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Going with the flow The river is never quiet. There’s the grunting of the hippos, the ringing cry of the fish eagle and the occasional swish of your paddle. But out on the water you find the centre of an ancient calm. It’s a long way from engines; a long way from cell-phones and the city. The Lower Zambezi Valley was forged amid violence. Seismic forces tore this massive fissure in the earth’s crust some 175 million years ago, and rugged escarpments to the north and south now mark the fault line. Between these walls, the meandering Zambezi now drains east towards the Indian Ocean. Sausage trees and winterthorns line the banks, growing tall and strong on the rich alluvial soils, and game masses on the valley floor, lured from the hills by the plentiful grazing and the promise of the river. From the turmoil of prehistory was born a landscape of supreme serenity. And there is no better way to appreciate this than by canoe. Browsing buffalo scarcely look up as you ease past, and the overhead flutter of bee-eaters is audible above the lapping waves. No need to paddle: just hang in the current. Afternoon shadows lengthen across the water and you know that a campfire awaits back on the bank. Soon the lions will be starting up. For now, it’s time just to drift. May 2007 Travel Zambia

High plains drifters Buffalo thunder across the Busanga Plains of northern Kafue National Park. These heavyweight herbivores may gather in herds more than 1,000 strong as they press ever forward in search of fresh grazing. Despite this seemingly homogenous mass of bovine flesh, large herds comprise a number of smaller ‘cow-herds’, each led by a dominant female. It is these older matriarchs that chart each day’s course towards grazing and water, or lead them by night into the shelter of the surrounding woodlands. There is safety in such numbers: lions, the buffalo’s only significant predator, find it hard to penetrate the defensive wall of lethal curved horns, and herds will act together to drive the big cats away. Kafue National Park is Zambia’s largest, and its 22,500km2 comprises a rich variety of habitats. Busanga Plains lies in the northern sector, and for much of the year its flat grasslands are inundated by the floodwaters of the Lufupa river, one of the Kafue’s main tributaries. This lush, flat salad bowl, dotted with islands of palms and fig trees, draws huge seasonal densities of game. As well as buffalo, herds of red lechwe, puku, zebra and blue wildebeest gather, drawing a train of predators that includes wild dogs, cheetahs and Kafue’s famous tree-climbing lions. Travel Zambia May 2007