Apart from the wonderful wilderness around me which is South Luangwa National Park, there is the habitat provided by Mushroom Lodge.
My bedroom has tongued-and-grooved pine walls and ceiling, stained dark to resemble mahogany. The en suite bathroom has plain walls, painted with yellow emulsion and a grass roof, with no ceiling. The floor is skimmed concrete, painted dark green with bits of dark red showing through from the previous coat of paint. I think that most of my informal guests gain access via the grass roof.
I have noticed several geckos who scurry away up the walls when I get home from work. At first I thought they were domesticated as I often saw their pooh in the toilet bowl. Well, I’m a bloke, living on my own, why should I be bothered about putting the seat down? Then I noticed tiny turds in the handbasin and on the shelves. They were probably on the floor too, but the colour scheme provided good camouflage.
Perhaps less welcome were two giant millipedes, one small and slim, the other large and fat. I took to calling them Laurel and Hardy. Hardy usually hung out on the walls of the bathroom, but occasionally he would make fascinating forays across the bathroom floor. Watching his legs move like a Mexican wave was intriguing. But I found Laurel inside my mosquito net one evening, and that was rather nightmare-inducing. I shook him out, he crawled under the bed, and I haven’t seen him since. They can give you a painful bite, I am told. It doesn’t hurt for as long as a scorpion sting, but you certainly know you’ve been bitten.
Outside my room there is a kidney-shaped swimming pool. It looks turquoise, cool and inviting. I often have a dip after work to calm down and cool down. I try to swim lengths but I can only do five strokes before I reach the opposing wall. There goes my attempt to keep fit.
It is a constant battle to keep the pool in good condition. Baboons will come and take a quick slurp if they are thirsty when passing by. All manner of insects meet their watery grave in the pool: ants, wasps, massive flying beetles and grasshoppers, to name a few. At the end of the rainy season (now), frogs are seeking places to hibernate through the hot dry season. Dozens of them have chosen to try the pool. The pool attendant fishes them out with a net each morning and slings them over the low wall into the drying out lagoon. The same frogs probably make their way back during the following night.
Internet reception is not fantastic, but I have learned that the best place to connect to wi-fi is the lodge reception. It is open to the jungle and is well-lit, so it attracts all sorts of flying insects. The biggest of these is about the size of my palm. They are clumsy beasts as they often end up on their backs, buzzing around dementedly until their spiny legs gain some purchase and they right themselves.
Two weeks ago, while tapping away on this laptop, the receptionist said, “Doc, did you see the snake?”
“What snake?” I asked.
“That one, there, by your feet,” he replied.
Well, it wasn’t a puff adder, black mamba, Mozambique spitting cobra, the banded cobra or boomslang, the five poisonous snakes in the Luangwa Valley. It was only a foot long, very slender and having difficulty getting a grip on the polished smooth concrete floor. I learned that it was a non-venomous (to humans) bark snake. I stopped typing while I watched it slither towards the carpark.
There are lots of mosquitoes in the lobby and I need to be smothered with DEET (di-ethyl toluamide) repellent if I want to avoid being bitten. Bats swoop in and feast on the little pests. I always think of bats flying at head height. These bats also fly at ankle height, too, skimming the floor almost.
Outside the lodge, we have large animals visiting, such as elephants and hippos. To keep the gardens looking verdant, the gardeners douse the lawns with lots of water. The resulting luscious grass is very tempting for hippos. When I first arrived, there was a small hippo munching away during the daytime outside the kitchen.
Yellow baboons are ubiquitous. They know when it is feeding time for the tourists, so they hang out on the outer wall and make forays into the dining area. The kitchen staff have to be very vigilant to keep them away from the rusks, cakes and toast laid out for pre-dawn safari goers. They scuffle and fight, bounding across the grass roofs, screeching and squealing. Behind the bar there is a mirror, in front of which there are shelves which hold a variety of bottled spirits. The baboons are very interested in seeing their reflections, and sometimes will attack the mirror, with disastrous results for the bottles of Scotch and gin. The barman knows that he can only stock the shelves in front of the mirror when he is actually serving. Otherwise, the booze has to be locked away.
If there are one or two baboon ringleaders, who are always the most aggressive males, the lodge may call in ZAWA, the national park guards. They can be persuaded to shoot the most heinous, recidivist baboons, if the lodge feels the guests are at risk.
At lunch today I was watching a family of elephants soaking in the muddy pools of the lagoon. I was eating my peanut butter and jam sandwiches while trying to take an action shot of the elephants with my digital camera. While my back was turned, one of the baboons silently crept up and stole the two remaining sandwiches and sat on the wall eating them.
“Oh doc, he is enjoying the sandwiches as much as if he had bought them!” said Magoti, the senior receptionist. “Do you want me to get you some more?” Even though I declined, the crafty baboon crept back into the dining area after a few minutes thinking he could steal some of the second round of sandwiches which I would naturally order. He was disappointed, but you have to admire his cheek.