Humbled and transformed by Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park

We’d been talking about doing this trip for a year, and last week, finally, we travelled next door to Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park for a two-day safari. The beauty and serenity of the park and its animals took my breath away. I never imagined that being so close to wild, dangerous animals could be so calming on the soul.

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Day 1
We arrived at the lodge after a five-hour drive that included a long and frustrating wait at the border. It’s amazing to see the difference in bureaucratic efficiency between Malawi and Zambia. Malawi has a long way to go.
It’s early evening and we’re sitting on comfy chairs facing the Luangwa River, watching yawning hippos through binoculars. I was never interested in coming to Africa and going on safari; I was never drawn to it the way some people are. But sitting here, listening to the birds, watching the light change and reflect off the rippling water, I can’t imagine a more beautiful place on Earth. Suddenly, I want to spend more time on this continent.

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Day 2
Last night I lay awake listening for animals sounds. The lodge manager (who I think might be David Kelly, the artist) told us that we have to be careful when going to the bathroom at night because elephants and hippos tend to wander into the camp (!!!). I heard the hippos fairly early on but they didn’t come anywhere near us. Later, I woke up to the sound of hyenas nearby. I had never heard them before so I didn’t know they were hyenas until someone told me at breakfast. Then, towards the morning, I’m sure I heard elephants munching on some trees behind our tent.
On the game drive, the first animal we saw was the Thornicroft giraffe, which is endemic to the Luangwa Valley. They are smaller than other giraffes and have slightly different spots. Giraffes are such funny creatures. They can’t trot, they can only walk or run. Their walk is already awkward enough, with those long legs and cumbersome necks, so when they try to pick up speed they break into a clumsy gallop, knobbly knees wobbling, struggling to keep that huge neck upright.

We spent the rest of the morning searching for leopards. We only spotted one on the afternoon drive, very briefly before it disappeared into the thicket.

Photo credit: J.Dominguez
Photo credit: J.Dominguez

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Day 3
Last night an elephant nearly trampled us in our tent! It obviously didn’t see the tent and was just as startled as we were when it brushed past and snapped one of the cords.
Another day of game drives, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. We saw lots of lions, graceful impala, colourful birds, warthogs, elephants, amazing zebras and more giraffes. Tomorrow morning we drive back to Lilongwe.

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