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I'm a camp manager ... get me out of here! Most visitors to Zambia take for granted the smooth running of their safari lodge. A calm, competent team of staff ushers them from thrilling game drive to sumptuous meal, and their neatly- pressed laundry returns as if by magic. Yet things behind the scenes are not always quite so calm. Anna Devereux Baker, no stranger to managing a camp, reflects on the world that guests seldom see. 40 Travel Zambia November 2008

November 2008 Travel Zambia 41 ust make sure you never run out of gin and tonic!" With that advice ringing in my ears, I stepped down from the plane and headed out to my new job in the depths of the Zambian bush. I was a twenty- four year old Londoner, full of confidence and with a few safaris already under my belt. How hard could it be? Yet the next two years, running a tiny bush camp deep in big game country, brought a crash course in practical skills I'd never even imagined. I learned the local language, how to find my way around a land cruiser engine, the best way to stop elephants from eating the roof ( hang coca- cola bottles; they hate the noise), how to cook in a ground oven and – the main objective – how to ensure that our guests had the experience of a lifetime. The safari day, I soon learned, starts early for a camp manager, who swings into action before the last of the night noises have faded into the dawn chorus. Spirit lamps bob in the semi- darkness as the staff light fires, fetch water, prepare breakfast and rouse the guests. The manager must check that the coffee is hot, the orange juice cold, the toast crisp and the porridge bubbling invitingly – and must find time for a quick tour of camp to make sure that no uninvited night- time visitors are still hanging around. Only then can she ( or he) join the guests at the fire – to pour their coffee and tea and plan the day ahead. It is when the guests have headed out with their guide on their morning walk or game drive that things really swing into action. Camp becomes a hive of activity: beds are made, rooms are cleaned, brunch is planned and prepared, bread is baked, clothes are washed, water is pumped, torch batteries are checked, spirit lamps are refilled, supplies are counted, the bar is restocked and the table is laid for brunch. I remember taking advantage of one rare free day by sitting down to create a manager's manual. Five hours later, my fingers aching from having typed the equivalent of War and Peace, I realised I wasn't even halfway through. Host, bartender, waiter, teacher, nurse, counsellor, entertainer: these are just a few of the roles a camp manager plays. And all of them must blend seamlessly into one another. One colleague likened it to a swan gliding serenely across the water, but paddling like crazy underneath. Of course things don't always go to plan. There was the memorable night when our Lodge life A camp full of guests is no barrier to the local wildlife: an elephant tucks into a tree at Chongwe River Lodge ( Lower Zambezi), while a vervet monkey raids the fruit bowl at Wildlife Camp ( South Luangwa). WILDLIFE CAMP WILLIAM BANDA