A Travellerspoint blog

Morning and afternoon game drive

22nd October 2010

At 6am we are driven in an open Landrover into the national park. AH remarks that open vehicles were considered too dangerous in Kenya.

I can see his point. After all, those elephants over there, which we are currently trying to stir, may not be particularly big, but are tall enough to wack us with their trunks. It's little consolation that many are tuskless.

We learn later that all the big elephants have been killed years ago and that the elephants in the park still hold a grudge against people and remember what happened to the previous generation, which makes the wisdom of provoking them even more questionable...

We learn that there are different types of zebras and giraffes.

I must confess that the only thing I remember about zebras are the bachelor herds, which are like „a Roman Catholic order among the animals.“

The national park was first set up to protect one particular type of giraffe. Giraffes are apparently great in pruning trees.

We learn that elephants were seen as „free for all“ as they are seen as destructive feeders. However, our guide Philemon points out that this is our limited human point of view. Yes, elephants may lay waste to acres of trees and the area afterwards looks like a disaster zone, but their actions benefit many other animals. It's only our human intervention that creates long-term imbalance.

We learn about species-specific communication calls (I guess this would include „dating and mating“) and territorial calls, in contrast to the alarm calls that are universal. The homeguard of the bush seem to be the monkeys, especially baboons. So Disney painted quite an accurate picture of animal cooperation.

We learn about the flexibility of the impala which can live anywhere because it is a dual feeder (grass and leaves). By contrast, bukus are only found near water, as they only feed on grass.

The only key animal we don't see are lions, although our guide claims to have spotted them in the distance.

My favourite animal is the zebra. It looks so arty, and yet is perfectly camouflaged. My favourite trees are the baobab trees that look like giant aliens and the sausage trees whose „sausages“ range from a Bavarian white sausage to a salami.

I later learn that the vegetation is still unusually green because of late rains and that the clouds that have accompanied our journey through Zambia are signs of the coming rainy season. (There is also a winter season in Zambia when the temperature can drop to 12 C).

Posted by TTraveller 06:17 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Wildlife Camp

21st October 2010

One of the first things pointed out to us are the footprints of a baby hippo in the camping area. The advice is not to get out of the tent at night if there is any animal activity. Tents are seen as solid objects, but people as targets: „If you accidently step between a baby hippo and its mum, you are dead.“ Nice prospect...

The Luangwa river is so low that even lions sometimes cross over from the national park into the managed area. And then there are the leopards.

„It's always exciting to hear the warning call of the monkeys and know a leopard is about“, the camp manager says.

I have been told that tents are seen as solid objects, unless we keep food in them - „especially fruit – the elephants will just try to break in and find it“ - but I would prefer not to have any big wildlife galavanting past my tent.

We also have to keep an eye out for smaller wildlife: „The monkeys have become a problem since they got overfed here during the World Cup. If you feed them, we'll ultimately have to shoot them.“

The monkeys actually don't wait to be fed. They prefer to help themselves. A monkey shoots out of the truck, clutching a banana.

In the blink of an eye it's in a tree and therefore out of reach, gobbling up its loot, skin and all.

AH prevents a monkey from stealing a tomato, so it's 1:1 at the end of the first evening...

A powercut plunges the campsite into darkness. It puts me off my dinner, as I can't properly see what I am eating. The only lightsources left are a campfire and my fickle windup torch. I never realized how much my appetite is linked to sight.

I decide to go to bed early, but sleep won't come. I'm worried about needing the bathroom at night and listen out for the sounds outside. At some point the circades stop and there are animal sounds, but how would I know whether they are warning calls?

When I listen more closely, I can hear a grunting sound. A hippo maybe?

At around 5am, I can't wait any longer and stick my head out of the tent. No sign of wildlife. And the grunting comes out of a neighbouring tent: Someone is snoring...

The rising sun is a welcome sight, as it means I won't need a torch to go to the loo. I smile when I notice the charcoal spider someone has drawn on the wall of the toilet wall.

Hang on a minute! The „picture“ has just moved. This spider may be flat like a sheet of paper, but is very much alive!

Outside, a couple of mongoose have joined the monkey business. One tips over a mug of coffee that stands on the ground, briefly looks at the mess it has created and wanders off in search for new mischief.

Posted by TTraveller 06:17 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Journey towards South Luangwa

21st October 2010

We are off-duty today – a relief after trying to do the washing-up by torch light yesterday. It seemed to take forever: Rinse, wash and scrub in dishwater, wash in Dettol, drip dry. (I HATE the smell of Dettol, but I guess it's the cheapest disinfectant on the market.)

I love the smell of burning wood that is drifting in from outside wherever we go.

The villagers are already busy by 6am. I have the impression that they have already done their key chores like fetching drinking water. And here I moan about dismantling a tent and loading my luggage.

Our drive today is shorter in kilometers, but may almost take as long as yesterday, as the last 100 km or so consist of gravel – the worst road on the trip...

Traditional Christianity gets competition as we travel on. There are Jehovah Witness halls and mosques along the way.

The ware offered at the side of the road varies from tomatoes, potatoes and finger bananas to wooden doors and beautifully carved beds.

Top up opportunities seem to become rarer, and more worryingly, toilets. I am beginning to wonder whether today I will dig my first hole, when I am told that if I can hold on for another hour or so, there will be a toilet in a petrol station in Chipata.

So I try to distract myself, trying to take photos in manual mode. I miss many a photo opportunity as the light reading keeps changing as we speed past.

I have finally understood why numbers go up as the aperture gets smaller. The figure represents a ratio. Surely they could have made this clearer rather than intimidating scores of amateur photographers with mysterious measurements...

Finally, the petrol station. I'm glad our tour guide scouts things out for me. After several discouraging attempts, I finally get the key to the one semi-usable toilet...

And then it's off onto the red road that first needs to be built. Every few hundred metres there is a sign saying „deviation“ and we are on the gravel whereas on our right lies a smooth road.

As I bounce up and down in my seat and the truck sways from side to side, I get a glimpse of what I missed when I did not go water rafting...

The only break is a quick lunch stop in the „courtyard“ of a village. The villagers get paid with our leftover food.

Posted by TTraveller 06:17 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Slightly more hardcore campsite

20th October 2010

We camp at the entrance of Bridge Camp at the Luangwa river just opposite Mozambique.

I am immediately drawn to the lodge up the hill. It is cosy and welcoming and slightly cooler. (It is still 37 C in the evening!)

Down below where we stay the 2 toilets go into a bit of a state very quickly and electricity goes off without warning at around 10 pm.

It's no fun depending on a wind-up bike light. It always takes several attempts to switch it from blinking to permanent light – a „wind-up“ light in more than one sense!

Even though we have a „lie-in“ until 5 am, the bathrooms are still in the dark, so I have to wash by torchlight.

Soon I have competition. A huge beetle (or was it a spider) jumps into the washing basin, just as I am brushing my teeth. Let's just say that I ignore the dentist's advice of 3 minute brushing time...

Our next stop is at a camping place where hippos and even lions may walk past our tent at night, so soon I may consider Bridge Camp the height of luxury.

Posted by TTraveller 06:17 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Long drive east

20th October 2010

We are asked to get up at 4am, so that we can be on the road by about 5. This means that we have to dismantle our first tent in the dark.As I have missed the briefings the previous evening, I am just asked to watch – even I can manage that at this time of day.

I finally see our truck. It has only arrived yesterday evening after having been brought to Livingstone for a wash and – more importantly! - a brake repair.

The truck is huge. Normal trucks only come up to the bottom of our windows.

There is plenty of storage space inside. The trunks are so deep that we could theoretically store all our bags in it. (To be fair, we would need the outside lockers if the tour was fully booked.)

Anyway, it's nice to be able to put my feet up during the long drive.

It takes us 12 hours to drive the 700km from Livingstone to Luangwa river via the capital Lusaka. We only have one 10 minute toilet break and a 20 minute shopping and toilet break (the men sneak in extra breaks for their needs of course...)

I find shopping at speed stressful. It takes almost 5 mins to walk over to the Eurospar. The shop is comparable in size to large European supermarkets, but of course I don't know its layout.

When we find suitable things, I am unsure whether we can afford them. We have less than US$20 in the local currency, and I find it hard to work with Kwacha (too many zeros at the end!)

There are about 4,700 Kwachas to a Dollar, and a small German-style brown bread costs over 13,000 Kwachas.

I can't imagine that a villager would be able to shop in this outlet, but maybe I just have a too exotic taste...

I sleep a lot on the journey, especially as the scenery only changes gradually. What surprises me is the fresh green everywhere. Yes, there is the dried out grass one has come to associate with Africa, but the trees and bushes already seem to anticipate the rainy season which starts around 24th October.

We also drive past a forrest decked in autumn colours that could stand anywhere in Europe.

I love the jacaranda trees with their lilac flowers and the flame trees decked in bold orange-red flowers.

We drive past many traditional villages. Even in the same village, there can be some more upmarket huts where the walls are built of bricks, but the traditional roofs are maintained. At the top end, you have small one-room houses.

People tend to be friendly and often wave and shout „hello“ as we drive past.

We see kids in neat school uniforms. Some even wear thick woolen green jumpers in the midday heat.

There is a sense that the kids take pride in their school uniform. The precious uniforms are worn with sturdy and therefore long-lasting Bata shoes.

Another common sight are women and girls balancing water canisters on their heads. They look elegant and gracious, as if they don't notice the weight. Many additionally carry babies on their backs.

Men often carry loads on the back of their bicycles. Bicycles seem to be the donkeys of the 21st century.

Another key part of modern life are mobile phones. There are top up booths even in rural areas.

What we see very little of are shanty towns and beggars, even in Lusaka.

The best buildings around are the banks and churches, with church halls sometimes the only brick buildings in some remoter areas.

Posted by TTraveller 06:17 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

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