Operation Schnitzel

Our baby “Schnitzel”

In February of 2011, we had a “high water event” here in the Lower Zambezi, when the flood gates at Kariba Dam were opened, raising the water level by over 4 metres overnight.  While most lodges were closed, many suffered damage (one was completely destroyed) but the biggest ones to suffer were the animals.  One of these animals was a baby female buffalo, who was taken to Conservation Lower Zambezi for care.

Our orphaned buffalo was christened “Schnitzel” – in times like this our morbid sense of humour gets us through!  She was hand reared by staff and volunteers at CLZ for several months, as a plan was hatched for her future.  African Parks at Liuwa Plain in the west of Zambia ultimately said that they wanted to take Schnitzel, but CLZ needed to have blood tests conducted etc. and keep Schnitzel in effective quarantine, to ensure

Schnitzel having some comfort food during her stopover at Kanyemba

that she was disease free (particularly Foot & Mouth free), before they would be able to transport her to Liuwa.

After three rounds of blood tests over more than 6 months, Schnitzel got the all clear for translocation to Liuwa, and so in October, we began Operation Schnitzel.  The Kanyemba carpentry had made her a nice solid crate in which to travel – this was taken down to CLZ and Schnitzel was duly loaded inside, ready for her long journey.  She was loaded onto one of

Off towards the pontoon

Kanyemba’s flat “tracker” boats at CLZ, for stage one of the trip – which would be a 2 hour boat ride upstream to Kanyemba, where Craig from African Parks would meet her for the onward journey.  After some lunch and a drink, keeping her out of the intense midday heat, it was time for the next part – and that which was the most complex.  Taking the boat further upstream to the Kafue River pontoon, where the African Parks vehicle was waiting for Schnitzel and her crate.

Arriving at the pontoon

You can imagine that buffalos in crates don’t come to the pontoon on a regular basis, so our arrival at the pontoon with a big wooden crate was met with great excitement.  Many residents of this area have not seen buffalo before – and if they have, it’s normally a fleeting glance before they hot-foot it away to safety, as buffalo don’t have the nicest of reputations!  Several people came up to see her, and the reactions varied from wide-eyed curiosity to out and out fear.

Ready for the big lift

Of course with no crane to lift Schnitzel onto the back of the Land Cruiser, it was down to people power to get the show on the road.  So those who had been milling around the pontoon looking for something to fill their day were soon put into action, helping lift Schnitzel up off the boat, and onto the back of the Cruiser… no mean feat, considering how heavy the crate was!

All too soon, Schnitzel was loaded and

One last bottle before the road trip begins

ready to go – after one last bottle of milk “for comfort and de-stress”, she trundled off down the dirt road heading for Lusaka, on the way to Liuwa – around 13 hours’ drive away (with another pontoon to cross as well!)

We have since been updated that Schnitzel is doing okay at Liuwa – it took her quite some time to integrate with the rest of the buffalo herd, as she thought she was a person – having only had

Bye bye baby…

human interaction from a young age… but little by little she figured it all out, and is now part of the Liuwa herd – hopefully in a few years she’ll be producing some baby Schnitzels!

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Back to Reality…

Elephants everywhere!

And oh what a tough reality it is!!  While we were flat-out here at the lodge during August and September, we experienced some fabulous treats that you can only get in the bush….

A first for the lodge was having elephants coming through camp several times over a 3 week period.  While this happens quite a lot at other lodges and camps inside the National Parks, Kanyemba is somewhat immune to it, as there is an

Our baby wild mango tree after the attack…

abundance of vegetation in the surrounding areas that the ellies are normally content with.  One late August morning as I was coming down to the office in the early morning light, I saw some carnage along the path – trees damaged, boughs on the ground, leaf litter everywhere, and of course… a calling card or 10!  The ellies had come to visit us in the night, and had a ball munching their way down the footpath.  Thankfully our trees are quite hardy, and none of

An elephant calling card..

them took too much of a beating – one young Wild Mango Tree had a few limbs bent and cracked, but they have managed to continue to grow – making for a very interesting shaped tree as it matures, I’m sure!

A couple of nights later we were visited by the ellies again – this time they obviously got thirsty mid-feed, as one of our fish ponds was almost entirely drained when we arrived in the morning – the poor fish weren’t too happy!  And to cap it all off – as we were sitting with a group of Swiss guests at the dinner table a few days later, we heard a lot of ruckus coming from a little way upstream – I shone my torch in the general direction to see about 6 ellies making their way up the bank out of the river, on their way for another feeding session outside the guests’ chalets!  Needless to say everyone had a wide-eyed escort to their chalets that night!

Work in progress…

September also signalled some more progress on my new house – Finola and I had been sharing a bathroom since her arrival in June, and the lack of privacy was starting to wear a bit thin – so to speed things up with the building progress (that had already taken 18 months on and off!), we started to paint the inside walls.  Of course the only time we had spare to do this was in the middle of the afternoon, when the day is at its hottest – a nice preview of how toasty my

Plenty of work still to be done!

house will get in the heat of summer!  We then opted to have a few more windows cut in – generating a bit more air circulation – but the painting was certainly not an easy task to get done in the heat!  Of course there was still plenty of other work to be done – the bathroom plumbing needed to be completed, and with the parts not available the project soon stalled again! Grrrrrr….

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The Mighty Victoria Falls…

Victoria Falls

You can’t go to Zambia and not see Victoria Falls – well, not in my eyes anyway!  The Falls are a hotspot of activity – both adrenaline pumping and more sedate.. in order to keep Mum and Dad alive, I opted to keep to the more sedate activities, having nearly drowned myself when I went white water rafting in 2007… and let’s face it – nobody wants to have their parents bungee jump before they do!

Helicopter flight over the Falls

Our base for our Livingstone activities was Stanley Safari Lodge – away from the craziness of the Falls itself, but with a view from a hilltop overlooking the Falls and the famous spray.  I had planned a nice surprise for the second afternoon/evening, so it was time to work out what we wanted to do in order to fill our first afternoon and the next morning.

A helicopter flight was a must do (my orders!) – you wouldn’t catch Mum up in

And of course, Dad on the other side of the chopper!

a micro-light – and a flight over the Falls is the best way to experience them in my eyes!  So we booked our flight for that afternoon – to be picked up from the lodge and transferred down to the helipad for our 15 minute joyride over Victoria Falls.  As we were a group of 3, we were relegated to the back of the helicopter, but I made sure Mum and Dad got the window seats – the perfect opportunity for me to take some photos of each of them with the Falls in the background!

Time for a Zambezi shower!

Back on terra firma, and less than an hour later, it was time to take a walk around the Falls itself – the spume was impressive and as it was still truly winter time (yes, getting up to low-mid 20s, but winter nonetheless!) it was actually quite “fresh” as we got our Zambezi showers!  Like proper troopers we continued on, protecting our cameras as much as possible while still getting some photos of the Falls from every possible angle.  I could honestly spend the whole day just staring at the Falls – it is truly an awe-inspiring place to visit – but it was time to head back to the lodge and enjoy a nice relaxing sundowner before dinner!

In our VERY stylish rain coats on Livingstone Island

The following day was Dad’s birthday, and also our last full day together, so it was time to really experience all the splendour of Victoria Falls.  First up was a visit to Livingstone Island where we had a walk around (and renewed acquaintance with “Felix the Cat” – the guide Kellie and I had there in 2008!) to view the Falls from the “inside”.  While the spray was quite high, and we were being rained on quite heavily – the views and rainbows were quite extraordinary!  Felix nursed us

Mum and Dad, and a Vic Falls rainbow..

each along through parts of the Zambezi so that we could stand on the edge of the Falls and absorb the immense power and might of the Zambezi as it threw itself 100m down to the rocks below.  For those who have visited Vic Falls and not done the trip to Livingstone Island – do it!  I know that lots of people do it just to be able to swim in “Devil’s Pool”, but that for me is a side ‘attraction’ – to be able to look over the edge at the water cascading either side of you, and imagine what

The Royal Livingstone Express

David Livingstone must have thought as he saw the same thing all those years ago, is a truly mind-blowing experience.  Of course the food (as we visited in the morning we got breakfast – Eggs Benedict no less!) is also pretty fantastic, so that’s another reason to go and visit!!

In order to celebrate the end of our two weeks in Zambia together (which happily coincided with Dad’s birthday!), I had arranged a special dinner for the three of

Pre-dinner drinks in the lounge car

us – to board the Royal Livingstone Express, and have a wonderful train ride through Mosi oa Tunya National Park, complete with a 5 course dinner – before winding our way back towards Livingstone town.

As we arrived at the train.. complete with red carpet on arrival at the station… we were greeted with welcome drinks before making ourselves comfortable on board in the wonderfully refurbished lounge

Spectacular sunset on board the Royal Livingstone Express

carriage.  Joined by around 10 others, we were soon on our way – champagne in hand (of course!), and enjoying some pre-dinner nibbles as we headed out through Livingstone.  We passed through several little compounds (or “townships”), with hundreds of children coming out to wave at the train as it tootled through on the way to the National Park.  No game to be seen – it wouldn’t have liked the sound of the train, I’m sure!  But we did head past a few landmarks that I pointed out to Mum and Dad – including Sussi & Chuma lodge.. the place I’d gone for an interview in May 2010 (seems like a lifetime ago!).

After dinner aboard the Royal Livingstone Express

When we got to the point at which the train needed to turn around, we were invited to come and watch the engine disconnect and head for the other end of the train – ready for the long haul back to town.. but not before dinner!  As a fussy eater I was concerned about the set menu, but as soon as I mentioned to the waiter that I couldn’t eat a couple of things on the menu, the items were modified for me with absolutely no fuss – a real treat for me, as often “tweaking” dishes is fraught

Meeting the ellies

with danger and the potential for misunderstanding (“no blue cheese” can become “only blue cheese”).  We all thoroughly enjoyed our meals and were feeling replete as the train started on its way back towards Livingstone – of course the best way to enjoy the ride back was to retire back to the lounge car!

The following morning we had time for one last activity.  Based on the amazing experience I’d had with Kellie when we

Dad with an elephant-eye view

walked with (not riding, but walking next to them) in 2008, I suggested to Mum and Dad that they do an Elephant Encounter.  We headed off to the neighbouring property – Dad and I on the back of a pick-up (and it was COOOOLD!) The elephants were just finishing up with a group who had been riding them, and soon enough it was our turn to “chat” to the ellies.   Our time with them started off with an introduction to each animal – at which point the handlers asked if they

Mum getting her aim just right!

wanted to have a short ride – after all, it’s not every day that you get to ride an African elephant!  The offer was taken up, and soon after Mum and Dad were on top of the world – literally – for a short ride around the area with an elephant-eye view.

After the ride, of course it was time say thanks to the ellies, and so the feeding began.  Using special “elephant pellets”, Mum and Dad took their turns around all

A farewell ‘salute’ from the ellies

the ellies giving orders… “trunk up” meant they could be fed directly into the mouth – “trunk down” was for the ellies to hoover the pellets with their trunks from Mum and Dad’s hands.  While getting covered in elephant slobber isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence, they took to their jobs as elephant feeders with gusto – and the ellies LOVED it!

All too soon it was time for us all to head off on our respective journeys. Mum and

Time to say “see you soon”!

Dad were continuing with their African adventure – crossing the border to Botswana for another 2 weeks of safari, while I was flying back to the Lower Zambezi to head back to work…  We’d spent the most amazing 3 weeks together, with me showing Mum and Dad my new backyard, and watching through their “new” eyes as they had all their safari firsts was a really lovely experience.  You all know that I’m a big sook, so of course there were a few tears as I watched Mum and Dad’s transfer vehicle drive off – but knowing that I’d see them again in 6 months made it a little easier to say “see ya”!

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Time for time out in Livingstone

Islands of Siankaba

Our flight across Zambia from South Luangwa National Park to Livingstone, home to Victoria Falls, took almost 3 hours, including a short stop in Lusaka to change planes.  We were duly collected by Islands of Siankaba for our transfer to our retreat from the rigours of safari.  Siankaba had been recommended to me by several people as a beautiful place to get away from the hustle and bustle of Livingstone – and it sounded just like what Mum, Dad and I would need after 8 days solid safari-ing!

Just perfect for soaking away the game drive dust…

Upon arrival at the lodge, we boarded a boat to head off to the islands that make up “Islands of Siankaba” – the lodge is set on an island in the middle of the Zambezi, with a neighbouring island providing opportunity for self-guided nature walks, and general relaxation in the bush.   After being shown to our rooms, there was no question of the afternoon’s activity for me – the huge claw foot bathtub had my name on it!  A leisurely soak overlooking the Zambezi was just what the doctor ordered, and I was soon on the way to the bar to join Mum and Dad for a pre-dinner drink.  The nights in Livingstone were a lot colder than in Lower Zambezi or Luangwa, and we had to rug up properly for dinner – blankets were even provided to keep us warm as we dined!

After a chilly night (and a relaxing sleep in – no wake up

School kids at Siankaba Village

call at 6am for a change!), we opted for a more leisurely morning activity – it was time for a village walk, this time to Siankaba Village.. where many of the Siankaba staff live, and home to an extraordinary little school.  We spent quite a bit of time chatting with the teacher, headmaster and of course the little students… having them all sing for us was a real treat – I did get some video but bandwidth here won’t allow me to upload it – will have to wait until I’m out of the bush I’m afraid!

The headman with opinions!

We also met the headman of the village – who asked me (through our guide as an interpreter) why I was not married and giving my parents the grandchildren they deserve… a proper telling off ensued as I tried to laugh off my single, childless status as not my fault, but being due to the lack of available/eligible men!  I’m still glad (and amazed) that I wasn’t married on the spot – he was a very insistent chap!

My room at Siankaba

Safely back at the lodge (and still single & childless), it was time for an afternoon nap, before heading out on a sunset cruise.  The water levels didn’t do us many favours though, as exposed rocks and rapids both up and downstream meant that we really only sat on a boat out in the middle of the river just outside the lodge… but with some nibbles, and Gin and Tonics, we could almost imagine that we were by ourselves, and not stuck on a boat with some VERY annoying German tourists…. Sunset was beautiful though!

Walking in Siankaba Village

A final dinner at Siankaba, and another cold night – though Mum and Dad finally relented and left their electric blanket on all night (something they always drilled in to me NOT to do!!) to stave off the winter chill….  and in the morning, it was time for our transfer back to civilisation, and all the activity of Livingstone proper.. and of course the mighty Victoria Falls!

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Luxurious Lion Camp…

Lion Camp

A sad goodbye to Jabes – though it’s really only “see you later”, as there’s always more trips to Flatdogs in the plan… but with three nights in the more remote Lion Camp, we also had great times to look forward to!  Happy sad, as always…

Our arrival at Lion Camp began with wonderfully cool flannels to wipe away the game driving dust, and a nice cool drink to soothe the dust in our throats (!)

Luxurious Lion Camp

After an hour to settle in and relax, we congregated for lunch – only the three of us plus another two guests who had also come up from Flatties with us, so we had the place almost to ourselves!  During lunch we watched a beautiful ellie come through past the gift shop, munching on his own version of the midday meal, providing some wonderful entertainment for us!  Little did we know that he’s as regular as clockwork, and managed to do the same every lunchtime!

Stunning views from the pool/deck area!

It was a real toss-up whether to go back to the room for a siesta or take in the stunning view across the plain in front of the main deck/pool area – I was sorry to visit when it was too cold to swim as the pool looked really wonderful, but since moving to Zambia I’ve become a softie when it comes to the cold – I just can’t handle it anymore!  The siesta won out, but I made use of the big snuggly chair rather than going to bed, so in my eyes, it doesn’t count as napping 🙂

Taking a break for sundowners..

Of course, the circle of life waits for no man (or woman for that matter), so we were up and about again for an evening/night drive with Hendricks – Lion Camp’s main man.  While not a rock star in the true sense, he managed to get us some pretty special wildlife sightings, so he was certainly a star in our eyes!  Our first night drive was massively exciting for me – we saw some young lions giving an attempt at bringing down a buffalo… a little half-hearted, or perhaps they still

Juvenile Pel’s Fishing Owl

didn’t really know what they were doing, but watching the stalk and then seeing one lion up on the buffalo’s rump made my adrenalin truly surge!  Another first for me was not one, but THREE Pel’s Fishing Owls – often a once in a lifetime, sell a limb to find opportunity, we were treated to a juvenile, as well as two mature birds all in the one drive – again, attempts to explain just how lucky Mum and Dad were at this point probably started to fall on deaf ears!  We managed to spot some hyena on our way back to camp as well, keeping our predator tally well up there with the best!

A very content lion!

We got back to camp to find that Sam and Louise (manager and caterer) had been having their own adventure while we were out.  They’d heard the bellows of a buffalo being taken down, and headed out in a vehicle to see what they could find… the noises through the night travel a long way, though can sometimes be deceiving when trying to pinpoint an exact location – while they tried their best, they didn’t manage to locate the kill, though they were sure that the beast didn’t survive the

Breakfast, anyone?

attack.  Plans were made over dinner to see what we could find in the early morning when we headed out – confident that the kill was close to camp, we figured daylight would make things a lot easier for us than they had been for Sam and Louise!

Sure enough, not long after leaving camp (and after spotting ANOTHER Pel’s Fishing Owl – this time in daylight!!), we came across the (already half devoured)

Walking safari number 3

buffalo – and of course, the lions still guarding their haul from the invading vultures… we sat and watched for almost an hour as each lion came in and took their turn to gorge themselves, and one particular lioness harassed the vultures until they moved further away – only to start creeping forwards again!  We then headed off for our planned walking safari, heading off into the bush with Sam to see what we could find – though after seeing lions, we would be happy to NOT see

Mum & Dad – sunset in Luangwa

them while on foot thanks!  The walk was wonderful, with quite different terrain and bushland to those we’d done at Kanyemba and Flatties – some beautiful birdlife (sunbirds in particular), and just being out in the middle of the bush with nobody else around was a really lovely experience.

After lunch and siesta we headed back out to “the carcass” to see how things were going between the lions and vultures, and it was still very much in the lion’s possession… though seeing how fat and content the lions were, we figured that it wouldn’t be long until the vultures could come in and have their turn!  In the end, we saw it turned over to the vultures the next day… with extraordinary results…..

Surprise!! A leopard right at the end of the drive

Not to be outdone by the lions and their kill, we managed a wonderful leopard sighting on our night drive – quite close to camp, and after I’d given up on seeing one (it often happens that way – I should know better by now!) – coming around the corner, there he was, just sitting in the middle of the road – as if waiting for us!

Stunning – truly stunning….

Vultures plus carcass equals BONES

As the new day dawned, we knew exactly where we wanted to head first…. “our” carcass – to survey the damage.  It would have been amazing to see a time-lapse video of the gradual shrinking of the buffalo – to what we finally saw… bones, bones and bones!  Some very content looking vultures had been having a field day on the tidbits left to them by the lions – the lions were still hanging around, but probably because they were still too stuffed to be bothered to move!

Our cheeky baby elephant

Our afternoon game drive took us to another part of the park, where we managed to see some wildebeest – another first for Mum & Dad… not in huge numbers, but I still think they’re one of the most fascinating animals.  Truly a mix of all the pieces left behind after making all the other animals – like the left over Lego pieces, all put together to make something that just doesn’t look quite right!

Super sundowners on our last night

We were also treated to a show by a very cute but cheeky baby elephant.. I know you’re not supposed to “humanise” animals, but you can just imagine that the mother was cursing another safari vehicle for sending her baby into “performance” mode – just too cute for words!

Our last sunset at Lion Camp meant a little surprise for us all – while we were out on our drive, Louise and the bar staff had headed out all kitted up with

..an awful sunset to watch while sipping champagne…

champagne and nibbles, and set up a beautiful sundowner treat for us with a stunning view across the river… great food, great champagne and great company combined with great views and great game sightings to make a sundowner for the memory books!  On our way back to camp we managed to spot a civet, scops owl and hyena – not a bad way to finish the night

Not quite ready to finish the game drives,

Wait for me, mum!

we opted for another short drive on our final morning at Lion Camp – we needed to head off for the airport and our flight to Livingstone, so could only spend about 2 hours out there, but it was most definitely worth the early morning (holidays = early mornings!), as we saw some beautiful bush buck, giraffe and zebra – and also managed to see the herd of buffalo (minus one, of course!)… not a bad way to finish things up, that’s for sure!

All too soon it was time to pack our final things up and say our farewells to Sam, Louise and the rest of the Lion Camp team, and wind our way back through the park to Mfuwe Airport, and our flight to Livingstone for the final leg of my safari with Mum and Dad…

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Superb South Luangwa and Fabulous Flatdogs!

Painting the designs at Tribal Textiles

After a 40 minute flight to Lusaka, and a quick turnaround (with quick lessons for Mum and Dad on how to say NO to people wanting to help with luggage at the airport!), we boarded our flight for Mfuwe International Airport, and South Luangwa National Park.  We were met on arrival by JayJay, and headed of for Flatdogs Camp, with a shopping stop at Tribal Textiles on the way.  Mum and Dad have known of my addiction to Tribal Textiles products since I first discovered them in 2008 – the house has gradually been taken over, with bedspreads, cushion covers, table runners, placemats, and of course, everyone has one or more of the T-shirts!

Baking – Tribal Style!!

We had a tour of the workshop, watching the artists at work, outlining the designs in a starch paste, mixing colours according to the colour palette, and then colouring in the designs, before baking, scraping off the starch and of course, sewing into the final product.  They really are amazing products – beautiful designs and longlasting (and machine washable!) – you can’t ask for more, really!

On arrival at Flatdogs, with a big welcome

Treehouse bedroom

from Jess, Ade, Ed, Paolo, Dilla and Poppy, we headed off to the treehouse – our home for the next 3 nights.  Having stayed at Flatdogs a number of times previously, I had never seen the treehouse, but had heard of its wonders, so wanted to treat Mum & Dad to a stay there, rather than in the huge safari tents or chalets.  It was also part of a carefully planned combination of different styles/feels of accommodation throughout our Zambia trip, so that it

The treehouse lounge area

didn’t seem like we were going from one tent to the other!  After having the grand tour, we settled in to watch our own private “sitting safari” – animals wandering past the open lounge deck, as we looked on from above… magnificent!

As always, the game drives with Flatdogs were spectacular – our first drive gave us hippos (dressed very prettily in their Nile Cabbage!), crocs, some spectacular birdlife, but sadly NO LIONS!  I was

The view from the living room

concerned that the luck had worn off, until we came across a leopard up a tree with a kill, and another leopard below (obviously a sub-adult offspring)… all of a sudden there was a flash of activity – the second leopard was up the tree as two hyenas came loping in to see what they could scavenge…. terrorising the leopards to the point they left the kill (thankfully for them, still safely up the tree), and retreated to other branches to wait it out!

Hungry hyena

Back at camp by just after 2000, it was time for an amazing Flatdogs dinner…. it’s quite a luxury when on safari to be able to eat just as a family (rather than having the whole lodge sitting together – which is nice in its own way, but when you’ve got 2 weeks to spend catching up with family, is not the ideal way to do it!), and to also choose your own a la carte meal, rather than having the decision made for you (can you hear the control freak in me coming out there!??!)

Talking poo with Jabes

Flatdogs manage to make the most of the great quality fresh produce, and then there’s the little touches I don’t get every day – like ICE CREAM!!!

Anyway – safari isn’t ALL about the food (but it’s a very important part!), and over the next 2 days we managed some brilliant game drives, and even a walking safari/game drive combination one morning.  Mum and Dad got to test themselves on some of the things they’d learned on the walk at Kanyemba, and complement it with new knowledge – amazing how much of their bush knowledge is now about poo though!

Crossing on the pontoon

One afternoon drive, we were treated to a good old-fashioned pontoon crossing across the Luangwa River, in order to access the park from a different side.  Now I’d gone through this entrance a number of times before, but much later in the year when the water is much lower, and the vehicles can just ford the river… this was a pretty incredible experience – a pontoon just big enough for a Land Cruiser, and pulled across by hand – no room for error for these guys, that’s for sure!


Night driving, we managed to come across a civet who looked very surprised to see us – and it was in a similar part of the park to one I saw with Kellie and Gabs in 2010… when we saw one in broad daylight as it woke up, looked at us, and seemed to say to itself “crap! Nobody woke me – the tourists are here, I’m supposed to be hiding!!”  A brilliant photo opportunity this time, and we all managed to pull off a couple of nice shots….

Getting stuck into some guts..

Our predator hunting continued in earnest – with a very old, and scraggly looking male lion – ribs sticking out and all… headed into a buffalo carcass (pun intended) to get all the yummy good bits from inside.  This was Mum & Dad’s first experience of a la carte dining predator style, and the noises that were coming out from that dining room were enough to make us think vegetarian would be a good option!  Some more daytime sightings of lion should have meant better photo

Giraffe – my favourite!!

opportunities, though they managed to keep in the longer grass and so we had to be content with sitting and watching (a nice treat to put the camera down and just sit, watch & absorb the moment!)

Being on safari isn’t all about the animals either… it’s also about the people – and pampering as much as possible.  The early starts for dusty game drives, spending time in the sun and wind (yeah – sounds tough, doesn’t it!) mean that it can be

Hippo outside the Bush Spa

quite a tiring activity, so the best way to recharge the batteries (other than a siesta!) is to head off to the Bush Spa inside the National Park.  I dragged mum along the first day for a body scrub, mud wrap and massage, and then headed back myself the following day for a pedicure and the MOST AMAZING head/neck/shoulders massage with coconut oil hair treatment.  BLISS!  All of this overlooking the most beautiful lagoon with crocs and hippos – while listening to

Lilac Breasted Roller – my favourite bird!

nature’s own relaxation soundtrack of birds calling, hippos grunting and the occasional puku whistle.  It’s a hard life….

After 3 days of amazing game driving, led by Jabes – our trusty guide, sublime food, and being treated like kings & queens in our beautiful tree house, I felt the same twang of sorrow to be leaving Flatdogs again – I never feel ready to leave, even knowing I would be back soon enough (I’m an addict, okay!!).  We managed one final Flatties game drive into the park, to a more secluded, remote camp to continue our Luangwa adventure…

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The game drives begin!

Chiawa Camp

As Kanyemba is located outside the National Park, I had arranged Mum and Dad’s stay to make the most of the river based activities, as well as the walks, and plenty of relax time to get into holiday mode… no game drives until we moved on, as they are a long day, and much easier to do if based inside the Park.

So after our walking safari, and my handover (the first time I was leaving the lodge for more than a few days during

Ready to Game Drive!

season, and yes, I had some separation anxiety!), it was time to hit the river for our 2 hour river transfer to Chiawa Camp inside Lower Zambezi NP.  We were greeted on arrival by Sascha at Tam, the managers, who took Mum and Dad through all the things they needed to know when staying in such a wild area.  They had an easy time of it at Kanyemba, as we do not generally have an issue with wildlife (other than smaller harmless mammals!) roaming through camp, so it

Not your usual beginner’s game sighting!!

was important for them to realise that from here on in, it’s eyes OPEN…

So after a late lunch, it was time for us to head out onto our very first game drive together – now it’s REAL SAFARI time!

Being on holiday, and seeing the “safari virgins” in awe of the bush around them was such a treat – I never get tired of

A VERY cute baby ele

game driving, but to watch the reactions of people seeing this magic for the first time is something that gives me a real kick… it takes me back to the memories I have of my first zebra, impala, wildebeest etc., when I nearly tipped the truck over in my excitement to get to the window and see out!

With beautiful winter weather, it was time to enjoy the sunshine without being completely cooked – a novelty for me on

Dagga Boy

game drives, as my holidays to Africa had always seen me here during the ridiculous heat of September to November… We were treated to an amazing variety of game, including breeding herds of elephants (a first for Mum & Dad – they’d only seen bachelor herds upriver), baboons, a “dagga boy” (buffalo), warthog, bushbuck, marabou storks, and of course, plenty of impala.  After nightfall, we were treated to one of the best “first” night drives anyone could ask for… not one but TWO porcuipine (I had to tell Mum and Dad how extraordinary this was, as I didn’t want them taking it for granted), followed by some lions in the dry river bed… while watching the lions we heard a leopard coughing, so decided to see if we could track it down.  No luck, but just the thrill of the chase was enough after what we had already managed to see!

First daytime lion sighting

The following day treated us to an early rise and morning game drive – starting with some beautiful birdlife – saddle-billed storks, kingfishers, then onto some more buffalo, a beautiful male lion in the middle of the road, elephant… and then a very relaxed pride of lions, just to ice the cake.  2 drives, and lions both times, it really looked like Mum and Dad were the predator lucky charms!
Back at camp, we were treated to an extraordinary lunch – that taught both

Game Viewing from the Tent

Mum and myself that we should ALWAYS bring our camera when leaving the room!  We enjoyed lunch on the Zambezi, relaxing on a pontoon boat just for ourselves – sparkling wine, brilliant food, great service, sunshine, Zambezi, elephants, hippos – who could ask for more?  Of course there’s no photographic evidence, but we did have a wonderful time – though it was so tiring we had to have a siesta to recharge the batteries!

Does it look like I should be up here?

Of course, the surprises didn’t stop there – while laying down and relaxing  in our tents, we heard some crackling noises outside, and then the rumble of a tummy – as a beautiful big ele was wandering in front of our tents, muching away merrily – what a treat!  And of course, the siesta was forgotten, as rest time became yet another game viewing activity!

Our afternoon drive proved to be spectacular in terms of game viewing –

Very Comfortable!!

Mum and Dad had seen lions on the two previous drives, but this time, they managed to see lions sitting up in the trees – not a common sight!  They didn’t really look all that comfortable up on their perches, with one poor teenage boy almost getting acacia thorns in his crown jewels (OUCH!), but they persisted, nonetheless!  A quieter drive after the sun went down was more than compensated for when we headed down into the dry river bed “to see if the lions are still

Waterbuck playing peekaboo

around from last night”, to find a beautiful bush dinner set up for us all – paraffin lamps and candles set the most magical scene, complemented by the Chiawa choir’s hauntingly beautiful singing, and of course the wonderful food – a truly beautiful experience to share with my Mum and Dad.

Our final morning at Chiawa saw us sleeping in until 0700, as we were ‘activity free’, and getting ready to head off on the next chapter of our safari – after being farewelled by the choir, we headed upriver for our flight from Royal airstrip (where check in includes a piece of paper with your name being ticked off, and getting onto an aircraft that seats 10!) to Lusaka, and onwards to Mfuwe, and South Luangwa National Park.

But that story is for next time – which won’t be as long a wait (I promise!)

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