Office Africa July 2011
Has it been really 4 months since the last newsletter?
The rains fly by, particularly when much of it is filled with the business of having a baby! Let me backtrack then and briefly expand on all that has happened.
First and foremost, Derek, Saphire and I are delighted to announce the arrival of our baby girl Jayabella Indigo, who was born in Australia on March 23rd. It all went well, and Saphire is adoring her little baby sister.
We all travelled back from Australia to Zambia in early April when Jayabella was just shy of 2 weeks of age. However we had no time to cool our heels as Derek headed straight back to the Valley to check on the water levels and the conditions of the camps. The rains were limited this year, and no major floods were reported, which is great for our camps but not such nice news for the game who may struggle for water later in the season. The drier the better in terms of game viewing though as all the game crowd into the riverine areas, so we’re looking towards a spectacular end of season. Already the game viewing has been exceeding all our expectations. Finally on April 26th, Derek and Saphire gathered our team of loyal staff, and official camp building started again, with just under one month before opening. Jayabella and I moved over to Kaingo a week or so later. Camp building is really a ton of work, but it is so great to see our staff anxious to get the season going, and to put on different caps in order to accomplish the large variety of tasks and jobs required: masonry, thatching, painting, plumbing, electrical works (for the solar system), etc etc. Derek can share this with you given he is so much closer to the build and you can read his version below and see pictures of Mwamba starting from the ground up. You can also see pictures of Kaingo’s camp building on our website, in one of our recent blogs.
Whilst we were all getting busy in the camp, Izzy was wrapping up her sales trip in the USA, and has continued to fill the reservation book at a steady pace. It turns out that our 2011 season will be quite busy! In early May she left her home base in Belgium to head to our most important travel show, Indaba, in Durban South Africa. Indaba is quite a busy 4 day show, with back to back appointments with travel agents and tour operators. Izzy enjoyed her first Indaba and was able to meet a lot of our current partners and other operators from the Valley. She also attended the 2011 Safari Awards Gala dinner, as a proud representative of Mwamba Bush Camp which was once again one of the finalists in the BEST ECOLOGICAL SAFARI PROPERTY IN AFRICA category we were all very proud of being selected among the very best safari lodges in Southern Africa. Thank you for those of you who had voted for our camps, following our invitation to do so in our March newsletter. Izzy then came straight to Kaingo, to set up the office and prepare for opening. She was soon joined by our newest members of the management team: Lisa Peake our caterer for Kaingo and Debbie Gadd our host and caterer for Mwamba. You can learn more about Lisa and Debbie on the “About Us” page of our website.
Life has taken a most unexpected turn for Saphire, Jayabella and I. When we first returned to Zambia Jayabella came down with a random infection that landed her in hospital, we had some quite scary times there with our teeny little one so under the weather. Saphire coming down with a dose of malaria shortly after we moved to the bush was the final straw that made us feel we really wanted them to be closer to medical facilities. It’s fine to be in a malaria zone when you can take prophylaxis, but no decent alternative exists for small children, certainly not when they need to take it for long periods of time. So having only arrived at beautiful Kaingo 3 weeks prior, the beginning of June saw me packing up the girls and moving them back to our house in town. Both girls are fighting fit thank goodness and the malaria season is over now for another year. Whilst Derek flies to town for quick visit when he can, for the most part he remains at the camp making sure that everything is running to our usual standards and looking for opportunities to innovate with regards to our guests’ game viewing experience. He does a load of guiding, but even when he isn’t guiding you can see his input in everything we do from the roads, to the hides, to the continual innovation at the camps. It’s not easy being apart so much, but as so many of you told us back in our child free days – ‘children change everything’ and we are lucky to have a long off season to enjoy family time.
I would also like to add a special thank you in this newsletter to our friend Marius Coetzee, for the extensive coverage he is giving towards our camps. Marius is a well renowned wildlife photographer from South Africa, and a popular columnist for Africa Geographic magazine. I’ve added below his recent “On Assignment” piece along with some amazing pictures he took while visiting us in South Luangwa. You can learn more about Marius by visiting his website: www.mariuscoetzee.com.
Thanks are also due to David Rogers, also a popular professional wildlife photographer and frequent visitor to our camps. David, along with 5 “apprentices, were our first guests this season, as part of a photographic safari and workshop sponsored by Africa Geographic magazine. We’ll add some of David’s input and photographs in our next newsletter.
That’s all for me now. You will hear more from me, and especially from Izzy, over the next months, on the exciting sightings and happenings from both Kaingo and Mwamba, I have handed her the photographic baton and I trust she will do you great justice.
Saphire jumping on the trampoline at our home in Lusaka
Camp building at Mwamba. By Derek Shenton.
Below are some photos of the annual camp building process.
Each year we have about three weeks in which to open Kaingo and four weeks in which to open Mwamba. This might sound like enough time but there is much to do and we must first grade our own access road up to the camps.
This exercise involves a vehicle with about 6 guys with machetes, picks and hoes that go ahead of the tractor/harrow grader combination. They will slash bushes, move logs and hammer out stumps so that the rig proceeds smoothly without bursting a tyre. At over $1000 a tyre colliding with a mopane stump is expensive!
There are three major river crossings on the way up to camp. Each needs to be sandbagged and dug out in order for our truck and other vehicles not to get stuck for hours on each supply trip up from our base “plot”, which is close to the airport.
All this takes a few days to perfect and then the road is set for access to the camps. There is much excitement as we arrive at Kaingo at the end of that first long day of 25km road grading. We meet up with our three Kaingo watchmen who have been “holding fort” for us over the rains. Their beards and ratty hairstyles for one are the subject of many good natured jokes; stories and news are swapped.
Then the fun – or not – for me begins. For me, camp-building is the toughest time of the year: there is simply no time to relax or gather oneself. From the moment we go in its all 100miles per hour on a multitude of fronts. Multi tasking is the order of the day and management of 40 or so workers from dawn till dusk and very often consumes much energy. Even on the toughest day though, it’s a privilege to work in this park.
Bulky supplies of freshly cut grass and bamboos etc must be brought up by truck and trailer from over 60km away into camp; the mind begins to fray with the sheer number of management decisions in getting all the construction jobs done at the same time. At this point it is important not to panic.
As the clock ticks down towards the camp opening dates, pressure further builds as inevitably there are delays and minor catastrophes. This year one of these occurred when our normally responsible truck driver for reasons best known to himself downed 5 or 6 “jillies” (a local type of potent cane spirit) in quick succession in the heat of the day causing him to reverse the truck into a shop which lead to unplanned repercussions like him being locked up for some days and me having to retrieve the loaded truck – not to mention having to rebuild the shop! A curved ball…
There are frequent trips between camps as well ferrying equipment and supplies. Everything from thatching grass, sisal, twine, fuel, paint and cement to car batteries, spare parts canvas, beds, mattresses and all the boxes of camp equipment must be loaded and unloaded – cleaned and sorted. What was carefully put away at the end of the previous season must now be checked and sorted, cleaned and laid out in place each making up one tiny piece in a 10 000 piece giant jig-saw puzzle.
It’s all about preparation. It’s no good to be short of anything vital; goods are sourced and purchased long before we get to Mfuwe at the end of April. From hardware to food, software to medical supplies – it must all be ticked off the extraordinarily long list.
In the final days of camp preparation, solar panels and lights are connected, brooms work furiously, fridges and freezers are fired up and pictures wiped and hung. At this point long days begin and end with practical things – its about being Mr handy-man; there is no time for paper-work which stacks up towards the office ceiling let alone taking photos of the natural wonders that we are in the midst of.
But as the camps take shape, more days rack up the victories of hard work. The regular staff are greatly excited about the new season and go about their tasks willingly even though most are more than a little rusty after the long break. The “casuals” make up half of the work force are mostly young men in their 20’s and although need constant direction, also work with great enthusiasm and wide smiles.
At last Kaingo’s opening date arrives and work clothes are swapped for uniforms while the final touches are made to rooms. That normally means there must be a final surge to finish off the bush camp. Lights, and plumbing takes a while there as the kits are rolled out.
While all this is going on, any major camp alterations dreamed up by the madam have to be completed prior to opening time; this year we extended one chalet by two meters and refitted the bathroom and main room with new furniture and soft furnishings. The result is awesome and a massive improvement on the original rooms. By next year’s opening we will have converted the rest of the chalets.
Other urgent pre-season jobs include grading all the game-viewing loops while the various hides such as the hippo and elephant hides are prepared.
While it is always a very frustrating and energy sapping process, camp building does eventually come to an end and I can reflect on this mammoth task and give thanks to all the staff from the caterers and guides, the reservationist, all the juniors and my hugely supportive wife – 2011 is here!
I personally don’t get much time to guide until mid to late June as there are always teething problems with various systems and also modifications to make – and of course my favourite – the tax returns and salaries!
Camp building is definitely the most challenging part of the season but there are worse things to do in this almighty world and many tougher work environments so it’s still worthwhile after all these years – 20 camp builds and counting since the first in 1992.
Cheers for now,
ANOTHER SLEEPING LION
On Assignment, Africa Geographic Magazine, March 2011. By Marius Coetzee.
Whether they’re walking, charging or (as is more often the case) sleeping, lions are arguably the most photographed subject on safari.
Their communal nature and a reputation forged by the experiences of generations of locals and visitors have made them a must-see on bush trips – and when they are located, safari-goers (quite rightly) make the most of the photo-op. One of my recent photographic safaris proved to be no exception.
We were based at Kaingo Camp in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park and were able to photograph four different lion prides over a period of five days. The 33-strong Mwamba Pride was the most prominent, and finding its members lounging on the banks of the Luangwa River during an afternoon drive was definitely a highlight. We cautiously approached the pride and shot frame after frame as the late afternoon sun painted the felines a subtle shade of gold. A sub-adult male and two cubs were the most active and thus our main subjects. Although the cubs tried to attract the attention of their dozing mothers by butting them with their heads, the lionesses were generally disinterested. Irritated by flies, the young male eventually rose and, ith the shining water of the river as a backdrop, provided us with great photographic opportunities.
After a short while, he moved about five metres away and lay down, but continued to watch us. I decided that the best possible way to capture the spirit of this young feline was to get as low as possible. I slowly moved off my seat and lay down in the vehicle (very uncomfortable, by the way) to get the angle I needed.
The light was fading quickly and I realised that I didn’t have long to capture the moment. Using an external flash to counteract the gathering dusk, I was able to catch the glint in the lion’s pale eyes as he lazed on the cool sand by the river. I particularly wanted to portray his penetrative, spine-chilling stare, so I opted for an abnormal crop and focused on his face as closely as my fixed lens would allow, while simultaneously including the muscular forequarters of this young ‘king’ of Africa.
‘On assignment’ takes you behind the scenes of some of Africa’s most arresting wildlife photographs.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER PHOTO OF MARIUS Marius Coetzee is a professional Photographic Expedition Leader and award-winning wildlife photographer. His photos have graced the covers and pages of numerous premier publications and with over 11 years experience in the safari industry Marius has become a highly sought-after guide. His knowledge of and enthusiasm for both wildlife and photography are encyclopedic. Marius was based in the world renowned Sabi Sands Game Reserve, bordering Kruger National Park, for more than 6 years. Here he made the area’s celebrated leopards his principal photographic subject. This led to a 12 page portfolio on these shy and elusive felines in the world’s biggest natural history magazine; BBC Wildlife and a 10 page portfolio in the BBC Knowledge magazine. He is a regular contributor to Africa Geographic magazine and his published images range from portfolios to magazine cover shots. In 2010 Marius co-founded Oryx Worldwide Photographic Expeditions. Oryx pride themselves on crafting unique and specialized photographic expeditions to some of the world’s wildest and most scenic destinations. Oryx offer a wide variety of photographic expeditions that are suitable for both amateur and professional photographers alike, whether as set departure expeditions or as tailor-made departures to fit particular photographic needs or travel desires. Oryx has a photographic expedition scheduled at Kaingo Camp in November 2012. Contact us for more details.