In the February edition of Wildlife Camp’s monthly newsletter, we’ll take a tongue-in-the-cheek look at life behind a “no entry” sign.
When I was a little boy, vacationing with my family in the national Parks across South Africa, I was intrigued by “no entry” signs. Those large round red signs with a white stripe through the middle. Or in some cases a simple sign with a clear message: “Private.” They always made me wonder: “What wild animals are they hiding behind those signs?” “What would happen to the brave-enough unauthorized person that go beyond that sign?” “Is there a chance that I, even if just once in my life, would ever go beyond a sign like that?”
Today, 20 years down the line, I live behind a sign like that. Walking home from the office here at Wildlife Camp I pass a sign that clearly says: “Private Road. No Entry.” Yes, my sign tells you not once, but twice, not to go past.
Our signs are special
Our signs are not the same large red-and-white intimidating signs I saw as a child. Our signs are special! Wildlife Camp’s signs were hand-painted by our locally trained carpenter Japhet Jere and his helper. I was made to believe, by regular visitor and author Mary Earnshaw, that some of ours clearly break the rules of English grammar. The paint is just some left-over bright yellow sticky ‘fluid’ that we found in a rusty container in Herman’s workshop. The pole holding my sign up has been eaten hollow by termites and gets pushed over by elephants at least twice a year. The baboons like using our ‘no entry’ sign as a vantage point and thus covers it with droppings every now and then. To be very honest, our signs are not even effective in keeping our houses private either. Many a guest has wondered through my garden, snapping photos of my hippo-skull collection. Not that we mind that at all. Wildlife Camp is a very friendly camp and the “no go” signs were probably more of an afterthought than anything else.
But still, today I live behind a “No Entry” sign and I absolutely love it!
So, this newsletter comes to you from “the other side.”
If you have always dreamt about managing a lodge in the middle of some African bush, then you probably have your dream all planned out. Rise with the booming call of a ground-hornbill to a steaming cup of coffee (boiled over a fire, naturally) and a magnificently red dawn. Maybe go and see if the guests slept well… Join them for your second cup of the morning. While there, elephants will come strolling by and in the distance you’ll hear the last roars of the lions. You’ll have couple of tame bushbuck around camp, and at this stage you’ll feed them some leftover luke-warm but buttered breakfast-toast. Guests go off on safari, so now you have your time to yourself. Go and have a look what is for lunch and have a laugh with the staff. Of course, you’ll be wearing your best khakis and a safari-hat so nothing stops you from jumping into an open Land Rover and going for a drive of your own while the guests are out… Why not – its ‘research.’ Lunch and a quick nap in a hammock followed by another chat with the guests and an ice cold Gin & Tonic while watching the sun set as the hippos start making their way out of the water. Tonight you might want to finish the last couple of pages of your Wilbur Smith novel or, if you feel like it, light a fire and invite some friends over for a braai, because hey, the other managers don’t have much to do either.
If that is your dream – If that is what you would like to do someday when you too live on the good side of a ‘private’ sign, then please do not read further. I do not want to spoil your dream.
Behind the sign
It is time to reveal what happens behind those “no entry.” Here is what to expect:
I really do think that guests never sleep: They sit and wait in their chalets just for the camp managers to settle down after a long hard day before they decide they need to quickly get something out of the safe, or would just like to find out whether red skin (as a result of spending the afternoon by the pool) is the first symptom of malaria. Or, pay their bar-bill in a mixture of Kwachas and Dollars… At 5:00 in the morning!
Electricity is like time: It comes and it goes. And if it suddenly decides to go just when you come home you have to make your way to the generator at the back of camp, risking walking into the various beautiful animals that the Luangwa Valley has to offer. It took my 20 minutes to get out of my house the other night, because a huge bull elephant was fast asleep (and snoring) not 30meters from my front door… And who wants to wake up an elephant?
Unlike electricity, you will always have dirt somewhere on your body. Between your toes, underneath your nails, in your hair and even the odd bug or two up your nose. If its not mud-covered boots in the rainy season, its is dust-covered sandals in the dry season. You’ll never be clean again!
Gardening is a rumour. Animals will destroy your hard work in the blink of an eye. So, forget about planting a beautiful Red Mahogany tree, so one day you can sit in its shade… It’s not going to happen! (I still have not learnt my lesson.)
There are a lot of creepy-crawlies behind ‘no entry’ signs! As if they can’t read for themselves! Get used to shaking out your shoes every morning and make sure you have enough insect repellent in your house. And speaking of insect repellent…
If you decide you want some right now, and for one or another reason it is not in stock in the camp-store room, you’ll have to wait a week. And that goes for many other daily household items. Ice-Cream, a good quality toothbrush, engine oil, socks. It all comes with a big truck from Lusaka and is delivered once a week. And even then, you can’t choose the colour of your toothbrush. You use what you get… I have a purple one.
Because ‘local’ materials are often used to build back-of-the-house buildings (yes, that is where you’ll live: back of the house) there might be some flaws in your little ‘bush-cottage.’ You might not be able to have both the kettle and the microwave on at the same time. Your taps might give you a shock every time you open them – that is of course, assuming that you have electricity at that time. There will be a hole in your roof and squirrels will come in and steal your left-over spaghetti bolognaise and at some stage during your stay you will share your house with a number of animals including frogs, monitor lizards, the aforementioned squirrels, and a friendly spotted bush-snake called Erika.
So, to answer my three childhood questions: Yes, there are animals behind the “Private” signs, but those animals can also be seen from Wildlife Camp’s restaurant. Nothing at all will happen if you do wonder past a ‘no entry’ sign – well, here at Wildlife Camp at least. And yes, I did end up on the other side of a private sign. But it’s not how I thought it would be… It is much much better and I would not trade it for all the condensed milk in the world!
Moment of the month
Another perk of living behind a “no entry” signs is that it necessarily means you’ll spend some time in the area. You’ll get to know some of the animals as individuals and learn more about how extraordinary Mother Nature is.
In the August 2012 edition of Wildlife Camp’s newsletter we reported on a zebra that obviously had a run-in with some large cats. At that time she was wearing her scar with pride. In February we saw her again and she looks terrific! Her laceration is all healed up and the only evidence of her clash with the titans is that her stripes do not match up perfectly anymore. She also sports a couple of extra stripes: In the form of a stunning little foal that follows his mother wherever she goes.
It was amazing to follow her recovery, from the distressed zebra she was merely a dozen months before to the beaut she has become. And for that, she deserves the honour of being named our Moment of the Month.
We have uploaded an album with her journey onto our facebook page at www.facebook.com/WildlifeCamp
Herman and myself will be attending Indaba again this year. If you find yourself in Durban, South Africa from the 11th to the 14th of May please come and say hi to us.
Kind Regards from all of us here at Wildlife Camp, South Luangwa, Zambia.