Stuck in lion territory

Trip Start Aug 31, 2005
Trip End Aug 25, 2006

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Flag of Zambia  ,
Wednesday, January 4, 2006

There were loads of VSO volunteers at the lake for New Years, several with cars. One couple, with a car, were looking for 'hikers' to split petrol with them through Zambia and Namibia. Their Zambian schedule fitted perfectly with what we wanted to do - a brief stint in South Luangwa National Park, reputedly one of the best in southern Africa, followed by Victoria Falls. We jumped at the chance to travel by style for a change.

After a full day of recovery on New Years Day, we set off bright and early on the 2nd with the car full to the rim for the 6 hour journey to Malawi's capital city, Lilongwe (which up until a few weeks ago, ignorant wee me, never even knew existed). Natalie, Francesca and I squashed up in the back, while Tim and Vicky (the owners of our car), Kirsty and Mark and Linda were in the front.

We were planning on staying near the border that night and crossing over to Zambia early the next morning but our plans were thaughted as our visa waivers couldn't be prepared in time, so we were forced into spending a night and day in Lilongwe. Poor stranded wee us - we spent the night camped out pyjama-party style on Jay's floor (she has a house complete with housekeeper and his wife and 3 kids and security guard!) and the extra day shopping at the markets and eating Korean food. It was tough, but someone's gotta do it!

A day behind schedule and a leaking hotel roof later (Malawi in rainy season is...rainy) and we were finally on our way to the much awaited South Luangwe National Park.

The petrol prices (and in fact ALL prices) in Zambia are exorbidant - more than US$1.80 per litre - so we acted as a local taxi along the way picking up locals and charging them for the ride - African style. We arrived on the outskirts of the park, dodging the odd elephant along the way, and headed to our camping ground. We had heard rumours of 'Flat Dogs' way back in the Zanzibar days - a bizarre camping ground on the edge of the park where one can camp in trees as hippos roamed below - it was a must-do. We set up our tents in the trees and then got an early night sleep to be up bright and early for our game drive the next day.

We left at 6am and headed into the park. The joy of travelling in 4WD was that we could self-drive for the game drive. Armed with a A4 sized photocopy map, we set about on a lion hunt. No lions to be found that morning, but we did spot thousands of hippos, crocs, buffalo, zebra and the odd elephant. After a short break as the midday sun came up, we headed into the park again, determined to find the hiding lions.

This time Vicky was at the wheel, for the first time taking on the challenge of 4WD-ing. We dared her down some narrow and sticky tracks. Our challenge paid off - she headed off down the track and got bogged down good and proper. We were stuck in the mud in the middle of a national park with no choice but to get out and push. Looking cautiously around for animals, Tim jumped out and pushed and pushed until we were out of the mud. We were all on a high and wanting some more. Tim took over the wheel and we headed down some more dubious tracks, animals at this time were all but forgotton as we splashed through huge mudpools. It didn't take too long to get stuck again - this time in sand and mud. All three of us had to get out - me in bikini (it was hot!) and pushed as mud splattered on our face. 10 min and a lot of exertion later and we were once again freed.

By this time our time in the park was nearly up so we decided to give up the 4WD fun and find 'em lions. We stopped a local guide who pointed us in the right direction ("...down the left fork, 40m past the cucumber tree, in the middle of the 4 redwood trees...") and set off, across a sandy river bank, past the cucumber trees.

His instructions were surprisingly accurate, and 10 minute later, two ferocious looking lions were standing right in front of us. We stopped the car as close as we dared and watched on as they played in the sun and then greeted their mother playfully when she came back from hunting. Feeling well and truly satisfied we turned the car around about to head out of the park. Easier said than done - we had to pass through a sandy river bed which we got well and truly stuck in, wheels buried up to the rim. Very conscious that the lions were only a few hundred metres away from us, we got out, dug out the tyre, collected up wood to put under the tyre for traction, let the air out of the tyre, and pushed and pushed and pushed with all our might. Finally, just as we were about to give up, success! We were out of danger! Elated and on a 4WD-high, we sped out of the park as the night approached. We have all got the 4WD bug now, well and truly!
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