Thursday, November 21, 2013

Visiting Africa during the rains

If you live in Africa you yearn for the rain. At this time of year we all live, straining our ears, for that distant rumbling of thunder that marks the changing of the seasons and if you work in a safari camp, this time of year takes on an even greater significant. It marked the end of the tourist season and a long anticipated rest since, for some reason, very few people chose to traveled in what has now become known as the "green season" As a guide, I must confess, it's my favorite time of year to be in the bush, since it's the time when the wilderness is bursting at the seams with life. Every puddle is alive with butterflies, tadpoles, dragonflies and frogs and overhead the sky whirls and buzzes with the most astonishing collection of insects all going about their business. The argument against traveling in the wet season centers around the quality of the game viewing experience, and while it's true that the game are spread out and hard to see since visibility is reduced, there are other factors to consider. 


Firstly- I would rather watch one fat, happy, healthy animal going about his business than 100 of the same, at the end of their tether for lack of food and water. Secondly- since it's the season of plenty, everything is breeding and all the migrant birds are here as well, so while you may not see large numbers of herbivores you will see a sample of them, as well as an extraordinary wealth of other smaller life forms. Thirdly- if it does rain it's seldom set in rain that goes on and on, usually it over is one blinding burst of thunder and lightening and then the sun come's out, and you can carry on with your game viewing. It's the best time of year for photography since the black sky's and towering thunder clouds make for a spectacular backdrop to any photograph and the air is clear of haze, thanks to the cleansing rain. Lions and Leopards are easy to find since they don't like getting wet and so, in the morning, walk down the road's to avoid the heavy dew in the undergrowth. But best of all, I love the green season because `i have the place to myself- that is unless you, and everyone else reading this, are convinced and decide to come and join me!!



Ten Reasons to visit in the "Green Season"
  • Migrant Birds- The bird population seams to almost double as the migrants arrive following the rains and the abundance of food they bring!
  • Photography- Dark skys, clear air and every shade of green you could possibly imagine make this my favorite time of year to be taking photographs.
  • Cats- They don't like getting wet and since the heavy undergrowth is laden with dew in the morning they walk down the roads making them easier to track and find
  • Frogs- At night, wherever you are, you will be serenaded by a host of different species of frog, each lustily singing his own tune
  • Thunder and Lightening- If you haven't lived through a tropical thunder storm then you haven't lived
  • Babies- In the green season, all the inhabitants of the bush are fat and happy and producing offspring
  • Insects and Butterflies- the air is full of the buzzing and whirling of an astonishing diversity of the most outlandish looking creatures imaginable- contrary to popular opinion most of them are not the slightest bit interested in you.
  • You might get stuck!- Trust me, it will be the one experience you will never forget
  • You will get wet!- So what, the rain comes in great lumps and before it rains it's hot and humid so you welcome getting wet to cool down
  • You will have the place to yourself! Unless everyone else reads this and decides to join you!
David Livingstone 1858- 1863

The British government agreed to back Livingstone's dream, to return to Africa and use the Zambezi River to open up the interior to trade, so he arrived at the mouth of the Zambezi in 1858, at the head of the most ambitious undertaking in the annuals of african exploration- The Zambezi Expedition. This endeavor would run for 5 years but in spit of having spent over 100 000 pounds of the British tax payers money, they would never made it more than 300 miles up the river. Here their progress was blocked by  Cahora Basa gorge, a section Livingstone had bypassed on his earlier journey for had he known what lay in store for them there, he would never have undertaken this adventure. Entering the gorge for the first time on foot these men found an awe-inspiring place, hemmed in by towering rock wall's that constricted the river into a seemingly endless series of wild cataracts, some of them over 30 feet high. These men were equipped with a paddle steamer that on a good day, with a following wind, had a top speed of 8 knots- there was simply no way this vessel was going to go up that river! 


Livingstone's companions figured this out in about 5 minuets which begs the question- why did it take him 5 years to arrive at the same conclusion? The answer is, he was so determined to succeed that he has decided that if the Zambezi will not suit his purpose, they will simply have to search for a body of water that will! So they would explored the Shiri, Rovuma and Rufiji Rivers and eventually ended up on Lake Nyasa itself, desperately searching for a navigable water way that will serve as a highway to the interior…but there isn't one. Eventually the British government figured this out and recalled the expedition but not before the press back home had turned on Livingstone, heaping blame on him for the failure of the expedition and accusing him of intentionally misleading the public. As a consequence of this, by the time he arrived back in England in 1864, his reputation was severally compromised and his future looked bleak but the truth is the expedition had not been a complete failure. Certainly they had failed in their primary objective but they had done much useful geographical work and also discovered that the slave trade in East Africa was not dying out as it was in most parts of the continent, but was in fact alive and well and growing like a cancer. Livingstone is mortified by what they have uncovered and returned to Britain on a one man crusade to put an end to the genocide that was unfolding in Africa-  the stage is now set for a titanic clash between the Missionary Explorer and the Arab Slavers for the soul of Africa!

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David Livingstone 1867- 1872

In January 1866 Livingstone arrived in East Africa to head up the Royal Geographic's expedition in search of the source of the Nile and he had accepted the assignment to focus public attention on the slave trade in East Africa. It was now impossible to travel unless you were part of a large convoy of caravans so he would joined his modest caravan with one of these larger affairs and set sail into the interior but the slave trade was on his doorstep every morning and he was powerless to do anything to stop it. All he can do is keep a detailed record of every atrocity he witnessed, and write letters to influential men back in Briton pleading for them to take up this cause. 

To get these letters to the coast he must entrust them to the slaver traders who were under no illusion of the threat he posed to their livelihood, so they destroyed his letters isolating him in the interior of the continent, where they could keep an eye on him. For several years this state of affairs continued and Livingstone was content to bide his time certain that eventually someone will come looking for him. So the stage was set for the most well publicized meeting in Africa's history and on the 10th of November 1871 an unknown journalist marched into the village of Ujiji and also into the pages of history- his name was Henry Morton Stanley. 

Stanley prove a godsend to Livingstone since as a journalist he could put the East African slave trade on the front page of every major newspaper in the Western World. As Livingstone had predicted, the British public were outraged and would force their government to pass legislation to close the slave markets of East Africa for ever. These articles would also lead to a remarkable resurgence in Livingstone's popularity and tragically he would never become aware of this since he had chosen to remain in Africa to set of on one final epic journey to explore the East African watershed, but it was a journey he would not survive...

africanhinterland1@gmail.com
In January 1866 Livingstone arrived in East Africa to head up the Royal Geographic's expedition in search of the source of the Nile and he had accepted the assignment to focus public attention on the slave trade in East Africa. It was now impossible to travel unless you were part of a large convoy of caravans so he would joined his modest caravan with one of these larger affairs and set sail into the interior but the slave trade was on his doorstep every morning and he was powerless to do anything to stop it. All he can do is keep a detailed record of every atrocity he witnessed, and write letters to influential men back in Briton pleading for them to take up this cause. 

To get these letters to the coast he must entrust them to the slaver traders who were under no illusion of the threat he posed to their livelihood, so they destroyed his letters isolating him in the interior of the continent, where they could keep an eye on him. For several years this state of affairs continued and Livingstone was content to bide his time certain that eventually someone will come looking for him. So the stage was set for the most well publicized meeting in Africa's history and on the 10th of November 1871 an unknown journalist marched into the village of Ujiji and also into the pages of history- his name was Henry Morton Stanley. 

Stanley prove a godsend to Livingstone since as a journalist he could put the East African slave trade on the front page of every major newspaper in the Western World. As Livingstone had predicted, the British public were outraged and would force their government to pass legislation to close the slave markets of East Africa for ever. These articles would also lead to a remarkable resurgence in Livingstone's popularity and tragically he would never become aware of this since he had chosen to remain in Africa to set of on one final epic journey to explore the East African watershed, but it was a journey he would not survive...
Dr. Livingstone, I presume?


Henry Morton Stanley was born in Denbigh, Wales on the 28th January, 1841 the illegitimate offspring of an alcoholic farm hand and an underage bar maid. When his father died he was deposited in the workhouse but ran away to sea at the age of 15, boarding a ship bound for America where he claimed to have been " adopted" by a wealthy American named Henry Stanley and changed his name to Henry Morton Stanley. The story of his "adoption" did not stand up to scrutiny and is just the first of many such occasions where he is caught out being "thrifty" with the truth. Perhaps the most famous incident was the quotation from his meeting with Livingstone where he claimed to have greeted the Dr. with the stilted and formal  " Dr. Livingstone I presume?" There is plenty of evidence to suggest that he never said such a thing but unfortunately his greeting became the punch line to a thousand jokes. It is ironic that Stanley is remembered more for this than for his own feats of exploration since he is probably the only one of the African explorers who's journeys rivaled, and possibly even surpassed, those of Livingstone.

africanhinterland1@gmail.com
Green Season in the Zambezi Valley

Ask most guides which National Park is their favorite and they will usually name the first park in which they worked because every wild place has it's own unique signature of sight's and sound's which are powerful reminders to us of the time we discovered our true calling. For me, that place has always been the Lower Zambezi Valley, which is still one of the few truly wild places left in Africa. From it's towering escarpments to the tangled jesse bush in the valley floor- it's wide sand rivers and seemingly endless floodplains- it all frames, what is undoubtably, the most beautiful river on earth.

Returning here always feel's like coming home for me and one of my favorite camps to visit is the Royal Zambezi Lodge on the Zambian side of the river, just above Lower Zambezi National Park. It is one of those rare places that manages to be a lodge that feels like a camp- it offers all the whistles and bells like a coffee bar, wi-fi, spa treatments and restaurant quality food but manages to retain an intimate feel, thanks to it's friendly management and excellent guides. 

One other member of the team you are sure to meet is a bull elephant, called Yale, who has made the camp his home and is usually to be found mooching around in the late afternoon. On my last visit, some of my guests got trapped in the shop for an hour while he stood outside delicately picking pods off the roof, which is certainly one way to boost sales! He has also been known to startled bathers who are enjoying the privacy of their plunge pool only to suddenly discover, what seems to be a large grey suction pipe, draining the water out from under them- (it seems he has developed a taste for filtered, chlorinated water!) Royal Zambezi is one of the few camps the Zambezi Valley that remains open all season, so if you are contemplating a trip in the green season this would be an excellent place to start.

africanhinterland1@gmail.com

Safaris Stories- The Butterfly Collector and the Bus!

We had an apprentice guide working for us in Hwange who was particularly keen on butterflies and was forever chasing them around with his outer sized butterfly net, steadily adding to his already impressive collection. To his immense frustration he was on transfer duty, driving the shuttle bus back and forth from the airport which was a great inconvenience to him since it cut into his butterfly catching time. One day we received a radio call that he had had an accident on his way back to camp so we raced off and found him sitting dejectedly on the side of the road with our new bus stuck in the ditch. The damage was not too serious but when we quizzed him about how it happened he sheepishly admitted that it had been his fault. It seems that on the way out to the airport, driving through a deep puddle, he had noticed a congregation on Pearl Charaxis- a beautiful but fast flying butterfly that had so far eluded him. Dropping his guests, he had hatched a plan, to hang out the window of the bus with his butterfly net in hand and drive at high speed through the puddle and thus catch the prized butterfly but in the process, had lost control and ended up in the ditch. After a good ear bashing from the manager we got the bus out of the ditch and set off for camp, I asked him why he was looking so glum since it looked like he was going to get to keep his job, turns out he was just upset because he still had not managed to catch that butterfly!

africanhinterland1@gmail.com