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Trip Report Back From Zambia- And We Saw The Dogs!

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Aloha all! Just walked in the door from Zambia and had to brag about seeing the pack of 22 dogs in South Luangwa! Gotta get some sleep and will do a trip report tomorrow! It was an amazing trip!

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    What an incredible journey! Crossing 12 time zones, 2 oceans, 1.5 continents, from the middle of the Pacific to Zambia and back, spending 62 hours in the air on 13 different airplanes, a 7 hour taxi ride, gaining 11 pounds, and the most exciting, shortest 12 days of my life...and I HAVE to go back and experience it again! We left Hilo, Hawaii on 10/18, spent a day and a half with family in the San Francisco Bay Area and left for Africa on 10/20. Flew Song Airlines to New York, then South African to Johannisburg. Song was the most comfortable of all, though coach on SAA wasn’t bad...just WAY TOO much time in the air. Next time, I’ll fly to London, overnight and fly direct to Lusaka. Both airlines let us carry on both our duffels and backpacks, so didn’t have to worry about missing luggage...yet! After flying 5.5 hours to New York and 7 hours to Dakar for refueling, I wanted off the plane, especially when they said it was another 8 hours to Joburg! We arrrived in Johannisburg in the early evening, walked to the Intercontinental Sun Airport Hotel. Very nice hotel and convenient. Had a nice dinner, took an Ambien and was out for the night. Woke up refreshed and ready to go. Flew SAA to Lusaka, then Airwaves to Mfuwe, Zambia. First wild animals we saw: Baboons all around the Mfuwe airport-what a sight! The Airwaves rep was at the airport, helped us through immigration and gave us our tickets. They only weighed the duffels, never the backpacks. Landed at Mfuwe and met James our guide from Luangwa River Lodge. Since it was around 4:00, he suggested we go right on a game drive before going to the lodge. Saw our first elephants while driving through the village of Mfuwe, our first real look at Zambia. Everyone waved and smiled as we drove by-even an older woman carrying a 12 foot log on her head-amazing, especially since it was 98 degrees! Drove into the park and saw more elephants, impala, puku, giraffes and zebra. During our first sundowner it started raining. I live in the rainiest city in America, and this rain was like none I had ever seen before! The drops hurt they were so big! Lightning and thunder all around. James said it was a blessing to get wet by the seasons first big rainfall...I was already blessed just to be there! James sped back to camp and met Barry and Tara, the hosts and owners of Luangwa River Lodge. We were escorted to our room to put on some dry clothes. The room was so beautiful! Sunken tub, cool shower, mosquito netting, chairs on a deck by the river-incredible! Went to dinner-the first of many wonderful meals at this lodge
    Next up- 5 nights at Luangwa River Lodge

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    Dennis,

    Welcome home! I am so glad that you loved Zambia and I cannot wait to read all about it.

    11 pound weight gain in only 12 days...that must be some kind of record! ;)

    22 wild dogs...I really hate you. ;)

    You have seen Zambia at its most dry...next time, perhaps, you will be able to enjoy an Emerald Season Zambian safari for half the price (allowing for twice the length).

    http://www.remoteafrica.com/emeraldseason.php

    Mahalo! :)

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    Hello Dennis, so good to hear you had a wonderful time in Zambia. Barry told me it was pouring rain the day after we left (that was the day you arrived)! James took us twice a day in search of those bloody dogs, cos they had seen them the morning just before we got there! By searching I mean searching deep, unfortunately we never found them so i wonder which day you saw them and in which area. Did you do all your gamedrives with James? what did you think of him? I loved his fast driving since that way we would cover large areas and still i thought his eye was so good that we wouldnt miss any animals. By the way I gained 6 pounds in 11 days, happily i lost 4 of those by now!!Looking forward to hearing more.....A few of my pics are at my website www.madelza.nl

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    Dennis, wow, I have seen wild dogs on several occasions, all in Botswana, but I don't even think I have seen a total of 22 dogs. Sounds like a great time. Any photos?

    Michael

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    Rocco-yes, I definitely want to go back just after the rains to see the river full
    Alejandra-yes we had James all 5 days for the drives-I really enjoyed having him as a guide, he was great, seemed to know where everything was. we had Victor for the walking safari-so knowledgable and funny! The dogs were on a riverbank halfway to Chichele.
    Thit-cho-as soon as I figure out how to use kodak ofoto, i'll post pictures.

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    Luangwa River Lodge:
    Temperatures while we were there: 5:00a.m: 78-86 1:00 p.m: 98-106 in the shade!
    Woke up for our first real game drive. There were 4 other guests at the lodge who were leaving that morning so we got the vehicle all to ourselves. James made sure we saw a little of everything. We started off at Elephant Crossing where about 150 elephants were crossing back into the park after a night of raiding Mfuwe’s mango trees. It was the most awesome sight to see. They were followed by 200-300 buffalo. During the next 4 days, James took us all over and we saw hippos, ellies, giraffe, zebra, a serval, genets, puku, kudu, impala, warthogs, white banded mongoose and lions. Most days we shared the vehicle with Ilsa (a german writer living in Lusaka) and her friend Kate from the U.K. She co authored the book “secret waterfalls of Zambia” Very enjoyable people and a lot of fun to be around. The days were spent by morning game drives at 6:00, brunch at 11, siesta til 3, tea and cake at 3, then night game drives til 8 followed by an excellent dinner. Sundowners were at different locations including by the river where 50 or more hippoes played and Chichele Hill, which gave us a beautiful view over the valley and I must say that I grew quite fond of gin and tonics! The night sounds were exciting, heard lions roar, elephants eating the trees near our chalet, baboons fighting, it was hard to sleep the first few days! One day we went on a walking safari with Victor which was very educational and exciting! We came between some elephants and a herd of buffalo and the elephants were coming at us and I came about 1” from jumping on Victors back! We also went out to Chimbambele Conservation School which was a nice trip, though very hot. Played with their pet warthogs and learned about the school and the good things they are doing. The 5 nights spent here rushed by and before I knew it, it was time to head to Chongwe River Camp. Our last evening there, Barry got a call from Airwaves saying our flight to Lower Zambezi was delayed 4 hours, so we could have a final morning game drive. About 30 minutes from the lodge James spotted the dogs! 22 of those beautiful creatures playing and running around a dry river bed. First thing that popped into my head: Wait ‘til I tell Rocco! We spent around 45 minutes with them, saw 1 dog chase an impala up the cliffs but he came back empty handed. What a great way to end our time at Luangwa River Lodge!
    Highlights: First sightings of everything (though the 300th elephant, the 50th zebra, the 12th giraffe, the 2500th impala was just as exciting to see as the first!) saw a lion with a zebra kill, seeing the dogs, saw the hibernating catfish who had come up from the mud because of the rain. Barry and Tara were the best hosts, such great people, felt like I knew them forever. Really made everyone feel special and welcome. James the guide was great and Godfrey was the best spotter-he spotted the serval, genets and the Herald snake, the only snake we saw on the trip.
    Lows: Siesta time!!! Nothing to do but swim in the pool or watch the impala on the banks of the river. Flies, they were everywhere, but I only got bit 3 times and Tom, my traveling partner only got bit twice. One of the women got bit at least 20 times and they do hurt!
    Notes: no mosquitos seen, we lived in shorts and t-shirts, never wore long pants the whole time in Africa. We had usually 2-4 people in our vehicles. Robin Cook safaris had 6-8 people in all their vehicles, Flatdogs and Mfuwe Lodge both had 8-10 people in all their vehicles, Bushcamps had 8.
    Would I go back to Luangwa River Lodge? Most definitely! I do want to see it after the rains, though I would put it at the end of my trip instead of the beginning.
    Next up Chongwe River Lodge

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    You had some wonderful sightings and in abundance. Such luck with the dogs during a time that they are supposed to be especially difficult to see. I bet your guide James was thrilled to see the dogs too.

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    Chongwe River Lodge
    Temperatures while we were there were high 70’s at 5 a.m. high 90s at 1 p.m. but nice breezes coming off the river, very comfortable.
    We said our goodbyes and Victor took us to the airport. The plane was again delayed and we sat around listening to Victor’s hilarious stories. Finally took off at 3:30 on a 4 seater Cessna which we had all to ourselves. We were met at Royal Lower Zambezi airstrip by Garth, one of the managers at Chongwe and he took us right out on the river for sundowners. The river and surrounding hills were beautiful! Went to our tent #6 which was next to an elephant mud hole. The camp was full this evening (22 guests) and the food was buffet style. I must say that at night, Chongwe was almost magical. The campfire, candlelit tables, fireflies, the hippos blaring, stars reflected off the water, like a Disney creation, only this was real life. The food at Chongwe was good, homestyle cooking, not at all gourmet like at LRL, but good. The next day the camp was down to about 14 guests and stayed that way the rest of our time there. Most everyone was very nice and we got along well. the first morning we went tiger fishing and I caught an 11# fish on my first cast. Tom caught an 8 pounder and then I caught a 6 pounder and that was all. Quite fun and a great way to spend the morning! Saw hippos in the water, an elephant crossing the river and many birds. Had lunch and had our first face to face contact with an elephant! Scary to say the least, he was in front of our tent door and refused to leave! One morning I was showering and an elephant peeked over the bamboo fence, I choked on some water and was scared to death! I could just imagine that elephant thinking, “I wonder how he drinks with such a short trunk” We went canoeing and evening game drive. Canoeing was not our forte! We were in a canoe by ourselves and never did get the hang of not hitting the other canoes or getting stuck on the sand, not fun when surrounded by crocs and hippos! I was too terrified to even take any pictures from the canoe! Somehow we survived and went on the evening game drive and sundowners by the river. The game drives at Chongwe weren’t as good as at LRL, less game and bushes instead of open plains. But night drives were my favorite activity even if there’s not a lot to see. We went on a walking safari here also, not as good as at LRL, only saw 2 warthogs. Garth, the guide seemed to have his own agenda, trying to find some kind of hill animal, instead of showing us things like Victor did at LRL. Our last night there, Saturday, we went on a game drive. Came back to camp, had dinner and I went back to the tent and found the zipper open and our luggage was gone! Everything we had including airline tickets, passports, money and all clothes except 2 shirts, 2 undies and the clothes on our backs were stolen! Thank God I had my camera and memory cards with me in my backpack. (Up to this point, I had carried all the papers with me, but was afraid of getting dumped in the river on the canoe trip, so locked it all up in the duffels) I ran to the manager and told them our stuff was stolen. To Chongwes credit, they did everything they could to find our stuff. They radioed all the camps in the area and 60-80 men went out searching for a thief with two duffels, setting up roadblocks and even went out on the river looking and they offered a $500.00 reward to the village people. The search went on all night and the next day, but no luck. It was the first and only time that a theft had taken place in Chongwe in 10 years. It was a scary experience, not knowing what we were going to do. Sunday we were supposed to fly to Livingstone, but now we had to go to the embassy in Lusaka, which was closed until Monday. Chongwe let us stay there another night, let us use their satelite phone and were really very helpful and tried to calm us down. I think I have the stupidest, most honest house sitter on the face of the Earth! I called her up by satelite phone and told her what happened and to look in the top 2 drawers on my computer table for the copy of my passport-she said “oh no, I can’t do that, I don’t like to go through other peoples drawers! I never did get the copy! We got another game drive that night and that’s when we saw a jackal and honey badgers which we had not seen yet.
    Went fishing in the morning and took the 10:00 flight to Lusaka. Was met at the airport by Chris, the son of the owner of Chongwe and said they found our bags...still locked!!
    It was a miracle, everything was still in there! The next flight to Lusaka would carry our bags, that was at 3 and the flight to Livingstone was at 2, so we decided not to risk missing our luggage the next day so stayed at Chongwe’s office in Lusaka and Chris took us out for a nice lunch. We finally got our bags at 5:30 and Faith from Chongwe hired us a cab to take us to Livingstone, a 7 hour drive! There were 2 Zambians, a driver and his friend taking us there. When they stopped to pee in the middle of nowhere, I thought, well this is it, we’re gonna be dumped out here and left to the buzzards! The driver seemed to doze off a few times and we had to yell at him to wake up, his friend just slept and snored! Finally at 1:00 a.m. we made it to Stanley Safari Lodge in Livingstone.
    Highlights: The setting at Chongwe was amazingly beautiful. Seeing the lion cub. The staff were friendly, funny and helpful. Tiger fishing rates way up there on my fun list, canoeing was interesting but don’t think I’d do it again in a river full of deadly animals! The bird life was spectacular, never saw so many beautiful birds...awesome! The tent was nice, the elephants staring at you through the tent and over the fence.
    Lows: Getting ripped off, the safari walk with Garth, some rude anti-American guests the first night, but they left the next morning or there would have been another Revolutionary War!
    Would I go back to Chongwe River Camp? If I had time to spare on a long trip, I probably would, but on a short trip, I doubt it. Nothing against the camp, it was beautiful and a lot of fun and varied activites and great staff , but it’s all about the game and that area did not have as much game as South Luangwa, both on day and night drives.
    Next up: 11 hours in Livingstone then back to America

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    Stanley Safari Lodge.
    Temperature 7:30a.m.- 89 F temperature 11:00-97 F
    After a gruelling 7 hour taxi ride from Lusaka, we arrived at Stanley at 1:00 a.m. and went right to sleep. Got up in the morning, had breakfast, looked around the place and was told by the manager Pasquel (a Belgian pr*ck) that the activities director was off for the day and there was nothing for us to do but wait until we left for the airport at 11:00. I think the least he could do was call for a cab to take us to the falls or the market, but he was quite insistent that there was nothing for us to do since we arrived so late. I was too burnt-out to argue, or even think about it, so we enjoyed the plunge pool and waited for our ride to the airport. The place was beautiful, lots of interesting decorating touches. The room was open air with a sitting room, private plunge pool, large bathroom with double sinks, and a deck outside to see what is supposed to be the falls. This was the only place on our trip that we saw and felt mosquitos-they even got through the mosquito netting on the beds! The rest of the trip was uneventful, full of sadness for having to leave Africa!
    Highlights: The room was beautiful
    Lows: The manager and his lack of accomodating any activity for us, even a taxi ride.
    Would I go back to Stanley: NO! Not just because of the manager, but it is 20 minutes from the falls (which would have cost $15.00 each way), 30 minutes from the airport, if you want to see the falls, I’d recommend a hotel right near the falls. And worse of all? No game which means no game drives!

    Overall, the trip to Zambia was the most thrilling, wonderful adventure I’ve ever been on and hope to go back. I’m seriously thinking maybe April/May for the green season...I’m hooked and will go back until the money runs out! Africa was a sensory overload- the sights, smells, sounds were awesome. Waking up to the roar of lions, the grunting of hippos, elephants munching the trees next to the tent-incredible. The smell of the dust, elephant dung and “Peaceful Sleep” will forever be etched in my mind-I will go back!

    Tips from my experience:
    Get a comfortable camera/binocular strap and test it before going, it will be around your neck for 6-8 hours a day!
    If you’re getting a new camera- practice, practice, practice!! I thought I knew mine but when I saw elephants, lions, impala-all brain cells went dead so the camera was on auto the whole time which seemed to work out o.k., but it has more capabilities than just auto.
    Take plenty of batteries!-We had 5 sets, 1 set was a dud so check them before leaving, all the camps had charging abilities but bring your own charger. ( I left mine at Chongwe with all the confusion and frustration)
    Travel alarm clock with temperature reading was great to see just how hot it actually was.
    If at all possible, break up the flights with a layover somewhere. San Francisco-New York-Dakar-Johannisburg was just TOO long-21 hours flying with only a 2 hour layover in New York!
    Hope you enjoyed my report, hopefully I’ll be writing another one in the spring!
    Aloha,
    Dennis

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    Welcome back, Dennis. I was curious how much of your memory cards you ended up using? I am still practicing with my new camera in hopes of not having a brain freeze when I have a Kodak moment.Your trip sounded great overall, 18 days to go for me!

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    Carla- i ended up taking about 1200 pictures, not as many as i thought i would. i used about 3/4 of a 1g card, half of a 512 card and small amount of a 256. the camera was set on superfine and 8x10 pixel size most of the time. i would have taken more pictures but i also wanted to watch the animals without a camera to my eye. and yes you will want to take a picture of every elephant, every impala, every bird etc. but do put the camera down and really watch them-they were incredible. Have a great trip!!

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