fundraising events such as the Celebration of the South Luangwa last May. The entire RATS operation is funded only by such support and their activities are ongoing. Without funding (to cover such things as a basic wage for the RATS team, vehicle expenses, uniforms and supplies) the RATS would not exist and amongst other things elephants would needlessly be lost, there would be a lot more animal snares in the Park than what we have now and a number of poachers would still be carrying out their illegal activities. As we all know, conservation is a vital, serious and ongoing issue.

On a very sad note, Jo’s father, Sir Peter Holmes, passed away on Friday. Robin has joined Jo and her family in the UK at this very difficult time. Sir Peter very much loved the South Luangwa and was a constant supporter of what Robin and Jo are doing here. Heartfelt sympathies to the Holmes family from everybody at RPS.

Until next week, take care.


It’s Monday 18th and Jeffers is down

Poor old Jeffers has been down with malaria so I have dashed back to sort out the reservations and office work as Matthew and Sara are still on leave.

As you can imagine there is a bit of a back log (only a few days but it adds up fast!) and as I have not done reservations for quite some time (we are talking years here, not months) I am not as fast as Jeffery and Sara. So quite a challenge. However, I have full confidence that I will be able to handle it all (she says bolstering herself up). Therefore this It’s Monday will be shorter and later.

The malaria has not been very bad this year as the rain has been less than normal. However, you all know that we do live with malaria. In all the years that I have been here (14 now) we have only have 2 guests contract malaria during their stay and they were both on the prophylactic larium . Of course they were fine after treatment. We residents tend to get a bit slack about going home to change into long trousers, spaying etc. And the time when we do get malaria is when we have valley parties and are up till the wee hours of the morning unprotected. However, our guests are more vigilant and do not often end up at 3 a.m. dancing on the bar! Jeffery is getting better and will be fine in a few days (just in time to go to Australia for a friend’s wedding).

We have been rebuilding the bedrooms at Nkwali and they are nearly complete. Well I say that – to be honest I would imagine that you would all be horrified to see the rooms 8 days before opening but I have learnt over the years NOT to panic when I see building sites in the centre of camp near opening dates.

Using the same roofs, we have managed to increase the rooms considerably and have changed the style. Wavy walls, huge open window at the front, paths behind the rooms, and the design will be Rothko! Who, what, many of you will say (or maybe you are all modern art enthusiasts)? Basically colour without form, expansive and uncluttered.(Note the website pic does not have this as the material is still to be painted!). Take a look – it is a wonderful change. I simply love the new rooms.

At lunch, knowing that I was going to write this, I asked about what has been happening! Well no one here has been around for more than a few days. Kevin however, did go out with various valley residents on Saturday for a few! So I will give you Valley sightings rather than RPS sightings.

An aardvark is a rare sighting – but watching 9 lions dig one out of a burrow is very rare. This was seen on a night drive, near the Mfuwe bridge.

Of course the lions killed the aardvark who really had no chance.

The next day the same guests saw a pack of wild dog (number unknown) on Lupunga spur. They chased a herd of impala and managed to catch one. Every April/May we have excellent sightings of the wild dog – often on Lupunga spur. And we are delighted to hear that they are back again.

The river is low low low for mid March and Robin is planning to try and drive in to Tena Tena on Wednesday. That will certainly be an adventure and the possibility of a night sleeping in the middle of the Mutunda Plain is high. We shall see. There is still some rain storms around and a few years ago when the conditions were the same he was caught on the wrong side of a flash flood, with only a can of baked beans for supper.

So have a great week. For most of you (northern hemisphere) spring is in the air – certainly the cherry blossom was wonderful in England last week and the lambs were running around the fields. A lovely time of the year.

Take care

It’s Monday 25th and it was Pilchards

Jeffery has recovered from the malaria and is now packing to go off to Australia for a friend’s wedding so you have me for a few weeks now. I am sitting here with a Monday morning feeling (well hangover is a better word) after a lovely picnic in the park yesterday afternoon.

Picnic in the gladesIt was a friend’s birthday (26 – can you believe it) and she had invited us to a picnic (that was the radio message we received). After spending the morning unpacking (I still had not unpacked from my return from South Africa in February!), Robin and I, with an onion tart and wine in hand, drove off the mushroom loop in the park to meet everyone. We thought it was going to be a picnic and had our red masai cloths to sit on. What a surprise – as we arrived at the ebony grove we saw a large table, white table cloth and wine glasses laid out. A buffet table was laid with a wonderful lunch and the guests were sitting under a huge ebony drinking home made bloody marys. Very decadent. We had a lovely afternoon and admittedly a rather boozy one. The water melon soaked in vodka was a excellent end to the meal and it was passed around all afternoon. As the light started to fade, a troop of baboons came down to the grove to prepare for the night and were rather surprised by the scene. It turns out they are not to interested in the shell of vodka soaked watermelon – but a interesting experiment anyway!

This is the time of year of residents getting together and there have been sundowners most nights. Once the season really kicks in everyone is too busy. And Simon had an amazing sundowner the other day, with 5 wild dog. There seems to be 2 different packs around at the moment – one of 5 in the Mfuwe area and another of 11 further south. Hopefully they will, as normal, stay for April/May and give our guests great viewing. We have also seen our first leopard of the season, across from the bar on the other side of the river.

Robin is always phoning the met department in Lusaka to find out about the weather. The big question here last week is “have the rains finished”. The met guys said they were not sure and they were not prepared to commit until after the equinox. This often brings a change of weather. And it did. The blue skies clouded over and we had grey skies and lots of light showers. So Robin opted out of the “drive to Tena Tena” plan and boated up instead. Sensible as the light rain continued. He had a wonderful day and I was only sorry that I was tied up in the office and could not go with him. Boating up river to the camps is always one of the highlights of the rainy season. He took our new digital camera so that he could show me the state of the camps.

Boating on the LuangwaGreat little machine. We have not lost much bank at Tena Tena and the mahogany tree is still standing, admittedly on the edge now! On his return, when approaching the main Mfuwe bridge at 3 in the afternoon, he was most surprised to see a lion and lioness casually sauntering across the bridge, returning to the park. We had quite a few jokes about the lions looking at the time, saying “well darling, time for the gameviewing, we better get back into the park for the afternoon session!”

And so after a few weeks of the river dropping it is rising considerably again. Apparently there is lots of rain in the north. I am delighted as I love the April boat rides with the guests.

The team has been busy, busy at Nkwali and, I say again, – you would not believe that we are opening in 3 days. But I am assured that all is on track!

Until next week, take care, and remember to pick some daisies

PS – thank you to Jane for correcting me on last week – Robin had a tin of pilchards and not baked beans with him when stranded by a flash flood before. Well remembered!

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