Another 5.30 start today and we were joined by Rob from Botswana. He’d been unwell the day before having caught something from “a Mexican guy who was sick when he got here”. We told him we’d been in a game drive with a couple of Mexicans. Perhaps they were the same ones? “Did they talk all the time?” asked Rob. Bingo.
He was a good person to share a game drive with as he knew almost as much about the wildlife as Walia while being suitably deferential to Walia’s role as guide.
Walia was thoughtful about finding different bits of the park for us to see. At one point we drove through an eerie Mopane forest, tall dark tree limbs reaching over us. Between the tall trees were stumpy little Mopane bushes which had been stunted by grazing elephants.
It’s the close encounters which are the most memorable. The giraffe which wonders over to have a look at you, moving surprisingly fast despite its legs apparently working in slow motion. We came across two snoozing elephants right by the road.
One was leaning on the stump of a tree branch which groaned under his weight. He snored slightly, a brief rumble.
Our tea break was again by the river.
We could see fishermen on the other side with dugout canoes pulled up on the beach. Net fishing in a river full of crocodiles and hippo is not something to be undertaken lightly. Walia said they worked a barter system, camping on the river while women came from the villages with meat and mealie meal which they exchanged for fish.
It was a smashing last morning. After pulling back into Flatdogs we said our goodbyes to Rob and Walia, picked up a packed lunch and double checked the route to Kalovia with Adrian, the boss, who’s number we took just in case.
And off again into the wilds. The Kalovia Community Camp was only a drive of about 60k but you never really know how long that will take until you see the state of the track.
After driving through the busy village outside the park we found the turnoff from the tarmac hidden between two buildings. The single track mud road, cratered with potholes didn’t feel like the start of the D104 which seemed a lot more substantial on the map. But it was. There were lots of people on bikes or walking by the side of the road and eventually we came to accept that we were in fact going the right way. Soon the villages were behind us. The track smoothed out and we were coasting over mud or sand between mopane trees and scrub towards an entrance to the National Park, an elbow of which crosses the river at this point. At the entrance gate we gave our details to the ranger and expected to hand over the $105 (!) entrance fee. “Transit?” He asked. “Yes” as we were going out the other side to our campsite. “OK that’s it. Enjoy the park”.
This little nubbit of South Luangwa National Park gets far fewer visitors than the vast area on the other side of the river but it really was a perfect little place. Broad lagoons hosted lofty cranes, spoonbills and storks.Impala and puku stood in the shade of sausage trees or raced about after each other. Elephants moved into the brush by the road and eyed us warily.
The track edged over to the river where troops of yellow baboons sat in groups. We found a flat, high riverbank to have lunch on and watched the hippos and a family of elephants further down the river who had come for a drink. The smaller ones were running as they got closer to the water. A fish eagle flew over us and perched in a nearby tree. It really couldn’t have been more perfect and we sat and watched for an hour or so.
The drive on to the Kalovia Community Campsite was straightforward enough on the, now fairly reliable, D104 which kept its surprise GIANT POTHOLES!!! reasonably spaced. The turnoff to the campsite was where it was supposed to be and we wound through thick scrub to a clearing near the old course of the Luangwa river. We were met by Jonathan and Joseph, two shy young guys who lived on site and acted as caretakers. It’s a lovely setup.
There used to be a couple of small chalets there years ago and they’ve repurposed the concrete bases to be open-air bathrooms, surrounded by reed thatch. There was an oil drum shower which they filled with water they’d heated over their fire. It was the perfect temperature and so nice to get clean again after a hot and dusty day. We watched the sun go down over the little strip of river. No hippo here, for the first time since we left Pioneer Camp in fact, but elephant were grazing in the old riverbed.
After supper we watched a movie outside under the moonlight. P kept taking her headphones out to check for livestock but we had the camp to ourselves.