Life on the Mekong and Other Rivers

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog, including strong statements in support of weinerdog-riding monkeys, are our own, and not those of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. government.

Monday, March 22, 2010


It rained...hard...on the way. I was looking at the stack of black clouds on the horizon and suggested they were perhaps the darkest clouds I had ever seen. Nope, said Katherine, the clouds on our wedding day were darker. She was right I think, but just barely.

Mukambi Lodge is in Kafue National Park -- an easy three hour drive West of Lusaka. You basically turn left out of Lusaka, drive three hours, then turn left into Mukambi's driveway.

We went with a group of friends.

It's not really prime safari time so we went in knowing we weren't going to see African plains teeming with wildlife. Basically we were looking for a chance to get out of dodge for a day or two (we'd planned Mukambi before I was invited to Sausage Tree for last weekend).

It was wet. It was green. The bush was thick.

The animals were hiding.

But, we got out in the fresh air, it was a nice morning for a drive, and we saw a bunch of Impala, Puku, Hartebeest, Warthog, and an elephant.

And we got to pee in the flooded out road.

Sam, sharp bottom teeth and all, has a hacking cough that, we were told, should not have kept us from going to Kafue. So we went. And he coughed. And he hacked. And he kept us up at night. He would have done so at home, too, I guess, and at home we can't hear lions calling to each other in the night while we fall asleep in our tent.

Katherine and her boys on safari. Jack has a hot chocolate moustache AND a hot chocolate uni-brow. A twofer!

Our tent. We were right on the river and seemed to be on a hippo lane. There were tracks coming out of the water and to the left and right of our tent. The tent was under a more permanent thatched shell, which provided some additional security against all the scary wild animals.

We had lions in the camping area on Friday night. The apparently chased a puku from about 50 feet from our tent across the camp at about 5:00 am. They missed.

And on Saturday night we had about 30 puku in camp. Sunday morning it was the monkeys' turn. They seemed to sense when we were packing up and came around to wait to scavenge the site after we left.

Our site.

The view from the lodge with a large flock of some white birds (egrets?) flying along the water. We never had completely nice weather, but it only rained for about an hour while we were at the place. It rained on the way there and back, but we were in the car so who cares?


Sunday morning we headed out onto the Kafue river. It was nice, and we found a large pod of hippopotami to watch for a while.

Jack and Peyton were clad in life jackets but still made the pontoon ride a bit more nerve-wracking than it should have been with their inability to sit still and not lean over the rails, push on the rails. etc.

On the way home, Jack and Bruno watched a movie while Sam slept much of the way. Three hours later we were home.

And Jack helped to clean some of the mud off the Prado.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Camp, animals, whatnot

Sunset from the deck the evening we arrived.

So the park is lousy with elephants. They are everywhere. While we only really went out once on a game-drive like outing to "check the quality of the safari roads/tracks," we saw plenty on the drive in...

...and while on the river. Elephants are cool. Elephants swimming are very cool.

Also on the river...Hippos. All I could think of was Madagascar II: Back to Africa. I blame my 3-year old. "Girl you huge"

We did go out, as I said, to check out the quality of the safari tracks. During the rainy season the grass and shrubs grow tall, the rudimentary tracks that the vehicles use during the season provide an easy path for animals. But in the rain, the ground turns soft, muddy even in places. Elephants are heavy, so are buffalo. They leave deep footprints. When the mud begins to dry out it gets hard as a rock, especially a type of soil called black cotton soil.

Anyway, thousands of elephant and buffalo tracks = very bumpy road.

We went out just a bit before sundown and bounced around for a while. We saw a few elephants and then came upon about 120 buffalo. Later, we ran into a herd of about 500 impala. I'm told they don't generally gather in such numbers.

Again, with the low light and the point and shoot, not so much with the awesome wildlife pictures.

With the sun gone, we stopped to have a drink and listen to the night sounds -- The night birds. The bark of a troop of baboons warning the night that a leopard was on the move. The low rumble of lions calling to each other, gathering to start the hunt for the night. And, of course, the low, guttural laugh of a hippo.

On the way back to camp we went through a small river. It was only about 35 feet wide, but it was deeper than we thought.

You can see a bit of the water that poured over the hood and into the driver's seat coming over as we headed in. We made it safely out, if just a little bit wet.

Sunday afternoon the camp managers planned to meet up with other lodge managers from up and down the river and the head of Conservation Lower Zambezi, a conservation and anti-poaching effort supported by the lodges.

We all met at a random spot along the river and had a picnic. It was pretty cool to just sit and listen to the stories and whatnot of a group of people that spend their lives in the Safari world.

Kerry, who runs Conservation Lower Zambezi, brought her 1 1/2 year old Scottish Terrier Scotch, seen below.

The dog is living on borrowed time. During the afternoon, Kerry told stories of Scotch fighting three cobras (and killing one), going after a leopard, biting the heels of passing baboons, falling into the river and being swept away. By the time Kerry got into her boat and caught up to him he was more than a kilometer downstream. He also tends to nip at passing branches as he rides in her truck with the window open. More than once she has noticed his sudden absence only to notice him in the rear view mirror hanging from a branch by his teeth.

Some friends have suggested that she make a kids' corner to the CLZ website and make Scotch the mascot. She is resisting, though, as she would rather not write the entry detailing Scotch's eventual demise.

After two days in camp, no kids, no loving, caring wives, we were pretty wiped out. Long days, long nights. On the way back to civilization, Jason took the opportunity to get a bit of shut eye.

I kept my eyes glued to the shoreline, spotting a few last elephants, hippos and crocs. When we got to where civilization generally overtakes wildlife, I may have nodded off a bit too.

Tomorrow we are all headed to Mukambi with a big group of friends, and a week from tomorrow Diana arrives. We're going to take her to the Zambezi in a few weeks to go to Mvuu Lodge. With the end of the rainy season, it's time to get out more.

So, the weekend

About 125 km from Lusaka to Chirundu down on the Zimbabwe border. Turn left and go another 40 or so km to the Chongwe river. Too high to cross.

So we leave the car behind.

This car.

A truck, really. An open-topped safari truck with no doors and no windshield. 100 km/h down the highway gets a bit windy without the windshield.

So we got to Chirundu and took a left down a dirt road until we got to the Kafue river.

Crossed on a small car ferry and continued.

It had rained recently, and some patches of the road were still pretty muddy.

Nothing a winch couldn't fix.

We got as far as the edge of the Lower Zambezi National Park. From the Kafue river crossing to the national park you drive through the Western game management area that has villages and allows hunting (with a concession, very regulated) and the Eastern game management villages, no hunting, more game, more lodges.

Then you get to the Chongwe river, which divides the eastern GMA from the national park...more game, fewer lodges.

The Chongwe was too high to cross, so Jason pulled into a friend's lodge (the aptly named Chongwe River Camp), parked the truck, and we jumped into a boat to finish the trip.

Nice river, the Zambezi, if a little high and muddy right now. The Kariba dam is basically busting at the seams with water so they opened a spillway or two to relieve some pressure. What that does, though, is raise the river and muddy it up. No matter, we were almost there.

And here we are. Sausage Tree Camp.

Jason was bumming around South Africa with a friend and a surfboard back in the mid-90s when a friend of a friend asked if he would like to help build a lodge in Zambia. He went up to help out and never left. Started out guiding, then managing the camp and others in the area. In 2001 he bought the place. It is sick how he has made such a luxurious place in the middle of nowhere. And I was there when it wasn't actually open. The service and the experience during the season will be something.

Tomorrow, a picnic on the banks of the Zambezi, a dog living on borrowed time, and a night drive to "check out the quality of the game drive roads."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Finally got out of Lusaka.

or How I Spent My Weekend: By Phil Nervig

a few pics, etc. to come, but I just had our little point and click because the other one died on us AND it wasn't a totally vacation safari weekend as I went down with a friend who owns the place while he checked out preparations for season opening on March 25.

But check out the website. If you come visit us, we'll hook you up. We know the owner!

Katherine and the boys stayed here while I rode down with Jason in one of his open topped safari trucks. 100 KM/H without a windshield is something. After 90 minutes on tarmac and another 90 or so on dirt/mud we got to a river that was too high to cross, left the truck at another lodge, and jumped in a boat for the final 20 kms.

Came out by boat today -- 2.5 hours on the river to get back to the tarmac. Must have seen about 150 elephants swimming and drinking along the banks of the Zambezi.

Very fun.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Good Wife

I got my birthday present from Katherine a few days early.

It's pretty cool.
And, it goes well with the bean bag toss game that we just had constructed for ourselves after coveting our neighbors' set since Christmas.
I tried it out on Sunday. It works like a charm and it's stylish too!