Tales around the Campfire

Wild Zambezi travel network partners • 16 June 2020

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It’s the start of the safari season along the Zambezi, and winter has set in. The nights are cold but the sky is clear and the stars are magnificent.  Warmth and companionship gather together around the focal point of a blazing campfire.  It’s time to swap stories about today’s wild adventures - or to share some of the funny or scary ones from the past….

Since the Coronavirus Lockdown prevents us from savouring this wonderful safari experience in reality right now, Wild Zambezi has collected a few campfire tales from our travel network partners to share with you in the meantime. 

Here's hoping this collection will whet your safari appetite and inspire you to travel wild, when you can.....   

INDEX (click to link directly to each item)

1.   Welcome Drinks - from Changa Safari Camp (Lake Kariba)
2.   Catching the big Tiger - from Chundu Island (Zambezi River, Victoria Falls)
3.   Two "Newbies" on Lake Kariba - from Heartveld Adventures (Kariba)
4.   Geoff Stutchbury and the Lions  - from John Stevens Safaris (Mana Pools)
5.   Let sleeping Rhinos Lie - from Musango Safari Camp (Lake Kariba)
6.   Caught in the Mêlée - from Natureways Safaris  (Mana Pools)
7.   The Dormouse and the Hearing Aid - from Rhino Safari Camp (Lake Kariba)
8.   The fire at the Heart of our Lodge - from Simwenge Fishing Lodge (Zambezi River near Deka, downstream of Victoria Falls)
9.   Tales of the Dhow: An Unexpected Guest - from Zambezi Truth (Zambezi River, Victoria Falls) 


1.  WELCOME DRINKS - told by Sarah, Manageress at Changa Safari Camp

"When I first start as manageress at Changa Safari Camp, on Lake Kariba, I soon learned that being a total control freak about everything doesn't really help.  But giving our camp staff a bit of creative licence means that happiness soon flows through camp like a joyful impala pronking through the savannah!

We like to greet our new guest arrivals with the usual cold face towels, welcome drinks and big smiles all around from me and the waiters.

One day, we had new Swiss guests who were really lucky on their way here and saw our resident lioness and her two cubs a short distance away from camp.  The senior waiter had made some welcome drinks. He had decided to garnish the wine glasses that the drinks were served in with a sugared rim coloured green with food dye.  It wasn't quite to my taste, but he had spent so much time and taken so much care in making them, that I thought I’d just leave things be.  

Anyway, so as the guests clambered off our Land Rover, happily chatting about the lucky lion sighting, each person in turn was given their drink.  Within a few seconds my heart was in my stomach, and I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, or let the guests know or not.  The food colouring had made all of their teeth turn green!  

One very useful lesson was learnt, and we now garnish the drinks with sugar and Pellegrini Bitters instead.  Green food colouring is banned from camp!"

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2. CATCHING THE BIG TIGER - told by Nikki Meyer: General Operations Manager, Seolo Africa/Chundu Island
"This one is really going to sound like a tall story – but it isn’t, every word is true, I pinkie promise on an elephant’s tusk!
In 2017 not long after we had opened our new lodge, Chundu Island, on the Zambezi River, the team was hard at work shoring up the riverbank which had been eroded by high water levels.  Now that the water was down and the stunning white beach exposed, we could get on with the job of making sure it didn’t happen again and that all the glorious riverine trees would stand firm if another flood came our way.  

There were the usual suspects doing all the work, and a few others standing by watching and passing commentary, when a huge splash and a flash of light in the river caught everyone’s attention.
A tiger fish of approximately 4kgs (we verified it later by weighing it) had leapt out of the water and plunged back in.  Watching the dark river surface carefully we saw it bound again - a really impressive long-distance jump record - landing in a shallow pool of water on the island; with a small but ambitious crocodile snapping at its heels (tail fin actually.)
Max, our boat captain, did not miss a beat.  He raced down, through some shallow water, onto the island the caught the tiger fish in its shallow pool, using his hands!  While our joy at the rescue of the fish was short lived, and some of us felt sorry for the brave little croc, especially as the fish died from its injuries anyway… the staff, used to the circle of life in the bush, were non-plussed and celebrated their good luck with flame grilled tiger (caught by hand).
This fisherman’s tale has done the rounds, usually accompanied by a photograph of someone holding the beautiful fish and claiming that he caught it barehanded (not always Max…) to the disbelieving gasps of many.  I was there though, and I can assure you that it’s absolutely true – well my version is anyway! 
Note:  I do not recommend it as an eating fish, it is full of bones!  And unless you plan to eat what you catch, we strongly advocate for catch and release."

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3.  TWO "NEWBIES" ON LAKE KARIBA - told by Bryony Scrooby of Heartveld Adventures

"I love going away for Easter, my husband Woody does not. Last year we compromised and agreed to 2 nights out on Lake Kariba in a boat.

First night out was relatively peaceful.  We watched a lone bull elephant amble past at sunset.  The boat was very comfortable and we fell asleep under the stars to the sounds of the water lapping against the side.  We had a wonderful day the following day, fishing and relaxing.  After a picnic lunch on the banks under our gazebo, we both felt a little sleepy and caved into the sensation.  

I'm not sure what woke me, but I immediately looked around and was a little alarmed to see the same lone bull elephant not 20 meters away, making his way towards us.  I quietly woke Woody.  “George” (as we’d named the elephant the evening before) was getting a bit inquisitive. We needed to get back on the boat. Woody's reaction was to let out a very loud, involuntary "“S#$t man!” which had the effect of startling poor George, who very quickly headed off.  That sure got our heart rates up!  Not the wisest thing to do, falling asleep on the shore in the Matusadona National Park!  

And if we thought our adventures for the day were over, we were mistaken.  

We were awoken in the night by the sound of a pod of hippos crashing back into the lake after something had spooked them. As they galloped back to the water the large male caught sight of us and was not at all happy.  He acted very aggressively and it was only after a half hour of huffing and puffing that he left.  It was a little hard to get back to sleep after that I can tell you!  

What a very special couple of days we had out on the lake that Easter weekend.  I'm planning on doing it again soon (without the midday nap).  But Woody may need some convincing!"

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4.  GEOFF STUTCHBURY AND THE LIONS told by John Stevens, owner of John Stevens Safaris.

In this video, John tells the story of the time, many years ago, when he unwittingly annoyed his great friend, Geoff Stutchbury, whilst on safari near Chikwenya Camp in Mana Pools... but with an unexpectedly good result...

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5. LET SLEEPING RHINOS LIE - told by Steve Edwards owner/manager Musango Safari Camp.

"We at Musango have always been proud of our success at locating animals for our guests, especially back in the days when the Matusadona National Park had black rhino, sadly now exterminated by poachers.

On one such rhino-tracking day, when I had 6 guests of various nationalities, we came across fresh tracks of a lone rhino. After some hours tracking I located the rhino which at that stage was walking toward us.  I selected a safe site where a mopane tree had been felled by elephant and the tree was leaning at a 45° angle with many branches growing skyward in what we call “hedging”.

The guests were quickly ushered behind the fallen tree as the rhino approached.  But it was getting too close for comfort, so I gestured to the guests to climb up the inclining tree. A honeymoon couple wasted no time at all and were up as fast as squirrels, even climbing over each other! The last guest was an elderly lady who needed a helping hand. I literally had to shove her “behind” up the tree. The poor old lady was so nervous that she started to shake, moving the branches she was holding onto.  Her knees turned to jelly and she squatted down onto the main limb of the tree, barely one meter from the rhino’s horn. After reassuring the lady all was well, I was forced to retreat to another tree as there was no more space left on the inclining mopane.

The rhino, clearly “interested” in these baboon like figures in the tree, decided this would be a perfect resting spot, and lay down on the ground directly under the guests - remaining so for nearly an hour !!!!

Suddenly my radio burst into life.  It was Wendy, my wife, back in camp at Musango, wondering what time we’d be back for brunch ??

It was time for a plan.

I slowly and quietly climbed down from my perch and crept up to the guests, beckoning them one by one to descend and follow me away to safety. Starting with the elderly lady, we crept back toward a small rocky outcrop. The rhino snored through the whole exercise!

Whilst this was going on, ANOTHER rhino made an appearance, walking towards the still-slumbering rhino. What happened next was astonishing. The oxpeckers sitting on the new arrival sounded the alarm having spotted our group retiring to the rocky outcrop.  This alarm woke up sleeping beauty, who immediately turned on the approaching rhino and charged it!

The guests and I had an amazing close up view of a rhino fight, with the new arrival finally being chased away.  This was truly one of those never-to-be-forgotten safari experiences for our guests at Musango Safari Camp."

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6.  CAUGHT IN THE MÊLEÉ told by Mark van Zuydam - Professional Guide with Natureways Safaris

"It was a peaceful early morning in Mana Pools. My guests were slowly emerging from their tents for their early morning tea, when suddenly the peace was broken by the sound of wild dog and hyenas calling in excitement.    I quickly rounded everyone up, and we set off in the direction of the noise, into a patch of Mopane forest not far from camp.  

There in a clearing we came across a group of hyenas and wild dog fighting over an impala carcass. Whilst we stood at a safe distance watching this interaction, we noticed one hyena leave the clearing.  A few minutes later, he came barrelling back towards us with his tail between his legs, closely followed by a lioness! 

Now, all of a sudden, there we were – innocent bystanders at a gathering of lions, hyaenas and wild dog – all competing for the same carcass. I decided it was time to extricate myself and the guests from the mêlée and we slowly moved off to a safer point to watch.

When it looked like the lions were obviously going to be the victors, I decided it might be best 
to return my hungry and thirsty guests to camp, where they could enjoy the early morning coffee and continental breakfast that they had missed earlier!   

There’s never a dull moment on safari in Mana Pools with Natureways!"

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7.  THE DORMOUSE AND THE HEARING AID - told by Jenny Nobes, owner/manager of Rhino Safari Camp

"We once had some very important guests in camp staying TEN NIGHTS and I had NO IDEA what we were going to do to keep them busy in the bush for SO LONG. It turned out they loved fishing and had their own daily routine, and so we all quickly adapted. 

One morning, though, they were late coming through to the boma for breakfast, and just as I was about to set off down the pathway to their room to make sure all was well, along they came, with our lady guest clearly very agitated.   It turned out that one of her very new, very expensive hearing aids had gone missing in the night.  She and her husband had turned the room upside down looking for it, but to no avail. 

Fortunately she was a seasoned traveller and had a spare.  But this was still a big issue, as one on its own was totally useless without the missing twin.   

Anxious to resolve this unusual problem,  the bedroom hand, guide and myself did a thorough investigation of the area and, on close inspection, found evidence of a visitor.  Tiny tracks were spotted at the bottom of one of the supporting poles of the raised bedroom chalet.  They disappeared off into the nearby bush.   The professional guide made a swift diagnosis.  A dormouse… likely attracted by the scent of ear wax, had found the hearing aid irresistible! With pick in hand we followed the guide tracking the dormouse prints and investigated as many nearby burrows as possible.  But to no avail.  The hearing aid was gone. 

At the end of their trip, our guests returned to the UK.   
When the bedroom hand was giving the room a deep clean on their departure, he reached high into the rafters of the thatched roof and lo and behold, down fell the missing hearing aid!  There were a few little tooth marks on the rubber, but the working parts were still intact. With great excitement we let our visitor know, and three months later - portered by visiting family and ultimately the Royal Mail, the hearing aid was returned to its rightful owner in full working order.   
To this day we reminisce about this incident with much amazement." 

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8. THE FIRE AT THE HEART OF OUR LODGE - told by Jeannie Stone, Marketing Manager of Simwenge Fishing Lodge 

"When you think back to the most memorable times on a camping holiday, most of them are sitting around the campfire. When Simwenge Fishing Lodge was still a distant dream, many a night was spent around a make-shift firepit under the Nyala Berry tree, ideas being thrown around as to what Simwenge was going to be.

Before long it was decided that this natural spot was perfectly suited to form the very heart of the lodge. This is still the best gathering place on early misty mornings, as you sip on hot coffee to discuss the plans for the day.  

Our chef, Simon, has perfected a delicious breakfast pizza cooked directly on the coals!  No better way to start your day than around the fire with friends at Simwenge!"

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TALES OF THE DHOW: AN UNEXPECTED GUEST - told by Hideaways Africa, owners of Zambezi Truth  (painting by Zimbabwean artist, Tichoana Ncube).

"Travel exists in the dimension of the unexpected – that’s why we do it. When one travels in Africa, this perspective is amplified - poised for anything and assuming nothing. The plot of our journey unfolds as we venture, revealing stories and memories to be collected in the corridors of our mind, safely stored for rainy days; or lockdown. 
Aboard a Zambezi Truth traditional sailing dhow, we cruise up the legendary Zambezi River, with sundowners in hand and anticipation in hearts.  Our captain captivates us with the historical explorations of David Livingstone, Scottish pioneer of African rivers, sailing on a dhow through these waters, just as we do now. 
Wind in our hair and eyes upon the river bank, hungrily scouting for signs of the wild, we suddenly come to a halt. Snapped from the spell of intertwined narratives and the sail emptied of wind, we sit, perplexed.

Cautiously peering over the side of the dhow, the captain announces that we seem to have become one with a sandbank. The base of the boat has comfortably wedged in an unexpected island and we, comfortably wedged into the cosy cushions of the dhow, accept another glass of champagne to help us deal with all the excitement! 
However, the moment of concern is swiftly dissipated with the appearance of a majestic African elephant. Almost in slow motion and silence, a large bull emerges through the Waterberry trees to quench his thirst in the evening light.  We sit in awe, drinking in the scene before us, his presence powerful and commanding of respect. We barely notice our release from the sandbank, so completely engrossed are we in the wonder of wildlife. 
As our voyage continues, we understand what a privilege we've just had in the close company of such a wonderful animal, and we're grateful for the unexpected island; painted in our memories for years to come."

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