Zambia: South Luangwa National Park

Just arriving at South Luangwa National Park in Zambia was a reason for jubilation.  I am honestly not sure how anyone gets here without an overland company.  It is so far out of the way from civilization.  Yes, there are houses and even a few small villages along the way, but gas stations, paved roads, and accommodations are a rarity.  In fact, we spent about 100km driving on a dirt road…it took 3 hours and we hit a goat.  The path would be impassable in rainy season.  Had we only waited a few years for the asphalting to be completed…either way, we made it, hallelujah.

After such a long, bumpy and dusty ride, we needed a place to put our feet up and rest our “waving” arm (all the kids run from their houses to scream and wave, even the adults will give the big yellow truck a thumbs up in approval).  Luckily for us, our campsite was just that…equipped with a pool, bar, gym (not really), and the best part, it overlooked a river that attracts wildlife from sunset until sunrise.  We were prepared by the owner to expect hippos and elephants in camp at night.  We couldn’t even keep toothpaste in our tents as elephants have a keen sense of smell.  I’m not sure if I believe it, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

Since we have officially become game drive addicts, we filled every possible moment with safari.  We booked a 4-hour drive in the morning, a two-hour one in the afternoon, a two-hour night drive, and even a 4-hour sunrise walking safari.  As long as we survived the night, we were in good shape to see animals in a more “controlled” environment.

I didn’t sleep much.  Joshua slept like a baby.  Something was playing in the pool.  I guessed hippos.  The guards said it was an elephant, because when a hippo gets in the pool, there is no water left the next morning.  There were also hippos that sounded like they were eating grass under our tent.  The guards had to escort Joshua to the bathroom for his nightly pee around a herd of elephants moving through camp.  It was not my favorite.

One of the things that I didn’t expect when coming to Africa was to see such a huge difference in plants, animals and geographies from park to park.  Chobe was a little tree, a little beach, an island and a lot of water.  Hwange was very dry, lots of grass and watering hole after watering hole (although mostly empty before the rainy season).  South Luangwa was a mixture of both.  It has a large river, open spaces, dense trees and long grasses.  It seems like it was built for everything.  At any moment we expected to see a cheetah chasing a pucu across the plains.  Unfortunately, we found out they don’t have cheetahs.  Instead, we saw a shorter species of giraffe, plenty of zebra, piles of hippos, pucus, impalas, bee eaters and lilac breasted rollers (yes, we shamefully admit we like birds now), elephants, storks (if you’ve ever seen these up close, you wouldn’t want them near your baby), lions…and that’s just off the top of my head.

Here’s the bad part.  The guides that we had (and others we saw) didn’t respect the animals.  When we are in a National Park, we are there to watch the animals in their element; not to interact with them.  In one of our drives, two trucks (ours included) drove off the road and into the tall elephant grass to arouse a few lounging lions.  And although our night drive was interesting, I am not sure if having a hundred safari trucks driving around the park with blinding spotlights is good for anything except the tour companies.

The walking safari was a whole another world.  We parked next to a ravine in the National Park.  We all got out of the truck.  There was something safe about the truck that I realized after we have gotten out.  We were escorted by a guide and a scout with a very large, loaded weapon.

BTW, the redshirts haven’t been out much lately.  They don’t really fit safari dress guidelines…

Our scout detoured us around potentially dangerous animal situations, skirting nearby elephants, but getting awfully close to zebras and other docile creatures.   We walked through the bush looking for the “Little Five” (ant lion, rhino beetle, leopard tortoise, elephant shrew and buffalo weaver) and the “Green Five” (elephant grass, rhino thistle, etc).

We stopped along the way to talk about poop (which for our group was highly interesting).  Porcupines poop braids.  Giraffes get diarrhea when they don’t eat enough Acacia.

Elephants get drunk off fermented amarula fruit (the seeds are left behind in their droppings).  They have poor digestive systems, so their poop can be used to make paper.  Lions poop blood right after a kill and fur the time after that.

Impalas are very hygienic and all poop in a common “bathroom.”  Male hippos spray, female hippos plop.  Baboons’ looks and smells like humans’ poop.  Hyenas poop is bright white.  I’m so happy I know this.

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