I hadn’t planned on going on safari during my time in Zambia. Although it had always seemed like a fun thing to do, I realized that I wasn’t even sure exactly what “going on safari’ entailed, besides an outrageous price tag. I learned, however, that Kafue National Park (the largest in Zambia and one of the largest in the world), is a mere three hours from Lusaka, and that because it’s currently low season, there were heavily discounted deals. Clio, the Irish contingent of Kalulu Backpackers, had been meaning to go to Kafue for a while because she keeps recommending it to people without having gone there herself. I was easily convinced.
We stayed at Mukambi Safari Lodge, a pretty amazing luxury safari place that I most definitely couldn’t have afforded at any other time of year. We had a chalet next to the river to ourselves and some really delicious three-course dinners. The views of the Kafue River are stunning, and the stillness and sunrises were such a welcome break from Lusaka’s chaos. While there I learned that there’s actually a hit TV show in the Netherlands about encounters with African wildlife that’s based at Mukambi (Van Amstelveen Naar Afrika).
Inside our chalet.
Since it’s the end of the rainy season, and the grass is high and difficult for viewing animals, Clio and I mainly almost had the place to ourselves. It is an exhilarating feeling to be living right in the middle of a national park. You have to walk from the lodge to your chalet accompanied by a guard at night in case of lions or elephants. At 4am on Thursday night, Clio woke me up in a panic: “Nell, there’s a hippo right outside our window.”
We spent a lot of time during our two days at Kafue with the lights off in our room, staring out the window and trying to make sense of the dark shapes right outside. We held our breath for the hippos (supposedly the most dangerous animals in Africa) and woke up laughing one morning to the Vervet monkeys stealing the coffee cups we foolishly left outside.
At 5am on Thursday, we woke up to a thermos of hot water outside of chalet to get some coffee in our systems before heading to a game drive. We took a boat across the river, snapped some sunrise photos, and then we were off into the park.
The feeling of waking up with the sun, of sitting in an open safari vehicle and driving through these pools of water and tall grass made for one of the nicest mornings of my life. We saw colorful birds (lilac breasted lolas, fish eagles, and gray billed herons, among others). We saw pukus and impalas and three kudu who made majestic leaps across the road. We saw zebras underneath a tree and monkeys and hartebeests and hippos and warthogs. We tried to see through the many shades of green and strained our eyes and congratulated each other when we managed to find something. A few hours into it we pulled over for sugar cookies and coffee in tin cups. I think I could have driven around like that forever.
Setting out on a misty morning.
Lilac Breasted Lola (my personal favorite).
We took a boat out to see the sunset that night, drinking Mosi, Zambian’s local brew taken from “Mosi oa Tunya” (the smoke that thunders). A few hippos followed us down the river and we tried to get rid of them. We watched one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen, and kept our eyes open for animals. I learned that a group of hippos is called a laughter. I will forever be looking for this word in crossword puzzles. I will forever remember what being surrounded by that laughter felt like.
We didn’t see any lions, or cheetahs, or leopards (leopards are one of Kafue’s claims to fame, because in most other places they’re notoriously impossible to see), but I didn’t really care. The whole experience felt a little bit magical, a little bit like Christmas morning—this feeling of waking up early and actually shivering, and drinking hot coffee and keeping your eyes wide open. The feeling of trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, and of being amazed by what we were surrounded by. It is one of those experiences I can’t quite believe this year has allowed me.
I am one lucky girl.