At 10:00 on April the 18th, 2013, I felt the need to pinch myself. Hard. Here I was, sitting in the back seat of a Land Cruiser barreling down the road in the sunshine, taking in the surrounding countryside of the greater Mfuwe area. Passing by a group of giraffes – which later, I was informed, is collectively called a “tower” – I knew my dream had come true; I was in Zambia.
I had dreamed of coming on this trip for years – Knight Inlet Lodge, the company I work for in British Columbia, Canada offers a guide exchange to Zambia, Africa with Norman Carr Safaris. Lucky enough to bring a “plus 1”, I had my boyfriend, Eamon, with me. With my background in wildlife and adventure tourism guiding, and Eamon’s background in Fisheries and the BC marine environment, we were ready to have our eyes opened on this 18-day, once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Bwalya, a young man who turned out to be our main guide during out stay (and one of our favourites), drove us from Mfuwe airport to Norman Carr Safaris’ Kapani Lodge. Upon arrival, we were met by many friendly faces; David Wilson, Mario, Ian, Abraham, Enoch, Judy and Josaphat among them. Brunch, on the deck overlooking the lagoon, was a splendid affair of lasagna, lentil salad, beet salad, tomato and onion salad and fresh bread. Following brunch, as the daily routine dictated, was rest period from 12:30 to 3:30. I thought I would be too excited to sleep, what with the baboons preening each other and playing just on the other side of our screened windows, but I thought wrong.
After enjoying cake and a cool drink several sleepy hours later – where we learned to protect our afternoon cake from the ever-so-quick baboons – Eamon and I were off on our first game drive into South Luangwa National Park. With Bwalya as our guide and Ben as our spotlight-er, we enjoyed seeing an incredible array of plant life, in addition to the abundant wildlife species. The wildlife we saw included Hippos, Hyena, Elephants, Puku, Bushbuck, Impala, Genet, Chameleon, Burchell’s Zebra and many species of bird, including Long-tailed Starling, Grey Heron, Egret, Sacred Ibis, Yellow-billed Stork, Rosy-faced Lovebird, Ground Hornbill, Nightjar, the American Fish Eagle and the Bateleur.
Back to the Lodge for dinner – another splendid meal – and with that the day was finished.
Up at 05:30 for breakfast with Bwalya and off on our second safari by 06:00, we enjoyed viewing and learning about many more species that South Luangwa had to offer; Crocodiles, Kudu, Little Bee-eaters, Red-billed Oxpecker, Woodland Kingfisher (one of my favourites), Lilac-breasted Roller, Mongoose, Yellow-bellied Sunbird, Indigo Bird, Porcupine, Civet, Wahlberg’s Eagle and the Tsetse fly, amongst many others. Around every corner was another surprise (or five). We made sure to pay attention to all the details – although how could you not? – Bwalya had promised to write us an exam to test our knowledge at the end of our stay.
The next five days at Kapani Lodge all melded into an incredible experience of game drives and night drives spent mainly with Bwalya – an incredibly passionate guide who noticed every detail of our surroundings and wowed Eamon and I with seemingly endless knowledge. Highlights from those days and nights include our first sighting of a Leopard (a big male – hunting, no less, and using our vehicle for cover) and viewing Alice, a female Leopard, and her two cubs at a fairly close range, while on foot on a walking safari with Laurence as our guide and Mishuk, our armed scout. A few nights later, we were extremely lucky to see Alice and her cubs eating after killing an impala. Once full, Alice came out of the bush where she had stashed the carcass and lay down, a mere 12 feet from our vehicle – wow.
In addition to the wildlife viewing, Eamon and I were also lucky enough to visit most of the NCS bush camps during our stay, and we able to help with construction at Innocent’s camp, Nsolo, and Aubrey’s camp, Kakuli, for a few days each. At Nsolo and Kakuli, I learned many new skills, including the cutting, bundling and combing of grass, thatching walls, attaching building and roof supports, how to artfully balance a 25-litre water bucket on my head, preparing and mudding floors, etc. All very important things to know, in order to get the bush camps ready for the upcoming season!
While staying in the bush camps, we learned a lot about life in Zambia via the construction crewmen and women, from the hardships faced by most people from the villages in the area, to the culture and customs of Zambian people. The ladies in Aubrey’s camp were surprised to learn I was not married nor had children of my own at the ripe old age of 23. I think they found it hard to believe that this was normal, where I came from. I shared some incredible laughs and great times and enjoyed telling tales of life in Canada; attempting to describe what my home province of British Columbia felt like, smelled like, sounded like. I’m sure some of them thought I was full of it! I know that Eamon and I were of some amusement to everyone in the bush camps at mealtime, especially our first few days – there is an art to eating Nshima (staple of the Zambian diet) and scooping up beans, cabbage and kapenta (dried sardines) successfully. By day 6 of eating Nshima, I think I had it!
Eamon and I were sad to leave the bush camps but had an unforgettable experience. We would miss the night-time symphony of hippos calling just outside the door and the laugh of the hyenas, the far-off rumble of lions roaring and the almost constant chorus of frogs – all coming alive under the African sky, littered with stars. I would especially miss the population of indoor frogs – oh the friends you can make in a bush camp bathroom!
We spent our last few days back at the Kapani Lodge, with our time divided between game drives and night drives with Charles and Joshua, and visits to the local school and clinic. While visiting the clinic especially, I had my eyes opened. I realize that coming from Canada and the world of Western medicine, we are more than privileged to have access to the modern facilities, equipment and specialists that are available at home. Talking to the nurse and the lab technician at the Mfuwe clinic, they walked us through the facilities and explained the achievements of the clinic in the recent years, and also the difficulties faced on a daily basis in regards to equipment, personnel, funding and storage of temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals (with intermittent power failures), among many other issues. The clinic in Mfuwe is lucky to receive aid from Norman Carr Safaris and other safari companies in the area, and to have an international roving doctor come stay and work in the community for several months at a time.
Eamon and I were lucky enough to share our last dinner at Kapani with Gid and Adrian Carr, David, Mario, Ian, Caity and all the new bush camp hosts and hostesses that had just arrived from all over the world. Even a bushbaby and a Grysbok made a surprise appearance during the event. After an evening of great conversation and again, another incredible meal, we regrettably headed to bed after saying our goodbyes.
Up early again on our final morning for a last game drive before heading to the airport, I finally saw my lions! A brief glimpse, but we were lucky enough to spot two lionesses with three cubs before they melted away into the South Luangwa undergrowth.