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Zambia in the Green with Real Africa

By Sara White from Real Africa

A fork of lightening danced in the gathering darkness. Bone shaking cracks of thunder quickly followed and in the distance the eerie grumble of lion could be heard. At last the long awaited rains had arrive in the South Luangwa Valley. 

Early the next morning as the sun floated skyward, grazing hippos woke us with their soft snorts and grunts. Stirred by the gentle breeze we left the sanctuary of our bed and padded across the cool wooden floor to inspect our noisy neighbours who blissfully wallowed in the lagoon just beyond our balcony. The lagoon had virtually double in size overnight. By the time we gathered for the morning game drive the sun’s fierce stare had chased the rain clouds away and yesterday’s dusty riverbeds now appeared as fast flowing torrents of water. Dry crusts of earth had melted into swathes of chocolate and tender green shoots coaxed by the morning sunshine had begun to emerge.

Just one night of rain had bought about this staggering transformation and had given the parched land a renewed vigour. But something was missing; although the muddy plains were imprinted with the haphazard footsteps of antelope and the deep tracks of hippo and elephant, now for as far as the eye could see, they were no animals. Any sense of disappointment was short lived as we darted down the Luangwa lanes, thick with wild jasmine, and emerged euphoric on the crest of a hill. A magnificent view stretched across the vast puddle filled plains before us while bateleurs circled in the errant up currents. Vast committees of birds greeted us at every turn in the track while back on the valley floor beneath a giant baobab we stumbled upon a muddy pool seething with courting bull frogs.

Lioness Zambia

Brunch back at the lodge to the chorus of kingfisher song was followed by a siesta on a sun dappled balcony. By mid afternoon puku and impala had begun to return to the riverbed and a family of elephant came to drink in the shade of an ebony tree near our bungalow. Here we spent several hours in the company of chattering bandit monkeys, monitor lizards, warthogs, antelope, elephant and hippo. This steady influx of wildlife boded well for the evening game drive. Long shadows stretched across the open plains as a herd of buffalo dozed in the last of the day’s sunshine. Burchell’s zebra showed off their broad black stripes and a secretary bird strutted casually away from our four wheel drive. A pair of giant saddle billed storks effortlessly took flight across the shimmering snake of water before us while from the waving grasses on the riverbank a more familiar figure emerged. 

Grinning enthusiastically and holding aloft an overflowing jug of icy Pimms, the barman from the lodge ushered us down the bank to where a row of chairs were settled in the sand. Here we paused to watch silhouetted hippos have their evening wallow and the eternal African sky blush deep crimson before presenting a delicate slither of moon. As we drained our glasses the whoops and growls of dusk began to replace the buzz and twitter of day. In the distance the rumble of thunder could be heard once more. 

Soon after, the trees began to shake and the skies darken. Through the rain our guide’s powerful flashlight picked out a genet cat heading for cover and a nightjar fluttering against the wind. Then the raindrops began to fall with more purpose until water was sloshing down our hastily donned jackets and we had to shout to be heard. Undeterred Keenan, our guide, kept searching. At this point the evening took an unexpected direction. Over the radio we heard broken voices “You say it jumped in the truck?” A chaotic scene unravelled involving one of the lodge’s jeeps being caught between some hunting lionesses and an impala. In a struggle for life, the fleeing antelope had leapt at the vehicle before being pounced on by the pursuing lioness. Establishing the location of the kill we set off at speed. There in the pale orange glow of our searchlight, two bedraggled lionesses with bloody faces sat in a grassy clearing with their prize. We cautiously drew up, the engine fell silent and peeping out from under our sodden hoods we watched as the lionesses took turns to eat every last scrap. 

Zambia Africa

We continued on, creeping through the darkness scanning all the trees for eye shine or any sign of panic in the faces of the huddled gazelles, the rosy rump of a hippo occasionally catching the headlights. Keenan then pressed his index finger to his lips. Inching forward we followed the arc of his light until we glimpsed the ultimate reward. Tucked up in a dense thicket to the side of a path her twinkling eyes betraying her hideaway, the leopard sat, sheltering from the abating rain. Her huge velvety paws seemed out of proportion with the rest of her and in stark contrast to us, she looked dry, regal and completely undaunted by the company.

Large glasses of warm port and dry clothes further fuelled our high spirits back at the lodge. Indeed we were so engrossed in our reverie that we hardly noticed the new arrivals in reception. Wandering up the steps to a large glossy mango tree planted in the garden beyond were four elephants of varying size. The largest ducked knowingly as he came under the thatched eves while one of the smaller elephants extended his trunk and plucked a row of succulent saplings clean from their planters. We watched in awe as they stripped the tree of its prized mangoes before turning casually back through reception to swagger off into the night leaving a trail of muddy footprints behind them.

And so we returned to our bungalow to ponder what tomorrow might bring, comforted by the soft snorts and grunts of our companions the hippos, whose watery empire continued to grow with the gentle pitter patter of November rain.

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