A tale of two swamps – Roadside sellers

We drove south a way after our visit to the village. Pausing briefly to take another look at the herd of lechwe, we got back on the main road and headed Lusakawards along this raised causeway.  In the distance we could see a white tower on a small hill; our guides told us this was a guard post at one end of a long bridge across the Luapula River.  In between us and it was a group of people standing around in a lay-by.  We drove past them and halted on the roadside.  Immediately we were surrounded by people; hawkers selling…you guessed it … fish.

We realised these hawkers had crossed the swamp from villages we could just make out on the horizon – the route of their canoes marked by breaks in the grass.  Some had set up small shady stores at the foot of the causeway and they were bringing up a few buckets or handfuls of fish strung together at a time. As well as the sellers, mostly women and teenage boys, there were other hangers on, men with bicycles, babies strapped to backs, young kids playing in the vergeside grass.

Ian examined the fish; it was very similar to that being dried in the village we had just left behind.  He went around scientifically looking at it all and it did not take long before the women realised they were not going to get many sales from us.  But Mainza had spotted some nice fresh tilapia and bought it up.

A bright white, long-distance coach appeared on the horizon and a couple of minutes later pulled into the lay-by behind us.  The sellers saw much more of a market from it than from us and sped off along the tarmac.

We got back in our vehicle and continued along towards the white tower.  On the road below two police officers were manning a check point and we had to stop for a moment to show passports and explain our business.  We told them we were not going much further along the river, just to view the river and come back.  They seemed indifferent to this idea and waved us on.

A Tale of Two Swamps – Lechwe

The scenery changed gradually over the next few miles from the usual scrubby African bush, still green but already starting to senesce, to wider grassy plains.  Dotted over the whole landscape were thousands of termite hills – whether the termites were attracted to these tree-rare landscapes or were actually causing the low number of trees is debatable.  Those few trees were also smaller than in the forested areas we had seen earlier and it was not too long before we were wildlife spotting.  Various herons, coloured smaller songbirds and waders were flying or stalking or perching and then a herd of the special antelope that have made the wet grasslands their natural home; the lechwe.  This is an endemic species – the Kafue Lechwe; others are spread throughout other wetlands in the region, but this one is particularly attractive deep orange top coat on a whiter underbelly and their ornamental horns make them look like upturned pitchforks.

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Spot the lechwe

The ratio of waterlogged ground to dry increased and the vehicles splashed through puddles more frequently until we reached the Chunga Lagoon, the largest of a myriad of small lakes that lined the Kafue River right across the flats.  The river itself was a good 10km away from where we rested – a small heavily wooded island in amongst the swamp.  The Fisheries Department kept a boat here and the captain and his small crew would lodge in a few tents strung up amongst the trees.  We parked up at the rear of this woodland, the midday heat now searing down on us, and we cautiously stepped into the deep shade.