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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

42 Travel Zambia November 2008resident elephant bull, Dionysus, lumbered through camp and disappeared with our washing line ( complete with all our freshly laundered sheets) draped decoratively over his shoulders. Or the unfortunate occasion when I leapt enthusiastically off the returning game drive vehicle to make drinks for the guests and ran straight into a low- hanging tree branch, knocking myself out cold. But camp managers are an unflappable breed. From cobras in the cupboard to honey badgers in the bar, they have seen it all. And the demands upon them range from the sublime to the ridiculous: from the guest who blows her panic whistle at 3am because there is a frog sitting on her loo seat, to a full- blown fire that demolishes the back of camp, including the staff quarters and the kitchen. (" Well, I hope you rescued the gin!" was the inevitable comment from one guest when this particular disaster overtook our camp in 2001.) Ask around and you'll find managers all have their amusing stories. Ernst Jacobs, at Mwaleshi Camp in North Luangwa National Park, remembers explaining diplomatically to one female guest that in his bushcamp, lit solely by spirit lamps and set deep in the middle of nowhere, there is – regrettably – nowhere to plug in a hairdryer. Likewise, Jess Coley, manager of Flatdogs Camp in South Luangwa, remembers one guest enquiring about who was responsible for feeding the giraffes every day – she had assumed that the sparrow weaver nests in the trees were hay put out for the animals' benefit. But there are serious moments, too. Moments when the manager has to snap into action – both to deal with the incident itself and to reassure the guests. Thankfully such incidents are rare, but every manager worth his or her salt will have a disaster procedure in place to implement at a moment's notice. Storm Mason- Reynolds, manager at Chongwe River Camp in Lower Zambezi National Park, recalls one occasion a few years ago when a guest received a serious snake bite in camp: " We immediately called air rescue and put emergency procedures into place," she explains. " Fortunately the guest recovered, but it reminded us all that we must never relax our guard." So why does this job entice so many? Patsy Hahn, from Wildlife Camp in South Luangwa sums it up: " It's a wonderful opportunity to live in places that only a privileged few get to see – and to have the time to really get to know these areas and the people who Scenes behind the scenes ( from left to right): cooking on a ground oven at Chikoko ( Remote Africa); preparing the vegetables at Luwi ( Norman Carr Safaris); the all- important store cupboard. Opposite below: At the end of a long day Patsy Hahn ( Wildlife Camp) remembers what makes it all worthwhile. Our resident elephant bull, Dionysus, lumbered through camp and disappeared with our washing line