Monday, 25th of September – SHOPPIIIIINGGGG
Today is SHOPPING day! But Liuwa-style. I’m excited because for the first time in 2 months I get to exchange the Liuwa dust for (equally dirty) Mongu town dust. I’ll be out of Liuwa for a few hours and get to buy lots of food. Of course, that last fact is the most exciting of all.
We leave at 6.00 am because with the to-do list we have and the 3-hour drive to even get to Mongu, we are going to need as much time as possible if we want to make it back tonight.
So off we go. We plough through the loose Liuwa sand, which the Landrover handles excellently. We make it to the pontoon not even 2 hours later. I handle the challenge of driving the car onto the pontoon and helped by a man in a Jumbo shirt (Jumbo is a Dutch supermarket chain) we pull ourselves across the Luanginga river and then proceed for another hour to reach Mongu.
The day in Mongu is eventful but it’s not. I love being in Mongu because we can find stuff (food, storage items, etc.) there that is not around the corner in Matiamanene. But after a few hours, Mongu just becomes the busy, dirty, dusty town it actually is. We go from A to B to C back to B back to C and to A to get everything we need, stuff the car with it and fit all the groceries somewhere in between. Furthermore we:
After we checked almost all items off our list, we start the drive back to Liuwa and reach camp after sunset with a car full of nice Mongu stuff. For the next 3 weeks I’ll have plenty to cook and that makes me happy.
Wednesday, 27th of September – Rain…… RAIN!!!
I think I’ve said it before, but I’ll do it again. Liuwa in dry season is beautiful, but it’s full of heat, dust, ash and smoke. So much that you can’t spend an hour in the field without returning with a clogged nose and pores and a layer of black ash on everything.
Today we are pushing that exposure to the limit. We are doing prey surveys. Something which we do once every 2 months in the dry season. In short it means that we are driving 16 transects of 8km each with two people sitting on top of the car who give a shout for every prey-mammal-species they see plus some details. It’s fun, it’s boring, it’s hot, it’s nice, it’s sweaty, it makes colleagues irritating (read: Daan and I get irritated with each other), it makes colleagues funny, it’s everything at once.
Today is a bit different though. Today, while doing the work, we are watching a cloud. It’s tiny at first, but as the afternoon unfolds, it gets bigger and bigger, it becomes fluffier and eventually… covers the sun! Sheer relief! Clouds are something we don’t see here in the dry season. For about 5-6 months the sky is blue (or grey-ish when there’s a lot of smoke and dust in the air), with nothing to stop the sun from relentlessly shining on the land.
As a proper Dutchie I used to dislike rain, because there is so much of it in Holland, year-round and you never know if and when you’re gonna get it. Now, I have let go of that idea. Rain brings change, rain brings coolness, rain is all we can think of on days like these, together with the knowledge that it can still take over a month for that rain to come.
After we have returned to camp by the end of the afternoon, we feel the wind direction change and there is some actual rumbling in the far distance. We listen to it, mesmerised and excited, it’s something we haven’t heard for 5 months. We are convinced though that it won’t rain, since it is only the end of September, way too early.
When we go to bed, the faint rumbling has become louder but still not very convincing. Until we hear a tap on the tent. And another one, and another one. Rain…. OH MY GODDDDD! IT’S RAIN!!!!! We jump out of bed and stand outside. It’s only 5 drops, just enough to feel one on my face and one on my arm, but it is actual rain! It’s super early in the year, usually the first rain falls 3-4 weeks later, but what a great feeling this is. The rain brings some cooler air and makes everything smell fresh. It is the ultimate surprise in dry season!
Friday, 28th of September – Finally: Kleine Fietsie!
So this is a story I had wanted to post over a month ago, but I had to be patient until the big news was brought out through other sources, so here we are, rather late than never!
It’s been almost half a year since we saw lioness LLi-282 mate, and I have been so excited ever since. As I don’t have to explain to anyone here, the observed action would almost surely mean the birth of new lion cubs roughly 105 days later, which was end of June. This would be 282’s first litter, she’s quite a young mother. With an inexperienced, first-time mother, the survival chances for lion cubs are naturally very low. Knowing this, I tried to keep my hopes high but the expectations low (as many times before I have to remember that nature will take its course, whatever that may be).
For weeks we were monitoring 282’s movements and we noticed that she kept coming back to the same place. First a reedbed (a very good spot for cubs, safely tucked away, difficult to find for hyenas and raptors), later to (appropriately called) Birth woodland, the place where she spent the first weeks of her life as well. Sometimes she would leave for one to several days, during which she would hunt together with her sister, then with a full belly she would return again.
This morning we went to find the lions. They were on the road and first we saw LLi-281 and then LLi-282 and the youngsters. Then LLi-282 got up and started walking and there, clumsily darting behind her through the tall grass, was another tiny, brown, little lion. A healthy, 8-week old, happy, chubby cubbie that is adorable to watch. The cub is so small it still fits under its brothers, it is not scared at all and runs and plays by itself if no one else wants to play. Luckily the big brothers are always up for a game. I have started to call the cub Kleine Fietsie which literally means: Little Bike. Of course this is not an official name, I just thought of it because it resembles a child on a bike, cycling behind his mother, focussed but still swerving all over the show and not quite able to keep up with the pace. Kleine Fietsie is healthy and chubby and the first cub for LLi-282. I can’t wait to watch it grow and I’m hoping it’s a she, to bring some extra girlpower to the Liuwa pride! I’ll keep you posted!