Do you have a death wish?” “Are you crazy?” “Did you make out your will?” These were all questions posed to me by friends, family, and neighbors when I told them I was off to South Luangwa National Park in Zambia to take a walking safari, where, instead of seeing wildlife from the relative safety confines of a tricked out Jeep, I would be traversing the grasslands on foot. Regular safaris – once you get past the initial excitement of seeing your first lion, zebra, leopard, rhino, or elephant in the wild – are safe (or at least safer as you are in the confines of a metal structure) but can be… challenging.
A normal day in a safari camp goes like this: Wake up at dawn, have breakfast, get in a truck and go find some animals for up to four hours. Return to camp, have lunch, take a siesta and go back out for an evening drive at around 4 p.m. During the evening drive, you will likely stop at some beautiful spot with expansive views of the sunset for a “Sundowner” – a drink next to the vehicle. This is usually the only point during the drive in which you are allowed out of the truck. After drinks are drunk and the sun has set, you re-enter the vehicle and try to spot night hunts, returning to camp around 8 p.m. for supper. Repeat this schedule for the next few days until you leave.
“I sink under the weight of the splendour of these visions! A wonderful serenity has taken possession of my entire soul, like these sweet mornings of spring”
At first, it is exciting. Visitors get to see every animal they’ve ever heard of or spied on the small screen.
But by the third day, seven to eight hours in a vehicle can wear on one’s patience. And the unimaginable happens – what was initially so exciting becomes quickly mundane. Especially if you don’t come across a pride of lions or any actual action.
Tips for Walking Safari
King of the Forest
On the second day of walking, we hit paydirt. We followed a group of impala to a small herd of giraffe who allowed us to get relatively close. Suddenly, they galloped off and, in the distance, baboons started barking.
“Lions are near,” said. Ahead of us, in tall grass, a pride of lions was lounging, camouflaging perfectly into their surroundings.
My heart was pumping. Our guard had his shotgun at the ready just in case, but it only had four bullets. There were five in the pride.
Following protocol, we silently grouped together, and slowly circumvented the pride.
It was thrilling. And fascinating. And as we made our way back to camp, we caught a herd of impala and zebra, walking single file, just like us, the other way.
It felt as if I had become part of the bush, part of the daily drama of life and death in the Luangwa crater. And that was worth it all.