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Safari guide Craig Doria, who spent many years working in the Luangwa Valley, is a renowned authority on snakes and has written one of the most respected guides to the snakes of Zambia. Here he relates an extraordinary encounter that befell his friend Jake da Motta – familiar to readers of this magazine – on their shared stable, Rancho Los Pajeros. Every morning, for about two months, our ashen- faced groom had been telling us about the large black mamba he had seen cruising past the stables at first light. He was careful to draw the distinction between the more common black- necked spitting cobra and the rarer but much deadlier mamba: " Not the one that plays tricks with saliva, but the one with a mouth like a tortoise!" he insisted, in an excellent description of the mamba's cruel ' smile'. His story was soon confirmed by the track of a large snake passing close by the stables. If the snake got in among the horses by mistake… Well, that would be the end of Rancho Los Pajeros. It had to go. So the local nganga was called in. With due ceremony he placed totems wrapped in soft bark atop each of the fence posts around the yard. And for a few days this seemed to do the trick. Then one morning Jake arrived alone to find a mild riot underway. We had a rudimentary well dug into a small dry riverbed beside the stables. On this morning Jake found the well encircled – at a safe distance – by about 20 outraged women, their water buckets abandoned. All were loudly insisting that Jake deal with the large serpent in the well, which the groom confirmed was indeed the black mamba. Now it definitely had to go. A weapon was needed – and one was duly produced. Unfortunately it was a flimsy, four- foot long piece of bamboo with a six- inch nail stuck into the end. The groom handed it to Jake with all the solemnity of a herald handing his knight a toothpick with which to slay the dragon. It was one of those Darwinian moments, when one either rejects a stupid challenge and survives to pass on one's genes, or accepts and dives headfirst into calamity. And so Jake went to meet his nemesis. The hushed crowd of women opened before him and down he climbed. The mamba was there alright, its grey body sliding in oily smoothness through the mouse holes in the walls of the well. Cue a second Darwinian moment: Jake raised his javelin and speared the snake. Or at least he speared one part of it. The flimsy weapon leaped in his hands while the rest of the reptile erupted in a frenzy of vengeful anger – the head emerging and striking furiously at his neck. Jake, the bamboo and the six- inch nail held fast as the mamba tried in vain to cover the last 15 inches. It was a stalemate: the snake was pegged fast and Jake dared not release his hold. Many well- known sayings come to mind, but I think ' Down a well with a speared mamba' adequately describes this kind of a predicament. Eventually the groom came to Jake's assistance and, with one sweep of a panga, the mamba was beheaded. The ex- snake, probably a female, measured eight feet two inches long. 20 Travel Zambia November 2008 Tales from The mamba, the well and the six- inch nail t he bush CRAIG DORIA The black mamba is Africa's longest venomous snake

November 2008 Travel Zambia 21 Building Bridges in Busanga The Busanga Plains of Northern Kafue is an unforgiving terrain for vehicles. During the rainy season the flooded plains are impassable. For the rest of the year, drivers must negotiate glutinous swamps and rickety bridges. But there's nothing to fear, reports Mike Unwin, as long as you are with Idos Mulenga. Nobody knows Busanga better than Idos Mulenga. Now chief safari guide at Kapinga Camp, he was instrumental in building the four splendid lodges that Wilderness Safaris ( www. wilderness- safaris. com) operate in this area. In fact he personally pioneered the technique of floating the timbers used in their construction and dragging them down the waterways by hand ( see Travel Zambia 2). Thus, when a bridge collapsed beneath our vehicle during a game drive from Kapinga, Idos was not remotely fazed. Removing the poles one by one – and with the aid of a panga stashed beneath the passenger seat for just such eventualities – he reconstructed the bridge on the spot, while his bemused guests ( and a couple of warthogs) looked on in amazement. When the bridge failed at our first attempt, he simply jacked up the vehicle, pulled out more poles and started again. Forty minutes later we had crossed the channel and resumed our game drive. Idos shook his head when I pointed out the radio: " I don't like to be rescued," he grinned. For some safari- goers bush lodges are not quite ' out there' enough. These purists hanker after the ultimate thrill of sleeping under the stars. Dave Wilson of Norman Carr Safaris ( www. normancarrsafaris. com), together with fellow guide Abraham Banda, recently accompanied four guests as they did just that. The weather was perfect as we set off: slightly overcast with a cool northeasterly breeze. The plan was to walk from Kakuli camp to a designated spot on the Luwi River, where overnight provisions had been dropped, before continuing to Nsolo camp the next day. Our route took us upstream through forests of huge red mahogany, navigating around numerous elephants. Sightings came thick and fast. Abes pointed out a big eland bull, who stood watching us before melting away into the long grass. Soon afterwards we walked into three big male lions, one of whom made his feelings clear with a bone- chilling growl and swishing tail. A spurt of adrenaline saw us circumvent the lions, dodge between two herds of elephant behind them, and continue on our way. The approach to the campsite was picture- perfect, with the bright yellow flush of cassia flowers against a cobalt blue sky. The sunset highlighted a large herd of impala, baboons playing in the tamarind tree and, to cap it all, a beautiful Cookson's wildebeest bull galloping away through the leadwood forest. The site was on a river bend out on the white sand. Each guest made up his own bed, which comprised a bedroll, mattress, sheets and blankets. With darkness approaching, it was done with much fervour and banter – and one or two beers. Fires were lit and popcorn prepared as we settled in for the night. After a hearty dinner, cooked over the coals everyone settled down against an old leadwood trunk to watch bush TV ( the fire). Campfire stories were swapped to a nocturnal chorus of hyenas, owls, frogs and crickets. Eventually, eyelids drooping, we headed for the bedrolls – all except for the indomitable figure of John the scout, who continued to stoke the fires and keep watch for any unwanted visitor. Practical skills can come in useful on a game drive in Busanga. Beneath the stars MIKE UNWIN ( 3) DAVE WILSON