Sophie's Top Five Experiences in Zambia

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By Sophie 06 March 2018

I recently spent three fantastic weeks in Zambia, revisiting places I know well and exploring new areas. Having managed several bushcamps in Zambia, I have been lucky enough to really get to know what goes on in the country, as well as the brilliant people who live there. On my last trip, for the first time I saw everything from the other side – I was a guest rather than a manager.

When I was told I was going back to Zambia on an educational trip, I don’t think I stopped smiling for a week. Zambia is my favourite safari destination – I love its wilderness, the feeling of remoteness, and all the different activities it has on offer. I have been asked for a list of my top five experiences on the trip! This is a difficult one, as I was utterly spoilt by the wildlife and everyone I met – I have some very happy memories.

1. Aardvark in the Lower Zambezi…

My first night back in Zambia was spent at Old Mondoro in the Lower Zambezi – I arrived into the camp at 5pm, having travelled from London. As soon as I arrived, I was asked if I’d like to go on a night drive – the answer, of course, was yes! So I jumped straight back in the vehicle and we headed out, my guide asking me whether there was anything in particular I would like to see. Not really believing it could happen, I said: ‘An aardvark.’

To be honest, I was loving being back in the African bush so much that I really did not care what I saw. But all of a sudden, the spotter pointed his lamp into the bushes and there was an aardvark – how he spotted it, I will never know. What a wonderfully unique creature – it was much bigger than I expected and it very quickly headed for the safety of its burrow, but I saw enough. The next night I headed out again, this time with the camp manager, and what did we see? Yep, another aardvark :-)

2. Leopard in the Lower Zambezi…

This is another night drive experience – you cannot go on night drives in every safari destination, but in Zambia they happen every night if you want. This time I set out from Chiawa Camp. We were having a relatively quiet drive until we found a leopard, who was obviously hunting. We then realised she was not the only leopard in the area, as other vehicles that were close by were following different individuals. Over about half an hour, we realised there were four leopards in the area, all stalking a small herd of impala. All of the guides stopped their cars and we turned off all the lights to let whatever was going to happen play out without giving either side the advantage or disadvantage from the light from the vehicles’ headlamps.

We sat in silence for a few minutes, and then the impalas went mad – they were snorting and running all over the place in the darkness. One of the leopards had killed an impala, and over the next twenty minutes I watched as the four leopards and four hyenas fought over the carcass. One leopard bolted up a tree with part of the hindquarters, only to fall out of the tree when another leopard followed it up. It was non-stop action and the icing on the cake was when a fifth leopard, a big male, joined the party. I still can’t believe I saw five individual leopards together, and my guide was beside himself with happiness. Thank you, Lower Zambezi – it was an amazing drive!

3. Wild dog in the South Luangwa…

Wild dog are my favourite animal – I just love them, and my one wish for my trip back to Zambia was to see the wild dog again. I was not disappointed! I had one sighting when I was staying at Luwi Bush Camp that would have been enough to keep me happy. We found four wild dogs by the side of the road – my guide said he was expecting there to be five, so one was missing. Then there was a call in the distance, and all of the dogs got to their feet and set off at full pace in the direction of the call. To see them running so fast was incredible – so many sightings are of animals asleep or just sitting around doing nothing, so to see them run like that was great.

Soon the five dogs were reunited, and they headed off into the bush. This, however, was not my best wild dog sighting of the trip! Later on during my safari, while staying at Chindeni Bush Camp, I was treated to the sight of a pack of 24 dogs – 12 adults and 12 puppies. I watched the adults hunt successfully twice, returning to the puppies to regurgitate the food for them. To see the whole family dynamic was fascinating and gave me a new level of respect for wild dog. Thank you, South Luangwa.

4. Walking safari in North Luangwa…

When I first saw the itinerary for my trip and realised that I would be spending three days in the North Luangwa on a walking safari, I was beside myself with happiness – for me, this is safari at its best. I love to walk in the African bush, and to do it in a place as remote and untouched as the North Luangwa cannot be beaten. Mwaleshi Camp is a rustic property perfectly suited to the surrounding environment. There are no luxuries, but you have everything you need – this camp was perfect for me.

 

Every activity was a walk – we walked between 20 and 30 kilometres per day, and I learned so much about the bush and tracking. What we were tracking was a pride of lions – we found their tracks on our morning walk and followed them for four hours without finding them. When we set out on our afternoon walk, we decided to pick up where we’d left off – and after another two hours of tracking, just when we were about ready to give up, we found the pride. Eight lions appeared on the riverbank – we had been rewarded for our six hours of tracking and we were very happy.

My final walk at Mwaleshi was along the bank of the Luangwa river, through a forest of winter thorn trees. This experience for me was equal to seeing the lions – the landscape and scenery were so beautiful, I will never forget walking in the shade of those trees, just enjoying being in the middle of nowhere – happy days. Thank you, North Luangwa.

5. Seeing an old friend…

As part of the trip, I arranged to go back to my old camps to see an old friend. I spent two nights at Chamilandu Bushcamp and two in Chindeni, and I was spoilt rotten. George the chef at Chamilandu cooked all my old favourites for me, such as passion fruit soufflé. I loved the fact he remembered my favourite dessert – thanks, George.

I had chosen to return to Chindeni as I think this is my favourite camp in Africa. It is the first bushcamp I ever stayed in and perhaps the place where I fell in love with Africa, so to go back there and see the wild dogs was the perfect end to an epic trip. I don’t think I said a word on the drive to the airport – to leave Zambia is a hard thing to do.

Happy days and happy memories.

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