Dear Diary, we woke up real early at 5am. I wanted to be on the road by 6 to beat traffic. I know Sundays are usually quiet but I didn’t want to leave it to chance. At this time of the day it is still quite dark and the stars lit the path to the main house from the cottage. Before we drove off, I had a quick chat with mum and dad as I petted the dogs. As I was switching on the engine of the car, ba Agnes ran to us with some fried peanuts and fried kuku (chicken) she had prepared for us for the trip down to South Luangwa.
The drive from Lusaka to South Luangwa National Park is 566 kilometers. On a properly tarred road this wouldn’t be so bad but I know that there are some rough stretches. Officially it was estimated that the drive was going to take about 8 hours and 22 minutes. I am pretty certain that the Tomcar will perform better due to its framework. Normally the Tomcar can have two 26 liter fuel tanks but mine has two 30 liter fuel tanks. I have tested the car enough to know it does about 1 liter per 10 kilometers so it can go on for about 600km before having to refill. We decided that it would be best to refill in Chipata which is not too far off from the park.
It was a lovely drive out of Lusaka. There were barely any cars on the road and the morning was clear without a single drop of fog in the air. What a lovely day to drive! Serena was still a bit sleepy in the first few hours so she was still nodding away whilst I focused on the road and listened to the calm music coming out of the system. I don’t like my music too loud unlike most other people in this world. For them it seems that the louder they play the music, the more enjoyment they get from it. I find it rather strange. Serena seemed to like the playlist because she was just sitting there with her eyes firmly shut.
By the first police post the policewoman looked at us in puzzlement. She had never seen a car like this before. At first she thought we were military, but then the number plate threw her off and we were not in uniform. I could tell she really tried to look for a reason to make us pay some kind of money but all the paperwork was in order and all the tail lights worked. Her last attempt was of course with my driving license. That trick of holding the license until you give something back in return. Unfortunately for her I knew this trick and I held onto it. As I held it, I forced her to listen to my story as I said: we are part of the delegation making sure that the road is properly laid out for the ambassador to come on this trip as well and since he is only an hour behind me, I need to scan the area and make sure things are ok. The policewoman almost saluted me as we were waved on by with a look of shock on her face.
By this point Serena had woken up and just shook her head as we drove. I told her I didn’t have any small money on me to give to her. Serena being the soft hearted soul that she is obviously wanted to offer the policewoman something. I am slightly more immune to such behaviour. My stomach was rumbling though so I looked out for a small market to be found by the side of the road. By the next T-junction we had hit jackpot. There was a small market there selling oranges and other fruits. It was too early to eat the chicken since it was still morning.
Serena tried to buy more things being the good Samaritan that she was. However, the ladies were swarming around her trying to convince her to buy their stuff at muzungu (white man’s) prices of course. Poor Serena didn’t speak the vernacular and her skin tone didn’t help. These people smelt blood. Chirping voices raising in crescendo as poor Serena politely walked from one merchandise to the next. Funnily enough, everybody was selling the same fruits and veggies…. Diversification is not something common in places such as this. I stood and watched the spectacle unfold whilst eating my orange. As three women were trying to shove their merchandise in the hands of Serena, another man was trying to chat to her and ask her to be his friend. Classic! In the end I decided to help Serena as I shouted to everyone: no banana for this bwana! We have to go now. Grateful for the escape clause, Serena dashed to the car and got in. I laughed as I drove off and said: I bet you forgot it gets like that hey? She wasn’t amused hahaha.
By eleven we were already in Chipata. The car indeed was beating the average time needed. I decided we should stop here for a nice picnic and enjoy the scene. Chipata town did not have much. We sat on a bench as we ate our delicious fried chicken that Agnes had packed for us. We talked a bit and discussed how funny it was that even in a town as a remote as this, the Indians owned the shops around here. The roofs of the buildings made in such a way that were it ever to get busy, one could simply build another floor on top.
As we entered the park we saw a couple of touring cars and safari cars drive out. We could tell that the place was bustling with activity. We decided to have a bit of fun since it was around 13:30 and go for a game drive ourselves. We had refilled anyway and the day was still young. Offroad we went and the car felt fantastic. The ride was not bumpy at all.
We saw a couple of elephants, zebra, impala and puku but there was no leopard or lion in sight. Pity since I always want to see those. We decided to drive to the lodge we were staying at. As we got out of the car, Serena didn’t see there was a monkey in the tree above her and he scared the crap out of her. He took advantage of her freaking out like that and grabbed her apple right from her hand and dashed for safety with Serena running in the opposite direction. I couldn’t hold myself and burst out laughing, apologizing profusely at the same time.
Serena also had to laugh once we were at the reception at what had just transpired. The poor receptionist had no clue what the joke was and so she told her. The beaming smile of the receptionist told me then that we were already her favourite customers in the camp at that moment. We were directed to our chalet. It had one room but two double beds and a very lovely shower. Serena and I took our turns to shower and I decided to go first and sit by the pool to give her her space to do her thing.
Dinnertime was at six sharp. The campsite is run by Germans with an iron fist. The bugs bothered us slightly as we had to swat at them to keep them away from our food. The dinner was better than I expected. We had some kind of soup and a plate with rice and impala, delicious. After that we sat in the hot spring which overlooked the water. We saw the silhouettes of hippos in the moonlight with the sound of their noisy greetings and water splashes heard from the distance. I put my castle (South African beer) in the air and proposed a toast to Serena. Here’s our wonderful adventure in the bush! And then we discussed the animals we hoped to see on our safari the next morning. Goddamn, we had to wake up at 5am for that. They really do run this place like a military camp. Good night.
Chris has been surprising me a lot lately. When we were in school, one used to have to remind him a thousand times to do things. It’s not like he wasn’t capable of being orderly and organized, but he was just too lazy to do things. 8 years on I see that same old Chris preparing and planning our trip so meticulously that I am left awestruck. Woah! This boy had everything planned! What do I have to worry about? Nothing. Interestingly I came across this Mark Twain quote recently and thought it was pretty perfect. “I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” True that!
Now it so happens that whenever there’s a big journey the next day, I never manage to sleep properly the previous night. This is exactly what happened last night as well. I was just tossing and turning the whole night. The bed seemed too uncomfortable all of a sudden and on top of that Chris was snoring away happily. In short I lost out on valuable sleep, thanks to Chris.
Now I’m not one to sit in the front seat of the car and doze off when someone else is driving, but seriously, I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. I fell asleep. I just remember hearing some soft music. It really does help when you and your best friend have similar tastes in music. Imagine trying to sleep while the system blasts some music like death metal or something like that.
I woke up when we were at a checkpoint. Now I wasn’t really aware of what had happened exactly, but a policewoman seemed to have been asking for some money. I’m not sure why Chris drove off without giving her any. I guess giving a bit wouldn’t have been such a bad thing. I’m sure she has a family to feed and I’m sure she doesn’t get much money from her work either. Either way, I was too lethargic to even realise what was happening then.
Chris stopped at a market for us to get something to eat. It had been a while since I had seen a proper Zambian market so when we stopped, I was excited to make my way around the place. African markets are quite something else. I love the kind of stuff that is sold. Though I figured out that this perhaps wasn’t the best market Zambia had to offer, I was quite interested in the various fruits they were selling. I thought Chris was right behind me, but I thought wrong. He was standing next to the car watching me. Surely he knew something I didn’t – that sneaky kid.
Soon enough hordes of vendors started showing me their goods. This was the point I was starting to get massively overwhelmed. I had already purchased some oranges and groundnuts but every single seller seemed to think I was well-stocked with money. I don’t love crowds and I never have, and when you are the centre of attention in a crowd, it really can get quite frustrating. There was a woman who kept putting stuff into my hands even though I had politely refused to buy anything else. Worst of all, I had NO idea what she was saying. Two more women followed suit. Ever heard of ‘herd mentality’? Kinda like that. One does something and the others do the same. Furthermore there was this slightly creepy looking guy trying to throw some broken English at me: “Maadaam, I can be fraayends with you”, he’d say. When you’re surrounded by what seem to be dozens of people at once, the last thing on your mind is to say “Oh yes, we’ll be the best of friends forever”.
I know what anyone would think. Darn Serena, you live in India and you’re scared of crowds? Believe me, you hate crowds once, you hate them forever. True story!
I went through this harrowing ordeal for quite a while. I knew Chris was having fun at my expense. He always thinks I’m this Good Samaritan who just doesn’t know when people are rip offs. Well I have to say maybe he won this time, but that still doesn’t change me one bit. So after laughing at me from a distance and having his fun, Chris probably thought it was time to help out his dear friend. He shouted something to the crowd, and I made a run for it. I could see a cheeky grin on Chris’s face. That boy’s gonna get it from me one day! Poking fun at my suffering! Hmph.
I was mad at Chis for a while – I bet he didn’t notice because he was too busy driving. After a while I just gave up being mad because it’s not always that you go on a journey with your best pal. When we reached Chipata, Chris decided it was time to get off and have some food. We ate the fried chicken that Chris’s maid had prepared. It was quite shocking to see that all the shops around here were Indian. I mean what are the odds? Indians are everywhere! For a moment or so I actually thought I was back in India.
Next we entered the park and this was my favourite bit. There were lots of animals around! I was so excited I think it might have crossed Chris’s mind once or twice that I’d fall out of the car. Chris told me ‘Sin, relax. You’ll be seeing these fellows later.” Chris still calls me ‘Sin’ sometimes. When we were in school someone gave me that horrid, unimaginative name because I had once acted as this overly religious woman in a play. I had to keep sermonizing about how committing sins would make people end up in hell. One classmate found it funny and started calling me ‘Sin’ and unfortunately that name caught on. We had all weird names for people. For a long time, I would call Chris ‘Cricket’ but it grew so lame eventually that it was easier to call him his real name. However, Chris surely hasn’t grown up because he still calls me ‘Sin’. I have to say though, I don’t really mind it. It’s part of our childhood.
I think I mentioned that I really love animals (or maybe I haven’t mentioned it). But there are some exceptions. Before we drove to the lodge, I was happily nibbling away on an apple. You know, it’s really easy to get lost when you’re enjoying the wild and the trees, and the breeze and being with your best friend. I have this bad (or not so bad) habit of getting lost in thoughts. This was a bad time for that however. I hadn’t noticed that right above me, hanging from a branch, was one heck of a mischievous monkey! I’m not really scared of monkeys. In India you get lots of them. But I was completely unaware of this one. While I was holding my apple and looking at the area, this monkey grabbed my apple out of my hand. I don’t remember the last time I screamed that loud. I made a run for it. This all happened in a split second but boy, did it scare me. Chris on the other hand was just having the time of his life. He was laughing out loud – I could see the fun he was having! Look at the number of times he got to laugh at me today! Just you wait Chris Blok, just you wait. Huhahahaha!
I was really scared for a while but I started laughing too. I mean how long can you be scared, especially in the wild? When we entered the reception, I just had to tell the receptionist about what had happened. I think she had a laugh too. Boy! Everyone’s been laughing at me today!
After getting all clean and sparkly, Chris and I headed for dinner, which was brilliant. I already started feeling at peace with the bush. After dinner we just sat and watched the hippos and then decided we should head to sleep as it was an early morning safari tomorrow! I could REALLY do with some sleep. I hope Chris keeps the snoring to a minimum tonight! Yeah, REALLY wishful thinking ‘Sin’!