Due to Alice hanging around the Lodge area that was my constant base. I didn’t get much of a chance to visit the Bushcamps. I’d had a taste of them with my time spent at the wild dog den when I was commuting to Kuyenda but I hadn’t been further into the more remote camps or stayed a night.
When Katie (bushcamp manager at Bilimungwe) was on leave I’d hear stories from the bush of what she and the guests had seen and she’d rub it in further with letters when she wasn't at the lodge. I was dying to visit, mainly because of the camps being so remote, you’d never usually see another car when out, my idea of bliss.
So in my final week when I got the chance to head to Chamilandu and Bilimungwe camps to have a look around the camps for a few days I was excited to see what they were like.
Bushcamps are camps in the loosest sense of the word. They’re only open during the dry season, inaccessible in the rains, but they’re luxurious to the max. All rooms look out on a stunning view, Chamilandu’s chalets rest on stilts overlooking the Luangwa river and the Chindenni Hills beyond whilst Bili’s chalets have multiple different views of idyllic waterholes (which I’m told are visited by numerous animals but none materialised on my stay) by day and you can lie on the deck staring up at the stars at night.
The food at both is amazing, unbelievable to think you’re miles from civilisation, mains electricity, phone signal etc. but are getting gourmet dining in an amazing setting. In fact Katie started a food blog where you can check out some of the recipes: bilikitchensecrets.blogspot.com.
Despite being spoilt with the food I was keen to see what the local game had to offer. On our first drive around Chamilandu we found some lions after sunset, a pride of females mid-hunt. Sitting in silence, all lights switched off waiting for the action to take place, the pounding of hooves alerted us to something going on and we switched on our lights as a trio of impala pounded straight towards us closely pursued by 2 lionesses, passing feet from our car but, unfortunately for the lionesses, the impala were too quick for them this time.
The next morning I was to embark on my first and only walking safari. A shame I didn’t go on more but tracking Alice by foot would have been fruitless. My guide Manda is one of the leading guides in the valley. His knowledge about everything is clear to see and he has a million and one stories to tell to keep you amused when game is sparse.
Knowing the area where the lions were the previous night we thought it was worth a look to see if we could find them again, though this time on foot.
Walking safaris were invented by the late Norman Carr, a pioneer of safaris in Africa and especially Zambia ,with South Luangwa NP being very close to his heart. I recommend every visitor to Africa takes the chance to go on a walking safari. They’re perfectly safe with an armed parked scout accompanying you on your walk in case any trouble arises but the knowledgeable guides keep you out of harm’s way and the gun is just a last resort.
Walking through the bush you see a lot of things you’re likely to miss whilst in a vehicle. Manda is extremely knowledgeable on the medicinal uses for plants, one of which whose seeds can be ground up, added to oil and drunk. The perfect cure for constipation he told us.
A tree, which is so poisonous you get ill just from touching it. Manda told of a story of a group of poachers who were caught after using the leaves of the tree as a plate for their Nsima (the staple food) and in turn were poisoned. They all passed out and were found by a ranger patrol.
We also came across some porcupine quills, some were snapped. Clearly these hadn’t just fallen out and were more than likely from an altercation with some kind of predator. Amazingly animals will try to hunt porcupines, on my last sighting of Alice’s older son he had quills sticking from his neck and had a heavy limp from a battle with a porcupine.
Manda told us burning the quills and inhaling the smoke was supposed to stop a nose bleed although I think I’ll stick to using tissue for that one.
The sandy ground was ideal for tracking animals and we soon picked up fresh lion tracks heading towards the river but on arriving there there was no sign of the lions and the tracks were now heading away from the river. The riverside tracks had actually been trod on by hippos heading back to the river but it gave us an idea of timing, hippos will head back to the river a few hours before dawn so we were quite behind the lions for the moment.
Continuing in the general direction Manda thought the lions had gone we found some leopard tracks too, the animal highways becoming obvious in the sand with leopard, puku, impala, elephant and various bird tracks all intertwining and overlapping one another.
As the sun beat down we sought refuge in the shade and to stop for a tea break, Manda jumped up on a fallen tree and had a scan around before casually saying ‘There they are’. We had chosen a tea spot not 80 metres from the lions, sleeping beneath some bushes. Judging by their belly size they had made a kill the previous night after we had seen them.
Our quest was complete, we’d found the lions and encountering them on foot provided some extra excitement, even if they were doing what lions do best, sleeping.