Tag Archive | Elephant

Last Day

It was an elephant kind of day. Our morning walking route kept bumping into elephants, and we had to keep skirting them at a respectable and respectful distance. A small, but obvious, part of the elephant population does not have tusks in South Luangwa. In earlier decades, elephants were heavily poached in the area. A genetic anomaly became a selected trait, as elephants without tusks did not attract the poachers’ attentions. After dodging elephants all morning, it seems that the population is making a good comeback.

By the time we return for brunch, the plumbing is restored – hurray! After brunch, I quickly get my bag organized and packed. I want to spend as much of this afternoon goofing off and not fretting about my bag.

Our evening drive takes us to the nesting colonies of bee eaters, tucked into the tall sandy banks along the river. The noise and profusion of flying color is enchanting – I sat watching until it was nearly dark. Below the colony, the hippos are crowding together in the few remaining deeper pools in the river. I’m sure that they will be happy to spread out once the rains begin. There’s lots of grunting and yawning – a great showing of teeth and tonsils to prove who’s the bigger boss of the pool.

Chef George outdoes himself tonight with a fabulous outdoor Mongolian barbecue, complete with a short stand over a fire that can accommodate four woks at once. It’s like being in the middle of a cooking show. The food is delicious, the camp lovely, and we are very sad that we must go. We feed the frogs one last feast before we crawl into bed, the alarm set for 4:30 a.m.

Resisting the End

We only have two more days, two more nights in the bush – the reality is starting to settle in. We’ve resisted thinking and talking about home and work for most of the trip. But now bits are starting to creep in. Still, we take full advantage of all the leisure time we have between walks, drives and eating: I read my book about Charles Darwin and his daughter Annie, compile my trip bird list, and watch the robber fly capture carpenter bees living in our deck railing. Steve types notes in the netbook and naps. (Yes, he does get his share of naps on this trip!)

The morning walk was interesting, but short – we arrived back at our chalet by 9:30 a.m. Another drawback to safari lodge life is that you do need to know what time it is. You do get a wake-up “knock-knock” in the morning, but generally meals are served at a certain time; drives and walks start and end to coincide with the mealtimes. But, there is no denying the routine that comes with lodge life, where we had no boundaries other than the hours of daylight on the self-drive part of our trip.

DSCF4040More great food for brunch and tea, then our evening drive highlighted by hippos and honey badger. Little did we know that a honey badger was undermining the plumbing at camp until we tried to take a shower before bed: there was no water on tap. We entertained ourselves by feeding the frogs in the sinks before retreating under our mosquito netting for the night.

Walkabout

We were up early the next morning for walking safari. We were surprised that two pairs of guests chose to skip the walk: one couple decided to sleep in, and the other couple basically said, “We’ve done that already.” Well, fine – that’s less people and more time with the guide.

P1000878We had walked several days in Botswana – while you don’t necessarily see as much wildlife, you actually learn more about the environment: the plants, the details, the tracks, the droppings – all of this adds dimension to our ability to read the landscape and the animals. Who knew that there is a whole bunch of amphibians tucked down in the cracks in the dried mud, just waiting for the rainy season to begin? What is different is that we have three escorts: our guide Peter, our teabearer Gift, and a ZAWA scout, Godrick. Godrick carries the gun, while Peter is in charge of herding the guests. Gift carries the radio, refreshments and snacks.

We returned to camp for brunch, with the plumbing restored and the table full of guests. A lively conversation ensued about conservation, giving everyone something to think about as we headed back to our tents for siesta.

Back to the Bush

At Mfuwe Lodge, we enjoyed a civilized buffet brunch before we met Kelvin, our driver and guide for the next two and a half hour drive to our first bush camp. An ambitious young man, Kelvin is aspiring to move from driver to guide. He was able to spot game as well as tell us the native tales about hippos and other wildlife. The time flew by, and soon we arrived at Chindeni bush camp, greeted by the staff with cool wash cloths and fresh juice. Oh yeah, this is the kind of stuff you miss when you self-drive.

We were escorted to our “tent:” a lovely canvas abode overlooking a lagoon on a big wooden platform on stilts. With the sitting area and bathroom area, the tent was spacious enough to permanently live there. We draped ourselves in the two hammocks swaying in the breeze on the deck outside, making the afternoon heat more bearable.

At tea, we met our lodging companions, including two birders from Seattle – the first Americans we’ve seen in weeks! Another couple lived in Ohio, but were not native to the US. Newlyweds from Britain rounded out the company. Our guide, Peter, gathered us all up for the evening’s game drive, highlighted by a relaxed leopard cruising her territory.

We returned to news that monkey business had disrupted the water pump. Assured that the water tank would be recharged by morning, each tent was supplied with a bucket full of water to “flush” the toilet.

In the meantime, we enjoyed a classic braai dinner. “Braai” comes from the Afrikaans word “braaivleis,” meaning “roasted meat.” Indeed, a braai dinner is a carnivore’s delight, with beef, pork, chicken and several kinds of sausage. The evening wind made it hard to keep salads on our plates, but none of the meat went flying off into the night.

Hippo Serenade

It’s our last day of self-drive so we head out early. We decide to move in a more southerly direction, not certain what we will see. We are spotting zebra and elephants. Yes, elephants are difficult to spot. Despite their size, their grey color causes them to melt into the background behind even the smallest bush. You also have to be attuned to their slower stroll. Like giraffes, they can move fast if needed, but otherwise they seem to move with the landscape rather than through the landscape. It’s a rhythm unlike the many antelopes and zebras, especially the twitchy impalas.

Rattling slowly through the landscape, we don’t expect to surprise too many animals – they are more accustomed to vehicles in this park. But, we get delightfully surprised because we are hoping, but not expecting, for some great experiences. We round one corner to come upon a giraffe family, alert but not scared off by our appearance. We stopped and turned off the engine. To our delight, they went about their giraffe business, unperturbed by our cameras. They moved on, we moved on. More animals, fabulous birds, spectacular baobab trees. We haven’t spotted a carnivore since McBrides’ camp, even though the park is known for leopards. We look for the “lump” of a snoozing leopard on every likely sausage tree branch we pass, but we suspect they nap further away from the road.

We head back to camp for our last one-pot campground meal. While enjoying the cool breeze after sunset, we watch one very big hippo get out of the water on our side of the river, and start heading across the sand to a pool further upstream. He wags his short little tail while defecating, fanning hippo droppings far and wide. Interesting way to mark territory. A little while later, as the darkness settled in, we heard a hippo sing. No really, he was doing scales. We suspect it might have been the same fella that spread his dung – he was quite deliberate about his trip to the other pool so we suspect he may have been courting the lady hippos up the way. He easily ranged a good 3 octaves in his grunting wah wah wah’s, entertaining the entire campground.

DriveAbout

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.

Cats on our Doorstep

This morning, we took a boat across the river to walk in a part of the park devoid of tracks and vehicles. Despite the lack of human activity, we only saw herds of puku and one snoozing hippo, who got a very wide berth. Again, we walked through tall grass, palms and anthills – all unnerving with the reputation for lions in this area.

Returning to camp for brunch, we spotted four elephants headed into the water downstream from us. Chris and the staff retreat for siesta, so they left us alone to watch. One elephant wanted to cross, and worked at enticing the other three into the water. After much cavorting, splashing and bubbling in the shallows, the elephants organized themselves in a line and crossed the river.

We retreated to the deeper shade of our hut, showered and washed clothes. In Steve’s case, he just stepped into the shower clothes and all. The day was hot enough that everything would be dry before tea time. We flopped on the bed for a nap, when Chris suddenly arrived, quite excited, saying that the staff had spotted lions near the camp. We scrambled for shoes and cameras, quickly trotting out to Chris’s land rover. Both Steven and Gift were there, clearly dressed for comfort, not for serving guests, very excited.

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Just up the riverbank from the camp, near the campground (where we originally planned to stay), we spotted one, two and then three lionesses, all with fresh blood on their faces. A very alert herd of puku gave away their position. In the heat of the day, it was clear that the lions were trying to stay in the limited shade. The largest of the lionesses moved closer to the river, flopping down under a tree in full view of the land rover. We were able to eventually move the land rover into a position to see that one of the puku had become lion lunch.

We returned to camp: it was really hot in the sun. As we walked back into camp from the land rover, it was quite apparent that the hunting lions had actually walked through the camp: there were lion prints all over the paths between the huts and the common area! It was probably only a matter of minutes that Steve and I had missed the lions when we walked back to our hut, after watching the elephants crossing the river. Yikes!!

After tea, we loaded back up in Chris’s land rover to visit the lions. The offal was all that was left in the place where we had first spotted the kill. Each lioness had found a new spot: two were still working on pieces of the kill, while one lounged on her back, belly full, clearly undisturbed by our approach. We watched until it was almost too dark to see.