Sleeping with the

By: Clinton Els

By: Clinton Els

Director: Incentives & Travel at Dragonfly Africa

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As we sit, locked up in our homes, reminiscing on past travels and feeling the frustrations of self-isolation build thanks to COVID19, my mind wanders back to one of the most amazing experiences I have been privileged to enjoy.

 

In all honesty, I have been really blessed through life. I have travelled most of the planet and being adventurous, have done things most only dream of. So, when asked to pin point an experience, a myriad flashes and memories pulse through my brain, but I keep returning to the night I slept amongst enemies.

 

It was October 2019 and a truly adventurous invitation came across my desk; 7 nights exploring some of the most remote Big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino) regions of Zambia. Whilst the adventurous nature and remoteness of the region immediately appealed to me, it was the walking with Big 5 element that stood out the most.

 

We connected into the Lower Zambezi through Lusaka International Airport. After 2 amazing nights on the Zambezi we headed on to South Luangwa (Place of the Leopard).

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Talk to anyone in the region and they are proud to say that this area is the remotest safari experience left on the planet and just getting there proves the statement. We raced down the Zambezi River in an open speedboat for roughly an hour viewing elephant, buffalo, giraffe and countless plains game before coming to a small wooden deck in the middle of nowhere. A Landrover was parked under a shade awning, once our guide had re-connected the battery, we took off on a short 15-minute drive to the nearest airstrip where our private charter flight was about to land. From there it was another air hop over to South Luangwa. If you are afraid of small planes (6 seaters), no structures or large airports then this is not the region for you. However, if you are into open spaces, a truly authentic African experience and adventure second to none, you have just struck gold my friend.

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South Luangwa is the birth place of the African Walking Safari. I was hosted by the amazing team from Time&Tide (historically the Norman Carr portfolio that they bought out). For those that are not familiar with Norman Carr, he was sent in by the British to control elephant numbers in the region, fell in love with the place and stayed. He is famous for the two lion cubs that were orphaned and he raised as his own. It was in walking between camps with his staff that he suddenly realised this would be an ideal experience for guests and the walking safari was birthed. There remains a massive history and link with Time&Tide in memory of this amazing man, evident in the décor of each camp.

Time&Tide offer 5 camps in this region and each has its own charm. An important element to keep in consideration here though is, the more remote you get, the more authentic your safari, however, the more rustic your accommodation/service offering becomes.

 

There is absolutely NO FENCING in the area, the rivers form natural boundaries and the animals are free to roam, this is truly Africa as she was eons ago.

 

Whilst it is possible to walk between all the lodges on a circuit route, I would not advise this. You are traversing rough and wild (Big 5) terrain, with limited to no roads, its hot (on average 40 to 45 degrees Celsius) and you will need to do a minimum of 10 to 15km per day to cover the distance.

 

My suggestion, a combination of their walking safari, with drives and their unique sleep out.

Driving through South Luangwa one quickly realises why Norman Carr never left, its beauty is mesmerising and game offering out of this world.

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Most people spend a lifetime in search of Wild Dog in their natural habitat, here however, it took all of 5 minutes’ drive from the lodge and our first sighting of the day. From there on out, it just got better, lion, buffalo, elephant, leopard, you name it, we saw it.

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But I am getting off track here, the aim of this region was certainly the walks.

 

Now I have been on many a walk in Big 5 territory through South Africa, but nothing like this. In South Luangwa the aim is to FIND the Big 5 on foot. On my first walk we headed directly into a pride of 3 lionesses and their cubs, elephant (thankfully at a distance) coupled with being mock charged by 3 buffalo. The scouts (the government of Zambia issues each lodge with 2 scouts for walking) together with your ranger are excellent at reading the animals and knowing what / how to react, but it is something to get your head around and you need to ensure you communicate with your guide on what you are comfortable with.

The following day we once again headed out on foot. Roughly an hour into our trek we spotted the vultures circling above. As we approached, it was clear that the Wild Dog of yesterdays drive were still in the region and the remains of an antelope was spread through the wide and dry riverbed. With our scout on the lookout, our ranger walked us down to the remains and took us through the kill-zone. The intimacy of experiencing Africa on foot is hard to explain, so much can be easily missed from the comfort of a vehicle.

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Later in the afternoon, as the African sky started to mimic the beautiful pink plumage of the flamingo, we hit another dry riverbed. Instead of walking across it though, we instead headed up. As we rounded the corner, there it was, simple yet elegant and perfect in every way, our African Sleepout, a unique experience to Time&Tide in this region.

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Pop up mosquito nets act as open air tents for the evening. Conversation is held around the fire all night and the meal was exceptional, expertly prepared on the open fire by the chef in the middle of the African bush. There is no electricity or running water, but who needs that. We had the stars above, brighter than I had ever seen being this remote, the sounds of Africa and great conversation with excellent wine.

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The sounds of the bush are amplified on an experience such as this, so don’t expect to get your best nights rest, but who wants to sleep when there is so much to take in.

 

After dinner (and way too much quality wine), we all headed off to our beds to sleep under the stars.

To this day I am not certain exactly what woke me, but there was a sound of sorts and I went from REM to wide awake in the blink of an eye. The laughing of Hyena was all around, the wining of dogs and screaming of some poor sole reverberated through the night. I dared not move, I simply lay there and listened. It was all over quite quickly in the end, but my heart told a different story as it beat at a hundred miles an hour, but all of a sudden, as quickly as it starter, there was deathly silence.

 

As the sun rose the following morning I was up and headed directly to the still blazing fire for a cup of heavy African coffee and a chat with our ranger and scout. Pleasantries were passed, but the conversation moved quickly to “what the hell happened last night?” It turns out that the pack of Wild Dog had not feasted enough earlier the previous day and had found a poor and isolated Puka (local antelope) in the riverbed. They had chased it down and killed it a mere 70 meters from our tents. During the feast a pack of hyena had entered and the fight commenced. Two eternal enemies going at it over a small antelope while we lay sleeping mere meters from the carnage. Who knew sleeping with enemies would be so exhilarating?

 

Following a few high fives and pats of the back taking into account the unique experience we had all shared that evening, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast (again expertly prepared on the open fire) before hitting the game trail again as we walked through to our next lodge for the evening.

 

Following this walk and close encounter, all agreed to take a leisurely drive that afternoon and continue to recount the experience from the night before.

 

Some may say it was luck, but I like to think of it as Africa. A place where everyday on safari is different, where you just never know what adventure is waiting around the corner and lifelong friends are made from strangers in mere days. A place with incomparable scenery, a continent I am proud to call home and where Sleeping with the Enemy is an experience of a lifetime.

 

Should you be looking for adventure post the COVID19 madness, wanting to get remote and experience the true African wild, then this is the place to do it and Dragonfly Africa with our partner Time&Tide are the ones to offer it.

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Whilst the options are endless, my professional advice would be a minimum of 7 nights in the region:

 

1-night Kakuli (Time&Tide, South Luangwa)

1-night sleep out (walk to sleep out if possible) (Time&Tide, South Luangwa)

1-night Mchenja (Time&Tide, South Luangwa)

2 nights Chinzombo (Time&Tide, South Luangwa)

Fly to Lower Zambezi and river transfer to Chongwe Camp (or House) for 2 nights (Time&Tide, Lower Zambezi)

Depart out of Royal Airstrip to Lusaka and home

 

Africa’s borders are opening, now is the time to travel. Come back to Africa and leave your footsteps in eternity.