It’s May 2002 and …

It’s Monday 6th and chocolate aliens

You will be pleased to know that Kevin and his team of bridge-builders managed to successfully finish their mission at the Kauluzi River last week and now our Tena Tena and Nsefu camp building program is well under way…without any vehicles getting stuck in the river and hampering the process! Gameviewing at Tena Tena leapt into action well before camp opening with Daudi’s report of a middle-of-the-night lion kill RIGHT in camp, and rather inconveniently between Daudi’s tent and the toilet block! A puku was killed by a small pride and the grizzly sounds kept all the campbuilders wide awake for several hours. Poor Daudi was stranded in his tent, unable to pay the toilet block a quick visit!! An outstanding (if not inconvenient) start to the Tena Tena season!

Shanie’s parents departed Nkwali the other day having recorded 173 sightings of different species of bird…in one week!! Amoungst others they saw twinspot widowfinch, purblebanded sunbird, cut-throat finch and an Ayres eagle. For these birding enthusiasts, their safari could not have been better and they were quite pleased with themselves to have such a high bird sighting tally. This week has also seen most guests our walking at every opportunity – the ground is quite dry now so areas available for treading on foot are opening up very quickly. In fact so many requests for walking that we have had to bring in another scout to cope with the demand! I’m not surprised of course – the mornings are so beautiful that you do just want to get out of your chalet at sunrise and go for a lovely long walk in the bush!

Apart from the birding and walking we have enjoyed excellent lion sightings this week. Most drives have encountered lion lately and one of the most interesting was a sighting by Simon and guests out on the Chichele plains. Six females from the Chichele pride had recently killed an impala. The interesting thing about it was that the pride and their kill were down in a waterlogged gully. It was as though the lion were hiding in the gully and that was how they snatched the unknowing impala! These gullies around the Park still contain lots of very muddy water…and the pride with impala kill resembled alien figures dipped in chocolate! The mud was just dripping off the lion and the kill….you couldn’t see any animal fur or flesh except for the big yellow eyes of the lion as they devoured the impala. Quite spooky!!

Some of you might remember Ross Cumming, an experienced safari guide from Malawi, who joined Nsefu in October last year to familiarise himself with the RPS way. He is joining RPS this year as a guide, but before he can take any guests on a drive he first has to successfully complete his Zambian guiding exams which commence today! He’s been studying hard over the past few weeks and yesterday Jo and Simon took him out on a mock-examination gamedrive. During the drive, behind Nkwali camp on Robin’s private land, they saw six species of mammal in one sighting! They saw giraffe, zebra, elephant, baboon, puku and impala….and thankfully Ross could successfully name them all!!! Ross has been a busy boy so far this year…during the rains he followed Jo’s footsteps by heading to Port Elizabeth in South Africa where he successfully studied for and obtained his air pilot’s PPL….in other words he is now also a qualified pilot!! At last Jo has somebody to talk to meaningfully (and sometimes at great length in The Cage during staff meals!!!) about aviation!!

The elies have returned to Nkwali with 3 big bulls wondering through each day and night plus a breeding herd came up to the lagoon 2 mornings ago. I often hear the sounds of the bulls moving through camp late at night but last night I slept through it. Now, as I sit typing away, there is a very fresh pile of elephant dung just outside my office window. Oh how lovely it is to breath in that fresh whiff of the African bush in the morning!

It appears to be Mother’s Month with Shanie’s and now Matthew’s mum, Chris, visiting from Brisbane. It is lovely to see the General Manager on his best behaviour at the moment!! I think Chris is happy now that she can see for herself what her son is up to in Zambia and for all of us a reminder of the joy of a first-ever visit to Africa. Her eyes were like golf balls last night after she returned from a drive through the Park, seeing lion, elephant, impala and others for the very first time. Something she won’t ever forget!

Have a wonderful week.

Cheers from all at RPS.

It’s Monday 13th and What A Flock

With Jo and Jeffrey hard at it at Indaba in Durban this week, I have the pleasure of penning this week’s epistle from the Bush and trust this finds you well. Here goes..

Camp Building has been cranked up a notch or two in the last few days in readiness for Nsefu and Tena’s openings. It never ceases to amaze me, the collective effort involved on an annual basis in getting these camps to a position where they are ready to accept guests. I am somewhat perplexed also, at the quantities of various camp building materials required. It is a little known fact that we employ 3,000 – 4,000 bundles of some 4 different types of grass in Tena’s construction each year, Numbu grass for the ceilings, Kasense for the roofthatch proper, Nyamalokoto for the grass walls and Matete reeds for the bathrooms.

At time of procurement, the quantities of grasses are all confirmed by a highly sophisticated unit of measurement called a Bundle. Roughly translated by placing the fingers and thumbs of each hand together to form a ring, this measurement unit (as yet not ratified by the EU as an international standard) sadly is open to some misinterpretation and much good natured haggling thus ensues while hand sizes are compared and it is decided how big a Bundle should actually be!

Talking of grasses, can I talk about Queleas for a moment. You see, I have a bit of a thing about Queleas. Singularly, the Red Billed Quelea is the quintessential LBJ (Little Brown Jobby). Now for fear of offending the Quelea aficionado out there, one might even compelled to describe this small bird as… what’s the word, dull?? Akin to a small sparrow with their only redeeming feature being a bright red bill, they might fail to inspire one to poetry or a quick watercolour but get these tiny guys together for a bit of a do and now we’re talking!!

With all the plains grasses seeding furiously at the moment, Queleas, highly gregarious at the best of times have now gone into a bit of a frenzy. We were out on a drive last week and had stopped to admire some young Waterbuck when a tell tale chirruping could be heard in the distance. We drove further along the road and came to an open dambo area where on either side of the track, literally tens of thousands of Queleas were avidly feeding on the grasses, simultaneously taking to the air, doing a few collective barrel rolls so as to take the concept of synchronized flight to new exalted highs, then touching onto a few watered areas to drink only to repeat the process. Like an enormous shoal of sardines, I just can’t figure which one amongst them first decides when and where to turn? We sat quite awestruck for half an hour amidst all this while they went about their feeding, gently buffetted by the change in air pressure their thousands of wings produce and silenced by their screeching. A delight.

Of things more mechanical, I am pleased to advise that the installation of the Nkwali Pontoon is all but complete. We hope to commission this by the end of this week thus enabling our guests the more enjoyable and efficient access to the southern end of the park.

Until Jeffrey picks up the reins, have a good week


It’s Monday 20th and tasty binoculars

Hello from sunny Nkwali!

Well, I’ve returned sunkissed and relaxed from Indaba. Well….not quite, but it sounded good for the beginning of this week’s newsletter! Every May the South African city of Durban hosts Indaba, a major Southern African tourism and travel expo for the trade, and like WTM in London it is a major opportunity for us safari operators to promote ourselves and entice more agents to sell our product! It is a lot of work over four days and Jo and I were kept rather busy from beginning to end. It did, however, provide me with the opportunity to stay by the ocean and have a swim (not until the last day mind you! Jo was up early every morning to throw herself into the Indian Ocean whilst I took the opportunity to sleep a little later), taste the delights of various cuisines that are not represented by restaurants in the greater Mfuwe area (surprise surprise!) such as Japanese, Indian, Thai and Chinese, and have one or two Mosi at the Zambian Stand’s drinks party at the end of day 3 of Indaba (it proved to be a huge hit with many cans of Mosi being handed out for several hours). So it was a very busy, productive and sociable week but it’s so wonderful to be back in the Valley again!

And what a delight to return home and see a beautiful female leopard enjoying a snooze on the sunny sandbank opposite Nkwali yesterday! She was quite happily resting for several hours, to the enjoyment of guests and staff alike who peered through the telescope for a close-up view. Suddenly the serenity of the afternoon was shattered when a nasty big crocodile tried to snatch the sleeping leopard! The croc lurched out of the water and ran towards her. The kafuffle ended quickly with the leopard leaping up and over the riverbank to safety. She was not very impressed with the crocodile’s impolite disruption to her sleepy afternoon! Everybody at the Nkwali bar were, on the contrary, mightily impressed to witness such a show. One of our guests had just arrived moments earlier from the airport and, this being a first visit to Africa, was rather chuffed to see a leopard under such circumstances on the first day!

Robin has spent a few days this past week up at Tena Tena to help with the camp building. As with Matthew and Sara a few weeks ago, he was also woken by the sounds of snoring elephants in the night! He could hear what sounded like a large group of elephant feeding around his house. One slept quite close by for several hours, snoring and grunting all the while. Robin said that he could hear the elephant take a breath every five seconds! At about 5am there was a lot of grumbling, a call was made and the herd moved away.
Robin thinks there were about 20 of them! Further activity at Tena Tena includes the sight of a large buffalo herd moving through the bush and lion calling near the Kauluzi River.

Back at Nkwali Matthew and Sara awoke to unusual nocturnal sounds last night. It was the sound of a hyena chomping its way happily through Matthew’s pride and joy, a rather expensive pair of binoculars! By the time they got up to take a look the hyena had broken a lot of the outside casing off but fortunately the lens is still intact. Earlier in the evening Matthew and Sara went exploring, in search of two giant eagle owls who were calling to each other. After enjoying a drink outside they retired for the evening but forgot to bring the binos inside with them. Matthew has just written a letter to the manufacturers asking whether the insurance coverage on his binoculars extends to damage received by a blunt hyena!

Whilst Matthew and Sara were in search of the giant eagle owls last night the rest of us spotted a serrated hinged terrapin moving rather quickly across the lawn. It was moving as fast as a terrapin can, lurching over the grass from the lagoon behind the dining room directly towards the river.
Obviously it wanted a change of scenery..or it was going to offer itself to the crocodiles for dinner! It was quite large and looked like a giant beetle with elongated head against the light of the dining room!

An update on Karen Cousins’ fundraising efforts for RATS (Rapid Action Team)…Karen has just reported that she is STILL receiving donations (and most of them are from anonymous donors) as a result of her participation in the London Marathon. Again, we would very much like to thank everybody who has donated to this very worthy cause. Karen would particularly like to send big thanks to all those people who she cannot identify and thank personally for sending through these further donations!

Take care and have a wonderful week!

It’s Monday 27th and Nsefu opens!

Nsefu Camp opened officially on Friday for the season – yippee!! The camp is looking spectacular and ready for what we hope will be another great season of gameviewing. It certainly looks that way with superb sightings during the first few gamedrives. Two leopard sighting in three days – not a bad start! On one night drive our first guests saw a spotted eagle owl, a Pel’s fishing owl and a leopard in the Nsefu sector. And, as if to herald in the new season and acknowledge the return of all camp staff, a rather large male lion walked past the bar on pre-opening night whilst all the staff were assembled! He was about 50 metres away – and he walked very casually by in the dark. So far Nsefu is upholding its name for close encounters!!!

I’m very pleased to announce the Nsefu 2002 team. Jason Gifford returns as camp manager. Yes, he’s had higher responsibility thrust upon, this being his fifth season with RPS. Jason’s many years of experience at Nsefu and Tena Tena have certainly prepared him well for the role. He arrived at Nsefu on Thursday..the day before camp opening! It took a bit longer than that to get Nsefu ready for first guests however!! Jason wasn’t shirking responsibility from the start, his arrival was held up… waiting in Johannesburg under doctor’s orders. Poor Jason had a skin cancer scare on his left eyelid only a month before he was due to return to the Valley.
Happily doctors were able to completely remove the affected tissue which was just on the tip of his eyelid. It did require a bit of rather drastic cutting of skin followed by transplantation of more skin from areas around his armpit to ‘recreate’ a part of his face! It is with some sarcastic pleasure that I can say publicly that Jason has met with a plastic surgeon before anyone else has at RPS!!

Enough of Jason’s facial improvements! Back to Nsefu and the safari guiding department is strongly represented this year. Jason is backed up by one of our most enthusiastic and spirited of guides, Mr Jacob Shawa. This will be Jacob’s fourth season with us. He is famous for the huge amount of knowledge he has stored away and is only too happy to be bouncing around the Park sharing it all with his guests. Paul Ngoma guided at Nkwali last year and will be based at Nsefu from this year. Paul has also many years behind him as a guide in the Valley.Buffy
Last but not least I introduce Ms Buffy Rucker, Nsefu caterer. Buffy is a terribly efficient and organised individual and on the first day she certainly smacked Jason into line.. so I wonder who’s the boss then??! Her resume is very interesting reading. With many years in the film and photography industry, Buffy specialised as a location manager around the world and on many projects including TV commercials and drama, feature films and stills photography. She also spent four years with Royal Doulton as Design Manager and then Art Director for Tableware & Collectables, managing studios and an army of staff. With such a background Jo warmed to her immediately and now she’s up at Nsefu sorting everyone out!

Simon spent a few days up at Nsefu over opening week and he has no doubt about her abilities. The fact that she is known to the fabulous Miss Sally Gordon, last year’s mobile caterer extroardinaire, is not to be sniffed at – in the kitchen Buffy certainly knows how to chop an onion!

The Nsefu sector is just lovely at the moment – the bush is still green, the lagoons are full and teeming with life. Game is starting to concentrate already – Simon saw a few buffalo herds over the past couple of days. Nkwali has had excellent lion sightings this week with the Chichele pride very active. Over the past two days they killed two zebra and on both occasions were seen feeding on the carcass. Some of our guests had a truly bone-chilling but TOTALLY exciting experience recently when they came across a pride of 5 lion. They all gave out a territorial pride call in unison!
The sounds filled the air – you could simply feel it – and made the gameviewing vehicle vibrate with the calling intensity! How brilliant!!

And lastly, we are very happy to report that the Nkwali pontoon is operating again! The river level has now reached a suitable level for the pontoon to operate and so far guests have both marveled at and thoroughly enjoyed the experience of crossing the river by pontoon. Jo and Robin celebrated the occasion by enjoying sundowners on the pontoon with Robin’s brother Adam and his wife Clare, who were visiting from Lusaka. What a way to welcome in the pontoon – with wine in hand, a blood-red sunset and a bright bright full moon rising. Perfect!!

And on that note, cheers!

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