Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
127Trip End Aug 01, 2007
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A five hour drive from Lilongwe (half of which was on very rough dirt roads) brought us to the village of Mfuwe, Zambia where our safari camp was located just outside the gates of South Luangwa National Park. We are sleeping in large tents but that's about where the term "camp" ends. Each tent has its own bathroom and shower, regular beds with mattresses, electric lighting, and a patio with river views. A cook prepared all our meals that we ate in a thatch roof dining room overlooking the river.
Our expectation when signing up for this is that we'd see a few animals, but certainly not huge numbers. We were surprised that within a few hours of our arriving at the camp (and before we had even entered the park) we saw hyenas, monkeys, a few baboons, and get this...a huge tusked elephant lumbered into our camp just after we finished dinner
I think the most impressive thing about viewing all the animals was seeing them all interacting together out in the unregulated wild. In a zoo with pens for each species, you don't see any of the interfacing and conflict between various animals that takes place all the time in their natural habitat. For instance, we were watching a group of about a dozen adult and baby elephants walking across a large plain when all of a sudden they started looking a bit irritated. A big one charged out in front of the group, and all of a sudden two previously hidden lionesses stood up our of the grass and started running away. The big elephant trumpeted a loud squeal out her trunk and chased the pair of lions for a good half-mile! We just looked at each other in disbelief! In one of the game drives at sunset we drove onto a huge plain and in just one sweep of your eyes you could see impalas, warthogs, giraffes, zebra, a variety of other antelope-type deer, and too many birds to mention, all intermingling
So next we are off through Zambia. First a quick stop in Chipata to catch a bus the next morning to the capital city of Lusaka. After spending the night in Lusaka we will head further west to Livingstone to see the mighty Victoria Falls, as well as hang out for a few days to figure out our onward plans. Expect the next update from there!
The last 2.5 hours of the road to South Luangwa National Park are a bit jarring. Let's just say that if you had a bad back or neck, you should definitely fly directly there because you would certainly be laid up for a week or two after the ride. And let's also say that if you have a dust allergy, you should also fly because your nose might fall off and eyes could possibly water right out of your head from all the dust. And let's also say that if you are allergic to your own sweat, you should consider flying because the ride is extremely hot and sweaty. Thankfully, we don't have these issues, and we survived the ride
Todd went a bit overboard on describing our "luxury" tent accommodations. One of the major lessons I have learned on this trip is that everything is relative. So, was our tent extremely nice? Well, in order to answer that, you must ask yourself "compared to what?" Compared to a Holiday Inn Hollidome at an exit off a major American Interstate where all the rooms smell like chlorine and the furnishings haven't been updated in 25 years... not really. Compared to sleeping on the street on a piece of cardboard... yes, it was EXTREME luxury. However, I will say that the tents were new, you could stand up in them, they actually had beds with mosquito nets (this is key), and they were lifted off the ground on concrete slabs. So as far as camping goes, it was pretty good. And there was a flushing toilet and a pipe that tricked water attached to the concrete slab at the back of the tent. Compared to the place in Lilongwe, the shower was pretty good. Again, it is all relative.
Because the campsite was right outside the park, it was quite common for the animals to make a guest appearance right outside our tent. We awoke one morning to monkeys jumping and playing on the top of our tent. Every night, it was so neat/freaky listening to the sounds of the hippos in the river just 100 yards away. Sometimes, you would wake up in the middle of the night and hear lots of branches breaking right outside the tent and find elephant and hippo poop right by the door the next morning! Right after seeing that, I had a near death experience with a giant tarantula like spider that decided to take a shower with me (along with about 10 frogs)
But the game drives were AMAZING!!!! We saw all four of the "big five" that are present in the park (the big five are Elephants, Water Buffalo, Lions, Rhinos, and Hippos - no Rhinos in South Luangwa). The safari vehicle is completely open (see pics), and the animals are used to the trucks, so you can get very close to them and they just go about their business of eating grass and sticks. Literally every 10 minutes we would drive by some group of animals that looked like a scene from a National Geographic cover.
Last night when we were on our final nighttime game drive, we had a very close encounter. After sunset, we were driving though the park with a giant spotlight looking for leopards and lions, which hunt at night. We came upon two other safari trucks that had spotted a lioness and they had their spotlight right on it. Prior to this point, we saw lionesses two other times, and they had always traveled in pairs. One of the other girls on our truck said "it's strange that there is only one since we have usually seen two together." Just then, I heard twigs breaking behind us in the darkness about 10 feet from our truck. Our guide swung the spotlight around, and there was the second lioness just staring at us so close you could have touched it. It actually seemed to be contemplating jumping in our car. Really cool! That certainly got the blood pressure up!
Soon we will be in the Zambian town of Chipata at a cute little place with a pool just hanging out, cleaning the dirt out of our clothes and pores, and staying overnight so we can take a 7 hour bus to Lusaka, Zambia the following day.