Fair warning: pictures of dead animals on this page.
Fat Lions and a Walk in the Park
(Tuesday 23rd October, 2018)
I‘m currently sitting in the elephant hide in the camp, writing this. In front of me is a pond/mud hole with a hippo and two ducks chilling in it. There are also lots of dragonflies and butterflies and it’s quiet (in nature’s way) and peaceful. Just as I stepped in before, simply to check the hide out, a small group of a few adult elephants and two babies came by to have their drink/a quick shower. Talk about lucky timing! So I decided to just go in here and write about my day up until now.
The night had been okay though I woke up at 3:17 in the night and sort of had to pee. I heard chewing sounds and grunting from outside somewhere, though, so I just figured I’d stay put in the tent.
We had our breakfast early so we could do our optional activities, which would either be a walking safari or a game drive in South Luangwa National Park. We were 7 out of 9 who chose to do the walking safari. After breakfast we got picked up by the safari vehicle that would take us to the park for the walk.
On the way we already saw some elephants and there were a lot of baboons hanging out by the gate to the park. When we got in our guide for today, Ryvers, asked if we wanted to go see if there were some lions. He had heard rumours that lions made a kill by the river bank during the night. Of course we all wanted to drive there and check it out.
At first we saw two lions relaxing on the road, bellies very full and bloated. Then there was the remains of a buffalo down the slope to the river, surrounded by two other lions, one of them still feeding. It was a lioness and 3 young males. Later on a 4th young male made an appearance. It was very fascinating to see them gnaw at the carcass and chase the gathered vultures away. Then, a few of them got up from the slope and walked just behind/beside our vehicle by a meter or two. They were so incredibly close for a minute there. It’s really indescribably interesting to see the animals in different situations like that.
After our close encounter with the lions, our guide drove the truck to the plains above the river bed and parked it so we could get down to the walking part of our safari. We had a ranger with a rifle with us and we were briefed to do as they said, and if danger occurred, we were informed that the ranger would shoot the rifle in the air or if necessary, kill the animal.
We walked around the bush, not necessarily seeing so many animals because the antelopes in the area ran away from us. But the guide showed us the trees, some birds, we found some animal tracks and poop, and he talked about the behaviour of the animals. There were some very nice birds, colourful carmine bee-eaters. We also saw an old aardvark burrow and a couple of large hippos in the undergrowth. 3 giraffes, one of them lying down (which I didn’t think that they could for very long because of their blood circulation up the long neck). We got pretty close to the giraffes before they performed their slow-motion run-away for us. We even saw a lion through the bush, though thankfully it was quite far away. Might have been a little too exciting if it was up close.
It was pretty cool to see the park from ‘ground view’, from the more involved and present point of view instead of as a detached observer in a vehicle. Getting more of an actual feeling with nature. Walking on the paths that the animals walk on. It was a very good experience for 55 USD, and also one you cannot really have in other national parks in Africa.
When we came back from activities we had lunch and then some free time before out evening/night game drive. In this free time I came to sit in the elephant hide where I am now. While writing, another mother/calf pair of elephants walked up to the watering hole, attracting some more people to the hide. Also a young man from the other Nomad truck in the camp (travelling from Victoria Falls to Nairobi) whom I’d talked to for a bit last night.
We watched the elephants drink/’shower’ quietly. Then the other people left, then the elephants, but the young man and I both stayed and just watched the yellow-billed stork trying to forage in silence. After a while in silence, a conversation opened up about our trips and we had an exchange about our previous experiences, which was quite nice.
Then we had to go for the evening game drive. On it we saw:
– Elephants – Impala – Giraffes
– Kudu – Fishing eagle – Lions
– Buffalo – Hippos – Puku
The same lions from earlier in the day were still in the same spot, exhausted from filling their bellies. Barely noticed we were looking at them. At about 6 we stopped by the river bank, enjoyed our complementary drink and some popcorn while watching a beautiful sunset over the forest and the river. The colours were really incredible and I felt quite privileged to see it.
As it got dark we got back in the safari truck and our spotter got on top of the car with a huge and powerful torch. He lit up the surroundings for us, trying to spot some of the nocturnal animals in the park. We saw some sleeping antelopes, some hippos searching for food and 4 tiny, dotted cats called Genet. No hyenas, African Painted Dogs or leopards for us today but the day was still lovely and I enjoyed it very much.
The night drive had felt pretty special, driving in the wilderness in the dark, starry sky above. It was pretty quiet and it was full moon so it wasn’t really completely dark. It was something different to a day game drive and it was nice to experience such a place at dusk or after dark. Another kind of atmosphere.
Something to note about the wild animals; shortly before we went on the evening game drive, a large herd of elephants of about 30 individuals came to the watering hole by the elephant hide, which attracted a lot of the people in the camp, obviously. I was sitting on a bench a ways away from the watering hole with some of the guides and watched everyone flock over there from a distance. A couple of the people wanted to take more close-up pictures and went around the elephant hide, essentially walking into the area of the water hole and exposing themselves to the animals. The elephants weren’t happy about it and started making loud warning sounds and other warning gestures. The people seemed completely careless/clueless, just continuing what they were doing. One of the guides who sat on the bench jumped up and ran up to urge the person to move the hell away from the elephants to a safe distance because they were thinking the elephants might begin to charge them/us.
Though elephants look nice and clever and friendly they are a few tons of danger, and they can run faster than you. Someone recently got killed by an elephant because of a similar situation in Victoria Falls. So, just be respectful of nature and the wild animals – it is not a competition to get closest and we shouldn’t disturb them and put ourselves in danger.
Zambia’s Independence Day
(Wednesday 24th October, 2018)
The morning started leisurely with a 7:00 breakfast. The other truck leaving for Malawi had an earlier morning and all the commotion from their packing woke me up early at about 5:20. I hadn’t slept that well this night and also the animal noises had seemed more agitated this night than the previous.
When I woke up I went over to the elephant hide where I saw two hippos getting out of the pond to feed. Back at the tent with the view over the river, a group of elephants was crossing in the golden morning sun. It was very beautiful and peaceful to wake up to. Imagine being able to experience this every day..
At breakfast we learned that the other group doing their game drive simultaneously to us last night had been lucky enough to see 3 leopards to our 0. It really shows that what you see on the same day, same time of day and in the same park can differ wildly. We saw the lions earlier and they didn’t see them. Oh well! Evans also said that he saw a leopard walk past the camp at about 23:00 last night. No leopard luck for us in South Luangwa.
Shortly after we drove off after breakfast we made a stop in the bush at a small shop called Mulberry Mongoose. This shop sells jewellery made my local women, using snares that volunteers go out and disable around the outskirts of the national park. It helps employ a lot of women outside farming season too.
Next stop was at the Tribal Textiles workshop/shop in Mfuwe, about 45 minutes drive from the camp. Normally we would be able to have a small tour of the working workshop to see how they dye and pattern the textiles but the 24th of October is Zambia’s national day (Day of Independence) and therefore a national holiday – no one’s at work. It also happens to be my birthday, of course, and it was a little funny to find out about the the Independence Day, what with my ties to Zambia.
Anyway, the shop was open and they had a lot of beautiful textiles, all hand-painted, dyed and sown in their own workshop. They also made some weaving projects, glass art and iron art. It was a pretty nice place and it employs about 100 men and women which also helps create jobs outside the farming season. Unfortunately, the chitenge/sarongs were sold out as one of the most popular items to get.
Driving on, Evans told us that they grow a lot of maize in the country and that most farming products are sold to the government and stored in national storage facilities – there isn’t any shortage of food in Zambia. We drove past one such storage facility for maize and cotton in Chinda.
We then made a stop at the ‘mall’ area in Chipata again so that Godfree could get more ingredients for our meals and we got to stock up on water and snacks.
When we got back to Ella, we learned that one of our family members had passed out on the street and was feeling very poorly. She was crying and Thabani decided to take her to the local hospital to get a check-up. About an hour/an hour and half later they came back. It wasn’t fully clear what had been wrong, but she tested negative for malaria and it was most likely a ‘simple’ dehydration. She got some medication for her slight fever and was ordered to drink more water and we drove on with the reminder to really be vigilant about our water intake.
After lunch at a nice road side spot, we stopped by a small village and Godfree came in to our side of the truck with a couple of sticks with dead mice on them. He then said it was a local delicacy and asked who wanted to try it. Most of us raised our hands, maybe to his surprise! We didn’t actually get them for dinner, though, something about company policy and food safety..
We arrived at our lodge for the night in Petauke and pitched our tents. Later on, another truck rolled in and unloaded what seemed like 25 people who also pitched their tents right behind ours. I, of course, had the people snoring right next to my tent.
Before dinner, some of the family came to the bar with me and we low-key celebrated my birthday with a drink, which was pretty nice. We also made conversation with an American lady who was there for work reasons.
We may lose our current guides soon, in Victoria Falls, which makes me feel a little sad. I like them and they have done a very good job dealing with us. It is also a little strange to say that now I’m officially out of my 20’s, having turned 30. But, for now I’m just enjoying what is going on in the present moment – and try to sleep through the snoring from the surrounding tents.
Casinos and Zebras in Lusaka
(Thursday 25th October, 2018)
After a night of not very good sleep due to the snoring and sleep moaning of others, we had breakfast at 7:00. The plan had been to wake up early to go take a shower but alas, when I woke up for that I saw the other group all lining up for the shower. Oh well!
After breakfast we began to make our way towards Lusaka. The hilly scenery we entered into in the first stretch was not particularly interesting but yet very beautiful. The hill sides were strewn with trees in all shades of green, yellow, orange and red. Like the most pretty forest you can imagine at autumn. There were only few houses/villages in this part in particular, but the houses we saw were mostly round, made out of clay/brick and with straw roofs. Overall, on today’s drive you could see a lot less villages along the road compared to Tanzania/Malawi and it seems evident that the population density in Zambia is significantly lower.
We drove over the Japanese-built bridge which marks the border between Zambia and Mozambique, and it is apparently strictly forbidden to take photos from the area. Shortly thereafter, we also made a short stop at a small, local market where they sold dried fish from the Zambezi river, dried red berries and fruits from baobab trees among other things.
Some of us got a dance show from a local, drunk man and another man seemed to take issue with us for no reason. We were all just standing still and waiting for Ella. Anyway, it was nice to see a little portion or aspect of local life in the village. The Zambian people still do seem more reserved than the Malawi people, and it does feel like you have left ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’ behind.
At lunch we made a stop under an African fig tree. I went for a little stroll along the road. We saw a white person cycling by uphill with camping gear and thought we were, after all, happy enough with the truck. While eating our lunch, two teenage boys came and sat in the shade on the opposite side of the road from us and just watched us eat. Sometimes you don’t know if you are really the one doing the studying or whether you are the one being studied. When we drove off again they smiled and waved at us.
Between the town Chongwe and Lusaka we had to go through a toll gate, set up by the national board for road and safety or whatever they call it. Something else I’ve noticed while driving is that the churches tend to be really large structures with special and almost grandiose architecture (kind of how I’ve seen it in the US). Even in poor villages or areas sometimes, and often the building looks half-finished, having no windows and the immediate surroundings looking rather like crap. Priorities, I guess.
As we began driving into the suburbs of Lusaka, there were many gated communities. In fact, most buildings seemed to be closed off from the road by a solid wall and a steel gate, and this phenomenon continued into the city. Lots of these walls had advertisements painted on them, and there were also quite a large amount of big billboards with ads on them – many about soccer and where to watch it. It helped give the city a metropolitan atmosphere, along with the many large buildings, malls and shops. A surprisingly high number of large, fancy-looking casinos, many of them with Chinese writing on the façades. It is obvious when driving through the city that the Chinese have invested in it; you see evidence of it on the shops and signs.
There must be a lot of business people (or rich people) here to sustain all those casinos because they can’t earn that much from regular locals. It doesn’t seem desirable to have the casinos around because of crime rates etc., but yeah. There they are.
We made a one hour stop at a large mall to stock up on water and everything else. After the supermarket we went to treat ourselves to a milkshake, which was pretty decent tasting. Even something rather simple like a milkshake was such a luxury item after we started our journey.
We then arrived at our camp for the night at about 17:00. The truck from yesterday was there again, although thankfully we could put our tents up away from theirs to avoid the snoring. Sleep should be slightly easier tonight.
After a shower, we went for a small walk around the area of the camp site. It is located on the outskirts of Lusaka, but there’s some forest around it and we were told that you could see some animals there sometimes. We did see some zebras (actually grazing right next to a busy road!) and some monkeys in the trees. Later in the camp we also saw impalas and the zebras somehow made it into the camp which has a fence around it. They were taking a stroll around the bar area in the dusk. It was a little surreal to sit in Lusaka and still have zebras walking around your camp.
At dinner, which was provided by the accommodation, Thabani held a thank you speech for us and urged us to come visit ‘addicting Africa’ again (I will). And our family held a little thank you speech back. It has been some very enjoyable 3 weeks. It was a little sad to have this last evening together with our crew because you do form some attachment to them, being with them all day for 20 days.
‘The Smoke That Thunders’, Zimbabwe Side
(Friday 26th October, 2018)
In order to get to the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe before rush hour where all the planes come in, we woke up very early. Breakfast at 4:30 and driving off at 5:00. The sunrise today was just stunning, with shifting nuances of red, yellow, orange – it looked quite divine and exquisite. Then you can really talk about ‘sunrise having golden mouth’ (translated poorly from a Danish psalm).
Before taking a nap I saw some people on the roadside setting fire to the collected piles of garbage. I do wonder what purpose that has, other than spreading the toxic plastic smoke and opening up space for another pile of garbage later on.
Today’s drive wasn’t very interesting in terms of things to look at by the side of the road. It was flat, there weren’t many people or houses, nature not being particularly interesting. One time when I did look out, however, I saw two large antelopes a bit next to the forest, two elands.
There seems to be a lot of random (?) half-finished houses on the roadsides, too, sometimes with piles of brick next to them. A lot look completely abandoned. Also saw some ‘Kingdom of Jehovah’ on the side of the road, and I wondered if they went around knocking on doors here too, which could be difficult since many country side houses seemed to have cloth in the door opening rather than something solid.
On the way to Livingstone/the border we drove through the town of Mazabuka, which is known as ‘the sweetest town in Zambia’. This is because of the sugar production taking place here, which also helped make the town wealthy.
We arrived at the border and got our VISAs. Single entry cost us 30 USD. They were a bit slow and inefficient and the guy was very talkative, but there were no issues. We drove over the bridge crossing the Zambezi river down in the gorge and it was quite pretty. Then we drove to our hotel and took a group photo in front of Ella before saying goodbye with hugs and well-wishes to Thabani, Godfree and Evans.
The hotel was a very nice 4 star one, but we didn’t get to spend much time there since immediately after our arrival, we took a taxi down to The Rainforest with our Japanese travel mates. The Rainforest is the park from where you can walk along the gorge and see the falls. It’s wet from dew and mist and very much seems like a rainforest. The falls were beautiful with the rising mist (‘The Smoke That Thunders’), the thundering sound of the water, and the sun making rainbows in the mist drops. It was a very nice and impressive walk in the park and we spent about 2 hours there. It was definitely worth the entrance fee of 30 USD.
Back at the hotel we had about 15 minutes to freshen up before we had agreed to go out for dinner with the family. We went to a place called Mama Africa which served some African dishes. Thabani joined us for dinner, which was a really nice and probably also the last time we will see him. They had some live music (reggae) at the restaurant and it was cool to see some people getting on the dance floor. That made me happy.
Reflections on the first leg of the trip:
I treasure the good memories from this first part of the trip, which has been really amazing so far. I have enjoyed it tremendously and I hope I will continue to have such a good time with such good experiences.
Reflections on Zambia:
Zambia was a less interesting country to drive through than the other countries so far, perhaps also more modern. I liked Lusaka at a glance. People were less open and more reserved but there were never any real issues. South Luangwa was great and beautiful. We didn’t really get to spend a lot of time in Zambia on this tour, though, so it might become more intriguing the more time you have to learn about it/live it.
The top picture is the view over Luangwa River at sunset.
Last updated 3rd January, 2019.