Treading lightly on Zambian soil

2019-06-09 06:30 - Lauren McShane
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The intense heat of the sun on my neck tells me it’s well into midday here along the shores of the Zambezi. Sweating with a spade in hand, I’m refilling the earth with soil and planting my very own poison pod tree I dubbed CJ ( after my son’s Caleb & Joshua).

John, the guide in charge of the nursery at the Wilderness Safari’s Toka Leya Camp, ever so kindly dug the initial hole right beside my luxury canvas tent on stilts and one day I hope to return to see my tree growing tall, providing shade and sustenance to the indigenous roaming animals in this Mosi-ao-Tunya National Park.

Treeplanting at Toka Leya

Along with the ‘Back of House’ Tour, planting your own tree is one of the eco-tourism activities Wilderness Safaris offers their guests at this Zambian camp 20km from Victoria Falls. As a guest I was able to play a tiny role in reforesting this park which ( along with the region) has been plagued with deforestation. As we stroll past their worm farm and through the nursery, John, shares about how their Children in the Wilderness Camps also serve to empower the kids to pursue other avenues of income and steer them away from cutting down trees to make and sell charcoal- a popular income-earner for locals from rural villages nearby.

He points out the water pear, poison pods, natal mahogany, water berries, milkfigs, white-stem thorns and mopane trees all growing in the nursery waiting to be planted by guests and also distributed to the 10 schools in their eco-club programme. Kids from these schools participating in the eco-clubs get the chance to visit Toka Leya Camp 3-5 nights yearly and 100 trees are given annually for the schools to plant. John also mentions they have collaborated with the organisation Greenpop in the past and assisted them with trees for their volunteers to plant during their reforestation festivals.

Zambezi Cruising

Just like that, my ‘work’ for the day is done and my boat safari is about to commence on the Zambezi with Donald at the helm and sundowners ready to be poured. No sooner after our boat left the white sand of the Zambian shore, a gin and tonic was placed in my hand (in a giant, silver mug no less) and hippo families surfaced everywhere we turned. Perhaps it was the seduction of the sun on the river but I completely lost count of all the hippos and boats cruising along this river; which happens to be Africa’s fourth largest.

This happened to be my second sunset Zambezi cruise in two days and it dawned on me that I could very well do this hue of sky, drinks on deck and the low hum of the boat on the silky surface of a river everyday. My first boat cruise here was just down river at an African Bush Camps lodge, Thorntree River Lodge.

With a guide named, Easy, it’s impossible not to relax and have a terrific time. Easy’s love of the water and his relaxed passion for the birds, plants and animals that called it home really enriched the boat cruise at all the right moments. The fifth wheel amongst two couples, I felt oddly content just savoring the breeze in my hair and eyeing the hippos and riverside baobabs as we glided towards the red fiery globule dipped below the water’s surface. 

Kafue National Park

Prior to Wilderness Safaris operating two camps in the Busanga Plains ( only accessible to humans five months of the year), in Zambia’s Kafue National Park, poaching was rife and wildlife numbers were particularly low. The presence of their camps has not only provided logistical and financial support to local anti-poaching activities, but seen wildlife populations rebound and also contributed to changing lives by employing more than 130 men and women in various ecotourism positions.

Candlelit dinner on a floating pontoon

My first Zambezi experience began only two days before at African Bush Camps’ Thorntree River Lodge.  If the riverside boma, infinity pool and dining area overlooking the Zambezi didn’t signal ‘dream stay’ at first sight, my very own pool, outdoor lounging area and outdoor shower did the trick.  Everywhere I turned, there she was -the mighty Zambezi and her seemingly calm waters.

I could spot her and hear the hippos from my bath, my bed, the dinner table and my private patio. Founded by Zimbabwean-born Beks Ndlovu who is passionate about preserving remote lands and impacting the community and land surrounding camps, I have looked so forward to this stay for the longest time and for good reason.

Conservation Clubs and a Clinic

The community who benefit in a huge way from the introduction of African Bush Camps’ into Zambia is the remote Maunga Community, 20km from the town of Livingstone in Zambia. Located on the border of a protected Dambwa Forest Reserve this community is largely marginalised, being located far from main transport routes. As a result, a high amount of unsustainable harvesting of the forest reserves natural resources occurs, due to lack of alternative options.

A Conservation Club was set up in 2018 and since then pupils of Maunga Primary School have been taken on educational tour of the Victoria Falls- a first visit for many of them.Thanks to the African Bush Camps guide, Phillip Masule, whose interactive approach left Conservation Club students desiring to be ‘mini’ guides.

African Bush Camps give their guests the opportunity to visit local villages, meet it’s inhabitants, learn about life there and chances to assist in current projects on the go. Another exciting development is the construction of the first health clinic in the Maunga Village which was built together with the community. Nearly complete, the community eagerly await its opening especially pregnant moms, moms with sick children and the elderly who otherwise have to walk many kilometers just to receive health care.

The Mighty Falls

Someone once warned me about the vastness of Victoria Falls and how it cannot be captured in one shot. Even 10 images cannot encapsulate all of it’s angles.  Our guide Quentino, led us to about 10-15 various lookout spots within the Victoria Falls National Park. From the deceivingly calm looking waters on their way to the plunge, to the left-hand side where the cloud of mist masks the large sheet of water falling beneath a morning rainbow all the way to the slippery knife’s edge bridge where I was completely drenched in its spray and up to lookouts within the forest where I could lay eyes on ‘the world’s largest sheet of water’.

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