Watching elephants walk past the Mfuwe lodge reception – in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park – trunks sniffing around the reception desk, calves lying down to sleep…was one of the stranger tourism and media experiences I’ve been lucky to have. I’d first visited Mfuwe lodge as a government camp in about 1992 when covering the Zambia election.
I fell in love with the country instantly. Before arriving there I had rafted from below the Falls down the Zambezi, being tossed out at ‘tumble-drier’ – rapid number 6 or whatever. Above, on the rim of the gorge, at Taita Falcon lodge (which in true quintessentially Zambian fashion was a collection of half-walled reed ‘chalets’) I heard and watched a black eagle plummet headlong into the gorge. I will never forget the sound, like the sail on a yacht being thrashed by a sudden gust, or a kite being whipped to its limits.
The owner couple was delightful, from Lydenburg in South Africa I think. I bought heavy wood and metal candlesticks at an art shop in nearby Livingstone for the equivalent of R20.
Outside Lusaka was an unexpected highlight. Greek banker Andrew Sardanis, who’d arrived in Zambia in the 60s, if I remember correctly, and who was good friends with ‘KK’, former president Kenneth Kaunda, had with his wife turned their home on the peri-urban outskirts into Chaminuka Lodge. The conversation, art, and exquisite Greek cuisine prepared by his wife was enchanting. Lusaka, who would’ve thought.
With Chris Du Plessis we ‘hit’ downtown, trying nightlife and experiencing taxis and conversations with young women – with hairstyles almost unique to Zambia – showing us the Lusaka we were seeking. Chris was writing for Pace magazine, and I was recording a ‘special report’ for SAfm.
Mfuwe lodge I remember not fondly. It was extremely basic, with slightly torn gauze netting to keep out the mosquitoes, and so bloody hot that I could not sleep. One highlight was interviewing Norman Carr, at his Kapani lodge of curiously Spanish-style villas, with hippos grunting in the Luangwa river below.
Carr had arrived in Zambia as an ‘elephant control officer’ (he had to shoot them) in the 30s, turned to conservation, and pretty much ‘invented’ walking safaris in southern Africa. He also became good friends with KK, an ardent lover of nature who built his own house in the Park.
Without Norman Carr, the South Luangwa National Park wouldn’t exist. This means I would not have encountered ‘marmalade’, my first leopard, and the subject of a BBC wildlife documentary. Despite many visits to South African national parks by this stage, I had never seen so much wildlife, and so many leopards. My last sight of marmalade was being chased up a tree by a lioness.
I returned through the years, visiting a private and beautifully revamped Mfuwe lodge, opened by the irrepressible Andy Hogg in the early 2000s – he had the first espresso machine I had seen in Zambia, real coffee.
He told me about Wonky Tusk via emails, an elephant matriarch who had been visiting a certain mango tree – around which the lodge had been built – for who knows how long. Having been producing story inserts for Carte blanche for a number of years, I proposed the story of Wonky Tusk in about 2012.
We couldn’t find her then, but her family visited. Here is the story link below – a ten-minute watch.
Please scroll to ‘Elephants Checking In…’ The ‘Only in Africa’ adage rings true here.
And hopefully will bring the tourists back when they can, where so many jobs have been lost, with nothing to fall back on.
It is one of the itineraries I will be offering at www.angusbegg.com and more stories such as :- 1st Time Experience At Mfuwe Lodge Zambia
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