Kutandala in North Luangwa
I brought a bottle of Amarula that was given to me, compliments of The Fallows, because I booked several shark trips. My first night in camp we drank a toast to the only guest in the whole 4600 square kilometer North Luangwa Park—me! On Night #2 we toasted the Cape Clawless Otter we had seen in the river and on Night #3 we toasted the arrival of our two new guests. On Night #4 they tried to get me to toast the buffalo herd that had grazed across the river from camp, but after three nights of this raucous, wanton frenzy of toasting, I declined, breaking the nightly tradition.
Here’s why Kutandala is my favorite:
* The owners and operators (husband/wife team of Rod and Guz) are uniquely qualified and skilled to fill the niche for a remote bush camp like this. They are wonderful as hosts, and at the top of their game in their respective roles as guide and chef, plus everything else that running a camp entails.
* The chalets are works of art with a nice hot water bucket shower! They are beautifully decorated with natural materials. The floor is hardened ground and the bathroom is sand. Thatched mats were added to the bathroom sand floor since my last visit. The front of the chalet juts out in a semi-circle toward the river where you can sun yourself. Even at night you have unobstructed views of the stars because there is a clever use of rolled mat-like blinds to secure you safely while you sleep, with open skyward views. The little swinging doors for morning coffee/tea and for the hot water pitcher are downright cute in addition to being functional.
* It is a temporary camp that is built with local materials from outside the park each season, which provides a lot of jobs. Care is taken not to use things like nails that could be left behind and injure the animals. The ratio of two months construction time for about five month’s use of this beautiful structure makes me appreciate it all the more for its lack of permanence. I am reminded of the Tibetan Sand Mandala that is meticulously and artistically created by Buddhist Monks, only to be returned to a pile of sand when it is done.
* In contrast to the temporary nature of the shelter, Rod and Guz and their growing family offer a constant, stable, responsible presence. Their mature and personal commitment to their operation is evident. It is heartwarming to see their adorable boys romping around (little sister is way too young yet). The romping with guests was limited to greeting me upon arrival, a breakfast-time good morning in their matching jammies, and a short presence during one teatime; it’s not like the guest chalets are their playground or they come terrorizing at tea.
* The dining areas, bar, and library, are smartly designed to fit in with the existing trees and natural contours of the environment.
* You take off your shoes and socks to cross the very shallow, slow flowing Mwaleshi River for your arrival in camp. Going for a paddle it is called. How cool is that? It really sets the tone of the whole camp and its activities.
* There is no unnatural noise, just sounds of nature, day and night, with hyenas dominating the night and a little lion roaring thrown in.
* The setting on the river is beautiful and peaceful, whether viewed from your chalet or from the lounge chairs under the umbrellas along the shore. Many times the view included animals such as impala, puku, kudu, a herd of buffalo, or elephants.
* The staff is great and many of them have been there for years. They remembered me from five years ago.
* The odds of meeting like-minded visitors is high. Kutandala attracts a certain type.
* And I haven’t even mentioned Guz’s wonderful cuisine.-Guz’s Wonderful Cuisine-
The two British ladies who joined me at Kutandala were anticipating the fine dining even before arriving because they had been reading the guide books, where Guz’s reputation precedes her.
We had tremendous cuisine from around the world, including Mexican Nachos and Refried Beans, Indian Pau Bhaji with Apple Chutney, Greek Dolmas (grape leaves out here?), and Italian Tortellini. When I asked Rod for his favorite, he thought it would have to be Tortellini. I must say those little cheese filled pasta pillows may have been the best I’ve ever eaten.
Many of our dishes were en croute. Having battled phyllo dough with a pastry brush in my own kitchen, I appreciated the effort that went into creating anything en croute in the remote wilderness.
We had fresh mint leaves on our guava mousse. One night dessert was warm lemon pudding that contrasted with the ice cream served in a lovely frozen bowl made only of ice. Even the lunch that Rod carried for six hours in his backpack on our journey to the falls was delightful with the Cob Cole Slaw in Piquant Dressing remaining crisp and fresh.
We did all burst into laughter when the Watermelon Granita in a Brandy Snap was served at the end of one meal. There was nothing funny about the dessert, however we had found a watermelon on our walk that morning and had destroyed the invasive species, but not before our tracker and I could have a few nibbles. Guz pleaded not guilty to planting watermelons in the park.
Most of our evening meals we were serenaded by hyenas, which enhanced the wonderful flavors on our plates—a multi-sensory experience.
If someone had no real interest in Africa and detested walking and didn’t care about seeing wildlife, I’d still recommend a stay at Kutandala if they sought out exceptional cuisine served in a unique and beautiful setting by gracious and entertaining hosts.