Excitement ran high as we moved into the weekend, destined for Liwonde Safari Camp. We headed off in the morning, stopping by Shoprite again to stock up on water and snacks, as well as anything else to get us through the 3 hour drive up there. Again, all 34 of us crammed into the 3 mini vans and settled in for the less than comfortable journey there. Thankfully the driving here is beautiful, instead of Sydney highways slammed with traffic we’re surrounded by endless green, with dotted houses and a picture of mountains in the background. It’s something you can’t get sick of, and something that makes the long drives even more worth it.
Upon entry to the national park we hit the bumpy dirt road and could see nothing but the green expanse on either side of us. Wide enough for only one car and too many potholes to even consider avoiding them, the vans struggled through and eventually pulled up to the camp. We walked in and a few of us settled in to the oversized hut for the day while the others set off for their safaris. The self-serve bar system made the whole experience that much better and we made ourselves at home on the couches. I had no plans to move until my weekly half-hour long shower to scrub the week’s worth of dirt off myself.
In order to make ourselves feel a little more productive we set off, books in tow, to the viewing decks, showcasing the land the safaris take on and occasionally displaying animals. We were lucky enough to see a few elephants walk past in the distance, something that felt too surreal for me coming from a background where I still get excited if I see kangaroos when I head to rural Australia.
We paid 5500 Kwacha ($11 AUD) for one of the biggest buffet dinners I’ve ever had the pleasure of indulging in. Due to maximum capacity at Liwonde Safari Camp, 7 of us got our bags ready to embark on a small journey to the next camp over to spend the night. I began to regret the amount of food I’d eaten at dinner the minute I got in the car. With only one other girl and five boys, it felt as though I was back home but my brother had suddenly, and unfortunately, multiplied. The exciting joy ride we had taken that morning to the camp became an uncertain, fearful experience on the way out. We exited through the 3m high fence, unsure whether its presence was to keep the animals in or out, and found ourselves surrounded by black and able to only see a few metres ahead. Every horror movie we’d ever seen came to mind and nervous chatter filled the van, my mouth started hurting because all I could do was nervously laugh in an effort to calm myself down unsuccessfully. It didn’t help that my fear fuelled the boys’ need for entertainment, and I spent the 20-minute journey unashamedly squealing as they pretended to brush insects off my back, banging the car roof and yelling. After missing the turn off and hoping with everything we had that our van wouldn’t fail us tonight – it had been decided that if it did we would simply abandon hope and sleep in there, getting out could only result in death – we finally made it to Kutchire Lodge where we were let back in – or out – of the enclosure. The house brought me some relief, which quickly turned back to fear as we walked away, following one of the workers down a narrow path into what can only be described as a jungle with nothing but our phones to light the way. I’m still surprised I made it through and didn’t turn back, particularly when we – or I – were told to be quiet so that any roaming elephants could be heard and we could be kept safe. It’s probably not necessary to admit that I struggled to keep quiet. We continued to walk past cosy, safe looking dorm rooms, always expecting to stop but turning a corner and venturing further on down the path. Eventually, we hit the bottom of a staircase leading up to a tree house. It’s safe to say I questioned my whole trip to Africa and wondered whether it was too late to go home. Unfortunately, it was, and I found myself trudging up the staircase with the others, awaiting what the rooms held in store. Evidently, I don’t know if you could call it a room, considering only half a wall had a fly screen and the rest of the room was half open, leaving us subject to whatever insects, marsupials or reptiles made themselves at home. The trunk of the tree came up through the middle and we found ourselves playing limbo in order to move from one side of the room to the other. On top of all this, the lights didn’t work and there was no water, which meant no ability to flush the toilet (not ideal considering the journey I’d just been on).
Miraculously, I woke up the next morning and was greeted by the sunrise, giving me a proper look at my surroundings. I was thankful for the bed I’d chosen, seeing that the other spare bed had been soaked with water due to the heavy rainfall throughout the night. I was beginning to see the benefits of the whole experience until I rolled over and found a lizard on the wall and a few mice crawling through the tree in the roof. However, walking over to see the view I was once again grateful as I looked out over the river surrounded by bush, having flashbacks from The Lion King and marvelling at the scenery I’d somehow found myself overlooking. Later I found out that said river was home to the hippos my friends had encountered on their water safari the previous day. At least I didn’t know that during the walk there the night before.
The owner was proud to show us the lion paw print displayed below our house, accompanied by gaping holes in the ground he claimed to belong to elephant feet. We’re unsure how much of a tourist ploy this is, especially considering the fact there was only one print of each, and last time we checked, both lions and elephants had four legs. My fear was high enough that I took his word for it at the time and pushed for us to head back, enjoying a brighter and shorter walk back than we’d experienced the night before.
With the rain came mud and the drive out of the car park was messy, lessening our hope for what was originally the bumpy, dirt road on the way there. Our expectations were met and it wasn’t long before one of the vans got bogged, so badly that all of us attempted to push it out to no avail. Thankfully we found luck in a passing jeep which happened to break down prior to tying itself to our van. The group of engineering students managed to give it a temporary fix and our makeshift tow truck came back to life, successfully pulling the van out and sending us on our way for the rest of the journey home.
The experience was well worth it, but it’s safe to say I’ve become the easy one to tease and I don’t see that going away any time soon.