Our next destination was South Luangwa, which is supposed to be Zambia's best game park, and it's accessible by public transportation, good for backpackers like us! So from Lower Zambezi we had a taxi pick us up at the lodge at bright and early 6 am. From there they brought us to the Zimbabwe border crossing, where there are big coach buses coming through. We were able to ask the drivers if they had open seats on their way to Lusaka, and sure enough one of the buses did! So we had a nice smooth ride all the way to Lusaka. We arrived around 9:45am. We wanted to get to a place called Chipata, 9 hours away on the Zambia/Malawi border. As soon as we got off the bus a man was very eager to show us to a booth with a bus that was departing at 10:30. OK fine. It said so right there on the sign: 10:30am to Chipata. Looks good. We bought our tickets and one of the guys showed us over to the bus. We loaded our big bags in the storage underneath, bought some food, and hopped on at 10:25 or so. And waited.
And waited and waited and waited! After an hour of with no sign of movement, no driver, nothing, we started asking the guys out front. They said it was no problem, they just needed a few more people. At this point we realized we’d been had. This bus wasn’t going anywhere until it was completely full. Bastards! The whole 10:30 departure time was just one blatant lie! Later on we would ask around and we found out that this was the worst bus company around. I mean at least we’re dumb tourists and didn’t know any better, but I couldn’t help but wonder about all the locals already inside the bus, waiting forever. Did they not know?!
Even then, we assumed it would fill up relatively quickly, as Chipata is a pretty popular route, but no no no. We milled around the bus station for hours, waiting, talking to locals, Carmen even got a few marriage proposals. But you couldn’t stay waiting in the bus too long because it was hot as hell in there. So it was pick your poison, stew in the oven/bus in private, or wait outside and have the same conversations over and over with the locals. Finally at about 4:30pm, a mere 6 hours after we thought we were going to leave, we finally drove out of that god forsaken bus station. But only to the gas station where we sat for another 20 minutes. FFFFFF!
And of course the trip wouldn’t be complete without a breakdown, where we sat on the side of the road for an hour while the bus guys took off the whole front interior compartment and played around with the wiring. We finally got into Chipata at a ridiculous time, 3am, but fortunately there were taxis still around. So we took one to our accommodation, of course no one was awake and we had to pound on windows and doors until finally someone showed up. A young guy who was shockingly cheerful and energetic given the time of night, who showed us to the dorms. We got a few hours of sleep, bought some groceries, and hit the bus to the village outside of South Luangwa NP.
Once we arrived we met the muzungus who were seated at the front of the bus, an Aussie named Alex and an American named Ben, who were also headed to the Marula lodge. We shared a taxi over and made it to the reception without any reservations. The woman working at the lodge told us the dorms were full but she would let us have a 4 person cottage at the same price as the dorms, sounds good! We booked ourselves two game drives the next day. At the camp it was also kind of cool because at night hippos would come up out of the river to eat, so they don't let you walk anywhere alone at night, even if its 20 feet, you always need to flag down the night watchman to escort you and make sure you don't get eaten by a hippo!
I’ve got to say, South Luangwa did not disappoint! Out of all the game drives that I’d been on so far, South Luangwa was the best. We saw all the usual stuff of course, but also so many lions! We started our day following a small group of female lions hanging out on tree lying flat. At one point we had a male lion walk right in front of our jeep, only a few feet away from us. That was a bit scary, but also really fricken cool! And the scenery was green and lush with weirdly bent trees, just a really nice place for a safari. So here's a bunch of animal photos!
I ended up taking the next day off, which proved to be a mistake as that evening the group saw a pack of wild dogs take down an impala, as well as a crocodile chomping another impala as it fled towards the river bank from the dogs. But this is how things work on safaris… you never know what you’re going to get! I did a game drive the following evening, which turned out to be awful. It was raining, we saw almost no animals for about 2 hours, and there was some sort of rock stuck in the brake pad which made and awful creaking/groaning noise the whole time! Ugh. But after we left the park driving back home at night, we totally unexpectedly spotted a leopard maybe 2 minutes away from the lodge! My first leopard spotting! So that alone almost made it worth it!
The next day it was sadly time for Carmen and I to say goodbye. Actually there would be no formal goodbyes, as she was leaving at 4am, and we agreed that she shouldn’t wake me up, ha. She had to take the bus back to Lusaka and fly to Zanzibar (in Tanzania) to meet a friend, whereas I would be taking the bus east to more backpacker friendly country of Malawi. So overall, I wouldn’t recommend Zambia for independent travel, but it was still fun with a travel partner. South Luangwa was definitely the highlight!