Just like gin and tonic and beer and biltong, laughter and Robin Pope Safaris seem to go very well together. Anyone who has ever been to the Luangwa camps will have experienced good humor in abundance and particularly at Nkwali where the booming laughter of Kiki and Jacob seem to compete with the hippos in the river below. I love a good laugh (so did company founders Robin and Jo Pope), and perhaps that’s why I’ve always enjoyed such a close affinity with this wonderful operation and the excellent people that run it.
I look back fondly on more than 15 fun-filled photographic safaris with Robin Pope Safaris, but nothing prepared me for the Grechi and Schneider group. I met these friends in Luangwa in February 2014 while I was running an Emerald Season photographic safari, and the seed was planted for a trip the following September.
The Schneiders came to Cape Town to check me out. Over discussions of shared passions for motorbikes and chardonnay, they told me that the two families met 29 years before as neighbors in California and had, over the years, become godparents to each other’s children and great travelling companions.
This trip was about giving the wives – Josette and Liz – the chance to explore their photographic creativity, they explained.
I suggested an itinerary of three days at Nkwali and four days at Tena Tena so they could experience both regions of the park, including the more remote Nsefu Sector, but this met some fierce French resistance.
“Non,” said Pierre with much finger waving. “We want Nkwali only – it’s a special place, and my friend Kiki is there.”
It was duly arranged that Kiki would guide the husbands. I would be with the two photographers in a separate car driven by Chris.
This is not the forum to share the contents of our time together, but I can assure you there were several times when even the mischievous baboons at Nkwali seemed to blush with embarrassment! There is no doubt that if we had all shared one photographic vehicle, we would have had real trouble keeping focus.
Josette and Liz were two of the smartest students I can recall. They soon mastered the basics of photography and were begging for new challenges like star photography, panning and other interesting techniques. Pierre initially suggested that the two students should wear school uniforms for the course but soon changed his tune saying that too much “Lightroom” (our image processing software) and not enough “Darkroom” was to the detriment of his very high and very French romantic expectations,
Such was the planning by Kiki and Chris that we rarely saw another vehicle during our six days at Nkwali. What we did find was leopards on just about every game drive (seven different animals in total) and two groups of lions. One pride hunted and killed an impala within shouting distance of the breakfast deck of Luangwa House. This was a first for the Grechi’s, and we all felt very moved by the event.
Spending six nights at Nkwali gave us time to meet other visitors passing through camp, including honeymooners, others going off on mobile trips and also some wonderful Robin Pope Safaris regulars. Two of them, arriving from the UK, brought Kiki’s MBA certificate from the University of Kent. Although Kiki was not able to attend the official graduation, which came after a year of very hard work, we tried to make up for it in a small way with a special ceremony to congratulate him on his most special achievement.
In retrospect I should have made special certificates for my two students too. And also two for the husbands, who were without doubt two of the funniest guys that I have ever met. I left Luangwa with a stomach that was sore from laughing, plus a whole retinue of new jokes, which I cant wait to regale on anyone who will listen.
“Just make sure you don’t laugh during the joke,” said Pierre. “That is the key.”
Ah, the things I learn on safari.
This story appeared in It’s Monday — the weekly bulletin from Robin Pope Safaris