Ten weeks is not enough. I knew from the beginning that my summer internship would fly by, but I wouldn’t have guessed that at the end of ten weeks I would be so reluctant to leave Lundazi. For most of the summer I talked with my mom about her mid-August arrival in Zambia as if it was something that was too far away to really start dealing with yet. All of a sudden mid-August arrived, and so did my mother (Mami tabuela!). I am thankful for the distraction that was provided by adventure with my mom (the woman who taught me to love traveling)—a welcome diversion from the reality of the end of summer.
The adventures began with mom’s 14 hour bus ride to Lundazi, where she was received warmly by a town who knew who she was before she’d even stepped off the bus (I will miss how quickly word spreads in that town). She arrived with two bottles of South African wine, which was a vast improvement on the boxed rose available in Lundazi. On her first evening in town we walked to the airstrip by my house and drank wine as we watched the setting sun stretch
its powerful light across the horizon. It didn’t take long before mom, newly arrived, could recognize the reason for my reluctance to leave—when something so extraordinary as a beautiful sunset is such an ordinary part of daily life here it’s enough to make you want to stay just a little bit longer.
We had an eventful 36 hours in Lundazi: mom visited Mwase (the research site) and met some of the field workers from the project, I cooked her several “locavore” meals (everything from the sunflower oil used to prepare the Chama rice to the sweet potatoes for the fries were locally farmed and produced, often carried in on the heads of village women who walk to market every day), we wrangled with the tailor to have a lime green chitenge outfit made for mom (and I squeezed in a few last minute dresses), had beers by the river of the Castle Hotel (though we weren’t lucky enough to spot any hippoes), and cruised some of my regular walking routes. By the end of the trip just about everyone we met was calling her “mom” or “mama” and lamenting the briefness of her stay in Lundazi.
morning it was a rushed goodbye to my summer home (I was still eating breakfast when the car came to pick us up—probably a sub-conscious effort to stall the departure) but perhaps it was better that way. In my mind I’ve only left for holiday and will be returning to my peaceful summer home, and it was easier to maintain this illusion in a hurried departure that left little time for dramatic reflection.
We were driven from Lundazi to Chipata by one of my favorite CARE employees. Henry, my husband, is actually married to a beautiful woman named Chalwe (see photos) and has two gorgeous daughters, but had come to call me his second wife, and was thrilled to have “mom” in town. In Chipata we borrowed a friend’s car and crossed the border (just fifteen minutes away) into Malawi—mom gasping and clutching the side of the car for the remaining four hours to Lake Malawi, me trying to figure out how to gauge the width of a car (and not mow over any darting children or skittish goats) when the driver’s seat is located on the right side of the car.
We spent our second night in
Clueless men pretending to grind maize
just so they can have their photos taken
Malawi on Mumbo Island, a private resort island with only 7 huts and a place so beautiful and romantic I’ve devoted a significant amount of time since we first arrived trying to figure out which of my friends should go there on their honeymoon (seriously guys, look it up).
My first moment of true appreciation for the island (and for vacation in general) came the evening we arrived in Mumbo. We watched the sun set across Lake Malawi from a motorboat anchored just off one of the island’s coves as fish eagles (who often sound their calls in pairs) called to us from the shore. It was the next morning while doing yoga on the deck of our hut—which extended over the boulders and crashing waves—that I decided life doesn’t get much better. From downward dog pose I could turn my head right to see the crystal clear waters of the bay or look up to where three fish eagles were circling in the wind. I think it was also in that moment that I (who have been known to more than once put binoculars backwards to my face while trying to bird watch) first really became an appreciator
From Malawi we drove back to Zambia, where we spent another night in Chipata before heading on to South Luangwa National Park. We arrived just in time for an evening game drive, and once again found ourselves watching a sunset with the same make of South African Merlot that we’d had on the airstrip in Lundazi and off the coast of Mumbo Island. This time we toasted from the bank of a curve of the Luangwa River, where hippoes stretched their enormous jaws (as proof of their strength and in defense of their territory) and massive crocodiles cruised through their midst.
In our brief stay in the national park we had incredible luck with animals, who are not only plentiful but fairly accustomed to human presence, allowing for some unusually close viewing. We saw lions, giraffes, zebra, hippoes, crocs, elephants (including one that charged through our camp as I was sunbathing by the pool), impala (by far the most graceful), kuddu (the males have gorgeous curved horns that tragically are the cause of their shortened lifespans—just 7-9 years because of spinal damage), waterbucks, warthogs, and all kinds of birds (the stork being the most stunning). Most
notably we were fortunate enough to have two separate leopard sightings.
On our second evening game drive we found a fully satiated leopard—literally panting from the effort of digestion—sprawled across the limb of a tree. In the undergrowth she had left the bust of a male impala, horns curving elegantly from a forehead where the eyes were still wide open. Blood stains on the lower trunk of the tree told us that the cat—probably unwilling to risk losing her prize to wandering hyenas—had tried in vain to take the kill up into the branches with her.
After dark (and another sunset on the Luangwa river, this time shared with some meandering giraffes) we returned to the same tree to find the leopard again. She had emerged from her food coma and descended from the tree to the undergrowth, where she was energetically working on round two of the impala, at that point reduced to an unidentifiable set of meaty ribs.
With several more hours of driving and two flights we finally found ourselves in Livingstone, the final destination of our trip. The lodge where we stayed on the Zambezi River had phenomenally beautiful views, excellent food, and
very friendly staff. The table was always set as if for Sunset Magazine, and the sound of the falls (“the smoke that thunders”) could be heard from down river.
The falls themselves are, of course, astounding, even in the dry season when the volume of water rushing over the edge is just a fraction of the torrent in the rainy season (whole boats and herds of unlucky elephants have been known to be swept off the edge during the wet season). We were fortunate enough to align our visit with the full moon, which for three nights every month emerges after dark to produce a lunar rainbow that spans the eastern gorge of the falls. The lunar rainbow we saw was a bit muted compared to some of the images you can find online, but the experience of camping out for two hours in the dark as the moon rose behind our backs and set to motion the slow formation of an arc was in itself worth the wait.
With much reluctance we left the lodge in Livingstone (with its outdoor showers and chocolate hippoes every night at the bedside—can somebody please arrange that as part of my
every day life?) and departed for Lusaka. And this is where I find myself now—sitting in the lobby of a hotel, looking at the cool crisp Lusaka wind blow the trees and wishing I wasn’t getting on a plane in a few hours. I know I won’t want to be here in about a month, when the hot season kicks in, but if I could just go back to July in Lundazi—I wouldn’t mind a few more months of easy living.
P.S. We mostly used mom's camera for the game drives so for more extensive animal pics you'll have to be her friend on facebook.
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