We’ve had a jam packed first week of traveling in Africa!
Arrival in Zambia
We landed in Lusaka, Zambia on March 13th after 4 flights and 42 hours of door-to-door travel from Melbourne. This was without a doubt our longest stretch of travel so far! We stayed at the campsite where our safari would begin and had two nights there before hitting the road.
The first night we were understandably exhausted. We grabbed some burgers in the on-site bar and hit the sack early. The following day was really lazy and relaxing. We weren’t sure when others from the safari would be arriving or when we’d have to meet the truck (and we were 15 miles from town) so we hung around the campsite during the day. The campsite was home to a TON of zebras, giraffes, impalas, and monkeys so we had a fun time wandering around and snapping photos of our first African wildlife! The truck arrived around dinnertime on our second evening there and we met the trip leader and got some details about our departure the following morning.
The morning of the 15th marked the beginning of our time on the truck. We met the group at 6:30am for breakfast and started learning about life on the truck. We hit the road and after a 3 hour drive we crossed the border into Zimbabwe. From there, we just had a few more minutes to our first stop: Lake Kariba.
On our first day we crossed the border into Zimbabwe and immediately traveled to Lake Kariba where we spent our first two nights with the group. The boat itself was amazing: it had 8 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, a kitchen, a hot tub, and tons of space for hanging out. The lake and surrounding area is home to huge groups of hippos, crocodiles, elephants, zebras, some lions, and more. We were lucky enough to see a TON of elephants, hippos, and zebras in our time there.
A highlight of our time on the boat was getting to know the group. We spent a lot of time lounging around with everyone on the boat deck and learning about the travelers we’re with.
Following our time on the houseboat, we traveled to Chinhoy to visit the caves and see the strikingly blue lagoon. It was a quick stop but worth a visit. A few people decided to swim in the lagoon and nearly got arrested when they were caught by the rangers, but a $20 bribe made all threats of a police visit disappear. Phew!
We had the absolute BEST time of the entire trip so far at Antelope Park. The park is home to several animal conservation initiatives and there were a lot of opportunities to get up close and personal with the wildlife. We stayed here for three nights and had two days jam packed with animal experiences. We did:
The most incredible part of our stay was participating in a lion walk. They have three 16-month old lions that they’ve raised since birth and the lions view humans as part of their pride so they are really friendly with people. When the lions get to be a little older they will be released into a semi-wild area and will continue to be supervised but will stop having human contact. When they eventually mate and have a litter, those cubs won’t ever have human interaction and if they do well in the semi-wild area with things like hunting, they will be released into the full-on wild. The walk lasts for about an hour and is meant to teach the lions about the wild and help them hone their skills. We got to pet them, pose for pictures, and watch them play with each other up close and personal. It was amazing.
The park is also home to captive lions that were either previously pets (bad idea) or becoming a nuisance in the community and were moved to Antelope Park for protection. These lions live in enclosures and we got to watch them eat lunch. The rangers put a dead cow in their pasture and we watched 4 male lions fight for the food as they would in the wild. This exercise is used by researchers to identify the alpha male and use that lion for future breeding. We also went on a tour of the enclosures to learn more about the breeding program.
My favorite lion: the 2 month old lion cub Shaka. We got to spend about an hour with him and talk to the park’s animal manager about their lion program. Shaka will start doing the lion walks when he gets a bit older and then will be released to the semi-wild area, possibly to breed future lions that could go on to be released to the wild. He was adorable and we really liked getting to play with him a bit.
Our other favorite activity was going on a horseback safari where we rode horses out into the bush. Wild animals are more comfortable with horses than they are with vehicles or people, so doing a safari this way is a really unique opportunity to get closer to wildlife than otherwise possible. We were able to get with in feet of giraffes, zebras, wildabeasts, and other animals in the park. It was also a treat for me to be riding a horse, something I’ve always loved.
The park is home to 4 elephants and we spent a morning getting to see them show off some of their skills, the most impressive being kicking a soccer ball. Everyone also got a chance to be hoisted up onto an elephant. This wasn’t our favorite experience – we didn’t realize they’d be doing tricks and that people would be getting on them. As we’ve gotten to learn more about elephants in the past few months we know that this isn’t great for them as it can take some grueling training so we wouldn’t want to do this activity again.
Antelope Park also had a beautiful campground and a really nice bar so we were able to hang out there and get to know more of the folks who work at the park and hear from them about their experiences. It was a really fun way to spend a few days.
Matapos National Park
Our next stop was Matapos National Park, home to nearly 200 rhinos. We spent the morning on a bush walk looking for rhinos and were able to spot a mom and her baby. We also met the local park guide, Ian, who was extraordinarily knowledgeable and taught us a ton about the dwindling rhino population and efforts to save them. He estimates rhinos will be extinct in the next 2 to 5 years. The greatest threat against rhinos is poaching – their horns sell for a million dollars on the black market in several Asian countries where they are believed to work as a kind of viagra.
In the afternoon, John opted to continue with about half of the group to learn more about the local plants, see some of the cave paintings, and hear about the local bushmen (the most native people to the area). He really enjoyed it and found learning about the bushmen to be especially interesting. They are a nomadic people who don’t have any possessions; they take only what they need for one day from the land and share whatever they have with anyone in need. They’ve been heavily persecuted over the years and in some places are not considered to be human because they are physically quite small and look very distinct. Their numbers are sadly dwindling. The day ended with another rhino sighting at sunset. It sounded amazing and I regretted not going after I heard about how great it was!
Zimbabwe might be moving into the lead as our favorite country; the people are amazingly nice, the scenery is fabulous, and we had so many unique and unforgettable experiences like cruising the lake and going on the lion walk. This has been a great start to our time in Africa!