Outta the City and Into the Bush (Part 1)

Trip Start Oct 17, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Thursday, November 2, 2006

Let me just begin by saying that at the outset of this expedition I wasn't sure that it was going to be any sort of a success. For beginners, there was my cousin Walter's on again off again commitment to coming; however, he did eventually decide to join us. Add to that, the late start that we got after my uncle's Discovery suffered clutch problems at the last minute. So, instead of leaving by early Friday afternoon around 3ish, we finally departed Lusaka around 9 pm, long after sunset! There were 9 of us in total in two vehicles; my uncle Ernest, cousin Walter, myself and two of Ernest's workers in the Land Rover; followed by Ernest's friend and hunting partner Colin Gandha along with his son, Colin Jr (C.J.) and two of Colin's workers (as a quick aside, labour here is very cheap and even middle class families will have house servants, gardeners, workers etc...).

Space was at a premium as one can imagine with 9 people, all the luggage, the coolers/deep freezes, food/cooking implements and the tents and other camping equipment. I was scrunched into the middle front seat between Ernest and Walter with my legs awkwardly shoved to one side to accommodate the the stick shift. It was a very uncomfortable for someone of my height but luckily the seating arrangement changed an hour and half into the trip when we stopped for drinks (beer)! Fast forward another hour and a half to our arrival at the gates of Kafue National Park where travel within the park is limited to between 5 am and 6 pm. We arrived at midnight and would have to wait, not only to pass, but also to buy fishing licenses available only from the booth. So we set up our sleeping arrangements right there on the side of the road and slept under the stars our first night. It was cold and uncomfortable but I did manage to catch a few hours sleep before we rose and started off again around 5:30 in the morning having acquired everything we needed from the park officers.

The road ahead was quite clear, peaceful and extremely straight. We saw a lot of deer like animals such as the Impala, Sable, Puku, Duiker and plenty of common monkeys. The national parks here in Zambia are set up slightly different than the ones we have in Canada. Most of the area surrounding these parks are called Game Management Areas (GMA's) and are the only places that hunting is allowed. Thus, animals can walk into and out of these areas at their choosing but upon entering a GMA they can be shot. Like the parks, hunting is also handled differently. A hunter must apply for a license for a specific GMA and then wait to see what animals they are allocated; if those animals are not found in said GMA, they will go home empty handed. If they shoot an animal not on their license or shoot more than they are allocated, they risk loosing everything they brought including their vehicle should they be stopped by park officers and their catch searched. We were on our way to the Lumba GMA on the east side of Kafue National Park; a trip that should only have taken several hours at best. However, a pontoon boat that would usually transport people and vehicles across the Kafue river was out of working order so we had to drive through the park which added an extra 180 or so kilometers to our trip. It wasn't a total waste though as we saw both elephants and hippos in the park. Unfortunately, the animals were all off in the distance and thus I wasn't able to take any photos. On the whole the trip was very disappointing in terms of capturing any good pictures of the wildlife. After all, I had come along on a hunting expedition where animals where going to meet their end and I wasn't ignorant to that fact. However, I did hold out hope that I was going to see or rather come across some great photographic moments; but, they never did materialize and we drove along the winding park road without much occurring save all the dust we kicked up.

The park itself looked very drab as the rains have not yet come with any force. Things are still very dry with only certain trees retaining their leaves during the dry season. The landscape, bleak as it was, changed from forests to sparsely treed areas to grasslands repeatedly. There were areas that fire had swept through leaving little save for ash and burnt stumps. In the open areas, termite mounds rose up rather phallically above the surrounding vegetation; numerous, like little skyscrapers dotting the terrain. The wildlife finds what it can to survive until nature springs back to life with the arrival of the rains much akin to how things come back to life with the warmer weather in northerly climates. That said, there were some splashes of colour found here and there. For instance, the Fireball Lily is a native bulbous plant that flowers before the rain comes; it's an amazing orangish red flower that bursts forth out of the bleakness most often after fires have gone through and charred everything else. I saw it in several places but we never seemed to stop where one was in flower so that I could to take a photo. Luckily for me we did end up stopping where a number were in flower and I was able to take several photos. This ended up being a recurring situation whereby I saw some plant of interest but we would inevitably drive on by. As a result, I missed other photo opportunities of other native flowers as well as the Baobab tree, a succulent tree with such character that it symbolizes Africa to me. Strange and beautiful, it often stands above everything else and is instantly recognizable with it's swollen trunk and branches; it's described as the 'tree god planted upside down'. I'm even trying to bonsai a Baobab back home in Ottawa but it will never be like any that grow in the wild!

Now back to the trip, we arrived at the Lumba GMA in early afternoon after catching a working pontoon boat over the Lung river. It was an old metal barge in use probably since the sixties that literally needed to be pulled across the river; first one vehicle and then the other. It was quite the event apparently. The area councillor showed up with a sizable number of observers of which some helped pull our vehicles across while others were interested in having their photos taken. I was the only white person there and I don't speak the language, but that aside, the people are nice and almost always smiling. Once across the river, it was a short drive to Lumba; a small village that I think is only there because of the GMA. By this time we hadn't eaten any thing save for a quick breakfast nearly 10 hours earlier and were forced to wait even longer as the details of our party were recorded by the head of the GMA and a scout was assigned to guide us. This scout was in charge of taking us to the campsite, making sure we didn't get lost among the many trails that are carved out in the landscape and ensuring we took the appropriate number and type of animals listed on the license. With that sorted out, we drove roughly another 15 kilometers into the bush before coming to our camp, where we finally got to setting up the tents and cooking a long overdue lunch.
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