Walking, anyone?

Oct 3rd, 2005, 05:42 PM
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Walking, anyone?

The question of comfort on safari (air-conditioned tents, that sort of thing) has been raised in another thread. Coincidentally, a friend has just told me of the latest walking safari that a guide we know has conducted in Zimbabwe...averaging 20 kilometres a day in temperatures of 40 celsius. There were a couple of scares with a lion and a charging elephant. The guide had to aim his rifle just in case.

I'm a little surprised not to have seen many references to walking safaris here, and wonder whether there's much interest in them or anybody has any experiences to share...anything to give me my daily hit when I'm not in Africa . I'm keenly waiting to get more details from my friend.

Walking is not something I would do again, as I'm a few too many years older. However, it was an experience I'll never forget even though my friend declared it was the dullest one he's ever experienced. The animals kept running away and we didn't have close encounters with lions as he had done on one or two occasions. (Can you imagine going around a bush and coming face-to-face with a snarling, crouching lioness? I can't).

We estimated we covered about 170 kilometres in 11 days, in the thankfully mild days of early July. The nicest experiences were of sitting on rocky ledges above waterholes and waiting for animals to come to drink. We couldn't wait long because of the need to keep moving, but they were delightful pauses.

Our guide, who is based in Vic Falls, has been doing two safaris a month for 20 years, walks in sandals and is as tough as nails. I'd be glad to give more details to anybody interested.
afrigalah is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2005, 07:11 PM
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I'd be interested to hear more details. Thanks in advance.

My wife and I spent a couple of days walking through Chitwan National Park in Nepal many years ago. We were forced to climb a tree because of a rhino, so yes, walking safaris do have their unique "pleasures".
Nelson is online now  
Oct 3rd, 2005, 07:23 PM
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I'll be walking some in Zambia next year....I'll let you know how it goes - if I live to tell the tale!

cooncat2 is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2005, 10:11 PM
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if you trip over my bones while walking in Zambia, just remember I saw the dogs first!
matnikstym is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2005, 11:18 PM
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Go here for contact and other details: http://lvwalkingsafaris.esmartbiz.com/

Leon's safaris usually start in Chizarira NP, a fairly long drive east of Vic Falls, move on to the walking areas of Hwange NP and finish in Zambezi NP next door to Vic Falls. He walks with a tracker, and has a crew which moves camp every few days. In Chizarira, the first camp is in the rugged escarpment overlooking Lake Kariba (wonderful country!) and the second is in the flatter country facing south-east.

Each camp is a base for daily walks, the length of which depend both on what you see and what you track. Our longest day was about 31 kilometres, 22 of them before lunch. My journal (this was back in the days when I kept one, writing it up in my tent each night) tells me it was that evening when we got back to camp, heard a lion roar nearby, and Leon made us move off again to try to find it, instead of settling down to rest our sore feet and have a refreshing drink! The terrain is easy to moderate, but he keeps up a good pace.

I enjoyed Chizarira more than the rest, even though the most exciting wildlife sightings were in Hwange...we tracked and then watched a black rhino from a distance of 10-15 metres without it becoming aware of us. But Hwange, like many flagship NPs, is too crowded and developed for me. One transition camping area which we used in Hwange (before reaching our walking camp site) even had a chain-mesh fence around it! Chiz, in contrast, is wild, remote and rugged and has a far better close-to-nature feeling. I think it still has only one permanent lodge/camp, though I could be mistaken.

Leon also provides full backpacking safaris, if you feel like lugging everything you need, and he guides in Zambia as well. He's not the only one, of course...a Google search for something like 'African safari guides' will find others.

afrigalah is offline  
Oct 4th, 2005, 12:26 AM
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Actually, there have been many, many discussions here over the years about the pros and cons and experiences of walking safaris. Do a search on the word "walking" and you'll find many of them.

I love the experience of walking in the bush - it gives a very different perspective. Unfortunately, as I have a problem hip and am also not very fit, longer walks aren't suitable for me so I settle for 1 hour stints.

Kavey is offline  
Oct 4th, 2005, 07:02 AM
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Dennis - You crack me up! If I come across your bones, is there anything you'd like me to do with them? I truly hope you get to see the dogs. Tell the researchers there that they must KEEP THEM in the area until the end of June 2006. Please?!

cooncat is offline  
Oct 4th, 2005, 07:41 AM
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John and all,

Thanks for the replies and information.

My wife and I are kicking around the idea of going to Zambia for our 2nd Africa visit, still a year or more out. On our first visit, to Tanzania in January, we did a standard driving safari, with some lodges and some camping. However, the few times we got out of, and walked slightly away from the vehicle (to go behind a bush for example), the change in perception and heightened awareness was amazing.

Dennis, if it should come to pass, we will treat your bones with the utmost respect.
- Nelson
Nelson is online now  
Oct 4th, 2005, 09:14 AM
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I plan to go on a few walks in Kenya next month (though not lengthy ones). I also have a horseback safari planned in Tanzania. Will report back on both of those experiences in mid-December if I'm still around
Patty is offline  
Oct 4th, 2005, 09:16 AM
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I like the micro-safari aspect of walking safaris, seeing the insects, spoor, plants that may be missed while in a vehicle. My favorite find on a walking safari was a lion hair ball.

There can be adrenalin moments while walking, though usually the animals stay their distance. Once in Mana Pools, the wind suddenly shifted and a mother elephant trumpted and charged us. The guide uttered an expletive, sent us behind a tree, and raised his gun. But nothing more, thank goodness.

I recall watching a herd of elephants from a termite mound and being motioned to take no photos because just that amount of noise would scare the herd.

Seeing a predator on foot, even at a great distance or for a fleeting moment, has an air of excitement that is not matched in a vehicle. But most photos on foot are not so hot--with the exception of gorillas or chimps.

Rhino tracking is another option that is accomplished on foot. Spending a day or two following a rhino and then finally seeing it is quite rewarding.

I think the level of training that a walking guide has is very important for the client's safety. Some of the walking guides I encountered actually did a few hunting safaris each year just to keep their shooting instincts sharp, should they ever need them.

Walking adds a different dimension to the typical vehicle safari and provides for an alternative to sedentary activities.

A walking highlight for me was in the Lower Zambezi when a pair of honey badgers chose to walk with us at about 15 meters for 5 to 10 minutes. I hope they enjoyed their stroll as much as I did.

atravelynn is offline  
Oct 10th, 2005, 02:58 AM
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I second Atravelyn's comments about the "extras" you get when walking. You might be lucky and be in a particular camp for 3-4 days and get to see 4 of the Big 5 or you might not. But if you don't, at least when walking you can get to experience the other “little” things, which might not be as adrenalising, but certainly as interesting.

Walking in the Matusdona or Lower Zambezi / Mana is normally very rewarding in both of the above aspects and of course the scenery and people are great. Whilst the camps in Zim aren’t as busy as they used to be due to the negative publicity, this is actually a bit of a blessing because you end up with a more exclusive safari. Some of the distances mentioned in this thread seem quite long, but I would say that most guides would normally take into account the fitness or otherwise of the people he/she is guiding and would normally adjust the length of the walk accordingly. My father goes on safaris in the Matusadona a couple of times a year and he has had a hip replacement done which has made him somewhat less mobile, and yet he still goes on walks where they track rhino, lion, elephants and the rest and he hasn’t had any problems. In fact the biggest problem he has, is getting into and out of speed boats that are used for transfers and cruises. Obviously the fitter a person is, the easier it is to find suitable protection behind (or up) a tree or termite mound should things get exciting……..

In terms of safety, Zim guides are regarded very highly in their field due to their intense training and strict exam requirements. In fact I heard quite recently that South African and other regional guides, actually try and get their qualifications in Zim in order to be able to market themselves better (and hopefully to improve their skills in the bush!!). This led to some discussion in Zim over the issue, because by training foreign guides they were potentially loosing very badly needed travelers to other regional destinations, which is just adding to Zimbabwe’s woes.
Kilo is offline  
Oct 10th, 2005, 04:27 AM
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That's what I love about walking safaris too - the difference in perspective and resulting focus on the little details.

I love guides that point out interesting plants and insects along with stories about how they are traditionally used for this or that or how they reproduce or feed etc. It's also great for birding and spotting other small creatures such as frogs and lizards. And who can forget being handed pieces of hyena and elephant dung to examine? And of course, the thrill of coming across the larger animals on foot is a whole different thing to seeing them in a car. Even zebras can be slightly intimidating when really close up on foot let alone that huge mama rhino protecting her calf!!!
Kavey is offline  
Oct 10th, 2005, 04:42 AM
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It's true, certainly in Varley's case anyway, that guides adjust their pace to the capabilities of their clients. They don't have much choice. Of course, all clients are expected to be fairly fit, and any who was noticeably unfit would soon become very very unpopular with his or her walking companions. When I decided to go on my walking safari, I was in my late 50s, not very confident about my fitness, and rather fearful of embarrassing myself. So over five months, I walked about 1,000 kilometres, gradually increasing the daily distance until I was easily covering what I expected I would face in Zimbabwe. I was wrong...our group walked so well that on some days, we covered as much as twice the distance I'd been expecting. I missed a few days of practice after straining my back badly walking down a steep hill in cold weather near my home. But the only problem I had on safari was blisters, despite wearing good hiking boots. I had to tape my feet firmly each morning, and only felt pain when hobbling around camp after taking my boots off each evening. I must have been an amusing sight to my companions.
afrigalah is offline  
Oct 16th, 2005, 02:07 PM
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I just got back yesterday from 24 day safari. We walked with ele's, tracked black rhinos & lions. I think these walks were one of the MAJOR highlights of my trip. Our guides were just superb, and althought we did definitely get the adrenaline flowing several times, I never felt unsafe. I did develope blisters on top of my blisters- but I am planning my next trip asap!!! I wouldn't change a thing!!
suzic is offline  
Oct 17th, 2005, 06:30 AM
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Personally, I don't think walking 20km/day in 40 degree heat is much of a holiday. Additionally, one of my primary interests on safari is photography, so I'd never do a pure walking safari. But the more gentle form of walking safari (expeditions from camp) can certainly add a lot to one's experience of the African bush. As a doctor, I'm particularly interested in traditional medicine, so walking with a guide who is knowledgeable about the medicinal uses of the plants is always fascinating. I've also enjoyed walking with the trackers at Londoz and learning how to identify tracks and to read spoor to tell how recently an animal passed this way and what it was doing when it did.

jasher is offline  
Oct 17th, 2005, 09:06 AM
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If that is your interests, you might want to consider going to Buffalo Camp in North Luangwa NP next time. They employ a couple local Bemba Guides that are extremely knowledgeable. Craft learned only by living in the 'bush'.
luangwablondes is offline  
Oct 17th, 2005, 11:29 AM
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Thanks Luangwa -- I'll keep that camp in mind. Are the guides particularly knowledgeable about traditional medicine, or tracking, or both?

jasher is offline  
Oct 17th, 2005, 12:20 PM
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Both. They can give you bits like the tribal customs, English/Bemba plant and animal identification-medicinal and other uses of plants for instances.
These guys have an unusual depth of knowledge they will share. Many things that I have heard rarely from even the best of guides.

A lion that had escaped from a poachers wire trap managed to wander all the way into the park to spot just a few hundred metres from the camp. It was in extremely bad shape-barely moving- and as a safety precaution and from a humanitarian perspective, it was dispatched before dark. It was skinned for ZAWA, the body burned/buried according to Bemba custom, and 2 floating bones in the shoulder were recovered for the Chief-to be presented in ceremony per Bemba custom.

Mark Harvey-fluent in Bemba and raised at Shiwa Ngangdu is one of the few white guides that can share even a portion of this knowledge, and he is the owner of Shiwa Safaris and Buffalo Camp. Another guy with a wealth of knowledge and lots of (true)stories. He is a quite the character.
His family was involved in a lot of Zambian history/politics.
luangwablondes is offline  
Oct 17th, 2005, 02:47 PM
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With your interests, you've probably noted a little yellow fruit called (I think) a wild apple, the juice of which kills tinia. Our guide on a trails jaunt in Botswana (between camps over three days) pointed it out to my wife. She applied it to her feet, and although it stung for a while, the tinia was gone within a day and has never returned. Any idea of the fruit's properties?

As for elephant dung, I've seen this happen in the delta: the guide shows how to test age and content by sticking a finger into a moist ball and then tasting his finger; he then invites a client to do the same. The client falls for it, to the mirth of all his companions who'd seen the guide putting a different finger in his mouth. Guides love taking the mickey on occasions, so I'm always on my guard.

The shortage of photo opportunities was the only thing that frustrated me while walking, but it's still worth it. I carried a few kilos of gear on a monopod on the big safari, so was able to get a reasonable shot of an irritated bull elephant which was threatening to get nasty. It was one of those occasions when the guide told us to back off.

afrigalah is offline  
Oct 17th, 2005, 03:00 PM
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(As I am sure you know already know, but for everyone else)

Mark Harvey's grandfather is the late Sir Stewart Gore Brown, whom built Shiwa N'Gandu. His story is wonderfully told in a novel titeld "The Africa House" by Christina Lamb.

Roccco is offline  

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