Most people coming to any country in Africa come to see the wildlife. And we are no exception. So far, we’ve seen mostly birds and a few monkeys, but now, it is finally time to get our safari on. We’ve driven all the way to a remote national park called South Luanga to enjoy not one, not two but three safaris!
The wildlife viewings here begin before the safari truck has even arrived. We are setting up our tents to the disturbingly deep and loud rumblings of hippos in the distance and fighting and screaming monkeys in the trees over our heads. The hippos tend to walk through the camp at night so we’ve been told to set our tents well apart and to not go wandering during the night. Thankfully there is plenty to admire while it is still daylight and before the safari begins.
One thing to admire are the clouds. Thunderous, dark clouds. Heading our way. Heading our way quickly. Still heading our way as we board the truck and determinedly emptying themselves the moment we drive through the entrance gate.
For about ten minutes this is great. You can feel the dry earth absorbing all the moisture, all the trees and grass and flowers replenished and refreshed by the much needed water and the smell of freshly dampened earth is a nice contrast to the mostly dry dusty air we’ve been having. Really, it feels a bit like being in the final scene of the Lion King.
But after about forty-five minutes, the fun is up. I am getting colder by the minute and more importantly, fearing for my camera. The ponchos are nice, but not very warm and in this lush area I don’t think we will really see any animals. Who’d want to be out in this type of weather?
Apparently, a pregnant lioness. The spotter shouts “lion!” the driver steers us through the bushes and all of a sudden, we are standing right next to her. Just a couple of metres separate us. Her fierceness is coming of her in almost tangible waves and I can’t help but wonder if it’s because of her normal strength, or because of the bulging and moving belly. She is casually ignoring us, but you get the sense that she is aware of every movement and every whisper. I could look at her forever. The cold and the wet forgotten in a moment of witnessing wildness. And totally worth it.
But we go on to see impalas, zebras and then an elephants. Their size still shocking and in the wet a different perspective on them. They stroll by and we go on to enjoy a drink and popcorn – as you do in the wild. The safari continues with a spotlight and again I am sceptical of us seeing anything and again, I am proven wrong. We see more hippos, more zebras and a giraffe. The first of many I hope, because I love giraffes.
Reluctantly, we head back to our tents, to dinner, birthday muffins and sleep disturbed by more hippo rumblings and what we believe is the far deeper rolling noise of lions. We head back, only to head out again in the morning.
This morning, I don’t want to make the same mistake again and so I am geared up to see lots more animals. It starts out well enough with a graciously tall giraffe. Serenely gazing at us and munching on her food. And then it’s just birds. And more birds. Some lizards. A warthog as one of the ugly five (not the five we’ve come for) and not much else. We are getting more and more frustrated, until the wait is worth it, yet again.
We encounter an elephant. Big and old and one-eyed and missing part of one tusk. It lacks the greatness of the younger elephants we saw, but still exudes an ancient confidence. Born of being the biggest thing around for many many years. Hurt by the breaking of its tusk, but also being resigned, knowing what he does about the circle of life – or so I like to imagine.
Filled with this sighting and humbled about any preconceived ideas I could have about seeing or not seeing animals, we spent the afternoon around the pool. Until another torrential downpour starts up again. I knew the rainy season meant rain, but I never imagined it to be like this. The rain drowns out all noise and starts to flood the terrain in no time. The air cools and we fear another rainy safari, but South Luanga enjoys resisting expectations.
As the rains stop, we start of on our final safari here. We see another of the ugly five (maribu stork) and I am beginning to think the ugly five are easier to find than the big five when all of a sudden we see more lions. We end up following them. It feels more like chasing them though, as there are about 4 other trucks all trying to find them. It is a bit too zoo-like for our taste and I am glad when we head of for our traditional drink and popcorn.
With lions so close by, you’d think the dark would feel scare and threatening. Back home, I often fear dark parks. The thought of a person with malicious intentions waiting just beyond where you can see is thoroughly unnerving. But not here, here the darkness and the wilderness feel somehow right. As if any danger lurking there is a danger that is supposed to be there.
How real that danger can be becomes clear after we drive off again. We can see the lions hunting and hear them killing a warthog. We arrive just in time to hear the final death screams. Eerily human and a sound I will remember the rest of my life. We then have a unique view of the lions eating the warthog right by the side of the road. The older lions sparing us no more than a passing glance and the young cubs to busy with trying to get into the group to notice. It is a once in a lifetime view and the perfect ending to our first bunch of safaris.
Next up, canoeing the hippo-infested Zambezi river!