This trip report was posted on October 17th, 2013 on Safari Talk
Zambia gets left out. It’s definitely not east Africa, and it’s not exactly southern Africa, or for that matter central Africa. It has a reputation of not being a suitable “fist-timer” destination, despite having the sweetest people on the continent, a stable, democratic government (a succession of peaceful transfers of power… beat that, the rest of you in Africa!), and prime wilderness. And for a good 6-7 month stretch every year, Zambia is left off the itinerary of most tourists because the country is literally under water. But during the short “tourist months”, when the dry season’s haze on the open plain shrouds the moving wild shapes in the distant treeline just as Africa’s bloodiest sun is about to set, you know Zambia’s spell has been cast. A Zambian safari can match any “in your face” lion, leopard or elephant sighting on the continent, but it also always delivers subtle and fleeting ones (and you know what they say… the very best moments in life are often fleeting). So, naturally, I am back in Zambia for the fourth time, smitten, under its spell, and in
search of the fleeting as well as the “in your face”.
South Luangwa National Park –Life is good
Take some of the greatest game parks and reserves of Africa. Take Serengeti for example: Michael Grzimek’s and Myles Turner’s association with Serengeti fades with each wildebeest calving season. What is written today of Paul Kruger and his connection to Kruger National Park?
Frederick Selous hunted everywhere in Africa, not just the Selous. It is far from certain that he spent significantly more time in his eponymous reserve than anywhere else.
Not so, “the Valley”. The late Norman Carr and his band of self-described social outcasts, who founded park conservation as well as a certain safari subculture, are still firmly tethered to the Luangwa Valley. This inseparable bond has been continually romanticized and immortalized in writings such as Vic Guhrs’ poignant The Trouble with Africa, Simon Barnes’ deliciously mischievous Rogue Lion Safaris, Mike Coppinger and Jumbo Williams’ comprehensive Luangwa, Zambia’s Treasure, Craig Doria’s Following the Dust, not to mention Norman Carr’s own Kakuli, as well as numerous guidebooks and news articles written by others.
So, as I cross the bridge into South Luangwa National Park for the first time, it is as if I already know it. There are ghosts here. That lagoon over there could be where Arthur, unarmed, tried to rescue a drugged (darted), drowning lion by trying to lift the beast out of the water with a bear hug. That’s Luwi River over there… that must be where Rice Time (born Maqaba Tembo), the famous problem animal control officer and “the scariest guy in the Valley” lead walking safaris, screaming and telling off the charging lions, “f— off!” The ridge over there could be where Jake and Craig while on anti-poaching duty accidentally set their mate’s hair on fire by mishandling cheap tequila. Kapani is that direction… where Norman Carr once put his hard-earned cash in a hideaway safe, only to later find the safe submerged in mud and the bills inside turned into worthless crumbs.
What has changed since the “back in the day” days is the amount of traffic in the Mfuwe Lodge area. The lodge now sports 40+ beds and is closely flanked by other properties. Supposedly, a night drive in this part of Luangwa is like attending a Hollywood premier (Kakuli must be turning in his grave). To escape the madding crowd now, a long two-hour drive to Shenton Safaris’ Kaingo Camp and its sister bush camp Mwamba is desired.
Kaingo overlooks a particularly perfect bend of the Luangwa River. A separate “sleepy” deck built out over the river, where lunch is taken in private if you wish, accompanies each chalet. There, you are invariably serenaded by both bass and soprano singers (hippos and fish eagles). I am guided by Sylvester Mbaama, just one of the many incredible, enthusiastic guides employed by Shenton Safaris. “Sly” would guide me at Kaingo as well as Mwamba.
While Luangwa is endowed with a wide variety of flora, there is an underlying general pattern/progression: cathedral mopane woodlands are found furthest away from the river, bordered on one side by a belt of leadwood growing on fossilized tributaries; then a unique suburban parkland-like ebony (jackalberry) grove, with elephants currently unable to resist the falling fruit, signals that you are now close to the river; and finally, a sausage tree-dominant riverine belt is where impalas, pukus and bushbucks are presently concentrated. The sausage tree deserves special attention, as it may be one of the most fascinating and ecologically important trees in Africa. Before it is able to bear the sausage-like fruit containing the seeds necessary for propagation, the tree must drop its flowers – by the hundreds.
During the dry season, just when the browse is becoming meager, the sausage tree flowers, pollinated by bats and insects overnight, drop by the bucketful each morning, providing tasty and nutritious nectar for a variety of animals. Every morning, it is a frantic race under the trees: impalas, pukus, bushbucks, kudus and baboons jealously gobble up the flowers. One deviously crafty impala ram lets out a false alarm call, scattering the other animals away from the tree, and then leisurely mops up all the flowers himself. Perhaps I am witnessing impalas evolving in intelligence before my eyes?
Continue reading this trip report here on Safari Talk, and enjoy a lot more photographs.