Thursday – He is a she
It’s been raining and raining and everything is wet so my fieldtime is limited. I haven’t seen a hyena in about a week! It’s saddening. And maddening in a way. But the lions are close to camp so Daan and I go to find them.
4 months ago there was yet another happy birth in Liuwa and lioness LLi-281 became the proud mom of 3 little cubbies. We haven’t seen much of them yet because their mother likes the woodlands across the river the most. We already had a little sneak-peak 1.5 months ago, and now again. They have grown! But of course they are still adorable and although for the first half an hour they are mainly just very sleepy. After that they get up and start playing and fooling around. The entire pride is there so there are plenty of objects for the cubs to climb, tails to chase and ears to bite. We are trying to determine the sexes too and come to the happy conclusion that there are two females and a male.
We also see something else. Fietsie is not who we thought HE was. He turns out to be a SHE. I must honestly say that I have never questioned everyone’s calls that he was a he. Yet, from the day she was born, I had always had that feeling that it was a female. Of course that could have been my good hopes too. But anyway, Fietsie is a GIRL!!!! Everyone is happy about this, a little more girlpower for Liuwa.
Saturday – Bush style
I am leaving today! Off on a six week adventure.
My flight is in the night from the 5th to the 6th of March and because Zambia (and Liuwa especially) works a little different than other places in this world, it’s important to not take chances and start getting your ass to Lusaka well in advance. In my case that’s today (the 3rd of March). But I’m lucky and feeling like a VIP. The lodge has offered to take me out of the park and get me to Kalabo by helicopter. That makes me extra lucky because we’ve had even more rain over the past days and any movement with vehicles is now virtually impossible, which would mean that I would either have to spend 4 hours on a bouncy tractor or not get out of the park at all if it wasn’t for that helicopter.
To improve my VIP feelings even more, I have a flight from Kalabo to Lusaka, to avoid having to spend a night in Mongu and 10 hours on a dodgy bus the next day.
So the plan is perfect. Nothing can go wrong.
It’s allllll…. Perfect.
Until I woke up this morning and it was raining. But not that kind of rain that stops a few minutes later. No, more of the sort that will go on all day. But I’m supposed to be at the helicopter hangar at 10.00 so armed with rainjackets, umbrellas and my bags on our backs Daan and I get on our way. The first part is nice and easy, we can take the Cruiser.
500 meters out of camp we drive through a deep puddle and said Cruiser gets stuck, it won’t move back or forth anymore. No problem, we can walk. So with water up to our knees and still holding umbrellas we get my bags out and start walking through the water. Soon we get to the flooded (and slowly washing away) bridge, which we have to cross in order to get to the hangar. It feels a little bit like Super Mario. Some bits are quite deep and the current is very strong. And if that wasn’t enough for our feeling of adventure, we see lion tracks on the dry bits of the bridge.
After crossing the bridge, we still have about 500 metres to walk to the hangar. A weird sound stops us in our tracks (it’s difficult to tell what it is with the rain beating down on the earth and our umbrellas). It might have been a lion, we will never know but because staying out there will not help, we continue our walk.
Finally we get to the hangar where we wait for the pilot. When he arrives, he tells us we probably can’t go. The weather is not safe to fly the helicopter, and not only that: because the weather is the same in Kalabo, the plane the NCS guests are coming with and I am supposed to go out with is not able to land. So we wait. For better weather. For news from the plane. For a sign.
When communication in Kalabo tells us the plane is coming, we get in the helicopter and fly up (coolest thing ever by the way). The heli pilot contacts the plane pilot over the radio who tells us that they, indeed, cannot land. Unfortunately, when seeing Kalabo, they have to turn around and return Lusaka. So we do the same, after 5 minutes in the air and seeing my house from the air, we land back at the hangar. I’m not even disappointed because those 5 minutes in the heli were too cool!
So that was it. I can’t go today. But we have the same plan for tomorrow so I’m just keeping my fingers crossed the weather will be more forgiving tomorrow.
Daan and I are invited for lunch at the lodge with Noeline, pilot Lionel and Namasiku and it’s delicious and nice. The rain stops and the sun breaks through the clouds, lighting up a green and flooded paradise. It makes me realise that an extra night in Liuwa is really not so bad.
Oh and the Cruiser? We managed to tow it out with the good old Puma.
Sunday – actual VIP
Today is the day! I’m going! Again! Although the rain that fell overnight gave me some stress and a rather sleepless night, we are all very confident that all will be better today.
Daan and I go on the same adventure as yesterday. Except that today there is no rain and the vehicle does not get stuck so that’s a win. We are awaited at the other end of the still flooded bridge by Innocent, one of the guides from the lodge, and after a quick visit to the lodge, we go to the hangar again. Here the pilot does a pre-flight check and again we get on our way, all the way to Mongu this time, because it will be easier for the plane to land here.
The flight in the helicopter is amazing. It’s so cool to see Liuwa from the air and the Zambezi floodplain that separates Kalabo from Mongu. Over that floodplain, the pilot flies the helicopter really low for a little bit just for me to see how damn fast we are. And that’s exactly what we are. Damn. Fast.
When we get to the airstrip, half an hour later the plane lands safely and after some formalities I can hop on. I am the only person on the flight so a proper VIP treatment. And that’s where I’m typing this now. If all goes well from here (and it should), I will get to Lusaka in an hour. Usually the same journey takes us 12 to 16 hours spread over 2 days. I left Liuwa at 10.15 this morning and at 14.15 I will be in Lusaka.
Now that’s what I call flying!