Zambia, South Luangwa and reflections on Malawi

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April 2nd 2014
Published: April 11th 2014
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Entering Zambia

Once the immigration formalities were completed, it was clearly visible on entry into Zambia that it was more developed than Malawi. I came to the conclusion of this in a matter of minutes. As we passed through the Eastern Province of Zambia, which is the most deprived region of this country - we saw signs, good roads and decent sound infrastructure - all of the school children we saw had identical uniforms too. This certainly isn't the case in Malawi. On arrival into Chipata, the town boasted various supermarket chains and banks, plus many other amenities. For a small town, it was quite developed, perhaps not surprising though given it's isolation from the rest of Zambia. One other noticeable difference was the number of cars on the road, in Malawi you got used to driving miles without seeing another car but this wasn't the case in Zambia.

As far as I know, Zambia has been reasonably stable for a number of years now and corruption certainly isn't as rife as other Sub Saharan countries such as Malawi and Zimbabwe. Zambia is also mineral rich in the Copperbelt region - close to the DRC border and tourism is constantly on the increase with the country containing Vic Falls, Lusaka and South Luangwa. The towns and cities are growing at a rapid rate which is good to see - a growing middle class in any country will help decrease poverty. I only hope the government don't forget about the rural population as these people are living in abject poverty.

South Luangwa N.P

Marula lodge - tranquil, peaceful and in a stunning location overlooking the Luangwa river where hippo's and croc's roam free was my home for 4 nights in South Luangwa - boasted as the best safari experience in Africa. My time at Marula was spent enjoying the fabulous views across the river and the magical sunsets which could be seen on the horizon, as well as lapping up the great services and facilities on offer - of course, one cannot forget being within 10 feet of a hippo which was grazing by the restaurant on my final night, plus the many baboons and bushbuck roaming around at will in the lodge. Incredible.

Morning game drive

Having already done two game drives on the Nyika Plateau in Malawi, I was still incredibly excited to see the many animals which inhabit S.L - especially as this park boasts a huge elephant population. Also, Nyika doesn't inhabit any of the big 5, hence the adrenaline I had before the start of the drive. Pias was our guide and had been working in the park for 9 years - he expertly navigated us around, staying well clear of other vehicles and generally taking a different route. The scenery and different landscapes were spectacular and we saw many many animals which was truly wonderful.

Game: we saw many impala and zebra grazing in large numbers, baboons being playful as always, puku, warthog who certainly aren't the best looking animals you can see in the park, ELEPHANTS - we saw a lone adult male looking rather solemn and a small family of 4 and then 5, plus a few hippos and crocodiles who lined the banks of the river. Although most of them were seen in the river due to the heat.

Birds - Wow, I've never been a huge bird lover but I could certainly become one given the diverse bird life in South Luangwa. The colours, shapes, sizes and configuration of the birds was fascinating. Again we saw; vultures, various eagles, great heron, kingfishers, stork, starling, lapwing, great egret and more.

Landscapes and topography

The park stretches some 9050 sq km and its altitude ranges from 600-1000m. Given its nearly the end of the rainy season, the vegetation and grass was very high, so too were the lagoons and the river. The park covers a huge area and has various landscapes which can be seen - all of which, inhabit different animals

1. River and marshland

2. Dense forests generally near the gravel roads/paths

3. Open grassland (often where many of the game were seen grazing)

4. Flat open spaces - more sand than grass.

All of these provided beautiful scenery and different chances of seeing game. One of the highlights was being able to see the animals in their natural habitat, with the only disturbance being that of our vehicle. Also of importance is poaching - Pias said that it is a very rare phenomenon in South Luangwa which is pleasing to hear given the problems in other countries such as Kenya, South Africa and Botswana. In terms of poaching, 0.5%!i(MISSING)s the official figure for the N.P which is remarkable. Hopefully, the other major parks can improve their anti-poaching methods and decrease the trade of ivory - which is wholly unethical and quite frankly barbaric. Furthermore, these animals are incredible creatures who have inhabited and lived in these environments across Sub Saharan Africa for centuries. It's only now with the increasing impact of globalisation, growing populations and threats from humans that these animals are under threat.

Evening game drive

Game: saw all of the above but it was the many sightings of elephants heading towards the Luangwa river which will be memories I keep forever, it was brilliant. In total, we must have seen approx 50 elephants on this particular drive. We saw a huge family of 22 including a newly born - plus the dominant adult male mating with the sexually active females which I'm told, is an incredibly rare sight. We watched on for a good 30 minutes here. Further down the path, there was a group of 15 or so adult males grazing in the vegetation and we saw many others travelling towards the river.

Also, other animals seen; 2 hyena (both alone) - looking for leopard kills as they only scavenge. One past our truck as we were enjoying a sunset snack but didn't pose any threat, although it was initially quite frightening seeing it walk past us. The hippo's we saw this time around were out of the water - grazing on grass. Apparently they need to consume some 100kg of grass per night - quite incredible.

Reflections on Malawi

Since arriving in Malawi I have been blessed by the generosity and the friendly nature of the people I have met. It is no wonder this country is termed "the warm heart of Africa" as well as "Africa for beginners" as in many ways, it is! Malawi might be the 4th poorest country in the world (although I don't particularly agree with that) but the people here are very welcoming and on the whole many make an effort to communicate in English with you. In regards to spoken English, it is pleasing to see how many speak good oral English, especially those in rural areas. Malawians are also very resourceful and hard working people which is no wonder given that the country has an agricultural based economy. Maize and cassava form the staple crop here and it is grown by many and those in rural areas rely on this every year as it is their only source of food. Hopefully in the coming years, new crops can be added so that farmers aren't reliant upon one crop. As in the tropics, all it takes is for the weather patterns to change slightly and it can have devastating impacts. Furthermore, the people here have many skills which they refine at young ages. Young people here don't have the luxuries of home where children are monicodled as they are expected to help prepare meals, cook, collect water and so on.

Malawi is also a beautiful country with some stunning scenery - Lake Malawi is just paradise and the tropical climate provides the perfect weather to enjoy oneself. Volunteering at Butterfly for just under 6 months was a combination of many things - challenging, rewarding, exciting, satisfying but most of all - it was a pleasure to be involved in such good community work where the locals are benefiting (in various ways) from the projects which exist. It was also great to integrate myself into a different culture and learn another language. I have many memories which I will cherish for a long time.

Backpackers in Malawi

Since arriving in Nkhata Bay, I have been amazed at the number of people travelling at anyone time and this is in a small touristy town in Malawi. Having now arrived in Zambia - it is again the same scene. Many people are travelling across the length of Africa, cycling from A to B, volunteering or travelling around the world.

Here are some of the trips people I have met are currently on:

1. 3 months in South America, Africa and Asia

2. Cycling from Malawi to Yemen

3. Cycling from Cape Town to Cairo

4. Driving from the Netherlands to Cape Town

and much really is astonishing in this economic climate how many people are travelling. Many backpackers are also repeat travellers...who just can't stop.

Until next time - Zikomo

Next stop - Livingstone and Victoria Falls!

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