It’s November 2002 and …

 

It’s Monday 4th and pregnant impala

Well, what a lovely FRESH Monday morning it is today…no headaches like last week!! The first week of November always feels like a new start (of sorts) with Tena Tena and Nsefu closing for the year and the promise of change in the air. Truckloads of items from Nsefu & Tena Tena are brought down to the main store room at Nkwali for safe keeping during the rains, the senior staff run about stocktaking, recording items and generally making sure that unpacking next year runs as smoothly as possible!

Storm cloudsAnd then we all get together for one last time before seasonal staff from Nsefu & Tena Tena depart for various corners of the planet…until next year! In the meantime a noticeable increase in humidity and the arrival of big stormy-looking clouds in the late afternoon signal the end of the dry season. It is almost like clockwork this year – October was dry, November is humid!! We are all looking forward to jumping around in the first downpour of the rainy season…it cannot be too far away because other areas of Zambia have had some good rains already.

The river level is so low now that you could wade across in water up to your ankles in a lot of places (not that you would, of course!). Other tell-tale signs of the end of the dry season…the first sightings of baby impala!!

Only one or two have been seen so far but there are a lot of heavily pregnant females out there – not long to go now! I also saw a baby crocodile in the river last night…a common sight at this time of year. The mopane trees are sprouting bright green all over the place so very beautiful indeed. Apart from that the ground is bone dry and all the animals are concentrating so much more in the areas of food and water that remain.

Corinna (Tena Tena 2001) and friends returned from lots of water skiing on Lake Malawi with Simon & Shanie last week to spend the last few nights of the dry season at Nsefu. Corinna noted that pregnant impala are favoured by lion and leopard at the moment!! Sparing the gory details, the troops up at Nsefu saw a lion kill and a separate leopard kill both with pregnant impala as prey. In the night with the lights off, the only sound that could be heard was the lion munching on bones!! Robin reported that during the packing up of Tena Tena, after the electric fence had been pulled down, the wildlife reclaimed the area very quickly. He found himself walking around puku who moved into camp in large numbers plus the odd hippo at night. During the afternoon he watched a pride of lion hunting on the island opposite camp (3 adults and 4 cubs). The cubs sat at one end and watched as the adults moved back and forth along the island. They later moved off towards the Wafwa where they killed an eland.

Back near Nkwali and the night before Jo left for the UK…a group of us gathered for sundowners on the pontoon. Always a very peaceful and beautiful way to end the day…reminding ourselves how wonderful it is to be able to live here! There we were on the pontoon in the middle of the river facing south towards Chindeni Hills with the sun setting gloriously to the west. As if on cue (and almost every time we come here) two herds of elephant emerged from the bushes on the Park side and moved, single file, across the sand, into the river and out at the other side. There were lots of littlies playing in the water all the while.

Buffalos drinking

Alongside the elies another herd of about 100 buffalo came down to the water to drink. With a large pod of hippo in the same view and with perfect sunset lighting…this was a photographers dream! And only then did we notice two lion far off in the distance..sitting on the sand closely watching the buffalo. It was a charged atmosphere…whenever one buffalo walked too far off from the rest of the herd I honestly thought the lion would move in. But they remained there until after the buffalo went back into the bushes..and I’ve little doubt they could track and follow them if they wanted to!!

Yesterday I accompanied Shanie, Corinna & co on an afternoon gamedrive with Jacob (who has returned to Nkwali from Nsefu). On the opposite bank to Nkwali we came across 2 female lion and 2 beautiful cubs of about 6 to 8 months. They had just finished drinking at the river edge then climbed out of the water and sat on the edge of the riverbank to gaze out over the scene (another photographer’s dream!). Suddenly the cubs were up and growling, staring down at the water and looking as if they were about to plunge off the edge! With this the mothers were also up to take a look, letting out a deep growl and pushing the cubs to safety behind them. They had taken quite a shock to see a very large crocodile emerging from the water at just the spot they had only moments before been drinking at! The little cubs would not have stood a chance had they met the croc at the wrong moment! I think the lion were well aware of how lucky they were! We all cried relief for them too!! Everything is fine – this morning Simon saw the same pride with the littlies trying hard to climb a termite mound – very funny to watch!!

A nightjar

The excellent birding run continues with a pennant winged nightjar seen near Nkwali last night. And a chestnut bellied kingfisher was seen, a migrant arriving from the equator. A very impressive sight was that of a colony of Abdim’s stork who landed on the sandbank opposite Nkwali. They all looked rather exhausted having probably just arrived from North Africa!

A startling but nevertheless funny incident the other day….during a gamedrive Nkwali guest came across a rather large python hidden under some leaves. It was just over 3 metres long with a width of about 15cm!! Not something to ignore and continue driving! Keyala and troops got out to take a closer look and Vikki, one of our braver guests, touched its skin with her finger. Nobody expected a response but it suddenly lurched out towards her before slithering away! Vikki was on the bonnet of the vehicle by this point..and suddenly everyone were in shrieks of laughter!! And for those who don’t know, pythons are not venomous!!

So a great week at the start of the green season. And a day to celebrate too – happy birthday to Jo Pope!!!

Bye for now!
Jeffrey

It’s Monday 11th and Jacob’s sinking feeling

Before I launch into this past week’s antics in the Valley let’s quickly go to the UK and to quite another launch altogether… that of Jo & Robin’s “Safari Dreaming“.

Jo held two ‘book launch’ functions last week at the Royal Commonwealth Club in Trafalgar Square. The first (Tuesday) was for the “trade”..ie the Africa specialist agents who support RPS and various members of the press who have helped to promote us in the past. The general response was great. The second (Friday) saw lots of Jo’s family, friends, RPS family and many who have visited our camps over the years… in all over 150 people.

Almost as many books were sold that night along with some of the photos taken by the book’s photographer Paul Joynson-Hicks. It was a wonderfully successful evening and a brilliant debut for Safari Dreaming. I have no doubt it was also a great excuse for a “gathering of the clan” in quite different surroundings to the wilds of Zambia!

Noodles at Nsefu

This week Jo is busy with other marketing commitments such as World Travel Market in London, a large expo specifically for the travel industry. Jo has enlisted the help of various ex-RPS staff over the coming days to assist with her busy schedule. Many of you will remember Jo “Noodles” Eeles from Nsefu 2000 & 2001 who returned to London 12 months ago to start up her events catering business. Noodles volunteered to help at WTM… but she got the date and the venue wrong! She turned up one week early to the old venue in Earls Court… and wondered why there was a boat show on instead! Obviously after only 12 months the fast-paced city life is all to much for her!!

Back in the calm and quiet of the Luangwa Valley seasonal changes are well and truly in force. I’m happy to report that it is so much cooler now that we have had a reasonable amount of rain over the past week. Hot days have led to refreshing and dramatic late-afternoon thunderstorms with showers. Fortunately we have not suffered gale-force winds and torrential rains the likes of which we experienced two years ago this month, when half the bar roof slid off and a tree fell on the jag and crushed it flat!!

So far we have had light showers and refreshingly cool breezes so we have all been sleeping like babies at night. The results are only just beginning to show with little green shoots sprouting from the bare earth all over the place. The mopane trees are all bright green now – incredibly beautiful. The cicadas are in full throttle at the moment and as I drove into camp early this morning there were patchs along the Nkwali road where they were singing at almost ear-drum shattering level!! And the biggest surprise of all is that the RIVER LEVEL has risen almost overnight! Two days ago we could walk from the camp to the middle of the sandbank and now we cannot! Nature’s work is very quick!

Another example of quick work is that suddenly there are baby impala everywhere! They have all decided to drop at once, so now is a very rewarding time to go on a gamedrive!! Lots of oohing and aahing to be had!! Along with lots of babies we have had an exceptional week for lion sightings – they have been spotted all over the place, often with cubs. The cuckoos have also arrived in full force, including the great spotted cuckoo, the striped jacobin cuckoo, the red chested cuckoo and the ever-beloved emerald cuckoo.

I heard my first emerald cuckoo singing “Hello Georgie” yesterday morning!
So the rains, once they get underway, is perhaps the most exciting time of year to visit the Valley – we all just LOVE it!!

On the other side of the riverSome of our guests got more than they bargained for with Jacob the other day as they crossed the river by vehicle in front of Nkwali. It was late afternoon and the river level was at its lowest, so easy to navigate by vehicle. They had almost reached the other side when Jacob noticed newly hatched crocodiles swimming along the water’s edge. He stopped so they could take a closer look. They had unfortunately veered ever so slightly off the course for driving across the river and were just to the left of the normal river-exit point. The vehicle, Queenie, was sitting on soft sand. When Jacob decided to “put foot” to continue on, Queenie wouldn’t move. It was stuck in the river. This made for a very entertaining sight, watching from the camp, as Simon drove quickly out to save the day and winch them out of the river. It didn’t work.

The guests took it in their stride and hopped into a boat that Marcus came over with and took them back to Robin & Jo’s house and to another vehicle on much higher (and safer!) ground, continuing with their interrupted game drive!! In the meantime the RPS tractor was brought down across the river to the stranded Queenie. There were about 12 people ready to push. The winch was connected and when the tractor started to pull back it too looked like it was starting to sink. A few more attempts and suddenly there were cheers as Queenie was finally pulled out of the hole and lived to see another day, albeit she was covered in mud! Jacob learned a valuable lesson that day: to never stop a vehicle whilst located in a river!!

As it is in the Valley, I hope your week is refreshing and full of promise!

cheers
Jeffrey

It’s Monday 18th and cicada symphonies

We receive some interesting comments from time to time from readers of It’s Monday. One of the most bizarre co-incidences was told last week by one of our supporting agents in the UK. I copy it in part as follows:

“I read last Monday’s (4/11/02) newsletter. On Saturday we went to Twickenham to watch the England v New Zealand rugby match. Standing in the bar (as one does!) after the game I was introduced to some friends of friends.

After analysing the Great Win the conversation got onto other matters and one of the chaps mentioned he had just returned from Zambia with his wife and they had seen an amazing 10 foot python. I said I’d read about a guest at one of RPS camps touching a large python last week which promptly reared up and he said ‘That was us!’. Isn’t it a small world, it wasn’t as if it was an Africa or wildlife get together when we met – just complete chance, by my rough calculations it was about 1 in 360,000 million!”

Indeed, it is amazing how small this world is!! I’m sure Richard and Vicki, our recently visiting python enthusiasts, could hardly believe it!

Robin flew off to the UK on the weekend to meet up with Jo and spend some restful time with family. No doubt the cooler climate will require a bit of getting used to at first! Coming in the opposite direction this week are Shanie’s family (mum, dad and brother). The parents have been on an overland adventure first visiting Namibia before driving through to Livingstone and then to Lusaka to collect their son and continue their drive up to Mfuwe.

They arrived armed with gifts for daughter and a few essentials to help make Nkwali’s Christmas all the more special. I can hardly believe it is almost time to start thinking about the silly season again – though no doubt those of you in the modern world are already gearing yourselves up for that annual round of gift purchasing and party attending! It takes a little longer for that mood to get underway here in the bush! But when it does arrive we LOVE it!!

Gameviewing around Nkwali has been consistently great. Wonderful cat sightings all over and many babies as I mentioned last week. Birding is brilliant with all the migratory twitters arriving! The most increadible feature of the past week has been SOUND instead of sight!! The area around Nkwali has been taken over by lots and lots of singing cicadas. As you leave the tarmac road and head towards Nkwali you drive through pockets of them….the high-pitch buzz surrounds you suddenly, reaching a crescendo loud enough to force you to cover your ears! Perhaps they are excited about recent rain or the sensational burst of fresh bright green mopane leaves all around. I can hear a symphony taking place from three different directions around my office as I type! And these creatures often get inside one’s room, requiring a rather urgent and immediate search and relocation operation! To look at they are amazing – large fury bodies with colourful wings of silver and black.

Nsefu was only packed up and closed for a couple of days when a radio call came through to say that a pride of 6 lion had moved in and reclaimed it! Our Nsefu watchmen saw them casually lounging around the bar area at sunset, forcing the guys to go to bed early! No point in sitting around outside!

I have to say that the warmer weather is back along with the humidity. The result has been some sensational stormy build-ups with wind, thunder and lightening but not much rain. The Nkwali bar is the PERFECT location to sit and watch a storm pass overhead during sunset – there is nothing quite like it! I woke this morning to the sounds of distant rumblings of thunder. The far off Muchinja Escarpment to the west was receiving some good rain…and Simon thinks this will push back the wild dogs into the Mfuwe area soon. We look forward to their return – not often seen during the dry season.

We hope you have a wonderful week and until next Monday, take care.

cheers
Jeffrey

It’s Monday 25th and it’s a BOY!!!

It had all been worked out….a certain delivery was supposed to take place this week and we were going to announce it by special newsletter! However mother nature, as it so often does in the Valley, decided to surprise us all once again!! The incredibly happy result, which we are TOTALLY over the moon to report, comes by email from a maternity hospital in Townsville, Australia:

Reuben“We are absolutely delighted to announce that Reuben Henry Bankes Taverner entered this world at 1829 hrs on Saturday 23rd November 2002.

Weighing in at a healthy 7lb 10oz (3.46kg), 53 cms long and with feet the size of two small amphibious landing craft, he has also been blessed with an admirable pair of lungs and is in fine form. His wonderful mother though sore is in great shape .

Watch this space for more news of a future barefoot water skiing champion in the making…..

In awe,

Sara and Matthew”

The news came as such a surprise….when Matthew phoned the office on Saturday afternoon (Zambian time) I initially thought he was calling to discuss work matters…it was only after he gave me a hospital room number to phone back to that it all sunk in!! Sara was not due for another four days yet!! So, with only Shanie, Simon and I in camp at the time, we all jumped around with joy and had a Mosi to toast the little Reuben’s arrival into the world. Mum, dad and son will return to Zambia in the new year…and we are all so looking forward to meeting Reuben (Sara and Matthew’s first child).

From the photos, mother and son looking very well indeed!! Congratulations Matthew and Sara and welcome to the world Reuben!!!

Back in the Valley, mother nature, as Jacob would say, continues to bring us many wonderful things each day. On his first day ever in Zambia, one of our guests (a journalist from the UK) went out with Zebron on an afternoon/evening drive and they came across an aardvark walking across an open plain! Possibly the first Nkwali aardvark sighting all year!! The white tail showed that it was a female. She didn’t hang around for long…running quickly out of sight once it saw the vehicle approaching. Zebron then came across two large male lion feeding on a hippo by the riverbank. Not bad for a first drive into the Park!!

The Nkwali guides are all reporting excellent leopard and lion sightings around the area this week. Also an unusually large number of python have been spotted. Keyala saw one which had a large lump in its middle. It is thought that it had possibly eaten a baby impala. There are so many baby impala around at the moment that we think they are bringing all the python out on a feeding mission!

Simon and Shanie took a morning walk with Shanie’s mum, dad and brother recently up to the top of Chendeni Hills. What a view from the top! With the clear air it was possible to see the entire Valley across to the other side and the Muchinja Escarpment. It was quite breathtaking…and that was not just the view! The walk up to the top of the hill requires a bit of vigor but well worth it. On the way they saw lots of game, particularly interesting birds. The brachyestegia woodland (tall trees!) on Chendeni Hills provide the perfect habitat for the purple banded sunbird, of which the walkers saw many.

Weather conditions remain much as they were a week ago….bone dry with humidity rising! The rain has been all around Nkwali but we appear to be missing it for some reason! Gamedrives have returned with reports of lots of water and puddles in areas of the Park but not here in camp! Each day brings much sunshine, the air is heavy with moisture, the afternoon stormy clouds hover high above and there is always the sound of far-off thunder…one really does get the feeling that it won’t be long before the long dry breaks! It is all very exciting and I cannot wait to be standing in the first great downpour of the rains!!

Keyala is busy preparing for his first journey outside of Zambia…he’s planning on visiting the USA and UK in Jan/Feb. He has been working towards this for some time and we are very excited for him. He will be visiting Lusaka shortly to sort out his tourist visas to enter both countries. We are putting together an itinerary of about 3 to 4 weeks for him…it will certainly open his eyes a bit and it will be fun to report on his experiences once he returns home! Any ideas or suggestions welcome.

Until next week, take care!
Jeffrey

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