Saturday, August 24, 2019

No. 67 - Zambia - LEOPARDS and and an Amazing Zambezi River Canoe Trip - 100s of PICS

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We reached the border at Mchinji, a town/village built around the landmark.  It was the typical African border town.  Trucks loaded and parked waiting approval to cross in each direction, vendors selling foodstuffs and trinkets, produce farmers with loads of fresh tomatoes, potatoes and onions, and the usual assortment of black market money dealers and hawkers waiting for the tourist buses to arrive.  Immigration was quick, there were no lines.  $75 and a hour later we were crossing the border and heading toward the large town of Chapata in Zambia where we would enjoy a 90-minute break for lunch and some shopping at a well equipped shopping center, complete with a real, western-styled grocery store.  We had a deli lunch and loaded up on chips and cookies, chocolate bars, and Andi raided the wine and booze aisles.

It was then on to Lwanga National Park and our two-night stay.  It was a hot and dusty drive west and then north for another three hours.  We reached out upgraded campground just after dark.  "Croc Valley Tourist Camp" sits on the bank of the Lawanga River.  |It was aptly names.  The hippos were grunting loudly and things were a bit chaotic as set up camp in the dark.  Roland and Mash got the kitchen together, the cook team pitched in, and we were fed and in bed by about 9 PM.  In the early morning we got a good look at our beautiful riverside camp.  True to its claim there were dozens of hippos in the water just below us...and a fair assortment of crocodiles as well.  Falling asleep the second night would come with its share of concerns about night visitors.

Our early morning game drive was EARLY,  We were up and loaded into our open-sided safari land rovers and headed into the park just before sunrise.  We were nine to a Toyota Landcruiser and the viewing was perfect, even from the middle seats.  Right off we were met by a wide assortment of critters.  Hippos and crocodiles lined the river, Impala and water buck wandered the forest, and a large family of elephants were enjoying their morning munch of leaves and grass.  We drove away from the river and met up with a large prided of lions…the females in the lead followed by all of the cubs, and the kings bringing up the rear.  They were so close, as they passed the vehicles, we could hear their breaths.  At one point we stopped along side a large male resting at the trail.  If we had dared, we could have reached over and petted him; we were that close.
A rare sight...a Kudu.
The elephant heard had just crossed the river.

This six-legged elephant got everyone's attention.  Such a proud fellow.
 Hippos grazing.
Wonderful crane.
Big crocs.
Hippos in the river.


The lions.
Just a bit close and he didn't even turn his head to look at us.

Our drivers continued wandering the park and we were treated to a morning coffee and biscuit at the river’s edge.  Sipping a hot cup of brew, we watched the hippos sounding the water and saw an assortment of beautiful birds.  We returned to camp after about four hours and had a late breakfast.  We enjoyed six hours of resting and catching up with chores, laundry, and emails. 

And then came the giraffe.


Wonderful birds.

At 4PM we once again boarded our transports for an evening game drive.  Interesting was that there were much fewer critters than in the morning.  We only saw a couple of elephants and no lions.  The exciting part was discovering two leopards, one under a tree and hiding in the brush, and the other roaming the river bank, high above the water line.  We watched them for quite some time and then enjoyed the sunset.  

Our guides then turned on their spotlights and we went in search of nightlife.  Lwanga is one of the few parks in Africa where night viewing is allowed.  We saw hippos hauling out of the river and foraging, another grand leopard, a cevit, and several other critters. 

We returned to camp after 8PM for a really nice BBQ chicken dinner.  The fellas outdid themselves and we ate hardy.  Morning came early and we were up, packed, breakfasted, and on the road just after dawn.  It would be a long nine hours, only broken by a stop in Chapta once again for a few supplies.  Heading west on the main road, we reached the Lwanga Bridge on the border between Zambia and Mozambique late in the day, an hour before sunset, and stayed the night in a basic camp.  It was hot, dusty, and not very well maintained.  The only one like this it would turn out for the whole trip.  This spot was the halfway mark between Lwanga National Park and the lower Zambezi area and our only choice during two huge drive days.  The redemption came from an elevated lounge with a nice breeze a river view...and of course the scum and algae filled pool

We left early for another 12 hour drive to the Zambezi river, the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.  The drive was enhanced by mountains and valleys, lots of interesting villages, and loads of charcoal vendors along the road.  We arrive at Zambezi Breezes Camp where we would spend the first night and then launch the next day for our two night canoe trip.  The camp was well shaded with a lovely lawn, nice cabana bar, and hot showers.  That night we met our river guides and got a briefing on the five dangers of the river...a lot of made of Nos. 1 & 2...and the next day we would understand why.

1 - Crocodiles
2 - Hippos
3 - Trees
4 - Sand
5 - Wind

We enjoyed a later wake up and were assembed and ready to lauch around 10AM.
Our two person canoes were well loaded with all of our gear and food, tents, and luggage.  We launched into the Great Zambezi River...a half mile wide in some places and running full and free.
Our paddle began down river with a light breeze.  We all learned the rules of left paddle, right paddle, circle paddle, back paddle, and STOP.  Nerves were high as we banged into each other, tipped our boats from side to side, and letting in a bit more water than some were ready to accept.  It all brought back memories of the years I spent coaching and teaching canoeing to adolescent boy scouts and sobbing cub scouts. I think the kids were easier.
It wasn't long before we met our first herd of hippos.  The call of STAY LEFT and STAY RIGHT became a montra as our lead guide yelled out warnings.
 Buffalo on the banks.
 We landed after two hours...with sore arms and wet feet, and enoyed a short break just 50 feet from a large herd of hippos on the beach.

 Taking off again we paddled for two more hours before pulling out for lunch.

 A two rest with lots of us napping ended with dropping back in and paddling for another three hours.  A herd of elephants met us halfway.

 We hauled out near evening, set up on an island, mid-river, and enjoyed a lovely sunset and a great dinner from Ronald's kitchen.

 Off in the near distance was a bull elephant that we all kept our eyes on.

We were up at dawn, breakfasted, and breaking camp well before 7AM.  Our second day of paddling would total 8 hours by the end of the day.
More hippos that the day before met us, many in the middle of the river in the shallows formed by sand bars.  They are extremely territorial and we spent hours paddling away from agressive males.   
And then we became aware of the crocodile warnings.  They were everywhere and one launched from the river bank just feet away from Brendan and Lisel and they crapped in their pants as they paddled for safety. 

We landed twice, once to get a close up view of an elephant herd, and then again for lunch and a two hour rest.

We reached our last night's campsite on another island shared by elephant and hippos and were warned to space our tents wide enough apart to allow each to easily pass through during the night...oh, and there also came the warning to stay away from the river banks...and no wading on the much for all the fun.

After setting up camp, a couple of large launches arrived and towed off our canoes.  We were now officially stranded for the night.  Our last night came with another bonfire, a steak BBQ, and a sky full of shooting stars and the Milky Way.

In the morning we loaded all of our gear and boarded a fast ferry back to the river camp and our truck
It was another 9 hours on the roads passing countless villages and charcoal vendors once again.  We reached the Livingstone at the Zambezi River well after 8PM.

By the time we set up camp it was well past our normal bedtime.  Dinner was at 10PM and there was a 5AM wake up for anyone who wanted to see the falls from the Zambian side.  Most passed on the option.

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