I did get a half-decent night’s sleep at Bayama’s Lodge but not without getting up sometime after midnight for a clandestine ‘bucket bath’ from a large barrel of water situated near the dining area. It was pretty chilly by that hour of the night but the way I saw it the cold was temporary but the relief from the layers of grime and sweat, especially around the groin and armpits, would be immeasurable. I know there might be a few hardened travellers out there having a chuckle but honestly it made all the difference when I slipped back into my sleeping bag.
I did get a half-decent night’s sleep at Bayama’s Lodge but not without getting up sometime after midnight for a clandestine ‘bucket bath’
Well, speaking truthfully it hadn’t been as straight forward as that. Needing to warm up a bit after washing I trod softly towards where the night-watchman was quietly snoring next to a brazier of glowing embers. I obviously hadn’t trodden softly enough because he awoke with a start. However, he seemed glad of the company and we talked for quite some time about various things. He was a humble man with one good eye and the other misty and obviously blind.
He told me that he used to be good friends with an Anglican clergyman before the man had emigrated back to Britain. His mind stretched back to pre-independence days (before 1964), and I thought of all the changes he had seen in Zambia during his lifetime. He regretted having no other means of supporting himself or his wife because it was not a sociable job and he had to sleep most of the daylight hours. He said prospects were better for his children. I remember brewing a cup of instant coffee in a small pot on the embers and little while later saying goodnight.
His mind stretched back to pre-independence days (before 1964), and I thought of all the changes he had seen in Zambia during his lifetime.
The following morning the night-watchman was gone and after packing my tent I headed back to the main road. Andreas had advised an early start the evening before. I strolled past the service station where the vendors were already establishing themselves – women with buckets of fried chicken, packets of boiled cassava root, dried fish, packet biscuits, soft drinks and so forth. More than one taxi driver tried to tempt me into a ride but I wasn’t budgeting for those sort of prices.
Close to the place where my two companions of the day before had deposited me I found a crowd of onlookers surrounding a large haulage vehicle on its side. Was anyone injured I asked someone passing by.
He smiled and explained that everyone was fine and that it actually happened quite often. It was not apparent how considering the flatness of the road and the surrounds. Perhaps he had swerved to avoid something or someone and his load shifted position and flipped the cab? A policeman appeared and shooed people away from the front of the vehicle and proceeded to place a few leafy branches as a kind of perimeter marker.
A policeman appeared and shooed people away from the front of the vehicle and proceeded to place a few leafy branches as a kind of perimeter marker.
I continued past the upturned truck and crossed to the other side of the road. There was a row of shops here housing a number of enterprises: a hair salon, a grocers and general store amongst them. I bought a few fresh provisions and then scouted around for a lift. I was told that this was the best spot for lifts heading north on the Tanzam Highway. I needed to get some 80 km up the road to a T-junction and the road to Shiwa Ng’andu.
I approached the driver of a silver saloon and inquired about a lift. It wouldn’t be a problem. He named his price, 20 ZKM, which seemed quite reasonable and far cheaper than the taxi option. First up, however, he needed to go into town to get some fresh meat supplies. He had come all the way from Chinsali, some 300 km by road, for provisions. He told me that it was still cheaper to drive all that distance to buy these commodities in Mpika rather than Chinsali where the traders put on a hefty mark-up. Possibly he was intending to resell some of these goods himself.
He had come all the way from Chinsali, some 300 km by road, for provisions
So a short while later we drove the short distance into town to the butchery he had in mind. It was still not yet open but as we waited the number of prospective customers grew in number so that when the doors did swing open for service there was a surge of bodies into the shop. Fortunately we were at the front. I hung back as my driver friend stocked up on a variety of beef cuts and other bits and pieces. I was paying more attention to the other clientele, the businessmen and housewives all vying for the attention of the shopkeepers.
On the walk across to the vehicle I noticed a vendor selling a variety of DVDs. The selection of titles ranged from popular Hollywood action flicks to Nigeria’s Nollywood toting films like ‘Adolphus the Village Hunter’ and ‘Who is the King?’ I couldn’t read many of the titles because of the way they were filed on the display stand but I could see that ‘Nigeria vs Ghana’ also featured on several of them. On the bottom row were a selection of Asian (Chinese?) films with titles like ‘Destined Heart’ and various combinations of the words ‘eternity’, ‘life’ and ‘love.’
The selection of titles ranged from popular Hollywood action flicks to Nigeria’s Nollywood toting films like ‘Adolphus the Village Hunter’ and ‘Who is the King?’
We made our way back to the main road and before long there were two other people in the backseat as we progressed north. The driver had a sense of urgency that was lacking the day before, not that I’d minded, but now the kilometres dropped away and it wasn’t long before we were at the turnoff. My luck held out as a few minutes later a rickety old land cruiser pulled up near to where I’d decamped beneath the main road sign. The driver leaned out his near side window and asked me if I was after a lift.
It was only 12 km to my destination but the driver was going all the way through to the Kasama Rd. I would need to follow that route but first I wanted to see two particular places on the way. I was told lifts were erratic but my faith in fate and good fortune had not failed me yet. Therefore, a short while later, after offering the driver 10 or 15 ZKM, he deposited me at the entrance to the famous Shiwa Ng’andu estate. I say famous because in recent years it had seen a revival in its fortunes.
I was told lifts were erratic but my faith in fate and good fortune had not failed me yet.
The estate dated back to when an Englishman, Sir Stewart Gore Brown, had established a presence in the area and built a virtual self-administered enclave miles from the nearest railway and European settlement. He’d been involved with the Anglo-Belgian Boundary commission which had established the border between Northern Rhodesia and the Belgian Congo in the early part of the century. He had scoured the land between Ndola and Lake Tanganyika for somewhere suitable and had settled on this land near Lake Ishiba Ng’andu which in the Bemba language means lake of the royal crocodile.
(Sir Stewart Gore-Browne) had settled on this land near Lake Ishiba Ng’andu which in the Bemba language means lake of the royal crocodile.
It was pleasant countryside – open woodland with clumps of water-loving trees and palms near the water’s edge. It wasn’t difficult to understand why Gore-Brown had chosen this spot to settle. I had read an acclaimed book on the history of Shiwa Ng’andu and the eccentric aristocratic who lorded over it by the author Christina Lamb (The Africa House: The True Story of an English Gentleman and His African Dream, HarperCollins, 2005). In truth I had no intention of visiting the place when I set off from Lusaka but when Mike du Plessis in Mpika had reminded me that it was well worth a visit I recalled the book and quickly factored it into my plans.
It was pleasant countryside – open woodland with clumps of water-loving trees and palms near the water’s edge.
Well I won’t say too much more about Sir Stuart except to say that his dream of building a European style manor estate in the heart of the African bush was bold, ambitious and grandiose. Was it foolhardy, a little too egotistic? No doubt his legacy will divide opinion. It was certainly strange to see slate-roofed, red-brick houses with whitewashed fronts built purposefully for the local labour and staff, African kids playing nearby and chickens pecking around the bare-swept courtyards. According to Wikipedia: The estate had its own schools, hospitals, playing fields, shops, and post office. Workers lived in brick-built cottages and the estate was ruled as a benevolent autocracy [Link to article]
It seems the impression that Gore-Brown left with black Zambians was predominantly positive. It is said he embraced a racially inclusive political mindset. In any event he was granted a state funeral – the only white man to have ever had the honour – and his descendants have maintained ownership of the farm and adjacent tracts of land. My companions on the road the day before had remarked that there was no reason to grant the area of Shiwa Ng’andu its own territorial status, something almost akin to a province, except as a nod to the importance of the estate. They thought it was a bit ridiculous.
In any event he was granted a state funeral – the only white man to have ever had the honour – and his descendants have maintained ownership of the farm and adjacent tracts of land.
Back to the present I found myself wandering between various outbuildings looking for a reception or farm office which I did find half a kilometre further up the road. I’d noticed a sign near the approach to Manor House which said something about Shiwa House visiting hours being between 9 and 11 am and by appointment only. It had already gone 11 so I was obviously out of luck. A visit was also levied at US $40 which was not in my budget.
Back at the farm office a busy black lady was tabling expenses with a pile of bills and invoices on the table in front of her. She helpfully dialled the mobile number of Mr Charles Harvey who presided over the farm. Apparently he was busy but she told me to keep an eye out for him. I went outside and looked around again. I noted that various farm implements and old machines lay idly on the edge of the gravel road and beneath some Jacaranda trees to one side. This included an old steam tractor and what appeared to be several steel boilers.
I noted that various farm implements and old machines lay idly on the edge of the gravel road and beneath some Jacaranda trees to one side.
I recall going over to a farm trailer, sitting down and taking off my shoes to give my blisters some relief. I noticed an elderly white couple nearby, examine a pig pen and then go across to a yard with several large farm vehicles. If they saw me they ignored me. Various black people, staff and labourers presumable, walked in either direction, but only the children seemed to take any particular interest in me.
Eventually a middle-aged white man appeared from somewhere. I approached him as unassumingly as possible and introduced myself and asked if he was Mr Harvey. He was. He asked whether I wanted to take a look at Shiwa House. I replied that I did if it was all the same to him. He told me to go right ahead. I was a little taken aback but he reassured me that it was fine. Without any further banter he excused himself and I was left to my own devices once more.
(He) asked whether I wanted to take a look at Shiwa House. I replied that I did if it was all the same to him. He told me to go right ahead.
I walked back towards the manor, stopping to admire the stately gatehouse from the roadside. It was dominated by a square-sided, brick clock-tower perhaps 10 to 12 metres high. The clock showed the wrong time and probably hadn’t functioned for years. Like the other brick structures on the estate it had a steeply inclined slate-tiled roof at two levels. To the right of the clock-tower the adjoining building was whitewashed which contrasted with the olive-green window-frames. The window panes were knocked out of the end windows. It looked a bit forlorn.
The clock showed the wrong time and probably hadn’t functioned for years.
On closer inspection I discovered that the rooms were largely empty, bar a few low benches, the white paint peeling from the ceilings and walls. Definitely not in use I concluded. A sign above one of the doors declared that it had once been the Estate Office. There was also a neatly painted list of game under the title ‘Shiwa Game Animals.’ There were twenty-one species listed, mostly antelope.
I was unfamiliar with a few of the names like Sitantunga, Oribi and Puku. I had read somewhere that Mr Harvey had stocked the estate with some game and taken anti-poaching measures. Moments later, walking out from beneath the gatehouse I heard something bark to my right and looking up saw a small buck dashing through the undergrowth, a fluffy white tail poking up from its rump.
I continued down a pedestrian avenue until I reached another gate with a crude hand-painted sign which informed me that this was the entrance to Shiwa Manor House. I had come this far earlier from the other direction and decided against proceeding without permission. This time around it was granted. For the most part the approach to Shiwa House is obscured by the flanking trees but it was suddenly there, not a 100 metres ahead. The garden lawn was lush and green. I could see and here sprinklers at work a short way off.
I continued down a pedestrian avenue until I reached another gate with a crude hand-painted sign which informed me that this was the entrance to Shiwa Manor House.
The garden itself contained an abundance of exotic plants from red-flowering Poinsettias to spiny sisal, Jacaranda and Cyprus. This was not exactly surprising. Wherever European colonists have settled in Africa they’ve brought with them exotic plants, many collected from far-flung corners of the former empire. It occurred to me growing up in Harare that many Europeans, probably most, had never sought to take the many faces of the African landscape at face value.
There was such a staggering abundance of native flora that it was hard to understand why a Cyprus or Jacaranda was somehow preferable to a spreading Albizia or Brachystegia. No doubt it had something to do with the psyche of the settler and the desire to manipulate the landscape into something different, discernible from the communal or tribal lands which inevitably surrounded them, and perhaps remind them of home.
Wherever European colonists have settled in Africa they’ve brought with them exotic plants, many collected from far-flung corners of the former empire.
Recalling the Shiwa Estate I also remember avenues of bland cedrella trees, and woodlots of exotic gums and conifers. If the coniferous plantation I had seen the day before was the initiative of a local Zambian one could hardly blame him because the precedent was set by the Europeans.
I suppose I’m being a bit of an idealist. After all there are many innocuous garden plants that have travelled far and wide, the world over, without causing any harm. And where we would we be without the humble potato, tomato, citrus and maize plants that today are incorporated into the diets of many Africans? They were all imports to the African continent and elsewhere. It is a case of aesthetics to some degree, especially when it comes to landscaping. The one angle not I have not mentioned is that of ecology. Not all imports are beneficial to the habitat into which they’ve been introduced.
Anyway, I’ll leave it at that and get back to the present – my first impressions of Shiwa House. The entrance was flanked by two metal sculptures, one of a rhino and the other an elephant. This sort of design, welded iron plates and bars creating a composition, had become very popular in Southern Africa over the last decade or two. The lion was brilliantly portrayed with jaws open, displaying a row of rusty fangs. The rhino was stout and the various welded plates combined to convey a sense of proportion and strength.
The lion was brilliantly portrayed with jaws open, displaying a row of rusty fangs. The rhino was stout and the various welded plates combined to convey a sense of proportion and strength.
The house itself was very stately as I recalled from pictures I had seen in the book by Christina Lamb. It wasn’t as imposing as some of the English manors I’d seen such as the Luton Hoo Manor house, now a hotel, on an estate in Hertfordshire, where I had worked as a waiter for a year and a half. All he same it was impressive in size and design. The pictures speak for themselves. From an upper balcony a dog yapped furiously and unrelentingly. I tried to call to it and saw that it was only a small terrier.
From another direction a larger, tawny, short-haired dog galloped towards me. My heart missed a beat but I stood my ground. It too barked at me but by the way it backed off I knew I had the upper hand. I walked towards it with a soothing voice (or what I hoped was suitably soothing) and it grudgingly settled down. A smaller terrier appeared and was quite friendly from the outset.
The dogs followed me as I made a cursory inspection of the property. The front door appeared locked but a side-door was ajar and when I opened it I realised that I was in the family chapel. There was a wooden tablet mounted on the opposite wall, topped by a coat of arms, presumably that of Gore-Browne, and inscribed in gold letters the various ancestors of Sir Stuart. At the top of the list, written in capitals, was – Sir Thomas Gore Browne, KCMG, … Regts Governor of St Helena, New Zealand, Tasmania, & Bermuda B. 1807, D. 1887.
Beneath his name was that of his wife Harriet, a reference to her parentage, and beneath their names those of their five children. The last of these, Ethel, was apparently married to Hugh Fortescue Locke King, Grandson of Peter, 7th Lord King, B. 1848, D. 1926. He Founded Shiwa. This was a bit confusing. I thought Gore-Brown had founded Shiwa? I remember reading that Sir Stewart Gore Browne had been very attached to Dame Ethel Locke King, Sir Hugh’s wife.
The chapel had a simple brick altar, the cement floor polished red and the walls inset with narrow, arched windows on two levels, letting ample light into the interior. The seating was not fixed in place – several wooden benches and chairs facing the altar. Stood in each of two alcoves on either side of the rear end of the chapel was a stylised wooden angel. The interesting thing about them was that their features were African not European.
The chapel was had a simple brick altar, the cement floor polished red and the walls inset with narrow, arched windows on two levels, letting ample light into the interior.
I had read somewhere that Sir Stewart Gore-Browne had earned the nickname chipembere or rhinoceros because of his fierce temper. I noticed another two miniature statues of the beast prominently displayed on either side of the front door which was inscribed with the date 1932 and the letters L and S on either side of the date, which I assume stood for Lorna and Stewart. Lorna had been his wife and 22 years his junior. I don’t think it had been a happy marriage and they eventually separated.
I had read somewhere that Sir Stewart Gore-Browne had earned the nickname chipembere or rhinoceros because of his fierce temper.
The front door appeared locked and no-one answered my knock. I thought about entering the house through another door which stood slightly ajar but thought better of it. Mr Harvey hadn’t said that the house was off-limits I felt uneasy venturing into another person’s house without their express consent. It would have been a different matter if it was just an abandoned relic but Harvey and his wife lived there.
I explored the garden a bit further and came across a large flame tree or Spathodea, a native of East-Central Africa. Can you recall Elspeth Huxley’s The Flame Trees of Thika? This particular specimen was very big, it’s trunk fissured and covered in parts with earthen termite passageways. About 8 or 9 feet up was a copper plate tarnished blue with oxidation, commemorating Coronation Day, 2ND June 1953. That was over 60 years ago which explained why it was so high up on the trunk.
About 8 or 9 feet up was a copper plate tarnished blue with oxidation, commemorating Coronation Day, 2ND June 1953. That was over 60 years ago which explained why it was so high up on the trunk.
Thereafter I decided it was an opportune time to take a walk, in the midday heat, down to Lake Ishiba Ng’andu after which Gore-Browne had named the estate. The crocodiles were still present or so I was told, so I wouldn’t be taking a dip, as attractive as that seemed at the time. It was a moderate walk down to the lake, hampered slightly by the heat and my sore feet. I took in the horses and young calves grazing off to one side before crossing the road, skirting the airstrip and heading though the adjacent woodlot of exotic conifers. I saw a male bushbuck on the way down.
The crocodiles were still present I was told so I would not be taking a dip, as attractive as that seemed at the time.
After a while the conifers gave way to natural woodland and a short while later I emerged on the shore of the lake which was still some way off. There was a flock of sheep grazing near the water and a shepherd boy waved from where he was sitting on an anthill. On the shoreline itself was a viewing platform. I ambled over and slowly ascended the rickety old frame. I had to be careful because some of the decking was missing but it afforded an excellent view over the lake.
I took out my compact binoculars and examined the shoreline on either side. If there were any crocodiles they were hidden from view. There was only one boat I could see out on the water, two fishermen paddling it slowly towards the shore. A short distance from me was a large clump of papyrus reeds and I got the impression that it was more of a shallow depression than a lake. I looked determinedly for any sign of birds or other life around the lake but could only make out the occasional heron. It was probably because of the heat that it was so quiet at this time of day.
On the walk back I saw another buck, a larger one with a handsome dark brown coat and distinctive white markings on the legs, torso and face. It was browsing through the short undergrowth on the edge of the coniferous woodland. He saw me simultaneously and with his long legs he dashed deeper into the woodland and was very quickly out of sight. I later looked at images of antelope on the internet which confirmed my suspicions – it was a male sitatunga, an amphibious antelope fairly widespread throughout central Africa. This was near the southern extent of its natural range.
On the walk back I saw another buck, a larger one with a dark brown coat and distinctive white markings on the legs, torso and face.
Back on the estate I confirmed with the lady in the state office the direction to Kapishya Hotsprings. Initially I was determined to walk there but it was 20 odd kilometres away and my feet were not in great shape as I have repeated several times. Sorry! I had a number for the hotel at the hot springs which I called. The man who answered it told me that transfers from Shiwa cost US $20. To be honest that wasn’t exorbitant, but being a determined budget traveller I still sought ways to minimise my expenses. He would make arrangements and confirm back with me. Meantime I decided to set off towards Kapishya.
Besides a truck crammed with chattering farm workers, some of whom waved and shouted greetings in my direction, not a single other vehicle appeared in either direction. I calculated I’d walked about 5 kms before a beige land cruiser came roaring down the gravel road from the other direction. The driver pulled up opposite me. He was a large European guy with a tanned face.
I calculated I’d walked about 5 kms before a beige land cruiser came roaring down the gravel road from the other direction.
“Are you the guy from Shiwa who wanted a transfer?” he asked. I replied that it was most likely me. He stared at me a few moments longer and then told me to sling my bag in the back and hop in.
“It’s $20, you know that don’t you?” he stated without any small talk.
“Considering that I didn’t know if you were coming and that I’ve already walked 5 km I think you should give me a discount,” I replied more boldly than I probably should have.
He stared at me another few seconds and then shrugged.
“Ok, we can make it $15 then.”
We drove a minute or two in silence and then he introduced himself as Tony. His accent was definitely antipodean but I was bad at placing accents from Down Under. He must’ve read my mind.
“I’m a Kiwi. I’ve live in Mozambique these days.” I felt the tension of the last few minuets lift. I can’t remember where he said he now stayed exactly but the Mozambique coastline is renowned for sunshine, sandy beaches and good food. He explained that the owners of the resort, Mark and Mel, had flown out to the UK to visit a sick relative at short notice. He had answered the SOS they sent out and had driven northwards via the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania and then southwards to Kapishya through northern Zambia. It had been one hell of a journey he old me. “Never again.”
Still, if you were going to do a trip over treacherous and potholed roads land cruiser was just the vehicle you wanted. They were used throughout the safari business because of their reliability, durability and power. Only the good ol’ British land rover had a similar reputation for operating in the less accessible parts of the continent.
Still, if you were going to do a trip over treacherous and potholed roads land cruiser was just the vehicle you wanted.
After a couple of kilometres Tony turned to me and asked if I wouldn’t mind doing a bit of a diversion to look for some hartebeest he thought were in the vicinity. I didn’t mind in the least. We diverted off the road at a tangent along rough track through the open woodland that flanked the hills here. We soon came to a game fence and followed it still going westwards. He told me to keep an eye out for wildlife. Despite having the task of driving he was the one to spot a kudu antelope hidden in a thicket of trees on my side of the vehicle. I remarked on his sharp vision and he replied that he had spent many years in the bush. He enjoyed hunting.
The real catch was a group of at least five of the hartebeest that we had been looking for. There was a cow and calf and several other adults, probably also females. They didn’t seem unduly disturbed. Tony explained that Mark ran anti-poaching patrols and as a result the wildlife here was well protected.
The real catch was a group of at least five of the hartebeest that we had been looking for. There was a cow and calf and several other adults, probably also females.
He reached under his seat and brought out a pair of powerful binoculars with nice big apertures to let in plenty of light. I only had my much smaller 10×25 birding binoculars. He handed his to me and, looking through them, I was surprised to find that there wasn’t a great deal of difference between the two. The image of the buck through his pair was slightly brighter but the magnification was not much different. I was suddenly very pleased with my pair which I had brought online at a discount. It occurred to me that I was becoming a bit of a guru in the budget and bargain travel department!
We left the antelope in the serenity of the bush and got back onto the main road. We gathered pace and before long crossed the river that flows past Kapishya resort, village huts dotted on either side, and a few minutes later pulled up at the campsite. Tony deposited me near the entrance, telling me where I could find him and said we could sort things out later. I was the only one there so I had my pick of the place. I chose a level spot half-way to the river to pitch my little tent where the grass was a bit thicker. I was travelling without a sleeping mat after all.
We gathered pace and before long crossed the river that flows past Kapishya resort, village huts dotted on either side, and a few minutes later pulled up at the campsite.
That evening I went down to the river. It was flowing strongly but it didn’t look very deep. I could see rocks here and there and the presence of others indicated where the water frequently rippled and flowed over irregular objects beneath. I’d been warned not to swim. Mark had apparently shot a very large crocodile a short way upstream quite recently. I didn’t agree with shooting the animals even if they could predate on humans. This was their habitat after all.
The river banks were flanked by short, spreading palms with large, broad fronds reaching out over the surface. It was beautiful and peaceful. Hard to reconcile with ferocious, potential man-eating reptiles. That’s Africa in a nutshell: described with words like beauty, serenity and majesty in one breath and their antonyms ugly, chaotic and brutal in the next. Granted that these perceptions are coloured largely by man’s activities. It is enough to say that the natural world can seem very cruel and unfair at times but uplifting and untainted at times like this.
The river banks were flanked by short, spreading palms with large, broad fronds reaching out over the surface
From there I took a walk up through the rich, green, riverine vegetation to the hot springs proper. I found Tony already immersed in the shallows. The pool was 20 or 30 meters across and crystal clear. For the most part it was underlain by fine, white sand but there were also a few large, smooth rocks as well, surrounded on the one side by vegetation and on the other enclosed by a straw fence of sorts. The edge was lined by rocks and stones and it appeared that there was a weir constructed to create the shallow pool.
Tony was soaping himself at the point where water spilled over the edge of the barrier into a stream that flowed down to the river below the campsite. The owner’s black labrador was lying nearby. He followed Tony everywhere. The big man invited me in and we chatted for a while whilst the evening closed in on us. The waters were deliciously warm, a little below blood temperature I’d guess.
The waters were deliciously warm, a little below blood temperature I’d guess.
After ten minutes or so I had to expose my torso and sit on one of the rocks. It was just too hot for me. Tony didn’t seem to be suffering the same effects. I noticed how, near my feet, the sand seemed to vibrate and pulse with energy. It was if there was some sort of device beneath pumping air through in bursts. This was the source of the geothermal heat which created the hot springs in the first place.
I noticed how, near my feet, the sand seemed to vibrate and pulse with energy.
That evening I busied myself cooking a simple dish on my portable gas and meth stoves. I also washed some underwear and socks in one of the campsite basins and hung the items to dry from the guy ropes to the tent. I was hungry and also tired. It wasn’t long before I bedded down for the night.
The following day, a Friday, I woke early to a familiar sound – the melodious duet of the white-browed robin chat (formerly known as Heuglin’s robin), without doubt one of the most distinctive and melodic bird song of my childhood growing up in Harare. My cousin Dominic expressed a loathing for the avian alarm clock which would wake him up consistently at the crack of dawn he complained. Here at Kapishya I revelled in the symphony of bird call. The riverine thicket between the campsite and the hot springs was alive with their song.
The following day, a Friday, I woke early to a familiar sound – the melodious duet of the white-browed robin chat
I grabbed my binoculars and camera phone and strolled down to the water’s edge. The view was subtly different to that of the day before: a pall of pale mist now hung over the river. Not the billowing mists of the Kundalila Falls but rather delicate, white, diaphanous wisps and puffs moving gently upwards from the surface waters.
I made my way along the river’s edge towards the hot springs on one of several footpaths through the density of shrubs and trees, carefully trying not to disturb the birds in an attempt to identify some of them. It was difficult as they flicked and flitted through the undergrowth. Without a doubt there were warblers and flycatchers amongst them.
As I got closer to the resort proper I heard a bark from somewhere up in one of the cluster of Eucalyptus trees planted here. My first guess was that it was a monkey of some sort but was amazed to see that it as actually a bird, and a pretty fast-moving one at that. A flash of colour and a glimpse was enough to know that it was a turaco. It looked as though there were several of them bounding around through the trees. I had to be patient though and it took a while before I got a good enough view for a positive ID.
A flash of colour and a glimpse was enough to know that it was a turaco.
Its most distinctive feature was a corn-yellow facial ‘mask’ and thick beak beneath a bright red crest. This was Ross’s turaco, an illustration of which I had memorised from a volume of Birds of West and Central Africa, a book I had inherited from an uncle of mine and which I adored as a child. The only difference was that in that book the bird was known as Lady Ross’s turaco. Sometime during the intervening years she had lost her title. Ah well, no less exotic nor distinctive for it.
This was Ross’s turaco, an illustration of which I had memorised from a volume of Birds of West and Central Africa…
I wandered past several comfortable-looking chalets, an outdoor area with a swimming pool and deck chairs before emerging near the river a bit further upstream. It was a bit wider here as it snaked in a broad bend past Kapishya. The mist hung over the water as it did by the campsite, attractively highlighted in parts by the sun as it emerged over the landscape.
I went back for some breakfast and noticed that another couple of campers had arrived in a truck. They had a mobile solar panel on the roof – it looked as though they were in for some serious overland travel. I don’t remember exactly how I spent much of the day except that it went far too quickly between enjoying some sunshine by the swimming pool, taking a few lengthy soaks in the hot springs and watching the birds. Despite the arrival of new campers there was only one other family staying at the resort.
I don’t remember exactly how I spent much of the day except that it went far too quickly…
I took the opportunity to rearrange my backpack and came to the conclusion that I was carrying too many garments, therefore I decided to get rid of two pairs of shorts and several shirts, most of which were cheap items I’d picked up in Turkey earlier in the year. I’d become acquainted with the barman, a young Zimbabwean guy, and gave him the first pick of the ‘rejects.’
I was asking for a token amount -10 or 15 ZMK (about $2). Being a typical Zimbabwean he insisted on bargaining me down further. It didn’t take long before I had one of the cooks and several other members of the establishment scuttling over to get in on the flash sale. He upshot was that I had enough for a couple of beers later on. It transpired that later on would involve more than just a few beers.
Being a typical Zimbabwean he insisted on bargaining me down further.
After taking a walk up the gravel road to one of the roadside stores to resupply on eggs, tomatoes and a few other necessities (some of which I purchased with one of the pairs of shorts) I went on an extended stroll before dusk. As I crossed behind the resort I encountered a herdsman driving several dozen head of cattle back to a kraal behind the resort buildings. It seemed Mark was doing a spot of farming like his brother Charles at the Shiwa N’gandu Estate.
That evening, as I hinted, I made my way over to the reception bar for a quiet beer. The European family were there, finishing their evening meal. I nodded a greeting to the parents. They moved off back to their chalet a little while later. I was thinking about doing the same after a couple of refreshing beers when Tony strolled in. He had been in Mpika on some shopping chores which explained his earlier absence. He sat down nearby and offered me a drink from a bottle he plonked on the counter.
They moved off back to their chalet a little while later. I was thinking about doing the same when Tony strolled in.
“Tanzanian import,” he elaborated. “I noticed them all drinking it up there so I got curious. It’s not too bad actually. A bit like gin I suppose.” He gestured for the young barman to bring us some glasses with ice. I scrutinised the label a bit closer. It had a graphic of a pair of black arms flexed above a head in profile and vested torso – some sort of muscle man apparently – beneath two inscriptions, THE PRODUCT OF TANZANIA and THE SPIRIT OF THE NATION.
Across the centre of the label in large, bold type was the name of the liquor, Konyagi. There was a graphic of some forked flames depicted at the bottom of the label above the words PORTABLE SPIRIT. Didn’t they mean potable? Still, nice to know I had an alternative source of fuel for my portable meth burner. Perhaps the most important information was the bit about it being 35% Alc. Vol.
Across the centre of the label in large, bold type was the name of the liquor, Konyagi.
I have little doubt the evening had a predefined trajectory from the moment those first measures of the clear spirit were decanted. I’ve discovered a few similar accounts online of other people’s experiences with the beverage on their travels. One of these comes from a student on the blog Quench, Cardiff’s monthly student magazine. She writes:
Konyagi: It’s not vodka, it’s not gin, it’s not water and it’s barely legal outside of East Africa. As soon as that distinctive taste hits your lips, all aboard! You’re in for the long run; the Konyagi train has just departed … One minute you’re casually basking in the dry heat, having an ever so pleasant conversation with an intriguing comrade to be. Then the Konyagi takes hold … Dance moves follow, chairs are soon dispersed across the Savannah as every muscle in your body delights in this new liquid companionship. MI5 has their own unique style of truth serum, and this folks, is the key to the majority of East Africa’s police interrogations.
I have to admit that alcohol, in moderation, is a splendid thing. It deconstructs and dissolves social inhibitions and, as the young blogger suggested, injected a serum of honesty into our discourse. I felt a tremendous feeling of bonhomie with the grizzled New Zealander who was far from the man he appeared at first glance.
I have to admit that alcohol, in moderation, is a splendid thing.
Amongst the facts I gleaned were that he had once been married once to a Japanese lady, with whom he had two girls; that he had made ‘a fortune’ from running several successful restaurants back home; that his one daughter was a budding ballerina working as an understudy at a prestigious dance school in New York; that he was in love with Africa; and that he fancied getting remarried and settling down on the coast, somewhere in Mozambique.
By the time the bottle had been equitably distributed between the two of us my head was buzzing. Tony said a hearty goodnight and staggered off to bed. I on the other hand staggered in the opposite direction and straight into the hot springs where I wallowed blissfully in the semi-darkness stripped down to my underwear for an hour or so. The leaves rustled gently in the branches above, stars twinkled through the gaps in-between and all was well with the universe… until the following morning that is.
By the time the bottle had been equitably distributed between the two of us my head was buzzing. Tony said a hearty goodnight and staggered off to bed.
My parched palette and tongue were the first reminder of the previous night’s antics but after a bowl of porridge and a final dip in the hot spring I perked up considerably. Despite whatever hit my body had taken the previous evening upon absorbing ‘The Spirit of the Nation’, on the balance of things I felt pretty well rested. I took my time packing up and it was only just after 11.00 that I settled my bill and said cheers to the bargaining barman – there was no sign of the Kiwi – that I was finally on my way again.
I suspected I was in for a bit of a hike. A signboard on the approach to Kapishya informed me that it was the length of a standard marathon to the Kasama Rd, 42 km. With a spring in my step and all the goodwill in the world I set off.
With a spring in my step and all the goodwill in the world I set off.