Tag Archive | Kafue River

Kafue on Foot

By the next morning, it was clear that things had been tidied up when we went for our pre-walk coffee. The dirt between the kitchen and dining areas had been raked, and when we returned from our walk, someone had made our beds, supplied us with towels and swept out our hut.

The food was quite simple – the chef was on holiday – but a nice change from the more formal fare we had at the previous camps. Again, it felt like we were visiting someone’s home.

The animals are decidedly more relaxed near this camp, though. Puku graze not 20 yards from the “porch” of our chalet, and birds perch closely wherever we go. I am constantly entertained by the grunts, snorts and chortles from the nearby hippo pods, and there is regular elephant “traffic” in the camp, evidenced by the numerous dung piles and broken trees.

Our first morning walk was beautiful, although punctuated with uneasy moments. Dapper in a jacket and muffler, Chris had a camera slung over one shoulder and his rifle over the other. Steven, one of the young staff, accompanied us with water, snacks and the radio. We saw mostly relaxed animals: impala, puku, waterbuck and warthogs.

Chris is known for his lion research, done 40 years ago in Botswana. There are supposedly lions regularly near this camp, but we know that it’s a matter of being at the right place at the right time. We saw spoor, but no lions. That doesn’t mean that the lions did not see us. But, the relaxed game suggested that no lions were hunting in the area.

We crossed a dry river channel both on the way out and back from the camp – these moments creating the most anxiety. Partially, this came from reading our escorts’ demeanors. In Botswana, the time we had witnessed lions make a kill had been along a similar alleyway of bush. The riverbed seemed like a perfect place for an ambush, and it was clear that Steven had similar thoughts in mind. But, after 3 hours of walking, no lions. We’ve been told that lions can stroll through the camp with “stupefying nonchalance.” But, none yet.

We had a lovely afternoon cruise down the Kafue River on a double-decker pontoon. The upper deck gave us a view above the high banks of the river, and a kingfisher’s view of the water.

Kafue North – McBrides’ Camp

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.

DSCF3659Compared 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.

Hippo Kingdom

Part of the attraction of stopping at Kaingu was the opportunity to spend a few days on the river. But, we had to adjust our expectations since we are not accustomed to the hazards lurking under the surface of African rivers. Tossing yourself into the water for a refreshing swim on a hot day is just not an option. After our midday siesta, we headed out with Egbert and Boyd, the camp’s guide, on the water for a sunset cruise.

In the low water, many of the rocks along this stretch of the Kafue River are exposed, adding natural sculpture to the scenery. But, not all the bumps above the water were rocks. We skirted the deeper pools and open areas: the kingdom of the hippos. Big and bossy, hippos will flip your boat if they feel threatened in the water, and they will trample you in a stampede to the water if they feel threatened on land. As ungainly as they seem, they should not be misjudged.

We cruised upstream past the scrimmage line of hippos with a large enough outboard motor to outrun any surly ones. We enjoyed traditional sundowner fare, then headed back downstream to the camp. Unable to avoid every rock, the cage around the propeller was bent, disabling the motor. We paddled and poled our way to the dock, staying out of the deeper parts of the river, watching for croc eyes.

Safely landed at the dock, we met the camp chef, Elizabeth, who delivered a spectacular meal, complete with a caramel dessert: Steve’s favorite. We went to sleep to the sound of hippo grunts and snorts, hoping they would be under our deck and strolling past our chalet.

River Peace

As we approached Kaingu, we came upon the camp’s tsetse fly control stop. The 3-step directions were posted on a pole with a small lidded wooden box fastened to the pole. Step 1: Stop your vehicle and turn off the engine. Step 2: Wait 5 minutes. Step 3: Spray your vehicle with the can of Doom, located inside the wooden box. I’m not sure that we waited the whole 5 minutes – we were anxious to get out of the hot car and kill tsetse flies!

Just a little further down the track, we reached the main building at Kaingu Lodge. Here we had decided to stay in the lodge expecting that we might be ready for safari camp service, showers, drinks and bed. A demur woman with twinkly eyes greeted us when we arrived, inviting us to relax and have a drink. Anticipating our arrival, the cook had set aside cold plates with empanadas (or whatever they are called in Zambia). We knew that the Heinnekens would not be at the camp during our stay. But, we didn’t realize that we would be the only guests for the next two nights, which meant we got the full attention and care of the staff.

A sloping walkway from the dining area leads to a spacious deck overlooking the Kafue River. It was lovely to just sit and watch the river flow by. Vervet monkeys kept their eyes on us, or rather, our stuff, and a bush buck grazed on the lawn. The quiet was a welcome change from the rattling rover ride.

Soon, our host Egbert arrived. A young Dutch man, he was quite energetic, and clearly happy to be working at Kaingu. We were shown to our chalet – no camping for the next two days – also overlooking the river. After washing off the road dust and filling up the laundry basket, we relaxed on our chalet deck as the river floated by.