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May 2009 Travel Zambia 21 Kafue MIKE MYERS / WILDERNESS

22 Travel Zambia May 2009 " S ounds to me like we're stuck," I venture, trying to disguise the alarm in my voice. Our helmsman guns the motor again, churning up the water around the stern, but the boat refuses to budge. " No worries," grins Bas van Soest, my guide, lowering a pole into the water to join the rescue effort. " It's just a little rock - we'll be off in no time." He heaves against the submerged obstacle as we swing round into the current. He'd better be right, I think, eyeing the four- metre crocodile hauled out a mere stone's throw from our marooned craft. Because there's no way I'm going to swim for it. Still, there must be worse places to run aground. Apart from our little commotion, it's a scene of utter tranquillity. An African skimmer trawls past, oblivious to our predicament, its V- shaped wake glinting in the late afternoon light. The resonant grunt of hippos drifts, almost soothingly, from around the bend. I'm on the Kafue, a kilometre downstream from Lufupa River Camp in the central northern sector of Kafue National Park. I'd charted the river's course from the air just this morning as our little aircraft had beetled westwards high above the Kafue Flats. And now, at water level, I can see that this is a proper river. Not a dwindling trickle smothered by sand, like the Luangwa, but a broad, fast- flowing highway, lapping against steep banks and overhung by a tangle of greenery. The kind of river that promises African Queen- style adventure. The Lufupa is the Kafue's largest tributary within the park. And, once we've finally eased off that rock, we head for the confluence of the two rivers and chug a little way up the smaller one. A fish eagle eyes us from atop a stand of palms. This bird, it transpires, is no stranger to passing boats, and Bas - having whistled for its attention - plucks a fish from a barrel and slings it into the water. The raptor swoops down, snatching its prize and flapping back up all in the five frustrating seconds it takes me to find manual focus on my new camera. That night, around the fire, Bas extols the virtues of northern Kafue. " There's plenty of game!" he tells me, waving his hands expansively in answer to my question. " OK, so it may not be as tame as in Luangwa," he adds, " but it's all here, believe me." He reels off Still, there must be worse places to run aground. Apart from our little commotion, it's a scene of utter tranquillity. Left: A boat ride on the Kafue River from Lufupa River Camp offers close encounters with crocodiles ( top) and some excellent catch- and- release fishing for local specials such as Kafue pike ( bottom). MIKE UNWIN ( 3)