The Queen of the Zambian Bush

“The black mamba was eye level with the passengers in my car. It was looking inside the open window, balanced on its tail, serpent tongue flickering in the sun,” George said when it was his turn to tell his best safari story. “I didn’t see the snake when I pulled to a stop on the dusty, dirt road, but when a long, narrow, dark figure jumped straight up in the air I shouted for the passengers to stay still, not to move an inch or even take a deep breath. The deadly mamba would attack at the slightest move. It stayed there for about 15 minutes, before lying down and crawling back into the bush. It was the longest 15 minutes of my life.”

“Luckily, the last time I saw a black mamba on the road,” Peter, the thin, bald African man on my left chimed in, “I was able to shout for the passengers to roll up their windows just before it stood up.”



Giraffes & Zebras


I was getting jittery with all the animal stories, but it had been my idea after all, so I had to stay and listen to tales that would become animated nightmares as soon as I went to sleep. I was on safari again, this time in Zambia, at Luangwe National Park, one of the most spectacular in Africa.

When I went to sign up for the trip, after hearing repeatedly that it was something I couldn’t miss, I was told that there was no more space. But, if I would agree to alternate accommodations, they could squeeze me into their jeep for the 7-hour ride. Without asking for specifics, I agreed to the special situation and went home to pack my bag.

Zambia’s countryside was not much different than Malawi’s, except the children wore school uniforms. They shared their neighbor’s architecture and deep, rich red soil, as well as the AIDS epidemic and average life span of 38 years.


African eagle

African Eagle–nationall bird of Zambia


The hot, bumpy ride to Luangwe was tiresome and difficult, but I enjoyed the company of my fellow travelers: a young Danish couple, a mother and daughter from Australia and an Indian family, who lived in Blantyre, Malawi’s largest city. When they checked into their serene, rustic lodge and agreed to meet under the thatched hut for drinks, I was a little sad to be going to “alternate accommodations”, whatever that meant.


sleeping baby elephants

Babying Elephants Awakening from Nap

Our tour guide, Ben, who resembled a middle-aged (black) Gandhi in appearance and demeanor told me, after the others had left, that we were going to a special place, a much better place. “Really,” I answered, “better than this?”  “Oh yes, you will see,” Ben assured me. “It’s the lodge where all the guides stay, right on the river with the best food in the park.”


water buffulo

Water Buffalo

Ben was true to his word; Crocodile Valley was luxurious, in the most natural habitat possible. The guides slept in their own tents, but I was treated to a chalet, built like a tree house with simple wooden walls and a floor made from hand-woven reeds. When not driving around the park looking for animals (6-10am and 6-10pm) the guides and I ate, drank and whiled away our lazy afternoons together.



Chalet Crocodile Valley


I was the token white woman in a group of fascinating men, experts on nature and wildlife. Passing the time, I begged for more stories. I would say the name of an animal—elephant, and they would compete to see who had the most exciting tale. It was my own, personal “Animal Planet”, live and on location.


hippo mutching on grass

Hippo munching on Grass

Hippo—George won by recounting the time he saw a crocodile charge a baby hippo on the river’s shore, thinking it was alone. The croc’s mouth opened wide, ready to snatch the creature when its mother, who had been underwater, reared her head and opened her immense, powerful jaw, biting the reptile in half. The crocodile’s mouth was still open and within an inch of grabbing her baby, before it had any idea what had happened.


I learned how to track lions and elephants, and look for leopards at night—follow the baboon calls. When Peter told me that baboons were the smartest animals in the bush, I confided in him that I was a baboon mother and that my baby was brilliant, so it came as no surprise.



Male Bushbacks ready to Fight

“Madam, I made a cake for you,” the lodge’s cook told me one afternoon. As an appreciate guest, I showered him with daily compliments. Saying, honestly, he made the best food I had eaten in Africa. I was rewarded with even more food, special desserts and loin-size portions. The guides marveled at my appetite, saying they had never seen a woman eat so much. I replied that safaris made me hungry.


lion yawning

Tired lion


When I reunited with my group for our return journey to Malawi, they said they had seen me in the park, driving around with my men, looking like a white African Queen. I had to agree; I had felt like a Queen, or at least a princess, showered with attention and knowledge, not to mention fabulous banquets and incredible insight. My alternate accommodations had provided me with an unforgettable experience and what I hope will be lasting friendships.


Luangwe at sunset

Luangwe at Sunset

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One Response to “The Queen of the Zambian Bush”

  1. Cheryl Cavanagh Says:

    Wow, Your stories are great! What an adventure!

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