November 2007 Travel Zambia 25 Emerald Smile The rainy season: a time of downpour and deluge, impassable roads, impenetrable bush, wildlife heading for the hills or vanishing behind a wall of greenery. Certainly no time for a safari. Or is it? Anna Devereux Baker donned her waterproofs and headed to South Luangwa National Park to find out for herself. There is no better way to appreciate the intensity of Luangwa’s rainy season than from the river itself.
The deepening grey of the approaching storm threw the bright, sun-drenched trees into sharp relief as we drifted downstream. I closed my eyes, listening to the low hum of insects and inhaling the sweet, steamy scents from the bush. Only the ringing cry of a fish eagle punctured the heady ambience. Zambia’s Luangwa Valley wears two very different sets of clothes: when the rains arrive in November the burnt-up browns and yellows of the dry season surrender almost overnight to the lush greens of what is known, appropriately, as the ‘Emerald Season’. A fresh new valley bursts forth from the ashes of the old: impala fawns and warthog piglets scamper around their mothers; the dense green foliage is adorned with richly scented flowers, and the newly arrived migrant birds are decked out in all their mint breeding plumage. At the height of the season, around late January/February, the river is swollen, an ochre ribbon cutting a broad swathe through the bottle-green bush. Meanwhile the skies are clear and blue, bringing spectacular sunsets, and electrical storms roll along the horizon, piercing the sky with shards of lightning. It all adds up to a paradise for photographers: the colours are vibrant and intense, and there’s no dust or haze to blur your shots. Unfortunately much of this beauty goes unseen by visitors. The rains lock the land away from sight, roads become rivers, and rutted dongas turn into lily-covered lagoons. This last January saw exceptional scenes as the river flooded to the highest level since 1979. Airborne sightseers told of vast mud-brown lakes, dotted with trees and the occasional pea-green patch of higher ground. Unsurprisingly such challenging conditions oblige many camps to close. Others, those located along the park’s margins, remain open but offer reduced access to the park. Thus tourism slows to a trickle. But some operators remain undaunted by the logistical difficulties, believing that the Luangwa at this time of year is too good to miss. Norman Carr Safaris, one such pioneer, has recently teamed up with Robin Pope Safaris to offer the ‘Rivers and Rainbows’ package, a tour 26 Travel Zambia November 2007 Much of this beauty goes unseen by visitors, when the rains lock the land away from sight. For grazers such as zebra the rains turn the landscape into one giant salad bowl. CHAMINUKA