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38 Travel Zambia November 2007hiked up a long stony ridge. At the top a new vista awaited us: a breathtaking panorama of peaks and valleys falling away west to the distant, hazy lowlands of Zambia. This was the summit; we were now perched on the watershed between two nations. No customs, no immigration, just mountains and sky. My inflated sense of achievement was somewhat punctured by the sight of a cairn. Clearly other people had been here before us, and – judging by the scattered crusts of dung – so had their cattle. But they had certainly not been tourists, and you can bet that this spot had escaped the Lonely Planet. For good measure, I piled a few more stones on top. It took an hour’s cautious descent down the other (Zambian) side of the ridge, before our camp came into view: a startling line of blue domed tents perched incongruously along a narrow shoulder of hillside. It was certainly a glorious spot: the distant plains shimmering through a gap in the mountains and a blaze of colour from the fringe of miombo woodland below. The light was starting to fade, and a blue trickle of smoke betrayed the fact that Joe and Akim, our cooks, were already working their culinary miracles. Any chance of a quick pre-dinner wash? David indicated the forested cleft behind the camp, where a tangle of trees hid the stream that tumbled from the gorge above. This, he explained, was our bathroom. More to the point – it was also the Luangwa. Our gallant little camp on the bare hillside was home for the next two nights. After the comforts of Nyika I won’t pretend it was luxury: there’s no escaping the hard reality of sleeping on a stony ridge, digging a hole to answer nature’s call and washing off the day’s exertions in a mountain stream. But the team looked after us royally. Besides, there was a deep satisfaction in knowing that everything we brought in to this pristine spot we also brought out. The source itself had to wait until the morning after our arrival. After an immense fry-up, David led us back up to the ridge and around towards the top of the gorge. Leopard scat on the trail heightened the frisson of adventure as we approached the dense waterberry grove that concealed our holy grail. And there it was: a gleam of water welling up below a rock and trickling feebly into the mossy undergrowth. Could this really be the Luangwa? It looked like nothing a decent plumber couldn’t fix. But David and John had checked out the requisite maps, and who was I to argue? I ended that momentous day perched on a crumbling ledge near camp, scanning the treetops below for an elusive bar-tailed trogon. We knew it was there: its enigmatic hoo hoo hoo had been approaching upwards through the canopy for the last half hour, lured from the forest depths by David’s canny imitation. The light began to fade and still we sat. Then suddenly, in a brief flutter of emerald and crimson, our bird appeared: a jewel worthy of such a precious place. Zambia undiscovered And there it was: a gleam of water welling up below a rock and trickling feebly into the mossy undergrowth. Could this really be the Luangwa? Camping in the Mafingas, just below the source. ALL PHOTOS MIKE UNWIN

November 2007 Travel Zambia 39 Zambia undiscovered When: There are two trips a year: June offers wonderful light for photography, but is cold in the mountains; October is pleasant in the mountains, but can be very hot in the Luangwa Valley. Bookings: This all-inclusive safari is a joint venture between the Nyika Safari company ( and Remote Africa Safaris ( Getting there: Via Lilongwe, Malawi: reached from overseas on BA and KLM (via Johannesburg), and Kenya Airways (via Nairobi); from within Africa on SAA and Ethiopian Airlines. What to bring: The usual safari gear, plus warm clothes and hiking boots for Nyika and the Mafingas. Source safari essentials Our tour did not end in the mountains. David and John, adamant that guests who had seen the source of the river must also see what happens downstream, had tacked a week’s safari in the Luangwa Valley onto the itinerary. And so, returning to Chelinda, we boarded a flight back to Zambia. Needless to say, the valley performed as promised. We stayed at two of John’s Remote Africa hideaways – first at Mwaleshi, one of only two camps in the whole of the remote North Luangwa National Park; then at Tafika, perched on the banks of the Luangwa in the much better known South Park. Over the next few days we tracked lions on foot, followed a hunting leopard at night and made intimate acquaintance with many other Luangwa residents – from baboon spiders to Pel’s fishing owls. But I had gained a new perspective on the river. Over millions of years this awesome force of nature had shaped and defined its landscape, carving a floodplain that stretches from horizon to horizon and depositing its soils across great tracts of Zambia. Yet I felt a certain smugness as I gazed out across its sweeping meanders. You may be big, swaggering and full of hippos now, I thought, .....but don’t forget that I’ve seen you as a gurgling infant. I could almost have stopped you with my boot. Rows of goggle eyes and twitching ears popped up, as though affronted by my impudence. Meanwhile the dark waters rolled onwards, unperturbed, towards the Zambezi. There’s no escaping the hard reality of sleeping on a stony ridge, digging a hole to answer nature’s call and washing in a mountain stream. Luangwa River Mwaleshi River MOZAMBIQUE MALAWI ZAMBIA 2 1 3 4 5 Chipata Mzuzu Source of the Lunagwa Source Safari Lilongwe C D B A Mafingas Mountains Nyika Plateau NP Tafika Camp Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve 2 1 3 0 100 200 300km 0 100 200m 4 5 C D B A South Luangwa NP Chelinda Lodge Kazuni Safari Lodge Mwaleshi Camp Source Safari Route North Luangwa NP The source discovered. The long hike home. T A N Z A N I A Z I M B A B W E