Caught On The Spot -Savouring South Luangwa National Park – Butch’s Zambia Part 4
The Honey Badger’s top speed is 90kmph on a good road with no traffic. On busy African rural roads and highways, we go at a steady 65kmph if we’re lucky.
What would normally be a four-hour trip takes nothing less than eight hours. We measure distances and then double the time up; sometimes, we’re more or less correct! The GPS ignores us now. We’re pros at guesstimating.
The stark winter landscape was breathtaking in its simplicity. Jewel colours highlighted the earthy hues of winter white, ochre, auburn and russet. Sprinkled liberally were the amethyst and violet blossoms of Jacarandas in bloom. Driving into flushed sunsets of rosy gold and gentle aquamarine skies encouraged us to get a move on and pick up the pace.
We would never make it to South Luangwa in one day from Livingstone and decided to stop for two nights at Lukasa Campsite on the outskirts of Lusaka.
The idea of joining the owner and other guests for a communal supper appealed to us. Soon after sunset, we gathered around a large fire pit.
There was a crowd of eight of us—campers and friends from a neighbouring farm who come over on Sunday evenings for potluck at their “table d’hôte.”
The Pizzas were terrific. Sourdough crispy crusts with decadent toppings. Ingredients like fresh basil, Rocket, figs, blue cheese, and Parma ham. I salivate at the thought.
The owners, Harry and Geke, are seasoned overlanders and have created a subtropical haven for guests. The facilities are top-notch. Hot showers (which have become a luxury), immaculate ablutions, a good scullery station (another luxury), and…. A library.
The library boasts shelves of previously loved books. In the seating area, readers can relax with their feet up while flicking through magazines, researching one of the many travel books, sinking their teeth into a spy novel, or relaxing with Nora Roberts.
I couldn’t wait to dig my nose into the yellowed pages of an old Le Carre and deeply breathe in the musty, dog-eared, mosquito-speckled pages. The older the book, the more it appeals to me. The spine must crack and fall open on a well-read page. Even a folded corner used as a bookmark is perfectly fine. A sign a previous explorer read the book on their journey. I wonder who they were, where their journey started, and how it ended. Or has it? There are guests in an old, clapped-out Land Rover who’ve been travelling for six years with no end date.
One of the campers, while spring cleaning her tent, found a snake cosily nestled in the folds of her sleeping bag.
Sometimes, I need to flick through my photographs to jog my memory. This time, I noticed a distinct reoccurring bicycle featured in my photos.
Bicycles are a favourite mode of transport in Africa. They are used to transport families, livestock like pigs and goats, handcrafted goods, fresh produce for the market or a housewife on her way to the village, and they’re excellent for ferrying children to school.
Graceful ladies, sitting straight up, shoulders back, pedal serenely to the market to stock up on fresh produce and often deliver freshly harvested vegetables from their gardens. With their skirts lifted ever so slightly, exposing an ankle or calf, they’re demure in their efforts up hills and over potholes.
Butch adored his black, thick-wheeled bicycle as a youngster. His father, he tells me, wasn’t keen on his children cycling, and it took some persuasion to get him to relent. I’m sure he used his burgeoning talent as a “word mechanic” (his words) to state his case.
In their home, there were strict curfew restrictions. The children had to be home at 17h30 when his father knocked off work.
Butch loved the bush, his friends, and his gun, and he passionately loathed school, including homework.
When the bell tolled at the end of the school day, he’d dash home, fling his leather satchel down on the floor. While it slid to a stop against his bedroom doom, he’d gobble his lunch and pocket a sandwich for later. Finally, he’d grab his pellet gun and bike to cycle into the bush as fast as possible.
He’s fond of reminding me that he hunted birds in the Congo bordering their town. I sizzle jealously, wishing those days were still possible. My foot over the border fence will have to do.
He relished his afternoons in the bush hunting birds. He enjoyed the solitude and the opportunity to explore new territories, even venturing into the wilds of the Congo. Time would slip by unnoticed, and it was only when he heard the mine’s siren signalling the end of the day or the sky turned red that he realised it was time to get home.
Pedalling as fast as he could, a cool wind in his hair, pumping his legs, elbows tucked in, he’d race down the dusty Chingola streets just ahead of miners returning home after gruelling shifts.
On one occasion, he remembers, he overstepped the mark. At the four-way stop just one block from home, he skidded around the corner, his foot breaking his speed in a spray of gravel as he leaned into the corner. He could hear the small stones spewed up behind his back wheel hit the hardy leaves of a dusty lane of Canna plants, their red flowers limply drooping in the heat under the dappled shade of a miserably inadequate flowering gum tree.
In the distance, down the road, he spotted the local cop in the familiar blue Landrover pickup van stop at the next four-way stop. There was no beating about the bush with this Sergeant who notoriously took no nonsense. His pencil-thin moustache severely framed his unyielding lips grimly. Butch knew he was in deep water unless he could make it home undetected.
Putting his weight into the last five hundred meters’ home, he knuckled down and peddled as hard as possible. Out of breath with knees quacking, he made it home, skidded into the garage, and hid his bike behind gardening equipment.
Keeping his head down, he entered the kitchen nonchalantly, the screen door banging a staccato behind him, and dashed into his bedroom, where he flung himself onto his bed and “finished” his homework.
Three minutes later, his breathing was back to normal again. He was just about to relax and even take a cat nap when the doorknocker sounded loudly echoeing along the passage walls.
The wily village cop had spotted him. Jan, his father, was in no mood for drama. The peeved cop was duty-bound to report the infringement and give a complete account of the traffic violation committed on his turf, he informed the exasperated Jan.
Butch admits these close encounters with the law were an inspiration to some creative wordplay when stating his case, keeping in mind one is always innocent until proven guilty. He cut his attorney’s milk teeth on these incidents, knowing full well how gruelling his father would be.
Unfortunately, his father was no fool and could see through his strategies, and the cop’s description of events painted a very realistic picture. The good cop, bad cop tactics employed by his interrogators before dinner proved to be his undoing, and he spilt the beans ‘fessing up.
Like Bill Cosby, his father believed he “brought his kids into this world and could take them out too.” His punishment was served cold.
All his father did was put his large miner’s hand out and, with fingers trilling, indicated gun and keys. Butch read his father’s unspoken signals. Without further argument, he sighed and handed over his pellet gun and the keys to his bike’s lock.
His report card showed a marked improvement in his grades at the end of the term.
As promised to my friend Jenny years ago, we made it to Croc Camp on the Luangwa River by late afternoon. We would spend five nights in this renowned camp and Lodge my friend’s cousin owned.
The campsite, lodgings and bar sit on the banks of the Luangwa River where you can see hippos and crocodiles every day. Elephants, leopards, lions, other mammals and rare African birds are regular sights on the riverbanks.
Just 500m from the bridge that carries you into South Luangwa National Park, it is the ideal starting point for a Zambian safari experience." ( adapted from their website.)
Our neighbours were an exciting trio. In two small tents were Jos, a Natalian living in the UK, and Joon, an orthopaedic surgeon from Seoul. To my left, a green snake lived in an ancient Wild Ficus tree. Identity unknown.
With Jos and Joon, we enjoyed two game drives in the Park. The snake we cautiously ignored yet kept an eye open in case he ventured nearer to our windows and hatches.
Monkeys and Baboons were regular visitors, always looking for easy pickings and scraps. Although they’re like the neighbours’ mischievous children, we did enjoy their antics, and I certainly can’t resist photographing them.
I’d been following Croc Camp’s Instagram page for a while now and looked forward to lazing by the swimming pool with a book, having their famous chicken curry, and Butch could watch the RWC final at the bar on a proper TV!
We dunked our Woolies rusks and sipped our morning coffees on the banks of the river while watching elephants, crocodiles, and hippos. The occasional local fisherman preparing his nets for fishing was a bonus. Daily chores remain the same on this new adventure and have to be done too.
I could relive the quiet of river life as I paged through my photographs. That is the magic Butch remembers and, if he could, would choose again in a heartbeat.
The resident water monitor would march up the riverbank each morning and ascend a nearby shrub where he spent the morning catching insects (I assume). He was so fast I could never photograph him. Instead, I enjoyed his antics without my camera.
Once again, we dipped into our savings for morning and evening safaris. A day pass entitles the visitor to 24 hours in the Park.
We set off at sunrise with Jos, Joon and our guide, Bernard (pronounced Bennet). All along the river’s edge, we meandered. Although the animals were assumed to congregate near the water in the dry season, we didn’t encounter the large herds we anticipated.
An over abundance of animals makes one blasé, I suppose. We would yodel and whoop with delight at every sighting. Even the humble Impala were gorgeous.
Birding, is an excellent introduction to wildlife spotting. Water birds along the riverfront were plentiful, while searching in trees for leopard interesting birds would keep us enthused and excited. Our East African bird list was growing too. Seeing swarms of bee-eaters was an unexpected bonus. They had returned to their breeding grounds early. Especially for us?
The kaleidoscope of colours reflected in the golden sunrise was a reminder of Mana Pools just south of us, in Zimbabwe, where dust reflects exquisite hues blending with the trees, grasses and shrubs.
While Butch and I photographed, Jos soon took up the reigns and set us on a course to find the elusive leopard. All around us, the trees indicated that we were in “leopard country”. Jos was adamant there would be no more dilly-dallying. We were on a mission.
Here are a few facts about leopards:
- Leopard Spots Are Called Rosettes.
- Leopards Like to Spend Time in Trees.
- Leopards Are the Smallest of the Big Cats.
- Leopards Are Fast Runners.
- Leopards Are Found on Several Continents.
- Leopards are Solitary Animals.
- Leopards Will Eat Almost Anything.
- Leopards are Ambush Predators.
- Leopards are territorial.
- Leopards are nocturnal and are active at night when searching for food.Leopards spend their days resting, camouflaged in the trees or hiding in caves.
- Leopard spots are their unique “fingerprint.” – Hence, it is tricky for a leopard to change his spots.
At last, our guide spotted a handsome leopard napping on a branch high up in a tree. Thrilled, we crept nearer to enjoy the moment with her. Jos, who’d been on a few game drives, requested we stay with her for a while. They’d been privy to a hunt the previous day, and we might get lucky.
Our guide agreed, and we were rewarded with her antics. Stretching for the camera, she feigned indifference to us.
Later, she used our vehicle as a decoy when she began stalking a herd of impala grazing nearby, who were quite unaware of the danger lurking in their midst.
We spent a good part of our allotted time with her. Unfortunately, she was unsuccessful in her hunt when the warthog shovelled his nose into her affairs when he unexpectedly almost ran into her, causing a considerable hullaballoo which exposed her and alerted the impala, who sent a cacophony of snorts into the air. It was game over for our leopard, who lay down in the shade of a bush and went to sleep.
Night drives are always shrouded in mystery when nocturnal animals rouse from their sleep to see the light of day and shyly appear, rewarding us with a glimpse into their capers.
We were treated to a crocodile on the prowl, seeking greener pastures. Apparently, this seldom happens during the day when they prefer to spend time basking on the hot sand of a riverbank or floating unobserved, waiting for prey. Interestingly, they’re not able to hunt when on the hoof.
The spring hare, rarely spotted, was a surprise. Seemingly not caught in our headlights, he posed for a few pictures before making off into the scrub.
Sundowners along the riverbank in the wild are always exciting. Who knew who's eyes would shine back at us when the guide swept his torchlight across the plains and river.
We were rewarded with spectacular red African sunsets, the cry of the African fish eagle, the lazy life on a river bank and I loved our stay at Croc Valley Camp, and much of our enjoyment was due to the company we enjoyed with Joon and Jos. Soon, on his way to South Africa, Joon peppered us for recommendations, making us realise again how privileged we were to call the Western Cape our home.
Keep travelling, Joon, and when you stop, we might knock on your door in Seoul, South Korea.
Like Jos, many South Africans live abroad but love returning to Africa. Listening to their stories about life in London and the reasons for leaving our shores, which aren’t always political, is fascinating. Although it saddens me to think so many young professionals are employed overseas, we are immensely proud of their successes and achievements.
Jos, we hope to see you in the future. Who knows, Butch and Jos might enjoy the final of the 2027 World Cup Rugby and the Bok’s triumph sitting at a bar somewhere remote again.
Jenny, we never met your illustrious cousin, but his brother-in-law, the manager, took great care of us and even made it possible for us to stay, albeit the campsite was fully booked.
The Rotel truck stopped by for two nights, and it was fabulous meeting the charming driver Arthur from Kenia and the tour leader Katrin, a lady from The Netherlands living in Windhoek who has been a font of information, tips and recommendations. I loved her no-nonsense attitude and hutzpah; she’s been around the block a few times and told us in no uncertain terms what she thinks of border corruption and the shenanigans officials get up to to intimidate foreign tourists. At 6' tall she doesn't take kindly to bullying.
Next time, I’d like to spend more time near the Luangwa National Park, and I regret that we didn’t extend our stay not necessarily in the Park but along the river where we could’ve wild camped. Ces’t la vie.
The local village was a treat. After a few chores, filling the truck with diesel, shopping and stocking up on fresh vegetables and fruit Butch had to turn in at the only coffee shop in town.
Run by an NGO with talented volunteers from all over the world who do three-month stints there, they not only help and teach the local crafters but bring with them exciting innovations inspired by current international trends in colour, design and fashion for jewellery and décor which can be translated and incorporated in the beautiful products produced by the ladies of the community.
Sitting on the veranda enjoying our coffee and fresh, homemade Bagel, admiring the passing parade was reminiscent of any similar establishment abroad or in South Africa. Fabulously fashionable, modern and skilfully curated.
We did not enjoy the cries of "Mzungu give me money" by local children begging.
It was time to head north to Butch’s birthplace, Chingola, where he happily spent the first carefree decade of his life.
Our noses turned from the south, and early the next morning we headed for Lusaka once again. This time, we would be in transit through Lusaka. Once again, the naartjies sold at the traffic lights caught our attention. Sweet, packed with flavour and bursting with juice, we stockpiled a few.
Our route took us through the CBD. Like most African cities the outskirts of town were a patchwork of informal townships, markets, small businesses, and industrial parks. The main business and banking districts are modern organised yet sprinkled with informal pavement entrepreneurs. The architecture is an eclectic mix of modern and colonial design. I found the city friendly, colourful, and vibrant. Indeed, it is not as scary as we were led to believe.
Eureka Campsite, a stone’s throw from the town centre, was our first stop for two nights R&R.
The Honey Badger had some maintenance issues that the in-house maintenance man could do while I explored.
Tarred poles infuse the interior of buildings, and the high-pitched roof structures and the dark coolness offer inhabitants immediate protection and relief from the intense heat in these parts.
I was impressed by the many styles, shapes, curves, heights, and angles used by the artisans to fashion unique roofs for all the buildings.
At sunset, we were treated to grazing Zebra in the garden, and in the morning, waterbuck visited us. Butch couldn't resist taking a shot at the annoying monkeys.
Parked nearby was a solo overlander in his converted Land Cruiser. If truth be told I think Butch would always opt for a Land Cruiser given a choice.
Back on the TanZam highway, we vowed we’d veer off as soon as possible but dreaded the Copper Belt roads, too. We’d heard heavy vehicles have taken their toll on the streets, and the going would be slow.
To reward ourselves for making it out of Lusaka unscathed, we stopped off at the Fringilla butchery, where we stocked up on beef, pies, biltong, boerewors (South African sausage) and spicy Chilli bites.
This time, the pies were 100% perfect. Hot, crispy, golden short-crust pastry casings were packed with filling and flavour. We loved every morsel and devoured them for lunch, where we picnicked along the busy main road, watching the world go by.
After a long day battling city traffic, busy ATM's, bad roads and secondary gravel roads, we stopped at a Catholic Church to enquire whether we could wild camp. We were turned away.
We turned around and a few miles back we found a camping spot at Maggies’s Community Camp. The owner, charming, motherly Maggie, was the balm we needed. We would spend only one night at Maggie’s compound, but we left there with full hearts. Maggie’s smile when she mentioned her son, a medical doctor living in Germany, epitomised all mothers who have children living abroad.
I know how proud you are of your family living so far away, Maggie, but I admire your courage, tenacity, commitment and hard work to make it all possible. Thank you for treating us like family. Your warm hugs, advice, and recommendations were exactly what the doctor ordered.
The next morning Maggie and her assistant were up and dressed ready to wave us off before she attended her cattle, sheep, goats and a brood of hens before delegating her staff on her farm.
Two nights sound extravagant, but, for us, it is compulsory. A long day’s drive, concentrating constantly while dodging potholes, livestock, enormous vehicles, bicycles, and any other vehicle, takes its toll on us.
Nsobe Game Camp was an oasis of tranquillity on the banks of the river. Our stiff muscles aching, we looked forward to our compulsory cycle the following day, where we would explore the beautiful game farm.
Road signs, speed limits, speed humps and road cautions are "only a suggestion" to the majority of road users on African roads. Road maps whether they're printed or digital are "only a suggestion" for us too. No matter how detailed, clear or simple they are we have a tendency to get lost.
Large anthills, decades old, the size of a house, were an eye-opener. Riding through this forest was a tranquil experience as we pedaled sedately without much effort around the farm.
The exclusive camp was the perfect stop for our snack and water break, where the manager was eager to show us around. The outdoor bathroom, his pride and joy, is a show-stopper!
I succumbed to the offer of a pedicure, a first in many months, and once again realised what I was missing out on. These little treats my girlfriends take for granted. Stretched out and relaxed, I enjoyed the pamper while watching monkeys swinging in the trees and white-faced whistling ducks floating serenely with their beady eyes fixed on me.
My luscious, ruby-red, lacquered toes inspired Butch to invite me on a date night… how could I refuse? Dinner in the restaurant rounded off a perfect stop-over. We were ready to tackle the next leg of our journey.
I have been jinxed, and as I write this blog, my mind wanders to all the calamities that have befallen me in the past four weeks… I wonder whether they’re signs to take a break? I think not. I should write a book.