Walking Safari: Day One

We walked single-file out of the Camp Tena Tena just after dawn on a Sunday morning. There were six of us. In the lead, Chris carried the rifle, followed by Braston our guide. I came next, then my daughter, Catherine, my sister Carolyn, and finally Bishod, guide in training. To walk the savannah, down, up and over empty oxbow lakes, and then step into the cool shade of a grove of ebony — it’s like that. You feel Africa close.

Elephant in South Luangwa National Park
In her hills and hollows, in her wrinkles, perhaps . . . there is the topography of the whole earth. African Elephant. Photograph, Ann Fisher

We walked single-file out of the Camp Tena Tena just after dawn on a Sunday morning. There were six of us. In the lead, Chris carried the rifle, followed by Braston our guide. I came next, then my daughter, Catherine, my sister Carolyn, and finally Bishod, guide in training.

Imagine stretching out your hands and running them over the face of the elephant there, just there in the picture, above.

Feel the smooth tusks, and let your fingers run up across the wide variety of skin, craggy with wrinkles. Hear her breath, and let her ruffle your hair with her trunk. Smell the grassiness of the twigs and leaves she chews.

To walk the savannah, down, up and over empty oxbow lakes, and then step into the cool shade of a grove of ebony — it’s like that. You feel Africa close.

The word safari means an expedition to observe or hunt animals in their natural habitat. “Safari” entered the English language in 1869, from Swahili,  but was originally from the Arabic term safara, meaning to travel. To walk in the bush, to be with the animals on foot is the truest experience of the phrase, “to be on safari.”

We walked from 6:30 until about 10:45 in the morning, when we walked into Luangwa Bush Camp. This temporary, true camp rotates between four camp sites.

Luangwa Bush Camp walking safari Robin Pope Safaris
We stopped for a tea break each morning, and Bishod would prepare tea or coffee for all of us. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

We met our guide Braston at breakfast that morning, and he covered the basics: we walk single file, always single file, with Chris on the lead with the rifle. If there is anything, we hold still, maintain the line.

Was I afraid? That first morning, I admit that I was uncomfortable. I’d just met Braston, Chris, and Bishod, and here we were walking into the bush with them. The night before we’d seen a pride of lions.

We’d barely been walking twenty minutes when we surprised a hippo who then went crashing through the thicket, right past us, to get away. We all froze, just as instructed.

It was wonderful.

Hyena South Luangwa National Park Zambia
The hyena waits, listening, sifting the air for smells, for clues there may be a kill to find, to steal. Photograph, Ann Fisher
Crocodile feeds on hippo carcass
The day before we started our walking safari, I was looking at the geese with my camera when suddenly a crocodile lunged out of the water to feed on the hippo.

We walked around one of the many lagoons, this one where we’d seen  a croc feeding on a dead hippo the day before. The smell of decay was strong and sweet, the body still almost completely intact.

The hippo was too far out in the water for the lion and hyena to get to, and the crocs would not really be able to break into the carcass until decay advances further, softening the tissue.

Rounding the side of another lagoon, we spotted a hyena, walked along near the den — she trotted off, but stayed close. Hyena in different parts of Africa behave differently. In some places, hyenas hunt like other predators.

Hyena Poop
No, they aren’t ping pong balls — it’s hyena poop, white as snow from all the bones they eat. Photograph, Carolyn Fisher.

In South Luangwa, food is plentiful, and the hyena act as scavengers — and rarely take a kill themselves.

Part of a walking safari is tracking — learning about animals and spoor — and quite surprisingly for us, hyena poop is white! They consume so much calcium as they eat bone that the stuff stands out like it’s lit from within, it’s so bright.

Baby Giraffe South Luangwa National Park Zambia
When we first came upon the tower of giraffes, this baby sprinted towards the safety of its mom. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
a Tower of Giraffes
We settled in for tea, and the giraffes returned their focus to breakfasting on leaves. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

We spent thirty minutes or so watching a tower of giraffes — yes, learning the British collective words for animals, great fun! Braston suggested it was time to take a break and have some tea, and we found a spot very close to our long-necked friends. Morning tea and giraffes — what could be better?

Chris walked around several of the bushes in our immediate vicinity, checking to be sure everything was safe, and Braston designated one for our latrine needs. Yes, if you’re going to walk in the bush on a remote African safari, you’re going to poop in the bush, just like the hyena :-).

Crocodile tracks South Luangwa National Park Zambia
The arrows point out the drag line of the crocodile’s tail, the sweeping scratch marks of its claws, and the close-up shows the scale pattern in the tracks. Fascinating stuff!

Following tea, we spent close to another two hours walking, stopping to examine lion tracks, crocodile tracks — which consist of a tail dragging line and scaly foot prints, and porcupine tracks. Braston broke open aardvark dung to show the ant remains speckled inside of it. Our favorite animal path? The hippo highways — trails the hippos make in their nocturnal grazing forays into the bush, as they string necklaces of Nile cabbage out behind them.

Luangwa Bush Camp Tent, Robin Pope Safaris walking safari
Our first tent at Luangwa Bush Camp. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Around 10:30, we paused to watch a “business” of mongoose cross our trail before walking into our camp. After four hours out in the bush, it was lovely to walk to Luangwa Bush Camp (LBC) with everything set up and waiting for us. Braston showed us the layout — our tents, two pit latrines with comfy toilet seats, a bucket shower rig, and a full bar. All just for us. LBC maximum capacity is three tents, a total of six guests, but we had it all to ourselves.

Luangwa Bush Camp Robin Pope Safaris Walking Safari
Catherine reviews photographs — our view at this location? A large pod of hippos on the great Luangwa River. Alternate collective word for hippos: a “bloat” :-). Photographs, Ann Fisher.

Our wonderful young camp cook, Boniface, served lunch at 11:30 on a table looking out on the hippos, and afterwards it was time for siesta.

Catherine sacked out in our tent, finding the beds very comfy — mattresses on the floor of the tent, made up with soft cotton sheets and coverlet. I settled in one of the camp chairs to write and watch the hippo family, who had decided that the morning standing in the river had quite exhausted all of them. It was time for a pod-wide afternoon sunbath-nap combo.

I was working on an account of the day in my journal, when I was surprised to hear an extraordinarily loud snoring. I looked at the hippos, but then realized it was coming from behind me. It was Catherine!

Hippos nap on the river beach of the Luangwa
Siesta for all! The hippos snooze away the warm middle of the day. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Following our afternoon tea we walked back out of camp to explore further. Just before sunset, Isaac met us with the Range Rover at the agreed location near the lagoon. We watched the sun go down, and the lovely fingernail moon begin to show itself, and enjoyed our world of bird song and frogs, and the whooshing blow of a hippo surfacing. It was a good time to be quiet, enjoy our wine, and watch the evening come.

Sunset on a lagoon in South Luangwa National Park
Sunset on the lagoon – magical time. Photograph, Ann Fisher
Female Leopard Luangwa National Park Zambia
Beautiful female leopard on the hunt. Photograph, Cat Gassiot.

When we finally clambered up into the Rover, it was time for a bit of night game-driving. I remember saying to Carolyn, “the day has been perfect. It doesn’t make any difference to me if we see nothing at all.”

The day had one more gift for us, a female leopard on the hunt. We stayed with her only briefly.

We were tired and it was time for everyone to go their own way.

Our first day of the walking safari had been perfect, and we arrived back in camp to find it full of warm kerosene light, and Boniface with dinner nearly ready.

Dinner in Luangwa Bush Camp
Cat, Carolyn, and Braston talk about the day while we wait for dinner. Photograph, Ann Fisher

This is the second in a series of posts reviewing our safari in Zambia. We spent 12 days with Robin Pope Safaris: 8 days on game drives at Tena Tena, Nsefu, and Luangwa River camp.

Read the first installment of safari series here, Our African Safari in Zambia:

 

Author: Ann

Writer, traveler, and cancer fighter. Get out there and live life!

30 thoughts on “Walking Safari: Day One”

    1. Two reasons — when walking single file you move as a group. Avoiding looking individual and vulnerable is good. And, if Chris needed to make a shot, a clean sight line is everything.

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  1. What a fascinating experience! It is a dream to see animals in their natural habitat. I would be alert all the time when walking though because you would not know what you would encounter next!

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  2. I love how you seamlessly include interesting facts in your stories. Like, now I will forever remember that hyena poop is white because of calcium 🙂 And I appreciated the linguistics lesson about the word “safari” — I’d been curious about where it comes from. I had assumed its origins were from Swahili, but it was fascinating to learn that it was originally from the Arabic term meaning “to travel”!

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  3. I was with you until the crocodile eating the hippo and the pooping in a bush! While your photos and descriptions make this seem like a glamorous experience, I don’t know that I could rough it for a prolonged period of time haha, something to consider! Glad you had a great adventure 🙂

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  4. I love to live vicariously through this post. I remember my first time in Belize, I kept asking everybody – are we in the jungle yet, are we in the jungle yet. They kept answering no. No matter how many trees were around us, even with howler monkeys going off, the answer was still not. We would cross logs and almost step on a fer de lance…. No, not the jungle yet. Finally, we bumped down a jeep road, through a car eating mud puddle and hiked through a cave to get to another cave, finally the answer was yes. Yes we were in the jungle. I imagine that is what it will be like our first time in Africa. Are we on the savanna yet??? It’s hard to imagine a day filled with so many animal sightings. A place so dark and mysterious you have to walk single file behind an armed guard. I hope Africa always remains so vibrant and awe inspiring. The world will be a duller place if this wonder left it forever.

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    1. I’d love to hear more about your time in Belize! If the hike to get into the jungle was that eventful, I can’t imagine what the rest of your trip was like . . .

      The South Luangwa National Park has a variety of ecosystems: savannas (or savannahs — both are correct), mopane woodlands, and great thicketed forest areas, and around the park is a wide buffer zone, mostly open woodlands, to help keep the animals away from humans in the villages. In many cases, demarcation between the two isn’t obvious to visitors, unless you happen to go through one of the official “gates” in and out of the park.

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  5. Wow! What an experience. I would feel so trepidation walking through Africa with all these animals so close by. I recently learned that hippos are responsible for more human deaths than sharks. And that they’re incredibly fast. (I live in Cincinnati where Baby Fiona at the zoo has made international news, so we’re up on all our hippo facts.)

    Interesting about the hyenas eating bone and having white poop. It would be interesting to track animals, but then scary to see them on their own turf.

    I have got to get past my wimpiness and take an African safari sometime! The allure of the big cats might just convince me to do it.

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    1. It did make me nervous, but after that first day, I trusted our team. I think for most people, starting with a driving safari is a great way to get comfortable with being out with the animals. Very safe. We were a little crazy — I wanted to do it ALL, just in case I don’t get back.

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    1. Before our trip, I wasn’t a big hippo fan. I mean, I didn’t dislike hippos, I just didn’t spend much time thinking about them one way or the other. Now, they are among my favorites! And yes, this was just the first of three days we spent walking and bush camping . . . there’s more to come :-).

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  6. Ann, I’ll bet you’ve read all the African travel books by women, but just in case, here are a couple you ought to have on your list:

    Martha Gellhorn, Travels with Myself and Another
    Beryl Markham, West with the Night: A Memoir
    Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa

    I found the Gellhorn book, which I read fairly recently, fascinating on many levels. But I’m sure you’ve already checked these off on your list.

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    1. John, I’ve read both West with the Night and Out of Africa, but I while I certainly know about Martha Gellhorn, I’ve not read Travels with Myself and Another. It’s now on the way from Amazon :-). Since you like Beryl Markham, you might take a look at Circling the Sun by Paula McClain — historical fiction — but well done. And I’m always happy to get book thoughts and suggestions!

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  7. This sounds sooo amazing! I imagine that walking on foot among all these animals is a bit intimidating, but I think it also sounds like such a great way to really immerse yourself in the nature and surroundings. Can’t wait to read more!

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