Africa. I’m JbD’s newbie, and it’s not like I haven’t been anywhere, but the thought of travelling to there, for the first time, in the company of complete strangers, left me feeling both excited and nervous. I remember researching Zambia as a means of preparing myself, which it did, to a degree, but as I know from previous trips, to the likes of the US, Australia and the Caribbean, there’s nothing like the real thing.
Zambia, for me, was something like a rite of passage. Professionally, of course, it’s vital that I get as much experience on the ground as possible. However, perhaps even more pertinently, deciding to go (and to do so without my usual support network of family and / or friends) was an important step personally. Flying isn't, in the first place, my favourite way of passing good time. Arriving in a city, in a country, in a continent I've never been to before felt like a test too far. I was nervous and for good reason.
Still, I went. And thank goodness. Everyone I met, the people I travelled with, our hosts, were incredible. And what a country! From the relative liveliness of its capital, Lusaka, to the drives through landscapes that seemed to change every time I looked, to the fact that it is home of some of the rarest and most wonderful wild animals, Zambia is an extraordinary place. Apart from Lusaka, I spent much of my time in the Lower Zambezi, South Luangwa National Park or in and around Victoria Falls, visited a whole heap of camps and lodges, and experienced the unforgettable – more than once.
Of all this, highlights would have to include micro-lighting with John Coppinger (owner-manager of Tafika Camp) over South Luangwa, seeing lion for the first time in the Lower Zambezi and brunching on the lip of the falls. Given what I've already said about flying, the first of these will come as a surprise. It did to me. I said, yes. I went, just me and John, and we had a game flight like no other. With nothing between me and the land, save a thousand feet of thin air, I felt life I could almost touch the plains, the trees and waterways. It was mindbogglingly beautiful.
The second, tracking a lioness in the dark, represented, for me, the end of a personal journey. I have always, for as long as I can remember, loved lions. As a child, they were my favourite animals, and I’m not embarrassed to say that the Lion King was Numero Uno – for much longer than my parents would have liked, or thought healthy. Anyway, abandoning supper at Chiawa Camp, and riding into the dark, in search of a calling lioness, was Eldorado and the Holy Grail rolled into one. We found her, watched her, and I could have stayed with her the whole night.
The third, the offer to take a late breakfast on the edge of one of the world’s seven natural wonders, was one of those moments ... I couldn't quite believe that I was here, on Livingstone Island, the twin weights of nature and history concentrated, for a moment, in an experience that I could never, in my wildest dreams, ever imagined having.
So, the short post?! Zambia’s bloody brilliant. Go!