November 2007 Travel Zambia 31 Green Season Returning from the stork colony, I noticed something moving in the river that was clearly neither crocodile nor hippo; in fact, it looked more like the serpentine head and neck of the Loch Ness Monster. Levy nudged the boat gradually closer, and to my amazement this mystery object turned out to be the very tip of an elephant’s trunk. Bobbing up and down, several metres behind, came the hairy tip of his tail. Levy smiled at my open-mouthed surprise. ‘Not many people know that elephants are actually very good swimmers and can easily cross a deep channel of water,’ he explained. He cut the engine and we drifted nearer. Inch by inch the glistening form of the elephant emerged. And what an elephant he was! An enormous fully-grown bull, tusks gleaming in the sun, he moved slowly through the shallows towards the steep muddy bank. We held our breath as he levered his massive bulk up the slippery slope. Finally, with an ungainly heave, he hauled himself onto dry land, then stood a while to catch his breath before ambling slowly into the bush. The rains explained Rain in Zambia falls between November and April, when the sun is at its zenith. Eastern and higher areas generally receive more than western and lowland areas. The precise timing and duration is determined by the water-bearing ‘Congo’ air-mass, which normally brings rain when it moves south into Zambia from central Africa, reaching northern areas first then working south by end November/early December. As the sun’s intensity diminishes, the Congo air-mass returns north, leaving southern Zambia dry by mid-March and the north by late April or May. Most areas receive their heaviest rainfall in January, though northern areas – in common with central and eastern Africa – have two peaks, one in December and one in March. Zambia’s rains drain into two major river systems: the Zambezi Basin system to the south and east, and the Congo Basin system to the north. This makes Zambia one of the most important sources of fresh water on the continent. Why visit in the emerald season? Excellent photography – gorgeous light, no dust Baby boom – young animals on view Birds, birds, birds – migrants, courtship, breeding colours Cheaper rates – most camps offer off-season bargains Fewer tourists – have the bush to yourself ‘We held our breath as he levered his massive bulk up the slippery slope.’ ANNA DEVEREUX BAKER My last night at Mchenja brought one final breath-catching moment. Having splashed my way back to my tent, I shone my torch into the sausage tree above to find myself looking straight into the mournful, chocolate-brown eyes of a Pel’s fishing owl. Perched on a branch no more than three metres away, his chest feathers ruffling in the breeze, he regarded me solemnly, then raised his head and called – a sound sometimes described as ‘a lost soul falling into a bottomless pit’. As I stood transfixed, his mate answered from deep in the ebony grove and with a gentle swoosh of wings he was gone, leaving an empty branch and a lasting memory. The ‘Rivers and Rainbows’ tour comprises four nights at Nkwali (www.robinpopesafaris.net) or Kapani (www.normancarrsafaris.com), followed by three nights at Mchenja Bushcamp. Find out more at: www.robinpopesafaris.net/specials/rivers_rainbows.php www.normancarrsafaris.com/mchenja-green-season Victoria Falls in full spate at the end of the rains.
32 Travel Zambia November 2007 Every July and August you will find American archaeologist Professor Larry Barham, together with his Zambian colleagues and students from Liverpool University, digging small holes in the Luangwa Valley. It is gruelling, painstaking work. But each season adds more pieces to the jigsaw of Zambia’s ancient past. The team is based at Wildlife Camp (www.wildlifecamp.com), where Larry took time out to talk to Mike Unwin. How did you become an archaeologist? By the age of three I was already collecting rocks and broken pottery. Then, aged ten, I found an ancient food dump in the woods near my family’s home in New England, which had been left by the area’s indigenous hunter-gatherer people. This sealed it: I was hooked on the human past. National Geographic magazine later introduced me to the great discoveries being made in East Africa. So by the time I went to university I was torn between my love of the American past and the lure of Africa. Africa won: I started fieldwork in Swaziland in 1983, which eventually led to a PhD, and have been working in Zambia since 1993. What first brought you to Zambia? A serendipitous mistake! In 1992 I was living in London with my English wife Mary, who had long shared my interests, and wondering how to kick-start my career. A well-known archaeologist, whom I happened to meet at a conference, recommended exploring a particular site in East Africa – but I misheard him, and instead of going to Mumba Cave in Tanzania I ended up at Mumbwa Caves in Zambia. What a difference that little letter ‘w’ has made to my life! What did you find at Mumbwa Caves? Researchers in the 1920s had already discovered human remains and stone tools there. But the site was overgrown and neglected when I first visited in 1993, and I knew I had to rescue it from obscurity. With funding from the Leakey Foundation, plus support from Zambia’s National Heritage Conservation Commission and the Livingstone Museum, we undertook a first season of research. This proved a great success: we relocated the original digs, and – on the last day – recovered fragmentary human remains. Further funding followed, and our research continued until 1999. Were the Mumbwa finds important? Mumbwa Caves gave us the first archaeological and environmental sequence for south-central Africa that spanned the last 200,000 years – a period critical in the evolution of our species. Our work there, and at an even older cave site called Twin Rivers, re-awakened interest in the prehistory of central Africa. It placed Zambia at the forefront of discussions about the origins of modern humans. By the time I went to university I was torn between my love of the American past and the lure of Africa. Africa won. Professor Larry Barham: Digging deep Interview Professor Larry Barham enjoys a typical day at the office. MARY EARNSHAW