As time goes by, I realized that it’s already end of January and there is a newsletter to be written! I’m afraid that this is a real challenge for me as English is not really my first language, but I learn. January is an astonishing month with some heavy storms, frightening lightening, beautiful sunsets and of course plenty of animals. In this moment I had to interrupt my writing as the elephants passed next to the Camp and I also heard the lions roaring across the river. After all those years in Africa, it’s still a great event and excitement for me. Our daily discussion, like everywhere else in the world, is the weather, the rising of the river, the concern from our staff about the fields and of course the concern from our clients if they can go on a drive. But the drives have been excellent with some amazing moments.
In those last weeks the staff were busy with the construction of the new reception, planting grass in our garden, thatching the roofs, slashing, fixing and replacing. Our Restaurant will get a new touch in green, competing with the colors of the bush. But of course I have to speak about our Wildlife: a few days ago, Phillimon called on the radio and passed the message that 5 lions are just by the turn off to our Camp. I called Herman, jumped in the car and we had an excellent look at one male and four females – a family of impalas immediately spotted them and moved towards them, also the baboons had a good look at their enemies, especially the baby baboons jumped up as to say: I want to see, I want to see! Almost everyday the elephants are our visitors, not to mention all the impalas, pukus, mongoose, monkeys, baboons and the bushbucks. The monkeys are just waiting for a chance to steal some food – it is a constant battle and often the monkeys are the winners! The daily call from the robin chat is just a delight and the distinguished Tr.. Tr.. from the woodland kingfisher is part of the beautiful bush song book.
Our clients can often sit in front of the restaurant, having a good drink and simply enjoy the beauty of the Luangwa Valley.
A morning drive report from Phillimon:
We had a exciting morning drive. We saw almost all the common herbivores like zebras, buffalo, impala, puku, elephant and giraffes. But had not yet seen any carnivores, especially lions. The guests were happy, but still wanted to see the big cats. Having a break around 9 AM at a place called big Baobab, I warned my guests not to go very far from the car because this place is a good place for lions. The normal business is, that clients want to *mark* their territories out of the site (hidden place toilet!). This is human…
I still insisted that it was not safe to go far away from the car. Everything was good so far and everybody was cooperative, thinking maybe the guide is right or anxious! Late afternoon around 15.30 PM, we were driving through the same place and what a day. At the exact place where we had a break, there were 17 Lions! 6 big females, 4 young males, 1 big males and the rest were cubs.
This was a good place for them to get ready for the hunt. Later that day, after a nice sundowner, we drove back and saw the lions on a mission! Unfortunately it was too far and I just guessed that they killed a puku. Phillimon ended the drive with a smile on his face as a client asked him, if giraffes are eating meat?? Well, we wait for the day to see them hunting.
We wish you all an excellent month
Dora and the Wildlife Team
And some updates on the Chipata road and as Gerald Durrell put it…”my family and other animals” – version by Patsy…This will be a fairly long newsletter as January went by so fast we somehow did not do one then! (…and Colleen was not here to remind me!)
Christmas was a wonderful family day, lunch was had outside and a swim afterwards was in order. Both Byron (8) and Tara (7) still have the wonderful childhood belief in father Christmas (having been home schooled they have not had older children dispelling this) So a few days before Christmas they went into the bush to cut a suitable tree to decorate and then decided that they needed to buy Mum presents. Tim duly helped out with this request and instead of facing manic shopping malls had the only local option of tribal textiles, so all shopping was completed stress free! Byron is the practical child and very curious, He wanted to get hold of the Wild Dog researchers and borrow a camera trap to try and see what Father Christmas looks like!
A few days before Christmas I had my treat, it was midday and I was outside in the garden cutting Anna’s hair (one does learn a multitude of skills here..) and the monkeys started alarm calling so we were immediately alert, then on the opposite bank we saw a lone wildebeest. He then crossed the river right in front of us, a lot of leaps and bounds and as he hit the deeper water the crocs came in from all angles. He made it across and then sauntered past the bar and was gone. This is the first time I have ever seen one this far down as they usually only are found much higher up in the park. The monkeys here also obviously had never seen one hence the alarm calls as this was an animal they had never seen before. Where he had come from and how he had been separated from the herds up North will always remain a mystery but he was trying to head home and I wonder if he made it. He was a cooksons wildebeest endemic to Luangwa.
There seems a gap in camp as after three years with us Colleen has left to seek new adventures. She came to us doing her first teaching position after university and what a fantastic teacher she is. She also become my right hand person and covered many positions in the camp. I know she will be back as she is certainly like family to me but I do understand that there are other challenges in life and her need to move on and conquer them.
Thankfully Dora will be staying on with us and anyone who has been here in the past two years will know how she has become a key figure in our team and is irreplaceable! Most of our staff are now taking a well deserved break and taking turns to help run the camp in the quieter months. It is now the time of the year where we have the time to refurbish the camp and this will be done one chalet at a time ensuring we can still stay open and yet do the major spring clean at the same time.
The campsite remains busy and our guides are also taking turns fitting in leave. February looks like it will be a busy month for this time of the year and bookings are looking very positive for the season – seems like many South African families are escaping the 2010 world cup and coming for a visit!
Last week I went to Chipata and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at the road (for this time of year that is) The first 15 km out of Chipata is a bit rough as the road works to upgrade the road have already started and there are a few detours and machinery on the road. The next section is very good… for this road!! At the junction where you take a sharp left the road does get worse and is almost cobble like, but not likely to give any problems. The worst section is from komoto hospital (jumbe) to the second tar over the mpata hills and from there to the tar at Mfuwe. This has a lot of corrugations and basically is just a section to endure and know you are getting closer! It took me 2.5 hours from Chipata to the camp and as I know the road well I am sure I travel a bit faster so basically I would put the timing as 3 hours from Chipata. I will give regular updates as the work on the road progresses and the conditions improve.
Now to the section of animals!
A few days ago we had very heavy rains and early in the morning, Dora and the staff, on the early morning duty saw a family of banded mongooses moving house. They had obviously got rained out in the night and their burrows flooded out. They were a mixed group and the very small babies were being carried in the mouths of the adults. I came over to the office around 8 a.m and on the way heard very bird like calls but recognized these as calls from baby mongoose. I walked in the gulley between the office and my house and found two extremely cold, wet and muddy babies, they were so exhausted they made no attempt to move as I scooped them up. I was worried they would not even survive the next few hours and washed them in warm water to get the mud off them and then tried to warm them up and feed them. The first day we tried to find the family and Mago, the gardener, successfully tracked the family for at least a kilometer before losing them as I had wanted to try and get the babies back with the family.
The babies are now named Goose and Finn. Goose is slightly older and is doing very well. She is full of life and loves meal times, she was the first one to respond to my voice and now gets very excited when she hears me coming to fetch her. Goose plays like a young puppy and the other day had a mouthful of the blanket and was shaking this around like a dog would do. Her body is about 3 inches long and she does not miss anything. Finn is the smaller of the two and I think from a different litter (mongooses do synchronize their deliveries so all the babies are a similar age) He is blind in the one eye and is one of the most scruffiest and neglected looking babies I have ever seen, from the day we found him he has not done as well as Goose and I hope I can get him through the first few weeks and then I am sure he will be okay. He is the baby on the photo with the matchbox as this gives an indication of his size.
Both Goose and Finn have become firm friends with Evance Banda (a baby squirrel who fell out of the campsite bar roof when he was about 5 days old) Evance is now over a month old and is well traveled as he has already flown with me to Lusaka and been on a boat trip up the Luangwa. All there of them sleep together and Goose and Evance do have regular squabbles over seniority.
Well I could ramble on but let me go and feed the babies and I will give you all updates on their progress next month
Patsy… Goose, Finn and Evance!