One day after sitting on a plane for over 20 hours we made my parents pack into Fiona for a 9+ hour drive from Lusaka to South Luangwa National Park. We were joined early in the morning by Cheryl’s and my friend Calvin whom Cheryl worked with in Joburg but now lives in Lusaka. I mostly packed the car while Cheryl and he reminisced over tea and coffee. It was great to catch up.
Since Cheryl and I only arrived late at night we hadn’t had time to do the grocery shopping or fill up on diesel so we quickly filled the last remaining few cubic inches of space with food and fuel and we were on our way. (Actually, we only left around 10am but still, it was kind of quick.)
Then the chatting began. 9+ hours of driving = 9+ hours of chatting.
We caught up on everything from the grand kids to the Mets. From work to adventures. Along with everything in between. I think we re-told every story about our trip, even the ones they had already read in great detail in this blog. They lovingly pretended to be hearing it for the first time and maintained strong interest despite the jet lag.
We were still on the road when the sun went down but when we finally pulled off the tar road (after a few near misses in the dark with unmarked one-lane bridges) we were greeted by a pack of wild dogs. We weren’t even in the park yet. They are rare to see and to have two dogs come right passed us on our first evening in Zambia was very specially. We finally stopped at Wildlife Camp just outside of South Luangwa. It was a lovely campsite on the banks of the Luangwa river with hippo and elephant passing through to say hello from time to time. We put my mom and dad to work straight away (Mom on cooking dinner and Dad on unpacking with us.) I think everyone slept surprisingly well that night. Especially since it was Mom and Dad’s first time camping in a long time (maybe ever for mom?)
Despite having driven all day in the car the day before, we were up early and packed up for a morning game drive. We didn’t know where to go but heard that driving along the river was the place to be. Unfortunately we didn’t find the “common” leopard (I’ve never heard such a thing as seeing leopard being “common” but that’s what some sign said when they listed common sightings in the park.) We did however have an awesome sighting of 7 lions eating a buffalo. We were on our way out of the park and to head back to camp when we noticed a couple of vehicles parked in the middle of the bush. With a little more searching through binoculars we were pretty sure it was lions. We didn’t know they were on a kill though. It took some exploring but we finally found them. They were full, fat and lazy pretty much just lying around in the shade. 2 males and 5 females. Awesome.
You can see these lions are collared and tracked. Nobody told us where they were though!
After a bit of time back at camp my parents and I went out again in the afternoon. We went back to the lions straight away and got to see one of the females eating this time which was pretty cool. We then also enjoyed two young bull elephants practising their fighting technique. As we sat and watched another elephant was struggling to get up a very steep embankment from the river below. As he struggled we noticed a fourth elephant below him and saw that elephant literally push the third elephant up the hill with his head. It was incredible. When the fourth elephant made it up, those two started fighting as well. It quickly became a 2 on 2 tag-team match. Fun to watch.
And now for an aside about elephants: For those concerned about the elephants fighting and us just watching and not scolding them it is actually just a natural thing for males to do. Elephants live in three different types of groups; 1. A breeding herd – mostly female and young. They are led by a matriarch and can grow very large in number. 2. Lone males – typically older bulls that are crotchety and just looking for some peace and quiet. 3. Small groups of young males – these bulls have gotten too old to stay with the herd they were born into so they go off and form small groups of 3 – 5 elephants. These young bulls often “fight” with each other but they are really just playing to learn how strong they are. When they meet up with other groups they also fight. Through this play-fighting they learn how strong each other are so when they hit puberty and are ready to mate they can actually avoid real fighting because they have already established dominance and know how strong the other bulls are. Sometimes, when two strong bulls are in musth (male elephant term for ‘in heat’) they do fight for real and injure each other but it’s often avoided because of all of this play-fighting beforehand.
Anyway. Enough about elephants for now. I could go on though. We’ve probably learned more about elephants on this trip than any other animal and we’re full of fun facts. Did you know elephants are actually walking on their toes? It’s true. Their “flat foot” is actually a sack of fat that comes down but their heel never hits the ground. That’s how they can walk so quietly despite their massive size.
After a couple of nights at Wildlife Camp our next stop is Kalvoia camp – just north of the Nsefu sector for anyone that’s got their Google Maps out.