So we have been a bit remiss with our Newsletters, having published nothing since September of last year. It sometimes seems a bit of a low priority task, it is time consuming and we sometimes question the validity of newsletters in this day and age of social media. And as we are pretty active on social media it all starts to become a bit like repetition. We are not going to stop creating these newsletters, but we are not going to do them religiously every month. We are going to sometimes combine them and do one covering two months. This is the case here where we are combining April and May. If you want a more “live” experience of what is happening in and around KaingU then please consider following us on Facebook or Instagram.
So April was all a bit frantic. Julia and myself caught covid in Paris and ended up stranded there for two weeks. It is a long story – too long. As such we got back into Kaingu way later than expected so camp opening was rather rushed. To say the least. We ended up getting it done in just under four days before our first guests arrived!
We are joined this season, in the guiding team, by David Chirwa – who we have known for many many years. He freelanced with us over the two corona years, but now joins us in a full-time capacity. David brings a lot of experience across the entire Park, having guided from Nanzhila in the far South through to Busanga in the far North.
On our way to Mpamba rock for the first visit of the season we were confronted by this incredible double rainbow. The rains this year were quite exceptionally late. The early part of March had very little rainfall but then it started in earnest. The pattern of rains has also been quite strange – with the Kafue being full (Lake Itezhi Tezhi is full), but Zambezi levels relatively low. The Busanga plains in the North of the Kafue are also shockingly dry. But more on that later, and back to the spectacular rainbow.
These later rains made life a bit interesting. After we opened the lodge and had our first guests we then had a period of more than 10 days with no rainfall. Temperatures dropped a bit and everyone was convinced that the rains were gone. But this was not the case! Right befor Easter (and a full camp) the rains returned with vengeance and that is no fun with a full camp. Fortunately the evenings were dry and we were able to do dinner for 25 people (almost a camp record) without drama.
Then chef Wina and myself had a fantastic wild dog sighting up on the M9 while collecting our delivery. It has become a bit of a regular thing that Wina and I get early season dog sightings while on shopping trips. It has happened a good few times now. The Chunga pack were great to see, but these pictures also illustrate and bring home the threats that result from the M9 bisecting the Park. These threats being roadkill of animals due to overspeeding as well as litter and fires. Fortunately the dogs were smart and very quickly disappeared North when this large Namibian truck approached. The truck was actually doing a sensible speed. Unlike the intercity busses…
Back at the lodge, at the end of April we witnesses a stunning early morning conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. A conjunction being when they appear to be extremely close. The closest they have appeared since 2016. They are not close of course – it is simply that they line up closely but their completely separate orbits mean they are nowhere near close!
And as April drew to a close the rains were declared well and truly over – thankfully. The end of the rains and the onset of the cold and dry months means morning mists. Which if you follow us then you know are a bit of a thing here. So just after witnessing the stunning conjunction we headed out for soem sunrise boating. A family that was with us for five nights became huge fans of this and ended up going out three times to witness the morning mists.
We then took advantage of a short break in the bookings to jump in the car and head up North for two nights to Busanga Plains. This beautiful area of the Kafue is rightly famed. Big lion numbers, open grasslands (that are seasonally flooded) and stunning animal numbers and landscapes have created this fame. It was the first time we had been up there for a number of years and it was great to catch up with old friends up there who were busy with opening their camps. Morning mists are also a feature of the plains as you can see. Likewise we saw some of the famous lions and enjoyed two crisp nights under the stars in our roof tent. This visit reminded us of how in the Kafue you can really enjoy such a diversity of different scenery and animals and camps.
Back at KaingU now, and talking of stars…. You probably know that some of us here are a bit keen on the night sky. As the rains move away conditions for imaging and observing the night sky get better and better. The chances of clouds get lower and as the humidity drops the astronomical “seeing” improves (the disturbance of the atmosphere caused by winds and moisture is called seeing and is the effect that causes stars to twinkle. Light being bent). This also coincides with us starting to get good views of the core of the Milky Way – that is the heart of our own galaxy. This image is looking into the milky way. Clearly visible (top to bottom) in the Carina nebula (the largest and most spectacular S. Hemisphere emission nebula), the running chicken nebula and then the dark coalsack (huge dust cloud) with the Southern cross immediately adjacent to it to the left. The red colour of the nebula is caused by glowing clouds of hydrogen gas.
Continuing with a bit of astronomy we then also had a full lunar eclipse on the 16th of May. The day that big event however, we had a sunset and moon rise at almost exactly the same time. From Mpamba rock both were absolutely spectacular and these two images were taken within 10 minutes of each other.
And then the big event. We knew that there wasn’t going to be much time to witness this eclipse as it would happen with the moon very low on the horizon and that the moon would actually set during the eclipse and basically at the same time as the sun rises. For this reason I decided to go lightweight and simple. No tracking mount (which requires quite complex alignment with the South celestial pole). Just a camera on a tripod. It was a decision that left me with mixed feelings. With tracking I could have got the moon and surrounding stars, but on the other hand the moon was already disappearing pretty quickly into atmospheric haze as totality peaked. Here you see the moon darkening and then the second image is full totality. The effect is caused by the Earth’s shadow falling on the moon. But red light bends around the Earth, hits the moon and gives the red hue. Hence lunar eclipses also are known as “blood moons”.
Now we want to talk a bit about group travel. Over the period of the worst of the pandemic (i.e. the last two years) international group travel dropped to zero. Sure there were a few (very few) intrepid individual travellers that braved it all to come to Africa, but the big groups stopped completely for very obvious reasons. So it all got a bit emotional when we had the return of some Overseas Adventure Travel groups from the USA. Only two groups, and reduced numbers compared to pre-pandemic, but so good to see international travel starting up. And of course with groups comes a bit of a show! The Kaingu band got back into their swing.
And the band not only welcomes the guests but then for the final night there is a bit of a traditional evening and send off. The guests get Zambian food and there is a bit of pre-dinner festivities that takes place. All in all it is loved by guests and staff alike.
And then to wrap up we again had another encounter with the Chunga pack of wild dogs. This time they had moved down from the M9 and were a few kilometers from our car park on the spinal road. So great to see them again. Israel had encountered them on a staff transfer, and had seen them on his way back down again. So as it was the middle of the day we reckonned that they would not move again for several hours, so we took the opportunity and headed up. Sure enough there they were. And with no traffic to disturb them they were completely relaxed and allowed us to get within a few meters of them.
So that is it for this our first newsletter of 2022. Follow us on social media for more frequent updates and if you like what you see then do come and visit us!