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At the Wildlife Camp

A Day at Mvuu Camp, Malawi, 17 January 1996
Our seventh day in Malawi. The follows on from By Boat to the Mvuu Camp Lodge where we arrived yesterday. Today we go for a walk in the bush, the sit and watch the animals from in the camp, talk to the owners, and see a lioness after dark.
Up at five for a walk in the bush starting at six. But it’s pouring with rain, so the scout doesn’t arrive. Fred the warden is here, but no scout. Why do we need a scout?
We have our breakfast, the rain begins to ease, then Fred tells us that the scout has arrived. So we go for a walk in the national park. We need the scout because he carries the gun.
Fred the guide seems to be disappointed on our behalf that we see no elephant or baboons. In the dry season, he says, you see lots of animals because they will go to the water’s edge. We don’t mind. We learn about trees and tree frogs – see their eggs in foamy clusters suspended from branches overhanging stagnant ponds – that’s one of the main reason the frogs climb the trees, so they can lay their eggs in a conveniently protected position.
We listen to Fred’s peculiar English which randomly intermingles L, R and W sounds. And we think, that those who dispute the perversity of life as a given fundamental, they don’t know nuffing, they have never been privileged to meet Fred, who can prove it, for he is a Malawian who is required, quite a few times each day, to say: ‘red-legged pangolin’.
We learn a little bit about Fred’s life and that of the Africans who work here, though only a little bit as he is rather cagey about it all, just occasionally letting something slip such as how, when a boy, he used to find lots of tadpoles when playing in the stagnant ponds (these would be the tadpoles of the tree frogs, that had fallen from the frogspawn in the trees).
For the rest of the day we sit in the tent porch, from where we can see more animals than on any bush walk or safari drive. We watch a family of hippos lumbering along the riverbank, with birds on their backs eating the ticks and lice and leeches that have presumably clung themselves to the hippo in the water, since hippos spend most of their day in the water.
We watch enormous crocodiles floating along the river like part-submerged logs. Bright yellow weaver birds, giant and pied kingfishers, fish eagles, enormous millipedes on the flysheet, blue-throated lizards looking about angrily, orange thrushes, blue waxbills – many of the birds are brightly-coloured.
In the water the hippos yawn and make a noise like a donkey practising the tuba. Except when a motor boat takes workers to the village on the other side of the river, everything is quiet but for the tinkling water and birdsong.
The people who run the camp, Norman and Sue, are South African. We have learned from our fellow-guest VSOer, who works at the Kusungu National Park which is further north not far from the border with Zambia, that the development of places such as this is primarily financed by grants and sponsorship. It seems that the EU is putting money into a project to develop a visitor centre at Kusungu.
Here at Mvuu, Norman and Sue have plans to build a swimming pool and to change from tents to chalets with en-suite bathrooms. Upmarket it to attract higher-spending tourists. The visitors at this time of year are mainly South-Africans with ugly, dipthong-laden accents; instead of saying yes they say: ‘yeeaah’.
In the evening Hilary is feeling ill as she has been for most of the day (probably a result of the Kudya Discovery Lodge Hotel, we suspect) so she cancels dinner, but we go to the bar for a drink and one of the safari guides is there and he says: ‘Want to come and see the lions, they’s been reported by the rhino fence’. (An area has been enclosed by electric fencing, 15,000 volts says Fred, though this seems a bit on the high side to us, overhead cables on railways in many counties of Europe are in the region of 15,000 volts. Anyway, a pair of rhinos have been imported from Kruger National Park in South Africa, there seems to be no certainty that rhinos have ever existed in Malawi before).
We all bundle into a safari truck and drive out to see the lions, Ian the white safari guide driving and Fred the black warden working the spotlight. We spot a lioness and cubs and follow them around for a bit. Then we drive back for dinner where I am last at the table, Hilary asleep in our tent, and have been left a place next to the three miserable-looking and smoking South Africans, who turn out in fact not to be South Africans, but of that other country where the people have a (largely deserved) reputation for being generally stroppy and humourless: Israel!
The smoking Israeli/South Africans are keen to talk politics, which suits me fine, far preferable to the frivolities that the rest of the party seem intent on, though Ian the ever-enthusiastic safari guide does catch a cicada and demonstrates that by tapping it expertly you can make it play a tune of your choice.
No gecko in the tent tonight. We caught the gecko earlier and threw him out, both with some difficulty as he was not easy to grab and moved very fast.
The story continues with From Mvuu Back to Liwonde.


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