Sunday 12 May 2013

South Luangwa

Video by Marc Viaplana

Marula Camp & Lodges is held by Mike and his wife, a couple of white Zimbabweans. It's located on the river, in walking range of the gate of the national park. It is strongly recommended NOT to walk because of the wild animals roaming freely around the different camps. The river is infested with crocodiles and hippos, and it is thus strongly advised to stay clear of it.

The tents are located in line with the pool along the river bank, which is on higher ground than the actual river, especially with the water seeming quite low. From the tent I can view the river and its inhabitants.

Leopard on hunt mode
During daylight, Vervet monkeys, or commonly called Blue-balled monkeys, occupy the camp grounds. But at night, when everything seems quiet and peaceful, the hippos settle in and graze on the lush green grass. On the first night, the guards had seen a lion occupy one of the open spaces for quite a while, and a herd of bush bucks raced through at some point. Elephants might also come through camp.
Africa seems not to be a continent where it's easy to travel as a backpacker or generally to be on a budget and still do activities. If you plan to go out into the bush, be ready to pay some money for transport, or to wait horrendously long for a lift, that might, or might not come. Although the accommodation here at Marula Camp only costs USD 10 for a basic safari tent with two beds, a single Castle Lager costs more than USD 4. To go to the nearby village, as it is strongly advised not to walk, I would have to wait for a lift or order a taxi for about USD 4. The distance is less than one kilometer. I was actively considering buying my beers from the lodge before getting here, but now it seems, my beer consumption will simply drop if my delivery doesn't come in in time.

Who wants to play "chase the baboons"
But even this remote part, which is located about 130 kms north west of Chipata, will become more touristic in a few years. Earlier the modus operandi had been to fly in customers and to get them at the nearby airfield and bring them to the lodges. Now that backpackers, self-drivers and other travelers want to come in, the road is being tarred bit by bit.

From our vantage point, we can easily monitor the water inhabitant's activities. So I was able to glimpse a fight between crocodiles, and another short struggle between hippos. The camera should be on standby at all times, ready to be used for action.

We'd rather play "chase the leopard"
South Luangwa National Park consists of two natural boundaries which are the Luangwa river to the east, and a mountain range to the west. That's how they found that the giraffe living in the area is a specific species of giraffes which can only be found here in Luangwa. It's named after the man who found it: Thornicroft, an Englishman who was here during early Northern Rhodesia times. When Europeans first discovered the giraffe, the first asked if it was a camel. The second one told him no, look it has spots, it must be a leopard. They thought it must be a crossbreeding between the two species. Hence its Latin name Giraffa Camelopardalis.

Elephants have been hunted and poached for tusks over long periods of time. Always the biggest animals with the biggest tusks have been taken out. Now there are only the smaller animals remaining. Even after generations, the size of the elephants stays pretty small in comparison to other places. David, our guide told us about a story of a herd of elephants which had faced killings. Nineteen members of the herd had been killed by poachers and the remaining fled. Exactly a year later, the remaining elephants came back to the spot and made a circle around the killing place. Then they slowly went out into the bush in a single mournful file. The memory of elephants is of long term, it never forgets anything.

Dangerous hippo at lodge
The morning drive was quite uneventful. The scenery is beautiful and we had a good time spotting impalas, pukus, giraffes, various birds and of course, dazzles of zebras. After lunch, rest at the pool and some pancakes we left for our afternoon/night drive. The pukus and impalas and so on were naturally still around, as they were in great numbers anyway. We quickly found the elephant which were out and on their way to the river. They usually cross it in late afternoon to go out of the national park (although they probably don't know they are crossing some imaginary human boundary). At the river, David stopped the car so we could all take a picture of the sun's reflection. That's when he heard the barking of a troop of baboons. He said we should check it out, as it probably was a leopard on the prowl. So he rushed us off in direction of the sounds. As we got there we easily spotted the young leopard, as it was on the road, and not in hiding. So the baboons made alarms cries while never losing sight of the leopard, and a nearby rank of impalas also watched the proceedings with great interests. Losing sight of the leopard would mean great danger to either baboons or impalas, as it would then draw closer and attack them by surprise. Usually a leopard would hide and wait and get closer to its prey staying hidden all the time. But this particular one was quite young and inexperienced. So it stayed in the open, for everyone to see. The troop of baboons encircled the leopard whenever it could, trying to keep it away from the younger and weaker members. The leopard advanced nonetheless, not completely without fear of being attacked by the baboons. At some point it went hiding into tall grass and the baboons stopped barking because they lost sight of it. It came out again though and the barking started again. After about fifteen minutes of this game, the leopard started loping forward and took up speed. It raced towards a tree where there was a young baboon. It probably caught the baby baboon, but then the whole troop got enraged. The troop of baboons quickly turned into a mob and chased the leopard. The bravest and strongest of the troop less than a meter behind the fleeing leopard. The rank of impalas, not exactly knowing what was happening, fled in the same general direction. Later we spotted a hyena coming to see if there was some meal to be taken from the leopard. Other leopards joined the party as well.

Later we spotted some night animals, including a rabbit, genets, civets and white tailed mongooses.

When we came back to camp, we had supper. We watched our pictures and videos of the day and specially the ones of the chase. With Marc, we decided to stay up to see the hippos come out of the river. Everyone went to their rooms or beds before ten, so we had to wait quite a while before they came out. Around midnight the guards told us there was a hippo around. It was grazing on the compound, not too far from us. Although in the night it was quite difficult to see it and especially to take its picture. But the guards told us to be patient because it would probably come closer. After 2 or three hours of watching the hippos, one being joined by two others and a baby, we finally got our chance to take good shots. One came right to the edge of the restaurant area where we were being patient. We took advantage of its presence there and started playing at being paparazzi’s. We flashed it remorselessly for about 30 seconds or so. Suddenly, this huge mass of a hippo, turned its head towards us with an angry glare. It scared us to shit and we jumped away hiding behind the closest pillar. Our action must have startled it because it then turned away and sauntered off towards greener pastures. Although the greener pastures were only a few meters further away. We stopped making that hippo angry, and went off to bed a little later.

For Andrea: a dazzle of zebras
Two days later, I came back from my morning game drive with Croc Valley. I went with this other lodge because neither Marula nor Croc Valley had more than one guest who wanted to do a game drive, so they combined us into one. A group of English ladies were waiting to be picked up to go to another lodge, Flatdog Camp. They had most of their luggage ready as well. I stopped to talk to them a minute, as when they left I would be the sole guest staying at the lodge for two days. At some point I noticed a Vervet monkey sitting on the nearby game drive car. I went close to the car and tried to chase it away. But instead of being chased away, it came right above me on the car, and made as it was going to jump on me. I got scared I would end up with blue balls in my face, so I backed off. One of the English girls tried as well when it was on the hood of the car, thinking she was imposing more. Again, the monkey won. It then got braver and cheekier and went to their luggage. It picked out a bag of balloons, thinking it must be food. When it saw it wasn't food, it let it go again. Every time one of us tried to chase it away, it retaliated with an scary face and a hiss. Finally a staff member came running and chased it away. Later Mike, the owner, told me I shouldn't have let myself be intimidated by the monkey. Backing off makes them see we can be scared and they then get cheekier and braver.

Relaxing isn't it?


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