From Mumbwa, we left the human settlements behind more quickly than Kalomo. There were fewer walkers and bicycles but more vehicles. It’s clear that there is something small-scale industrial happening before the national park gate.
Once past the gate and into the park, we saw no game for many kilometers, although the flies were with us, telling us that there had to be some game present. We followed a combination of written instructions, GPS and signs with arrows to navigate to McBrides’ Camp. There was a lot of nothing for a long time – we could have wandered for hours without all the aids.
We were greeted by one of the camp staff, and soon afterward the legendary Chris McBride appeared – tall and lanky with close-cropped gray hair and beard with a rifle slung over one shoulder.
Steve did the math – this leg of the trip was not pre-paid, so he negotiated for a chalet rather than the camping reservation we had pre-arranged. I’m still mystified why he did this; I was actually looking forward to being independent again, defining how we spent our time. It was clear that they had not planned on non-camping guests – it was a bit of a scramble to get us a meal and a chalet. Things were closed up: it seemed like they were not expecting guests for several days.
Compared to the other chalets, this place was a little rough around the edges. Where there are floors, they are poured concrete, cracked and unevenly finished. The furniture matches from seating area to seating area, but the overall feel is like you have stepped into someone’s home. Books are randomly stacked, skulls, feathers and other artifacts are tucked into the reed walls, with framed prints and botanical collages.
Unfortunately, Chris’s wife Charlotte is away in Lusaka for a few days. My sense is that she is the one that keeps the place running. Chris is a witty conversationalist, and he is clearly seen a lot of life. He holds what we consider traditional South African views. A bush dweller most of his life, he reflexively brushes flies from his face and neck every minute or two, even though the place is mercifully fly-free – probably because we are right on the Kafue River.
Our chalet is basically a boma with a concrete floor, furnished like a studio apartment. We have a spacious bathroom with an open roof and just enough privacy. It feels like we have moved into someone’s house who wasn’t really expecting guests: it’s bit dusty and the bush seems to be slowly taking over the structure. I am convinced that if I get infested with something, it will be here.