A southern Zambian safari – Part 1

During late December 2022, we were treated to a visit from our youngest son Marcel, all the way from Hong Kong, where he lives. And we are already lucky enough to have another son, Quintin, and his wife Tessa, staying in Zambia. (They are starting an adventurous life in the Kafue National Park, but more about that in another post.) Unfortunately Reinhardt and Inga, in the Netherlands, couldn’t join us. This would have made our trip perfect, but might have been a tight fit in the car, with seven of us, though!

Anyway, for a lucky two weeks or so, we had these “kids” with us and we were keen to not just sit in our small Lusaka home, but to explore some parts of Zambia together.

We did not attempt to cram all 5 of us into our rooftop-tent-for-two on this trip, and so we’d selected some lodges that were nice, but affordable (or offered special deals). Camping in the rainy season is not always fun, anyway.

Here are some samples from the first part of our journey:

The first section of the route: Lusaka to Mukalya. (Image from Google Maps)

We managed to fit all five of us (with our luggage, and a fridge) into the Toyota Prado, and left town driving southwards towards the Zambezi valley. Just before Siavonga we followed the instructions and turned onto the dirt road towards Mukalya.

While visiting the Zambian Art and Design Show in Lusaka during November, Marina’s keen eye had spotted a stall where a young lady was advertising a “Black Friday Special” for discounted stays at this lodge in a private game reserve. We had never visited it before, and as we were just starting to put together our itinerary for this trip, we arranged accommodation for three nights at Mukalya.

Our rooms at Mukalya – overlooking the Zambezi River. (Picture by Ron Smit, December 2022)

We had three adjoining rooms, all looking out over the Zambezi River. The weather was generally overcast (but warm) and we did have some rain, which at one time resulted in a fantastic double rainbow over the river.

The view from our porch: Double rainbow over the Zambezi, looking towards Zimbabwe. (Picture by Ron Smit, December 2022)

Since the lodge is located in a small private reserve, we could see quite a bit of wildlife around us. The boys spotted zebra and a few giraffes on a run through the area, and wondered briefly whether they should continue running past the giraffes. It’s well known that these can kick hard enough to kill a lion… However, all species just ran away from each other, in this case. We could also hear and see some hippos in the river, from time to time.

Other, smaller animals were just as interesting.

Immediately in front of our porch, there was a colony of Lesser masked weavers, with the males working on nests while loudly twittering with their neighbours. I attempted many pictures of these industrious little fellows with my little Sony DSC-HX99 compact camera. However, since they were constantly flying off to collect grass and hopping up and down while weaving grass into the nests, it was quite tricky to get them in focus. Nevertheless, here is one of my attempts:

Lesser masked weaver atop a nest that he was constructing right in front of our rooms. (Picture by Ron Smit, December 2022)

One of the activities offered at Mukalya is a hike to a nearby hot spring. Like the explorers that we are (or claim to be) we had to take that hike, of course. It was essentially a 12km walk, requiring some wading through muddy streams, swollen due to the rains. The hot spring itself is very hot, but quite small. You could easily step across the source, but it was far too hot to dip your hand into it. There’s some steam rising from the water and a faint smell of sulphur.

I guess it would have been possible to develop the spring by building a pool into the stream, but this idea had apparently been opposed by a local community. Anyway, we did enjoy the round trip walk, even if we returned with soggy footwear.

Wading through one of the many muddy streams on the hike to the hot spring. Cool dudes do that with hands in pockets while the more .. mature people provide assistance to each other. (Picture by Marcel Smit, December 2022, used with permission.)

I am pretty sure that Marcel was secretly hoping for one or more us to fall down while wading through the mud, just to ensure some pretty spectacular action photography. Unlucky for him, we’ve all walked through muddy streams before.

I’m suddenly thinking about the walk to the Wli waterfall, in Ghana. But I digress.

On the way back from the spring, we spotted numerous little bright red bugs on the ground. I’d never seen them before, but our clever son Quintin informed us that they were Red velvet mites, very aptly named, I must say! Less than a centimetre long, they are arachnids (like spiders) but are completely harmless (to humans, anyway). Some sources say that the bright colour serves to warn off potential predators “because they are nasty“, but I don’t know what this nastiness would be.

A trio of Red velvet mites, seen on the ground during a walk near Mukalya. (Picture: Ron Smit, December 2022)

We spotted very many of these little red critters on the ground, sometimes walking together in little head-to-tail, follow-the-leader trains, sometimes appearing to stroke each other or doing some sort of arthropod shadow-boxing. There were so many that we had to be careful not to step on them while walking through some patches of ground. Apparently they tend to pop up from underground or from below dead leaves, after the rain.

There are a few other highlights at Mukalya that definitely deserve to be mentioned:

Firstly, the food is great! Very nicely presented and tasting fantastic. The chef is really an artist.

Artistic way to present a very tasty vegetable spring roll. Yummy! (Picture by Ron Smit, December 2022)

Secondly, there is a real sauna, with an adjoining plunge pool. Now I can almost hear you thinking “who wants to go into a sauna in a tropical country?” but on rainy days it was really relaxing to enjoy this while looking through the picture window onto the Zambezi river. We somehow managed to do it quite a few times during the three days that we stayed at Mukalya.

After three great relaxing, rather luxurious days at this lodge, we took off on the next leg of our southern Zambian journey. But that is the topic for a next blog post, stay tuned for more adventurous stuff!