It’s November 2001 and …


It’s Monday 5th and the bush wedding

“Pulling down the camps” is a common phrase being muttered by all at the moment! The last guests for the season at Nsefu and Tena Tena departed for the airport on Saturday afternoon and ever since then camp staff have been busy sending perishable foods to Nkwali, packing up everything in sight, pulling down tents and thatching….all in much haste as the stormy clouds way in the distance take an uncertain stand-off. The past week has seen a bit of early drenching in the Nsefu sector so it is not before time that everything is closed up and put into storage. For many of course it is all rather sad – time for reflection over a seriously outstanding season and for seasonal staff, preparing to wrench oneself away and back to the ‘real world’!

Storks

With the change of season almost upon us we are beginning to see old migratory friends return from afar. On the sand bank opposite Nkwali I looked out at sunset and saw an enormous flock of abdim’s stork recovering after a long flight from Europe. They all looked rather exhausted (jet lag!) and soon settled into the branches of a huge tree for the night. We are also beginning to hear the familiar calling of the emerald cuckoo. It starts to sing what sounds like “Hello Georgie” over and over and over and OVER again….in fact it is so repetitive over the rains leading those of us who are here throughout to think about booking some serious therapy treatment!

The wedding week…what a success! A brilliant way to end the peak season for all the staff and, by the looks on the faces of all the guests, a special moment in their lives not to be forgotten. It was a week of champagne, gameviewing, relaxing and lots of fun. The day before the wedding at Tena Tena, guests had just returned from special sundowners and could hear the wedding choir practicing. Right on queue a lion pride killed a puku behind camp. The sounds of Africa!!! Through the evening, from her bedroom, Corinna could hear the lion crunching on bones!

First sundowners

Wedding day dawned and it was a hot one! It was easy to tell that this was not to be a normal wedding when, just outside the ebony grove, you could see vehicles all over the place parked off the road under shade with guests busily changing from t-shirt and shorts to more formal attire. Hair and makeup were behind some bushes, whilst the changing rooms were behind a vehicle! The ebony grove was a beautiful scene with the comical Reverend Daka seated at the head of proceedings, under a large canopy of ebony trees. With a beautiful light shining through the tree branches above, you could see that Karen and David had chosen a very special place in which to tie the knot.

"In the church"

Reverend Daka from Chipata introduced a lively and hilarious ceremony. From the moment he told the congregation how he was so overjoyed and that his career was now complete because he had finally been asked to officiate at a muzungu (white person) wedding, he provided much laughter and possibly a little nervousness from the bride and groom due to the uncertainty of what he would come up with next! Telling a story about a previous wedding ceremony where the groom lifted the veil to reveal the bride, only to reveal that she was “not the one”, he insisted that David in fact lifted Karen’s veil to be certain (and for all of us to be quite sure) that she was in fact the one he had asked to marry him!!

There was singing and dancing from the Robin Pope Safaris Choir – all very lively. The signing of the marriage certificate was perhaps the most entertaining moment. It took about 20 minutes to complete the process with what appeared to be various forms being produced and document signatories being asked to come back and forth to sign something extra. David appeared confused about answering the question as to “what tribe” he came from….I think his answer was London! The most difficult answer was “what is the price of the bride”!! After much scratching of heads, blank looks from Karen & David and a suggestion of “two buffalo” from the audience David finally decided, and Karen’s father agreed, on one million kwacha and two goats!!! The bride always comes at a price in Zambia and it is all quite normal! So at the reception later that night David managed to scrounge together one million kwacha for Karen’s father but unfortunately no goats were lead up to the head table!

Lunch at Tena Tena

The reception was rather large…and was rather late for most in attendance. So the perfect way to get through the day after was a curry lunch at Tena Tena. About 60 people attended what Jo described as a very relaxing afternoon. Huge quantities of food, rugs and cushions everywhere, a wading pool for the kids and many groups of people just lazing about. Nobody moved much but it was all very civilized…like a big family picnic. The final farewell sundowners on Friday included a mud bath on a hippo trail down an embankment….after which David and Karen were totally covered, from head to foot, caked in glorious mud! So it was all very dirty right from the start of their marriage!!! For another couple who were guests at the wedding the entire experience prompted a romantic outburst – waiting at the airport for their departure on Saturday, they were heard to announce their own engagement!! The saga continues!

As we all recover from a particularly lively week, take care and bye for now!
Jeffrey

It’s Monday 12th and we’ve survived

Trusting this finds everyone well. Temperatures here continue to stay high and no proper rain yet to cool things down. One can only dream of the “smell of rain” – for all those of you who have experienced a rainy season or been on holiday late October with us when the odd shower occurred, I’m sure you can appreciate that afternoon 3.30 p.m humidity then the whiff of rain then the wind then the downpour! Oh to breathe again……. I jest – its not that bad!!!

Another season comes to a close already and this week saw the annual migration of staff from our camps. Tena and Nsefu closed on the 3rd of November. It was rather busy behind the scenes for a few days while everyone did the last of the packing and tidying up of paperwork. However there was a strange occurrence, Robin decided to start Camp Building!!!! What I hear you say!! Well OK, we’re talking minor modifications and renovations in preparation for next year. His energy is exhausting. Howver, he tells me that he is rewarding himself with a trout fishing trip to Nyika this week to relax in the beautiful mountain streams. Happy fishing Robin!!!

Noodles, Jason, Corinna, Simon and Shanie all headed off to Lake Malawi to relax and unwind after the season, Jeffrey set off for his first ever visit to the UK for the World Travel Show to assist Jo, Andrew the pilot left for Joburg, Wendy returned to Zim. We are sad to see them go but most will be back next year. Who’s left, well Mathew, Louise and Sara are in the office with Keyala, Zebron, Paul, Marcus and Zoe front of house and guiding.

Nkwali has continued to have good game sightings with lion cubs and lions on a kill. Just to keep us on our toes, the elephants have taken to visiting camp in the wee hours and raiding the vegetable store. We woke up this morning to find they had taken the thatch off the roof and eaten whatever they could reach! This is the second time in as many days so we are looking at a more elephant proof place to store the fruit and veggies. However, Zoe is taking it all in her stride and is busy “making a plan”.

Thanks everyone for your support through the season. As you can see It’s Monday is somewhat depleted in Jeffrey’s absence and we look forward to his return on the 22nd November!!

It’s Monday 19th and the nesting flycatcher

Hope this finds you well and that you have had a good weekend. Jeffrey will have a full report on his impressions of London when he returns to take the It’s Monday hot seat next week. In the meantime, it is still quiet around the RPS office – amazing how much work can be done with no-one to talk to!! However, we are being entertained by an Ashy flycatcher (or bluegrey flycatcher) nesting in a hole in the Onconba Spinosa (or Wild Rose or Fried Egg tree) right in front of the office. She is sitting on 3 beautiful eggs – aquamarine in colour with specks of brown. We are busy keeping kitty away and also looking out for the spotted bush snake who hangs around this area. She seems very relaxed with our continued observations of her. Will let you know when the eggs hatch…

Nkwali has continued with good game sightings, including a wild dog sighting. Keyala and his guests were lucky to find 5 wild dogs drinking at the Old Mfuwe Lagoon. They watched them for a while then the dogs were chased away by a herd of zebra. The dogs ran off to seek refuge in the shade of a leadwood tree some 100m away.

Wild dogs aren’t the only ones seeking refuge from the sun, we have all been seeking out cool places this week while we watch the storm clouds build and wait for rain. The warm weather hasn’t dampened the guests enthusiasm though with lots of people opting for all day drives and picnics! We have had some wonderful electric storms but are still waiting for the rain to fall….

Zoe and Keyala have valiantly given up their office to the vegetables. We have decided the safest place for the fruit and veggies is in the glass windowed office. At least until our new store is built and the elephants have forgotten about the delicious treats inside..

Cheers and have a good week
The RPS team.

It’s Monday 26th and return of the Angola Pitta

I hope you are all well and enjoying the start of the silly season – those endless rounds of Christmas parties surely must have commenced by now!

Yes, I’ve just returned from my first experience of the UK and now my poor body is adjusting from freezing temperatures and sunless days (well 10 degrees Celsius is freezing in my opinion!) to soaring heat, humidity and piercing sun! I still don’t know whether I’m coming or going!! However the sights and sounds of familiar wildlife has calmed me down considerably after that urban jungle experience! Whilst in ol’ Blighty and when not at World Travel Market (WTM) I was a terrible tourist but managed to pack in a lot of action in little time – endless rounds of catching up with friends in cafes, bars, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants (yumm!), coffee in the member’s bar of the Tate Modern (of course), a quick drive past Buckingham Palace (that was enough!), catching the wrong line on the tube once too often and chatting to the locals including a lovely, distinguished 87 year old woman outside Selfridges who was dressed from head to toe in a fake zebra skin fur coat (with matching shoes and hat) who had come to town for Remembrance Day! Far too much fun for a country boy!

On a more serious note, the work side of the trip was very positive. Quite understandably the entire travel industry is in upheaval due to current international events and, according to many regulars in the industry who attend WTM, numbers were down on previous years. However Jo and I were much relieved, after four days of meetings with many people in the African tourism industry, to find that southern and eastern Africa is seen as a safe and popular destination. We were extremely busy with appointments during WTM (Jo hardly stopped to draw breath!) and were very encouraged by the big show of support from everybody for Zambia and for RPS in particular. Thanks to everybody for your support – next year is looking very promising! For me it was brilliant to finally put faces to names to all of the Africa specialists I correspond with. Many thanks must also go to the Zambian High Commission for a very lively and well attended promotional night held at their London premises during WTM.

Back in the South Luangwa it is indeed rather quiet around the office – my return saw Sara and Matthew’s departure to South Africa for a short break. Shanie, Simon, Noodles, Jason & Corinna have just finished a wonderful holiday on Lake Malawi. Whilst the others have departed for the season, Shanie and Simon return to Nkwali at the end of the week. Shanie tells me that she has been busy in Durban purchasing lots of goodies for our Christmas celebrations – I can hardly wait! Robin has returned to Lusaka from an extremely restful holiday with family. He telephoned this morning having just enjoyed some time on Lake Malawi followed by a visit to Nyika, his favourite retreat. Robin said that they went horseriding, walking, looked at the mountain flowers and took some gamedrives. Amazingly he found some fresh lion tracks – not often seen up in Nyika!

In camp, it might be quiet in the office but guests have enjoyed some fantastic gameviewing. Simon will be extremely jealous to hear that we have had TWO sightings of the rare Angola Pitta just outside the workshop at camp this week! Keyela spotted the bird first then Marcus found it on the ground the following day. It then flew up into a tree where he observed it for a little longer. The sighting location was the same spot at which this bird was found last rains – and they are never seen for long. Last year it made an appearance for about one week then continued on its way, not to be seen again until now!

As I type, the nesting Ashy flycatcher can be seen perched on its nest…its little head peeking out of the hole in the tree trunk. I’ve also enjoyed watching it coming to and fro but have been not so keen to take a closer look just yet. I will certainly do so soon and will let you know if the chicks have hatched.

Two other interesting sightings this week….reports of a female impala with HORNS in the area! Marcus wants to ‘verify’ it for himself before he makes the official declaration – hopefully I will confirm or retract next week! Also a two year old baby elephant alone walking along the riverbank opposite camp yesterday. It appears to have lost its mother and was wondering back and forth searching for her. The baby has not been seen today so I hope that they have been reunited!

The rains are yet to provide us with one truly ground-soaking downpour – which is great for road and building maintenance work! The one thing that struck me on my return to the Valley is that all the mopane areas are now sprouting new bright green leaves and the ground is becoming a soft green colour – germinating grasses and seasonal plants, lovely! However the river is still very low and the ground is rather dry. Soon it will all change – hopefully by next week!

On that note, have a fantastic week ahead!
Regards
Jeffrey

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