First, many apologies for my long silence in this space. But look out – I’m just back from Zambia full of resolutions to do better. First I’ll send a retrospective daily blog from that glorious trip before attempting more regular reports from our bit of marsh and elsewhere.
The aeroplane leapt into the air: agile little thing. The sun was going down like an express lift but we had only 12 minutes to travel. Darkness was nothing to worry about. We left Mfuwe behind and travelled towards night.
There is a trick performed by Indian magicians in which they toss a walking-stick into the air – and when it touches ground it’s a living writhing snake. Something of the same trick was performed here. Below us, appearing in an equally sudden fashion, the great curves lashing about in a frenzy, was the great yellow snake of the Luangwa River.
From the air you can see where it has been threshing from one side of the valley to the other across the millennia, altering its reckless course from year to year: the untamed crazy river that swept up my heart 27 years ago and refuses to let it go.
Dry season. The river reduced to a thin trickle, with occasional deep pools full of hippos. Wide sandy reaches, still yellow in the fading light, spreading from the stream towards the distant banks. Here every large mammal in the Valley must come and drink until the rains come to free them from the river’s bondage. That’s why at the peak of the dry season – now – you find the finest gathering of large mammals in Africa on either side of the Luangwa River.
I looked down. We were flying the river’s course now, high enough above the trees to be comfy, low enough to see the river as a living thing rather than a wiggly line on a map. A yellow snake, marching across the landscape: home for the next 12 days.
Can I describe the exhilaration? The relief of homecoming so curiously combined with the thrill of adventure? The sense of fear that adds piquancy to the joy? Not sure that I can. The plane kissed the rough old airstrip – with just a soupcon of passion – and I was back.
* I was co-leading Sacred Combe Safari with www.wildlifeworldwide.com