A Bridge, Not Too Far

Written By: The Lowdown - Jul• 31•00

It had been a cold couple of days in Lusaka and I was relieved to be sent off to check out a new camp on the Luangwa River, and pleasantly warm it was.

Here’s the nice part – not a ten-hour drive across bad roads, but two and half hours of easy driving in my Corolla. The road winds picturesquely through the escarpment dividing the Zambezi and Luano Valley and finally drops down to the Luangwa River. The police at the roadblocks were friendly enough when I said I was going to Bridge Camp, although I suspect it was partly my good humour that helped.

A huge open-air market with a range of foods, pubs, basketwork, fish and cloth marks the turnoff to Luangwa town (formerly Feira), which is on the confluence of the Zambezi and Luangwa Rivers. Three kilometres of good dirt road brought me to the big bend on which Bridge Camp is built, not noticeable at first, as the nine chalets are hidden in the thickly wooded hillside with campsite and self-catering chalets on the road level. The stone lodge consists of kitchen, bathroom, and two large sitting and dining areas on a hill overlooking the river. Some lawns are well established and there is evidence of new developments, both building and gardening, going on during the weekdays. I noticed a playground for smaller children with a slide, swing, trampoline and sand heap, set out under shady trees.

The friendly camp manager Misheke Jere and cook Sunday Zulu met me on arrival. Misheke gave me a choice of four stone and thatch chalets with double or single beds with or without kid’s cots. All the chalets are slightly different in style. The main ablution block has two showers, with hot water, and two flushing toilets. Two more ablution blocks have been recently completed, each with another shower and flush toilet. On my tour around, I was shown “The Swing”, discretely hidden away, above the chalets. Its appeal was irresistible, and I found myself, like Tarzan, launching out eight metres above the camp. Fantastic feeling, but definitely not for the faint-hearted or young children. A full assault course, across the stream, is also on the cards.

Dugout on the river

Half an hour later, I went to check out the bar up at the main lodge. The view of the river is magnificent, and I justified having my first icy cold Mosi a little before sundowner time. Bar prices are reasonable, K2,500 for a Mosi, K1,500 for soft drinks, K4,000 a tot of whisky, and K2,000 a tot for gin, vodka and other spirits. A bottle of wine is K25,000 or you can buy by the glass.

As the sun disappeared behind the hills, the generator was started up. The lodge and chalets are fully wired with solar lighting, always comforting to know that there is a light, even after the generator has been switched off. My fellow guests began congregating at the bar, a pleasant mix of folks. An overland truck also pulled into the campsite, but was completely self- contained and they kept to themselves, although the driver did sneak away to join us at the bar for a beer or two.

Dinner was announced at 19.30. A three-course meal – soup and croutons, followed by cannelloni, prepared with pasta made by Sunday, with chicken curry and rice as an alternative, loads of veggies and salads. Just as we thought we couldn’t have managed another mouthful, dessert arrived – fresh fruit salad, cake, custard, cream or condensed milk – the owner Rolf Shenton’s particular favourite. Good value for US$12 per person.

Tea and coffee followed, and after a few more drinks, we all retired. I was very comfortable in my gauzed chalet and safe from any mosquitoes under a net.

Bridge Camp’s ‘cat-canoes’

Early the next morning early, we went out on the boats. Rolf has custom built his unique boats by joining two Canadian canoes with a central deck, and calls them “cat-canoes”. These boats give one a feeling of safety as they are more stable than ordinary canoes, and not as cramped. We motored up to the bridge, and then gently and quietly floated back to camp, spotting a variety of birds, water monitors, small crocs and plenty of evidence of hippo although we never saw one.   A two-hour round trip costs US$5 per person.

Breakfast was another table-laden affair, starting with cereals, then on to bacon, eggs, tomato, toast, tea and coffee. A full breakfast costs US$ 5 per person. I had already made my plans for the rest of the morning  – a good book on the lawns in the shade overlooking the river cooling off in the little plunge pool next to the verandah.

Lulled into a doze by the silence, broken only by a resident flock of red hornbills, the rest of the morning sped by, and it was time to eat again. The bar is open all the time, and as it was Saturday, I decided it was definitely time for some more Mosi refreshment. Lunch was another meal of gigantic proportions, again excellent value at U$8 per person, and after my coffee, I rolled off down the hill to my chalet for a siesta.

As the afternoon began to cool down, we decided that we should try our hand at some fishing from the bank. To date a total of nine different species have been caught and Rolf tempted us with an offer of one free night’s accommodation to anyone who could catch all nine species in one day. The challenge was on! Much conversation ensued about lines, bait, hooks, and although, we failed to catch many of the required nine fish, a good time was had by all.

After another good feed the following morning, I was feeling very sedentary, and thought I’d take a hike in the hills behind the camp. Gathering up some other guests, water bottles and walking shoes, we set off. It is quite easy walking with not much long grass, but quite rocky, and we managed to work up quite a sweat. Various birds were seen and it was great to have a good long walk in beautiful surroundings.

Back to camp, a quick dip in the pool, shower, yet another plateful of lunch and it was time to settle my bill (prices are in dollars but Misheke gave me a rate of K3,000 for a dollar so I happily paid in Kwacha) and hit the road home. A great relaxing social weekend, close to Lusaka at very reasonable prices – try it sometime soon.

Bridge across the Luangwa River, upstream from Bridge Camp

Bridge Camp was opened in October 1999, but only opened to the general public in April after the first guests, Phonix, finished the last section of the tar down to the river. Bridge Camp also offers two-day boat trips down to the Zambezi confluence and guided hikes up the Lunsemfwa River to the gorges. Various day hikes in the hills offer climbing opportunities and great views. Impala, kudu, klipspringer, baboon and an impressive array of birds and butterflies can been seen. Game scouts accompany hikers on longer hikes. Other tours to Mpata Gorge can be arranged.

Bridge Camp is not a plush, luxury camp, but all the basic necessities are available, and at US$ 40 per person per day for accommodation and meals, it is extremely good value for money.

Bookings can be made through Changa Changa Adventures

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.