Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Safari Time

I love safaris. I've been hooked ever since my first one in Zimbabwe, 6 years ago. I was on a horse, and off in the distance saw a giraffe. I nearly fell off the horse trying to take pictures. 4 weeks later I was on a walking safari in Tanzania, and a giraffe walked past me so close I could touch it; I barely batted an eyelash.

Still, it's always thrilling to be that close to animals in their natural habitat.

On Christmas Eve this year, Miriam, Jorge and I loaded up our little Mitsubishi, and took the road to Zambia. We arrived at the border in one hour, and spent an hour there doing all the paperwork required to take our car across the border.

We had been warned that the roads in Zambia were really bad, so I expected to go about 40KM an hour once we got in the country. To my surprise, we were able to drive for about 90 minutes on pretty good surfaced roads. We smugly thought "those pansies - I'll tell them what a really bad road is."

Then we hit the really bad road. Ohhhhh. I get it now.

This particular stretch of road was only about 40 miles, but it felt so much longer. It was deeply potholed, and we had to nearly drive up the embankment to get around the puddles and ruts. But finally we made it through, feeling extremely guilty for what we'd just put our car through.

When we arrived at Kapani Lodge, though, we knew we'd unwind pretty quickly. We were met by a lovely English woman bearing lime cordials, and were escorted to our beautiful, luxurious chalets. I was in heaven right away.

Just a note, so you know where I'm coming from. I may travel all over the world, to strange places with very large insects, but I do not like the rustic backpacker life. I live it half the time. So when I get a holiday, I want comfort and luxury. Deprivation does not equal adventure.

I was really excited for Jorge, though. I remembered my excitement on seeing my first African wildlife, andI couldn't wait to see his face when he glimpsed his. And I didn't have to wait long. In the meadow that our chalet overlooked were a trio of male elephant bulls grazing in the long grass. And in the trees all around were vervet monkeys (or were they blues? I'm no good at telling).

The lodge had saved lunch for us, and we sat on a big deck overlooking the river and the meadow, and had a great meal of salads, quiche, and fresh-baked bread.

In the evening we had our first game drive. Many tourists stayaway during the rainy season, so, in a wise PR move, the lodges have started calling it the "green season." And they are right to encourage people to come - we saw many, many animals right away, and very close to the car: elephants, impala, puku antelope, zebra, waterbuck, and baboons.

It was a short drive though. We had been out for about an hour and a half when we started heading to the exit. I thought it a bit strange to have such a short trip, but I thought perhaps the park closes at sunset. As we drove across the bridge that marks the entrance to South Luangwa, I saw people setting up tables with wine and hors d'oeuvres. I said to Jorge, "I wish we could crash that party!"

And then the car stopped, and our guide said "Have a drink. That's our table."

Oh hallelujah, I love Christmas.

Unbeknownst to us, all of the lodges in South Luangwa get together every Christmas Eve on the bridge for a party. A choir of local staff from the lodges performed Zambian Christmas songs, breaking occasionally for the crowd to sing with them to classic Christmas carols. It was the best Christmas Eve I have had in many years.

We drove back to the lodge after sunset, the insects pinging us in the face. On arrival, there were more drinks, and even more food. We sated ourselves and happily bedded down early, getting ready for our sunrise game drive.

Of which I will write on my next entry. It's now time for me to go home and cook dinner.


Dad said...

Sounds so nice. I can't wait to visit you.