Jacob Chinn
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Alumni Travel
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Believe it or not, the Internet connection in the middle of the bush in Zambia can be a bit unreliable. So I'm making this last post from the Atlanta airport where I have a five-hour layover before my connecting flight home to Tucson. I'm glad to be back in the States and I can't wait to get home, but I'm still sad that our safari is over.

There were three more things that I wanted to see before I left Africa -- male lions, a leopard and the stars. It's summer in Africa and that means it supposed to be hot. Before we showed up at the Royal Zambezi Lodge it was 110 degrees. It was supposed to get hotter but the clouds that had kept us cool on the entire trip followed us to the Zambezi and the temperature stayed below 85 the entire time we were there.

Chris, our guide for Thursday's Safari asked what we wanted to see and we all said lions. He took us deep into the bush to section of the park that we had not previously seen. Places where palm trees sprang up around water holes, surrounded by tall stands of grasses. We had been searching for signs of the lions for about three hours and when we stopped for a water break. Chris had been following lion tracks along the roads and was hopeful that we might find them. As I was sipping tea and milk I heard a low rumble in the distance and Chris asked us all to be quiet. It was the call of a male lion and we loaded into the safari truck and headed toward the noise. We sped along the dirt trails stopping on occasion so Chris could check for tracks. Three sets of male lion tracks headed into a dense thicket in the bush, so we took a road to the other side of the obstruction, but no tracks lead out. Chris maneuvered the vehicle as deep into the bush as he could, but there was no sign of the lions. The were somewhere in the thick bush and they could not be seen and you can't get out of the trucks to search for lions on foot, so with heavy hearts we headed back to the lodge with just one more chance to find lions and leopards.

After our afternoon siesta, six of us loaded back into the safari vehicle for our final game drive and it was one of our best. Chris again asked us what our goals for the drive was, and we again said lions and leopards, but there was also a request for zebras. We hadn't seen them since we left the Victoria Falls area. Chris said that the zebras there only come down from the mountains once a day and that they are a challenge to find but he is either a miracle worker or just really lucky because he sound us a small herd of zebra.

Before our zebra encounter, we crossed a small stream near the lodge that we had crossed several times before. A dead hippo had been floating in the stream since our arrival and the crocs had begun to feast on the rotting carcass. It was pretty gross, but it was also fascinating to watch the crocs spin around in the water and struggle to rip the dead hippo to pieces.

This wasn't the only death we saw today. As we were speeding down the road, Chris spotted an impala giving birth. This was the second birth we had seen on the trip, but this one was much more sad. The fawn was still born and the doe was struggling before it staggered behind a thicket out of our view. I didn't post any photos of the scene, because it was a bit too sad.

We drove farther into the park in search of tracks, but without any luck and stopped for a water break just before sunset with heavy hearts after seeing the still birth and knowing that our chances of seeing a large cat were growing slim. At the Lower Zambezi, the evening safari includes an hour night driving, and after our break Leo, our guide in training, pulled out the spot light and we began our drive back to the lodge. Within minutes, Chris stopped the car quickly and pointed excitedly at a tree. "Look there, a leopard." We all struggled to see it, until Leo shined the spot light on the large cat, where it lay in the branches of a tree sleeping with a dead impala dangling from the branches near by. It was an amazing sight and even more amazing that Chris could spot the leopard while navigating a dirt road in the twilight. The leopard got up from it's resting place and began to eat the dead impala, we watched and listened for a few minutes before heading back to the lodge. 

The rest of the drive back was uneventful, but the remaining clouds blew away and the stars filled the sky all around us. We had Chris stop the car and turn off the lights as we looked up at the southern sky. Upon returning to the lodge we had our final dinner together under the stars on the deck beside the Zambezi river. It was a wonderful way to conclude our trip to see Africa's wildlife.

We left the lodge together, Friday morning, after the best sunrise we had seen so far. We left having made new friends, having seen things we never thought we would see, and loving the bush of southern Africa. The only animal we missed was the male lion and we all agreed that it just gave us another reason to return to Africa and perhaps another reason to travel again with the UA Alumni Association.

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