Jon and I had the pleasure of going to South Luangwa, Zambia over the Malawian Independence Day weekend and man, I tell you – safari NEVER gets old. We were super excited about this trip because Jon had already been to this park twice and it was known to be a place where you’re bound to see a leopard. (Which is normally hard to do because leopards are solitary, usually hunt in the evening/early in the morning and like to sleep in trees. So…) Jon had also shared that it was one of his favorite parks. So on the day of the trip, we were bustling with anticipation. We drove to the Kiboko Safari office in town, checked in (after filling out a different form than what they’d e-mailed to us in advance to complete, erm) and got on the bus. It was a pretty modest bus but we were comfy and settled in for the 6-hour trip. We were on the journey with a group of young ladies from Canada, two ladies from Japan and a few other Americans, most of whom were just in Lilongwe for the summer… Big, fun group! On the way, our ‘lunch’ was three pieces of bread with cheese, tomato and lettuce in-between, a juice that was part-milk (Jon and I declined) and some potato chips. When we got to the border with Zambia, we had to get an exit stamp on the Malawian side and then our driver drove us about 3 meters to the Zambian side, so we could get in line for our visas. Jon and I complicated things a bit because we wanted a multi-entry visa – we’re going to Vic Falls in August! – so that we could save $70 each… They, at first, didn’t know what we were talking about and once we showed them the reservation confirmations for our next trip, they agreed. We got our passports back and they’d provided us with a double-entry visa. (DOH!) We explained that we’d be entering Zambia three times and this wouldn’t be sufficient. (Especially since multi- and double-entry visas cost the same!) They crossed out ‘double,’ wrote ‘multi’ and signed it. (I give it a 10% chance that it’s accepted.) We got back on the bus and made it to the park in short order.
Once we arrived, we were given an orientation by the manager and unpacked. The camp was split up into tents and a dining area that are managed by Kiboko and chalets, a pool, a bar and a restaurant that are owned by Track and Trail Camp, who, I guess, rent the land to Kiboko. So, we set up a tab at T & T’s bar, got drinks and got ready for the first drive. Within the first two hours, we saw elephants, tons of antelope, two male lion brothers (Ginger and Garlic, for their fur colors and spicy personalities), a pride of lionesses with one of their cubs, and a leopard. UM, NOT BAD, SOUTH LUANGWA. NOT BAD. Our truck was full and we had four ladies from the UK, three Americans and us. Jon was the only guy and he was quickly praised by everyone for his great spotting skills. (He is quite delightful.) We got back to camp, had dinner and then went to the camp next door to watch the Belgium vs. Brazil World Cup game. We usually like to unplug on safari but it’s a special time of year (and Jon is a Brazil fan)… It was really nice because we could just go through the fence and 10 meters later, we were there! (We did have to get walked by a guard, though, because elephants, hippos, etc. can just walk through the camp.) We went to bed, wiped, and listened to the hippos in the river below as we fell asleep.
The next morning, bright and early, we woke up, had breakfast and got on the truck for our drive. We saw a ton of stuff and enjoyed every minute of it. (There were an exceptional amount of crocodiles and hippos along the river and we loved watching them hang out while having our tea and coffee break.) After the drive, we got back to camp, had lunch and went to the camp’s bar. Jon and I like to play games during the down-time on safari (no internet + pretty setting = the perfect board game scenario) and we had a nice couple of hours to play. (During the game we had drinks, tea and coffee and the nastiest chocolate brownie we’d ever had. Seriously, it was like rubber. Shockingly, they didn’t charge us for it.)
We got ready for the evening drive, grabbing a few hard ciders from the bar for the journey. (Some safaris bring alcohol on the drives for you – this one was BYOB, we gathered…) Right off the bat, our guide got a call that a leopard was nearby, hunting. We looked for him for a little bit and one of the ladies in our truck, Danielle, miraculously found him in the brush, totally incognito. It was amazing. We proceeded to follow him around while he seemed to be working on something. It was thrilling. (And he was beautiful. I couldn’t get a good picture because he was constantly moving but he was a young male, already huge, with a beautiful white belly and the most pronounced white tip on his tail. Gorgeous.) We also got to see some amazing nocturnal animals that are super hard to find – a civet, a genet, a family of porcupines (man, baby porcupines are incredible!!) and a bushbaby. We totally scored! We got back to the camp, exhilarated, and had dinner before going to bed.
We found out that there was a way to add on a morning drive the next day. (The original plan was to leave at 7:00 am, go to a nearby textile market, and get back to Lilongwe around 2:00 pm.) We decided to go for it pretty quickly – it didn’t cost much – since we’d still get back to Lilongwe around 4:00 or 5:00 pm and that way, we’d get another drive! So we woke up super early again, had breakfast and headed out around when the rest of the group was waking up to leave. We got a call that one of the packs of wild dogs – an extremely tricky animal to see that is endangered and happens to be Jon’s favorite – was nearby, so we went to find them. They’re incredibly cute for how vicious they can be as they’re known to be the most successful predator. There are varying reports but their kill success rate is usually in the high 80’s/low 90’s percentile. They’re also extremely social, hanging out in packs and bringing food back to the young and injured in their brood. (They also look like domestic dogs, so they’re very cute.) Anyway, this was a real treat to see them and we just hung out for a bit, watching. We then got a call that there were some lions nearby-ish so we headed out to see them. It turned out they were Ginger and Garlic again, sleeping. Man, those guys like to sleep! It must be nice to be the king! (Or in this case, kings!) We found out a bit more on their backstory – they have three younger brothers who have tried to take over their pride of thirty lions multiple times and G & G keep fighting them off. The part I like the least about them is that, apparently, they’ve killed some lionesses and cubs that have come from other prides. That makes me sad. (As Jon would say, though, “That’s life in the bush!”)
It was really a kick-butt safari. Truly. And we were so happy we signed on for the extra drive. We got back to camp, packed up, drove to the nearby textile market (which, apparently, is much livelier if it’s not a Sunday because they give demonstrations), had an even worse lunch than on the way there and took care of our visa stuff at the border. And, we made it safely back to Lilongwe, besides Jon catching the driver snoozing and needing to remind him that he has to stay awake when he drives. 🙂 YAY SAFARI!
– By Naama
p.s. Thanks to the people in our safari car for sharing pictures with us so generously!