It’s Monday 26th July 2010 and Robin Pope tells us the story

As our May and June safaris on the Liuwa Plains slide into that delicious after flavour of memories, together go the endless grasslands fast turning brown with the season. Herds of wildebeest are now starting to move to the west and north. Spiralling flights of white pelicans over the pans and lagoons. And the first hints of bushfires.

Our vehicles were carefully packed for the journey of close to fifteen hundred kilometres from the Liuwa to Nkwali in the Luangwa. A number of our staff embark onto an aircraft in Kalabo whilst our small team undertook the last major water journey across the Zambezi flood plain this passed uneventfully although a little Huckleberry Finnish with our vehicles being loaded onto a barge used for carrying cattle from Kalabo to Mongu across fifty kilometres and twelve hours of the Zambezi flood plain. We had to reverse them off the barge at night by the light of one of the Mongu taxis. It was and is for us a Kuomboka of sorts more especially as it is part of our greater move back to the valley for the dry season and till this movement is reversed again in November.

The Kuomboka is a well known ceremony in Western province in which  the King and his family and retinue move in response to the seasonal flooding of the Zambezi from his Palace at Lelui to his dry season Palace at Limalunga. This normally takes place in March or April with great celebration and rejoicing.

The valley is soon to celebrate the Malaila Ceremony hosted by the Kunda people which are a colourful affair with some of the best drumming and dancing in Eastern Province and often the participation of the Nyau dancers and the Chewa, Senga and Angoni from the high country.

As one emerges from the Mopani forest on the 05 road, the view across the Lundu and Chifungwe Plains with the backdrop of the Muchinga Escarpment from the big Baobab is always like the slow drawing of curtains before a show. For the first time in all the visits to this remarkable place, a cow elephant and her two calves were underneath this huge tree, strangely similar colours and textures.

The custodians of this tree “three large extrusive bee hives” were well behaved and we were able to enter the chamber in the centre of the trunk. The chamber which one climbs into hosted a good amount of bones of squirrels, bats and Barn owl feathers. The circumference of the tree at the base close to twenty four meters.

Four nights to submerge in this wild country with a clear water river running through it and limited by ones feet and stomach. For this mobile safari, and for those who have experienced this country, I decided to use camp sites one, two and four along the Mupamadzi River.  One of the hills close to camp have amazing amounts of petrified wood pieces, dating back to 190 million years! I have never found a bone fossil in this area but they do occur a little further north in the Munyamazi corridor and a Gorgianopsian was excavated there in the 1960’s. From one of these hills the dust of a large herd of buffalo could be seen as they moved away in response to our wind.  Early in the morning lots of sign of elephant, and a mass of their tracks close to an isolated pool eroded into the sandstone in the side of a dry riverbed. These tracks were over laid by fresh tracks of a number of Lion. One set of elephant tracks was of a tiny calf, its oval rear track not much more than nine inches in length this set of tiny tracks surrounded by a large number of much larger members of the family. The largest measurement of a round front track I have ever seen was close to camp three with a diameter of 21 inches!

The white Impala, now close to six years old was up against the river and circled around us with the rest of the herd.  No signs of other white impala although she must have had offspring. When I see her it’s like unexpected meeting a good friend.

Between camps two and four a hiss from Jonathan (the field assistant and tea bearer) very close, two Roan antelope were trying to make out what we were from the incredibly short distance of fifty yards or so.  A fringe of long (elephant grass) grass enabled us to edge a little closer. The Roan moved away without spooking and we circled round and were able to see them re emerge on the banks of the river looking for a suitable drinking spot. The animals were both female and were quite dithery possibly due to the baboon troop who were busy playing touch rugby on the grassy terrace. Sometime later and as we were about to settle down for a very welcome and overdue mid morning tea, a single Cookson’s Wildebeest bull emerged in the company of another herd of ten Roan which was a bit of a triumph as this was the most Roan I had experienced at any one time in this area on foot, the only other area with more has been on the Nyika Plateau in the high country. The wildebeest, icing on the cake (muffins actually) as it were they, are more difficult to come across this early in the season. A sub specie but a very different animal from the Blue wildebeest of the Liuwa. Much more grey with strawberry roan hindquarters and marked brindle on the neck (rather a good pun over the colour of the hindquarters).

An elephant emerged through some Acacia trees in that strange way almost from nowhere. The light was fading quickly and he tested the wind carefully for some time before moving away not far from camp four. Seven figures silently watching him as he took his time analysing the late evening breeze and listening carefully to the bush around him, a giant amongst the forest folk!

Walking over lion tracks on the path to camp with palm trees silhouette against the blue escarpment and sunset…

On the drive back to the river crossing and Nkwali the bush colours changing to yellow as our autumn colours deepen in what is actually our spring. This is always a bit confusing but bought on by the emerging dry season. Sighting after sighting of hartebeest proved a very nice total of sixteen by the end of this journey and an astronomical number of warthog which rounded our hearts…

Have a lovely week.

Robin.

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