Landing in Lusaka airport I not only had serious sense of de ja vous, having been here exactly the same time the year before, I was ever so slightly bereft. Feeling at a loss without my friends who accompanied me the year before, this time I was on my own. Ever so slightly worried, my nerves were sated when I saw a sign with my name awaiting me. The gentleman that had greeted me went ahead and grabbed my hold luggage whilst I sorted out my visa, as well as accompanying me through the (small) terminal, even checking in my bags for the next flight without me having to lift a finger.
Hopping onto a small prop plane in Lusaka, I was accompanied by only the pilot who gave a marvellous ‘Welcome to Zambia’ speech, his air stewardess, Maggie who was Australian and headed to a neighbouring camp, myself and finally the owner of Chiawa Camp, Grant. Well, spoilt doesn’t even cover it. Grant made me feel welcome from the word go, telling myself and Maggie detail after detail about the environment we were flying over and flying into, Zambia as a country and the history of Chiawa Camp. How he came to find himself running it after a brief stint in America, his parents felt he needed to take the reigns on the family business.
Journeying down the Zambezi I had already had my fair share of excellent wildlife sightings; crocodile basking on the river shore, Impala, hippo, bird after beautiful bird, then came the money shot, two adolescent bull elephant relaxing on the river bank.
Arriving at Chiawa, I was greeted off the boat by what seemed to be the whole team. A cool drink with lychee to quench my thirst before I was whisked off to my room. My room was what can only be described as jaw dropping. Forget the king sized bed, how about godlike – a huge bed facing out towards a large deck area looking down into a dry river bed and onto the Zambezi. And, AND there were three bull elephant looking up at me from the river bed… I thought I was dreaming initially … But on second thought this was clearly my pre organised welcoming party right?!
Chiawa Camp is right on the lower Zamabezi. I literally have no words to describe what a place this is. Not only has it the most beautiful panoramic views of the mighty Zambezi river, but is shadowed by some of the national parks dramatic hills. ‘Chilapeta’ which roughly translates as ‘never again’ in reference to how steep it is (naturally) and the mission it is to climb it.
Quick turn around and I was off on a canoe safari. We travelled by boat back upstream, where we were met by our guides, settled into our canoes and headed off down a small river channel. It was stunning; Impala and baboon, bee eaters, duga boys (old buffalo who are usually found on their own) masses of elephant, even a family of 6 with two tiny babies crossing behind us. When the family had crossed, the tide mark of water was just above the adults elbows and the babies are obviously only small and had been completely submerged!
Coming back into camp we stopped for a brief breather, change of clothes and I headed out on my own private night drive. For about an hour we saw and heard very little – the occasional baboon alarm and resident chirruping of crickets in the bush, but other than that all was quiet. Admittedly I was beginning to fall asleep, travelling in cattle class beginning to catch up with me and the gentle rocking motion of the vehicle making me sleepy. I asked to stop for a while and listen to the sounds of the night and look at the stars.
That familiar deep booming echo that gets right under your skin, into your soul, it could only be lion. Who’s King, who’s King? Me, me, me… And we were off, racing through the bush in the direction of the roar. We came across a male and female lion lying on the side of the road. In the background there were a further 6 lion to complete the pride. The next minute, it all happened quite quickly, the lioness disappeared behind our truck and I can only describe it as sounding like someone running hard into a wall was what we heard. The next second, with a flash of red tinted light from the spotter (red light does not affect the wildlife’s night vision), the lioness had a small Impala between her teeth. We had just witnessed, or rather heard, a kill. Queue David Attenborough! The male lion rather ungraciously took the lioness’s kill from her and had it all to himself, of course though, he’s king of the jungle, he can do what he likes! We then saw a herd of elephant encircled around their babies protecting them from the encroaching lion pride. Luckily the lion weren’t interested in the Ellie’s, they were still on the hunt for Impala.
Following this excitement, we arrived at bedrock, where a pop up bush camp dinner had emerged. Small bush bar, by a circle of chairs around a camp fire. Lanterns hung up, embedded within the Rock and the smells of supper being cooked below was just bliss. Barely stepping off the truck, about turn! A radio call came in to say a pack of wild dog were just round the corner. Back in the truck and off we went. Like the lion pride, the wild dog were hunting Impala. This small pack of 8 were giving it a go. They raced off into the bush after about 5 minutes which was our queue to return to supper.
On return to camp after supper, I HAD to run myself a bath. Bath with a view and the most amazing soundtrack of the bush was a must.
The following morning we met for breakfast on the river bank, watching the sun rise over the Zambezi. We went out in search of wild dog again, sure enough we found them within the first half an hour. After watching the pack play and eventually relax, we continued on our morning drive. Ellie’s, Impala, waterbuck and even a heard of buffalo. We stopped for tea and coffee on the side of the Zambezi. I was quizzing Baoz, our guide, about stories he has from guiding for more than 18 years, one of his highlights being how he saved the day when a pride of lion interrupted sundowners on the river bank and he courageously crept, whilst the lion were still around, back to rescue the table and nibbles but most importantly the drinks! (He loves a good story!)
Back to camp to pack up the remainder of my bits. Chiawa were then going to transport me via boat to the next camp, not before I had lunch though. Having packed all my belongings, and a brief tour around camp looking into their six river facing tented camps, their new family suite which is in the process of being built which will be pretty impressive. I arrived back at the jetty where a boat was waiting, with a small table and lunch prepared. I had a date with Grant (!) and had the most delicious steak with zucchini and new potatoes, accompanied with a bottle of bubbly. We drifted down the river and then I had to say bye and move on to my next stop.