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Galana

A long overdue return to Zambia where it rained! Cats and Dogs

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Galana

I don't usually do trip reports but have been persuaded to do so this time and a promise is a promise so here goes.

You could say I cut my safari teeth in South Luangwa but that would not be true. My first  African country was Tanzania and you know what they say about first loves. But Zambia's South Luangwa inveigled a place in my heart after my first visit in 1998 and I kept returning most years for over ten years. I had been sporadically unfaithful since the turn of the century with Uganda, Namibia and even Ghana taking their turn and eventually I drifted away from South Luangwa and had not been for nine years as other places claimed my time.

So it was decided that a return to Zambia was long overdue and this is the story, much edited, of that trip in December 2019. Having not been elsewhere in Zambia, our early modus was to fly into either Lilongwe, or later Lusaka, and take the short transfer to South Luangwa by road from Lilongwe or by air from Lusaka we also decided to visit Kafue and the Zambezi valley.

This was organised from home with the wonders of the Interweb thingy and proved quite easy. Our earlier trips to South Luangwa had been by quick emails to and from the lodge we used each time and this time it was just the same except I did not really know the people at "the other end". No need to have been concerned though as I got warm and friendly responses and it came together very well indeed.

We flew out with Ethiopian. We initially booked from LHR but when they opened a base in the much more convenient Manchester they happily switched the bookings to there for no charge.

We had no knowledge of where to stay in Kafue or Lower Zambezi so relied on recommendations from a friend in Slovenia.

He mentioned "McBrides" and when I checked it looked just what we like. Contact was made and the job was done. As Lower Zambezi virtually closes in December we selected Gwabi River Lodge with the same speedy resolution.

South Luangwa was easy. After much thought and weighing up of pros and cons we selected Wildlife Camp which coincidentally was where my first trip had been booked into back in 1998 but had been upgraded to the nearby Kafunta River Lodge..However I remembered the earlier 1997 recommendation for Wildlife Camp from fellow travelers "to go there, it's fantastic as the animals come through the lodge grounds." And they were still doing so some some 20 years on.

Probably not the very same ones but you get my meaning?

We had a slight hiatus about two months out when Ethiopian cancelled our flight from MAN on their Winter timetable but it was re-instated shortly thereafter.

We were given the name of a reliable driver by Charlotte McBride for the ground transfers to/from Kafue and Gwabi which we quickly booked direct and again without a problem purely by eMail. I think this media may catch on one day.:P However we opted to fly to South Luangwa with Proflight to save time and a long drive there and back over two days.

At this stage I must commend Proflights on line booking system. Why can't ALL airlines be this good?

Open the page, select flights, four pax each way, select seats (no charge!!). Press send. Confirmation by return mail.

Note anything missing? That's right. No money needed!  Priced in Zwachwa but you pay later by Card in several currencies to suit. Brilliant!

We were good to go.

And so, on 3rd December, we did.

Arrived on 4th after a bit of a Cook's Tour via Harare but we were not going further that day when we landed in Lusaka at 14.30 after a gap of ten years.

Our pick up was there to meet us and transfer us to Pioneer Camp which we had also booked by email. In all we were due to stay three separate nights there as we came and went from Lusaka.

A nice place very rural but only 30 minutes from the Airport. Good food and friendly staff. Our cottage was one of the upgraded 'Miombo' chalets and very nice. We spent the rest of the afternoon birding the lodge grounds.

Some photos of Pioneer follow.

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Bathroom etc.,.

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Netted bed and much needed fan. Shame about the power outages in December.

 

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Patio outside to relax and observe.

 

And so to bed on our first night pending our driver arriving in the morning to transfer us to McBride's Camp in Kafue.

                                                                                                                                                         TBC.

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Caracal

1998 was also the year of my first visit to South Luangwa.

Are they still serving up those steaks at Pioneer?

I'm hooked on the Kafue and will be very interested to hear about your stay at McBride's. Not a part of the Kafue I've been to and I don't recall any TR about it on Safaritalk.

Is McBride's open year round?

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BRACQUENE

@Galana

 

Well that first love , for you it was Tanzania but Zambia is without any doubt mine and stays my favorite as you will have read elsewhere ; always happy to see a new start of a travel report and looking forward with @Caracal to the Kafue part !

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Soukous

Birding at Pioneer Camp is generally pretty good, as is the bar

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Galana
11 hours ago, Caracal said:

Are they still serving up those steaks at Pioneer?

I'm hooked on the Kafue and will be very interested to hear about your stay at McBride's

Yes. The steaks are enormous. I struggled to finish mine the first visit and went lighter the rest of the stays.

@Soukous Yes, We made a fair start on the bird list at Pioneer. We could hear Schallow's calling but never got a glimpse though.

The bar was/is one of the best I recall. Almost "English" although the clientelle included two South Africans, a Swiss and a Bemba.

 

As to my report. I won't do a day by day blow by blow account (we were in country 25 days) but try to give a 'feel' for each sector. There will be photos as apart from BY attempts we did have some remarkable sightings and experiences.)

Part two later today

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wilddog

Thanks for deciding to do a TR @Galana.

 

Those upgrade rooms are huge! one of my travel companions had one a few years ago so I had a good look round. I was in 'steerage' but those were fine too, but definitely not as grand.

Looking forward to hearing about the 'remarkable sightings'  and anything else you have to offer.

 

I found it interesting that you self organised all this. As a single traveller it is not something I would risk. I have a dread of arriving at the airport and my transfer has nor arrived. Clearly yours went smoothly.

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janzin

Well I never thought I'd see the day when @Galana did a trip report here (although I do recall many excellent reports over on "that other site" back in the day, I do believe we first connected over Tanzania :) ) Very much looking forward to it!

 

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wilddog
1 hour ago, janzin said:

 "that other site" 

 

:o.......................... but at least we have one here now :)

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Galana
4 hours ago, wilddog said:

I have a dread of arriving at the airport and my transfer has nor arrived. Clearly yours went smoothly.

I do understand but in maybe 40 trips I have been left at Arrivals with no lift about twice. Once solo and once with a companion (on his first visit and who was less than impressed!). However it is surprisingly how quickly folks will rally round to help.

 

@janzin  Indeed it was. That 'other site' does not have photo facility and sometimes one has to go with the flow and a picture is worth a 1000 words.. I don't have a value for videos but have got  a few of those lined up too.

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Galana

Thanks to all the well wishers and welcomes. Much appreciated.

 

Next morning we had breakfast and awaited our driver who arrived a bit delayed through traffic, he said!

The car was a bit small for three strapping lads and the Lady G, but we fit in. The missus can be a bit fearsome when under pressure but all seemed quiet in the back as we left the snarl up of traffic in Lusaka and headed west. Good tar as far as Mumbwa and then some fairly rough gravel/murram to the Park Gate and  onwards to the river. The Aircon was on and the windows up through the Mopane to keep the Tsetse away and after an hour or so we saw our first Puku and knew the river was not far off.

So we arrived after about a six hour drive and walked into a very warm welcome from Charlotte and Chris McBride and their friendly staff..

I cannot praise this place too highly. Small and intimate, only three bungalows situated on the banks of the Kafue river. Good food, good birds and terrific hosts. I had only limited knowledge of Chris before I came but now would cheerfully spend all my holidays out there.

 

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Inside our wattle and daub Chalet.

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Spacious area for relaxing.

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The main bed.

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Huge bathroom and whatever. Open to the fresh Kafue breeze.

 

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The view. Note. It has been raining and passing hippo make a mess.

 

Out daily routine was anything but. First off we headed over the river to stake out an Aardvark hole. A nice Bush walk of 5km out and 5km back. Plenty of wildlife on the way.1-DSCN3012.JPG.59f4c9542fc2702775f292be7f13ce58.JPG

Boat trips were a feature either for Sundowners or a day long cruise downstream to their BushCamp which was as nicely furnished and fitted as any I have seen.

As may be expected birds featured highly on these cruises but I will spare you the feather count. See my Big Year 2019 for those. We did find a very skittish Finfoot but it was a swift runner and lots of other birds.

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Two for the price of one. Saddle -billed Stork and Spur-winged Goose.

 

At the camp I was startled out of a doze when something fell off the roof in front of me. A Monitor had been seeking food up there and was not pleased with its impromptu early descent.

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There was a feed station which was kept stocked with Mango and where Yellow-bellied Greenbul and the lovely Black-backed Barbet, a lifer for me, came to take nourishment  on hearing Chris's call.

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Drives to further afield yielded Kudu and Reedbuck and even Elephant.

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plus my first ever encounter with bushpigs but all I got after a stalk was the lead Boar in full flight.

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Around camp one had to watch out for the "Loan Ranger" who shunned his home in the river and often called by to sleep in the safety of our grounds.

Here he is, or maybe she, at first balancing a Crake on his nose and then sound asleep in camp.

 

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One morning drive we were proceeding along when both Charlotte and I blinked, did  a double take and yelled "Stop! Back up!" and there on a small termite mound was the first Leopard . Small but perfectly formed.

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Obviously mum was not far away but this cub was totally unfazed by us watching him for about 30mins until totally bored he got up , stretched and descended the blind side of the mound.

 

It was not over as further on we rounded a bend and again braked to a stop as this Rock Python was lying on the track. Maybe 9 foot of it (3 metres for our foreign friends).

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I snook up for some close ups but despite several attempts to catch the flickering tongue failed to do so.

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Not sure I got her best side as she never said.

NB. Don't try this at random but whilst a coiled snake is able to strike one stretched out like this one cannot do so. Non venomous if bitten but you may get sepsis from lack of oral hygiene.

Colgate and Sensodyne are in short supply and anyway, how would they hold the brush? Dental Floss would be a real problem. Best leave them alone.

 

Birds of course were many and varied.

We developed the habit of taking morning tea down on a tributary where mammals often crossed. We saw Lion and elephant spoor as well as the many hippo. 1-DSCN3287.JPG.cbe1fd5c071e353241711a384d499f84.JPG

But still found time to look cheerful to camera in the rain that came from time to time.

 

What we really sought was not far away:-

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Lifer number 2. Half-collared Kingfisher.

 

Other birds around camp were just as obliging.

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Spotted Thick-knee at dusk.

 

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Little BeeEaters were common.

 

1-DSCN3176.JPG.8e7444be5935ef3c677175f265db5d8d.JPGAfrican Crakes seen regularly and

 

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This Long-billed Crombec lived by my chalet with

 

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a nice Bushbuck for company.

 

Back to camp our kind hosts had baked  a cake for one of our party who suffers a birthday in December every year far from  home.

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Finally for this bit a shot of storm clouds gathering over Camp as some very welcome rain approached.

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Coming next. We re-locate to the other end of the Kafue but not by boat. shame that . It would make a good trip!

 

 

Edited by Galana
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offshorebirder
42 minutes ago, Galana said:

African Crakes seen regularly

 

You have my full attention     :-)

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BRACQUENE

@Galana

 

Very nice to see a part of the Kafue I didn’t visit but it seems that all the lodges have their own resident lizard and bushbuck and the rock python is not bad either ; looks like a old school safari camp , cosy and family owned which I like and those four men look very happy under their umbrellas !

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Galana
1 hour ago, offshorebirder said:

You have my full attention     :-)

It always strikes me as odd that some folks have bogey birds whilst others treat them almost as part of the expected "usual suspects!"

I am thinking mainly of @Peter Connan and his Pearl-spotted Owlets which we can call in on most trips.

Is this the same for you and African Crakes?

For me this trip it was Trumpeter Hornbills. The best I got was a pin sharp picture of the branch where they had been perched as the shutter was released.

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offshorebirder

Actually @Galana I have seen African Crakes multiple times but they are one of my favorite African birds and I love to try and photograph them.

 

I'm always planning potential future trips so I will follow your report with interest.  

 

 

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xelas

Oho, a trip report by @Galana! It promises some enjoyable reading while waiting for the real thing.

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Galana
16 hours ago, offshorebirder said:

Actually @Galana I have seen African Crakes multiple times

Ah. I misunderstood your attention.:P

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Galana

And so to the next part.

Kafue to Chirundu.

After six splendid days and nights with the McBrides our driver had returned to facilitate our transfer to Gwabi at the 'other end' of the Kafue where it meets the Zambezi.

So we all played our family version of Sardines on Wheels for the best part of a day. We made two stops, one in Mumbwa to reflate the tyres, and one on the outskirts of Lusaka for 'comfort' and lunch in some Shopping Mall place. At each stop we changed from Sardines to a form of musical chairs without the music.

We made good time and at Chirundu we headed downstream for the final 12 km to our new home for eight nights at Gwabi River Lodge.

We had picked this place as being close to the Zambezi for wildlife and some birds. It was fine with the only slight disappointment being it was more 'rural' than wilderness as we felt the walks would not be as rewarding.

Our welcome was very warm. We were practically the only guests it being close season for fishing and were shown to our two cottages to settle in.

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Roomy and bright with Aircon too. Power outages were not so prevalent here.

Look! I have not even unpacked yet!!

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The  all important bed with the 'bathroom' accessed through the arch to the left.

 

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His and her basins. There's posh!

 

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and the all important shower stall.  There was a WC too but we all know what they look like. Or do we?

Everything worked. Lights, hot and cold taps etc., and Airconditioning. Did I mention the air conditioning? Much warmer down here in the Zambezi valley.

 

We had a sitting out patio through those large windows in the first photograph. The view was not brilliant but birds and beasts did pass by regularly. I would do something about the darn baboons and it would not be feed them.:angry:

 

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"The view was not brilliant!"

Meal were good and taken in a 'restaurant/bar' area on a platform over the river where the view was better especially if you like dining under a nice sunset.

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The menu was comprehensive with many simple dishes to choose from.

 

We booked a river trip down the Zambezi which was good fun and also did local walks along the tracks where we picked up many birds from Emerald Cuckoo, Red-backed Shrike and Puffbacks to a lovely pair of Bearded Scrub Robins plus many butterflies only a few of which I can name..

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Bearded Scrub Robin.

 

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A Colotis but which one?

 

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I think this is the male and if so then it is Scarlet Tip.

 

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Moth. Zambian Tiger?

The river trip was eventful. slowly down with the current and back at speed.

For birds see BY2019 so only a couple here.

 

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White-crowned Lapwing.

 

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Goliath Heron.

 

We saw lots of Antelope etc., and Hippo, which we skirted carefully as the river runs quite shallow.

 

Highlights were of course the elephant of which I never tire. Up there in my 'top five' African Mammals.

 

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They often gave us a friendly wave from the bank as we passed.

 

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This chap was one of two old men who first waved a nice greeting and then joined his chum in the river for some Boy time fun.

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Gosh that looks good.

We watched them play and romp for sometime. Also took a short video to capture the action. If it comes to hand I will try and include it.

 

Whilst at Gwabi we did a day trip to Kariba and the eponymous dam and lake.

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The wall.

 

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The Lake.

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The Lower Zambezi starts here.

 

We also had a lovely lunch at a nearby Lodge where they served Crayfish and cold beer overlooking the lake.

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I have gone on long enough and don't wish to bore you so I will break off here and post part two of Gwabi later.

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Galana

And here is the promised Video:-

 

https://youtu.be/rG-7RKq49fE

Edited by Galana
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Soukous
On 1/12/2020 at 8:31 PM, Galana said:

our kind hosts had baked  a cake for one of our party who suffers a birthday in December every year far from  home.

 

In recent years I make a point of trying to be out of the country for my birthday. It saves being reminded by everyone I know that I am getting older; until someone thinks they are doing me a favour by arranging a surprise. 

 

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Galana
5 hours ago, Soukous said:

until someone thinks they are doing me a favour by arranging a surprise. 

I know just how you feel, having had many more birthdays.;)

But a few years back in Namibia he got a real surprise. I drove him down Van Zyl's pass on his 'half century".

I think he prefers a cake!

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Galana

Gwabi. Part two.

To Tsika.

Tsika is an island about 40km downstream from the confluence of the Kafue with the Zambezi. It is a local community operated 'campsite' on an island in the Zambezi facing Mana Pools opposite the Rukomechi confluence in Zimbabwe. Gwabi Lodge can book this for guests.

One reserves the whole island and can either self cater, under the watchful eye of the Community Guardian, or can arrange to be catered for by the lodge. Logistically there is very little difference as you carry in and carry out everything including a gas bottle for the fridge. You get there by boat which can take anywhere between an hour or a day depending on how you proceed. We also hired a boat and boatman, although self drive is permitted I am told, so we could do boat trips on the Zambezi. Walks on the island are allowed but there are large mammals around so be alert. We had eight ellies in camp during breakfast and of course hippo, buffalo and crocs are never far away..

It is a semi permanent camp with three simple chalets of ferro construction under simple thatch and a central building housing cooking and lounge areas. The chalets are spacious and airy. There is no glass and the 'bathroom' is only partially roofed. H&C running water and electric by solar only.

We loved it.

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Camp from the river.

 

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Our home from home.

 

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Bed nets of course.

 

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Plenty of room. Note the lion proof open door.:lol:

 

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Spare beds to dump stuff on.

 

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Another view of the interior. If you want to keep lions out you close the door with a loop of string around a nail. That should do it but you can always hide behind the nets..

 

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The view from the bungalow to Mana Pools over the river.

 

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Open air passage to bathroom. Note the second door on the left so if a lion does come in the front door you can let it out the back one without scaring it.

 

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Part of the spacious bathroom.

 

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The other part. Note the shower and modern low level suite.

 

 

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Dining on steak under the stars.

 

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Free Firework display while we dined.

 

Our boat cruises were mainly birding trips so I won't put any on here but restrict myself to mainly mammals.

 

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A Zimbabwean Hippo makes a nice splash as it heads for the border.

 

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This hippo did not make it but did provide a "swim thru diner" for the local Crocs.

Similar to McDonalds I suppose but more real meat and no bun. The hippo was probably passed its Sell by day anyway so easy on the relish.

 

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Zambezi sunset. Blissful and quiet.

 

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Ellies in camp next morning.

 

This was a wonderful piece of Eden and we would have stayed much longer had we known how nice it was.

 

Then another ride back to the Kafue and Gwabi to prepare for our departure back to Lusaka later in the week..

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Galana
punctiuaton

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Biko

Very interesting to see locations that I have not come across before in Trip Reports, looks like you have a good nose for picking the good spots to stay. Great to watch the river bathers video, these boys were really enjoying themselves.

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Soukous

Tsika Island just got added to my list or places to visit. Many thanks Fred

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Galana

@Biko Thanks. I suppose there is no substitute for the mix of research and some luck when selecting venues. I already see 'warnings', from some other reports  on Zambia, to scrub some places off my ' to visit' list. No way do we go anywhere that insists on sharing vehicles with strangers.

 

Moving on.

The trip back to Gwabi yielded more sightings but as the northern shore morphed into Shamba land we pushed the throttle a bit and were ahead of schedule at Gwabi which caused some consternation as the ramp was occupied by other boats being launched and retrieved.

As it cooled in the afternoon we went off on a self-guided walk and picked up a few more birds. Then a quick shower before our last dinner as more thunder signaled another approaching rain storm. The droought that has plagued some parts of Zambia seemed to be breaking.

Next morning we waited for a while after breakfast for our driver for the last transfer to Lusaka. After we loaded by numbers into the small space in the Land Cruiser we set off.

At first the roads were clear but we then encountered bad traffic around Kafue and this coupled with a strong police presence heralded a slow and late arrival at Pioneer Camp. I don't recall ever being quite so happy to see the end of tar and the start of a gravel track.

Pioneer had kept our old bungalows for us and so it was a simple matter to settle in. No power of course due to rationing in Lusaka and they 'were working on the generator.'

To the bar for a welcome Gin and Tonic and a surprise meeting with a fellow guest that we had met in McBride's  Camp. He was continuing his epic trans Africa drive but needed a new fuel pump which was proving hard to source.

After a peaceful night despite another downpour we rose, had breakfast, and took our transfer ride to the airport for the mid morning Proflight to Mfuwe and our last safari destination.

Clearing skies with the plane on time had us land in Mfuwe to be met by our driver Ivan who doubles transfers with his job as chef at Wildlife Camp.

Even after developments of the last ten years the place had not really changed and I enjoyed the ride past very familiar places. Mfuwe has expanded north and now reaches the junction where previously we have seen elephant and giraffe. We nicknamed the Junction "Carcass Corner" when on one memorable occasion lions took down a giraffe there and due to the time it took to finish the meal and leave it to the Hyena it made a regular stopping place on the drive to and from the Gate. At the end we did not need to look, the smell told us we were getting close.

And so we arrived at Wildlife Camp which was to be our home for the next eight nights. One night stands are so not us!

Our welcome was warm and after a short safety briefing (very necessary due to large mammals making regular use of the grounds which is one of the reasons we were there) we were taken to our two bungalows.

Very nice and comfortable they were too. Set to the north of the grounds in a quiet wooded area with views out over the floodplain dotted with Puku and Impala who could ask for better?

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The view.

 

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A near neighbour. The wild Mango was fruiting so many creatures tuned up day and night for the feast.

We had not expected to do much our first afternoon so were pleasantly surprised to be asked if we wanted a game drive into the park. After  a quick discussion we decided to splash on the Park Fees even though here they cover a day and not 24 hours. We had agreed two activities per day as part f our package so only Park fees were 'extra' as we had not committed to go into the NP every day.

And so after choosing our sundowners we forgathered at 15.30 for our first Game drive.

The best US$25 we have spent and I have spent a fair few over the years..

You are going to have to endure more posts as there is just not room for everything we saw in one account.

 

In the meantime here is a  short video extract from my Trail Camera set up below where that ellie above is standing. Look out for the tiny porcupine at the very beginning.

 Here are two stills so you don't miss it.
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Too cute!
 
 

 

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janzin

That video is super cool! Baby porky so cute!

 

I am curious what you are using for a trail cam. Obviously its something small enough to travel easily with. Would love to try something like that out!

 

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