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Roaring Lions and Pregnant Bellies

BOTSWANA | Monday, 25 September 2006 | Views [2398] | Comments [2]

As I write this I can hear the hippos harrumphing like so many old gentlemen in their London club, I can see the vervet monkeys doing acrobatics in the trees, and a beautiful spotted bush buck shyly emerges from the dried Africa grass. Now, here is Donald the gardener, protector of the lettuce from the ellies, catapulting the baboons. When I commented to Kate that I wondered how we had progressed from all the public scratching of testicles and picking of fleas in full view, she suggested that it happened when the first baboon started to worry about what the other baboons thought: the beginning of civilisation. Earlier this morning Donald was chasing elephants who were ripping apart the upmarket tree house where guests pay big bucks to have the real bush experience, and here we are having it for nothing. Flatdogs, where we are staying, is on the Luangwa River at the point where elephants have crossed for years. Their daily journey through the campsite has made it famous, but sometimes causes major angst for the owners not wanting squashed tourists. The local Africans don’t feel the same affection. Last year 19 lives were lost, quite apart from trampled gardens, huts destroyed and the years supply of carefully nurtured maize disappearing in a night. Me, I’m just waiting to say: Sorry I can’t come for a house call as I am surrounded by elephants! We get free entrance to the park and fortunately this compliment was extended to Kate and Marcus. Joe of the Jungle has become an experienced tour guide; backing expertly and speedily from threatening bull elephants. (He has now abandoned his pith helmet as passé. Now we have an acoubra with lion skin trim, shades and knee high crocodile boots. The macho Aussie image. Hopefully people will think that he killed and skinned the croc himself until they see Made in China on the sole. Fortunately no stingrays in Luangwa). As the landscape further out becomes increasingly parched, more animals come to the river and a game drive brings close encounters with all variety of animals and birds. In fact, sometimes they seem to be completely bored with visiting tourists allowing you to get close enough to pat them on the head, particularly the lions, who far from behaving like the kings of the jungle we found gorged after a kill with bloated stomachs lying on their backs with their legs in the air. This is quite unlike the Nyika plateau in Malawi where it is impossible to get close to the great herds of antelope, eland, roan, and kudu. It is great walking country, rather like the downs in England, and we camped in a spectacular campsite where hyenas regularly steal the pots and munch on car tyres. Some drunken Italian campers stole our giant log from our campfire in the night which Joe of the Jungle has struggled to lug from the bush in order to keep us safe from the hyenas. Needless to say, when he emerged bleary-eyed from our tent in the morning and found the log missing he donned his pith helmet, marched over to the Italian camp and in revenge for the Aussie football team gave them a good what for. The language used may not be repeated here without offending (fortunately their English was limited and all they saw was a crazy man yelling obscenities while his ridiculous head attire askew). Happily, the log was recovered. We have missed camping – the sound of hyenas and hippos and the tramp of elephants just outside the flap, but feel safer in our little thatched house (especially when the lions are roaring). Of course it has been hard for Jane in the tiny tent as Joe insists on having his assegi, elephant gun and hippo traps in case of emergency. The weather here is getting hotter and hotter. There is a pool which last year was taken over by a hippo but we dream of Byron Bay and Lake Malawi. We stayed for a week in Chisimulu, an island in the lake in bush shacks owned by Nick who visited in his hippy days and is still there. Gentle wafts of dope float over the camp at sunset. We had arrived at midnight after a journey on the Illala, the Lake Malawi ferry. It took 3 hours to fill the boat with a heave of people carrying everything from great bundles of firewood to bananas, bicycles and lounge suites. The lower decks were packed solid but for a few dollars more we slept on the top deck. At 1am we had to clamber over sleeping bodies and piles of fruits to climb into a little boat to take us to shore. We woke to the red ball of the sun rising over the turquoise blue water and the calls of the fishermen offloading their catch to the waiting women. We later took a dhow across to another island. The sail was so patched there was more hole than sail but it was a glorious crossing. My job here for 3 months accentuates the tourist paradox – GP extraordinaire to the rich and wealthy in the park lodges with most of my time spent in the simple, rather grubby, unresourced health centre. There is a lovely picture of the previous doc patching up an injured baby giraffe in the treatment room. Shock horror the first few days - treating really sick people with minimal drugs, no investigations, no transport to send them to Lismore Base and well, no Lismore Base. Just a hospital, a small hospital, a one doctor hospital where the X-ray machine is broken, the ambulance has crashed and is 2 hours and 15,000 pot holes away. On the third day when I came to work there were no nurses so I had to let go of all inhibitions and great joy, delivered my first baby in 20 years – well to be accurate, the mother without so much of a grunt pushed the baby out into my shocked awaiting arms, so now I am enjoying it. This week we did 6 rural clinics: wonderful affairs where we sit under mango trees waiting until the village women arrive, pregnant bellies, babies tied in bright lap laps on their backs, infants weighed on scales swinging from the tree, masses of curious dusty children crowding in to laugh when the babies wail and women cackling uproariously about some joke about contraception - and me bemusedly feeling rounded tummies, sitting cross legged on a rush mat in a makeshift grass enclosure thinking Jane of the Jungle is a long way from Bangalow. Meanwhile, Joe has started his role: fixing two sterilises, a suction pump and a vacuum extractor, all donated and perhaps rarely used. We have had a wonderful visit with Kate and Marcus who are now travelling with Joe to Victoria Falls. Kate, not one for the rustic style of her parents is writing reviews for two luxury lodges and spent last night in a bush camp tent equipped with a king size bed, claw foot bath and valet service listening to the lions roar. To be more truthful she and Marcus have spent 3 weeks perched in their little tent high on a tree platform above the elephants, only abandoning ship when the nightly elephant control activities - much trumpeting, revving vehicles and buck shot gave them insomnia. Greetings to all and love from all of us.

Tags: Adventures



Dear Jane and Joe,

Wonderful reading - how will you ever settle in Bangalow again?!! It will be very tame. I really envy you the elephants - I have always loved them. I told you about the TV show about somewhere in Africa where they are training the elephants to track and catch the ivory smugglers? Very interesting. Keep up the good work. Lots of love, Rowena and Tony

  Rowena Parkes Sep 26, 2006 10:41 AM


Hi Jane & Joe,
What an amazing adventure you are having. the last full moon rose over the Noosa River right in the middle of my newly wed sister & her groom. very romantic, great photo opportunity. Nyss is about to start HSC & is fantastic-gave her a massage this afternoon. Kerry & I happy & well. love to you both, Merryn

  Merryn Lonergan Oct 15, 2006 6:31 PM

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