Sacred Combe Safari III
How I love my hut. On these trips I get to spend four nights in the same small hut out in the middle of the Luangwa Valley in Zambia and it’s never long before I feel a sense of ownership. True, it offers frail protection from the bush, and on occasions the wildlife drops in for a visit. That of course is why I love it.
There comes a point on these trips when my beard gets unacceptably bushy, and it was time to run a mower over the virile stubble. I unpacked the electric trimmer and took it into the bathroom. It was quite a bathroom: en suite, and with everything you could wish for – shower, flush lav, mirror – except a roof.
So you take your plein air shower and trim your beard in the same bracingly outdoor fashion. I switched on, filled the air with the machine’s busy buzzing and peered at my strangely brown face in the mirror. A couple of seconds later there was a whirr just behind my right ear and there in the mirrors, as clear as I could see myself and nearly as close, a chunky black and white bird. It was a tropical boubou: a shrike relative, with a bright yellow eye, about the size of a blackbird.
It had heard the sound, and being a smart and curious bird, it came to investigate: from natural scientific curiosity and the longshot possibility that there might be food involved. The bird inspected me gravely for about 30 seconds before deciding that I was interesting but inedible. Off it flew with another whirr. I completed the task and then, once again neat-bearded, I retreated to my bed and my book… until I was aware of another presence inside the flimsy walls of the hut.
A bird, a size smaller than a sparrow, was moving with buoyant pogo hops across the floor. It caught the light and glowed like a little living coal… Jameson’s firefinch: a common bird of the Valley, relaxed and content around humans: and bold enough to share my living quarters.
in my grass hut –
please don’t set the walls alight!