Not your average travel blog
There is no point in comparing the bush experience we had in Kasungu, near the Zambia border, to what we are enjoying on the northern lake tributary. For one, we’re not concerned about armed poachers. We’re not being naive; we’ll be extremely surprised to find evidence of them here. There should be no elephant as it’s too difficult to navigate around the cliffs. We also have the constant cooling effect of the river at our feet!
Once over the first hill, we cross the river half dozen times. This is all familiar territory for Charlie and Bjorn, and I stretched my legs here a few years ago. The path is well used by some locals and it’s also the way to the river-inlet pipe which gravitationally-feeds the village and Charlie’s lodge with it’s clean water.
For me, it’s a freakishly hot and humid day and once a few dozen paces away from the river, I’m sweating like a Swede in a lunchtime sauna. Sadly, there is no arctic lake to jump into. Every time we cross the river, I make the most of the cold water and I’m hopeful I’m not slowing the pace. The aim of the expedition is to explore, find out if there is anything interesting up the river, and as slightly competitive chaps, to try and get to its source. In the dry season, it is at its easiest to navigate, but that is somewhat balanced out by the heat. We are taking two local lads to help hack through the bush, who ironically and humorously turned up ready: wearing hard hats and nothing but their Y-fronts from the waist down! It’s strong look. Their feet can handle it! It’s been made more difficult for my western steppers as my rubber-soled shoes were ‘pilfered’ from my luggage while on my 50 hour journey to get here. When I can find connection, I’m locked in a heated email exchange with Kenya Airways who have not only accepted the fact that I was lacking some luggage when I landed, but have also now lost the original paperwork which I filed with their Lilongwe office. As a result, I have no appropriate shoes for this river expedition. I might be embracing the native look, but it’ll take me a little longer to toughen up my toes. As we scramble up the river bed and over the rocky brush, I’m doing it barefoot. I am absolutely not prepped for this from the ankle down and in the morning my feet will likely resemble a confused octopus in a bowl of plumbs. Flip flops will come in mildly-handy, but there was no way I was missing out!
Like school boys who have just been let out early with a bag of sweets and a new football, we’re being adventurous, intrepid and (me anyway) slightly uncool and giddy. We know there is wildlife in this untouched area but we don’t know how much or what effect it might be having on the areas close by. We know there are waterfalls along the river but between those, there is an overgrown jungle to navigate. I can say with confidence that not a single person on the planet knows exactly what we will find. You can’t even see it on Google Earth from above the lush canopy.
We all have our own ideas about what this area could eventually be used for (if anything at all), how it may impact Charlie’s business and what potential it may have for us should we decide to invest any of ourselves into it. At the forefront of all our minds though, is that it must be kept wild for what lives here. Taming it would be to destroy it and non of us want that. By the energy it’s taking to clamber around the river to make our way along it, keeping it wild should not be a problem! Part of me naturally struggles with my wild-loving conscience as I know that staying out of this area is the best way to keep it wild. However, the conservationist in me needs to know if and how this neglected canyon is thriving. What follows this inspection is just as mysterious as what we might find. Inevitably we can have an effect on the area simply by visiting, but we also can’t protect it without know what is worth protecting. We are aware that human instinct is sometimes an instant destroyer. We should know by now what obligations we should carry with us when we venture away from what is familiar and therefore are extremely careful as we go.
As unprepared as I am without proper footwear, I am keeping the pace…just. However, I am also the first casualty. I shout MEDIC! When I was nine years old I told my mother I had cut my finger (very deeply) by running through long grass and slicing it on a sharp stem. I still have the scar. I admit….I lied. I was brandishing a sharp knife and I caught my finger between the blade and the handle as it clamped shut around my digit. Perfectly normal behaviour for a nine year old; attempting to make a bow and sharpening some arrows, but I learned the hard way about how to work my blade. This time however, mum, I WAS walking through long grass and a knitting-needle-like blade decided it was time to seek retribution for the lies I told as a child. It skewered the end of my finger and shot out sideways from under my nail. Clearly a little bit surprised by the ordeal, I cursed the grass, yanked it out from my skin and started to bleed profusely all over my own hand as well as a nearby banana leaf on the ground. Bleeding a lot means I’m less likely to get infected…so there’s always a silver lining. Bandaged up and ready to go, I’m hopeful leopards might smell blood as sharks do and soon be on our tail. I can almost hear all the tiny violins over the top of the laughs and abuse from the frenchman! I still have never seen a leopard.
It’s getting to the point in the day when we need to source somewhere to camp. A couple more hours and it will be too dark to start searching. We’re eager to push on, but we think we’ve found a decent spot – right next to a massive boulder which we climb up and abseil down using the rope we brought with us. Unsurprisingly, we find plenty of baboon and monkey scat on the top of it. Much like our distant cousins, we have a pretty good vantage point of the canyon and place to eat dinner! It’s been a tough afternoon, but with all our limbs intact, we’re loving it.