Tree Camping and Invading Elephants in Luangwa
Trip Start Jan 20, 2005
58Trip End Dec 27, 2005
The next morning we hit the dirt road that would take us the 140KM north to the National Park. It was a pretty bumpy ride, but the Toyota was an easy rig to drive, though it drove like a heavy truck, not some light wimpy American SUVs which are tested in Safeway parking lots and 2 trips to go skiing in the mountains a year. This baby was getting shaken and bounced around by the uneven surface of a hard, sun baked African Road that changed with each season. It was also coated inside and out with that fine red soil that the pounding African sun sets free from the earth by drying it completely.
At one point we stopped to take a picture of really big Baobab Tree and were suddenly surrounded by the children from the village. The leader of the Village came out to show us around and insisted on showing us the tree up close. He was a nice old guy and treated the dozens of kids as his children. My dad gave him a cigar and we promised to stop by again on the way back from the Park.
We finally arrived at the edge of the park before mid-day. We decided to stay at a campsite called Flatdogs (term used to describe crocodiles) on the Luangwa river, on the border of the national park. Because the campsite is right on the river, it is frequented by a lot of the parks animals that don't understand that the river is the boundary of the National park and they aren't supposed to leave. As we were organizing where we wanted to camp, a herd of 7 or 8 Elephants wandered up from the river into our camp and began eating off the trees. I think they were also hoping some tourist left out some food. They passed within 30 feet of us and were very peaceful, though their size and tusks sure are intimidating. We made sure we could escape up into the tree platforms or into the truck should there be issues.
Flatdogs is really the best campsite I've been to in a National Park. It's proximity to the park meant that just lying by the small pool, you saw lots of animals. Hippos down in the river, monkeys, baboons (hate them), giraffes, warthogs, elephants, antelope, all were around. They also had a nice bar and the pool was overlooking the river. We spent the afternoon just relaxing in our open zoo.
Virginie and I had pitched our tent up in one of the tree platforms as we heard that the Hippos roam the campsite at night feeding. My dad couldn't get a platform so he pitched his tent on the ground, next to the car as his escape route. V didn't like the idea of sleeping in a tree due to her fear of heights, but her fear of wild animals trumped her other fear and she reluctantly climbed up. That first night, the sounds of the African wild were overwhelming. The snorting hippos sounded like they were right next to you (in my dad's case, they were!), hyenas howling, birds, insects, it was an orchestra. My dad woke up in the morning pretty beat up as he said he was so freaked out by the animals that he barely slept. Welcome to Africa!
The next day we got up at 6am and drove into the park. We spent the entire day just driving around the park over the dirt roads seeing the animals going about their business. It really is exciting the first time you see these creatures wild in their natural habitat. Herds of Giraffes, Zebras, Buffalo, Elephants, Gazelle. The park is also very diverse geographically so we drove along the river, various pools filled with hippos, crocodiles, and bird life, and large grassy savannahs. With the truck, we could go anywhere which was a real advantage in the park.
We drove into the park early on the second day and drove north hoping to get to the Lion Plains. I was driving a bit fast hurrying to get north while it was still early and the animals were active because it wasn't so hot. Though my dad and Virginie were a screaming about "safety" and "living to see the next day" I squeezed that engine like a lemon (not sure if that makes a lot of sense, but it sounds good). Anyway, we almost hit a jeep coming the other way. The key modifier there is "almost" so I told my passengers to keep it calm. I did slow down though and good thing because coming around the next corner we spotted some folks parked in the road. There were two lion clubs lounging on the side of the road. They were really cute, about the size of medium sized dogs. You almost wanted to get out and play with them. Then you saw the mother off in the distance and reconsidered.
One night V and I went on a Night safari where you go with a guide who has a big spot light and you drive around the park looking for more dangerous predators. We saw a Hyena who had been in a fight and was a bit torn up, a leopard hunting for some food, Hippos on land, and a whole lot of other animals that were a bit edgy knowing that they were what the predators were trying to hunt.
The three days and nights we spent at the park were really spectacular. Its one of the best parks I have been to and so full of animals that soon you are falling into the trap of saying oh look another Giraffe/Zebra/Elephant, uh huh.
Driving back to Lusaka was another 10 hour marathon that we did straight through this time. I hope that Zambia preserves their natural parks and the animal populations. Without those, there isn't very much that your average tourist would want to visit Zambia for. Beautiful country, but it's a real pain to get to and get around in.