What a travesty it would be for any traveler to central Africa to skip a safari. My adventure to Zambia to visit my daughter Gina in the Peace Corps began in Livingstone, a place best known as the gateway to the incomparable Victoria Falls. Livingstone is also the launch pad for a handful of local safari outfitters operating in Chobe National Park, about an hour’s drive into neighboring Botswana.
Gina and I connected with Kalahari Holiday Tours Kasane and negotiated an overnight stay in Chobe. The outfitter picked us up right from our lodge in Livingstone and took over from there. At US$215 per person, the safari was within reach of even a volunteer on a small living stipend. Feeling both regal and adventurous, we were on our way.
Wild in the Evening
Our first outing was a two-hour boat ride up the Zambezi River. As the wet season was just ending, the river was at its fullest. Elephants, cape buffalo, hippos, water fowl and occasional baby crocodile were spotted along the way in a surreal setting.
Next came the land excursion that provided additional vantage points for wildlife. As we opted for the overnight safari, we were treated to a late-afternoon animal-watching excursion. This is when much of the wildlife emerges from daytime lairs that offer protection from the day’s heat. In the cool of the late afternoon, we witnessed the activity of yet more elephants, warthogs, impalas, baboons and an especially rare sight – lions.
Now, lists of species names and photos simply cannot capture how raw and transcendent it is to be in the wild. There is one sighting, however, that I will try to describe, because it struck me as almost spiritual. We witnessed a herd (called a ‘tower’) of giraffes moving across the landscape in the early evening. The image of a tower of giraffes in motion at full gallop is simply otherworldly. The bottom halves of the animals bounced along the terrain in awkward, ungainly movements of unequal-sized legs, looking like droplets bouncing on a hot skillet. At the same time, the upper body and necks moved gracefully and rhythmically, like a grove of palm trees waving in a breeze. Only the grove of heads was traversing the landscape like an armada of ships at full sail. How the clunky motion of the legs could be connected to the gracefulness of the bodies and necks is one of nature’s many imponderables.
Wilder at Night
After a traditional central African meal of nsima, greens, chicken curry and pudding, the human herd retired to tents. I slept well, but was awakened twice in the night. The first time was when the surrounding bush seemed to come alive with every animal and bird roaring, growling or chirping as if part of some kind of primal competition. It reminded me of the verse in Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sedak: “And the wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.” I was glad I was safe among my human herd.
Later in the night I awoke again. Only this time it was to eerie, complete silence. Nothing. No birds chirping. No animal howling. No crickets. No wind in the trees. Absolute quiet. The world was at peace.
In the morning, after a brief breakfast, we headed out of Chobe National Park. We occasionally sighted wildlife, but not nearly as often as the evening occurrences. After we exited the park, we crossed the Zambezi, left Botswana and returned to the land where the wild things no longer live. I was sad to watch it disappear behind me.
Back to Civilization: High Tea in Livingstone
As long as you have crossed Victoria Falls and a safari off your bucket list, you might as well also do so for high tea at the Royal Livingstone Lodge. The Lodge, a five-star resort situated on the Zambezi River not far from the cascades, is a lasting legacy of British imperialism and propriety. The grounds include a private game reserve featuring giraffes and zebras without the normal zoo enclosures. Our budget did not allow us to stay at the lodge, but we did indulge in their afternoon high-tea offering.
For a cost of US$20 each we were treated to the most elegant tea setting imaginable and a choice of over 50 blends of tea. In addition, we were offered the most exquisite display of finger sandwiches and desserts you could ever desire. Come hungry and with a sweet tooth, because you can visit the dessert bar as many times as you like. And the service is something inspired by British royalty.
Please don’t tell the management, but afterward Gina took a dip in the magnificent pool. I retired to the veranda overlooking the river. Later Gina and I enjoyed cocktails as the sun sank into the mighty Zambezi. Not a bad day for the price of a movie and dinner back in the United States.