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Published: August 26th 2011
Me and Basil
As close as I dared get - he may look cute, but the hippo is Africa's most dangerous animal killing around 300 people per year
Greetings, not this time from stunningly beautiful Africa, but from rainy, cloudy and drizzly London Town. Not that I'm complaining, it's great to be back, but the weather as we touched down at Heathrow could have been a bit more welcoming after 6 weeks in the African sun - it was foggy to the extreme.
But yes, writing this message to let people know I is safely arrived home after what has proved to be just an amazing 6 weeks of travel - certainly one of my longest for a while, but not as hard-going as I'd expected. I guess since my younger days of travel, my motto of "eat well, sleep well" as I travel really paid off - paying a bit more money for some decent grub and digs made it an enjoyable trip, rather than a slog, and amazingly my stomach and health held out throughout! What joy!
I'm also writing this message to regale the last few days of my trip, as it'd be somewhat incomplete not to mention the best hotel/lodge of my journey, and some excellent days deep in the African bush, deep in the heart of little-visited western Zambia.
Check out the cute little cub with just one ear!
Last I wrote was from Lusaka, not a particularly disagreeable place as African cities go, but not too stunning either - functional is how I'd best describe it - it gets its job done, but does little else. It did have the most aggressive touts I'd met on my whole journey though, positioning themselves at the Lusaka Central Bus Station, which I thought after years of hardy travel I'd be used to by now, but they still get on my nerves walking right in your path and shouting "where you go? which bus you need? you change dollar? we negotiate good price! mzungu mzungu!!" as I'm trying to locate the whereabouts of the bus I need or the nearest exit out of there (as soon as you vaguely enlist their help by perhaps nodding to one of their insistent questions, you've made a friend for life as they try to grab your backpack and load you onto the bus that's paying them commission to pick up hapless travellers, so I try to completely ignore - no easy feat).
Last Sunday I made my way through the chaos to find my bus taking me to my last destination on
the trip - the stunningly beautiful Kafue National Park. This park, very little known to any African visitors, is actually the 2nd largest in Africa and 5th largest in the world, at just over 22,000 sq km, approximately the same size as Wales. While most safari-goers in Zambia head to the more famous Lower Zambezi or South Luangwa National Parks, I headed here as I heard there were very few tourists, and it had the best chance of spotting the elusive leopard in the whole of Africa, as well as lions, crocs, hippos and the like. I was not disappointed.
I stayed at the amazing Mukambi Safari Lodge, run by a very friendly South African couple, with just 9 chalets and camping space running along the Kafue River, a major Zambezi tributary, and a great restaurant/bar/pool/relaxing area overlooking the water. I thought I'd splash out a bit on my last stay, and it didn't come cheap, but I still got a great discount, and ended up staying 3 nights instead of 2 as the owners made me an offer I just couldn't refuse to stay one more night (just pay for food, not accommodation - nice!).
Mukambi Safari Lodge
place was pure African wilderness, pure bush. In an area the size of Wales, there are so few other tourists that on a safari there you meet not a single other person - compare this to the parks of Kenya, where a single relaxing lion attracts at least 10 minibuses full of camera-toting tourists at any one time. No, this was pure isolation, and you really felt the only people there (I guess we were...!). Given its remoteness and lack of human visitors, the drawback was that the wild animals there were purportedly more aggressive than elsewhere, and I was constantly reminded of this by the many signs of caution all around the camp. To go back to my chalet, around 100m walk from the restaurant area, after sundown, I had to be accompanied by a guard with a torch, with of course no guarantee that we wouldn't meet a lion, elephant or hippo - it was a bit scary. Indeed, there is a resident hippo there called Basil, who is not tame at all, but decides to plonk himself down in the middle of the bar at any time, upon which you have to stay at least 5 metres
Inside My Chalet
Mukambi Safari Lodge
away from him else he complains (hippos kill more people than any other animal in Africa!). And on my second night, at around 2am, I awoke to the startling sound of a pack of lions right outside my chalet growling and roaring. At some point, this turned into some hippos grunting not too far off either, and it took me a while to get back to sleep as I was contemplating an emergency midnight run into my attached bathroom, which didn't have windows large enough for an animal to burst through and eat me. Funny this seems right now, but in the middle of the night, on my own, with nothing but lions around me, I bet you'd be thinking the same!
Not only was the lodging fantastic, and the food out of this world, but the game drives were also a force to be reckoned with. I did two land drives, and on both ones, encountered a lovely pride of lions - one male, two females, and 7 cubs! The second time we met them, on the second day, my hair really stood on end. We were in a completely open-top jeep, with seats you sit on right
on the top, exposed at all sides to any wild animal that may wish to join you. We were constantly assured, though, that the animals see the jeep with the people as one, large animal not to be messed with, rather than lots of weakling little tourists with cameras who'd make a tasty treat for a family of lions - that is, unless you stood up - we had to stay seated all the time and not move too much. This second time we saw the lions, we'd just encountered the two lionesses returning to their cubs from an unsuccessful hunt, and at one point came between them and their startled and scared-looking cubs (I really thought we were goners then!), but then the cubs jumped up and ran to their respective mothers, making lots of happy noises as they met them, to be protected from this fearsome-looking jeep which had come to stare at them. That was really cute to see, but rather nerve-racking! The lionesses incidentally, although aware of us, didn't really bat an eyelid!
On my second day there, I did a walking safari with two guides and an armed park ranger, just in case we
Basil, the Lodge's Resident Hippo
Not at all tame or domesticated...
met any dangerous game (of course what I'd secretly hoped for...!). What we actually saw was an extreme rarity, and a surprise even to the lodge owners - a pack of Wild Dogs hunting - doesn't sound too glamorous, but despite their common-or-garden name, wild dogs are one of Africa's rarest carnivores. Originally numbering 500,000 throughout the whole continent, there are now only 3000-5000 left in perhaps only 14 countries. Seeing them was a real treat, and as they were hunting and stalking a group of antelope too!
And yes!! I finally got to see my favourite animal of all on a river safari I also did there, one which I'd never seen before - a leopard! Couldn't get too close, but certainly saw him for sure - a calm and confident-looking, solitary animal, though I guess this changes when he's on the hunt! In addition of course to everything else, this was certainly worth my whole visit to the Park for sure!
So yeah, finished off my trip in style. Writing now after having returned to Lusaka on Wednesday, then flown out to Johannesburg yesterday and an overnight flight through a tropical storm over Central Africa to
here, Hammersmith, where I am writing this one from the absolute bliss of my own front room!! No noisy internet users to share this space with, no constant power cuts and internet blockages which threaten to delete everything I've written so far, and my own bed waiting for me next door, and a hot bath upstairs!
It's been such an amazing trip, and thanks for reading it. It's hard to imagine that just 48 hours ago I was alone on the side of a little-used road, through one of Africa's least-visited parks with the most amount of wild animals, looking ahead of me for the sight of an approaching bus bound for Lusaka, while cautiously looking over my shoulder for any hint of an approaching lion! After half-an-hour of this nervousness with no traffic at all except for one bus passing in the opposite direction (and certainly no other people daft enough to be waiting alone in the African bush), a Zambian family came along and took me on my last trip back to Lusaka, to complete this African Adventure 2011!
Will sign off for now as I upload my last lot of photos, and take it easy
Enjoying the African Sunset
With a Zambian beer - "Mosi"
for the rest of the day, weekend and week - I think I deserve it!
Thanks again for reading, all the best (until Christmas...!)
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