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My Trip Report Letter - Kafue, South Luangwa, Bangweulu -2007


Caracal
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We met Louise in 2005 and struck up an instantaneous friendship staying the same 5 nights at Foxes Katavi Wilderness Camp Tanzania. Louise, an American, was then living in Charleston, South Carolina.

In 2007 we spent a few days in LA catching up with one of my nephews then a memorable few days in Charleston with Louise before heading to UK seeing my brother and sister and families and friends from my childhood and youth. Then to Lunga River Lodge and Kapinga Camp Kafue, Kaingo South Luangwa, Shoebill Island Camp Bangweulu, Nsefu South Luangwa before returning to Australia.

 

I recently came across a photocopy I made of the letter I wrote to Louise. It was a handwritten letter so the following is a typed copy of that letter with the addition of some photos. Hope it still qualifies as a trip report of sorts.

 

 

 

7th October 2007

 

Dear Louise,

Do hope this long overdue letter finds you well with everything going to plan for the big move. We’ve recently gone onto broadband so we were fascinated to watch the video of the Panama development. The whole set up looks great and what a spectacular setting with the canyon and the majestic backdrop of the volcano.

Many thanks for the photos - a great reminder of our wonderful stay in Charleston. Once you’ve settled in to your new surrounds you’ll have to start thinking about a visit Down Under – we’d love to have you stay with us and to show you around our corner of the world.

Now I need to tell you a bit about our time in Zambia. On 1st August we flew from London to Joburg and then got a connecting BA flight to Livingstone. This time there were no problems with either our flights or our luggage at Joburg! On arriving at Livingstone we had a charter flight of about 2 hours to Kafue National Park. Kafue is vast and a a lot of the flight was over the park as we were staying in the northern section of the park. Our first stop was at the Lunga River Lodge where we stayed two nights and were the only guests. The cabins are right on the river bank and the bar/lounge has a decking out over the bank so that you can gaze up and down the river. A beautiful scene with lovely trees and vegetation on both banks but what really amazed us was the clarity of the water – you could see the river bed from the boat. That was something we hadn’t expected given the large hippo population not to mention the crocs and elephants bathing and swimming across.

 

Sam our guide was a great character who had an eveready smile – he seemed equally at home taking us for a boat trip, a game drive or a walk. He was from the Lozi tribe whose kingdom in western Zambia was known as Barotseland. On our boat trips we got close up and personal with a large number of hippos but if Sam felt they were too close he would tap gently on the side of the boat with his oar till they ducked under or moved away. On occasions we would startle hippos on the river bank creating a hippo diving contest as they rushed into the water causing large rippling waves which added to the boating experience.One particular hippo got a very poor score from us ( I could only give it 3 out of 10 ) as it tripped, stumbled and fell into the river !! I called it a hippo flop!

 

There was wonderful birdlife up and down the river and we saw some memorable elephant scenes with swimming, playfighting in the river etc.

 

 

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We then took a helicopter ride to Kapinga Camp in the Busanga Plains in the extreme north western corner of the park. Neither of us had been in a helicopter before and we loved the experience – skimming over what seemed a vast and endless miombo woodland till suddenly the woodland ends abruptly and in complete contrast there are seemingly endless grassy plains.

 

Our accommodation at Kapinga was amazing – almost too luxurious. A huge tented room on a wooden platform with both an inside and an outside shower plus a large decking area with a slightly sunken deck with its own settee overlooking the plains.

If you look up the Wilderness Safari website and find Kapinga you’ll get the idea.

 

There are lots of puku and red lechwe on the plains which are flooded in the rains. The plains are dotted with islands which are slight elevated areas covered in trees and undergrowth – these “islands” vary in size from quite small patches to say Kapinga island which is about 11 km long. The plains had mainly dried out when we were there with the water receding to the river and channels.

There were however still vast numbers of water birds such as open billed storks, spoonbills, yellow billed storks, egrets, herons, kingfishers etc.

 

Wildlife highlights consisted of a great herd of roan antelope. A secretary bird killing and eating a snake, a serval cat, and watching lions lazing in the grass with a gentle and slow moving grass fire approaching and wondering how close they would let the flames reach before deigning to move – answer – leave it till the very last minute!!

 

We stayed at Kapinga for 3 nights and the first night we were again the only guests – could get used to being thoroughly spoilt I think.

 

I think part of the magic of Africa are the sounds and particularly the night sounds – I loved lying in bed hearing hyenas whooping, lions roaring, a leopard cough, frogs croaking and the other sounds that I can’t identify.

 

We had a memorable walk there when we were in thick undergrowth on the island and came very close to a herd of nervous and wary elephants. It was just John and I and Brad our guide with an armed ranger and Brad told us to pick our tree to stand behind if the herd which was about 20 metres away broke through the undergrowth our way. Amazing how much noise we humans make even when we’re trying to be quiet – that little twig or dried leaf stepped on sounds like a whipcrack. When they caught our scent or presence they broke through the undergrowth away from us. They are wary of humans because there has

been poaching and also because there is a hunting concession just the other side of the nearby park boundary.

I was glad we visited Kafue which had a feel of authentic Africa.

 

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We then took flights to Luangwa and spent 3 nights at Kaingo Camp run by Shenton Safaris. A lovely camp on the river bank. Great sighting of a leopard and a lion kill and a wonderful 3 hour walk to the Bush Camp with Bill and Karen a great couple from Arizona who are spending their children’s and grandchildren’s inheritance!

 

We were very fortunate to be led on the walk by Derek Shenton. Derek confirmed to me that he is the son of Barry Shenton who is mentioned in Norman Carr’s book “The Valley of the Elephants”.

Barry was a ranger in Kafue National Park in its early days before moving to Luangwa. Derek is imbued with knowledge of the African bush and love for its wildlife and being tall and handsome is the archetypal image of the “great white hunter”.

 

We walked through a beautiful ebony grove in the early morning with the baboons coming down from the safety of overnight sleep in the high branches and a troop of banded mongoose on the search for breakfast then across dusty plains to the Bush Camp.

 

On the way we saw a good herd of wildebeest and we came across a 400 to 500 strong herd of buffalo which we got relatively close to – CAUTIOUSLY!

 

At Derek’s instigation I took a photo of a recent lion spoor which I am really pleased with and which I would never have thought of taking.

I’m also pleased to report that we viewed a busy group of guinea fowl whilst on our walk – they were dressed immaculately as always.

 

Apart from that and other walks we saw great wildlife on our game drives including giraffe, eland, kudu, elephant , impala, puku, warthogs etc.

 

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We then took a light plane to Shoebill Island Camp in the Bangweulu wetlands. Ah – Bangweulu. For us Bangweulu had its own mystery and magic which still lingers in the memory.

I have visions of vast herds of black lechwe which are endemic to Bangweulu.

Thoughts of being close to the spot where Livingstone died.

Thoughts of being close to the source of the Congo.

Mornings with the mist rising off the waters and herds of black lechwe trailing through the mists and the waters to their feeding grounds.

 

The sun rising and the sun setting over the waters.

Being poled through the waters and through the papyrus.

Being the only two white people for miles – on the first night there was a couple from Arkansas but they left the next morning and we were then the only guests yet again – but above all I think we felt that we were in the heart of Africa and meeting and seeing Africans as they are and as they live.

Our accommodation was a ground tent with not a lot of room inside – two chairs out the front and a toilet and bucket shower out the back. The dining room and bar – a basic building with a table, a fridge in the corner and a rather dilapidated lounge suite in the other corner. The game drive vehicle was a rather battered ute with an even more battered windscreen ( due to an accident that happened when we were there the windscreen was virtually shattered ) and the boats – two canoe type vessels that had long been past their prime and whose buoyancy looked somewhat questionable.

 

The above are facts not a criticism for we had the most wonderful time. The staff were all locals and natural people without the sometimes insincere politeness that can come with training in the hospitality industry ( Paul did not say ‘’enjoy’’ when he put the food on the table! ) .

None of them could say Clive so I was just called Bwana and John was Bwana John.

We never did find a shoebill but that was not due to lack of trying on the part of the guides – they made every possible endeavour and seemed very disappointed more so than us. I tried to explain to them that I had really come to Bangweulu to see the 100,000 black lechwe which I’d read about but I’ve a feeling they thought I was just being polite in saying that.

In fact it was the truth.

 

On the first morning we were boated through the waters and then waded through the marshes without a shoebill sighting so a more determined attempt was scheduled for the next morning. The news was spread and apparently word came back that a shoebill had been sighted by local fisherman in a particular area. We left at 6.00 am with Emmanuel and Patson poling us in one canoe and James following in a smaller rickety looking little canoe. We glided silently through papyrus and swamps until the water got shallower and the weed growth thicker – we then transferred to James’ little boat – my seat consisted of a rather uncomfortable coca cola crate and conditions were cramped to say the least – the weedmats were thick in the water but with great physical strength on the part of James & Patson we kept going. Eventually the boat could make no further progress so from then on it was wading through marshes and waters with areas of luxury when we could walk on dry ground.

 

We came across a number of little fishing camps and were welcomed by the adults and were a curiosity for the children who initially hid behind their parents then later came out smiling.

 

The fishing villages are some distance back so that they are not flooded in the wet season and as the plains dry out and the water recedes fishing families build temporary camps so that they don’t have to walk far to their fishing grounds – fishing is done mainly by basketry fishing traps and nets strung through the shallow waters. The camps consist of grass huts and shelters for windbreaks and drying racks for the fish.

 

By mid morning the sun had warmed things up and Patson suggested that I leave my jacket on a fishing rack at one little camp that we passed where the family came out to say hello. I must have looked slightly quizzical for a moment because he added that my jacket and its contents would be perfectly safe as I was an honoured guest – no one would dream of

touching it – and I could collect it on our return that way. We carried on wading and walking and then sat in the shade of a bush and had a picnic lunch whilst Patson went on for another hour trying to find the elusive shoebill. He did not want us to walk further if it was to no avail. He came back rather crestfallen saying no luck – so round we turned and headed back wading walking wading etc collecting my jacket on the way then the rickety boat and then the canoe type boat and back to camp passing hundreds of lechwe and waterbirds and getting cheery waves and acknowledgements from the fishermen on the way. Not sure how they balance standing up in their mokoros but they do.

 

We got back to camp about 3.00pm and a short time later set off in the vehicle across the plains through massive herds of black lechwe accompanied by side striped jackals, and later a good herd of tsessebe near some woodlands.

 

A long tiring but very satisfying day that gave us a great insight into the African way of life in the Bangweulu wetlands.

 

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There was quite a gathering at the little airstrip on the morning we were due to fly back to Luangwa and a lengthy conversation with the pilot. It transpired that they had apprehended a poacher the night before and they said he was sick ( ie Aids ) and didn’t have the facilities to retain him. They were begging a favour off us and the pilot to fly the poacher with a guard to their administration post which they said was on the way to Luangwa and only a 10 minute flight. The poacher had apparently shot or killed a black lechwe. We ended up agreeing so the handcuffed poacher sat in the seat in the back, then the guard and I & John in the front with the pilot. I felt sorry for the poacher – he looked so young and probably was scared out of his mind about the plane and us and the flight. Flying off we passed over the plains which were covered by lechwe like ants and I couldn’t help thinking that maybe he needed food for himself or his family and if so perhaps one lechwe would be hardly missed given the thousands below.

Never thought I would start to feel sorry for a poacher but there you are.

 

Back in Luangwa we went to Nsefu a Robin Pope Camp we had visited in 2000. Dowdi a driver/guide was still there and it was good to catch up with him along with an elderly American from Idaho known as Dr Death who was also there in 2000. Dr Death has been visiting Luangwa every August for years.

 

We had some wonderful walks, game drives and sundowners and enjoyed our return there.

 

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Then home and I was only back a few days before flying to Perth for a friend’s birthday.

Have now settled back into life here – much to do in the garden but pleased to report that Jake our dog is well and that the chooks are laying well at the moment. John has penned up his two roosters for a few days to give his girls a break from their constant and forceful attentions!!

Do hope that all is well with you Louise and please send our best wishes and say hi to Kathleen, Betsy, Donna, Jim, Amanda and Alisha.

Looking forward to hearing all about the move in due course.

Thinking of you

Love

Clive

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Footnote: Haven’t seen Louise since 2007 but we keep in touch and she’s living in Panama now. John and I returned to Kafue in 2010 and 2011. Last year I emailed Louise saying we plan to return to Kafue this year – what about joining us. She jumped on board. Flights coordinated to arrive same morning at Joburg and we’re booked on the same flight to Lusaka. Then:-

Pioneer Camp – I night

Leopard Lodge – 4 nights

Kaingu Lodge – 4 nights

Nanzhila Safari Camp – 5 nights

Waterberry Lodge Livingstone – 3 nights

All with road transfers.

Getting tantalizingly close now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This is wonderful - and it definitely qualifies as a trip report! When is the upcoming trip? That is so fun that she is meeting you for another trip in Africa!

Edited by SafariChick
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Thanks SafariChick - all being well both flights will arrive in Joburg 27 August 2014 and the 3 of us are booked on the same flight from Joburg to Lusaka to start off our safari

Actually, before Katavi, we met Louise briefly at Joburg airport back in 2005 when the whole place was in chaos due to a snap strike by SAA so we shared stories straight away when we met up on the airstrip to Katavi some days later.

Just realised I missed the following from my report before the shot of that traditional medicine shop in Joburg near the end ( one hates to think how all those skins etc were acquired )

 

On way back to Joburg we just made our connecting flight at Livingstone by the skin of our teeth. We were overnight at Joburg and had a day to kill as our flight out the next day wasn’t till 10.00pm – took a four hour tour of Joburg and Soweto. Fascinating and so pleased that we did.

 

Don't know how to insert it ( I had plenty of difficulties with uploading photos etc as I'm not very IT savvy but thanks to the helpful posts from GW and Inyathi in particular eventually succeeded ) so if anyone can help please oblige.

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I've only just started reading this and it definitely is a trip report. The bits I've read so far are fantastic and I like the different, rather more personal style which a letter gives it. Look forward to getting right into it all.

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Don't know how to insert it ( I had plenty of difficulties with uploading photos etc as I'm not very IT savvy but thanks to the helpful posts from GW and Inyathi in particular eventually succeeded ) so if anyone can help please oblige.

 

Unfortunately you can´t since it´s only possible to edit your own posts for 2 hours. But maybe one of the moderators could edit for you.

 

Very much enjoyed you report, thank you. Love the roan antelopes in the golden light, and the black lechwes are stunning as well. The pic of the lion nonchanlantly ignoring the fire is quite amusing. A pity you didn´t find shoebill, though. Any chance for seeing them on your upcoming trip?

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A great trip down memory lane! @@Caracal

 

Familiar faces of Shoebill Camp staff (my visit was last year).

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Very interesting letter that turned into a lovely report. I especially liked the locals and their pics..hope you have a fabulous return visit!

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Thanks for the kind comments. There’s a lot of catching up for me to do on this site when I get back.

 

Michael – No chance of a shoebill sighting this time round. Shoebill’s destined to rank

alongside the Iringa red colubus and the Sanje crested mangabey as permanently

elusive for me. The closest I got to red colubus was in Udzungwa Mountains NP

standing under tall trees where a troop had been overnighting and inhaling the

remarkably pungent smell of their urine they’d kindly left behind for me.

Never mind that steep climb had its own rewards including the beauty of the Sanje

Falls and the magnificent views across the plains to the Selous from the top.

 

Safaridude – Interesting to learn that the staff remain the same at Shoebill Island.

I’ll be rereading your great interview with Peter Moss and Steve Smith before I

head off.

 

Graceland - See you’re heading off soon as well. Exciting isn’t it. You have a great

time too.

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Thanks for typing all of this in from your letter. Nice roan shots. The flames add a whole new dimension to your lion shots. What a touching ending. I too felt sorry for that poacher. Looks like a return is coming up. I think Oct is one of the toughest times to find a shoebill in Bangweulu, but looks like you had a great visit anyway.

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That golden light on the roans is very special. I am still waiting to see a real one! I am always excited to read about Kafue and Bangweulu - you have both here. Very enjoyable read, Caracal. I wish I had someone who wrote these kinds of letters to me :) Sounds like another wonderful trip coming up - here's hoping you have a great safari.

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Lynn - Thanks. So pleased that you can relate to my feelings re the poacher. I realised that day that the whole issue is a lot more complicated and not as straightforward as I'd imagined.

 

Sangeeta - Have you got Kafue on the radar?

In 2010 and 2011 down south at Nanzhila roan, sable, hartebeest, kudu, wildebeest, oribi, reedbuck and others were all present.

I trust that they will be again on my forthcoming visit. Nanzhila Plains Safari Camp is a personal favourite.

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Best ending to a trip report ever - we're going again.... very soon. Really enjoyed this - thanks.

 

Wow! You were not joking about last minute with the lion. Wonder if it was cinders in the mane that finally made home move - an outstanding sighting.

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Pault - I had trouble trying to insert one particular photo for this TR and gave up. Thanks for your post. Encouraged me to have another try. Think I've got it now. Shows how close. Hope you like it and have a great trip.

 

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@@Caracal

Thank you for a very enjoyable report

I love the Heron (?) on the back of the hippo - and the lion with the fire is amazing.

I think it is always interesting to see the lives of the people as well as the wildlife

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Pault - I had trouble trying to insert one particular photo for this TR and gave up. Thanks for your post. Encouraged me to have another try. Think I've got it now. Shows how close. Hope you like it and have a great trip.

 

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Hahaha... Actually by "we" I meant "you". How logical I am. Fortunately I am off elsewhere in Africa next week though. Thanks for the additional photo - amazing!

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I like this style of report! It's very personal. You had many great sightings, and I'm sure your next trip won't disappoint!

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@@Caracal Thanks so much. Have a great trip....after you return you might write another letter, this time to us, your friends that you have not met.

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Thanks @@TonyQ - it's a Grey Heron I think. Thanks also to @@Marks & @@marg.

Hmmm.... You've got me thinking @@marg - maybe the way for me to go.

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