|Zambia an African
by William W. Hartley
We were instructed "At night, don't walk unescorted from the lodge to your villa and remember to lock your windows and doors when leaving. This helps keep the monkeys out. They feel that anything that is yours should be theirs."
The resort had been created along the rim of an ox bow inlet, now a trickling stream and a watering hole for many local and migrating wildlife species. There are no perimeter fences, no gates, no locks; the wildlife is free to come and go as it pleases. Monkeys reside in property trees; giraffes and elephants have been known to roam through the lobby. A leopard had even taken up residence in one of the perimeter villas when it was under construction.
On the first morning of our stay at Mfuwe Lodge, we were awakened an hour and a half before sunrise by a rumble and vibration that went through our villa. It was a herd of what seemed to be about 1,000 water buffalo coming in for a drink at the spring just under our balcony. Accompanying there were casually grazing elephants, giraffes and impalas. Shortly thereafter, just before sunrise, the meadow and its watering holes came alive with life, all living in harmony for a short time, while each creature, predator and prey shared a drink from the waters that sustained life. But that night they would return to their roles as hunter and the hunted.
Up and out by sunrise for safari was to be our daily routine. We left the lodge in an open air Land Rover that could have easily accommodated 9 people plus driver and guide who sat on a mounted seat that was welded to the left front bumper.
Because our group consisted of two photographers, the lodge limited the number of people in our Land Rover to only four - two photographers and an assistant for each. Surprisingly both of us had our wives as companions; excuse me… assistants. The guides understood the requirements necessary for the serious photographer. We all know when shooting, the slightest movement will destroy an image. Lighting is critical, i.e. having the sun coming in from the side or behind our subjects and time was not a pressing issue. They knew photographers didn't need to see a species and then run to see the next. Good images came to those who waited patiently, working a subject to capture natural movement, actions and events. They knew what it was we had come for and how to help us achieve our goals.
We didn't have to wait long or go far. Around the first bend in the road we were greeted by a pride of lions settled in for a day of napping amongst the short and tall grasses found along the 1000 plus miles of the Rift Valley.
Our photographic fare of the day included a variety of intriguing colorful birds, swarms of small seed eating sparrows by the thousands, giraffes, elephants, elephants and more elephants. Numerous small mammals such as warthogs, monkeys, baboons, even a kit fox and of course the lions. We were able to enjoy all of this diversity before returning to the lodge for breakfast, followed by a dip in the elevated meadow side pool and a late morning nap.
By mid-afternoon we were back in the Rover for a twilight safari and the ever-popular sundowner, the highlight of a glorious day on safari. Wine glass in hand we watched the sun set over the banks of a marauding river, lions mating less than a quarter mile away, and hippos yalling and readying to leave the rivers for a night of grazing on its banks. As if on cue, a large fish owl descended from the twilight skies to perch on a branch of a large fallen tree right in front of us. Life couldn't get much better.
Later that evening after dinner and several hours of swapping stories we readied to return from the main lodge to our villa. There, in our path was the pride of lions we had spotted earlier that morning, now out on their nightly hunt. Personally I had no intentions of being anyone's dinner, so we quickly, very quickly, yet casually backtracked to avoid the pride. Upon return to the lodge an armed guide escorted us to our villa for the evening.
Our daily safari expeditions began and ended with dawn and twilight excursions in the open specially outfitted Land Rover. Wildlife was abundant and whether predator or prey they looked through us and our vehicle as if we didn't exist.
Mfuwe Lodge and its surrounding base camps are some of the few safari companies in Africa's national park system where tourists can legally hike between and around encampments. But you are required to have an armed guide with you as you hike through wilderness areas.
The bush encampments had tents as nice as any room in a four star hotel. No electricity of course, but you're up with the sun, active all day, have drinks, dinner, and tell stories by candle and/or lamplight till it's time to call it a day. It is an elegant and enchanting experience to be serenaded by the creatures of the African night.
Anyone who dreams of visiting Africa usually dreams of a safari into the bush to view the great diversity of animals the continent has to offer. We don't think of diving Africas waterways (see Diving Africa's Lake Malawi) because we have mental images of herds of hippos blocking passage and churning up mud and silt and of large crocodiles sunning themselves on riverbanks waiting for their next meal to float by. But a visit to Africa without diving would be like going to Yellowstone and not seeing Old Faithful.
South Africa, Malawi and Zambia are stable countries. The people are warm and friendly people who welcome Americans. Don't let the terrorists make your world smaller. Instead get out and experience all the world has to offer. Life is truly too short.
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