Are you interested in Travel and new experiences? Then you are my Dream Reader. Perhaps my story will awaken a long suppressed desire to go to Africa – one of the joys of which is to observe animals in their native habitat. So, please read on!
“Watch out for elephants!” we were warned on arrival at Old Mondoro Bush camp in Zambia. “They love the winter thorn and acacia tree pods and are always wandering through the camp.” Set in a grove of Acacia trees on the banks of the Zambezi River in the Lower Zambezi National Park this beautiful little camp overlooks a maze of hippo-inhabited islands and channels and provides the thrill of a genuine bush camp experience in Africa. With no electricity or hot water, the camp is a far cry from the luxury camps we had been staying at up until now. Constructed of four reed and canvas tents all with ensuite bathrooms with flush toilets, washbasins and canvas bucket showers combined with beautiful views of the river and hippo islands, this is a very special place.
On arrival we were greeted by John and Lana, a young Afrikaans couple who manage the camp – and an elephant slowly making his way through the camp in search of more pods! These huge animals, whilst they look gentle and seem to be quiet, are still wild and unpredictable and we were told to never walk from our tent to the lodge area if an elephant was wandering along the path. Over the three days we were there, we met these animals daily and became so confident, that we watched from our tent as they slowly walked by ignoring us. On one occasion, when an elephant heard the shower running in the afternoon, we were greeted by a trunk appearing over the reed wall in an effort to take some water! Eyeballing an elephant from close quarters is a very unnerving experience especially when the animal is taller than the tent! Turning the shower off did the trick; the elephant lost interest and wandered off.
Mondoro is the Shona name for “lion” and the camp is named after a legendary white lion seen during David Livingstone’s exploration of the Zambezi River. The genuinely rustic theme is carried through to all activities. Dinner is always taken by the light of paraffin lamps and candles, giving a really romantic edge to the evening. The river water gently lapping the edge of the bank and hippos honking in the distance, communicating with each other whilst hundreds of stars twinkled above instantly puts guests in a relaxed mode. This is just as well as one evening during our stay the table had been set in the open under an acacia tree. Eight of us sat down to a beautifully presented dinner and then we heard it; the soft thud of an elephant treading towards us. It is amazing how gently these huge creatures can walk. A bulky shape appeared in the dark and there he was, our uninvited guest who had decided to feast on the delicious pods hanging above us. “Get up very slowly and quietly” Lana told us “and move towards the covered area”. This we did in slow motion although the natural reaction was to rush for cover. Any sudden movement would cause the elephant to charge. Dining silently in the company of a huge male elephant who entertained us by shaking and rattling the tree to obtain pods was certainly not on the programme and presented a few heart stopping moments but is a memory which will stay with us forever.
This same elephant was nicknamed “Stinky” because he was wandering through the camp one morning and happened to step on a septic tank which broke under the weight of his foot and he fell in. The resulting odour and mess to be cleared up did not endear him to the staff but he returns time and again and appears to love human company.
Evening game drives can provide a different kind of adventure. Part of the safari culture is to have ‘sundowners’ in a unique spot followed by a drive spotting various animals. Watching the crimson sunset backdrops, often along a hippo lined riverbank or on a plain with harems of zebra or herds of buffalo staring is breath-taking. We followed bachelor herds of elephants, were amused by a family of warthogs and fascinated by the eerie cry of the hyena and the distant roar of the lion. One evening, finding a dead baboon in the bush, we concluded it had been killed in baboon combat and not by a predator. Deciding to check later, we drove on and followed the spoor of a leopard. Leopards are shy creatures and not often spotted; then we saw her, Kinky (so named because of the kink in her tail) had just made a kill, blood was on her face and she walked slowly around the stationary car and then disappeared into the bush. We waited some minutes for her to reappear and decided to move on. Unfortunately at that moment the vehicle refused to start. The battery was flat and we were unable to even radio the camp. It was dark, we were in an open vehicle, down a gully with a leopard on the prowl, lions nearby and a cantankerous mother elephant and her calf in the vicinity. This was when I felt extremely vulnerable and remembered a friend telling me “Africa is not for sissies!” Eventually we were able to make faint contact with a distant camp and forty minutes later help arrived in the form of ten Africans in a car who first tried to jump start our vehicle. Attaching the jumper leads to the wrong points did not help. Refusing to take our advice and demanding we sit in our seats, these ten men finally decided to use brute strength and manually pushed the Toyota up the hill to get it started whilst we sat in total amazement.
“Would you like to see if something has taken the dead baboon?” our guide asked us once we were back on track. We declined and decided the bar at the camp made a safer option.