Friday, May 28, 2010

Guide Exchange to Norman Carr Safaris

After a week visit to London, England which we enjoyed very much, Fay and I boarded a British Airways flight to Lusaka, Zambia. Once we cleared customs and paid $50.00 each for our visa, we boarded a domestic flight to Mfuwe where we were met by our hosts from Norman Carr Safaris. Despite my protests, Aubrey, our guide, lugged all of our luggage to the waiting Toyota Land Cruiser that we rode, Clampett style, to Kapani Lodge. We were greeted by our hosts of this guide exchange, and wisked away to our very comfortable quarters. We freshened up in time for the drums to call us to lunch on the deck overlooking the ox bow lagoon. For the next three weeks we were catered to like kings and queens. We did two safaris per day beginning at dawn and ending with a night drive after dark. All the safaris were within the boundries of South Luangwa National Park, to see the wildlife we only formerly saw in zoos or at the circus. Every safari was an adventure, never knowing what was around the next corner or hiding in the grass beside the track. I now know what some of our guests feel like as I drive the boat up to a grizzly bear. I don't mind telling you that I felt quite nervous when our guides drove up to a leopard, lion or elephant. One elephant flapped it's large ears and trumpeted it's personal space boundry into Fay's heightened senses. She sat right beside me, for all the good that was going to do, but I enjoyed her faith. I did feel my own insecurity when our guides drove us up to within one leap of a leopard and lions. I became more at ease as time went by and the large cats paid us little attention. There is a magical beauty about being so close to the apex predators that we have all read about, no matter which continent we are on.

One of Norman Carrs specialties is the "Walking Safari." This is similar to our "tracking tours" we do at Knight Inlet Lodge, where we walk in the bush with the residents and predators. A guide and an armed scout lead us for a 3 or 4 hour walk through the bush veldt observing the animals, birds, plants and any sign that we come across. Our scout and our guide have had a lifetime experience in this wilderness and are walking encyclopedias of African information, lore and tales. On one of these tours, we came across a leopard kill hanging in a Leadwood tree. These experienced guides had never seen3 kills in one tree before, a puku and 2 impala. We decided we would come back after dark to try and catch the cat with the kill, but the cat had already taken one impala from the tree by the time we came back. We witnessed elephants tusseling, skulls and horns from past kills, and enjoyed the interpretation of our guides as we took in all the sights, sounds and smells. In the background is a steady cacophony of calls from doves, hippos, protective impala and birds. As much as the sounds are a part of the African bush, I never found it unpleasant.

The Luangwa River is the backbone of this ten thousand square kilometer park. The main channel is about 1/4 mile across when contained within it's silty banks, but swells to overflowing during the wet season in January and February. This annual flood is the rejuvenation of all the oxbows, waterholes and drainages of the flat valley. The backcountry is impassible with vehicles so boats are used for safaris. The wildlife are confined to high ground until the waters receed. Before the rains come, these same animals are forced to congregate near the river for the only water available.
I really enjoyed the architecture of the trees in this park. Stately and massive Baobab trees support colonies of bees and birds in it's huge crown. Light colored green Leadwood dies off to leave it's bleached skeleton to be used for nesting and roosting as well as firewood. Flat topped and thorny Acacia provide browse for giraffe and the Mopani trees are prefered by elephant. Giant fig trees, with their massive limbs, provide sweet fruit for baboons, birds and elephant. Elephant will eat anything it seems.
Luangwa park is a spectacular destination for birdwatchers from around the world. Over 400 species live or migrate through here, and I added 120 new species to my list. Stately storks, kingfishers, doves, ducks and geese, as well as ugly vultures and colorful lovebirds are just a few of the bird sights to see daily.

Snakes, lizards and crocodiles lurk in the lagoons and the river, keeping local fishermen alert and awake as they jig for their families meals. We saw python, spitting cobra, water monitors and crocs of all sizes. Just because they may be small, they will still take a finger off.

If ever anyone is interested in joining an African Safari with real bush experiences, blending the traditional and modern comforts of home, join Norman Carr Safaris. They are safe, knowledgeable, courteous and fun. The food is great, accomodation comfortable, drinks are cold, and the staff is accomodating to the highest standards.

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