North Luangwa (Family Vacation Part 7)

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Reading this week:

  • Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson (it’s… eh.)
  • Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein
  • Poor Economics by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo

With most of the vacation over, my family decided to do one last hurrah and booked two nights in North Luangwa National Park at Buffalo Camp. I was a little unsure of this trip when they told me they had planned it. A lot of Peace Corps Volunteers go to South Luangwa National Park but I had never heard of anyone going to North Luangwa. It was, however, awesome.

Getting there was a long day for us, because we were coming down from Mbala and we were driving for about 10 hours total, with half of that being in the park itself. We arrived at Buffalo Camp after dark, but the place is pretty luxurious so that was fine. We largely had the place to ourselves. Buffalo Camp bills itself as the authentic bush camp experience, and that is probably true, but the “roughness” of grass huts is a little belied by flush toilets and 24/7 hot showers. This rough bush camp was nicer than a lot of lodges I have stayed at in Zambia.

We wound up going on three safaris total over the course of our two nights there. First thing in the morning, after a delicious breakfast and coffee, we set off on a walking safari. North Luangwa is best known for its walking safaris, and it did not disappoint. The bar was actually set pretty high right off the bat, because about 200 yards from the camp we ran into two lions (we were still in the truck at the time). Seeing the big cats is pretty rare on any safari, so right off the bat the whole trip was worth it.

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Mark, the owner of the camp, has a lot of experience with the park (having grown up there) and with leading walking safaris. As you can see from the above picture, my family isn’t exactly the picture of adventure readiness, but Mark made sure that even my 92 year old grandma had a pretty awesome walking safari. We didn’t see anything too crazy on the walk, but we did see a lot of impala, zebras, wildebeest, and water buffalo. The coolest part for me was probably mark pointing out things like lion tracks that we were following. And even if we didn’t see a single animal, the landscape was gorgeous and worth the trip. It was really your stereotypical African veldt, made even more stunning with the imposing Muchinga escarpment in the background.

After walking back to camp and having lunch, we set off for a driving safari in the afternoon. The driving safari let us go all the way down to the Luangwa river, where, lemme tell ya, there are a lot of hippos. I don’t think we saw anything too crazy on this part of the trip, animal-wise, but the highlight of this part was having sundowners right on the banks of the river. Mark set up the drinks and we had some time just to hang out near the river. That let us see hippos moving around, yawning, and even a fight or two. It was far better to be on the top of the embankment than down near the river, but seeing some action is always pretty awesome.

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After the sundowners and the sun going down, we set off for a bit of a night drive, but the only thing we really saw were some rabbits. We were of course hoping for leopards and all that, but it was still a really cool experience and after returning and dinner we settled in for the night. I fell asleep that night to the sounds of lions and leopards growling at each other across the river.

The next morning we were heading out but we got one more walking safari in before we left. Instead of following the Marula river, like we did before, this time we walked around a floodplain some and then wound up at a watering hole. They’ve built a little blind here so Mark’s guys served us some drinks and then we were instructed to sit pretty still and quiet. Shortly after we settled down all sorts of animals started showing up to the watering hole for a drink. I was hoping for a rhino but I was not disappointed to see a whole herd of impala, zebras, wildebeest, and even some warthogs come down for a morning drink. There was a hippo in the pond just sort of hanging out, and gobs and gobs of birds like herons and storks poking around the pond for something to eat. Not a bad way at all to spend a morning, lemme tell ya.

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Mom, getting that shot.

This was the last major adventure on the family trip and I think they had a good time. From the camp, we spent a few days making our way to Lusaka, from whence the family flew out and I returned to Kasama for an Integration Workshop. I am really glad they got to come, and although it is impossible to really see “Africa” in anything less than a lifetime, I think they got a good taste of at least my neck of the woods. I am always excited to show off my home here. Mom showed me her final entry in her trip journal, and based on what she said I think they got a pretty good feel of some of the things Zambians face and how they live. If you can make it to Zambia, I do recommend the trip.

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