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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

November 2007 Travel Zambia 27 Green Season that takes visitors into the heart of the valley at the height of the rains. And thus it was that I found myself out on the river heading for Mchenja Bushcamp, one of only two bush camps in the park to remain open throughout the year. Our guide at Mchenja was the supremely knowledgeable Levy Banda. With game drives largely off limits, due to the waterlogged roads, he led us out on foot. Walking through the bush is a privilege at any time of year, but in the wet season, surrounded by nature in full flush and not another tourist in sight, it is a magical experience. The verdant landscape, with its profusion of velvety greens, jades, olives and limes, appeared in places almost like the ‘wild garden’ of a stately home, its lawns cropped by nature’s best lawnmowers – the hippos. With visibility often limited, we soon learned to keep our ears open. At every turn the bush revealed yet another secret: the rattling of oxpeckers hinting that buffalo or giraffe might be ahead; the harsh ‘go-waaaay’ of the grey lourie suggesting a nearby predator; even the staccato chattering of tree squirrels indicating a snake might be slowly wending its way through the long grass. But it was the sudden ‘wa-hoo!’ Angola pitta This beautiful but elusive bird arrives in low-lying areas, including the Zambezi and Luangwa valleys, in late November/December. Skulking in thickets, where it is best located by call, this is a top target for serious and dedicated birders. Monster mushrooms The rainy season is mushroom season at Mutinondo, where fungi fiends can find the largest edible species in the world, known locally as Chingulungulu (Termitomyces titanicus). This monster measures up to 85cm across. Flaming fireballs The bush bursts into bloom with the green season, with a profusion of purples, pinks and yellows. No flower is more spectacular than the scarlet fireball lily, which emerges at the first hint of rains. Bat bonanza Forget the Big Five: the largest and most impressive gathering of mammals in Zambia is the roost of several million straw-coloured fruit bats in the swamp forests of Kasanka National Park throughout November and December. Baby boom Many mammals drop their young at the start of the rains, when lush new growth means plenty of food for mother and baby alike. And all those vulnerable newborns tottering about is good news for predators, who have their own ravenous young to feed. Indoor elephants Elephants are a familiar sight in the Luangwa Valley all year round – but not generally in your hallway! Each December the local jumbos enter Mfuwe Lodge, without a reservation, drawn by the wild mangos that grow in the grounds. Shoebills on show The bizarre stork-like shoebill, surely Africa’s strangest bird, uses its enormous bill to capture lungfish in the Bangweulu wetlands. High water levels from January to May make for good sightings close to camp. Seven seasonal secrets Zambia’s rains bring some unexpected wildlife highlights. Here are seven to look out for. Setting out for Mchenja A flooded ebony grove NORMAN CARR SAFARIS ANNA DEVEREUX BAKER Fireball lilies on Livingstone Island MIKE UNWIN