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For the past 12 years, my photographic river journeys down the Luangwa River have been the highlight of my year. Not only do I love the Valley, the wildlife and the people here, but this time of year, which is called the Emerald Season produces such wonderful photographic opportunities. Our first group for the season included my cousin Mark from Australia, Amy from Dubai, and Larry from Nebraska. What a privilege to introduce family and friends from such different places to my favourite place in Africa.

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The journey began at Nkwali where we spent the first two nights. As usual my close friend Jacob Shawa who has been guiding our river trips for more than 10 years was behind the wheel – and he was as enthusiastic and sharp-eyed as ever.

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On our first game drive, he found us two leopards. One was hunting near the Nkwali harbour and another was resting under a sausage tree under Lupunga Spur. Our highlight that morning was a buffalo herd of more than 200 animals, which disturbed a male lion resting under a combretum bush.

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That afternoon we decided to change direction and go south towards the Chichele Hills—we never made it because a we found a beautiful leopard resting right beside the road under a wild mango tree. We sat with her until sunset when she yawned, stretched and then walked slowly down the branch and down the road. She was mobbed by guinea-fowl but did not seem to be flustered. She stopped to drink from a puddle in the road and do some toilet duties, while we snapped away wildly from the vehicle.

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The following morning, we began our journey up the Luangwa River to Nsefu. After the game drives, it’s so relaxing to be on the water with the beautiful river scenes flashing by. Using our cameras on fast shutter speeds above 1/2000 of a second, we were ready for the hippo that rushed to the water and the flocks of birds that rose up from the banks.

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For the next two nights, we did not see another person. Nsefu at this time of year is cut off by road access, and we had this wonderful area to ourselves. On our first morning, we set off to the stork colony. The birds were starting to build their nests, and we fine-tuned our photographic techniques capturing them in flight as they flew by with nesting material.

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Larry, who is nearly 80 years of age was proud of himself that he had managed to walk to the stork colony at a leisurely pace, helped along by Jacob. “Jacob was like a father to me,” he said afterwards.

While in Nsefu, we also enjoyed exploring up the Mwamba River and deep into the ebony forest. Sneaking up on hippos, zebras, impala and baboons offered wonderful photographic opportunities from the water. We also saw two more leopards from the boat.

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The food was outstanding, and at night, we felt cool and slept soundly under the excellent solar powered air conditioning that has been installed at this historical camp, which cools the air beneath the mosquito net so effectively.

It was a faster return journey with the current to Luangwa River Camp where we spent our last two nights. The sightings we had here were amazing and it was the first time for Jacob to see two packs of wild dogs meeting. Absolute chaos ensued with leaping and barking dogs while elephants, zebras and impala were running in all directions.

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We also had some lively times in the town of Mfuwe where we photographed bicycles, sewing machines, tomatoes and also the people who were so welcoming and friendly to our group. Larry, who comes from the farming area of the United States, purchased some plump red tomatoes and complimented the vendors on the quality of their crops. He also delighted a small boy with his lesson of how to make a chicken go to sleep by putting its head under the wing. We had some ‘Mosi’ beers in a shebeen (local bar) that thumped with happy rasta music.

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It was a life-changing experience for Mark, Amy and Larry. They all vowed to return again to Luangwa. Each one of them took the most amazing and creative photographs to remind them of their stay.

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