On our way to South Luangwa National Park, we ran into one of the bumpiest roads in the entire world. It wouldn't qualify as one if it was a mile or two long, but this road was over a hundred kilometers of nothing but dirt, rocks, and huge bumps. Even Heather, who does not get motion sickness normally, was starting to feel a little green around the gills. Our tour leader said that the road is impassable during the rainy season.
As it turns out, the trip was worth it. Flat Dogs, the name of the campsite we stayed at, provided some of our best memories of our entire trip. We knew that we were in for a treat as soon as we turned into the campsite and spotted our first giraffes of the trip just hanging out by the side of the road.
The campsite was across the river from the national park and was not fenced, thus allowing animals to freely wander through our campsite. Knowing that elephants and hippos may come through the camp, our tour guide suggested that we leave the flaps up on our tent so that we could see any animals that walked by. At about 1:40 AM, I heard some noises outside our tent. As I looked out I saw three elephants walking about 10 feet from our tent. I woke Heather up and we watched as they walked slowly and silently around our tent. After they passed, the biggest elephant turned around and appeared to be staring right at us. We hardly breathed until it turned around and disappeared into the darkness. Even with the foreknowledge that we would likely see elephants, we were not prepared for the awesome experience of being that close to such beautiful (and large) creatures with nothing but a thin piece of canvas and a few feet of air between us! Not long after our experience with the elephants I saw a giraffe walk by. Unfortunately it was gone by the time I woke Heather up.
Very early the next morning, we went on a game drive in the national park. This was our first game drive and it was very surreal to see all the animals you normally only see on tv or in the zoo. The landscape was flat, but with interspersed trees and bushes. We saw many, many animals including zebra, elephant, giraffe, impala, hippo, warthog, buffalo, eagle, and many more (see pics).
On our way back from the safari, there was an elephant blocking the road in front of our vehicle. The driver tried to scare it away by revving the engine and moving forward slowly, but this just made the elephant increasingly irritated. It began shaking its head, flapping its ears, and trumpeting at us--all signs that it is angry and may charge. The driver persisted in creeping closer and revving the engine and the elephant eventually gave up and walked away, but we were all a little rattled by the incident (especially those in the front row of seats).
That evening we did another game drive in search of lion, leopards, and other predators. We really didn't end up seeing much except for a huge herd of buffalo, a hippo out of the water, a civet cat, and a lion from about a 1/4 of a mile away.
We were in for another surprise our second night in camp. A huge male elephant decided to snack on the tree right next to our tent. It stood next to the tree with its butt just inches away from our tent for what seemed like several minutes as it ate. If it had taken one more step back I would have ended up as a pancake! You should have seen me jump to the other side of the tent when it started moving again :o) It actually brushed up against our tent with its ears or trunk as it walked away. Even though we both knew that elephants are gentle creatures, we were still a little apprehensive about the proximity of this particular one.
The next morning, Heather and I went to shower and get ready for the day. As we returned there was a herd of six elephants in our campsite. Apparently, they had circled our tent three times before moving on. Too bad we missed that. Heather did see them near the shower block later on and was amused to see one of the baby elephants scratch its bum by rubbing up against a tree!
The whole experience at Flat Dogs Campground is one we'll never forget.