For all the times Eric has been to Africa, he has never gone on a safari trip - he says he'd have felt too guilty doing that without the rest of us! Now that we're all here, he decided he didn't have to wait any longer and booked a trip for us to Zambia with Land & Lakes Safari company. All we had to do was show up at their office in Lilongwe with our bags packed. They provided transportation to Thornicroft Lodge (hooray, we didn't have to drive ourselves!), just outside South Luangwa National Park, where all our meals were provided. Not that we have anything against Malawi, but poaching has been so severe in Malawi's parks that the animal viewing isn't as impressive as in Zambia. Zambia isn't as densely populated and so has not experienced the extent of deforestation and poaching that Malawi has.
After five hot dusty hours on the road plus a border crossing and a stop for a roadside picnic, we tumbled out of the van at Thornicroft Lodge - and just stared. The lodge is perched on a bank above the Luangwa River. Hippos and crocodiles were lazing in the river; warthogs, impalas, and pukus were grazing on the far side; a sandbar was covered with Egyptian Geese, Sacred Ibises, and Hadeda Ibises; vervet monkeys boldly moved across the lodge's lawn and trees; and shockingly red Southern Carmine Bee-eaters swooped overhead. We just stood there looking and looking, until a staff member gently prodded us to come find the tents we were assigned to so everyone's luggage could be delivered to the right place.
One primate observing some others.
See that bank on the right of the picture? It's a very steep riverbank, and if you go over the edge you might end up dinner for a crocodile! Here in Zambia, no guard rails or safety fences to mess up the view.
Eric took this photo of the sunset from the lodge the first night, overlooking the Luangwa River.
Those dark things in the water are hippos.
My photo of sunrise from the lodge. The blob right between the sun and its reflection is a hippo.
There are already some ibises on the sandbar. (Hmm, think Eric's camera is better than mine?)
Joel acquired a taste for tea at Thornicroft.
We explored the grounds until it was time to join the rest of the group for dinner: four Belgian medical students, and a recent college grad who's working at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Malawi for a few months, plus her parents from Boston. The food there was fabulous - although a bit too heavy on kale and butternut squash for Emma's taste!
What really impressed the kids were the little butter sculptures that accompanied the dinner rolls.
Good thing the kids have so much practice at early rising - we had to be ready for a 6 a.m. departure for the park. We all piled into two open-topped jeep things with three rows of passenger seats and headed out for the park.
We all had a fantastic time on the game drives. If the Belgians got tired of us stopping the jeep to look at birds, they were too polite to say! (We did try to restrain ourselves somewhat.) Joel really got into the birdwatching. Emma had fun trying out my camera, especially on the pride of lions, and thought about her friends in Pennsylvania, wishing she could share the experience with them.
In the evenings we were out from 4 until 8, with another snack break at sundown. After sundown the guides used spotlights to look for night life. Dinner was served after we got back...poor Emma about fell asleep in her dinner rolls!
In between the game drives we lazed around - it was really hot! (Well, most of us lazed around; Eric reviewed some manuscripts.) Emma spent every minute she could in the swimming pool. Joel took a break from catching frogs, skinks, and geckos now and then to join her. (The pool is shaped like the country of Zambia.)
One tree frog hung out in the men's room. When Joel caught it this is what happened:
Yes, that is the frog perched up there on his head. In the background are the tents we stayed in, fitted out with twin beds and a light bulb.
Monday morning we headed back for Malawi. On the way we stopped at Tribal Textiles, where we saw how artisans make painted designs on textiles.
Then we roamed through their showrooms, drinking in all the colors and patterns and wondering how on earth we'd decide what to buy! Joel found a thumb piano and then went outside to catch a skink, which climbed up his arm and hid in his hair. Emma agonized over the decision of which bag to buy until the last minute, when everyone else was heading back to the van..."They're all so beautiful!!"
As we headed back into Lilongwe I realized just how welcome that little vacation had been, as I felt the weight of daily life return. Finding a laundry lady who won't try to demand 5 times the going rate plus lunch, like the last one did, and who might even show up on time so I'm not late to get the kids from school. Ants in the water filter, ants in the drinking glasses, ants on the bananas, ants everywhere. The carpenters who, in six weeks, have only managed to install 2 window screens - they've made a lot of promises about when the rest will come, but still nothing. What to make for dinner, and what's Plan B if the power goes off and I'm down to one burner. (It was awfully nice having a chef in a white jacket make those decisions, and then make the dinners!) Beggars, and the constant weight of not knowing what to do in the face of so much need. ... But, on the other hand, it was nice to get back to our little house in Bunda. It feels like home.
Eric was the official game drive photographer, so the next post of pictures from the safari will have to wait until he goes through his photos. In the meantime, here are some pictures taken by Emma: