Most people would jump at the chance of a safari in the African bush, I on the other hand was filled with trepidation. It was not the mosquitoes or even the snakes but a presentment from a nightmare years ago and it was all about man-eating lions. Needless to say I was petrified of travelling in an open vehicle offering myself as a tasty snack to hungry lions. Against my better judgement I found myself flying over an escarpment in an improved version of Cessna U206 Skywagon, which was an experience in itself. Flying at low altitude is a scenic adventure and offers the perfect picture, only my camera was locked in my case.
Rule number one, always have your camera ready. The valley lies between both escarpments which form the Rift Valley. It is mapped with woody young trees of the canopy species and within the woodland are many deciduous trees. It came as quite a shock as we began our final leg and the runway came into view, suddenly emerging from the trees onto the runway and right on cue, a herd of elephants crossed beneath us. It was the photo of a lifetime. Rule number two, don’t try kicking yourself in a confined space.
From the moment we stepped from the aircraft we were met by Zambian hospitality. The smiling faces of Leonard and Moses, our two tour guides, were merely a taste of what would come. We would later appreciate their impeccable judgement and professionalism as well as their kindness and support. They ushered us into their open vehicle and through the bush we travelled, stopping now and then to see animals grazing under the shade of bushes and trees. Zambezi thicket surrounds emerged trees, ideal for animals but if you have an untrained eye, like me, almost
impossible to see. Thank goodness for our thoughtful guides who became our eyes and ears which meant that even in the heat of the day, we were distracted and before we knew it, we arrived at our destination.
Nestled upon the northern banks on the mighty Zambezi is the luxury safari lodge of Bains River Camp, named after the famous artist and explorer, Thomas Bains and is surrounded by unspoiled banks of vegetation with an abundance of bird life, where animals roam freely and where an exquisite experience awakens each of the senses. The safari lodge is modelled on a colonial styled building, which put me in mind of the ambiance of a long lost era with a view to modernisation. This was coupled with fine innovative alfresco socialising whilst experiencing the natural wonder of the mighty river. Ben McCarthy, an avid angler and the perfect host, made us feel welcome with a cool refreshing drink before we headed of to our stylist room to plan our itinerary.
The lodge offers early morning game drives both in the Game Management Area and the National Game Park, where the king himself rules over his large pride. This is often seen lounging under a bushy fever tree. Needless to say I chose to stay in the GMA, but around the fire that night I realised I had missed out on something very special. Cubs have a way worming their way into ones heart. I made a pact with myself thereafter to be brave. There are amenities for fishing on the river and for the brave, canoeing. A walking safari is a great way of, not only seeing animals up close but also to see the plethora of trees, mahogany, winter thorn, arcacia and so many more. The bush is thick with different varieties of grasses, palm groves and woodland and raising skywards, the majestic palm towers above the palm groves. It is also possible to walk around the camp, but always keep vigil. Remember there are no fences here, animals roam at will. On one occasion I startled a buck and sent a family of warthogs scampering to the safety of their den. A great way to recover afterwards is to relax on your veranda, each one has a comfy sofa, ideal
for an afternoon snooze or to read a book. You might be interrupted by noisy baboons chasing each other through the bush or have the feeling of being watched. Often whilst reading I would look up to see wide-eyed chacma or vevet monkey observing me from the trees, seemingly curious as to what I was doing.
Lunch was always a delight with innovative, light and tasty al fresco style, dinning . Afterward, In the heat of the day, one can take an afternoon nap cooled by the fan overhead, rooms are stylishly decorated with all the amenities one needs for a comfortable stay. Should you wish, take a swim in the lunge pool and awaken the senses to the sounds of Africa, mainly the hippos performing a chorus of grunts, groans, growls and roars. As afternoon turns to evening I would recommend a sundowner cruse, or drive. I did both. As the sun settles many animals come down to the river to drink, others forage on the small islands in the river and it is possible to get close up photos. Hippos are in abundance and curious and I noticed Moses always kept a good distance from them. Calves are well protected so rule three don’t mess with mamma hippo. The sundowner drive for me is a must. I experienced the viewing of game as never been seen before, with sweeping views of the hills and the rise of the escarpment behind and where if you listen carefully you will hear a horse rasping cough, a sound Leonard and Moses assured me was a leopard, not easily seen but well camouflaged. As I gazed upon the wonders of a sweeping view of hills and cliffs with unique rock formations I felt so privileged to experience a moment when time has seemingly stood still. As I watched the African sun go down, Leonard and Moses brought me back to the present, it was time for a snack and my favourite tipple, a glass of wine does wonders when travelling through the African bush after dark, it certainly steels the nerves.
As darkness descends, herds of elephants, with their young return to their nightly shelter under the watch of the leading matriarch. Darkness heralds danger to the unobservant and it’s as if there is a collective consciousness that drives other animals to follow suit. Warthogs with their skittish piglets, tails raised as they dash into the thick bush surrounding their dens. Zebras with playful but timid fouls and many others species disappear into the darkness of the night with only their bright eyes evident, caught by the headlights of the vehicle. Arriving back at camp the emotive sounds of the African bush can be heard, cicadas and crickets, the hyenas cacophony calls, squealing, grunting, growling and yelling. Night jars drum out a distinctive call more audible with a full moon, but let’s not forget the distinctive roar and grunt of the king, mostly forgotten on my fascinating journey, heard but not seen. Arriving Back at camp, time for a quick change and a welcoming drink in the well stocked bar. Later to experience an explosion of taste buds as we are wine and dined with excellent cuisine under the stars. Later we share stories with other guests and finally fall into bed exhausted. As I drift off to sleep, serenaded by the sounds of Africa I am also aware of a familiar smell of elephant dung, this time it is fresh. Large shadows pass by the window and as I go to investigate I see three large elephants passing through the camp. This is Nature at its best and truly a memorable
experience, one that has taught me that if you respect the environment and it’s inhabitants, follow the rules and listen to the advice of the experts, there is nothing to be afraid of.