Tag Archive | Zambia

Getting Ready – Zambia Bound

Safari gearThe signs are everywhere: it’s quite evident that we are getting ready for another “big trip.” There are stacks of travel books and maps on the coffee table. My weekend wardrobe is shifting to khaki, green and brown. There’s a crate by the garage door slowly filling with things like insect repellent, mosquito netting, batteries and flashlights. We are six weeks out from a trip we have been planning essentially since we returned, thoroughly enchanted by our trip to Botswana, five years ago. This trip is to figure out if we were just enchanted by our careful handling by Wilderness Safaris, or if we were enchanted by the land and people of Africa. So, now we are more than ready to find out!

Steve’s edit on how it REALLY happened: Our trip to Botswana was magical, life-changing, and prohibitively expensive. In 2005 the trip had cost $17,000 for 13 days in Africa. That’s serious money for a sort-of-kind-of youngish at heart couple putting a daughter through college. On our return we were faced with wanting to go back but not being able to afford it. So, we looked into self drive and an even longer trip. When it came to “where” in Africa, I was more conservative than Carolyn; I suggested South Africa or Namibia where we could self drive with less edgy adventure. Carolyn (not the one who would drive, fix flats, fight off lions bare-handed, or walk the bush if we became stranded) nixed those two countries as too tame. I suggested Botswana, considered a mid-range adventure. Nope. Been there. So it was off to explore a country in the Zs… Zambia.

To read this story from the beginning of the journey, start here, and then read forward.

Steve’s Thoughts

A day almost never goes by that I don’t think of Africa. Compared to our first trip to the Okavango Delta in Botswana in 2005, this trip was far more adventurous.

Our trip to Botswana was pure “frosting”… we never saw anything except the highlights of Africa… nothing except what Wilderness Safaris wanted us to see. It was as if a visitor to the US had flown into Yellowstone, then to Glacier, then to Yosemite, and then home.

Africa lost some of its luster on this trip — it’s not ALWAYS pretty. But we learned so much more this time. When we described our itinerary to Americans before our journey they commented, “You are nuts, you’ll die.” Some Africa travelers, when realizing we planned to drive through urban and rural Africa asked, “Why would you want to do that? Just stay in the Parks.” Our itinerary is not for everyone.

It was a car camping trip… with occasional lions and elephants in camp.

What would we do differently? We’d probably camp nearly the entire trip. This trip still cost more than we can really afford, about $19,000 for 21 days (including everything: travel doctor visit, travel insurance, airfares, meals, Rover, safari camps, tips, gifts, souvenirs, everything). We could have saved around $5000 by forgoing the safari lodge stays. We were also too shy to stop at local markets or bars, or even roadside vegetable stalls. Next time, we’d immerse ourselves a tiny bit more.

What’s next? We don’t know. We want to experience migration but we are totally turned off by the stories of hordes of people and Rovers. We have little interest in the experience of being another Rover with ten or even twenty more safari vehicles surrounding a pride of lions. We’ve heard of a place with tens of thousands migrating wildebeest — and no one else is there. Oh, and we’re not tellin’ where…yet.

So we want the wild Africa. And the freedom to be on our own schedule. We’re probably hooked on self drive. Now I just have to figure out how to deal with those damned tsetse flies!

And to all the guys out there planning a trip: Beware of the Tribal Textiles Vortex; it will suck your wife in with you attached and wring your wallet dry!

And, I luuuvvv you Rover!

Bird Sightings: Livingstone, Kafue, South Luangwa

P1010038White-breasted cormorant
African darter
Goliath heron
Purple heron
Grey heron
Black-headed heron
Great egret
Little egret
Cattle egret
Black heron
Yellow-billed stork
Marabou stork
Saddle-billed stork
African openbill
Glossy ibis
African sacred ibis
Spur-winged goose
Egyptian goose
White-backed vulture
African fish eagle
Brown snake-eag;e
Wahlberg’s eagle
African harrier-hawk
Southern pale chanting goshawk
Black kite
Yellow-billed kite
Black-shouldered kite
Lizard buzzard
Red-billed francolin
Helmeted guineafowl
African finfoot
African jacana
Grey crowned crane
Wattled crane
White-crowned lapwing
African wattled lapwing
Blacksmith lapwing
Common sandpiper
Spotted thick-knee
African skimmer
Double-banded sandgrouse
Cape turtledove
Emerald-spotted wood-dove
Namaqua dove
Black-cheeked lovebird
Schalow’s turaco
Grey go-away bird
Pel’s fishing owl
African scops owl
Square-tailed nightjar
Giant kingfisher
Pied kingfisher
Malachite kingfisher
Brown-hooded kingfisher
White-fronted bee-eater
Southern carmine bee-eater
Little bee-eater
Lilac-breasted roller
Racket-tailed roller
Southern ground hornbill
African grey hornbill
Red-billed hornbill
Green wood-hoopoe
Black-collared barbet
Lesser striped swallow
Wire-tailed swallow
Forked-tail drongo
Black-headed oriole
Pied crow
Arrow-marked babbler
Dark-capped bulbul
Yellow-bellied greenbul
White-browed robin-chat
Collared flycatcher
Chinspot batis
African pied wagtail
Common fiscal
White-crested helmet-shrike
Black-backed puffback
Meve’s starling
Red-billed oxpecker
Scarlet-chested sunbird
Variable sunbird
White-browed sparrow-weaver
Red-headed weaver
Red-billed quelea
Village indigobird
Red-billed firefinch
Blue waxbill
Green-winged pytilia

Leaving Zambia

Noooo! We don’t wanna go!! But, we’re out of reservations, and we’re expected back at our respective work desks on Monday.

P1010197Despite the extra early hour, Zhila (the camp manager) and Doc (who really runs the place) are up to make coffee and see us off. Our new friend Kelvin is behind the wheel, taking us back to Mfuwe Lodge for our airport shuttle. The two-hour and a half hour drive back to the lodge is like a scrapbook of all that we loved about this trip: the spectacular sunrise and it’s cloak of colors, fish eagles and bee eaters and yellow billed kites, zebras, warthogs, puku, kudu, impala, giraffe, water buffalo and elephants all put in an appearance. And suddenly around the corner, hanging out in a sausage tree next to the road: a leopard, looking mildly annoyed to be discovered, averting his gaze to that “you can’t see me” kind of cat-attitude.

We munch a quick breakfast at the lodge, although it is clear that they are ready to fold up as soon as we are done. We gulp down more coffee, and get loaded into a van with a chatty couple returning to the US. They are disturbing our mood, and we rudely ignore them. We are not happy or excited to be going home. We have caught that scent on the Zambian breeze and we are anxious to hold onto it as long as we can.

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.

Last Camp

It’s early, and they seem to have worked out most of the kinks in our requested walk. All of our companions at Chindeni were departing, and getting guests on to their next destination is a logistical pretzel. We could walk to Chamilandu, but our chalet would not be ready, as we would be overlapping brunch with the guests currently there. No problem – we’re still on vacation.

We drove a few kilometers before we start walking – I’m not sure what hazards prevented us from walking the entire distance, but it was nice to approach on foot, and to walk with a destination. Arriving a little early, we sat out on the sand on top of the riverbank, enjoying cold drinks and the view. Brunch was served at the camp’s hide – a spectacular braai and accompanying salads prepared by Chef George.

After a short wait in the lounge area, we moved into our open chalet. With walls on three sides and the front open to the river in the sleeping area, the bathroom was open to the sky, with an outdoor shower and just enough walls to give us privacy. I missed the hammocks at Chindeni, but the open air was better than the somewhat stuffy tent. Perched on the Luangwa River bank, and up in the canopy of the surrounding trees, this place was perfect!

P1000855Our escorts for our evening game drive were our guide Gilbert, ZAWA scout David, and teabearer Mulengwe. While a ZAWA scout is not required for the evening drives, David opted to join us rather than hang around the camp. Gilbert seemed to have a specific sundowner spot in mind, but as we approached, we saw that another group had snagged the spot. Gilbert turned the vehicle to head down river when he suddenly spotted a Pels Fishing Owl. Generally a rare bird to spot, some people make many trips and never see one. And we saw this one just because we were bumped out of a sundowner spot – very cool! We also caught up with a hyena that settled down to crunch on some leftover bone. Back at camp, George whipped up another great dinner, and we capped off the day catching moths to feed the tree frogs that had taken up residence in our bathroom sinks.

Walking – Steve’ 2-cents

At least part of the reason we chose Zambia was the allure of the “walking safari.” Most say that walking safaris started in South Luangwa and now the concept is spreading across Africa.

We found that walking was a great way to learn about the smaller things. We generally saw a bit less, but we learned more. It is definitely a thrill to negotiate a terrain full of elephants and other game all jostling for space.

And, the reality of self drive is that there is very little exercise. You get in the car in the morning and drive for hours on end. Some safari camps have associated campgrounds and often campers can choose meals and activities a la carte.

The guide is important: At one camp we had a great guide who was eager to give and let us sop in information. We left the camp early and stayed out for about three and a half hours. At another camp the guide was shall we say – less engaged and spent most of his time speaking local language with the ZAWA scout. And we always returned early.

Finding Lions

Tea time comes and some of the guests are anxious to see lions. We are anxious to see lions too, but we know we will see them when we see them…or not. But, some guests are departing the next day, so Peter radios around to hear that there are lions across the river from another Bushcamp Company camp. We head down to the camp, where the manager graciously greets us, as her guests are out on their own evening game drive. Sure enough, there are four lions lolling on the riverbank, the same color as the sand. While not exactly an in-the-moment sighting, it is still fun to watch lions do what lions do: yawn, scratch and nap. We have another good evening drive, and return to another great dinner, minus the two honeymooners, who get their own private dinner down on the beach of the lagoon. Our plumbing is still intact, and the night is much cooler – better for sleeping. Tomorrow we walk to our last camp of the trip. There appears to be a bit of maneuvering – it’s not clear that everyone got the memo that we wanted to walk from one camp to another. No worries – we’re confident that it will be worked out in the morning. We pack up our clean laundry, ready for another morning on the ground with Peter.