The month of May. I believe that here in the Southern hemisphere it is comparable to November in the North. Well, I have to see that it is way, way better here than what I remember of Scottish Novembers.
For us May was the month of big groups. Well, big for us – up to 16 guests – which is great. The groups give us a chance to do things that don’t tend to happen otherwise! Cultural talks, chitenge talks, drumming, dancing and all that good stuff:
“Benny’s Band” also then come into full effect. Kebby has appointed himself choir director – his love of talking carries over into singing too. There is some talk of making a CD and Benny and Kebby selling them in the curio shop for some outrageous sum! With the larger groups they get welcomed into camp with the “Kaingu Welcome” song and then the last night is a big dancing and singing session.
The groups entail some serious early morning wake-up calls on the day of departure. Getting up at 04:00 can be a bit daunting. The beautiful clear skies of May before the smoke and haze of the winter months make for absolutely stunning nightscapes. So a quick bit of super early morning star photography while the kettles boil compensates a bit:
We did have a couple of gaps in between the big groups, during one of the gyps Julia, John and I grabbed some river time and went out looking for the goliath heron nest that Israel had spotted down the side of Mantobo island. We failed to find the heron nest though. But still, being out on a boat here is always good for the mind and the soul:
Then one afternoon we were treated to a lioness casually strolling right through camp! She wandered around the guest chalets and we were able to grab the old landrover plus one group member (who had stayed in camp to relax) and follow her around. A lion moving quickly through camp is surprisingly hard to get a picture off. But finally we managed just by the battery room:
Talking of cat sightings May has been pretty good. Going through the sightings book I count 3 separate cheetah sightings in the National Park. Almost all of them were on the early morning runs taking groups up to the Chunga airfield. Now the Kafue is one of the few places in Zambia where you can see Cheetah, but its not exactly like they are sitting on every termite mound!
We made the chefs very happy in May as well! The dying kitchen range was replaced with two shiny Bosch ovens. So now Wina can roast his pork and Lizzy can make her cakes. At the same time. Awesome. We also rebuilt the parrot hide in anticipation of the gathering of the Meyer’s parrots (and yes, they are gathering). This unique spectacle is highly anticipated.
We also managed to pack in some annual first aid training. St John’s ambulance in Zambia do a really good training service and the trainers are all top notch professionals. Last year we did advanced training for the guides, this year we did basics for Kebby (trainee guide), Nyambanza (asst manager), Benny (barman). Boyd and Kaley (guides) also sat in just to refresh. There were quite a few laughs. Of course everyone wanted to put ‘Nyambos’ in the recovery position. Benny turned out to the the lucky guy!
We also had a real guest baby. Not Wina’s son Fabio (yes, Wina claims that Italian names are intrinsic to his family, so Wina named his son after one of our most loyal guests…) and not the plastic St John’s dummy. So real babies inevitably get looked after by a real professional – Aunt Jenny! Kaingu’s free babysitting service is often a huge hit with parents wanting to do an early morning game drive or a romantic dinner with some sparkling “mummy and daddy juice”…
Talking of parenthood, to round the month off we had a very different sort of big group. The annual Kaingu ‘fathers and kids’ fishing trip. Into its fourth year now, it gets better and better each time. In addition to about a thousand cooler boxes stuffed with beer and sugary drinks Victor (organizer and top guy) brought a whole lamb to roast on a spit. It was incredible. We rigged up a zip line, we created a water slide, we sampled Mark’s schnapps which makes your brain go all warm and we played hours and hours of musical cushions. It is an absolute highlight of our year!!!
And our final news for this month – we created a new extension to the ‘Kaingu Loop’ in the national park. Great stuff. We mapped it, walked it, slashed it, burnt it and then got it tow-graded. And in doing so we saw buffalo hers twice, a beautiful leopard and Bo, Oscar and Martin found a dead thing in a stunning dambo that is 5kms long. This new road is a winner. Going across very early one morning to finish it off we also had the most incredible sunrise. Now I see a fair few sunrises here, being on the river at that time is amazing, but this one was something else. The unusually cloudy sky combined to make it the best one I have ever seen.
Well, finally the rains stopped. Thankfully. It was all getting a bit much, but the rains ceased almost with the start of the month. April fools day (I had no idea it was April fools) saw poor Nyambanza being woken by Benny at 04:30 who told her she was late for work! She did get revenge later by telling him that his house in the staff village was on fire. The nice thing about getting up super early (I am trying hard here to see positives 🙂 is that you can try and get some time on the river at sunrise with a camera after dropping guests and a guide at the car park and before the morning staff meeting. Or mess around trying to create ghosts!
April saw some great sightings. We had many sightings of wild dogs, leopards, lion (the Shishamba pride with 7 young ones on more than a few occasions) and even cheetah. Now we try to keep things in perspective – the Kafue is not Ngorogoro crater…. We will not tell you that the central area of the Kafue is a teeming multitude of predators and prey, the Kafue runs deeper than just great sightings. But for April we were pretty amazed. Remember that the game drive loops are not even fully open yet and the grass is very, very high so to get such good sightings is really encouraging.
We also had good predator sightings on the river. The carcass of a young elephant floated down the river and got trapped in rocks. This meant that literally dozens of crocodiles were present, feasting on the unfortunate elephant.
We also had lions in camp a few times over the month. I won’t forget Nyambanza’s statement “I thought they were big dogs walking past my door”. The pack of seven wild dogs that we see fairly frequently in the GMA here were also spotted. It was a great opportunity to drive out 1km from camp and spend some time with them. Vary sated dogs looking a bit muddy and bloody!
April also saw us doing our first ever professional chef training. We invited Sarah Lilford, a top Zimbabwean chef to come and train. We had three intense days and learned a lot. What we really enjoyed about Sarah was that her ideas and recipes are designed for remote lodges and not ‘over the top’ foodie extravaganzas that are more appropriate in Mayfair than in the Kafue. She focussed a lot on presentation and fine tuning our menus, but was very complementary about our menus and chefs skills and created a great atmosphere in the kitchen while she was here. I would strongly recommend taking a look at her book “Dusty Road” which combines recipes with tales of life in rural Zimbabwe.
We also did manage to do a couple of brief management excursions. Very brief ones though. We did a quick “round round” of Mantobo island on the boat. We are always telling guests that Mpamba rock is so beautiful that we actually go up there ourselves without guests. Well we do. Here is some proof. Rick, Lynda and Julia walked up and Gil brought the land rover (and a cool box, naturally).
Our guiding team is now complete! We were delighted to welcome Boyd Longwani to the Kaingu team in April. He has almost 30 years experience here in the Kafue, almost all of it at Lufupa. Starting in the days of Map Patel and through the tenure of Wilderness. He is best described as “solid”. In every way. I really feel that with JohnD, Kaley, Israel, Boyd and Kebby as trainee we have a really strong team – everyone with their own interests and specialities. Of course poor Boyd has to go through the rather nerve-wracking experience of learning the river here now. We all had to do it, but it is quite intimidating at first. These rocks…
We also got delivered a copy of the book “Kapenta and lelish and other fishy tales” which is a very interesting book filled with photographs, anecdotes and recipes from all over Zambia. We were delighted to find Julia’s baobab lemonade welcome drink right at the front as well as a small write up about our good friend Marcus and Valley Lodgeistics who supplies us and other lodges here in the Kafue. The book is selling like hot cakes and raising money for the Lusaka Animal Welfare Society, of which Marcus is probably their number one supporter…. largely because he tries to trigger very generous bidding at their annual fund raising auction! Last year he very kindly kept bidding and bidding on a weekend at Kaingu, raising the prices and eventually winning it…. Which (it has to be pointed out) he could actually have anytime. For free.
As we move into May the temperatures are starting to drop, the mornings and evenings are now really pretty cool, the beautiful morning mists on the river as we head over for game drives are spectacular. It is such a beautiful time of the year – still green, no haze as yet and clear skies. Beautiful stars and the humidity is dropping. The river dropped massively too – 70cm over the course of the month, so the river is starting to show it’s character again with the rocks emerging. The birdlife is also picking up on the river too as it starts to descend. For me the best sighting was on a rubber boat trip down the tiny channels south of the lodge. We came around a bend in a channel to be met with what I (initially) thought were a couple of hundred sacred ibis. It turned out though that they were Abdim’s storks – easily over two hundred. I had never seen even one here. Let alone 200. Amazing. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me.
And then our last bit of news is a revolutionary device. The “Kaingu car park solar powered radio”. Now, 95% of guests that come to us come down the spinal road (through the National Park on the western bank) and then we cross them over by boat. Now this is an absolutely great way to arrive at the lodge. But it does involve a lot of guess work on our side. Trying to predict when guests will arrive. Now sometimes it all works well, but other times we end up sitting at the car park for literally hours. So we put Mike onto the job. And we now have a solar powered radio in a prominent position in our car park so guests can call us up from the car park. As usual with Mike it is quite a work of art! Incorporating aluminium chequer plate and driftwood. A melding of technology and nature. Sort of.
So you might have noticed that we have been a bit quiet!
The last guests left Kaingu just after New Year. A private party had booked the lodge and really enjoyed their time here over the festive season. For the two months we are closed the lodge was looked after by guides John D and then Israel. This means a lot of slashing grass, fishing, checking tented chalets and houses and generally keeping an eye on things. They did a great job following on from Kaley’s stint in 2014. Last year Julia and myself stayed on through the shutdown period (Julia went to Germany to see family very briefly). The two month shut down period is important. We get asked a lot why we do indeed close down. Well, to be honest after New Year it is a very, very quiet time in terms of bookings. It seems very few people move at this time! The weather conditions are also less than ideal and drying clothes, charging solar batteries, getting hot water from solar heaters is all very hard.
I am often banging on about the green season, and it is something that every safari-goer should experience once, but maybe not in the peak rains in the Kafue! A lot of game viewing loops (well, basically them all actually) become quite impassable and not everyone finds being wrapped up in ponchos in driving rain repeatedly fun! Everyone should see the green season at least once, but lets not be trying to fool people, it can get wet, slippery, muddy, damp etc. There is a good reason that bookings in January and February are low.
For our staff it is also an important time to get home for a longer stay and do some farming chores. It is a long tiring season for everyone and the recovery period is appreciated by everyone. Of course it also means that everyone comes back re-energised and ready for the new season! Rick and Lynda get the chance to see their grown boys in America and Australia and travel around a bit but with no home as such – home is Kaingu. The same applies to Julia and Gil whose home is Kaingu, and then enjoy catching up with nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters and parents.
Bookings are looking strong, and what is very exciting is that Kaingu is part of a new air charter service that we are hoping will dramatically change access and visiting the Kafue. The consortium consists of Kantanta, Konkamoya, Mukambi and ourselves. The concept was spearheaded by Kantunta and we have bought an Islander 8 passenger twin engined plane. It is by no means new, but it is in tip top mechanical condition and should be ready to commence operations in April. The four part-owner lodges have agreed on very competitive discounted seat rates to make the Kafue even more attractive. It will also hopefully allow us to tap into Livingstone and other destinations. The plane is going to be in a unique paint scheme that reflects the name of our company – Wild Dog Air Charters! Very exciting news indeed.
Our first guests this year into Kaingu arrived on the 29th of February, so we had quite a mad week getting everything up and running and ready. The rains over December and January and the early part of February have been pretty poor. Southern Africa as a whole is crying for rain. But the second part of February and the first few days of March have been spectacularly wet. This of course makes for some difficult camp re-opening tasks. A new kitchen waste-water scheme started to turn into a scene like that of the WW1 trenches. And then the grass slashing… A huge task. Everything from footpaths to the hide, the rock, the rapids. The campsites, the roads etc.
So let’s talk about this sort of thing. As we have commented in the past – people are genuinely interested in what goes on behind the scenes. So what is entailed in re-opening the camp? Here is a brief rundown of this year…
Land in Lusaka. Head to Pioneer Camp, catch up with friends and sleep for 14hrs.
Head into town, go to the bank. Yay! We got some deposits so can buy deck oil, nails and string. And food…
Drive out to the lodge. Being astonished that the grass by the side of the road is now over two metres tall. Buy fresh groundnuts on the way. While driving along the other one gets on the phone to the staff. Before leaving we have set reporting dates, but we have since accepted an earlier than usual booking. So we need to get on the phone and call housekeepers, waiters, everyone in fact. Everyone that is who lives in phone coverage! Fortunately our rural communities here are small and the ‘bush telegraph’ works well. So, for example, if we can reach Victor by phone and he is coming up from Itezhi Tezhi by bicycle, then he will spread the word as he passes through the villages.
Arrive at the lodge and start unpacking after a quick walk around to see everything, see Israel and Bo and Handson who are looking after the lodge. Greet the cat and discover she is fat as anything!
And then the fun starts. Slashing the grass in the campsites, the paths, the paths to the hides, the rock, the car park, the road into the car park etc. This job alone takes 4 people about 10 days.
Rubbing down and oiling every wooden deck – the main area plus all 8 accommodation decks.
Washing and drying all linen to get rid of the musty “stored” smell.
Washing down and sweeping and cleaning all the tents
Weeding all the pathways
Re-wiring and setting out all the pathway lighting
Digging two massive holes – each 2x2x2m, digging 60m of trenches for the soak-away. All for the grey-water kitchen waste system.
About 5 tons of sand and rock to fill the trenches.
Lifting 90% of the deck and replacing 150 metres of 2”x4” underneath. Yes, the original deck builder used untreated pine…..
Get first delivery from Markus (Valley Lodgeistics). Everything from Gin to maize meal to plastic tanks and pipes to petrol and diesel. Everything has to be off loaded on the spinal road, shuttles into our car park, loaded onto the boats and then boated 1km down to camp and offloaded and carried up.
Entire kitchen is emptied – every pot, pan, jar, box, utensil is taken out, the whole kitchen is scrubbed down and everything is washed and put back.
Try and remember what bird call is what bird!
Start going through boats and vehicles. Nothing likes to stand. So inevitably we face a few dirty carbs and rough running engines and blocked filters. Clean all the boats and vehicles properly, sand down and re-finish the woodwork on the game viewer vehicles.
Find out what the mice have eaten in our house. Start thinking about trying to track down a young cat for the house. Has to be hybrid wild cat or it will last about a week before being eaten. Hmmmm.
Get out in a boat for an hour or two on an evening before the guests. Be shocked to find that we can go just about anywhere as most of the rocks are underwater.
Re-stock the bar, lay out all the glasses and mugs and tea station and wash all the table linen.
Repair thatching grass on a few places on the roofs.
Repaint walls where water has marked them.
Get out in the bush and gather firewood!
Test all the hot water boilers
Replace fences that have sagged or collapsed in the rains.
Unpack and re-stock all the curio shop items
Start treating all the wood borers that really like to eat all the construction ‘bush poles’.
Start transferring all the bookings into the big register so we know who is coming when.
Start planning, trying and refining various new recipes into a cohesive flow that works together.
Check the credit card machine is still working else it might get a bit embarrasing when the first guests want to pay.
Realise that our service provider has accidentally down-graded our VSAT internet and that is why our connection is suddenly like 1995…
Drive up to the airfield, meet the guests and then drive and boat them into camp. Season 2016 is offically open!
We have written a lot previously about why in many ways November is our favourite safari month, so I will not repeat all that!
November saw the start of (the sporadic) rains, but remarkably little has fallen to date. Looks like the predictions of low rains this year may well be correct. Anyway, we wrote loads last month, this month we are just going to do our usual and claim that a picture tells a thousand words. Except they don’t always! So we have added a few short descriptions…
The onset of the rains brings some interest to the sky (finally). For many many months there is hardly a cloud. I never thought I would say it, but constant blue skies actually gets a bit boring!
With the rains being so sporadic and the river still dropping we talked last month about contemplating dynamite! Well, instead we have Bo, Mike, Handson and some cables and hilt jacks. We actually managed to move the large and troublesome rock in the “funnel” between the car park and the lodge. Quite a heroic (according to Gil & Mike) feat that Mike and myself are very proud of! With little rain though, November saw the river hardly rising at all. Normally by the end of November we are seeing a fairly steady rise.
A French photography group share our sentiments about November…. We were delighted to host a very charming group led by Eric Le Go. Professional photographer (and East African lodge owner) Tony Crocetta was also along to give tips and tuition. I had some serious gear envy when Eric broke out his top of the line drone, Sony A7RII, Nikon 600mm F4 and D4s, etc etc. Wow. I was dreading capsizing the boat and sending $30K worth of gear to the bottom of the Kafue!
The group inspired a bit of creative photography from our side
And then talking of being creative we attended the Zambia Art & Design Show. This is one of the highlights of the Lusaka social scene – it is great. We shared the stand with Game Rangers International and promoted various products (and the lodge of course!). Julia’s seeds and beeds jewellery, local handcrafts and Polly from GRI brought a lot of baskets and bags from the Mukambi Women’s Group that they are supporting and helping. All in all it was a great few days and certainly worthwhile. We raised some money for the school, for GRI and were next to the most amazing bread stand. Awesome. Not to mention the chilli pickle stand, the honey stand, the other bread stand, the clothes………………..
Just after we were doing this, Kaley (pictured above) was loading up one of the game drive vehicles and heading to Liuwa Plain National Park. Great stuff. Kaley’s first ever mobile safari (on land that is!). It went very, very well, although he reports that Liuwa is also very dry. It is great that Kaley got to see a a new (for him) park and we are looking forward to doing more of these next year.
And then of course we come to the sightings. A good month, in fact if I look at the sightings book the month was probably beaten only by October. So we leave you with some sightings, sunsets, skies and some flowers from walking around Mantobo island. Interestingly on the island we found some shards of pottery. I would love to know the story behind that. How old is it and what were the people doing on Mantobo? Interesting.
Oh, and before we forget, we also finally got to meet Saysha our web designer. She flew up from Durban and stayed with us for almost a week. She went home inspired and already updating and tweaking the website. We hope you like the changes.
So this month we are going to try and add a few more words than we have been doing recently… So lets start with the heat. This year has been hot – there was even an extreme weather warning issued by the Zambian Meteorology people. As the month wears on so do the expectations of rain. We had a few drops and even some rumbles of thunder, but the expected downpours never materialised on Independace Day. Traditionally it is often said that the rains come then. In fact the rain season for 2015/16 are being predicted to be low. This is less than ideal, already the last season was not great and the rolling blackouts (or “load shedding”) are a huge issue here in Zambia. We often are very, very grateful to be completely off-grid with our solar panels and pumps and so on.
With all that in mind, there is no surprise that this year the river is low. In fact it is so low that we are seeing new rocks that we have never seen before start showing their tops in the river. This makes boating a bit “interesting” shall we say. We are literally inching our way up certain areas. All good fun though, although I have had Mike strengthen our propellor guards! We do have to say though that the ‘funnel’ will be almost impassable with the larger boats if the river doesn’t stop dropping soon, so Rick is thinking about putting out an advert for anyone with underwater demolition skills… Anyway, despite these really low levels the surprising thing is that the pools on the ‘pools loop’ have held water right through the whole month. Which of course has meant good sightings. In fact the sightings this month have gone up to volume 11 – spectacular stuff being seen almost daily.
I will get to sightings in a minute or so, so please bear with me… October saw us continuing our work with GRI at the community school, this time Jeni Jack and I went down with a couple of guests. We took a tiny generator, laptop and projector and Jeni backed up her lesson with pictures and video. This had the children absolutely enthralled. We are hoping that Novembers newsletter will see us posting a bit about a visit to the Elephant Orphanage Project with around 30 children. Stay tuned!
In between taking bets about when the first real rains will be, we also start to wonder when the Impalas will start giving birth. For those that are interested we pretty much reckon that it was the 10th of October this year.
The nesting skimmers did produce a chick! Sadly it was seen once by John and Kaley and then the next day when I went up to take a look there was a large croc coming off the island and no more chick. Bugger. Two years in a row now, with two nests and no offspring. To be honest when you see how they nest it is incredible that any ever survive with all the Harrier-hawks, monitor lizards and crocodiles around…
So more on sightings. Well the ripe fig trees around camp make for some great bird sightings well. But this month we have decided to create 3 slide shows to try and really give an impression of being here as a guest. With family out visiting we took the opportunity of doing a boat cruise or two and a couple of gamedrives. Julia was keeping score on the boat cruise – 32 bird species in two hours.
The first slide show is the general happenings in camp and associated with the camp. Everything from school visits to walks to violet-backed starlings eating figs:
The we move onto a montage of what we see from the boat. These pictures are taken from two boat cruises. The average guest does a minimum of two boat sessions usually and the birdlife is spectacular. Recently we have also been seeing a fair few lions from the boat as well.
Then a game drive. This was one drive.
Towards the end of the month we suddenly started running into cheetah! The first drive Israel and John found a collared male (Zambia Carnivore Project we assume) and then the following day John found a coalition of three feasting on a Puku. Cheetah are a rare sighting here, the Kafue is one of the very few places in Zambia where they can be seen.
The sunsets have also being getting better and better as the month wore on. The few scattered clouds and the vegetation greening up make for spectacular sundowners on the rock.
So now we have November to look forward to. We have a few interesting bookings, from dedicated moth experts through to a large photography group. I hope they bring camera covers! The rains are going to break any moment….
Signs. Nothing new, I just liked the picture.
The skimmers that are back… and started nesting! That means everyone is now going to be subjected to 100s and 1000s of skimmer pictures.
While “spraying and praying” the skimmers from the hide I noticed that repeat guests Paul and Cathy were with JohnD in absolutely spectacular light. P&C – thanks so much for coming back and for being such great, appreciative and friendly people. Twalumba!
Early morning on the spinal road. Weird road pictures again….
The morning after – an area that burned (far too late in the season) had a strange beauty the next morning when we were up at 05:00 to look for further hot spots and embers to extinguish.
And then an afternoon by the pools.
Visiting the Kaingu school with the GRI community outreach project.
An evening on the pools loop. Living up to expectations. When we explored this area on foot I cam face to face (and rather close) to a large male buffalo, so I always think of buffalo when driving the area.
A very, very productive boat cruise!
New roofs on most of the chalets! 7,000 bundles of grass, two months work for 5 thatchers from the village.
All the older chalets (so four of them) now have proper doors now.
I am not a huge fan of night drives, but this was a good ‘un.
Young leopard. On the way from the airfield to the lodge. Middle of the day! Captured by Nyambanza. Kaingu intern and all round headache reducer. Why does she reduce headaches? Well, she makes things happen in a quiet and efficient way.
Nyambanza. Thoughtful safari style.
Lynda went canoeing twice. Including the rapids!
One in a thousand. Literally. It is seriously addictive.
More of the highly scenic and beautiful natural pools.