It’s the middle of the night and we’re both sound asleep. We’ve been hearing roaring from the lions who are competing for territory right across the river. Our cottage is right on the banks of the Luangwa with wide open green grass and a lagoon behind. The bathroom in the back of the cottage is open, covered only by a canopy of sausage tree branches.
We are suddenly startled awake by the sound of very large animals right outside the cottage. Elephants, who can be so astoundingly silent for their size, are shifting about noisily, nervous about something.
Something spooks them and they start stampeding and trumpeting. They are so close, I’m pretty sure one stops in our bathroom for a quick look in the mirror. You can almost feel the ground trembling as they rush past. I swear I then hear a leopard screeching out either a warning, a threat, or a ‘please don’t step on me!’ call.
The whole thing lasts only a few seconds but we are wide awake. After some time we’re able to drift back to sleep, only to be awakened by the drums that act as our alarm at 5:15 am.
We are at Nkwali Camp, a Robin Pope Safari lodge in South Luangwa, Zambia. This is our last big trip during our time here in Africa and we thought it appropriate to spend it here, in ‘the real Africa,’ as Zambia is known. The drive here was relatively uneventful – they have paved half of that miserable road from Chipata to Mfuwe, but the rest of it still looks like a rocky river bed.
The lodge is beautiful. In keeping with the Robin Pope aesthetic, the decor is minimal but classic and luxurious. The cottages are comfortable and open air, allowing you to gaze up at the stars (or the monkeys munching on sausage fruit in the tree) above while showering. We are here for four nights, long enough to unpack and call our little cottage home.
The staff, from the guys who met us at our car with cold rolled washcloths, to the manager, see to our every need – and then some. In traditional safari camp style, the guests all eat meals together, but they sensed that we need some romantic time so they have set up a table for two on the deck overlooking the river. The food is amazing – three courses with fresh ingredients and innovative techniques. We have already had a chocolate pear pie that I will dream about!
The lodge is situated just on the other side of the river from the actual national park. In the morning, after our drum wake up call, we have porridge and toast cooked over the camp fire, warm milky sweet tea, and fresh fruit while we watch the sun rise and the mist clear off the water. They load us into a boat for the short trip across the river and bundle us into our safari vehicles for the morning drive.
It is still cool and fresh this early in the morning and Sandy uses his colorful kikoi to keep warm. The scenery itself is worth a trip to South Luangwa, with its wide flood plains, mopane woodlands, dry riverbeds, and thick savannah grasses. We don’t see another vehicle during the whole drive. It’s as if Robin Pope has its own enormous concession just for us.