It’s October 2001 and …

It’s Monday 1st and the river-crossing lion

Whilst we still have at least one further month of the dry season to go before the build-up to the rains, the first sign of the end of the season drawing near took place this week. Yes, the mobile safari team walked their last guests through the Mupamadzi area before finishing for the season. Sally, our bubbly, lively and admittedly culinarily-challenged mobile caterer remarked yesterday that she couldn’t believe how quickly the season went!! In no time at all she will be telling her friends back in London some of her more memorable moments… including much laughter with her talented kitchen team, walking near a lion kill (quite rare) and calming down a group of excitable naked dancing guests, fleeing from an unexpected visit into camp by an army of red ants, by asking if anybody would care for a drink!!

We are very pleased with the reports received by our walking guests this year – every walk was unique, each group returned with all manner of stories to tell. The areas covered by our walks, as many people know, is the TRUE wilderness, where you will not encounter another human from the time you arrive until the time you leave. Our highly experienced walking guides will be keen to get back again next year… especially now that we have added a new four night walk to our walking itinerary options, the Lundu Walking Mobile Safari, utilising the same three tented camp sites. Four days walking instead of five appeals to many people so we decided to introduce the Lundu option – commencing with two nights at Nkwali, then deep into the bush to walk along the Mupamadzi River, using our familiar mobile camps for four nights, and a final three nights at Nsefu to unwind and enjoy further walking or gamedrives. Our popular five night walking safari remains the same – we have just added some choice!

on the bank

Lots of great gameviewing this week as is typical of this time of year. Nkwali guests have been returning from gamedrives with much to tell. Guests at Nsefu didn’t have to leave camp to see all the action. During the night everyone could hear the distress of a buffalo being taken by lion not far from camp. In the morning the kill was visible from camp, not far downriver on the Nsefu side. There was a sizeable pride of lion devouring the buffalo when suddenly from the other side of the river another lion appeared. It proceeded to cross the river to join the feast. The lion was making good progress when a large crocodile started to chase it! Guests in camp were treated to a great chase by the crocodile but the lucky lion made it quickly to the other side, joining the pride at the kill.

The RPS office has seen a lot of our far-flung camp staff over the weekend. With Noodles and Jason down for a short break from Nsefu to recharge batteries, Chris Holt popping in from Tena Tena enroute to do mechanical workshop things, Jason Alfonsi seeing the last of his Mupamadzi Walking Safari guests off to the airport and Sally returning triumphantly with mobile kit ready for storage; it was a suitable time for a lot of good humour. Sally outdid herself in my office when she returned ‘from the bushes’. Either it was an expression of joy or it was an attempt to physically stop herself from being able to cook. She jumped up in the air and raised her hands high above her head. Unfortunately there was a rather loud bang when her wrists met the blades of my fan twirling at full speed! Fortunately there was no major damage; just a sheepish (and a wee bit pale) looking Sally putting some iceblocks on her bruised wrists. Of course, it was nothing a good glass of white wine couldn’t fix and in the end Sally retained the use of her fingers that may one day learn how to chop an onion!

Have a wonderful week!
Best Wishes
Jeffrey

It’s Monday 8th and the fishing party

Cloud build up

Well folks, I could have been wrong last week. Whilst I wouldn’t quite call it the build up to the rains we certainly had a taste of things to come last night! Temperatures of the past week certainly remind us that we are most definitely in October – it has been hot hot HOT with blazing sun, bone-dry surroundings and lots of people guzzling water at every opportunity. We have recently experienced some humidity for the first time in six months. Yesterday afternoon, along with the humidity, dark clouds were building up on the horizon, strong winds brought temperatures right down and then finally after sunset we saw the first lightening bolts light up the night sky, heard the first rumbles of thunder way off in the distance and breathed in that most welcome musty ‘rain smell’ that we had not had for a long time!! Light showers followed for a few hours prompting some silliness with humans dancing and jumping in the rain and long-dormant frogs desperately trying to find their way out of houses! This morning the cicadas are singing, the haze has gone, the air is clear and the bright sun is quickly drying everything up. The dry season is not quite over yet!!

A fishing party

Guests at Tena Tena were able to invite themselves to watch ‘the fishing party’, an annual event at Lunga Lagoon. The water level in the lagoon diminished to a point this week where large numbers of fish were confined to a small area. The water level is now at wading level…you can clearly see all the fish from the surface. They are also within easy reach of large numbers of hungry marabou storks standing on the bank of the lagoon. They wade into the water and without much effort, grab an enormous fish with their beaks. Fish eagles were bombarding the marabou storks, providing much entertainment for our guests. Twenty five fish eagles were counted on the ground with many more watching form nearby trees. Corinna described how one fish eagle dive-bombed into the face of a marabou stork in an attempt to catch a large fish in the stork’s mouth. The fish dropped to the ground, the fish eagle flung the fish into the air with its beak, then picked it up with its talons and flew away! This fish-eating frenzy lasts for about one day then it is all over – on to the next spot!

Game viewing has been incredible this past week. Big herds of ellies, various sightings of baby warthogs, lion & leopard, large numbers of zebra & buffalo, giraffe – and at Nkwali a family of cane rats at Nkwali have taken residence! Living along the river bank mum, dad and babies are of much interest to camp staff and guests. They are rather large with long bushy tails and the babies are gorgeous! Unfortunately something killed daddy-rat; it was found partially eaten the other morning. With lion roaring on the sandbank in front of Nkwali (I haven’t heard this familiar sound for a while) we wonder if they were to blame for the demise of the rat?? A hippo has also taken residence in the Nkwali lagoon – it won’t move!

Excellent gameviewing in my own living room!! Minding my own business one lunchtime, reading my book, silence was shattered when suddenly a frog and a spotted bush snake fell from the wooden beams above me. The frog landed on my leg and the snake on the couch next to me. It all happened so quickly!! The snake wanted to have the frog for lunch and froze when it saw that it was me the frog was sitting on. Nerve-endings in my brain told me to move my leg and unfortunately this resulted in the frog leaping towards the snake. After a tense stand-off lasting one minute the snake moved toward the frog, frog leapt away but landed in the wall – splat, frog dropped to the ground, snake pounced, frog screamed, I ran covering my ears from the noise…then there was silence! For about thirty seconds my heart went out to the frog but then I sat fascinated as I watched the extremely skinny snake take in this large frog with its expandable mouth and the whole process took only ten minutes! I’ve never seen how a snake eats its prey and how the muscles along its body move the food mass along its digestive system. Amazing!!

Laughter at the Nkwali dinner table recently. One guest was finding it rather difficult to extract pepper from the pepper grinder. No matter how much he twisted the top nothing came out!! Head waiter Derek came quickly to the rescue. “I think you will find that it is a maglite sir!”.

Have a LOVELY week and remember – all of our camps have video camera battery recharging facilities. You can recharge the batteries at Nkwali, Nsefu, Tena Tena and our mobile safari camps. We suggest that you can take two batteries so that you can use one with your gameviewing whilst the other is in camp recharging whilst our generators are operating.

All the best
Jeffrey

It’s Monday 15th and the big five zero

Robin last year, still 49

The past week serves to remind us of the many wonderful things about the South Luangwa Valley. Outstanding gameviewing at all camps and a worthy celebration in honour of the Big Bwana himself. Yes, Robin turns 50 this week and on Friday about forty Valley residents and RPS staff turned up at the Tena Tena river crossing point (on the main Park side) in the late afternoon for a lively celebration. And Robin had no idea it had been arranged!! Jo hatched a cunning plan to get Robin to the river crossing for a ‘business meeting’. Forever the perfect host, Robin sent a radio message that morning to say that he had guests to take on an afternoon gamedrive and would Jo mind putting off the meeting. Jo put her foot down, saying that it was very important and insisted that he take them on a drive the next morning instead! Sensing that something urgent was about to be discussed, Robin could be seen arriving early from the Tena side….just as we were setting up tables laden with much food and many tubs filled with beer, wine, champagne and ice! By the time he crossed the river and walked up the bank, with pen and notebook in hand, most of the others had arrived – a big surprise for Robin. He was presented with a zinmerframe made out of bamboo complete with a spotlight attached to the frame, an oxygen bag, marker-pens so he can label everything in sight and spray paint so he can touch up those missed spots on his lovely landcruisers! He’s all set now!

The backdrop was a truly magnificent sunset with beautiful shades of pink and orange, a herd of elephant crossing upriver and many hippos snorting below. The Nsefu and Tena Tena campstaff took a hilarious evening river crossing back to waiting vehicles on the other side. The evening was also Chris Holt’s last night in the Valley before heading home to the UK after completing his Mobile Walking Safari season…we do hope he returned in one piece because when he left for the airport early the next morning, with many hours of flying ahead of him, he was looking decidedly GREEN!

Guests at Nkwali did not have to hop into a gameviewing vehicle the other day – it was all happening in front of them, across from the bar. Jo, busy in the office with an important email that had to go out that afternoon, was interrupted by a radio call from the bar – two young male lion lying under the winterthorn tree on the opposite bank had just had a few buffalo walk past them on their way down to drink whilst directly across the river-bed to camp came five big bull elephant to drink. Jo rapidly finished her email, stating that the call of the wild demanded that she leave the office immediately! Absolute magic – we all wondered what the lion would do about the sudden visit by the buffalo and in total safety could sit and watch the enormous elephant just below. The lion didn’t do anything and eventually the buffalo went back into the bush and the ellies moved up to near Jo and Robin’s house. As a perfect follow through the next morning during breakfast one of the biggest black-maned male lions that has ever been seen before walked slowly right along the opposite bank in front of camp.

Nkwali has had a lion and leopard week with nightly sightings of lion and great leopard, including a male and female hunting together opposite camp…quite rare. Last week I mentioned that a hippo had taken residence in the lagoon near the dining area. Well…it is no longer in the lagoon and a hippo carcass fitting the same description now lies not far from camp! There is not much left of it – an empty shell with vultures circling overhead!

Daudi at Tena Tena has been fortunate to see 2 leopard cubs suckling in the open for all to see on a drive. Tena and Nsefu each report separate hyena dens with babies suckling in view – very exciting.

Leopard

You might have noticed that we have not mentioned leopard sightings for quite a few weeks now. The sightings have been extremely high and the result has been that our guides have been under increased pressure to turn each drive into a hunt for leopard! Sometimes guests will end their safari disappointed that no leopard were seen and it has to be remembered that we cannot guarantee them all the time. So we have ‘taken the heat’ off our guides by referring to these sightings less often….but what happened on an Nsefu drive last night just HAS to be mentioned! Wendy and her guests were driving near the Nsefu waffwa (meaning dead river) and came across one female leopard clearly on the hunt. They enjoyed this for a while and then drove on. About 30 minutes later they returned to the same spot and in the silence thought they could hear hyena. Shining a torch they suddenly saw the same leopard with a fresh impala kill! Not long after that another female with two grown cubs joined her and the gameviewers watched the scene for one hour as the leopard fed. There was some snarling but all very polite behaviour, according to Wendy. The female who caught the impala was calmly pushed off the kill and she sat off to one side whilst the two cubs came in to feed. One of the cubs then took an impala fetus away from the kill (we are about to enter the wonderful period of newborn impala!) whilst the other cub remained with the kill. Finally the second female came to the kill when the cub had finished and this was when it got ugly. The lone female was not happy – she chased the cubs past the gameviewing vehicle and up a tree and there was fighting and growling on the branches. Absolute chaos – “leopards running and chasing each other up and down trees, leopards all over the place” says Wendy! Wide-eyed guests could not figure out who was what and all the while the second female continued feeding! Sensational stuff!!

Impala

And finally, Nsefu has had an interesting run of babies….apart from the hyena den Jason saw baby Egyptian geese and then came across two baby porcupine with two adults, hurrying across the open plain! The babies were TINY…about the size of a coffee cup! Never a dull moment up in the Nsefu sector!

I’m off to see what all the fuss is about at Kutandala tomorrow – looking forward to it immensely! I will have two nights in the North Luangwa which is very exciting. Then back to the office and hopefully lots of other exciting stories to tell.

Have a great week.
Best wishes
Jeffrey

It’s Monday 22nd and HOT!

Boy it is HOT now! We are in the grip of October heat with the sense of big seasonal changes not far away. Most days this week are over 40 Celsius with my office a cool 38 celcius (100 Fahrenheit)! The Nkwali pool has enjoyed constant use by guests and staff – Keyela took his first dip the other day and found it so delightful that he didn’t want to get out! The heat is occasionally blown away by strong winds and is helped along by some cloud cover which has provided a few raindrops on occasion. The mopane trees are bursting with new green leaf and the frogs are croaking loudly each night, in anticipation of the rains.

Despite the much warmer temperatures, it has been an eventful week for all. Robin and Jo spent two nights in Lusaka so that Robin could celebrate his 50th birthday with family. A relaxed low-key affair then back to the Valley for the remainder of the peak season.

Rod at the Mwaleshi FallsThis is Rod at the Mwaleshi Falls
(just to the right of the water)

I spent two incredible nights at Kutandala with Rod & Guz and, also visiting, were Guz’s mother, father and brother. Everything Jo has said about this bushcamp is true – I felt like I was right at home in such a beautiful, remote location. Rod and Guz are the perfect hosts – I didn’t want for anything even though they were officially ‘closed’ whilst I was visiting! It was Rod’s 30th birthday and Guz’s family just happened to be visiting from Ireland and London.

So it was a complete surprise to me (yet it made perfect sense to Rod) when, on a day picnic at a breathtaking series of waterfalls along the Mwaleshi River, Rod and Guz came back to where we were sitting, positively beaming… Guz with jaw-drop, jumping up and down with glee showing off a beautiful engagement ring with tanzanite and diamonds!!

Guz at the Mwaleshi Falls(the pictures were taken for the falls, not the happy couple – sorry if you can’t see the ring)

Yes, Rod took the opportunity to pop the big question at their favourite spot and Guz accepted! It was only 11am in the morning but it was the perfect excuse to crack open a few Mosi to celebrate the occasion. The rest of the day was perfect, lying by the water with no crocodiles or hippos, enjoying a picnic then a bush walk back to the vehicle in the late afternoon. It was only a 1.5hr walk to the landcruiser but that was all it took to make me realise how unfit I have become – oh dear! We wish Rod and Guz every happiness for their married future together!

Busy busy at all of our camps in preparation for an event that rivals the eclipse in logistics! At the end of this week over 60 guests will arrive in the South Luangwa for the celebration of the wedding of David Back and Karen Heshon. Many will remember Karen in her on-and-off catering role over six years during the ’90’s at Tena Tena. David has also a long history of life in the Valley, spending part of his guiding career with Robin at Tena Tena in the ’80’s and he ran our photographic safaris in the ’90’s. They now reside in London but decided that this was the perfect location in which to tie the knot and at the same time introduce many family and friends to Africa.

Kudu in the Nsefu Ebony Glades

It is proving to be an amazing event with most guests arriving via Lilongwe this Saturday. Nkwali, Tena Tena, Nsefu plus other Valley lodges are housing all the guests (a great way to end the peak season at Tena and Nsefu!), special sundowner events have been arranged and the RPS catering/logistical team are gearing up for the wedding at the ebony grove near Nsefu Camp and reception at Tafika camp followed by a buffet lunch for everybody at Tena Tena the next day! The Tena Tena choir is busy practising for the wedding itself. After nearly two years Possum is making a return visit to Tena Tena (as a guest this time!) and we are all looking forward to seeing her again. A big round-up of wedding events will take place in two weeks (wedding day 30 Oct). I am sure there will be a few entertaining stories to tell, particularly from those having never before experienced the Zambia factor! One guest from London recently asked Karen if The Ebony Grove was a restaurant!!!!!!!

Buffalo cross the road to the Salt Pan

Gameviewing is at its peak in this, the driest part of the year. Shanie’s lucky parents were visiting as a part of their trans-southern Africa auto journey and one morning before dawn joined Shanie, Simon and Noodles & Jason for a bush breakfast at the salt pan near Nsefu. They packed their vehicle and departed camp at 4.15am (in the dark). On the way to the salt pan and all before sunrise they saw genet, civet, porcupine, elephant shrew, hyena & leopard. They had morning tea watching the sun come up and continued to the salt pan where amongst other things they saw serval, lion, Hottentot Teal & African Crake. As Jason cooked breakfast (which he just loves to do!!) of fried eggs and his special fried tomatoes a herd of over 400 buffalo came down to drink. The herd were not fussed by the gameviewers who watched silently, eating their breakfast at the top of the salt pan! Amazing sight!

After breakfast they moved onto the Bat Tree (a baobab) where they saw 2 species of bat and mottled spinetail, which is an uncommon bird sighting in the Valley. They also saw over 25 eland and 30 cooksons wildebeest. All in all, 26 different species of mammal before noon!!

Guests stood watching from Tena Tena this week as a female lion lollopped along the lagoon outside camp and succeeded with a fly-by killing of a baby warthog. There is now only one wartlet and we hope that this one lives! I saw a large number of warthog families in the North Park last week – lots of little wartlets running along with their tails in the air. I also saw bush pigs, which I believe are quite rare, large buffalo herds, lots of impala, eland, bushbuck & waterbuck plus one sleepy hyaena lying in the middle of the river cooling off!

Enjoy your week ahead!
Cheers
Jeffrey

It’s Monday 29th and the doomed buffalo

Hyena

Wedding preparations are well underway and everything is running like clockwork! Yesterday saw the first major event take place on the wedding itinerary – special sundowners on the river sand at the Tena Tena river crossing point (this time it was on the opposite side of the bank to where Robin’s 50th drinks were held two weeks ago). Shanie, Corinna and Noodles prepared mouthwatering finger food and served what appeared to be endless jugs of refreshing Pims. Just before sunset 90 guests and staff sat on the slope to watch a brilliant performance of Horn of Sorrow, a local play about the poaching of the black rhino out of the Sth Luangwa National Park. It was perfect – for most people it was their first experience of Africa and here they were, reclining with Pims in hand being entertained by a spirited young group of local actors against a red Luangwa sunset which shot lovely bursts of pink colour across the sky.

We are all placing bets on rain during the wedding tomorrow! The stormy build-ups have been rather frequent and dramatic this week with much humidity in the air. Nkwali is just desperate for rain now – we have only managed a few spots over the past week whereas Nsefu and Tena Tena have had a good pre-rains drenching. Wendy remarked that the rain just bucketed down at the ebony grove for a good 30 minutes at 3pm…which is precisely the time and the place for the wedding ceremony tomorrow! [Saturday- this news was written on Friday]. I hope Karen has brought gum boots to match her wedding dress!!

Last week it was Shanie’s parents who were in residence, enjoyed outstanding gameviewing, and departed satisfied as to the reasons why their daughter chooses to reside in such a remote location. This week Simon AND Sara’s parents are visiting and equally, they have experienced some of the best gameviewing of the year! Simon went to guide at Nsefu for a few days whilst mum & dad came to stay and Sara’s folks just happened to be there at the same time.

Hyena

I know I am not supposed to say this and they were not on a leopard hunt but I just cannot help it – Sara’s folks had 7 leopard sightings in 3 days!! They now have 15 minutes of video footage of leopard walking past their vehicle and back again, lying in front of the vehicle, rolling over, rolling back again, yawning, head up, head down…amazing! They have also recorded a whole group of hyena at night over a buffalo kill – all with those huge hyena grins!

Simon tells me that over a 24 hour period Nsefu guests enjoyed 3 kills in sight or sound of camp.
Four lioness took a puku in front of camp and guests watched as they devoured their kill on the sand bank.
That evening everybody could hear the sounds of a buffalo ‘going down’, a mournful bellowing from the buffalo. It was taken by a different group of lion to those that killed the puku.
Finally in the morning, just before breakfast, everybody heard the sounds of ANOTHER buffalo being attacked. Forgetting all about breakfast, everybody piled into vehicles and set out to find the kill. Soon they came across the same 4 lioness who took the puku, now undertaking an extremely gruesome and clumsy attack on the buffalo. It took four hours to complete the job! When guests arrived at the scene lion were attacking from all directions, biting the buffalo over the nose and eating its backside! They fell off as the beast ran around in circles to fend them off. Dripping with blood it then charged the lion on several occasions which led into a long stand-off with the buffalo, back against a tree, staring down at the four lion who crouched in front of it! Baboons in the tree above didn’t know what to do or which way to turn. After a long period two lion attacked from behind and finally they brought their prey down, knocking it off it’s feet and then quickly finished it off, so to speak! It was increadibly gory and quite possibly nobody felt like much for breakfast on return to camp – but as Simon said, it was perhaps his best game sighting of the year.

Thumbs up from the Kawaza classroom

David, the Headmaster of Kawaza School, and Jo were invited to do a presentation on Kawaza Village at a regional conference in Johannesburg. The conference was the culmination on 3 months of work looking at the community tourism in Southern Africa. Kawaza Village was chosen as the only project to present. Quite an accolade in itself. Jo was not able to attend so David went alone. He has never travelled outside Zambia, never been on a plane and didn’t even have a passport. With all organised in advance he flew to Joburg, stayed at a hotel for 3 nights, and presented to 70 people – a mixture of tourism “experts” and other community tourism developers. Jo spoke to him on his return and he LOVED the experience. And this was sent through from the organiser….
“I wanted to let you know that David’s presentation was outstanding. His presentation was clear and well delivered and generated lots of interest. He was pelted with questions and he was very, very good at handling them. We wish you could have heard him.”
Jo was like a mother bird worrying about the maiden flight so you can imagine how delighted she was to get this. Well done David.

Until next week, when the green season is officially upon us, take care!
Jeffrey

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