You may remember my going to Africa for the first time, to Zambia, the experience, the misconceptions, the extraordinary sights, but what I didn’t share at the time was nearly enough of what it was like to actually walk the wilds there, something that, unusually for most countries, is allowed in the parks as much it is on reserves and other private wildlife areas.
Now a mode of safari you’ll find in much of wild Africa, the walking safari is pegged as having been founded in Zambia, its early photographic safari pioneers, the likes of Norman Carr and Robin Pope, preferring the exhilarating uniqueness of being on foot to the safety and greater coverage of the 4X4. I went during the so-called emerald or green season, traditionally considered the more challenging of travelling times, the vegetation and multiple sources of water making it that bit harder to spot game.
Or so say’s the book. Truth is, it’s one of the most beautiful times to travel, perfect not just for birders, but also for the opportunity it gives for observing very different kinds of animal behaviour, all of whom, thanks to the rains and the cover, are in tiptop condition. It’s an experience heightened by the fact of walking it, of immersing yourself in the bush, at a pace so much more natural than the car. I was fortunate, when there, to be looked after by the wonderful South Luangwa Bush Camp Company, and operated out of, among others, Chiawa Camp, both of which I could wax lyrical about for umpteen reasons, but mention only so as to share the extraordinary quality the guiding they provide.
I have to admit. I’m not a walker, and when I went, one of the last things I was looking forward to was spending a day or two (gulp) hiking, however beautiful the surroundings. I imagined myself hot and tired and looking forward to camp, a bath, dinner, the chance to relax over a sundowner. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Thanks in part to just being somewhere completely different, but mostly because of the guiding, the ability of the likes of Fannuel Banda; a veritable walking encyclopaedia, who passed his knowledge and enthusiasm on to me with the lightest of touches, walking the wild in Zambia is one of the most present experiences I have ever had.
Difficult to sum up here, I saw plenty of plains game, elephant and hippo. I didn’t feel tired. I didn’t want to be anywhere but right there, in the moment, a lioness no less than 15 yards away. It was properly enlivening, in the truest sense of the word, an adventure of the senses, the unknown, the surprises, the unexpected, immediately given context by Fannuel, who was like some kind of a wizard storyteller, and brought the whole experience to life. I can’t say I wasn’t delighted, when back at camp, to sink into that bath, eat well, chat the day through over a glass of wine, but I can honestly say that nothing, whilst out there, was further from my mind than the relative luxury of not walking more than a few feet. If you get the chance to go to the home of the walking safari, please: go.