Our Weekend Safari Before Heading Home

We are back in Lilongwe, after a MAGNIFICENT weekend in the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. It was even better than we had thought. Irving Hoffman gave us wonderful advice on what to do for a short (three days and two nights) holiday.

We left here on Friday morning, all in order, and on the way to the airport, we discovered that we did not have one of our passports!

We stopped by the side of the road, looked through the small bags that we packed for the weekend (we left most of the stuff at the guesthouse in Lilongwe, where we are back for tonight). No passport.

So we headed back to the guesthouse — and quickly searched everything several times — no passport. I think Irving was about to give up, but I asked if we could try the U.S. Embassy, which is nearby.

We went there, and got right in to the Consular Affairs office — and went right up to the window — no line. The nice American lady there told us that she could create a new emergency passport, and that it would take about a half hour — we started filling out the forms, when she said that we needed two pictures. So we ran back to the car and went to the first of the two places she suggested — closed. Then to the second, and got the photos, took about ten minutes. Then back to the Embassy, and it took about 40 minutes. We waited on pins and needles, and were calling the airport. Finally, they just told us they would hold the plane for us, not to worry. So when we got the passport, we headed to the airport.

By the grace of God and the US Embassy!!

But when we got on the road to the airport, we were right behind the official motorcade to the airport, taking the body of the First Lady to be flown to her home town in the north.

(Have I said that the First Lady of Malawi passed away last Monday, after a long illness? The nation has been in mourning, and our planned meeting with the President had to be cancelled, understandably.)

Finally we got to the airport around 1:15pm (we were supposed to be there at 10:00am), cleared customs, and boarded our little six-seater Cessna airplane. The pilot was a young American guy, very nice.

Then we flew the hour to Mfuwe, Zambia. When we got there, Mick Royle was waiting for us, the guide that Irving had helped me arrange, and who had taken us to the tea estates last Sunday.

We drove a half-hour to Mfuwe Lodge, which is in the South Luangwa National Park. It is really nice. We had a snack, cool washcloth for the face, and then loaded up for the 3 and 1/2 hour drive to our bush camp! This is a remote place where we were the only guests — only the three of us, plus Mick, and they had about ten staff to care for us.

On the way there we rode in an open Land Rover (LR), with a guide driving and a scout in the passenger front with a spot light and a rifle, if needed. We saw several things — all interesting.

We got to the bush camp around 8:30pm, showered, and then had a gourmet meal on a table in the open air. It was really special.

Then we bedded down — in grass chalets, with flagstone floors, full baths, mosquito nets, etc.

They wakened us at 5:30am yesterday, and after cereal, toast, tea and coffee, we set out in the open Land Rover, again with Mick, the local guide, and the scout with the rifle.

Most of the time we were entirely offroad, winding through fields, some trees, along the river, etc.

We saw a huge amount of game — zebra, lots of hippos, wildebeest, baboons, elephants, crocs, impalas, puku (another kind of antelope), and many others.

We came in around 11:30am, freshened up, and then had a big brunch. Then nap for couple of hours.

At 4pm, we had tea and lemon cake, and then they took us on a “walkabout” for a couple of miles. We saw lots of things, including learning how to read all different types of animal droppings. We ended up at the Luangwa River, and watched several pods (yes, that’s the name) of hippos in the water. The sun was about to go down when the LR drove up, and they unloaded canvas director chairs for us — and served us drinks and a snack. VERY NICE!

We then loaded into the LR and went for another nighttime drive with the search light. We saw lots more things — and at the very end, right back at our camp (less than a city block away) we saw a beautiful female leopard. She was about 50 yards away, in clear view! It was spectacular.

We then came back, showered, and they had another great dinner for us — what they called a barbecue, but it was like a stir fry in woks on a grill on coals, all outside. We got to select our meats and veggies and sauces, put it all on a plate, and then the chef cooked it for us. All delicious.

We then went to bed. I was awakened around 3am, to the sound of a large animal walking right outside the grass chalet where I was sleeping. I went to the window — just a screen — and peered out into the moonlight. I could here him coming closer and closer, and then could hear him breathing — and finally saw the tusks in the moonlight! It was a large bull elephant. He was grazing on the trees right outside my chalet — I stood at the window, and he came up close — I am not exaggerating, I looked and I was closer to him than his fore legs were to his hind legs. He stood there eating, and I stood there watching, for what seemed like 10 minutes, but it may have been shorter. Then he slowly lumbered away. AMAZING!!!

I went back to sleep. They got us up at 6:15am, and again served us coffee/tea and toast and cereal. We took pictures of the staff, and then loaded up and left shortly after 7:00. We drove back to the Mfuwe Lodge, looking for game along the way. We did not see too much, except Mick saw a puff adder (a very venomous snake) by the side of the road. He caught it and showed it to us, and then released it.

We arrived at Mfuwe Lodge and had brunch, then to the airport and the flight back to Lilongwe. Uneventful.

We are now back at the guest house. We are having dinner here tonight, and then shopping in the am, then to the airport and starting the long trip home. We leave here and fly to Joburg, then overnight to London. We arrive Tuesday morning, have a quick connection, and then on to JFK. Then on to RDU, arriving Tuesday afternoon.

It has been a glorious trip in every respect. The time in South Africa and Malawi were interesting and challenging in so many ways. I am very proud of what UNC is doing in Africa. Global health is a very important focus for our med school and our university. As I have said, it provides benefits to the people we serve in Africa, but what we learn here will benefit people around the world. And there are direct and tangible benefits for the people of North Carolina.

More later, including lots of pictures!!

Bill

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