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Camping in Kafue

As you know, I love going to the national parks.  However, it is pretty expensive so we can’t do it nearly as often as I would like.  One cheap option for visiting parks is to camp.  Camping is definitely much more adventurous but now that I have been in the bush several times, I feel more confident.  Last year I took the Salter’s with our organization to Lochinvar NP camping, which was nice but the park isn’t the best.  This time we decided to go to Kafue National Park and camp at a place that our family had visited… Mayukuyuku.  Originally it was going to be the four young people and Jared and Justin and myself.  However, I was able to convince Cynthia to come by paying a bit more for a “luxury tent” for her.  (Cynthia isn’t too keen sleeping in a park with lions and leopards with only a thin layer of nylon separating her from the predators.  I think most of you would understand).

Friday, May 25th was African Independence Day so everyone had the day off.  We loaded the truck with the camping supplied and headed out around 8am.  We had to take two vehicles due to the number of people and we were able to take the new truck and the Corolla.  (The road to this camp is paved nearly the whole way thus we were able to take the car.)  We arrived shortly after noon and setup camp on the banks of the river.  It was a nice location and we could hear the hippos in the river and based upon the foot prints near shore I suspected we would see them come nightfall.  I was tired and went to bed pretty early with our boys.  It wasn’t long before I heard the sound of a hippo nearby.  The young people were still up and climbed into the back of the truck for a safe viewing platform.  They got to watch it for a quite a while.

It was quite cold at night and my morning Jared, Justin and I were all cuddled together to keep warm.  We gave Cynthia and Jason the luxury tent as they are the two softest Smile.  We rose at 6 with the sun and got everything together for a game drive.  Not everyone was able to fit into the cab so four people had to sit in the back of the truck with blankets for warmth.  We saw lots of elephants and antelope and a few other animals.

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Because we had been there previously (October), we knew the trails and had found a very long but very nice trail where we had seen lots of game.  Our hope was to see lions and we had seen them on this loop previously so we took the long loop.  One note:  The rains end in early April and October is considered to be the best month for game viewing because it is so dry.  When we had been on this loop in October there was no water to cross.  However we quickly came to a small dip through a small amount of water.  We got out and decided it was safe to cross and we crossed with no problem.  Just a bit later we can to another crossing that was clearly muddy but after evaluating, we decided we could make it.  We did make it… half way.  We were stuck.

It was about 9am and the likelihood of others passing by to help was very low.  We hadn’t seen anyone else that day and we were on a trail that few knew about.  There is no cell phone coverage, we were on our own.  We were stuck in mud in a small depression in the landscape and surrounded by tall grass.  We didn’t have any equipment such as shovels or chains or ropes.  We weren’t prepared.  We were about 13km from Chunga where Zawa (Zambian Wildlife Authority) is based and about 10km from the main road to the north.

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The good news was that the mud hole was actually pretty small and that we had lots of people.  It was still very early in the day so we had plenty of time to figure out how we would get ourselves out.  Nonetheless, if we didn’t get ourselves out, there was little chance we would be rescued by others.  Therefore, one option would be to send two people on foot to get help.  However, we were very near the location we had seen the lion on our previous trip and the grass was very high.  Also there were lots of elephants around and we had been mock charged earlier by a mother protecting her calf.  We decided to see what we could do ourselves and if it didn’t look good, we would consider going for help.

Not only did we have manpower on our side, we had Matt LaPaire.  Matt is a young man who has an engineering degree and a great deal of initiative.  He can’t sit still and is always climbing a tree, building something or likewise engaged in activity.  A very good person to go camping with.  We began to assess the situation.  The mud was only about 12 to 18 inches deep and the ground underneath seemed solid.  We didn’t have ropes or chains but there was wood nearby.  We tried all the usual things such as rocking the truck and putting stuff under the tires for traction but it wasn’t working.  We needed to remove the mud.

Matt and Chris were quickly engaged in digging us out using their hands and throwing the mud off to the side.  The more they worked, the more they became covered in mud.  Alison got started as well.  Every job needs a boss, so I just sat back and watched.  To be honest, I would have loved to get in there and get dirty but I was the driver and we were driving a brand new truck.  Cleaning the mud off the outside would be easy but cleaning the interior would be a real job and it would never be in the same shape it was in.  A little background on MCC vehicles is in order.  MCC and our country reps in particular take managing donor money very seriously.  While many NGO’s in Zambia drive fancy Land Rovers even though they never leave the paved roads, MCC has a fleet of less than stellar vehicles.  This truck is the first new vehicle I think MCC has had in Zambia and is far and above the rest of our vehicles.  We had just acquired it.  Based on our previous visit in October, I didn’t imagine that we would run into anything like this as it hasn’t rained for months.

So, are you buying my excuse?  You see I had to stay clean so as not to soil the interior of our new vehicle.  Besides, the young people were doing a great job and there was only so much room in the ditch.

As you can imagine, once you get started digging in the mud by hand, it is hard to stay clean.  The dirtier you get, the less you care about getting more dirty.  Matt and Chris were getting covered in mud, Alison was getting there and Miriam was the least muddy.  Every so often, we would start the truck and try to get out and we would always make enough progress to give us hope.  Matt soon disappeared into the mud UNDER the truck.  Standing beside the truck, I could no longer see any part of his body.  It was either completely under the truck or indistinguishable from the mud.  He kept talking and joking and ensured me he was okay.  At one point, we found a mudskipper which is a fish that can survive out of water.  Jason found that to be really cool.

After two hours of work, the truck was freed and we headed back to camp with several very dirty Salters riding in the back.  By the time we reached camp, the mud had dried on to their bodies.  Thankfully, the camp site had showers and everyone was able to clean up.  One of the guys at the camp also offered to wash the truck for us so by midafternoon we were ready to go.  We decided that we had had enough for the day and just hung around camp and ate a wonderful meal cooked over the fire.

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Sunday morning we went out on another drive and saw lots of interesting large birds such as the waddled crane, crowned crane, secretary bird, saddle billed stork, and ground hornbill.  But we never found any lions or leopards.  It was a great adventure and I now know that there is huge difference between late May and October in terms of wildlife prevalence and road conditions.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Cheryl Smith
    June 25, 2012 at 5:33 am

    What a crazy safari trip! Where was Cynthia when you guys were getting dug out of the mud? Praying, no doubt. :) You still should try to do a safari in Chobe if you get a chance – so incredible!

  1. July 8, 2012 at 4:47 pm

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