This is our last few days on our own. Heading into South Luangwa National Park, we are optimistic about seeing animals – the park is known for it’s wildlife and it’s walking safari tradition. We pay our fees and pick up our map at the gate, where our permit is filled out by hand, in triplicate, with carbon paper. We opt to circle around a lagoon not far from the park entrance and Mfuwe Lodge. We see elephants and hippos and crocs and plenty of birds. We follow tracks further out into the park, but it seems that the further we get, the fewer animals we see. Of course, we are now out in the heat of the day, so we opt to stop under an overhanging tree, drinking beer and snacking on cheese and crackers. We watch birds, puku, zebras, impala and kudu. Steve takes a nap, of course.
After about an hour or so, we fold up gear and start driving again. We realize that we really don’t know exactly where we are, but I’m pretty sure that we are not on the hand-drawn map they gave us at the gate. We relied on the GPS to keep us headed toward the gate, as the sun was moving lower on the horizon. We reached the better-traveled parts of the park, and did one more turn around the lagoon. Steve offered that we stop for a drink at the lodge, but I wasn’t really ready for that much civilization yet. Coming around a curve, suddenly there was an elephant in front of us, and then another. They were not mindful of us as they were having a shoving match with each other. One elephant was clearly bigger than the other, and had the upper hand, but that didn’t keep the smaller one from pushing back. They crossed the track and we buzzed past them and then stopped to watch through the back window. It was obvious that they were headed our direction and we drove away, not wanting the bout to become a three-way with the land rover.
The sun really low on the horizon, we headed for the gate, only to find a herd of water buffalo blocking the way as they ambled to the lagoon for a drink. Vehicles quickly stacked up on either side of the herd. Ugh – we had a taste of what we hoped to avoid by not going to Kenya or Tanzania. We pulled to the side of the road to watch the animals. They eventually ambled back out of the roadway and we headed back to camp.
We cooked, dined and showered after nightfall. While we were in a campground, we were still mindful that elephants and hippos could easily get up the banks of the river. Last night, we had an elephant amble in for a drink out of the swimming pool! After we tucked ourselves into our rooftop tent, we could make out the outline of an elephant moving into the campground, browsing noisily along the way. Unfortunately, one of our campground neighbors (in a tent on the ground), yelled and made noises to scare the elephant away. While it’s probably a good thing to keep elephants out of the campground, we were really hoping to peek out of our tent, eyeball to eyeball with a friendly pachyderm.