Safari was by far our biggest splurge. It was definitely bittersweet as we knew when Safari came rolling around, it would mark the end of our first month of this incredible journey. It's currently October 5th (I think) so this post is over a month late! Sorry guys! (Update: It’s actually November 10th by the time we’re posting!) It's funny, when we were planning our safari, my thoughts were only on the animals; however, while animals play a huge role in the experience, it definitely isn't the only thing to consider when going on this great adventure.
We were lucky enough to meet Brent Harris of Primal Pathways through Brendan and Brit (seriously, what would we have done without you guys!), and after several (over fifty I'm sure) emails back and forth, we put our trust in his hands and followed his lead booking our entire package with Remote Africa Safaris. The final package included three nights at Tafika in South Luangwa Park for driving safari, a breath taking camp over looking the Luangwa river and then four glorious nights at Mwaleshi in North Luangwa Park for walking safari. Zambia is the birthplace of walking safaris and North Luangwa is one of the most remote areas in all of Africa. There aren't enough adjectives in the dictionary to describe how beautiful the whole experience was.
John and his wife Carol started Remote Africa in the 90s after both working in other safari camps around Zambia for years. Using that background on how to manage a successful camp, what they created in Remote Africa is beyond perfect. It’s a very unique experience as the camp owners, John and Carol, are still heavily involved with the day to day of the camp, and their staff has been with them from the beginning.
Something you may not notice at first is the actual construction of the buildings. Each beautifully crafted chalet with its thatched roofs and wooden beams uses 100% natural elements. Because of that, you won't find a single nail anywhere, and the camps have to be rebuilt every year after the rainy season. They are so remote that when the river starts flooding, there is no access and the camps shut down (I believe from November to May). All the thatch from the hut’s construction are placed down in the river to be recycled back into mother nature, completing a beautiful cycle.
Oh… My… Gosh! The food! It was as if we were eating at a five star restaurant in San Francisco. Almost all the ingredients used come from their own garden (managed by their rightfully proud gardner who gave us a tour of his grounds). Up in Mwaleshi, the crops are flown over on the propeller plane (that we took) and rooted back into the earth to keep them fresh since they can't grow a proper garden throughout the year. The open kitchen (which we also got a tour of) is so minimal, I was floored when I saw what they accomplished every day. The freshly baked bread we enjoyed with all meals came from their oven, a hole dug in the ground. It was incredible! I should also add that one will never go hungry with Remote Africa, and I'm fairly certain I gained over five pounds in a week. I'll go through what to expect from a typical day shortly.
*Added support for how delicious the food was...the lack of pictures. Whoops!*
I didn't know what to expect when booking a safari for the first time. I knew that a good guide was important, but I never really thought about everyone else. With Remote Africa, it is impossible not to think about everyone else. The raw beauty of the grounds truly shines through in the people. When we arrived, we were greeted by Brian (very strong name) and quickly offered a welcome drink. Everyone, and I mean everyone, came by and introduced themselves. It was seriously the friendliest place we have ever been (basically Disneyland). John and Carol join you for lunch every day, and we had the privilege of eating at their table during our entire stay at Tafika. At dinner, the guides and other staff employees join you along with the other guests for dinner under a beautiful sky filled with endless shining stars. You will most likely get a visit from the hungry elephant that roams around Tafika in search of fruit pods. We did, and it was such a fun and unexpected dinner guest. They really are some of the most warm and genuine people you will ever meet. We want to again send our biggest thank you to everyone on the Remote Africa team: John, Carol, Brent, Brian, Heather, Lloyd, Steven, George, Charlotte, Christine, Bruce, Carl, Special, Kennedy, Lawrence, and Able (not technically with Remote Africa but our scout during walking safari). You guys are what made our safari unforgettable.
The Safari - A Typical Day
- 5/5:15am: The wake up call, from the friendliest voice in Africa
- 6:00am: Breakfast outside by the fire
- 6:30am: The start of your morning game drive or walking safari
- 9:30am: Bush Tea time and cake while on your drive/walk
- 11:00am: Enjoy your ice cold Mosi after your return to camp
- 12:30pm: Get ready for your three course lunch always starting with fresh fruit and citrus, a buffet of insanely delicious meat and vegetarian options, and a homemade dessert. Always.
- 1:00 - 3:00pm: Nap time (Brian always napped, I never did)
- 3:30pm: Second round of tea (with cake of course)!
- 4:00pm: The start of your night game drive or mountain bike tour (a special addition only at Remote Africa lead by John himself).
- Sunset: Take it all in and enjoy your sundowner (wine, beer, soda) and usually a savory snack
- Returning time varied: With walking safari you return before it gets dark and with driving it was usually around 7:30p. You can wash up or join everyone for cocktail hour before sitting down for your incredible three course dinner.
See how easy it is to pack on the pounds?! Don't judge!
Now for the animals. As I said, I always thought safari was just about the animals. As you can see, there is so much more, but the animals are definitely the show stoppers. Brian and I definitely had to adjust our expectations. I think we both envisioned herds of elephants at every turn, prides of lions lazily sunbathing, stampedes of giraffe and buffalo in every open field. But, this definitely wasn't the case. This was probably due to the years of National Geographic documentaries, that we (Brian) have enjoyed. What you often forget about is it can take years to film and just an hour long documentary.
Patience is one of the virtues I wasn't blessed with and coincidentally, one of the most important for safari, especially during walking safari (which turned out to be our favorite part). We saw everything (with the exception of rhinos as they are just now being reintroduced to Zambia), but it took some time. We even saw the extremely rare wild dogs, a pack of them actually, and bonus points, we saw a kill! It's interesting, whenever we watch wildlife documentaries on Netflix (which is always), I hate watching the kills. I even get emotional, which should surprise no one really; however, seeing it in real life was so different. Without sounding too cheesy, you feel like you can see the circle of life in action. It all felt so natural.
Riding high above the ground in the back of the truck was exhilarating. At one point, we even lost track of a curious leopard, sluggishly moving around the vehicle vanishing from our eyesight. You could feel the tension and the faint sounds of trying to steady our now heavy breath. We will never forget those brisk mornings, getting bundled up as we drove the dusty paths, spotting a family of giraffes staring back with such unbridled eagerness through treetops, hearing the snores and grumbles of massive hippos fighting for territory, following the beautiful lilac breasted roller in the sky, and watching as a herd of curious elephants bathing in the Luangwa River. It seems that everything and everyone in the bush moves at a more relaxed pace. Never have we woken up before dawn with so much enthusiasm or dreaded the setting of the sun on a policing lion. We never grew tired of any of it and understand completely how one can become addicted to a life in the bush.