A day at Wildlife Camp:
It is 5:00 on a chilly July morning in the Luangwa Valley, Zambia and Wildlife Camp is waking up after a moonless night. They were relatively quiet dark hours with the exception the customary hippo-opera every now-and-then and a couple of elephants that woke us up shortly after midnight with their loud eating manners. As the sun starts lighting up the African landscapes around the Luangwa River the Cape-Turtle Doves have already started calling in the African Ebony trees around the restaurant: “Work-harder, Work-harder.” It is peak season here and we all have to work extra hard today!
Silhouettes in the dark.
All around camp the watchmen have started waking guests up so the safaris can start at 6:00. The earlier the better! One-by-one the chalets come alive with rustles and soon afterwards silhouettes in the dark move slowly towards the restaurant. The guests in the lagoon-side chalets are being picked up as it is still too early to walk – elephants can be the same colour as the morning. In the distance I can hear water rumbling as a hippo and her calf make their ways back into the river after a whole night of grazing on its banks – I can’t help but wonder if it was the same two that tried to invade my garden during the night?
The guides and barmen are already on duty. Sly is taking his guests on a walking safari this morning and is making sure that everybody is dressed right; bush-colour clothes, good shoes and a sun hat! Phil and Su are driving a group of Swiss and Billy will make sure that Sally & Peter (from the USA) enjoy their last morning-safari before their flight back home tomorrow. BJ is taking a couple of campers into the park. By this time the watchmen have all gathered to be taken out into Mfuwe-town after their shift. And when all the vehicles are out Wildlife Camp becomes quiet again, for the next hour at least…
It is now a couple of minutes before 7:00 and the staff for today will soon arrive from Mfuwe. There is a big assortment of workers on duty today. 5 Guides, 1 Receptionist, 5 Cooks, 6 Barmen, 4 Housekeepers, 1 Mechanic, 2 trainee mechanics and a handyman. 1 Carpenter, 3 Gardeners, 2 brick-layers, 6 general workers and a couple of spotters. As soon as they arrive the back of Wildlife Camp is transformed into an ant-nest. Walking between the workshop and the office you pass the kitchen where Dora is just finishing off giving her instructions for the day ahead: “… and let’s prepare some home-made ice-cream for dessert tonight. Everybody likes home-made ice-cream!” At 7:20 everybody is hard at work to ensure that camp operates smoothly.
One of the first jobs for the day is to stock up the bars. Mosi, the local beer and Coke. Bottles of merlot and sauvignon blanc and off course gin; MUST HAVE GIN! And in the Tamarind-tree outside the drinks-store I can hear the doves: “Work-harder, Work-harder.”
Exciting routine jobs.
One of my favourite tasks of the day is to go and make sure that the bush-camp is ready for the guests arriving in the afternoon. As I take the 20-minute drive there with one of the casual-workers we count the giraffes and the number grows to 26! They adore the acacia trees around camp. At bush-camp we deliver water and firewood, check the tents and provide details on the sleeping arrangements for tonight’s guests. On our way back we again count the giraffe: 0. It is amazing how fast a tall-as-a-tree animal can disappear…
Back in camp a lot of routine work gets done while the guests are out on safari. Chalets are cleaned, the swimming pool is doctored and Retha is answering e-mails. In the camp-site the elephants from last night broke off two big Mopane branches and left them on the walkway. Looks like they had a good time last night! We decide to add these to the firewood collection. (It is these types of things that make the routine work seem exciting.) Herman makes sure that the generator is checked and then starts a routine check on one of the Land Rovers. A local vegetable salesman stops his bicycle next to the kitchen and Dora is there to see what he has to offer: Tomatoes, lettuce, butternuts and basil. It is important to us to support the local farmers.
By 10:00 the smell of freshly baked bread and muffins flow from the kitchen and it is hard to resist the temptation to go in and grab a hot bun – Dora is very protective over her baked goods, much to the dismay of Herman, the kids and me. The game drives also start coming back one-by-one. This morning the park has delivered photographs of giraffe, zebra, waterbuck, impala, puku and vultures (both white-backed and hooded). A large herd of buffalo (almost 600 bovines) produced the most photos. No cat sightings this morning (only the lion tracks closely following the herd of buffalo), which was maybe a good thing after last night’s cats-galore safaris. Lunch follows soon (Kebab’s with couscous and the promised fresh bread and salad) after which our guests make their ways along the river to the swimming pool for a cold beer and a siesta.
After lunch Wildlife Camp is quiet. The phone hardly ever rings, the kitchen is an empty-room filled with empty pots and empty pans. The garage is filled with stationary Land Rovers and the hippos in the river are all fast asleep. Even Dora takes this time to go home for a while. But then, just as you think that you’ll close your eyes for a couple of minutes the Cape Turtle Dove in the Lead Wood tree sings again: “Work-harder, Work-harder.”
It is now 15:30 and tea and coffee and the prized muffins are ready for the guests to enjoy before they embark on another night-safari. The guides and some of the management are also in the restaurant, chatting with guests and telling stories of their own experiences in the bush – the guides always have the best stories about their days spent in the company of Africa’s largest and most dangerous animals. As soon as the muffins are finished guests automatically move towards the Land Rovers. With friendly waves they are sent on their way, to return at 20:15. A group of six guests start their walk out to our lovely bush-camp. They’ll spend the night out in the bush with a camp fire, good wine and great food. They are escorted by Sly and David, an armed scout from the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA).
Soon after the safaris leave the staff also gather around the vehicle that will take them back home for the night. It had been a long day and they all deserve the rest. But the day here at Wildlife Camp is not over yet! For now at least, with all the guests in the park and most of the staff back home we can take a break for a while and watch the sun go down over the Luangwa River. Our resident herd of giraffe make their appearance from nowhere. On the other side of the river elephants gather and we speculate whether they’ll cross the river, but in the end they don’t. Slowly but surely the hippos move out of the water closely watched by the crowd in the camp-site bar with gin-and-tonics in their hands. They do not talk, they do not wander off and they do not worry about a single thing in this world; they just sit and watch as the sun disappears behind the Muchinga-escarpment for the 209th time this year. Every sunset here from Wildlife Camp is unique, hence the photo-exhibition. Even Herman, who has watched this sun go down for the better part of 20 years can be found on his stoep with a cup of tea in the one hand and a cigarette in the other admiring the round ball of fire in the sky. From a sausage tree nearby the Cape Turtle Doves have altered their tunes slightly. “Drink-Lager, Drink-Lager” they sing this time and I am but happy to oblige.
At 17:00 the watchmen arrive from the village and the cooks are back in the kitchen to prepare tonight’s three course dinner. Power-cuts are a part of life here in the Luangwa Valley, especially over weekends, and tonight is no different. Minutes before 19:00 camp suddenly goes dark but we know the drill by now – make sure that all the geysers and fridges are switched off and 5 minutes later the generator provides us with electricity.
At 20:15 guests arrive back from their night safaris. Judging by their smiles, it was a very good night in the park. Genets, Civets, Porcupines, a stalking leopard, eating lions and a Pal’s fishing Owl. But it was the sunset in Wamilombe with yawning hippos in the foreground that produced the most photos.
The restaurant is soon transformed into a hub filled with chatter and people sharing their own bush stories and photos. Pumkin Soup, Dora’s famous Pork-in-pastry with potatoes and local vegetables followed by ice-cream is on the menu tonight. Those who decide to stay up a little later enjoy a cup of coffee by the fire. Far off the lions roar at each other. For now, the cape-turtle doves are quiet, but only until tomorrow morning at 5:00 when we have the pleasure of doing it all over again.
Moment of the month.
If I try to describe July’s best moment I will surely ruin it with words. Hence, I will keep it short and very sweet: Leopards are scarce, shy and elusive. They prefer a solitary lifestyle, spending their days sleeping in trees and their nights wandering around in thick bushes or tall grass looking for a meal. In July, a male-leopard in our bush-camp area has given up on being shy and started coming into camp late at night, when everybody is fast asleep, to help himself to the bush-camp water containers. He has obviously decided that bore-hole water is much better than river water. He leaves just a quietly as he came, leaving only prints to proof that he was there.
And that is it for the July newsletter.
Kind Regards from everybody here at Wildlife Camp, including Herman, Patsy, Dora, Retha the 5 Guides, 1 Receptionist, 5 Cooks, 6 Barmen, 4 Housekeepers, 1 Mechanic, 2 trainee mechanics and the handyman. The Carpenter, the 3 Gardeners, 2 brick-layers, 6 general workers and the spotters.