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21 September 2009

Did you know – The hippo's yawn is not a sign of sleepiness or boredom but is actually a threat gesture, displaying long, thick,razor-sharp canine teeth, or tusks, with which it is capable of biting a small boat in half. 

At 59kg on average, leopards are the smallest of the big cats.  They are also the most adaptable. They use the full terrain of their surroundings to their advantage. They are good swimmers, excellent climbers and hunt the widest variety of prey of any of the major predators. A leopard's diet can include insects, fish and reptiles, as well as grazing animals. They are as happy to scavenge a meal as hunt one. Over 90 leopard prey species have been recorded in sub-Saharan Africa alone.

It’s 6:30am, and it’s another beautiful morning here.  We’ve been awake since about 6am again, but at least not to go to work (we believe it’s Monday morning today…).  Anyway, it’s been a while, apologies for that, but I just don’t know where the time goes!

The Malawi/Zambia border crossing was straightforward and very quick.  The most difficult part was negotiating an exchange rate with the money changers that suited both of us.  We seem to be in the habit lately of crossing borders on Sundays.  That meant that the bank was closed at the border and you have to pay carbon tax (I wonder if they actually know what it is?) in local currency.  It’s not a long drive from the border to Chipata, the town where we thought we would spend the night, and we got there in no time at all.  We had a nice relaxing afternoon in a good campsite (called Mama Rulas) where we were able to catch up on a bit of news on the TV and watch a bit of sport too.  Always good to watch a bit of sport…

Our next stop (and one we were really looking forward too as well) was South Luangwa National Park.  Everyone we’ve spoken to so far on the road mentioned this place somewhere along the line in a conversation.  Everyone also mentioned the Lodge and campsite called Croc Valley – a place not to be missed. So our decision was made for us. With so many recommendations, we couldn’t not go there.  It all turned out to be true.  We decided to stay for a few nights before going to Lusaka to watch the Tri-Nations rugby, but that idea was short-lived.  We decided to hang around Croc Valley until the weekend and watch the rugby here before heading off (Well done Bokke – great win against the Kiwis).

And so it turned out that our initial plan of staying 3 nights, turned into a new plan of wanting to stay for 6 nights.  That plan back fired a bit too…we’ve been here for 4 weeks now!!!! Yes, yes…I hear you all – 4 weeks is a very long time, but this is really a nice place.  The camp is on the Luangwa River, with the park just across the river, and the guys running/owning the camp makes you feel at home in no time. They are Sean, Milly, Caroline and Charl – originally from South Africa.  With such a good combination of an excellent spot on the river and hospitable people, it becomes very hard to leave.

It’s however not the only reason for us staying on for a while.  Our ‘neighbours’ on the spot next to us have also been here for a while.  Louis and Liesl (both from Cape Town) have been here for almost 2 months.  Louis is part of a project here in the Mfuwe region – they are working with the Zambian Government and the Wildlife Authority on an animal management program.  There are absolutely thousands of hippos in the area (I think more than 15,000) and the male/female ratio is completely wrong.  There are far too many males around.  It is now their responsibility to restore the balance a bit and reduce the hippo numbers.  This is a very tricky business indeed and very dangerous too.  They use all of the hippo, selling the meat to the locals who love it (we also tried some and it’s not bad at all – it makes really nice biltong, thanks to P.J. who is one of the professional hunters on the project), and also using the skins, bones etc.  So how do we fit into it all?  It just so happened that their accounts were in a bit of a shambles and I offered to help out a bit with the accounting to get some processes and spreadsheets in place. So far so good, as long as they listen to what I suggest.  Let the hunters hunt and the accountants count…

It’s luckily not just work and no play around here for us.  We have other things to keep ourselves busy during the day and a lot of excitement at night.  Our days consist of (after doing a bit of ‘work’) having a swim or two, playing some table tennis, watching the hippos and elephants in the river and enjoying Africa and off course a spot of reading.  We were very lucky a few days ago.  There were two male lions right across the river from us, lying around for half the day.  They looked fairly young, and the younger one was a bit skinny.  They’ve probably been kicked out of the pride and are a bit young to hunt properly.  We also manage to go on a night drive with Gavin Opie who we met though everyone here. Both Gavin, and also Croc Valley do excellent game drives.  Probably the best service and game drives here in the Luangwa Valley.  Gavin owns Jackalberry Safaris and he (as well as Croc Valley) offers all-inclusive safaris.

Nighttime brings with it loads of other challenges.  We were also very lucky the one night.  There were two leopards on the riverbank on our side at about 3 in the morning; we think it was a male and a female.  We didn’t see them but heard them calling for about an hour or so.  We also decided to sleep in our tent rather than the car, because it is a bit warm at night and you don’t really hear everything when you’re in the car.  This brings other dangers and challenges like the hippos and the elephants. The elephants come through the camp during the day too.  The trouble started on our second night in the tent.  The hippo was grazing around our tent, probably a meter or two away from us, and this particular one is a bit temperamental.  You always wake up when they are around, because they are so loud when they graze.  Anyway, the guard tried to get it away from our tent, shining the torch on it and making a noise.  This didn’t really work, but the hippo did eventually move along.  His next grazing spot was around Louis’s tent.  Louis thought it would be a good idea to ‘decorate’ his entrance with the big ‘sausages’ from the sausage tree.  He put 2 of the big fruits right outside the entrance to his tent. Little did he know that it’s a favourite of the hippo.  It came so close to their tent that you can see the drool marks at the entrance. Louis actually had to get his knife out and ready to cut open the back of his tent as an escape route.  By that time, I heard him calling the guard, and I got out too.  Armed with a big torch and a kettie (catapult) the guard and I tried to get it away from the tent.  Luckily for Louis and Liesl the hippo only had a few bites of the fruit and decided to move along.  This wasn’t the last time we’ve had encounters with the hippo.  They tend to come out earlier at night to graze.  On a few occasions we (myself, Louis and P.J. – the professional hunter) had to chase them away with our catapults. They don’t really feel anything, unless you manage to get a shot in on its head. 

Please note – anyone reading this…this is not something you should do unless you know what you’re doing.  I certainly don’t know what I’m doing, but with professionals like P.J and Louis ‘leading’ the attack you feel a bit more comfortable.  It doesn’t make you invincible though.  Hippos are extremely dangerous, so please, ‘don’t try this at home’!!!

It’s not only the hippos we need to watch out for.  The elephants also come through the camp during the day and at night.  We had an extremely close encounter with some of the elephants the other night.  We woke up just before midnight the one night to discover the one group is eating close to us.  They were about 10 meters or so from our tent, eating from the trees and generally just making a noise.  When we looked out the tent, we saw the dominant female in front of us, pulling at braches above our tent, with another behind us, and the third to the left of us. Out tent was right next to two trees, with about half a meter between the tree and us.  There was also a smaller tent pitched on the other side of the trees.  The one elephant thought it to be a good idea to come and eat from this very tree next to our tent and to squeeze between the tents and the trees.  The bugger stepped on the other tent and came to within about 10cm from ours. It is safe to say that we both almost shat ourselves.  Mandy was in tears by this time and I was trying to keep an eye out for the elephants and to try and ‘keep her quiet’.  We saw half a gap when the one turned its back and very quickly got out of the tent.  Fairly shook up we watched them from a safe distance in the bar.  We weren’t the only ones with a close call that night.  Louis also had a little episode on his side.  The one female decided to look for grass and leaves to eat under Louis tent by getting its trunk underneath and rummaging for some food.  Luckily she lost interest fairly quickly and they moved on.  That was a bit close for comfort, so we decided to sleep in the car again. We’ve been in the car a few nights now, but it’s been quiet on the battlefront.  We might attempt in night in the tent again.

So as you can see, it’s dangerous here in Africa…not all fun and games. We are hoping to leave here this week, even though we are very quickly becoming part of the family.  We will certainly miss Croc Valley, Millie and Shaun, Louis and Liesl, Gavin and everyone else here.  It’s really been a pleasure staying here.

You can find contact details for Shaun and Millie here at Croc Valley and also for Gavin at Jackalberry Safaris on our links page.
 
05 October 2009
 
Did you know – That Victoria Falls was named after the Queen of England by David Livingstone in 1855.  They are also known as Mosi-oa-Tunya – The Smoke that Thunders.  The Falls is 1.7km wide and 108m high with an annual average flow of one million liters per second.  During the dry season the flow can be as little as 4% of its peak flow and in the wet it can be almost 10 times higher.

So after staying at Croc Valley for about 5 weeks, it was time to say good-bye.  We had to get to Lusaka at some point, because it was time to renew our Oz car registration, even though the car is not in Oz (the Ozzies are champions at having stupid rules…don’t get me started).  Anyway, we decided to take the shorter, but slower route next to the park and towards Petauke.  A lot of people told us that the road is very bad, but we decided to go that route anyway.  The first 120km was a bit slow and it took us about 5 hours, but it was normal gravel road from there on.  The only annoying thing was all the tsetse flies for the first 30km or so.  We stayed at Bridge Camp, on the Luangwa River.  Not really a place I would hurry back to.  Nice enough, but the people there seemed a bit odd to say the least.  Eureka camp in Lusaka was a lot nicer.

Our Oz car rego is expiring soon, and because we are traveling on a Carnet and it only remains valid while the car has valid Oz registration, we had to get a roadworthy certificate in Zambia and send it to the Road Traffic Authority.  To top it all off, we also have to have 3rd party insurance for Oz, even though the car is not in the country.  That was easy enough to do, because you can do it online.  I also saw that it is now possible to get it for 6 months instead of the previous mandatory 12 months.  We were very lucky, because the very nice salesman at Toyota offered to help us get the roadworthy from the Zambian government offices.  It was straightforward in the end.  Our good friend Ryan in Oz managed to get it all sorted out for us in the end after numerous trips to the local RTA office where he lives.  A bit of a headache for him and us, and with the bank balance substantially smaller it was time to move on again.

It was time to head south again, and Gavin from Jackalberry Safaris suggested we visit a place on Lake Kariba called Kariba Bush Camp.  What a good recommendation.  It is a bit of a drive from the main road (about 120km one way) to the Sinazeze area, but it’s a normal tar road.  The camping facilities were very good, nice clean ablutions, even a good camp kitchen, green grass and perfect location.  The campsite is next to a crocodile farm, so we had to try a bit of croc curry they had on the menu.  Not bad, but very filling and a bit fishy at times.

Our time in Zambia was coming to an end and our last stop was a Livingstone to go to the Vic Falls.  We’ve heard from a few people that the Falls were getting a bit dry on the Zambian side.  Nevertheless, we decided to look at the Falls from the Zam side – I don’t think we’re ready yet to support Zimbabwe, even though there is a shared government now.  Probably not the right attitude, but I think we will try and avoid anything to do with Zim until Bob is out of the picture…

It was my first visit to the Falls and it didn’t fail to impress.  It was a bit dry, but still very spectacular.  Mandy has been fortunate enough to see the Falls from the Zim side a few times, and she’s seen it in the wet and dry season, but still, she enjoyed being back in the area.  We stayed at the camp close to the Zambezi and relaxed yet again for a few days.  We also managed to slap together a very nice chicken potjie one night, which went down very well with the other couple (Wayne and Tracy) we’ve been traveling with for a week or so.

We crossed the Zam/Bots border at Kasangula, using the pontoon service.  The 3-5 minute crossing across the Chobe cost us a whopping US$20 – how is that for a tourist rate.  It was very quick and easy to exit Zambia.  It took us about 20 minutes and 10 of the 20 minutes was because we were waiting for the customs guy to return to his desk.  Botswana was just as easy.  It also took about 20 minutes and 120 Pula on the Bots side, which was for road fund, insurance and some other useless paperwork.

We’ll be heading through Chobe, Moremi and hopefully some of the Central Kalahari soon.  We’ve heard that it is now a nightmare to camp in any of these park, because they’ve changed there booking system.  Everything now needs to be pre-booked and paid for at the Parks offices.  We’ll have to see how we get on.  Until next time…