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Galago

Three Rivers Safari: Luambe, Kafue, Vic Falls

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optig

@Galago I would love to visit Luambe because I have already been once to North Luangwe and once to Kafue.I would love to combine Kafue, Luambe, Liuwa plains and Bangweulu.However I wouldn't stay at Luambe until they get the problems sorted out with food and management.

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Galago

A trip to Vic Falls was organised by Waterberry and we just had to pay the entrance fees. We've been advised to do both sides and, most especially the Zim side as water levels are very low this year and there's not much to see from the Zambia side. Fortunately I'd asked for Kaza visas when we arrived which simplify matters a lot. Our driver is Katenga, but he’s known as Mr K, and before we leave he takes us with great deliberation through his ‘Four Principles’, Safety, Sensitivity, Education and – I forget the fourth one!  

Driving through Livingstone at a sedate pace we have plenty of time to look at what’s on offer in the town. It’s small with wide, tree-lined streets still carrying an air of its colonial past. Busy Brain Auto Parts conjures thoughts of cerebral spares and there’s another tortuous mixed metaphor from Harvey Tiles, this time stating that a roof without these tiles is ‘Like a school without teachers. There will be illiteracy’. Heaven forfend we should have an illiterate roof! By far the best is the sign about not giving money to children in the street that requests visitors to refrain from ‘arm giving’, no legs mentioned though.

 

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We pass a place where the river is wide and, at this time of year, shallow with lots of exposed rocks and we stop to look out towards Livingstone Island, the place where I visited the Falls five years ago. A sign marks high water in a flood on 1958. It’s as tall as me and, given that the road is raised several metres above the river, it must have been a devastating flood.

 

 

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Under Mr K's tutelage we fill in the complicated forms required to gain entry into Zimbabwe. The crossing point between Zambia and Zimbabwe is a hive of activity, lorries, cars, vans, bicycles, hand-carts, pedestrians carrying bundles of goods, hustlers hanging around and somewhat bewildered looking tourists. It seems that this is where old Royal Mail lorries are sent to live out their final years.

 

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We’re thankful to have someone who knows the ropes and Mr K knows how to tick all the boxes in officialdom. Eventually we’re through and we drive to into Zim and the Vic Falls tourist information centre where we pay our entrance fee and Mr K talks us through the map showing the path that winds along the edge of the Falls. He tells us where he will wait for us in an hour and a half and we’re off. The OH gets his first glimpse of Mosi-oa-tunya, the smoke that thunders and, even though water levels are very low this year, it’s still a magnificent sight. I love the way the spray travels upwards forming a vertical cloud high over the Falls, thundering ‘smoke’ indeed.

We walk along the path to a statue of David Livingstone, looking every inch the Victorian explorer. If we’d been here ten days later it would be the 164th anniversary of his arrival at the Falls. Nearby is a viewpoint for the Devil’s Cataract, a 60 metre drop of rushing water which is separate from the main falls. Even though it’s low water the fury is quite scary and I stay well back from the flimsy fences made from a few slim branches.

 

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The real advantage of being here just before the rains is that you can actually see a lot. At high water times the spray is so dense it’s like a cloud and photography becomes almost impossible. We walk along a wooded path to face the main falls tipping over from the Zambian side. I’m surprised at just how little water there is and areas that were full of water when I visited before at this time of year before are now quite dry. Devil’s Pool and the surrounding areas are almost dry. However, this gives us great views of the towering cliffs of black basalt rock, fault lines turning them into columns of massive stones. The closer we get to the main Falls the damper it becomes, the vegetation more lush and rainforest-like which, in a way it is, not because of frequent rain but on account of the constant spray. Blue Waxbills are feeding in the leaf litter which is studded with fireball lilies, brilliant scarlet in a carpet of greens and browns. The view is getting hazier, we are getting wetter and the path is slippery so we decide to turn back towards the visitor centre.

 

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On the Zambian side it's really dry and we walk over the bridge. The rock formations are amazing. The statue of Livingstone rather less so.

 

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Back in Livingstone we’re taken for lunch at a place that provides training for young people. The service is charming and we sit outside under an awning enjoying a salad and then struggling with a gigantic serving of pasta. Mr K is waiting for us and takes us to the craft market. It a street lined with about 20-30 small lock ups displaying carvings, ornaments, jewellery, fabrics and all sorts of souvenirs. It’s colourful and not crowded at all and we stroll around sorting out a few gifts and souvenirs. Bargaining is with lots of laughs and jokes.

 

 

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Then it’s off to Shoprite, the town’s supermarket. The outside is covered in tinsel, there’s a large tree with even more tinsel and a full size Father Christmas. It’s seven weeks until Xmas and it’s 32C. I love visiting supermarkets in different countries, seeing what’s on offer, finding unusual items and buying stuff to take home. I’m surprised at the lack of choice but even more so at the prices. Much of the food is imported from South Africa and the prices are easily as high as in the UK. That puts the supermarket beyond the scope of many. We find bags of good Zambian coffee and I get some Moringa leaf and lemongrass tea bags and we get back to Waterberry just as the light is fading.

 

 

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Edited by Galago

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AKR1

@Galago

Just caught up with your wonderful trip report. Along with your beautiful pictures your writing truly makes the reader feel they are witnessing the bush with you. The idetailed descriptions ( warts & all) of the camps you stayed at will be of immense use to others planning a Zambian safari. 

Thank you for sharing and taking the effort to put together such a detailed report of your safari. 

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Galago

@AKR1 Thank you very much and I'm glad you're enjoying it. Just two more posts to add - the local village and school and then a very successful birding morning. It's a bit delayed as life got in the way but I'll be back at it soon!

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AfricIan

Is there life outside Safari;);)

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Galago

It’s a perfect morning. A hippo is lolling in the river outside our cottage and a couple of Wire-tailed Swallows are catching the early morning rays on a branch (you can just see them in the pic below).

 

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Breakfast on the deck is sunny and quiet but the Waterberry tree above us is a hive of activity with lots of large hawkmoths feeding on the white flowers. They look and behave just like the Hummingbird Hawkmoth that migrates to the UK from continental Europe, but they are considerably larger with a very long, angled proboscis. (Subsequent research suggests it’s African Hummingbird Hawkmoth, Macroglossum trochilus, but any input would be helpful. @Tom Kellie do you have any thoughts?)

 

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For breakfast we both have porridge, the OH has nsima and I have the more familiar kind, known here as Jungle Oats. Strangely both servings have a sprig of parsley in the centre, so they probably think we’re odd putting syrup on ours.

 

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Today we’re off to visit a couple of villages and the school that Waterberry Lodge helped to establish and now supports, Tukongote. Our guide is Webby, who grew up in the village. Siandunda has around 250 inhabitants but it merges almost imperceptibly into the next village, Komanyana. It’s brown and dusty and quite harsh looking, but the green growth that will follow the rains will presumably soften it and put leaves on the bare trees. Some of the houses are thatched rondavels, others are mud covered breeze blocks with corrugated iron roofing. A chicken with half a dozen young is pecking at the ground and a large pig with muddy legs snuffles along.

 

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Fenced in by barbed wire wrapped round small branches is a small herd of cows. This, says Webby, is the family’s bank account. Eight or ten cows comprise a bride price but these are paid in instalments over a few years to see how the marriage goes before parting with the lot. As the village is largely an extended family, marriage is usually to someone from another village. Webby explains that when a family needs money for a child’s education they will slaughter a cow or a pig. Word goes round quickly and people come to buy a piece of meat.

 

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We meet a couple of children aged 8 and 11 with a ‘car’ on the end of a long metal tube. It’s basically just some metal twisted into wheels and the OH says he had one like this when he was a kid in Portugal.

 

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We go over to a cluster of several buildings where a new house and separate kitchen are being built. Both are a variation on adobe style walls. Two girls, aged four, stare at us.

 

This will be the kitchen.

 

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A larger house has fresh terracotta coloured walls and a few white goats lie in its shade. This house has a tall aerial, the TV being powered for three or four hours at a time by a solar panel. The owners often put the TV outside and everyone gathers round to watch. Given the cost of a solar panel, $200, this family must be one of the more affluent in the village. We don’t see any other aerials.

 

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A group of half a dozen boys, some with the same ‘cars’ on sticks, peer at us from an adjacent building. They go to school but, as they are part of the afternoon shift, they are hanging around the village. They are quite keen to have their photo taken and they squint at the camera. All the children here wear faded t-shirts, clothes that have been donated to charity, shipped out and then sold in rural areas by local people. One of the boys is wearing a t shirt and pyjama trousers which are so old and ripped it makes me feel sad. The boy’s t shirt has a hole in it that’s larger than his stomach. Another, better dressed boy, wears a navy t shirt sporting a pale blue CND symbol (which for non-UK ST'ers is the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, founded in the late 50s and fondly known here is Ban the Bomb). The boys are wearing tough plastic sandals, an important protection against parasitic worms. They have so little and, as a tourist, I know we seem like millionaires to them. In a way, we are. It can feel voyeuristic doing a 'village tour' but, money goes back into the village from these tours and, most importantly, the school is maintained by tourist contributions.

 

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We move on to a small compound which belongs to the medicine man. The son of the village chief, he learned his skills from his grandfather. He’s young and currently lives alone. Around the house are various holes protected by thorns where he is experimenting with growing oranges and lemons from pips. Chicken wire protects seedlings growing in plastic bags. The chicken coop is on stilts and has a steep ‘gangplank’.

 

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Nearby a tree is crammed with plastic bags sprouting leaves. It looks like a an elevated rubbish dump but, in fact, these are vegetables planted in plastic bags wedged between the branches to protect them from the goats wandering freely round the village, happy to eat anything that sprouts leaves.

 

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I comment on the plastic rubbish that is scattered around the village and Webby tells us that this is something that has increased tremendously in the last ten years. They focus on educating the children about this and now and then have a cleaning day, piling up the rubbish which is then taken away by a truck from Waterberry Lodge.

A woman walks by carrying a washing up bowl full of pots and pans. She’s heading for the river to do the washing up and, as this is low water season, she has quite a walk and then has to clamber over rocks. When we reach the river people are a long way out on the rocks, washing clothes and dishes. Children play on the rocks – no helicopter parents here!

 

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As we head towards the school, Webby explains how it came about. When he was young and living in this village the walk to school was a round trip of 15 kms. Eventually he got a bicycle but he didn’t make the journey alone and gave two pals a ride on it as well. Not only are these enormous distances for kids to walk each day but they also run the risk of meeting dangerous animals. The school was so far away that it was impossible for the youngest children which meant that most children couldn’t go to school at all because they’d missed the first few years. Waterberry Lodge became involved with supporting the community and Comic Relief visited in the shape of Jack Dee and Dara O Briain. The two of them did the whole walk and funding was made available for a school to be built for the two villages. The first school was for infants and then a full primary level school was added. The lodge organises all the books and supplies plus the school uniforms, donating a share of the profits plus donations from guests.

I am amazed when we reach school. Having visited a few schools in Zambia and other African countries and seen many from the road, I’m expecting a building with a corrugated iron roof and plain rooms with large numbers of pupils crammed in. This school is beautifully painted with a string of brightly coloured cartoon kids all round the edge and above the entrance ‘Welcome to our school. We love to play. We love to learn.’ It wouldn’t look out of place in a middle class area in London!

 

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We walk into a large classroom where two teachers are teaching reading – to four children! The room is brightly decorated and there are a lot a shiny, new elementary reading books on a shelf next to a wall display of words set on paper flowers. One of the teachers introduces himself as Parity and we sit with Bertha aged 8 and Willard aged 7 and they read to us. I’m not sure if these children are having some remedial teaching because they haven’t reached a good standard for their age. However, with teaching facilities like that and such a wonderful teacher/ pupil ratio, they have every chance to catch up.

 

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Outside there are climbing frames and nicely decorated toilet blocks with separate facilities for boys and girls.

 

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We walk across to another classroom with a couple of dozen mainly 5 or 6 year olds with a few older ones, all in the Tukongote uniform of purple polo shirts and their own shorts or skirts sitting on benches at long tables. Again the room is decorated with brightly coloured teaching aids, all handmade, such as letters of the alphabet in upper and lower case, and numbers with the word underneath. The teacher asks them to sing the ‘welcome song’ and they burst into a raucous rendition of ‘We are pleased to see you! Welcome! Welcome! Welcome!’  Needless to say, I had a tear in my eye.

 

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Back at the lodge lunch on the deck is another delicious salad whilst, on the lawn close to our cottage, a group of young Vervet monkeys are playing, their acrobatic clowning keeping us laughing for a long time. They were a bit far for my bridge camera, so they're not exactly great shots, but they give a flavour of just how comical they were. They really could do with some captions.... all contributions welcome!

 

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The OH goes for a snooze in our cottage and I go for a walk around the grounds. The gardens are beautifully kept with flowers and bird and animal sculptures made from recycled metal. The lawns are completely green, even at the end of the dry season, because water can be pumped straight from the river to the sprinklers.

 

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A gecko type herp looks interesting. Again, any ID please?

 

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Over to the side, beyond a bed of tall blue flowers is a lake kept full with river water. There’s a swing hanging from a tree, a platform behind it with a view of the dambo and a small pontoon set out with chairs. It’s mid-afternoon and most of the birds are taking their siesta in the shade, but there’s the Black-collared Barbet’s ringing call. I spot it in a tree and get a  (not very good) photograph for the first time.

 

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At dinner the tables are laid with starched white linen and a scarlet hibiscus flower at each place setting.

 

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Tomorrow is our last day and we're off birding at crack of dawn.

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Galago

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TonyQ

The village section was fascinating and really well described.

I notice that all of the books and signs were in English. Do they get tuition in their local language as well, or is it all in English (you may not know that!)

It is a beautiful school.

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Galago

@TonyQ Thank you very much. Interesting question and the short answer is I don't know. However, from experience of other schools in Zambia, and having helped teach a few lessons as well, I suspect that the little ones start in their own language and then progress to English. I know when I was at a school in the Luangwa Valley the youngest children couldn't speak English but, just go up a year or so, and they were being taught in English. When the little ones sang their wonderful welcome song, the song itself was in English but their teacher's instructions to them were in their own language. And, yes, isn't it the most beautiful school!

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Galago

Just as a little addition before I write the final entry, I need to add a note about the Wonderful Frog of Waterberry. This is a Rain tree frog that lived on a picture frame just inside the main building. As the day passed and more light came in, so it would grow paler. Presumably it was active at night but, in the daytime, I loved its reliability, always there, always enigmatic and always just cool!

 

Frog at 0630:

 

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And at 1300:

 

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Towlersonsafari

Really splendid report and the frogs in the rooms are a delight in Zambia @Galago

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Galago
17 minutes ago, Towlersonsafari said:

Really splendid report and the frogs in the rooms are a delight in Zambia @Galago

Thank you very much. Yes, I love what I call the Bathroom Frog. You know the frog that perches on the basin tap in the outside bathroom in a bush camp? I don't know why but I always say hello to them. Some years back I was staying in Kakuli camp in SLNP (travelling solo) and it was only after a few nights that I realised that the people in the other three tents heard me say 'Ooh, hello!' every night. They probably thought I was a real saddo that hoped the frog would transform into Prince Charming! Of course I didn't but, there again, I have kissed a lot of frogs....... :D

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Tom Kellie
4 hours ago, Galago said:

 

Breakfast on the deck is sunny and quiet but the Waterberry tree above us is a hive of activity with lots of large hawkmoths feeding on the white flowers. They look and behave just like the Hummingbird Hawkmoth that migrates to the UK from continental Europe, but they are considerably larger with a very long, angled proboscis. (Subsequent research suggests it’s African Hummingbird Hawkmoth, Macroglossum trochilus, but any input would be helpful. @Tom Kellie do you have any thoughts?)

 

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~ @Galago

 

That looks right to me.

 

Excellent entomological sleuthing!

 

Very nice photo, two.

 

I love the images within schools.

 

Precious!

 

Tom K.

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Galago

@Tom Kellie Thank you very much Tom!

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Galago

Despite the plan to have a few chill out days we’re up at 5am to go birding around the grounds with Chrispin. At first light the monkeys have a little chatter, a coucal gives its first gurgle of the day and the la-di-das (Hadeda Ibis) make their vocal flight along the river. Sunrise over the river is predictably wonderful, starting with pastel soft pinks and mauves. We have a cup of tea on the terrace as cicadas start their wake up buzz saw and a pair of Tropical Boubous duet. Guess who announces ‘I am the Red-eyed Dove’. As we cross the grounds to meet our guide, Natal Francolins are feeding quietly on the lawn. From the deck we can see the sun, above the horizon now, turning everything rich gold. Fish are jumping, swallows swoop and an Openbill Stork takes up position in a small, sandy inlet to start its motionless fish watch.

 

0530 from our cottage

 

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And just 20 minutes later

 

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It’s the best time of the day for birds and Chrispin knows his patch, taking us to places where he knows he can find a particular species. A Bearded Scrub-robin forages under a bush, stopping to look at us from under white eye markings, the white streak down its ‘chin’ and neck resembling a beard.

 

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The Red-chested Cuckoo is calling its monotonous song, as it has every day since we arrived, but still we can’t find it, despite its large size. It’s able to throw its voice, making detection even more difficult.

Still on a red theme, Red-faced Mousebirds crawl along branches like mice and, on the ground, a pair of Red-throated Twinspots are working their way through the leaf litter. For once they’re are not jumping around like mechanical toys but, instead, feeding slowly and methodically so I’m able, at long last, to get some reasonable shots of them. This has to be one of my favourite birds of all time: sparrow sized and plump with rich brown on the back and top of the head, deep red on face, throat and tail, a black belly with round, white dots all over like a pointillist painter has been let loose on it, topped by white rings around black eyes and a steel blue, finch-shaped bill.

 

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Half a dozen Violet-backed Starlings are sitting in a dead tree enjoying the early morning sun, while a Grey Hornbill does the same nearby. Red-billed Firefinches are warming up before they start foraging on the ground.

 

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At the lake we pass the sign warning us of hippos and crocs, watched by a Giant Kingfisher already in place on its hunting perch.

 

 

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A harsh clattering takes us to a male Black-backed Puffback displaying. His black and white feathers stand up giving him a white, fluffy back as he swings upside down on a branch, scarlet eyes flashing.

 

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We’re talking about birds I haven’t seen and Chrispin tells me there’s a White-backed Night-heron around on the river. Although our walk is due to end now, he says he’s still got some time before taking guests on an excursion and we get in the boat and zoom down river. It’s quite windy now and the lightweight boat is banging up and down. He approaches a tree on the edge of the bank which is strewn with cream-coloured dry grasses and reeds, washed up there in the last rainy season. Roosting behind the grass curtain is one of the strangest looking creatures in the bird world, the White-backed Night-heron. A slate grey back with russet neck and breast and primrose yellow legs topping enormous feet, this bird has a wide, pale yellow eye ring and large, bulging dark eyes which help it to see during its night time activity. It creeps deep into its hiding place so Chrispin goes further down the river and finds another. The value of a guide who knows his patch!

 

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Two men paddle by in their dugout canoe, standing up as though balancing in an uneven, hollowed out tree is the simplest thing in the world. A small crocodile, just a couple of feet long, is half way out of the water, lying over a fallen branch, eyes closed and warming up in the sunshine.

 

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As we approach the pontoon the clouds have formed a pattern like long white feathers radiating out from the lodge.

 

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After breakfast I sit under a gigantic Winterthorn tree, facing the river, and get my bird list up to date. It sounds like a baby is crying and I look up to see a male Trumpeter Hornbill calling right above my head. It’s been around for the last couple of days and appears to be establishing territory in this tree, undoubtedly with a view to taking up residence for breeding. It’s black and white with bright red skin around the eyes, a large grey bill topped with a casque so large it has to turn its head to the side to look at me. And look at me it does, staring beadily with, it would seem, real intelligence.

 

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A dragonfly looking like a monochrome version of a Banded Demoiselle perches nearby.

 

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We sit on the terrace watching Swallowtail butterflies feeding on the scarlet hibiscus flowers and, inside the dining room, the frog stays put and turns almost white. 

 

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Later that afternoon a herd of 200 plus buffalo make their way down to the river bank facing our cottage to drink and paddle. They are quite relaxed and take their time before gradually moving in small groups back into the bush.

 

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Edited by Galago

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Galago

Our final morning and a Pied Kingfisher sits on a branch outside our window as a fisherman poles his dugout canoe past us.

 

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We have breakfast on the deck and then go for a walk around the lake with the place to ourselves.

 

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Then it’s back to the cottage to pack and shower. An African Pied Wagtail sits outside, I take a last few photos of the mighty Zambezi looking calm and blue in the mid-morning light and it’s time to leave.

 

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lmonmm

@Galago  The total serenity "voiced" in your last day is breath taking. Made me a little teary. That is why I go to Africa now.  That ability to let go and admire nature in any shape or form, be it clouds, a sound, a dragon fly.... that is why I go. Thank you for this TR- really, thank you.

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Galago

@lmonmm Thank you very much for your kind words and I'm pleased you enjoyed it. Where and when are you planning next?

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lmonmm

@Galago   No plans yet unfortunately :(

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johnweir

It is hard to believe that 12 months ago to the day we were both in Zakouma N.P. enjoying paradise, although your experience unfortunately was somewhat spoilt by your acute illness.

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this very well written report and your images.

It would be interesting to know how your OH enjoyed his first experience of safari?

You certainly sell Kafue well, it has been on my wish list for a while but other locations seem to be taking priority at the moment.

Will be meeting Tyrone in April so may start to make some arrangements then. Will be teaming up also with several members of the Zakouma team.

I am still studying our amazing images (although they are not of very good quality) of the WIldcat we took in Zakouma on the last night drive. It remains the most unusual Wildcat I have ever seen and I have seen many in a wide variety of habitats. (May post at some stage for comments from other members).

Thanks again for a riveting report.

P.S. My bird identification skills are improving since I joined SOC and have been spending some time on their guided walks. We saw 2 Shore Larks last week, I believe they are quite rare in the UK.

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Kitsafari

@Galago i've gobbled up the last 3 pages in one gulp. such a beautifully written report with such a loving eye for the details of the animals. I just love your descriptions of the animals and birds!

 

I too talked to the bathroom frogs when we were in South Luangwa, including one which decided to reside on my clothes bag. I bade them farewell each time I left a lodge, knowing full well, they'll be there to welcome the next visitor. 

 

what a stunning school! they've not only invested money into it, you can see they have also invested their passion into it. I hope more kids will be attracted to attend the schools. 

 

thank you for sharing your trip!

 

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Galago

@johnweir Hi John, great to hear from you and thank you for your kind words. Yes, a year ago already! I would love to go back, especially as I missed some of it. Maybe next year at Tinga with Doug.....

Where are you planning next and are you going to be travelling with some of the Zakouma crew? That sounds like fun.

The OH's experience got off to a bad start at Luambe, what with little sleep, poor food and then all the rest that happened. Obviously the rest of the trip was great but I don't think he has my enthusiasm for the bush. We're off to Cuba in a couple of days, so perhaps that with be more his cup of tea (or rum!).

Do let me know if you find out anything more about the wildcat, I'd love to know as it certainly was a weird one.

And well done on the Shore Lark. You're one up on me there as I've never seen one :rolleyes:

Keep in touch!

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Galago

@Kitsafari Thank you very much Kit. I'm glad you enjoyed it and it's really good to know that I'm not the only one who talks to frogs :D. Hope you had a great time in Botswana and I'm looking forward to your TR (no pressure, of course!).

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Towlersonsafari

Hurrah a wonderful report and in the spirit of confession  we always say " Hello Mr Frog" @Galago

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Atravelynn

Luambe is a new destination for me.  Thanks for taking us there.  I see the carmine bee eaters found it easily!  Great shots of their flocks.  No apologies needed for an abundance of the bee eaters.  Your moon sightings are out of this world in more ways then one.

The Pel's Fishing Owl made an appearance to make up for the shortcomings of your stay at Luambe.  At least there were some lovely sightings in the bush.  I hope the crowd that joined you were good company.

 

Looking forward to Musekese with stokeygirl.

 

" 6 x nights Musekese Camp, Kafue NP (I’d wanted 7 nights but they were fully booked)

I just booked 6 nights Musekese for Oct 2019 and had to push dates back a day because they were fully booked and this was 10 months out.  These incidents show it pays to get your bookings done early.

Edited by Atravelynn

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Atravelynn

Thank you for the visit to Musekese and the quality time you spent there.  Loved the bushpigs and the red-throated twinspots.  The gnarled roots along the river are classic!  The flying crowned cranes is a great shot.

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