Published: October 7th 2009October 6th 2009
My first elephant
...to be followed by a million other photos of elephants. I got slightly carried away!
Crikey...it’s now 9 months since we returned from our ‘Big Trip’. Whilst it’s been great getting reacquainted with family, friends and normal life again, in the last couple of months it’s fair to say that I've been in need of a wee holiday. Sadly poor Ant had to stay at home and work, so I had the novelty of travelling solo again. Although I wasn’t particularly alone for long, as a quick nosey on the internet for inspiration had me booking on a ‘Big Game Safari’ in Malawi and Zambia with the travel company Explore.
So after a quick transfer in Nairobi, I arrived in Lilongwe, which is the capital of Malawi. Rather conveniently I was on the same flight as most of the Explore group, so was able to cadge a lift with them to our first night’s camping spot. I’ve done a couple of Explore trips before, and have found that overall the group are generally a really good bunch. It’s quite a diverse range of backgrounds and ages, but what seems to be a common feature is a laid back attitude and a love of travelling. Explore are obviously doing something right, as quite a few of
the group were well into double figures in terms of the number of trips they’d taken with them.
On the first day we were straight out to the Lilongwe Nature Sanctuary, which is slap bang in the middle of the city. It’s a worthy project, with the aim being to rehabilitate the animals in a protected place, ultimately getting them back out into the wild. Sadly some of the residents will always have to be in captivity, but in these instances they have quite a large area allocated to them, which gives them the nearest they will get to a semi wild experience.
The next day we drove along the Mozambique border to Liwonde National Park. The campsite was in a beautiful spot on the banks of the River Shire and we arrived to find warthogs grazing on the lawn. There were also quite a few hippos out in the lake, which would give the odd disconcerting snort. We were warned that at night, the hippos ventured out of the water, and that them and elephants could be found grazing around the campsite!! Not keen for that close a face to face encounter, I set about ensuring that
Another example of how cruel humans can be...
...this poor little baby has a snare caught round his leg.
I was fully dehydrated by nightfall - with not a drop of liquid passing my lips post 5pm. The intention being that I would not need to get up to go to the loo. In the end I spent most of the night wide awake anyway, panicking about every little sound, expecting that any moment a giant elephant foot would position itself on my tent. In the morning I discovered that my paranoia was actually justified as there was a large mound of elephant poo just outside my tent door. Christ!! I was brave though and just about managed to stop myself shouting ‘Get me out of here’ and upgrading to one of the more solid looking lodge chalets.
The following day was our first proper day of safari action with a game drive in the morning, followed by a sunset boat trip in the late afternoon. The rhythm of safari life quickly became clear. Get up early for a drive, laze around all afternoon, then head out again at sunset....underlined with massive quantities of food. Meat at breakfast, meat at lunch, meat at dinner...and so forth. Still, given I’d just lugged myself round the Great North Run half
marathon the weekend before, I decided that such lazy decadence was well earned. And what a joy going on safari is. Having only seen elephants in zoos or as tourist transporters in India and Asia, it was really exciting, if a little bit scary, to see groups of them together in the wild. As well as the elephant, there were also baboons, monkeys, antelopes, bushbucks and an incredible variety of birds. We were lucky to have a keen twitcher in the group, with a big pair of knockers (binoculars) and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the birds, who gave the local guides a run for their money. And then, there were also hippos and crocodiles to be seen in the actual river. I quite quickly decide that it’s probably not advisable to swim, as I don't harbour any cannibalistic fantasies about being someone else’s dinner.
After an amazing couple of days at Liwonde, we headed to Cape Maclear, which is on the banks of Lake Malawi. And, what a bloody tease Lake Malawi is!! At that point of the lake, there is a massive issue with bilharzia, which is a little parasite that lives on snails and can get into
I may be a baby...
...but I'm going to make my ears really big to try and frighten you away
your blood stream via cuts/scratches. So despite the incredible heat, I decided that it probably wasn’t a good idea to swim there. After being sweated out of the tent at 6am, the only advisable course of action was to find a beer, a bit of shade and sit down with a good book on the beach. I say beach, because despite it being a lake, it really feels like you’re by the sea. It’s very hard to get your head around the fact that it’s fresh water and not salty. There’s sand and a clear horizon in the distance and when we moved up to Senga Bay there were also waves and people surfing.
Activity was pretty minimal at Lake Malawi. We went out for a sunset cruise one evening, where we fed fish eagles, which was pretty cool. Then the next morning we ventured into the village en mass, to be greeted by vast numbers of the most gorgeous smiley kids, all asking for their photo to be taken. I sincerely hope that they didn’t mistake us for Madonna and her entourage, out selecting her next child for adoption, in a ‘It could be You’ if you’re lucky
enough style. Yes, one lucky Malawian child could be selected to come and live in my big house, looked after by a nanny, whilst I swan around with my latest toy boy, and we all pretend that we’re making every effort to ensure that you have a normal life, so that you don’t grow up into a dysfunctional adult, who’s confused about what their role in life should be as they’ve had every ‘privilege’ - but not enough stability.
But anyway, Madonna rant over, our sedate, chilled out paradise was to be ‘disturbed’ by the arrival of a group of male models who were on a shoot for a German clothing company. It was widely regarded as a bit of a result, by the female members of the group, as all snoozing and book reading ceased, sun glasses were readjusted and prime positions were acquired to observe this spectacle. What a treat, as the beautiful young men put on a rather fine show of Frisbee playing and press up competitions on the beach in their rather small swim wear. Their arrival certainly brightened things up.
Our final night at Lake Malawi was spent at Senga Bay, which ended
...they all seem to be quite big, but usually you only see their ears and eyes peeping out of the water
up being quite eventful. I awoke at 4am to a bit of a commotion. The wind was howling and my tent had pretty much collapsed on one side. As I staggered out bleary eyed, I was confronted with my neighbour in his pants, and a couple of other people, effectively trying to hold his tent down so that it didn’t blow away. The only course of action was to dismantle the tent and abandon any thoughts of further sleep.
Thankfully we had a long driving day ahead of us, on bone rattling roads, over the border into Zambia...which meant much aborted snoring and head lulling, as we all tried to catch up on our missed sleep. Our destination was South Luangwa Valley National Park. We arrived at camp in the late afternoon and as we were putting up our tents, 3 elephants decided that they fancied a stroll through the campsite. Wonky as one of the elephants is known as, due to her wonky tusks, is known to have a bit of a temper and has already featured on u-tube smashing up cars in a lodge down the road. It was a crazy hour or so, as us naive
tourists got far too close for photo taking, which seemed to annoy Wonky somewhat, almost culminating in her charging the bar, if not for a well placed catapult shot.
The next couple of days were spent on safari, which can only be described as bloody fantastic. We were lucky to see some fabulous animals - zebras, water buffalos, hippos, hyenas, elephants, bushbuck, mongoose, civet, kudus and impalas. A few highlights stand out though:
1) GIRAFFES!! - they were at the top of my list of things I really wanted to see. Such amazing creatures, with their elegant necks and long gangly legs. I’m utterly in awe of them.
2) PACK OF 16 LIONS - we were lucky enough to encounter this pack on both of our night safaris. It was pretty mind blowing to see them stalking through the undergrowth in search of food. On both nights they steath-like passed our truck, and for a pant wetting 2 minutes one of them stopped a half metre from me and stared directly in my direction. An utterly terrifying moment.
3) 3 BABY LION CUBS - these beauties had been left by the river to fend for themselves, whilst the
Beautiful Lake Malawi
Didn't manage to get a photo of the boys who could also be described as quite beautiful
adults in the pack, went off to hunt. They were in the same spot for the 2 days we were there. I do hope someone remembered to collect them at some point.
4) 4 SPOTTED HYENAS SQUABBLING OVER THE REMAINS OF A CARCASS - and, what funny looking creatures they are, they almost seem to be smiling at you. One of my favourite images of the trip is watching these guys within metres of the truck, with the giraffes curiously looking on, as the sun set.
5) HIPPO AT DINNER - on our final night of camping, we had all sat down for dinner when a huge hippo appeared through a gap in the fence about 3 metres from us. Not ideal, given that they are highly dangerous, tending to charge and chop their target in half with their massive mouths if they are upset. I think it’s fair to say, I didn’t handle myself with much poise or composure, shooting straight out of my seat, nearly knocking the chap next to me off his seat in my haste to escape. Thankfully a wiser person than me in the group, suggested that it was probably advisable if we all sat
down, so as not to appear too aggressive...and the hippo was safely shuuued away.
All too soon, the tour came to an end and we headed back to Lilongwe for our final dinner. As we sat down, a couple of bottles of bubby appeared and were shared around. Then unexpectedly one of our group, Ron, stood up to deliver the sweetest tribute to his wife Pam, and award her with a gold medal. It was their Golden Wedding Anniversary....50 years!! It was a really lovely end to a great 2 weeks.
I had one final day in Malawi, so took myself off to the Dzalanyama Forest Lodge, which was about an hour out of Lilongwe for a bit of peace and tranquillity. I was the only guest and felt like lady of the manor, with 3 members of staff in attendance. It was in a really beautiful spot over-looking a stream and I had a nice walk around the area and into a nearby village. I had a nosey around the primary school, where there are dorms for some of the kids who live too far away to commute every day. There were 6 girls living there at
Elephant in camp
I think they just wanted to help us put our tents up
that time and they are responsible for looking after themselves, including preparing their food etc. All this they do, without any adult supervision, with someone from their family popping along every week or so with more food. Unbelievably grown up for primary school kids.
Compared to 22 months travelling, this trip was very short and sweet, but nonetheless very rewarding. Will hopefully be back at some point!
There are more photos below