The journey and the destinations

Leaving Victoria Falls behind we continued our journey through Zambia with a couple of transit stops, on our way to South Luangwa National Park. While our blog mainly focuses on the places that we stop along our way, there is so much that we see and experience as we drive along every day. A bright orange and blue truck full of tourists, as you may imagine, draws a fair bit of attention. With so much life conducted on the roadside, from shops and stalls selling everything from fruit and vegetables to car parts, mobile phones, shoes or charcoal to endless numbers of people walking along going about their daily chores, going to school, hitching rides, tending to cattle or crops, there are always plenty of curious faces looking on. You pass buses loaded to overflowing, broken down trucks and cars, and endless numbers of people riding pushbikes. Women with small children on their backs walk gracefully carrying baskets or buckets of water on their heads. Kids run around on the sides of the road, stopping what they are doing to wave and smile and shout “mzungu” as you go past and sometimes “sweets” or “pens”. Dress ranges from traditional to Manchester United jerseys. The style of villages that we pass varies from country to country, area to area, as do the crops and the vegetation. It is an ever-changing scene that plays out all around us as the kilometres pass, and one of the best parts of our style of travel.

The drive up to South Luangwa National Park is pretty hectic for a couple of hours as the road is under repair (as it has been for several years now…) On arriving (shaken, but not stirred) into our campsite just outside the park entrance, everyone started to get an idea of just how special this place is as we were given a safety briefing due to the fact that the camp has no fences and so hippo, elephant and even lion are regular visitors, generally at night. Take a torch, walk in groups and get an escort back from the bar at night was the advice of the camp owners and after seeing hippo in action fighting each other in the water with their massive jaws and teeth, everyone was glad to oblige!

After setting up camp we wandered down to the river to see four pods of hippos lounging around in the water and three elephant grazing on the river’s edge, and this was just the start of our wildlife experience at this incredible park.

We finally got our sighting of a leopard on our night drive in the park, so we have now seen all of the Big 5 including both black and white rhino. But that certainly wasn’t all as we also saw lion, buffalo, elephant, spotted hyena, Thornicrofts Giraffe, crocodile, monitor lizards, antelope including impala, puku and bushbuck, zebra, and Mark and Teri were lucky enough to see Wild Dogs, a real highlight. There were also bird sightings aplenty, including the Ground Hornbill, Malachite Kingfisher and African Fish Eagle. Although we have been to quite a few national parks already on our journey from Cape Town, South Luangwa has been rated by many in the group as the best yet. As usual, plenty of photos were taken!

In between game drives, we had another important task to complete in South Luangwa – welcoming 2011! Everyone decided a special feast was in order to celebrate New Year’s Eve, so the local village supplied us with a goat which was then cooked for hours on our sand-mat spit. It was another delicious meal and the start of a bit of a party. Sore heads were in order for most of the group the next morning, but that was no excuse not to enjoy a glass of sparkling wine with our “Welcome to 2011” cooked breakfast! It was a chilled afternoon by the pool for most, and another game drive in the evening for others. A truly memorable start to the year.

From South Luangwa it was time to say goodbye to Zambia, and hello to country number 8, Malawi. Known as the “friendly heart of Africa”, Malawi is a small land-locked country that is dominated by Lake Malawi. It was the lake that was to be our destination for our time in Malawi, giving everyone the chance to relax and enjoy a bit of beach time, albeit with fresh water! Our first couple of nights on the lake were at a campsite in Senga Bay, looking across the lake towards Lizard Island. Most of the group headed out on an afternoon boat trip to visit the island, famous for its monitor lizards, and also a good place to go snorkelling to see the unusual cyclid fish. A storm on the way back to the campsite made the journey a bit more exciting than was originally anticipated! Senga Bay is also home to a couple of good craft markets, specialising in wood carving. Luckily we have a couple of boxes on the truck dedicated to souvenirs… Driving further up the lake we stopped for another couple of nights at a quiet little spot with a fantastic bar right on the beach and plenty of time to sit and read, bob around in the water or even catch up on a some sleep or do a bit of yoga.

With Zanzibar just around the corner, and our Kilimanjaro climbers chomping at the bit, we left Malawi behind and headed into Tanzania. First stop was a lovely campsite just outside Iringa, where the rain couldn’t dampen spirits as it gave us more opportunity to shelter in the bar and enjoy their speciality of hot chocolate with Amarula, the local cream liqueur which tastes a bit like Baileys. We picked up some lovely fresh vegetables from the farm attached to the campsite, and after a brief stop in the town of Iringa to pick up more supplies we continued on to Ruaha National Park. After the success we had in South Luangwa, and all our previous parks, it was always going to be tough for Ruaha to impress everyone, but fortunately it succeeded. Lots of new bird species for our birders on board, procreating lions and charging elephants were some of the highlights of the day’s game drives.

From Ruaha we headed back to rejoin the main road to Dar es Salaam. The coming days will see four of our group, Teri, Mark, Sam and Dave taking on Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain which tops out at 5,895m. It will be an epic experience, and we wish them all the very best. For those not convinced of the merits of climbing a mountain for fun, we will be heading to Zanzibar, the exotic spice island off the coast, and then up to Arusha where there is the opportunity to visit another incredible wildlife park, the Ngorogoro Crater. It is going to be a busy couple of weeks!

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