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Zambia walking safari June 2015 report (six months late)


deano
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Hello all.

 

It has been a year since I discovered Safaritalk and after recently deciding to finally become a member I thought that I should share a trip report. It is only fair since I have read all of your reports many many times along with all of the incredible bits of information on everything from Proflight and their baggage policy, camera lens choices, what soft sided bags to take all the way to the best camps and guides. So thank you to all who have gone before and indeed to all those that will hopefully follow...because I will read yours too.

 

We (my wife and I) have been to South Africa several times and we like the variety that it has to offer but having been there four times in the last few years we decided to try another Country. We had also wanted to try walking safaris again after a brief two night stay at Sanbona in the Klein Karoo (about 3hrs from Cape Town) that I had persuaded my wife to add to a trip a couple of years ago. We loved it and that gave us the green light to look for something along those lines just a bit more of it.

 

And so to Zambia - home of the walking safari. We settled on 7 nights in South Luangwa and 4 nights in Lower Zambezi with two nights at Victoria Falls to start us off after the three day journey from Grand Cayman to Livingstone.

 

The trip is quite fresh in my memory plus I have a few scribbled notes on hotel notepads to assist me but there are some gaps particularly at the start so I will just keep that part of the trip report short and sweet until we get to Zambia.

 

Itinerary;

 

Grand Cayman - Miami - Atlanta - Joburg - Livingstone; Overnight in Miami at Sofitel where we had a large meal and a very large Jamesons (the latter being a feature of any good trip for us) then a 15 hour flight to SA where we overnight at the Intercontinental right outside the airport. Another good feed and Jamesons night cap then off to bed. Next day to Livingstone and a great flight with the Captain shouting out The Falls as we approached the airport. Just magnificent to see when you have read so much about it and the water flow in June is immense so it was really putting on a show. I didn't manage to snap a picture out of the window but we were a long way off and I knew we had great access from The Royal Livingstone Hotel;

 

Two nights Royal Livingstone

Seven Nights South Luangwa with Norman Carr Safaris (Kapani x 1, then Luwi, Nsolo and Kakuli Bush Camps x 2 each)

Four nights Lower Zambezi at Old Mondoro.

 

Trip Report

 

Day 1 - Victoria Falls Royal Livingstone Hotel:

 

We were picked up from the airport in a 53 seater coach - just us two so we sat alongside the driver and got out first taste of Zambia. It was a lot more 'real' than what we had seen in South Africa and we knew straight away that we had made a good choice. I always enjoy journeys through towns and cities and this was no exception looking at the buildings, the cars, the people, the signs which were all new to me and very....African.

 

The Royal Livingstone is a lovely hotel and in a fantastic spot on the river with a great view of the falls albeit from upstream. After checking in I went exploring and then we decided that a cold drink on the deck was in order. Aside from Jamesons, I really don't drink alcohol although I have been known to drink Amarula but my wife likes an afternoon tipple while on holiday and had something in a tall glass with a cocktail stick in it. One of the first pictures from the trip - an obligatory shot of us at Victoria Falls.

 

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Followed by a shot with my Nikon D750 and 24-85mm lens looking upstream with some of the impala and zebra manicured grounds. A lovely place to start this trip.

 

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The access to the park in which The Falls are located is not only free for hotel guests but also located at the end of a beautiful tree lined walk through the grounds alongside the river and my mind wandered off to a place in time when I wondered just for a second what it would be like to have been among the first Western folks to see this place. And hear it for that matter. We were still half a mile away and could hear the smoke that thunders. Speaking of those first Westerners, we stopped for a minute to say hello to a Safaritalk pioneer.

 

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I did take a few photographs but to be honest the whole place was too interesting to be messing about with electronic equipment and it was also extremely...what's the word? Ah yes, wet! I cannot every remember seeing so much water and the roar as it cascaded over the edge was just mesmerizing. A total sensory experience with the sight, the noise and the spray not to mention that invigorating fresh smell that comes with it. I could have spent hours more there but we knew that we had tomorrow morning to come back and spend more time photographing and it was getting dark now and we were wanting to freshen up for dinner. I did get to take a shot of the sunset over the Zambezi while my mind was still thinking about who had been here before me and what stories they would have.

 

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More tomorrow - a full morning at Victoria Falls where we got lost on the way to Zimbabwe and then an afternoon encounter with lions (at Lion Encounter).

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"my mind was still thinking about who had been here before me and what stories they would have."

 

You're part of a select and lucky group! Great start.

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Great start @@deano It may be almost 20 years since we were there but our time at the falls are still "locked in" the memories - walking through the spray with the children in each hand, getting absolutely soaked & ending up looking like the finalists in the wet T-shirt competition is something I hope I'll never forget!

 

Very much looking forward to following your journey

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@@deano

Great start to your report - very engaging writing.

I look forward to you pouring yourself a large Jamesons and posting the next section :)

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Hello again,

 

Thank you @@Atravelynn, @@AfricIan and @@TonyQ - a bit early for Jamesons although I am watching the sunset out of my window as I type so that would qualify for a sundowner but definitely later.

 

Before Day 2 and whilst on the subject of Jamesons (hereinafter known as a "J"), we had a great meal in the main dining room at The Royal Livingstone. I didn't note what I had but most likely fish as I knew that I would be having a full English for breakfast and so would have stayed away from meat. We ordered a nightcap of "J" and either the Zambian and SA hotel measures are a bit on the lean side or my usual self poured and previous safari camp measures are on the generous size. Needless to say that it took a single, then a double then a double double before I felt like I'd had a gulp! The Intercontinental and now the Royal will always do well out of our "J" sales whenever we stay there again. It was a beautiful evening so we wandered back down to the deck by the river and watched the mist rising from the falls before bed.

 

Day 2 - Mosi-Oa-Tunya and Lion Encounter:

 

We had planned our only full day here well in advance and it was quite simple. Walk across the bridge to Zimbabwe and check out The Falls from there and then at 2PM we had a pick up for a Lion Encounter. So with passports, rain ponchos and camera gear in a waterproof bag we set off for Zimbabwe. It was after about half an hour of walking along the high footpath that follows the main road but on the inside of the National Park fence that I realized that I was geographically misplaced (okay - lost) and that to get to Zimbabwe we should have stuck to the main road. Duh! We thought about back tracking as we really wanted to try the border crossing just to see how it compared to Caribbean bureaucracy but we were now short on time and would have to be content with telling everybody that we got lost walking from Zambia to Zimbabwe. Never mind, we did get some shots of the Falls and surrounds and my wife even shot some video.

 

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We wandered all the way over to the top of the Falls and spent some time gazing out at the spot where Livingstone first saw the falls. As you can imagine, I started daydreaming which was not hard given where we were and that in the weeks before travelling I had been reading a book titled "Narrative Of An Expedition To The Zambesi And Its Tributaries by David & Charles Livingstone". No more Victoria Falls. This is MOSI-OA-TUNYA!

 

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The rain ponchos we were given for free are disposed of by the hotel so we gave ours to some Zambian tourists who otherwise would have got soaked or not experienced the spray. I hope they enjoyed their time there as much as we did. That place is the very meaning of the word awesome.

 

It didn't take us long to dry off in the hot sun and after a lovely stroll through the hotel grounds and after meeting zebra, impala and baboons a plenty we got back in time for lunch. A quick change before the pick up and then a nice chat with the ever friendly staff and fellow guests while we waited for our pick up. We were picked up in the typical minibus and learned that the large family group that boarded with us were going on the Elephant Encounter and it wasn't until we arrived after about 40 mins or so that we realized that both encounters start at the same venue although are kept apart as much as possible for obvious reasons. We also realized that we were the only people booked on the Lion Encounter that afternoon.

 

Before the pictures - a brief summary of why we booked this. We thought long and hard about and let's be honest - does any of us truly know what these places are all about? We checked them out best we could and then made a deposit through their website but when we didn't hear back from then for a while we were sort of content and would take that as a sign that maybe we shouldn't go. Well, they did contact us in plenty of time and their instructions and directions were friendly and professional and to cut a long story short we both agreed that we had one of the best and most enjoyable experiences in our travels to date. I even went as far as to say that it ranked in my top 5 and pushed our wedding day off that list...and my wife agreed. Perhaps it was because we were the only two there that we really got a lot of attention but the handlers, the helpers, the guides and the visiting students who were carrying out studies and reports, really gave us an understanding of what they want to do; what they are trying to do and hopefully, what they will ultimately do. I wish them all the best in their endeavors.

 

So, in glorious afternoon sunshine we take a short drive to a wild area on the banks of the mighty Zambezi where we are given a safety talk and given a stick. The stick is purely to distract the attention of the young lions - two lioness sisters about 14 months old. They were a lot bigger than the cubs I expected and the stick suddenly a lot smaller than might be necessary but it was clear that the lions and the staff and students were well versed and after a question and answer session we set off on our walk. What was amazing was that the lions really did rub up against each other and then all of us like we were pride members (shame I had to wash my jeans...would have loved to have seen the looks on the faces of our two dogs had they got a sniff of that!). I can't describe the feeling and we were then treated to some genuine instinctive lion behavior. Off in the distance one of them caught sight of a male giraffe. Instantly they went into stalk mode with one dropping low and slinking toward the giraffe and the other just disappearing into the bush to set up a classic lion ambush. Don't worry, they were still too young to know what they were doing but this was the sort of behavior that they wanted to see so that they could identify what lions would work best with other lions in the overall scheme of things.

 

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You can just make out the giraffe in the tall grass at the tree line and the leading lioness between the giraffe and us.

 

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The handlers had to follow and redirect the girls back to us while we waited next to the river. A fantastic place to be even without everything that was going on but the sight of these two young lioness sisters walking out of the bush towards us with a look on their face that said ''look we we just did'' was truly wonderful.

 

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After some posing for photos the lions were given some time to just be lions and I have to say I like these two shots because they are natural rather than posed. The second shot I saw a fraction too late but then again maybe the bit of motion blur just adds to it?

 

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The sun was starting to set and it would be time to say goodbye to our new friends but not before we had one final chance to walk with them; and I managed to squeeze off a burst of three whilst on the move (please don't stop suddenly...the lions don't like it) and capture my wife and a lion side by side in Africa by the Zambezi with the sun setting. It made my day and I knew that (provided she was happy with her clothing and appearance!) this shot was destined for a photo frame in her new office.

 

Never did need that stick.

 

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That's it for today. Tomorrow we move to South Luangwa and Norman Carr Safaris for 6 days of walking. Can't wait.

 

For those of you still with me, please let me know if I have gone on too long or added too many pictures - this is my first trip report after all.

 

Good night and dream of Africa....I know I will.

Edited by deano
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I think you are doing a superb job for any trip report, much less your first. Don't change a thing. Just keep going. I laughed out loud when you mentioned you've both now knocked your wedding day off as a Top 5 experience.

 

I feel a lot like you. I've only been on safari twice, both times to South Africa (great both times), but I'm now looking further afield. Zambia has been high on my list for a while, and your itinerary looks pretty much like what I've been thinking of -- start off in Victoria Falls to clear my jet-lagged head, and then South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi.

 

I will be interested to hear your opinions as to your schedule in South Luangwa. I've always wanted to stay at least 4 nights in a single camp -- go slowly and really soak it in. It seems you moved around a bit more than that. (Maybe that's due to the walking component?) When you get to an appropriate point, I hope you'll comment on that.

 

Fantastic start!

Edited by Alexander33
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Thank you @@Alexander33.

 

I seem to remember that the staff at Lion Encounter got a laugh out of that also...and our wedding was on a beach in Hawaii.

 

And your kind words definitely deserve a specific response to the questions you raise.

 

The best answer I can give you - next June we are returning to Zambia and aside from missing out on The Falls our itinerary is much the same. This last trip, we took advantage of a deal that Norman Carr has where you get a 7 night stay in the bush but do not get to know which order the camps will be in until a few weeks before you go (''a week on the wild side"). There is a good discount in return which was not the only reason we chose it but since it didn't matter to us what camp we stayed at on what night, why not take the discount and spend another night or so elsewhere? I do understand though that some folks want certainty.

 

We are also missing out on staying close to the main gate to South Luangwa on the first night (mainly because Kapani is being refurbished)) and going straight to their most remote bush camp - Luwi. It will be quite a drive and mostly in the dark but we get to clear our jet-lagged heads (I borrowed your phrase) starting in the middle of nowhere for 3 nights before 1 night camping under the stars then 2 nights at Nsolo and 2 nights Kakuli.

 

It might seem like you move about a lot but the reality of packing and unpacking a small canvas duffel bag is refreshingly easy and my wife in particular commented on how much she preferred that to taking a lot of clothing in a carry on suitcase like we would had we gone to a regular lodge. You also walk between camps (you have the option to drive) so don't really feel like you are on a mini bus transfer with all of your luggage.

 

The other points I should mention for your starting point in South Luangwa are time of year and time of arriving flight.

 

We don't like traveling in the peak of our hurricane season (September or a month or so either side) which meant we had a choice of June or December both of which are cooler weather in Zambia but the Lower Zambezi camps were starting to close for the end of the season in December so June it was (and is for 2016). Had we travelled in, say, October, it can be extremely hot there so maybe an extra night and a reduced number of camps might be more comfortable but that would depend on your definition of comfort - this is the bush and AC is not high on their priority list.

 

We arrived at Mfuwe early evening (just after 4PM). We had come from 2 nights in Livingstone and so the jet lag was not an issue but I would imagine that arriving at Mfuwe soon after a long haul might be, well, a long haul itself. But since you look like you are going to allow Mosi-Oa-Tunya to clear your head you should be fine - a very personal thing though jet lag.

 

The travel day from Luangwa to Lower Zambezi was a very enjoyable one. Your ''taxi'' to the airport is a game drive (ours was special...more to come) and the flights short and scenic and to me at least a day traveling beats a day at work and to top that off it was in Africa! Again, we arrived as the sun was dipping so it was dark when we got to Old Mondoro in the Lower Zambezi and on next year's trip we have added a 5th night so that we get 4 proper days. We would rather do that than visit the Falls again; as awesome as they are, Old Mondoro and the Lower Zambezi are more awesome. So much to do and we averaged 4 activities per day. If you feel that you need an 'easy' day where you just relax then a longer stay is definitely necessary. My wife and I like to keep fit so made the most of every minute with walks, drives, fishing, kayaking, reading and chatting with staff and guests. I even sacrificed afternoon naps a lot of the time and didn't seem to suffer and slept most of the Joburg Atlanta fight as a result. But then again, I do love Africa.

 

I think an extended stay at any bush camp after moving around so much is a good idea but some of the fellow guests we met up with were only at a camp for a night so each to their own.

 

I hope that helps. I could type/chat about this all day so please ask if you want anything else.

 

Day 3 to follow later today.

 

 

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@@deano

 

Thanks so much for such detailed and thoughtful insight. Very helpful and informative, indeed.

 

Looking forward to Day 3.

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@@Alexander33 you are welcome.

 

Day 3 - Livingstone to South Luangwa:

 

After two very enjoyable days at The Falls it was time to say good bye to the Royal Livingstone and continue our journey in Zambia. I always make sure to have a hearty breakfast whenever possible and this one definitely qualified. And I had toast and jam as well. And some pastry - all of which was very nice.

 

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We enjoyed the drive back to the airport and the journey to Mfuwe with all flights on time and no problems with baggage.We had been advised to make sure our bags were in line with regulations and in particular that carry on was limited to 5KG and all bags were weighed but I knew we were okay or at worst just a hair overweight (thank you safaritalkers for the forum advice).

 

I have to say that Mfuwe was a real treat. Greeted by our guide and a waiting safari vehicle just outside the door (and I mean right outside) we were introduced to four other guests who, thankfully, had also read the advice about what size bags to take and despite a bit of a squeeze (six adults, all of our bags and carry on plus a guide) and were staying at Kapani for their first night also.

 

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I sat in the front seat and asked if we could stop to take a picture of a scene that I am sure plays out the world over at that time of day but I was still surprised to enjoy it straight out of the airport -a group of mates kicking a ball about at sunset. Part of me wanted to join in but we had somewhere to go...

 

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It was a very interesting journey along a main road to Kapani with lots of villages and village scenes and a lovely wood burning smell - we were in Africa for sure now. We arrived at Kapani in the total dark and were quickly checked in and given a safety briefing and escorted everywhere with a flashlight after that during the hours of darkness. There was evidence of hippo and elephant all over the place and you could hear them somewhere off by the deck and the lagoon where we were to meet for dinner. I didn't take the camera but the guides were keen to show us the lagoon with hippo, impala and puku right below us and we couldn't wait to see it in the daylight. After a good chat with our fellow guests we determined that we would all be together for the next day and then four of us venturing off into the more remote parts of South Luangwa. I definitely enjoyed a "J" that evening.

 

Day 4 - South Luangwa from Kapani Lodge:

 

Next morning and we got to see our surroundings without the need for an escort although you still had to be aware that you are in an unfenced area with wild animals close by. Hippo dung right outside our chalet was a good reminder. The Kapani deck overlooks a great lagoon that was drying up even this early into the season but there was still a lot of visiting wildlife. After a nice breakfast we set off for the short drive into the National Park which was not far away and very interesting to see with locals out collecting firewood when there are clearly signs of large animals in the immediate vicinity. I wondered want their lives must be like and decided that they were likely very happy and slightly puzzled by the vehicles full of tourists watching them carry wood on their heads and a baby on their backs.

 

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Not even in the park yet we stopped to watch something in the bush.

 

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A breeding herd of elephants about to cross the road in front of us

 

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A nice first sighting as I can never tire of watching elephants. Before long we were at the gate to South Luangwa and I rattled off a few shots of anything that took my fancy which was in fact anything within reach.

 

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After a few minutes of paperwork for our guide Ravi, it was into the park. It is definitely busier at this end of the park but after a few minutes it was just us and then the occasional game vehicle. We drove along the river to a spot that I'm sure is well visited but I was still happy to take the shot of a hippo skull.

 

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And then we set off in search of something alive. We were happy to be here and looking forward to the walking so this game drive for us was actually a bonus before the next three camps and it got us back into the swing of safari life and the early morning routine. We saw most of the usual suspects and then stopped for a drink and it had warmed up enough for my wife to unzip her top layer (the rest of us had removed our jackets by now and some were even in shorts).

 

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After the drinks stop we were hopeful that we would see a leopard and it would be great if it was in a tree as that was one photograph I was wanting and neither of us had actually seen a leopard in a tree before on previous safaris. So, the guide hears of a leopard in a tree just near the main intersection and I was getting quite excited. When we got there the tree was very large, very dark and very dense but I did get to see a leopard in a tree but the shot is not what I was hoping for. But better than nothing.

 

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5 minutes later we see a second leopard but a good distance from the road and in thick bush.

 

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We met some folks later in the trip who saw that same leopard in that same tree either just before or just after we were there. They actually saw both leopards and confirmed that there was also a kill somewhere in that tree....10 minutes either side and who knows what we might have seen but that is one of the things I love about Africa and being in the bush - you never know what you are going to see!

 

Then it was back to Kapani for lunch and some reading before our evening drive. We had spent the latter part of the morning drive on the trail of a pride of lions and even saw some vultures in a tree and I swear I heard the sound of bones being chewed but we saw nothing and agreed to look later on that day so that was the first place we went to. Nothing there so I must have been imagining things (or wishful thinking) so we drove around in golden light to see what else we might find. We did see elephants and a lot of birds and I couldn't resist a picture of these crowned cranes even though they aren't doing anything too exciting.

 

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We also saw another lone spotted hyena and were told that they do not form large clans here.

 

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It was sundowner time now and wouldn't you know it we heard the radio crackle and that meant a good sighting. It was a small pride of lions and it was very dark and I think the last shot I got is at ISO6400 but rather that than no shot at all. Plus I just like the way she is looking at me!

 

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It was almost dark when we left the lions but we still had time for a sundowner by the river. I placed my order ("J") and then quickly set up my camera - you can see other vehicles leaving their sundowner and starting their night drives just as we are setting up. I would gladly skip a sundowner to see lions (or most anything for that matter). I enjoyed my "J" knowing that I was a KM or so from lions and meters from a river full of hippos and crocodiles with the African night drawing in. Back to camp for a good dinner - every meal at Kapani was very good and seem to remember that their bread was particularly nice - and a "J" nightcap and then fall asleep to the sound of hippos (come on admit it...you are making the hippo noise in your head now aren't you?).

 

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Day 5 to follow - the journey deep into South Luangwa to Luwi Bush Camp......

 

 

 

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Hello @@deano enjoying the trip report our second ever trip included Victoria falls and Norman Carr walking safari and we have also been to Old Mondoro

Great camps!

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"Next June we are returning to Zambia" That is a good summary of what you thought of this trip.

Any leopard sighting is a good sighting.

Many animals appeared for you in the golden light.

 

I too am happy to skip a sundowner of "J" or anything else for wildlife.

And I recognize your breakfast!

Edited by Atravelynn
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Hello @@Towlersonsafari (gender not telling... :rolleyes:). Great camps indeed and I am actually re-living the time we spent there so I am glad that you are enjoying this report because I am very much enjoying writing it.

 

@@Atravelynn - thank you - you have made me feel most welcome with your responses so thank you again.

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Your descriptive writing and photos make for a most enjoyable report @@deano - one that is in part taking me down memory lane.

 

My most recent trips to Vic Falls have been in September when levels are lower. Your report and photos have reminded me of their full power and splendour in earlier months.

 

Glad you took that photo of the bridge to SLNP - sort of symbolic - and I specially like the elephant in that warm glow of afternoon light and the nightfall silhouetted tree by the Luangwa with what I think might be the two

 

pointers to the Southern Cross in the evening sky.

 

Looking forward to the next instalment.

 

 

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Thank you @@Caracal. I am not sure what is in the sky down south but now have an iPhone app and I will most definitely pay more attention and write more stuff down on any future trips. I was uploading pictures yesterday and can't for the life of remember the names of the trees and birds we saw which is a shame because it was really the whole point of a walking safari.

 

Day 5 - Kapani transfer to Luwi bush camp:

 

Up early today to make sure we were packed for the transfer to Kapani -all of 5 minutes early; don't you just love traveling with a small soft sided bag with just a few clothes that you can wedge in quickly. Definitely the way for us in future. Made our way down to the deck and lagoon and were met by a herd of elephants moving through the area. I decided to have eggs today as I wasn't sure what time we would get to Luwi and my wife opted for some steaming hot porridge. As we were sat at the table beneath large trees we laughed at the vervet monkeys who were jumping around above us. Bits of twig and leaves were falling all around us so we were shielding our plates and bowls and then a small ''splat'' was heard and we realized that a vervet had enjoyed its morning ablutions with target practice on the silly tourists below. He missed the porridge by inches but that was a good effort and with practice I am sure he will become an olympic standard target pooper in no time although had he hit my camera I am sure I would have scaled the tree to reprimand the offender.

 

I fired off some last shots before we left Kapani. I'm pretty sure that you could just stay on the deck for the day and see all types of animals and behavior. Just take an umbrella with you.

 

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Then it was off into the park again for a bit of a game drive and then a longish drive to Luwi. We had two fellow guests who were on a similar circuit to us but they were starting at Nsolo and we would be dropping them off first since it was on the way up.

 

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We checked the tree where we saw the leopard yesterday and peered in to see any evidence of a kill but no luck so we continued our journey to Luwi. From time to time we would stop for the guide to chat with another guide just to see what was going on and we have done enough safaris to know when directions are being given into a sighting (arms and hands being waved about with lots of shaking heads and nodding heads until the arm and hand waving is understood). We wondered what it could be when we went off road and into an area that seemed to be well off the beaten track and there we found a leopard resting by a fallen tree. How anyone found that is beyond me but my guess is that trackers from the closest lodge went out early and we were one of the lucky recipients of those efforts.

 

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We spent some time here (as you should with a leopard) and I rattled off tons of pics but the animal only looked in our general direction a couple of times so not many shots with the eyes in. We were probably there about 20 minutes until another vehicle wanted a turn so we took our leave and headed off for a drink stop. We found a spot that I'm sure many people have stopped at before judging by the photographs I've seen in other trip reports so here is my offering along with a croc in the adjacent lagoon. Another place I could have stayed all day at as there was a great man made bank on our side that was good for laying on and hiding from approaching animals. Would have got some good eye level bird shots there.

 

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On the road to Luwi the scenery definitely changed to very dense woodland and there was not much to see driving along here although my overactive imagination was convinced that every old tree stump was a majestic male lion. Nobody else seemed to see anything so I decided not to raise my voice. Besides, I'm pretty sure that it is unlikely that there are about ten male lions resting in the shade in exactly the same pose on either side of the road for about 20 minutes. Somebody correct me if i'm wrong (but I want pictures please).

 

After dropping off our fellow guests it was another drive to Luwi. Not too far by vehicle but far enough to know that we were remote and that it was a good walk between camps which is what we had come for. As seems to be the way at all the camps in Zambia, we were greeted by the manager and some of the staff with friendly waves and huge smiles. Frank (the camp manager...I mean he manages the camp and is not camp himself) showed us to our room, one of four, and gave us a quick tour of the place and gave us the usual safety briefing and then we were left to freshen up and rest a while until the resident guests returned from their morning activity and we would all meet for breakfast.

 

We instantly liked Luwi. Set under shady trees a distance from the now dry river with a bar area, open dining area, and a random spacing of chairs all centred around an outdoor TV.

 

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That last shot is of the room we had. Rebuilt each year at the start of the season and the smaller area to the RH side in the shot is the bathroom which as you can imagine had a spectacular view. Don't ask me why but I paid particular attention to the leaves on the grass that had been carefully raked from the sandy soil next to the wall with the window opening in it.

 

We always enjoy meeting new people and this was no exception. A mixed bunch of tourists, a travel agent on a fact finding trip and two friends who lived and worked in the area. One a manager of a lodge for another company (it turns out that she had one a trip to stay here and was allowed to bring a friend) and her friend who we found out is an examiner for the guides in the region and her specialty is trees and birds .To listen to their particular stories and tales of what processes the guides go through when they take their exams was great fun. My wife asked about animals in camps as they are completely unfenced and we were entertained with stories of hyenas and honey badgers in camp most night as well as elephants through the day and hippos at night. Oh yes, we were in Africa now.

 

Our new friends were to leave after lunch with one exception and then a new group arrived who were equally as interesting and easy to get along with. I decided to skip a siesta and sat in one of the chairs and watched puku and elephant wandering across the plain in front of me and a curious bird way off in the distance that was hanging upside down from a tree trunk. I found out later that my description was enough for Lawrence (the main guide here) to identify it as an African harrier hawk that was after small lizards. Amazing.

 

We met up for afternoon tea and were advised that we would be walking to the hippo hide and then driving around once the sun had set. That was exactly what we wanted to hear and so with much excitement we set off for our very first walk in South Luangwa.

 

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It was not far to the hide and we crossed the sandy river bed and then walked through some very tall grass with Lawrence stopping often to point out a ton of things that you would just miss in a vehicle. Plants, trees, insects, dung, tracks, bird sounds, just way more information than we were used to. We were hooked and are now versed in the art of examining elephant dung to determine how fresh (and I'm talking within the last few minutes fresh), the likely size and age of the animal and in some cases the sex depending on the presence and direction of urine. Fascinating and I have no doubt that you could just look at that one aspect on every walk for a week and still not have as thorough an understanding as the Zambia guides do. Lawrence took guiding to a whole new level for us.

 

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Once at the hide we spent a while doing what you should in a hippo hide and then we had sundowners in a perfect spot.

 

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Just as it got dark, we packed up and left for a night drive. We did see a lot of fast moving animals like genets, mongoose and civets but they were just out of reach of the light and so no photographs. After a while we turned for home and rounded a bend in the road and there was a male lion striking exactly the same sort of pose I had imagined on the drive up but this time it was a real lion and not a fallen tree. He got up and moved before I could set up for a shot but I did snap a few and this is the only one I am able to include where you can at least see that it is a lion and not a blurry object at night.

 

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We were very happy as we particularly enjoy male lions; there is something just so regal about them. When we arrived back at Luwi, Frank had told us that we were going ''out'' for dinner. What did that mean? We soon found out as we were put back in the vehicle and driven across the plain towards the river where we started to see lanterns, fires, tables, a lot of staff and then a bar. This was magical and is Luwi's bush dinner. Imagine that you are in Africa under a dark starry sky with the smell of a wood fire and then amazing cooked meats. If my trip had ended with that meal I would have been happy enough I can tell you. I had decided that I wanted a few night shots - not something I do a lot of - but I really wanted to capture as much of the trip as possible not just the animals and this was a great chance. The other guests were all wondering what I was doing due to the amount of time I spent returning to the camera and checking the images but they seemed pleased enough when I showed them the results on the small LCD screen and they all wanted a copy. Not because the shots are brilliant (they are by no means perfect) but likely because they too wanted a permanent reminder of that night we spent together in Africa, under the stars and miles from anywhere enjoying good times.

 

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After a fantastic meal where I ate far too much we were driven back to camp. I asked Lawrence what about the staff left out there to clear up. He laughed and told us a story of when they first did the bush dinner one of the staff had to climb on one of the tables when a lion came by to investigate the smell of the fire. Now they leave an extra vehicle and ZAWA scout!

 

Back at camp we settled down by that outdoor TV I mentioned earlier. Luwi bush TV was mesmerizing and we were the last to leave that night and thoroughly enjoyed the "J" nightcap which you can just make out in my hand. Don't worry, Frank was just out of shot and didn't leave until we had reluctantly headed off to bed. I could have sat out there all night.

 

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More tomorrow with a full day at Luwi.

 

 

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Your photos make me feel like I'm joining you at the outdoor tv.

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@@Atravelynn you are welcome to join us. Can I get you something to drink? Tea, coffee, hot chocolate or something stronger?

 

Day 6 - Luwi:

 

It is worth mentioning that the safari experience does not stop just because you have gone to bed. We had noticed at Kapani that we heard hippos grunting and hyenas whooping all night and Luwi was the same just a bit more amplified. We also heard lions, puku alarm calls and what I think was an elephant but can't be sure. Obviously, a lot of this type of thing doesn't get photographed but some of my best memories from the trip involve ''sightings'' that were not so much seen (or seen and photographed) as they were heard and in one case smelled. Tonight I had one such incident when I woke to hear scratching noises just outside the room. I ignored it and dozed off again but my wife woke up and nudged me and told me to get up as there was something outside. I then heard dry leaves being moved about - the same leaves that I had mentioned earlier that were about 10ft from where I was with only a flimsy reed/thatch wall between us. I could something large through the 'window' and it was a hippo. I asked my wife why she had woken me up and was she scared. No she replied, I just didn't want you to miss being so close to a hippo on your first night. Have I mentioned that I love Africa (and of course my wife)?

 

Next morning we met at the fire for a hot drink on a cold morning. I had a few layers on with a view to peeling them off as we got going on the walk. There was a very clear hippo highway right in front of the camp and I asked if I could step away from the group to take some pictures (better safe than sorry). I had to laugh at the thought of my hippo friend using the same path to get back to the lagoon just a few hours or even minutes before I was using it to take photos.

 

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We also learned that there had been an elephant in camp that had started eating the roof of one of the staff buildings and they chased him away. So I did hear an elephant. Lawrence had also heard honey badgers and hyenas. Just another night at Luwi.

 

After saying goodbye to the folks that were moving on to other camps (we would meet them again tomorrow) we set off for our bush walk. Lawrence, Amon from ZAWA and a tea porter whose name I have lost (sorry buddy). Just three guests so we got a lot of individual attention. After 10 minutes I was already warm and stopped to remove my fleece. Lawrence told me that he always toughed out the cold first thing and soon warmed up so I resolved to do that tomorrow.

 

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Lawrence was a mine of information and I was particularly pleased to see him quiz our tea ported who was clearly a guide in the making and asked us to quiz him too which we did although our questions could probably be answered by most of the forum users at safaritalk!

 

I didn't snap many pictures for no real reason other than we were learning a lot of stuff. We talked about how the camps are built, how sometimes poachers use them in the tourist off season, how they are sometimes burned down by poachers, how the poachers learn to stay off the roads so that the ZAWA scouts can't track them, how they burn elephant dung as a certain age of dung produces a lot of heat but very little smoke. We learned about medicinal plants with one that can somehow treat headaches and STDs (how do you find that out I wonder?) and all types of birds and where they nest, why they nest and so on. We even found lion tracks (a bit too close for my 80-400mm to focus).

 

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We also had our first of many encounters with an adrenalin bird. Not at all worrying even if you startle one but about 10 minutes later Lawrence and Amon became silent and had a brief discussion and then indicated that there were elephants up ahead. The next adrenaline bird we saw had a slightly different affect! We could hear the low rumbling of the grey giant but could not catch sight of him. Lawrence indicated that we were close and at that very moment I caught a sniff of him but we never actually saw him. We moved on and guessed that we were no more than a few metres from him. Exhilarating stuff and something you cannot experience in a vehicle.

 

We stopped for tea and biscuits and then headed back across the river bed to camp. We passed the braii site from last night and just as the camp came into view we saw lone bull elephant. He was directly in our way so we gave him a wide birth but I did manage to get a couple of shots with my 80-400mm zoom. Luwi bar is just to the right of him in the picture.

 

 

 

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Lawrence had not shown it today but was actually struggling with a cold or virus. My wife is an EMT Paramedic and travels with a bag full of potions and tablets and stuff I've never heard of but the one thing I do know about is TCP. We coaxed Lawrence into taking a sniff and that image is still one of my favorites from the whole trip. I am not sure he ever took any but we did explain that it was made from plants just like the ones he had been showing us all morning so maybe he did.

 

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After lunch I had a short nap in the hammock under a tree but I knew that there were elephants close by and didn't want to miss them if they came closer. As it was they stayed where they were but it was nice to just relax and watch them do their stuff albeit from a distance. You can just see them in the tree line in the second picture below.

 

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That night we opted for a pure game drive just to give Lawrence a bit of a break from walking. My wife asked if there was any chance of finding wild dogs (since we had the vehicle we could go a bit further afield) but Lawrence told us that they had not been seen recently but we would go to an area where they sometimes hang out. We had a good drive where we saw buffalo, elephant, an eland and then we stopped at a hippo pool and watched a fantastic golden red then orange sunset.

 

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We drove back in the dark with Amon finding things with his spotlight that none of us could even see even when we stopped the vehicle. We did see a lot of genets and even found one fishing for toads and another that had caught a mouse. I briefly saw two honey badgers on the edge of the light but they disappeared quickly. It was a great way to end a great day and we enjoyed a chat around the fire after dinner where I had a "J" nightcap and went to bed wondering if my hippo friend would pay us a visit. No wild dogs today but we had a good few days left.

 

Tomorrow we walk from Luwi to Nsolo.

Edited by deano
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Day 7 - Luwi to Nsolo:

 

Another beautiful sunrise at Luwi and we had a nice cup of coffee with Frank before saying our goodbyes. I followed the advice Lawrence had given and set off with no jacket today. It actually wasn't that cold and I did warm up very quickly. We saw lots of general game today and were introduced to members of the small five and also the green five and I think I will make it a mission on the next trip to actually 'collect' all of those if I can.

 

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It was only 8K to Nsolo but it was getting quite warm by the end and I was wondering what it would be like in the warmer months. As we neared Nsolo we took a slight detour around some buffalo before arriving at camp to another warm welcome this time from Kolo and her team. We were the only ones in camp as the other guests were still out on their morning activity. Nsolo is beside the river again but this time there was a small water hole formed in a bend with some dead trees and a high sand back opposite us which made for a great backdrop for viewing the waterhole. It wasn't long before Kolo told us that we were in for a surprise as we were having brunch in the bush. Off we went for a 10 minute drive to an open plain where we saw tables and a braii set up under a large shady tree. We had to stop to allow a large herd of buffalo to get out of the way and then we parked up and reacquainted ourselves with guests we had met at other camps plus some new ones. We then proceeded to have a fantastic breakfast although I declined a stiff drink with mine. I seem to remember that Amarula was already being poured before i finished eating.

 

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Back at Nsolo I decided that I didn't need a siesta and sat down to watch the goings on around the place. I then heard an elephant trumpeting and getting nearer. By the time I had picked up my camera and alerted my wife the elephant was right outside our room and then stormed off across the river bed and up the bak at the other side. Charles (one of the ZAWA scouts) had to come back on duty in his flip flops until the elephant had settled down which was about 10 minutes later.

 

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I spent the next couple of hours with the various wildlife of Nsolo.

 

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Afternoon tea was set up so we all had a chair facing the action and I would have been happy to stay there all night but we had decided that a group game drive was on the agenda and some of the other guests were doing the Luwi river bed sleep so we were split up into two groups with a second guide and scout (Prince and Charles) drafted in to supplement resident guide and ZAWA scout Philemon and Bottle and we ended up on the vehicle with the latter.

 

My wife mentioned wild dogs again and Philemon told us that he had actually seen them today on his way to or from the airport pick up. It was a long way from where were were but we could try of we wanted - why not? So off we went in search of wild dogs. We didn't find them or even see any signs of them and we almost reached back toward the main gate before turning for home. After the sundowner we did spot a lot of genets and saw far off porcupines and mongoose and even stopped fora while to shine a light towards what Philemon and bottle thought was a leopard but whatever it was slinked away into the night.

 

Another nice meal in camp with good company and then it was off to bed. I wondered if our elephant friend might pay us a visit in the night?

 

Day 8 - Nsolo:

 

A beautiful sunrise greeted us today and we enjoyed a brief breakfast before saying good bye to the few guests left with us as they were off elsewhere today by vehicle. That meant that we had Philemon and the camp all to ourselves for a full day which was a privilege we had not expected. Philemon took his bird book out which was good for showing us other information such as 5 types of vulture, how to tell them apart and such - just don't test me on it okay.

 

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Back at Nsolo and we were treated to a one on one with Philemon where we got to talk about everything from family, to politics, to hunting and the future of same in Zambia. Fascinating stuff. I then took up where I left off yesterday and aimed my camera at the waterhole until it was time for afternoon tea.

 

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No need to ask us what we wanted to do again tonight - we were on the lookout for wild dog again. We agreed on a long drive straight down the main road to the Luangwa where we would hunt around for any sign of them and then we would work our way back. The drive out was actually packed full of game with buffalo and zebra everywhere. We also stopped to watch some storks fishing (and catching) in a small lagoon.

 

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Since we had driven all the way down to the Luangwa we couldn't waste an opportunity for a sundowner overlooking the water. There was a piece of (hippo?) spine close to where we stopped and Bottle noticed that a hyena had come to join us. He was welcome to the bone but the "J" was all mine.

 

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We decided to follow the hyena on the basis that Philemon told us that they typically follow leopards and might lead us to one. This one was definitely sniffing something at every tree we passed. We also got a good sighting of a genet and I was able to get a picture at last.

 

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The camp was lonely when we got back in the dark but we could tell from the look on Kolo's face that she was up to something. We waited in the bar and were then taken across to our room where they had set up a private dinner on the balcony just for us. We were blown away by that and would have been equally as happy if the had given the staff the night off and we'd had sandwiches but since they'd gone to all that trouble just for us why not enjoy it. Just as they poured the wine (water for me) and brought over the soup course and left us alone to eat I swear to you the lions started roaring in the night. Have I mentioned that I love Africa?

 

We had to pay the bar a visit after that and I enjoyed my "J" nightcap while gazing at the stars and watching the waterhole. I was messing about with some images the other day from that night and I had no idea that there were elephants just down the river bed from where I was sat enjoying my drink (I had to process it a bit so you can see them). Maybe it was the angry guy from the other day?

 

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Tomorrow we walk from Nsolo to Kakuli. Will we see wild dogs along the way?

 

 

 

 

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The old wild dog teaser! Beautiful night sky just above that teaser. Your night time genet shot is great.

 

"we were sat at the table beneath large trees we laughed at the vervet monkeys who were jumping around above us. Bits of twig and leaves were falling all around us so we were shielding our plates and bowls and then a small ''splat'' was heard and we realized that a vervet had enjoyed its morning ablutions with target practice on the silly tourists below. He missed the porridge by inches but that was a good effort and with practice I am sure he will become an olympic standard target pooper"

 

Such clever monkeys. I have seen them do this with the intent of frightening off the guests who wish to avoid the sprinkling. Then the vervet descends from the tree to make off with their food.

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I think you are doing a superb job for any trip report, much less your first. Don't change a thing. Just keep going. I laughed out loud when you mentioned you've both now knocked your wedding day off as a Top 5 experience. Me too. That had to be a joint decision!

 

 

 

Fantastic start!

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So many places to visit, so little time, and you are doing nothing to dissuade me from making Zambia a priority.

 

Very glad that you've seen your leopards and fingers crossed that you'll get your wild dogs.

 

Your enthusiasm is infectious.

 

Would you believe that one of our targets is a hippo out of the water? We've got leopards in trees for days, but not a hippo on land! I've mentioned elsewhere that I need to go to Zambia to fulfill that goal.

 

Thanks for taking the time to post such specific details and memories of the sensory experiences you witnessed. I'm really enjoying your recounting of this trip.

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@@Atravelynn - What type of trip report would it be without a wild dog teaser? Easy to spot though wasn't it? Speaking of spots, don't forget the leopard in tree teaser.....I had a particular image on my wish list and felt like I was sure to get it in Zambia.

 

And yes - my wife did agree with Lion Encounter being better than our wedding day but maybe 22 years fades the memory?

 

@@Alexander33 - thank you. I'm enjoying writing this so much that I might even leave work early to do the next installment. Zambia has definitely grabbed us. Our return trip next year was instigated on a layover at Atlanta airport on the way home and I think waiting 6 months to do this trip report has turned out to have been a good choice because I feel like I am getting another trip by re-living each day. I should be thanking you.

 

Just book it already.

 

D.

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@@deano I saw your picture of the group walking through the tall grass and it really brought it back our first walk on our first walking safari also starting at lewi! I remember exchanging glances with Jane "hang on a minute, isn't this tall grass lion coloured?" Really loving your report!

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@@Towlersonsafari - I have to say that I had not even thought of the colour of the grass...more the height and density and that hippo dung splattered all over the pathway through it. Thankfully the dung was dry and we were in the capable hands of the NCS guides and ZWS scouts.e Since you've mentioned it though the grass colour also has a sort of hyena, leopard, dusty buffalo thing going on.....

 

Glad you're enjoying the report.

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Day 9 - Nsolo to Kakuli:

 

We heard the lions again in the night and loved it. They were moving away but it was enough to start my mind off and wonder what was going on out there.

 

I woke a bit early and was convinced that I could hear a car stereo for a moment until I remembered where I was. But then I heard it again; an unmistakeable DUM DUM dum dum...DUM DUM dum dum. I found out from Philemon that I had heard Southern Ground Hornbills and I now had a favorite bird sound from Africa (actually they are all my favorites but you get my drift).

 

Another beautiful sunrise and after a brief breakfast (if porridge, eggs, cereal and toast , oh and some fruit, is brief) we said goodbye to the staff who had been so nice to prepare that special dinner just for us last night. We'll never forget that.

 

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We had a longer walk this morning - about 14K but it could have been 114K for me as I was enjoying the walks that much. You are not likely to get close to large animals - certainly not as close as you would in a vehicle, but its more the thrill of being on foot in the bush with like minded folks just as eager to soak it all in while being educated by the guides and the scouts is what its all about for us. Today we got to learn about what happened when the tourists are away and the scouts patrol the areas and how the animals get used to having fewer humans around in that time and then how the animals need a few weeks at the start of the season to get re-aquainted with having two legged beings that walk upright and have forward facing eyes (like predators do). I found that single fact amazing. What was also amazing was the smile on Bottle's face when we did actually manage to get close on foot to a family of warthogs. This is a seasoned scout who has faced down lions, buffalo and elephant and had never managed to get this close to warthog on foot. Imagine that?

 

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We saw the pair of ground hornbills across the river bed and I silently thanked them for their bass wake up call and decided that I will download that as my ring-tone when we get back to civilization (I don't think this is the actual bird but they deserve a picture anyway). We also saws a lot of buffalo today. At the start, along the way and at the end.

 

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The first guy was long since dead and Philemon had witnessed the incident last year while transferring guests from Nsolo to Kakuli on foot. Lions had taken him down and the guests got to see the whole thing (the burn was a controlled one from this year and unrelated). I bet that was something to see!

 

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A few minutes later and Bottle, always in front, spotted something in the bush ahead. We could see that it was a buffalo. A male and he looked to be on his own. The animal had seen us and Philemon and Bottle indicated that he looked to be in poor condition and this was potentially about as dangerous a situation as we could encounter. We never felt threatened though and I always felt like we were at a safe distance and Bottle did what we were told he would do (stand and watch) while Philemon did what we had been told he would do (safely lead us away). We talked about it afterwards and Philemon thanked us for our understanding of the animals's situation and that had we not moved away the buffalo could well have charged leaving bottle with only one choice and only one shot. Shoot to kill. No second chances with charging buffalo. Putting any animal at risk of death was never an option for us and we both felt more like the buffalo was the one that felt threatened. Just something about his body language but better safe than sorry - always.

 

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As it turned out there was actually a small herd close by and we watched them all turn and run in a big cloud of dust as Bottle simply stamped his foot. What was that about being scared by two legged predators with forward facing eyes?

 

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It was getting hot so we had a pleasant drink stop and between me and Bottle we finished of the biscuits that were baked fresh every day and always a full tin to go at. I have a sweet tooth but when a guy with a large gun suggests that the chef will be offended if all the biscuits aren't eaten I think it is only polite to eat them all - sweet tooth or not.

 

It was getting hotter still as we neared Kakuli and we crossed the dry Luwi river one last time just above the confluence with the Luangwa. Before we could get to Kakuli though we ran into buffalo one last time so we gave them a very wide berth and then we reached our home for the next two nights. We were met by Claire and the staff - another friendly reception - and said our goodbyes to Philemon and Bottle who, luckily, hitched a ride back to Nsolo. It was quite warm today and only June.

 

We spent some time chatting with Claire who told us about a recent visit by a leopard that had walked the path in front of tent 3 the other day while one of the guests was on the deck. Sadly, the guest did not have their camera out - we know because we got the story from the actual guest who we had met while at Nsolo so this leopard story was from a couple of days ago. We were shown to tent 4 which was the furthest from the main area and, like the other 3 tents was facing the river but being at the end we also had some dense bush right alongside.

 

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We had lunch (ice cream dessert...in the bush...in Africa!) with guests that we had met previously in other camps already so we were like old friends and then I spent an enjoyable afternoon photographing the animals that were visiting the area. That bench under the tree in the shot above is where I set up my tripod and clicked away until afternoon tea. Had the leopard patrolled again it would have walked right across that area. I was obviously hoping (expecting) to see the leopard return any minute so there was no way I was having a siesta today. Actually, I didn't really expect to see the leopard but it didn't stop me hoping for it to happen and turning around every time a leaf blew in the breeze. Have I mentioned that I love Africa?

 

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Kakuli camp was full and so NCS put us in two vehicles for the sunset drive and we teamed up with Prince and Charles from the other night. Still not having seen wild dogs, my wife asked if we could try and look for some and so we went straight away to a spot just up the Luwi river where they are known to often hang out but no luck tonight. We would visit that spot often in the next two days so it must be a favorite of theirs.

 

We then drove through a place so magical that I did not even take one picture as I was sure I would not be able to do it justice. An amazing ebony grove that looked like heaven for baboons and leopards and everything else for that matter. Plenty of animals around for me to photograph after that though.

 

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We had chatted with Claire earlier and suggested that there was a friendly rivalry between the NCS camps trying to out do each other with bush dinners and bush breakfasts. Claire just laughed and told us that Luwi and Nsolo each had their own thing but Kakuli was on the Luangwa so no need for anything else as the river was enough.

 

Claire was right. We drove to a spot on the Luangwa where we were reunited with the other guests - friends by now - and proceeded to have a lovely sundowner. Great location, great people and...homemade popcorn washed down for me with my usual "J". Unbelievable the lengths they go to out here in the bush just for us. I set up the camera on the tripod as we watched the sun set over the crocs and hippos in the river and I have fond memories of that particular sundowner.

 

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We were almost ready to leave when one of the porters had told the guides that a leopard had just walked past so we all jumped in the vehicles and took off in search but no luck. So no wild dogs and no leopard in tree. One more night in South Luangwa then 4 in Lower Zambezi. Would that be enough?

 

Our last full day in South Luangwa tomorrow and we learned that we had Prince and Charles all to ourselves so had the choice of a walk, a drive or a bit of both. Let's see what tomorrow brings.

 

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What a great report so far! It has been a treat to see some familiar scenes from our recent trip to Zambia - though the mist and wetness of the falls are far more pronounced.

Your photos of the starry night skies are especially gorgeous.

The sundowner in your most recent post is a great location. What a lovely spot to enjoy your J. :)

 

I am curious about the green five, as I've not heard of that before.

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