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Marveling at Dr. Livingstone's Africa

ďI will make this beautiful land better known to men that it may become one of their haunts.  It is impossible to describe its luxuriance.Ē 

[Dr. David Livingstone in December 1866 upon seeing the South Luangwa Valley for the first time.]

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I realized I havenít told you much about the South Luangwa Valley where all my adventures are happening.  For all of you who hated geography I shake my head and suggest a good world atlas Ė one of lifeís treasures.  The Luangwa Valley lies at the southern end of the Great Rift Valley in the eastern part of butterfly-shaped Zambia, formerly Northern Rhodesia thanks to Cecil Rhodes and the British South Africa Company.  The valley is bounded 40 miles west of the Luangwa River by the Machinga Escarpment, a dramatic rock formation that drops down 1500 feet into the flat alluvial valley, and on the east by low rolling hills.  The Luangwa is a dramatically meandering tributary of the mighty Zambezi River that rises 20 feet in the wet season then leaves oxbow lagoons and eroded banks when the waters recede.

Life is everywhere here.  Hundreds of varieties of trees and plants make the riverside a lush world even in this dry season.  The broad-leafed sausage tree has foot-long ten pound sausage-like seed pods hanging from its branches.  At night it stealth-blooms dramatic big blood-red flowers to attract the bats that pollinate them.  Giraffes stretch their long necks for the new green sausage fruits, and hippos love to munch the huge mature ďsausagesĒ when they plummet to the ground.  The thorny fine-leafed acacia trees have crunchy seed pods beloved by elephants, giraffes and monkeys.  Those resourceful giraffes use their tough lips to eat around the 2 inch thorns.

Insects win theĒ most-abundantĒ prize though. When I sit under the trees to have lunch, Iím constantly bombarded with little bitty jumping spiders looking for a snack.  Some of them have beautiful black and white bands on their legs and bodies. Big ants, little ants, granddaddy long legs spiders, big flat black spiders that build dense flat webs, crickets, beetles, flies, mosquitoes and gigantic creepy black millipedes all wander aboutÖ. and thatís just inside my house!  The infamous tsetse flies of African sleeping sickness fame are thankfully not as common here along the river.  These delightful creatures donít just suck your blood; they create a big enough bite that they can just lap it up!  They do seem to love my Type O positive, and I have spent the last few weeks desperately trying not to scratch the ugly, maddeningly-itchy red welts they raise.  Fortunately for me, I suppose, human sleeping sickness is rare in the valley Ė or thatís what they tell me anyway.

I do have some allies against the hordes of creepy crawlies.  The little frog in my bathroom is my mate now.  I made a little hiding place for him behind some bottles on the bathroom shelf, which is four feet off the floor Ė quite a prodigious jumper!  He hides during the day and comes out at night to eat, though he does seem to have a discriminating palate. Iíve caught an ant and a beetle or two for him, and he just turns up his nose at my wriggling offerings.  Little spotted geckos softly patter their sticky little feet up and down the screens and chirp at each other and wag their little tales.  Bigger striped lizards with pink Rudolph noses lurk just outside the door.

Despite all the cobra stories, Iíve yet to see a snake. Speaking of snakes, I did meet a crazy Afrikaner who works at Luambe National Park just north of here who said he carries gunpowder and a knife with him when heís clearing brush.  If he gets bitten, his plan is to cut open the wound and pour in the gunpowder thus cauterizing the wound and neutralizing the venom.  He looked very disappointed when I suggested to him the recommended way of dealing with snakebite since itís much less dramatic and doesnít involve knives or gunpowder.

As fascinating as I find the little creatures, most people come here to see the big game.  I was treated to a night as a guest at one of the posh lodges last week.  On our game drive we came upon a pride of six lionesses and three cubs resting in the shade twenty feet from the road.  We watched in fascination for half an hour as the cubs made little growling noises, pounced on their Momís tail, and batted her face with their paws.  Itís hard to describe the awe of sitting so close to such magnificent creatures in the wild Ė simply magic!

Iíve not had lions at my house again, but the elephants are always around.  Last night as I watched the flame-orange sun slide past the fluffy gray clouds, a herd of elephants slowly waded their way across the river.  A fitting close to another amazing day in Africa!

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This page was last updated 01/05/06