(from Dustin again)
Although our experience at Flatdogs so far had been perfect, the next day we branched out to another company for our time in the park. We were only staying two nights, so we (well, mostly I) wanted to get the most out of our time by doing a full day drive (and Flatdogs didn’t have enough interested customers to organize one). After calling another nearby camp (called Track and Trail) we found out that they had a full day drive already organized, and that we could join in! The caveat was that we would be joining a family of five and the drive would have a photography focus. The photography focus meant that we would be stopping for longer than usual to allow for more shooting, which sounded great to us because it meant a more relaxed pace with extra time to observe the animals. The other part was that they had three kids, ages 6 to 9, which sounded interesting to us – so we signed up for the adventure.
Sunday morning at 6am the driver and family arrived to pick us up, and we headed out for 12 hours in South Luangwa. It turned out that the driver/guide for the day was the owner of the other camp, a friendly and interesting Dutch guy named Peter. We said hello, and also thanked the family for allowing us to join their drive. Their kids were very nice, and pretty shy to start out – the oldest one wasn’t feeling to well and ended up spending the most of the day lying face down in the back row of seats – seemingly trying his best to graduate early to teenage angst. The youngest was a girl named Anna, who was pretty shy, but warmed up fairly quickly with Julianna – as is bound to happen! Their parents were very nice and we had a funny exchange to start out, as we compared our ‘point and shoot’ camera to his bag full of camera backs and lenses. After a bit of conversation we learned that the dad was a professional photographer, coupled with owning a Dutch travel magazine focused on African wildlife and safaris. So, every summer their family would go to a new park for a week and the wildlife photos would become the pictures for their magazine. New friends made, and context for the day set, we had begun our full day drive with our six Dutch companions.
A primary advantage of the full day drive is the opportunity to venture deeper into the park, and away from the more heavily trafficked portions near the main entrance. So we headed north, making a few stops along the way for picture opportunities. South Luangwa is particularly rich in a wide variety of bird life, so the morning consisted of learning about many new types of birds. There were many varieties with stunning colors, but you’ll have to take our word for it – as our little camera doesn’t fare too well in capturing the little guys with any detail. But, as expected, the ‘photo shoots’ gave a welcome opportunity to sit and enjoy the quiet surroundings with the engine off, just soaking up our transfixing surroundings. From this point forward we only crossed paths with about five other vehicles over the coarse of the entire day, so it was fun to feel like we were really out on our own, exploring the park! Besides the birds, the morning offered plenty of elephant, giraffe, hippo, and impala again – each new sighting can feel like the first of the day – with a quick rise of excitement when something is spotted around the corner or on the horizon. We also had a great time chatting with Peter and the Dutch parents, who all had a fun sense of humor and compatible interests on things from traveling to politics. It was also fun to see a family with young kids, making travel in Africa work – something we hope to be able to do someday too.
Along the way the family told us about their experience the previous night, when they had the fortune to witness a leopard kill an impala. Not only that, but after making the kill, some hyenas moved in and stole the carcass from the leopard. This all happened in the dark, while they watched with a spotlight – so we returned in the morning to investigate the crime scene. They found a bit of blood where the kill was, but the entire carcass was gone, apparently scattered by the scavengers. Just as we were getting ready to move on Peter looked up in the tree and saw half of the remaining carcass. It seems that the leopard got the carcass back and took it up the tree for safekeeping!
From there we continued onward to the less trafficked areas of the park. Our driver Peter also doesn’t frequent these areas, so we explored various road spurs, seeking out whatever we might uncover. At one point we saw another car, and in the corner of her eye Julianna thought she saw a leopard walking in the bushes – so we headed back to try and get a better look. The leopard seemed to have gone off in another direction, but the people in the other car confirmed that they saw it too! After a bit more exploring, the morning concluded, we stopped by a lagoon in a grove of ebony trees for a relaxing lunch. We had some great food and conversation and then headed off for the last part of the day.
The remainder of the day brought three highlights – the first was just around the corner as we left. As we followed the river south we spotted two hippos across the way, moving slowly towards the water. Nothing particularly unusual about that, until we noticed that they seemed to be headed straight for a sunning crocodile! So we stopped to wait a bit and watch the standoff, which ended anticlimactically with the hippos continuing straight by in close proximity, but completely uneventfully. I guess the fun part was all the imagined scenarios we concocted as they approached each other. The next big sighting was a herd of over 100 buffalo (one of the ‘big five’ animals ‘required’ for a good safari). They are quite odd looking animals, we stopped for a good amount of time for picture taking in what our photographic experts called ‘interesting light.’ So, once more we relaxed and took in the experience – watching the herd react to their surroundings, cycling between alert and relaxed as they observed our movements and listened to us. There was a definite two way street in this observation! Finally, with daylight waning and our drive about to end, we came upon a lioness strolling down the road. It was a great way to finish the day, because many lion sightings primarily consist of just watching them relax and lay around. At this point we were back closer to the entrance, and combined with the lion sighting, there was a decent crowd of vehicles – so we got a little of the human spectacle as well. After a good long chance to watch the lioness, about 10 minutes of her walking down the side of the road (sometimes only 5 feet away from us!), we headed out of the park to return home. We had one last adventure after exiting the park, our driver Peter noticed an old remnant of a road that was roughly in the direction of the camp Julianna and I needed to return to – so we went on one last adventure – exploring a little used road that did lead us right back to camp. That last bit of spontaneity provided a fitting conclusion to a great day in the park.
You can find some pictures here: