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Zambia: Walking safari

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It's all very well heading out into the bush in the protection of a huge safari vehicle, but how about pulling on some boots and stomping around on foot? Zambia is the home of the walking safari, so we decided to give it a whirl.
IMG_4568.JPGOff we went, accompanied by Keenan and an armed guard. The idea is to avoid getting dangerously close to any big game, but the guard is there as a precaution just in case. Walking safaris are great for spotting the small things you wouldn't notice from the car. We saw elephant prints, a hippo skull, the strange fruit of the sausage tree and jackal poo - white from all the calcium in the bones they eat - amongst other things.

IMG_4586.JPGIMG_4588.JPGIMG_4574.JPGIt was a great, really atmospheric experience. You get a much better feel of the scale and realise just how vast and wild the bush is.

Zambia: The smoke that thunders

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A trip to Zambia wouldn't be complete without a visit to one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Victoria Falls. Scottish explorer David Livingstone - who the neighbouring town is named after - is believed to have been the first European to see this vast torrent, and subsequently gave it the name of Britain's Queen.

IMG_4728.JPGHowever, the original indigenous name, and the one now officially used in Zambia, seems far more fitting. Mosi-oa-Tunya means 'the smoke that thunders'. We visited at the end of the dry season, so we didn't get to see the falls in full flow. However, the torrents were still pretty spectacular.

IMG_4747.JPGThe falls sit on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe - this bridge is crossing point.

IMG_4758.JPGThe drop below the walkway from which you view the falls is vast - we decided the sign below gave pretty good advice.


Zambia: Big cat diaries

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There's nothing quite like spotting big cats, as we discover in the South Luangwa. With a thrill of excitement we spot two lionesses. They don't hang around - our guide says Keenan says they are off to find water for an evening drink.

IMG_4469.JPGLike a man with the scent of big cats in his nostrils, Keenan keeps driving. He's right - within minutes we see Nip Nose, one of the lions who live in the area. He's watching over a kill - the carcass of an impala. We watch with bated breath as Nip Nose waits, and waits.

IMG_4498.JPGEventually, like any hungry man, Nip Nose cracks. He makes a start on the impala, ripping at it with his huge teeth. However, we haven't got time to hang around and find out what the two lionesses have to say when they return and find Nip Nose has started dinner without them. We've got a date with a more elusive big cat - a leopard. South Luangwa is a particularly good place for sightings of these spotty beasts.

IMG_4676.JPGWith all the languid poise and grace you could hope for, our leopard is lounging on a branch. He's almost too lazy to take any notice of us, only the odd flick of the tail gives any clue that he's awake at all. But for one moment his eyes open, and I find myself in the extremely privileged position of locking gaze with a leopard. A truly magical moment.

Zambia: Oh what a perfect day at Puku

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One short flight later and we're in the South Luangwa national park, a reserve almost insanely rich with game. Even on the way from the airport to camp we got this fantastic drive-by of a hippo loitering by the water's edge.

Sanctuary's Puku Ridge camp is our new home, and a very lovely one it is too. Our canvas lodges and the main dining and lounge area of camp look out across a huge plain.

We recover from our journey in the comfy chairs and spot game on the plain. A herd of zebra gather around the pool to drink.

Watching the large baboon population is addictive; their fights and allegiances unfold like a soap opera. One tiny baby is particularly noticeable - whilst it isn't fully albino, its coat is white instead of brown. Our guide Keenan tells us the tiny thing has become particularly aggressive to compensate for its difference in appearance.

IMG_4356.JPGThen it's time for our first game drive. It's amazing; the game just keeps coming. As well as lion and leopard, we spot elephants, giraffe, buffalo and impala.

Then we drive to a spot on the banks of the river where a flock of carmine bee eaters dart around the sky, flashing vivid red and blue. Time for a gin and tonic, perhaps?

With just the sounds of ice chinking against the glass, we sit and watch the sun set.


Zambia: My first fish

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As a vegetarian, fishing has never been very high up my list of pursuits to try. However, it seemed churlish not to have a go at catching - and releasing - one of the famous tiger fish in the Zambezi river while at Kulefu.
IMG_4278.JPGOur guide Elijah - a man of infinite patience - helped we four very amateur fishermen bait our hooks and cast our lines and there we sat as the sun rose over Zambia.
Call it beginners luck, but barely a minute later I felt an almighty tug on my line. "You have a bite!" cried Elijah. In all the excitement I tried to remember to pull the rod sharply to jam the hook into the fish's mouth before winding it in. The fish was leaping out of the roiling water, the rod was bent double like a question mark and I thought my arm was going to break, but eventually I managed - with a lot of help from Elijah - to get the fish into the boat. So here I am with my first catch - a 9lb Tiger Fish.

IMG_4283.JPGWe removed the hook from his mouth and threw him back, and off he swam. The rest of the morning passed in companionable contemplation, punctuated by bursts of excitement when Olivia landed another nine pounder, Chilala brought in a 5lb fish and Carole hooked two such massive beasts that they both managed to snap her line with their vast strength and get away. The rest of the time we would cry, "I think I've got a bite!" and Elijah would have to explain that no, yet again we had merely managed to catch the bed of the river, or hook ourselves to the bottom of the boat.

Zambia: Incredible journey

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After 26 hours or so we finally arrive at our destination. It's not been the shortest journey to Zambia - a Kenyan Airways flight from Heathrow to Nairobi, then another flight to Lusaka, Zambia's capital, via Harare in Zimbabwe, where we sit on the ground for an hour. In Lusaka, we board a 12-seater prop plane to fly to the Lower Zambezi National Park.

IMG_4196.JPGAs we fly over the park we spot herds of elephant, basking hippos and the telltale curves of crocodile far below.

IMG_4213.JPGWe land at Kulefu's tiny airstrip and walk down to the banks of the Zambezi where we board a boat.

IMG_4214.JPG After a 15 minute ride along the river, zipping by families of hippo and with pampas grass waving on either side like welcoming bunting, we spot our new home, Sanctuary Retreat's Zambezi Kulefu camp.

IMG_4233.JPGIMG_4243.JPGIMG_4241.JPGAfter checking out our rooms, Carole from African Pride, Olivia from Kuoni, Chilala from the Zambian Tourist Office in the UK and I all congregate in the communal lounge area for a refreshing drink, and spot elephants on the opposite bank, taking their evening drink too. It more than makes up for the tiring journey.