Our next part of the trip would take us from Malawi's capital, across the border at Mchinji and into Zambia. We set off from Lilongwe at 6.30am (a lie in compared to previous days!). The border crossing was straight forward. As a lucky holder of an Irish passport, I didn't have to pay for a Zambian visa, much to the British passport holders' annoyance. Joe (also an Irish passport holder) and I sniggered in a corner heeheeheeee. From the border we headed for South Luangwa National Park. South Luangwa is so named because of the river that runs through it: the Luangwa river. It rises in north eastern Zambia and flows south for 800km through the Luangwa valley. It was now at the end of rainy season, so the river was full to the brim. Ox-bow lakes are a major feature in the park also, as the river is continually changing its path. This brought me back to geography at school....at long last, I would finally be able to see an ox-bow lake in the flesh! The abundance of ox-bow lakes creates a lush and beautiful landscape for flora and fauna to grow. We arrived at Croc Valley Camp which, so
aptly named, is a beautiful camp set under a tangle of trees lining the riverbank. Arriving here had to be one of the highlights of the trip so far. There's nothing like arriving at such a stunning location after a long and sweaty bus journey, sitting back and enjoying the view (and grunts of hippos) with a cold beer in hand. As usual, we set up camp; we were advised to pitch our tents with enough space in between so that hippos could wander through during the night....(!!!) When I asked for a rough estimate of hippo wandering space, Rich merely laughed and said it depended on the age and sex of the hippo. Meg and I proceeded to set up our tent a good 20 metres from the next. Later in the afternoon, Meg and Phil went on an evening game drive, but the rest of us chilled by the lovely pool. I went with the pool option, as we would be having game drives the following day. As I was relaxing by the pool, innocently munching on an apple minding my own business, a monkey lept up onto my sunlounger and whipped the apple core from my hand!
The little devil!
Later that evening, Seb and I were on meal duty, so we helped Ronald to prepare a delicious meal of guacamole, salsa and tortillas. Also, it was Meg's birthday, so we all (as had previously been discussed and planned on our long bus journeys) dressed up as safari animals in prep for a safari birthday party!! We used face paints, balloons and bin bags to make our costumes. I was an elephant, so Meghan kindly painted my face (which kept having to be topped up due to the sweat factor) and I used a long balloon for my trunk! Others dressed as leopards, lions, zebra, rhinos and flamingos. By the time Meg arrived back from her game drive the party was ready to go! We ate our delicious dinner, drank Malawi gin, ate chocolate cake and played games. It was a memorable occasion!
The next morning we were up early for our first game drive. We were in an open truck - ie no windows or doors. This gave us fantastic views of the wildlife. We saw a huge variety, including puku (antelope), bush buck, Thornicroft giraffe, Burchell zebra, lots of
elephants (and calves too!), crocodiles, hippos (one trotted along the road in front of us at one point) mongoose, monitor lizards, tree squirells, empala, hammercop, woodland kingfisher, white-fronted bee-eaters, helmeted guinea fowl and yellow billed stork (Yes, I took a notebook and wrote down each animal we saw). The last 5 are types of bird. The birdlife in South Luangwa is one of the best in the world, because of the aundance of fish. Birds often mass together and have 'fish parties'; pelicans and yellow billed storks are the greediest and stuff themselves so much and become so heavy that they can't fly (true story). The drive lasted 4 hours and we had time to stop halfway by the river to drink tea and eat biscuits and admire the crocs basking in the sun. We arrived back to camp in time for lunch (woo hoo!) of sandwiches, salad and fresh juice. Then it was siesta time 😊 We relaxed by the pool (I was on monkey watch this time) and contemplated life (nature seems to do that to you!)
Later that evening we went on our second game drive. South Luangwa is one of the few national
I am the image of an elephant, right?!
parks in Africa to offer night game drives. As the sun was beginning to set, we drove off towards the opposite side of the park where there had been a sighting of a family of lions (all the safari vehicles have radios to inform each other when they come across cool things), so we speedily drove in the directions of the pride! We went completely off road, through trees, across streams....and finally came across a lioness hiding behind a bunch of thick trees. Our guide had spotted her from maybe 50 metres away. The lioness didn't appear to want to move and our view was limited. However, after a few minutes of hushed whispers between passengers, the lioness got up onto her feet and started to walk......towards our van. Heart was beginning to thump a little faster now....then another few more lionesses appeared from behind the trees and also decided to walk in our direction. Then the van moved, not because the lionesses were walking towards us, but because the driver wanted to get the best view for us! We were driving alongside the lionesses now, towards the main road, to where they were headed. Just watching them walk was
incredible - their sheer size, shoulder bones moving and articulating with each step, their big bear-like faces, their big paws padding so quietly along the long grass. We were all stunned into silence. And then......3 beautiful cubs appeared from behind the shrubbery!! They were bouncing around in the grass and jumping on top of each other. They were so so cute to watch. And then....a huge male appeared, bringing up the rear of the pride. He was similar to the females in manner of movement and grace, except with a sheer mane around his neck. The cubs were trying to jump on his mane, but he was having none of it. He walked alongside our vehicle, so close to my non-door side, that I could have reached out and patted his head if I had wanted to. I didn't, however. Instead, I leant across Hannah who was sitting next to me and quietly squealed whilst also squeezing her arm so tightly I probably nearly broke it, and she put her arms across me to shield me from a potential lion pounce! I have never been so close to a lion in my life. I have been to Kenya where we
were just as close to lions, but we had the protection of windows and doors on our vehicles!. Our guide had already informed us beforehand that it would be extremely unlikely a lion would attack a vehicle, as the lion sees only the vehicle as one foreign metal object and cannot differentiate between its contents, i.e. it can't recognise that there are actually people in the vehicle. So unless a person makes a sudden movement or gets out of the vehicle, we are safe. So I trusted this knowledge and tried to keep as still as possible in my lean!!!! The male who had been walking alongside us then went over to a little oasis across from the main road and was staring into it....this was a classic lion king moment!! When Simba looks into the water and Rafiki tells him to 'Remember who you are'.....?? You know what I mean right? Anyway, my heart did a little back flip, it was so excited! After said lion spent a while looking at himself in the water (Mufasa didn't appear in the clouds, in case you are wondering) he wandered on along after the females. They were off on their night
hunt, so we left them in peace and carried on with our drive. Nothing could top that, so the rest of the drive was spent pretending to be excited by yet more gazelle and zebra, who actually, looked quite cool in the dark.
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