Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Lusaka, Zambia to Nkwali, South Luangwa Valley, Zambia

Lusaka to Nkwali

“The shuttle will leave promptly at one” the concierge scolded, as if we had been late for any shuttle before. 

“We’ll be there!” we responded, and we were. We had our bags packed and ready, and were in the lobby by 12:45. The shuttle, this time a big bus, was just for us, and in spite of Friday afternoon traffic, made good time to the airport.

For all our efforts to be on time, we learned that our flight would be delayed another hour and a half. On one hand, we are always glad when airlines make needed repairs . . . we’d rather have a safe flight. On the other hand, the sun sets early, it is winter in Zambia, and it would be nearly dark when we arrived. It isn’t like the US, or Kuwait, or Qatar, or even Lusaka, where there are strong lights so you can land after dark. If it is dark in Mfuwe, your plane can’t land. We really, really don’t want to stay in Lusaka another night when we really want to be in the bush.

It was very nearly dark when we arrived, but we did arrive in time to land. We missed the sunset, but we got to see the villagers all en route to the nearest markets for Friday evening shopping, and got to camp just in time to set down our bags and have dinner. Earlier campers have left, and for the first night, the four of us have the entire camp to ourselves.

Here is a view that thrills me – the full moon, as seen from our shower:

Nkwali is a Robin Pope Camp, and we have been coming back regularly since our first trip about 12 years ago. We were last there four years ago with out son and his wife.

“What would you like to see?” our hostess Tina and camp manager Chris asked us.

“I’ve always loved giraffe,” one of our group replied, “Can you arrange for a giraffe?”

“Yes, we can arrange that,” he smiled.

Meanwhile, camp wildlife joined us for dinner:

Still jet lagging, we went to bed and AdventureMan was sound asleep quickly, just after hearing the “hahahahahahahaha” of the hippos. Just as I was falling asleep, I heard what I thought were the guards footsteps around our cabin, but they went on and on, and it sounded like he was sitting on our front porch. After about five minutes, I got up and peeked out the curtains. A hippo! A hippo, not ten feet away, munching on greenery just off our patio. It’s amazing how quietly a hippo walks – soundlessly, on those big round feet – but how noisily he munches. It was the munching I had mistaken for footsteps.

There are also monkeys, which are adorable, like tiny kittens, playful and scampering, but they like to come in the cabin. We are told that they don’t bother with anything except food, so not to keep food open in our cabins, but our neighbor had her medications knocked about, and a glass full of soda sent crashing to the floor by monkeys – while she was right there showering!

Morning came too quickly, the drums drumming at 0530 to wake us for a 0545 breakfast and 0600 departure for the bush.

It’s a beautiful day, we eat some hot porridge and load up for a morning in the bush.

Just leaving the camp, we saw hyena ahead of us on the road, and a warthog family, and then giraffe! One, off in the distance! Later in the day we would see more of these Thornicroft giraffe, endemic to this part of Zambia. 

We drove up to the river cross barge, a private barge funded by the local camps to help get their guests across to the national park on the other side. The barge trip is an event in itself, hand pulled across the wide, but shallow Luangwa river. Shallow, but full of hippo, and full of crocodiles, too.

The best part of the morning was reaching a huge lagoon, full of exotic birds, and with a constant stream of animals coming to drink, parades of zebra, elephant, a fishing eagle, ibis, Egyptian duck and many others. We are a patient bunch, and we loved just finding a good position and watching the game pass through, getting a good shot when we could. By the time we headed back to the lodge for lunch, we were exhausted.

This isn’t the most crisp photo, but I love the length of that loooonnng trunk reaching out into the lagoon for water. Sometimes you only get one shot:

This is a fish eagle. The next shot, he has a fish in his claws, but it isn’t a very clear shot:

Nkwali Cape Buffalo

Then, just for our companion, we came across giraffe – lots of giraffe, but it’s not easy to get a good clear shot, because you are mostly shooting them against trees, head in the leaves, and you have to shoot fast or all you get are giraffe butts, walking away:

We leave the Land Cruiser on the National Park side of the river, and men from the camp poll us back. The river is so shallow that we almost get stuck on the sand bar.

You’d think we could just walk across, but there are territorial hippo and hungry crocodile, and we don’t want to tangle with either of them.

One of the funniest continuing jokes on the trip are the questions from people who have never traveled in Africa who with great concern ask “But what will you eat?” We took photos often, because we ate often, and well. This is our lunch the first day when we got back:


I always have a list of things I need to do. Like at these camps, women need to wash out their own underwear, it’s a cultural thing, men are doing the laundry but they won’t touch womens underclothes, so I always have some clothespins to hang things to dry. I also wanted to wash my hair, which gets dusty quickly out driving on the game drives. I have to do it in the afternoon, so it will dry (no hair dryers in the bush), and then I need to lay down, because I’m really sleepy, still jet lagging. When I wake up to the “tea-time” drums two hours later. I felt so good! I felt like it was the best sleep I had gotten since leaving Pensacola, and it made me feel good, and full of energy once again.

Here is what our cabin, and Nkwali Camp, look like:

This is our writing desk; there is one in each cabin:

This is where you can unpack while you stay here, and where I lay out my clothes the night before so I don’t have to think when we get up early the next morning. When you are getting up really early, and only have about 15 minutes to get ready, you need to be able to get dressed without thinking too much about it. (It’s kind of like going to kid’s camp, only this is grown-up camp, LOL)

I almost hate to show you too much, it’s all such a wonderful surprise, finding these lovely cabins in the wild, but some people are so afraid to give it a try, I wanted to reassure you that it is quite civilized:

This doesn’t look like a lot, but the screen is enough to keep the wild animals out of your room when the sun goes down:

We love this bathroom:

We really really love this, this huge shower, with dual heads, big enough for both of us to shower at the same time, in the hot afternoon.

This is the Nkwali dining area:

This is the pool area and lagoon adjoining the dining area:

This is the gathering area/bar, and also where the campfire is, and where we eat breakfast around the campfire:

It seems to me that Nkwali is pretty much the intake area, where they help us all understand how things work, then they send us off to the other camps, Nsefu and Tena Tena, or to the fly camps (outdoor camping), or the mobile tented safaris. Before you go, you have to know the protocols, so Nkwali sort of educates you.

Your day goes like this – drums, get up, get dressed, go eat, load up into the car, go look for game. Back to camp for lunch, take care of washing underwear or hair, take a nap, drums, wake up, drink tea and eat cake, go for a game drive, stop for sun-downers, see lions (if you are lucky), back to camp, meet up in the gathering area/bar for drinks, drums for dinner, eat dinner, lay out your clothes, fall into bed (repeat)

After tea, we took a boat, polling back across to the national park, where we left the car. We drive, admiring giraffe (many!) and elephant and hippo. We run into one elephant who seriously, seriously does not like us. He does several mock charges, but he doesn’t walk away, he keeps charging.

We had a beautiful sunset on the river, and then went seriously looking for lion.

At the same time the sun is setting in the west, the full moon is rising in the east, fabulous:

The most exciting part was coming across a group of three young lions, one with a battered and bleeding ear, who tolerated our photo-taking until they didn’t. Then, one got up with a roar, and started walking and roaring.

Have you ever heard a lion roar? It is very very impressive; very loud, very resonant, it shakes your bones with its power. Shortly, one of his brothers joined him. They walked away down the wadi (what we call dry river beds when we live in the Middle East) and we thought we had a great night. Little did we know we were also going to have a leopard walk right next to our vehicle, and each of us was working frantically to figure out night time settings, so totally unexpected that not one of us got a photo. It didn’t matter. The very closeness of the passage and his utter disregard for our presence, his focus, was amazing and memorable.

All this fresh air and fabulous meals – Now I am back on schedule and sleeping through the night. I can hear the hippo outside munching as I am drifting off – but I just smile to myself and go happily straight to sleep.

June 18, 2012 - Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Beauty, Civility, Community, Cooking, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Food, Living Conditions, sunrise series, Sunsets, Zambia | , ,

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