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The beasts and beauty of ZAMBIA

By on January 31, 2018 in Travel with 0 Comments

Ox peckers grooming for ticks on a female giraffe, one of a herd of 25 Jill and Tom watched for an hour as they were so lively and awkwardly graceful.














By Jill LaRue

My husband Tom Ettinger and I like to travel.

We don’t like to miss opportunities to visit places off the beaten path, especially when traveling with friends and family who also have a sense of adventure.

Tom’s brother Bill invited us to travel to Zambia in May. Why Zambia?

Bill is a biology professor at Gonzaga. His wife Ann-Scott is the biology lab coordinator. They have taken several trips with Gonzaga biology students for extended field trips to Zambia.

Zambia may not be known for its wildlife or natural beauty, other than the spectacular, world famous Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River. However, there are national parks full of wildlife throughout Zambia.

We visited South Luangwa National Park and stayed at Flatdogs (Crocodile) Camp, with luxurious tent cabins on the Luangwa River, listening to the hippo pods grunting throughout the day and night.

We took a river trip on the Chobe River along the northern edge of Botswana’s Chobe National Park and saw wildlife at its best — elephants swimming in the river to feed on grassy islands, gigantic crocodiles, and birds galore.

Formerly Northern Rhodesia, Zambia is a land-locked country about the size of the combined states of Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. It is bordered on the north by Republic of the Congo, on the northeast by Tanzania, on the east by Malawi, on the south by Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Namibia, and on the west by Angola.

Zambia has had a fairly stable political climate and economy since its independence from Great Britain in 1964. The national language is English, although there are 7 major official provincial languages taught in compulsory primary schools of the regions. It has been estimated that there are 72 different tribal languages or dialects that continue to be spoken in local communities.

There is no easy way to get to Zambia.

After our 14-hour flight to Dubai, we stayed overnight before catching our nine-hour connecting flight to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia.

We were met in Lusaka by Emius, our driver of the 20-passenger overland vehicle, built for travel in Africa, who took us to a “campground” just outside Lusaka for our first night in Zambia. Humphrey, our cook, had dinner ready for us. He cooked simple meals for the 16 of us, usually over a campfire, throughout our visit. That night we stayed in rustic cabins with toilets and showers. We did not see many mosquitoes, visiting during the “dry” season, but all of us had started our anti-malarial medication by then.

We heard bush babies in the trees that night. We saw giraffes, impalas and waterbucks cruising through the campground, as we arose early the next morning, to beat the rush-hour traffic around Lusaka.

We traveled overland that day, all day long, to reach Chimfunshi, our destination in the northern part of Zambia. “Chimfunshi” means “place that holds water” in Bemba, a Bantu language spoken mostly in north-eastern Zambia.

Some roads were under construction and many more needed to be under construction. It was a long, slow, and rough ride in our overland vehicle.

There were many police stops along the way. I’m not sure exactly why there were so many, except to give the police a chance to extort a bribe or confiscate material goods.

On previous trips Bill drove the vehicle, full of students, and was stopped so often by the police that they decided paying a driver was cost-effective financially and emotionally.

Our group consisted of friends of Bill’s and Ann-Scott’s — teachers, naturalists, volunteers, retirees, medical people, including a couple of young adults. We played musical chairs in our overland vehicle because no particular seating arrangement was perfect for any one person.

We passed through the northern Copperbelt Province, location of the second largest open cast copper mine in the world — acres of slag heaps, depressed economy now due to the low price of copper.

In spite of what appears to be impoverishment, the Zambian people are very friendly and seem happy. Every morning we saw school children dressed in their school uniforms heading to school along the roadways.

We finally reached Chimfunshi, established in the 1970s as an orphanage for chimpanzees confiscated during smuggling attempts or relinquished as they became larger and more unruly pets. We stayed at the education center for four days — solar power, pit toilets, showers only in the afternoon with water heated over a wood fire, simple meals prepared by Humphrey.

The refuge has become internationally renowned and provides basic housing for visiting researchers from all over the world, there to study all aspects of chimpanzee life.

We were fortunate enough to observe the chimps. There are several family groups that vary in size from 10 to 40 chimps. They forage and roam in four separate enclosures of several hundred acres in size.

Because this area is not the natural habitat for chimpanzees, they are fed a variety of fruits and vegetables, and a staple made from cornmeal prepared daily.

In the hierarchical family groups there were several males and females of varying ages in each group and a few newborns, who were very cute (although they have initiated birth control for the chimps). Some of the chimps are 40 years old.

The refuge tends a farm, an orchard, and cares for a herd of cattle to fund the daily operations of feeding and caring for the chimps. In the past year the refuge has hired a full-time veterinarian, who takes care of the chimps and the herd of cattle, as well as local residents.

Because of the refuge’s presence, the community’s economy has greatly improved in this otherwise economically depressed area of Zambia. While we were there they celebrated a newly completed addition to the local school, mostly attended by children of families employed by the refuge.

Not only did we visit the chimps, we also explored the area’s birds, wildlife and geologic formations.

We met many people from Zimbabwe who travel to Zambia for work, including our driver, Emius. In Zimbabwe, the American dollar has been used as the national currency, due to long-standing economic instability and political unrest. We had many conversations regarding the economies and political status of countries in Africa.

Last year we traveled to Tanzania and were impressed by the cultural, political, health, educational and economic challenges facing the people of these countries.

Flora, fauna, birds are so very different from those of my own country, but in many ways we face similar environmental problems. We talked about large predators and how they keep the grazers in check that would otherwise overgraze the land.

This is a significant problem in Tanzania where the Masai tribes own large herds of cattle.

Previously nomadic, they grazed where the grasses grow, but now they are confined to smaller areas where the cattle overgraze, cause erosion, and create a change in the native vegetation and the natural landscape.

We were impressed by the creativity of the individuals with whom we traveled and by the impact that tourism plays in their economies.

Never having expected to be able to travel to countries in Africa, I was amazed with the beauty, the cultural diversity, the landscape and the people of Zambia.

They seemed so far, far away, in so many ways. And they are.

Jill LaRue is a recently retired family nurse practitioner who loves being outdoors and jumps at the chance for new adventure.  Her husband Tom Ettinger jumps, too.

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