We had a great time at Flatdogs and South Luangwa National Park, despite the heat (I know, my whining about the heat is getting old but have I told you how hot it is????).
Here were our accommodations.
The “bedroom” portion was fully enclosed in canvas with a good mosquito net around the bed.
The connecting “bathroom” portion was open to the outside, so they warned us to keep all of our belongings (including soap and toilet paper) inside our zippered tent, as the monkeys and baboons liked to come in and snatch things for Christmas gifts or swap meets or whatever they do with hairbrushes and soap and sunglasses.
We were staying in the “luxury” tents, which just meant our tent was on the river. It’s the end of the dry season so the south Luangwa river was very dry, but still full of hippos and crocs. This was the view from the front porch of our tent. You can see that we literally were on the banks of the river.
The Flatdogs staff warned us that at dusk the animals head out of the river up into the bush. Our tent was between the river and the bush. At dawn the animals head back down to the river again, right past our tent. So, we were supposed to call for a guard if we wanted to go up to the main lodge at night or early in the morning.
Sure enough, one early evening, when there wasn’t even a hint of dusk yet, we were walking to our tent and boom! There was an elephant! Thirty feet away from us. He was just as startled as we were but just went back to eating. I wanted to climb one of the platforms placed next to the paths (used to be for tent camping but now for people to get out of the way if they saw a threatening hippo or elephant). But, Thom said, let’s just back away slowly and get the guard. That seemed like a better idea than being stuck up on a platform until someone happened by.
By the time we came back the elephant(s) had moved on. But this time, there was a hippo standing in the brush (the guard flashed his light on him). These animals must be pretty used to people because as long as we kept an appropriate distance they ignored us like any other wild animal.
I have to say I was a little freaked out by the hippos bellowing all night right next to our tent on their way up from the river to the bush behind us. I stood for about a half-an-hour during the middle of one night shining my flashlight through the screened windows, marking the location of each animal. The light seemed to stun them and make them freeze (confuse them?). They never moved toward or away from the light; they just didn’t know what to make of it and soon they ambled on to their destination. The next morning the guards excitedly asked us if we had heard the lions too. Uh, no. Are all of the guests accounted for?
As an American I tend to think that wild African animals must be like wild North American animals. However, there are big differences. In the U.S., most of our predators hunt by smell. Hence, tents, cars, backpacks and chicken coops are all made to be broken into because of the irresistible smell of a food source. A hungry bear, raccoon, fox or wolf will think nothing of ripping open a tent or backpack or of knocking over a trash can and prying off the lid to get at that smelly, yummy food.
However, in Africa, I’ve been told by rangers that most of the wild animals hunt by movement. A slight shimmer in the tall grass or ambling movement across a field at night is what excites lions and cheetahs. Hippos and elephants don’t eat meat but if they’re startled by movement and you’re invading their personal space, they’ll charge you and stomp you and ram you. (Also, the reason hippos are more dangerous than elephants is that elephants will mock charge you as a warning that you’re too close and if you have half a brain you’ll say uncle and back away, but hippos will just charge you and kill you with no warning at all, so it’s best to give them an extra wide berth if passing.) If you think about it, it seems that wild cats in North America, like cougars or mountain lions, attack prey while they’re moving (people jogging through their territory, dogs on trails), similar to their relatives. You only hear of bears and raccoons ripping into tents for foods.
When we took the kids on a camping safari in the Serengeti quite some time ago, a pride of lions decided to investigate our campsite. We were all scared out of our wits because we were thinking lions = bears = rip into tents = hello heaven! But, as I mentioned above the African ranger said lions hunt by movement, not smell, and that tents were no different than large boulders to the lions. They’ll ignore them both and see neither as a food source.
But I digress. Speaking of food, the Flatdogs menu was wide and varied with plenty of fresh, local ingredients and everything we tried tasted great! The game drives were wonderful too. (More on that tomorrow!)