Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Flatdogs flashback


When we lived in Zambia we spent as much time as possible in the South Luangwa Valley. It's a magical place heaving with big game, but very difficult to get to, so not heavily populated with tourists.

Those who do make it there are usually either wealthy tourists, who fly in and stayed at the luxury lodges, or backpackers, parking their tents and kicking back after a bone-jarring drive in an overland vehicle over some off the worst roads in Africa. Both groups tend to settle in and use local operators for trips into the game reserve. Many don't even bother with the game drives. Zambian parks have no fences and elephants, giraffes, vervets and hippos are all regulars at the lodges.

We fell somewhere between the two. The Good Man and I prefer bush travel of the DIY variety. We love the thrill of finding our own game sightings, guessing at the rhymes and metres of the bush and, occasionally getting it right. So we would drive our trusty 4WD over potholes you could hide a goat in and over corrugations which shook at least three fillings loose, to this African Eden.

In our quest as big game hunters (of the strictly photographic kind I hasten to add) we try to talk to the professional rangers, recognising that, no matter how great our prowess at navigating sandy river beds while being pursued by rampaging elephants, we have a lot to learn. There is nothing like local knowledge for predicting the whereabouts of the elusive 'pretty kitties' of the African bush.

To this end, on our journeys to South Luangwa, we made a habit of staying at Flatdogs. When we were last there it was owned by a chap called Jake de Motta, hailed by Lonely Planet as 'a legend in his own lunchtime' but largely managed by Jess and Adie, who are still there. The great thing about Flatdogs (other than their riverfront position, proximity to the game park and readily available nachos) was their bar. It was a meeting place for the locals who would regale all who would listen with their adventures and exploits. I think there was an annual award given for the tallest tale - everyone's snake was the longest, lion the most hungry and buffalo the most, well, plain pissed off. It was worth missing the night drive for the excitement of the bushlore.

We were also fortunate enough to be there for a few quiz nights. I'm not really much of a quiz night girl, but these were brilliant. You see, most contestants would have been in the bush for a while and were completely ignorant of anything that had happened since their arrival. As the only one with an internet connection, Jess would structure these fantastic multiple choice questions on current affairs eliciting highly creative responses from her, no doubt, usually well-informed guests.

It was terrific theatre and the only thing cold was the beer.

5 comments:

jessica said...

What a wonderful flashback. This is pure travel writing. I'm reading the 2006 best of "" right now, and this could slide in easily among the pages. It sounds like a magical time. i'm envious, as, like your first post today says, when you hear about something once, it keeps popping up. this is the third time in two days I've heard about safaris/off roading in zambia.

lady macleod said...

sounds a wonderful place. The tall tales remind me of Talkeetna, as small town in Alaska near Denali. It is populated with old WWII pilots and bush pilots that fly over and around the mountain. The pilots all have just marvelous stories, it is the entertainment for several evenings.

The Good Woman said...

Hi Jessica - welcome. It must be sign - go there, it's worth it.

Yes, Lady M, African bush pilots are also a riot too! These people just go to show that some of the best stories are borne of solitude.

Justine said...

Ah, this brought back so many memories. I was born in Chingola and lived there until I went off to boarding school. Went back every school holiday and then university holidays till my dad left when I was 24. I love Luangwa Valley. There is absolutely nothing that beats waking up, hearing the hippos down by the Zambezi and watching the sun come up.

Justine.

Justine said...

Ah, this brought back so many memories. I was born in Chingola and lived there until I went off to boarding school. Went back every school holiday and then university holidays till my dad left when I was 24. I love Luangwa Valley. There is absolutely nothing that beats waking up, hearing the hippos down by the Zambezi and watching the sun come up.

Justine.