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Issue 6
Africa Travel> Issue 6
UPDATED: August 27, 2014
Where the Wild Things Are
Zambia – a destination for all the attractions Africa has to offer
By Jo Kromberg

South Luangwa Valley

We say our sad goodbyes to the wonderful team at Chongwe and board our Proflight back to Lusaka. And then it's into the deep wild heart of Zambia - the South Luangwa Valley. I must just mention here that the company who organized this journey for us is arguably the most reputable and well-known luxury Safari Company in Zambia – Norman Carr Safaris.

The company was named after its founder who established Luangwa's first safari camp in 1950. Norman developed the pioneering idea to, instead of hunting animals, lure tourists to come and photograph and just watch them instead. The first 35 years of the company saw Norman set up and establish a number of safari camps across the Luangwa Valley, one of which is Mchenja, meaning "ebony". And this is where we now find ourselves. Mchenja occupies a setting beneath a magnificent grove of ebony trees on the banks of the Luangwa River. Each of the five specially designed octagonal tents has their own private en-suite open-air bathroom plus Victorian style baths with a river view.

We tuck into dinner under the stars by candlelight that evening as we all chat animatedly and get to know the other guests from Australia and America.

The haunting cry of a fish eagle breaks the dawn the next morning and the view breaks my heart. I open the flap door onto my deck and for the first time in the pink-grey changing colors of dawn, the magnificent river reveals itself to me. After a light breakfast we set off on a two-hour hike through the bush with trusted guide Innocent. We encounter elephants and a few smaller creatures but the feeling of wondering in the wild and delighting in Innocent's explanations of plants, dung and animal tracks is more freeing than anything I have experienced in years. A gorgeous brunch is set up for us as a surprise on the edge of the river to complete the experience. On our game drive later we encounter a herd of buffalo and then all of a sudden, there they are! It is the same pride of lions from the previous evening, explains Innocent. There are fourteen of them in all, including cubs. They doze indolently in the late afternoon sun, almost completely ignoring us. Innocent suggests we leave them for now and after a sundowner stop we spot a leopard right next to our vehicle! Leopards are notoriously elusive creatures and spotting one is always a highlight on any game drive. We also see a lone hyena and then it's time to head back to camp for dinner. As we are driving along, the lion pride of earlier suddenly make their appearance again as Innocent had hoped and we follow them as they stalk a puku, an antelope similar to an impala.

Suddenly the night silence is pierced by almighty ferocious and primordial growls and snarls as the lions pounce. We watch in stunned silence as this show of the merciless cycle of life in Africa plays out some 20 meters before us. The cubs are just as brutal as the adults as they try to snatch whatever piece of the poor (now dead) animal they can but they are unceremoniously swiped away by the older ones. "That puku didn't know what hit it," says Innocent and we are glad we didn't have to see the animal suffer. Our new friends from Australia, Chrissie and David tell us that the previous night's kill was not so user-friendly. "That puku was alive and bleating for so long before it finally died," says Chrissie, visibly recoiling at the memory. "Yes," says David philosophically. "South Africa is safari-light but this is high-octane!"

That night I stare up at an infinite blanket of stars above. Some fall, most stay... I think of the insignificance of my daily problems and how Africa has a way of putting everything into perspective.

Chinzombo Lodge

We leave quite early the next morning for our second last destination in Zambia, Chinzombo Lodge. We have to cross the river for a very short boat ride and Chinzombo looms on the other side – an absolute paragon of luxury and definitely the next generation in luxury safari lodges. And here, dear reader, I will cheat and use someone else's words to describe this place since superlatives fail me:

"Webster's describes 'stunning' with the following synonyms: amazing, astonishing, astounding, blindsiding, dumbfounding, eye-opening, flabbergasting, etc....BUT he left out one important word: CHINZOMBO! It's not only a camp but it's a lifestyle experience. Imagine Ralf Lauren Home meets the bush. Posh (in) every detail imaginable; from the private plunge pool in your villa (to) the perfectly fitting bathrobes, to the champagne on the hood of an open air safari vehicle."

So says a chap called globalSwagger in his Tripadviser review of Chinzombo and I cannot agree more or put it better myself.

The wonderful Mindy Roberts from Norman Carr Safaris, who put this trip together for us, joins us for a delectable lunch of fish, pizza and salads and then we retire to our enormous villa with its own pool.

The lodge was designed by award winning architects Silvio Rech and Lesley Cartens and it is evident that every design detail has been pondered and nothing done haphazardly. There are only six exclusive villas with an enormous bathroom with unparalleled vistas of the river opening up on a massive sundeck with couches and of course, the pool!

Later when the other guests go on a game drive, we spend time around the main area of the Lodge, taking photographs and chatting to Tom, the assistant manager. I peer at the other side of the riverbank through the binocular where a few vehicles heavily laden with tourists have parked, watching a sleepy pride of lion. What happens next seems like a National Geographic documentary moment, specially made for us. A lone elephant bull makes his way down the embankment to the river for a drink of water in the heat. He loiters a bit and the lions, only a few feet away, eye him warily. Then suddenly he charges them and in a tornado of dust two or three of the lions decide game drive vehicles present excellent shelter against elephant attacks and make a beeline for the vehicles which the mortified tourists are sitting atop. The lions hide behind the said vehicles and one even crawls underneath in an attempt to evade the mischievous elephant while all blood drains from the bewildered onlookers' faces on the vehicles. Together with the staff behind us we can barely contain ourselves with laughter at this hilarious exhibition.

Dinner that night is excellent - in fact, the food throughout is superb - comprising of chicken liver pate for starters, beef Wellington for mains and the most delectable apple crumble for desert. All the Norman Carr properties we visited are all-inclusive so one doesn't receive a nasty surprise in the form of a drinks' bill upon leaving.

I can't keep my eyes open after the day's excitement and so I retire quite early, eager to experience the sanctuary of the villa. The gargantuan bed has its very own air-conditioning system – yes, just the bed! Sleep quality here is the best I have experienced anywhere in years. I laze by the pool the next day, watching as the elephants playfully cavort in the river.

We chase the sunset that evening for photographs and Innocent takes us across the river on a pontoon for that purpose and onto a hilly outcrop overlooking the entire valley and as the sun nearly exhales its last scarlet breath of the day onto this magnificent land, he suddenly whispers: "Wild dog!" Now here is the most endearing thing about our wonderful guide Innocent. He grew up in the Valley and has been a guide here for almost twenty years with an encyclopedic knowledge of the place and its inhabitants. Yet every time we spot something, he gets as excited as us as though he sees it for the first time. Louise and I are now torn in two. Do we photograph the sun going down to the one side or the lone and elusive wild dog on the other? African wild dogs are highly endangered so the sight is rare and very special. We manage to capture both with some fancy footwork and a little help from Innocent.

On the way back to the lodge we spot a hyena, zebra and of course hippo in the pitch black with only the spotlight and the million shining stars in the heavens above.

Back at the Lodge, a guard escorts us the few meters back to our villa to get ready for dinner and suddenly he whispers: "Wait! Hippo...But don't worry." As I almost become airborne in my quest to reach the lit safety of the villa I idly wonder what about a hippo right in front of you in the pitch darkness might make you not worry...

We have to say our poignant goodbyes to Innocent and the rest of this magnificent team the next morning and then it's off to our very last Zambian treasure close to Livingston.

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