Secret of Africa

Geheim van AfrikaWe lie in our tent in Lilongwe and hear the alarm buzzing. The city around us is already awake for a while now. Trucks drive back and forth and taxis honk at potential customers. With earplugs we tried to ignore the sounds of the city for a while, but even for us it is time to get up now. Today we first pass another border, from Malawi to Zambia, and then we still have a long drive ahead of us to South Luangwa National Park. We are going back to the bush to look for wildlife.

Once we have left Lilongwe with its tall buildings and wide avenues behind us, we are immediately back in the African countryside. Beside the road between the high bushes are are small huts made ​​of wood, straw and clay. Besides the houses are cows, goats and some chickens. A mother that carries her baby on her back walks to the river to fetch water. The differences with the big city that we have only just left, is very big.

Geheim van AfrikaJust like when we entered Malawi, the border formalities at the Malawian side do not take much time. In contrast, the Zambian side takes quite long. The customs officers seem to look right through us even though we are waiting in front of their counter. Only after they have watched the highlights of the World Cup soccer match of the evening before on a TV that is on one of the desks, they are willing to place some stamps. After we have changed our money, we finally enter Zambia at the end of that morning.

As great as the difference between the city and the countryside can be, as big can the differences between two neighbouring countries be. Unlike in Europe, in Africa we sometimes feel that we drive into a completely different world. We already experienced that when we travelled from Rwanda to Burundi. And now the difference between Malawi and Zambia is again immediately visible. You directly notice that you have entered a more developed country. We see stone houses, several large supermarkets, lots of cars and service stations with a big shop. Of course we also see small farming villages in Zambia where people live in primitive huts without running water, but Zambia clearly also has a richer middle class.

Geheim van AfrikaFrom the border town of Chipata, we drive on a nice asphalt road to the entrance of the park. Only the last few kilometres to the campsite we follow a sandy dirt road that winds between a dense forest with low acacia trees. It would be a perfect place for elephants and giraffes. The camp site is located just outside the national park, but the animals do not care about the park boundaries. We might just see them here. But I do not really have a lot of time to look around me in search of animals, because the sand on the road to the campground is just deep enough to ask all of my attention.

We park our bikes at the front desk of The Wildlife Camp and walk inside to ask if they have a camping spot for us. “Good day gentlemen” says the manager as he puts forward his hand to shake ours. He quickly corrects his mistake when he sees my face and then starts talking to us like a stern schoolmaster about how unwise it was to drive on the motorbikes to the campsite. The dense forest does not only hold elephants and giraffes, but also leopards and lions. If he had known that we wanted to visit the campsite on the motorbikes, he would have picked us up with a car and a trailer. His brother was apparently   chased by a lioness once on his motorbike.

Geheim van AfrikaAlthough we are aware of the risks and are very careful in areas where wild animals live, we think it is only a very tall story. We had heard earlier that the animals will not attack us without a cause, because we do not look like preys when we are on the bikes. The biggest risk is if the animals feel cornered and try to defend themselves. As long as you do not drive right through a group of elephants that is crossing the road, the chances of that are small. In addition, many of Zambians that we saw on our way to the campsite, were cycling or even walking. If the risk of being devoured by a hungry lion would be so big, they would not just walk or ride there, right? But hey, this is Africa and maybe we Europeans underestimate the risks. We listen obediently to all his instructions and then drive through the dense forest back to the campsite (with some butterflies in my stomach this time).

We find a beautiful camping spot overlooking the river Luangwa. The river forms the natural border with the nature park at the other side. It is already starting to get dark when we get off our bikes and look out over the river. We have only just arrived five minutes ago, but we immediately feel like being on a safari. From the campsite, we see hippos, crocodiles, giraffes, warthogs, monkeys and even an elephant! Amazing! We had planned to stay only two nights, but in my head I am already going over our grocerys and counting how many days we can last.

When the sun goes down, it quickly becomes chilly. We crawl into our warm sleeping bags early that night. Geheim van AfrikaAlthough we have left the buzzing city with its humming trucks and honking taxis behind us, it is far from quiet now. In the distance we hear hippos, hyenas and a loud growl that we can not identify directly. And even closer to the tent we hear rustling in the bushes and branches breaking. The stern-looking manager had informed us that at night we cannot just go out of our tent to go to the toilet, because the campground is visited by hippos, elephants and even leopards regularly. Only when we are sure that the coast is clear, we can cross to the toilets. His advice to keep no food in the tent, but to leave that in one of the closed boxes at the bar, was followed by us obediently. At least that ensures that despite all the jungle noises around the tent I fall into a deep sleep without any problems.

The next morning we learn from our neighbour that the loud growl was made by a leopard. The beast was still far away when we heard it, but later it had apparently walked around on the campsite. Our neighbours, Ralph and Tanya and their three children, are second and third generation British immigrants that were born and raised in Zimbabwe. While their African home country slowly falls into an deeper crisis, they moved to the much more stable Zambia in search of a better future. They tell us all about their ‘life in the bush’. Very interesting and in no way the same as our time in the ’urban jungle’ of Amsterdam.

Geheim van AfrikaAfter a late breakfast we sit down in our chairs with the binoculars and a book. But we do not read much, because there is too much to see. On the sandbanks in the river are at least ten crocodiles, one even bigger than the other. They warm up in the sun and then glide silently into the water. The sun is too hot for the hippos, so they remain deep underwater and only appear when they breathe. At the end of the morning, a large group of elephants comes to drink at the river. They suck their long trunk full of water, bring it to their mouth and let the water flow out of their trunks into their mouths. After they have drunk enough, they step into the water one by one to cross to the other side. The river is so deep that they even have to swim. The younger elephants hold their trunks above water as a snorkel to breathe and get a push if they get too far underwater. I almost feel honoured that we can watch this, fantastic!

At the campsite, it is mainly the monkeys that keep us busy. In the trees above our tent are “blue ball monkeys” waiting for the right moment to sneak to the table and steal our food. Every so often, we shoot up from our seats to chase them away with loud noises. But these are cheeky monkeys, that are not easily chased away. We follow the example of our neighbors’ children, who are shooting stones into the trees with a catapult. The eldest of the three states blandly that at home they always kill the stealing monkeys because that is the only thing that helps. Startled I watch her ​​for a moment, but after an afternoon chasing monkeys and seeing a packet of biscuits, a spoon and packet of soup disappear into the trees, I can fully understand!

Geheim van AfrikaThat afternoon it becomes more busy at the water. As the sun slowly downs, animals come from the shade of the forest to the river to drink. We again see giraffes and several antelopes. The monkeys are tired of stealing and come out of the trees to play in the sand next to the river. Across the river a hippo trudges out of the water to graze on the land during the night. As silently as the crocodile moves, so much noise makes this unwieldy gray beast when it leaves the water. Not to be missed. We sit in our chairs and almost fight over the binoculars. As the sun downs further, we see one of the most beautiful sunsets so far. This is so much better than watching TV!

Curious about the wildlife park across the river, we register at the reception of the campsite for two safaris; one morning safari and one overnight safari. This time not on the motorbikes but from an open safari car! The alarm sounds at 05:00 the next morning, but it is hardly a struggle to get out of bed. We are both excited to go to the park! We are picked up at the campsite and get a thick woollen blanket. Grateful we wrap it around us, because it is very cold now the sun is not up yet.

Geheim van AfrikaThe search for the first animals does not take long, because after only 500 meters from the campsite we already see elephants. They stand a few feet from the dirt road on which we drove to the campsite, between the low acacia trees. The forest is so dense that they only have to do one step to the left to disappear behind the branches completely. Who knows what animals we already passed on our way to the campsite. A little further, still before we get to the park entrance, we see a group of giraffes. The animals take their time to cross the road and do not care about the cars with tourists that stop to watch them.

Once in the park we see lots of different animals: hippos, crocodiles, zebras, impalas, elephants, buffalo and lots of beautiful birds. We sit in the front of the car and have a beautiful view from the high car. It is also very relaxing because someone else is watching the road and we can just look around. With the binoculars we search the trees and bushes for lions and leopards, but do not see any this morning. Geheim van AfrikaPerhaps we have better luck during the night safari. South Luangwa National Park is known for the large number of leopards. The best chance to see a leopard is in the evening when the sun is down and the big cats go in search of a prey.

After we have spent the afternoon at the campsite, we get back into the car and drive back to the park back just before sunset. The light at the end of the day is very nice and makes beautiful pictures of trudging elephants and playing monkeys. As the sun sinks into the river and the hippos prepare to leave the water, our guide parks the car at the side of the water for a short picnic. Along the waterfront is a long line of cars with tourists that, like us, enjoy a beer and some peanuts. It is special to step our of the car in the knowledge that lions can be around watching us. I find it quite difficult to relax with my beer.

Geheim van AfrikaAs the sun is gone, we get back in the car. From the river a long line of safari cars rides to the savannah to look for big cats and other nocturnal animals. It is very dark. To be able to find animals one of the two guides shines with a huge spotlight from left to right along the trees and bushes. We follow the light of his lamp like we are at a tennis match, until a pair of eyes lights up in his lamp. The car is quickly driven in the direction of the lamp, to show what they have found us. During the first hour we see (among other animals) two honey badgers, a porcupine, various mongooses, a nightjar and a Bush Baby (Google that one!). No big cats yet.

After a while we see a number of cars in the distance, all with their spotlight on one spot in the bushes. Our guide hits the gas and joins the other cars. In the light of the bundled spotlights is a leopard! He is far away, but with the binoculars we can almost count his whiskers. Magnificent! With his eyes closed against the bright light, he slowly moves the tip of its tail up and down. Geheim van AfrikaWhen our cat Sammy used to do that it usually meant he was not so happy. And that could just be the case with this great African cat, because not long after another two cars have joined us, he stands up, moves away and lies down ten meters further behind some bushes. Just out of the reach of the spotlights. Clever cat! As we drive on through the dark park, we see another two leopards and a spotted hyena in the light of the spotlight. What beautiful animals!

We stay for another two days at the campsite where we watch the animals around us with the binoculars. At night we now recognize the sound of the leopard, we are not afraid of the strange little white frogs in the shower and we see how our neighbour proceeds to more rigorous measures as she scares away the monkeys from her food with a borrowed air rifle. Then it is time to move on and see other parts of Zambia.

Geheim van AfrikaWith pain in our hearts we leave this beautiful place. Although South Luangwa was not the first park we thought of when we dreamed about a safari, the wildlife park is certainly no less than the parks in Kenya and Tanzania. With significantly lower prices this Zambian park may just be one of the best kept secrets of Africa. We are pleased that the general public has not yet found its way to the Zambian savannah and look forward to coming back one day!

Distance travelled to South Luangwa National Park: 20.528km (12.756 miles)

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| Leonie | AFRICA, Zambia

6 Reacties (Comments) - Secret of Africa

  1. Mieke

    Echt ongelofelijk, jullie leventje zo midden tussen al die verschillende dieren.

  2. Celine en Leon

    Geweldige blog! Op de foto’s zie ik een carmine beeeater en fish eagles? Maar julle hebben het over nog meer bijzondere vogels…tell me more! :)
    En die bush baby’s zijn echt ideale ze-zijn-zo-schattig-zal- ik -er-een- in-mn-tas-stoppen-souvenirs haha.

    Liefs uit het zonnige en bij-ige Eemnes!

  3. Toine Berden

    Leonie en Peter,

    prachtig verhaal weer en zal dit natuurpark zeker opnemen in onze lijst “te bezoeken” als we volgend jaar een trip maken met de motor in Zuidelijk Africa (Z-Africa-Moz-Zambia-Namibie-Botswana). Heb zelf deze zomer een Honda CRF 250L gekocht – en ben zeer tevreden- die ik naar Zuid-Africa zal verschepen. Ik heb jullie modificaties gezien en vraag me af hoe ze bevallen zijn en of deze allemaal nodig waren. Uit de verhalen lees ik af dat jullie zeer content zijn met de motors.

    Veel plezier en blijf schrijven.



  4. Mirjam

    Haha, superlief die Bush Babies!!
    Heel gaaf verhaal weer! 😀

    Liefs, Mip

  5. Ben en Anja Scheltens

    Wow, dit is voor mij het “echte” Afrika. Jullie bezoeken prachtige plaatsen. Ga zo door. Hartelijke groet, ben en anja

  6. Sofie De Lille

    Wat een beesten! Zo bijzonder om hen in hun alledaagse bezigheden te zien. Voelt het niet als binnendringen in hun privacy?