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Out and about in Zambia: Sleeping out in a riverbed.

I think I may have to redefine my own personal idea of luxury.  “Luxury” may have to shed the connotations of king-size beds in favour of a bedroll under a mosquito net.  I may need to do away with haute cuisine and replace it with hot tea, vaguely smoky from the camp-fire, drunk from a tin mug with bare feet in the sand as the sun paints the sky with a palette of colour.  I’ll definitely swap satellite TV for the night-time entertainment provided by leopard calling just a few hundred metres from camp, elephant moving by in the starlight and lion roaring in the distance.

Sound good?  This morning I woke up after a night spent in the Luwi Riverbed in South Luangwa National Park.  After setting out for a two hour walk from Nsolo Camp yesterday afternoon, we found our supplies had been neatly left for us in a broad bend of the sandy river.  As the sun went down, my guide Innocent, scout Batwell, camp chef Jason and myself, unrolled our bedrolls and hung mosquito nets over sticks we found in the riverbed.  The little wooden box crowned with a toilet seat was discreetly positioned behind a large hunk of driftwood...I regarded this a little dubiously...it looked like the kind of arrangement to induce stage fright.

The camp-fire was built swiftly and soon we were sitting around it and watching as Jason started to prepare chicken, foil-covered potatoes and maize meal with a tomato and onion relish.  The lingering dusk gave way to wall-to-wall sky lit by a Cheshire-cat moon and masses of stars.  The creatures of the night began to call all around us; a leopard sawed only a few hundred metres from camp.  Somehow, simple meals become the best you’ve ever tasted when prepared and enjoyed in such a magical place.  It was with deep contentment that I let my feet burrow into the soft sand and traded wildlife stories with the lads.

Feeling weary after long hours walking in the bush, I crawled between the crisp sheets and toasty blankets of my bedroll and enjoyed the view of the stars.  The men sat around the fire quietly chatting and laughing.  Every now and then one of them would get up and stoke one of the fires that surrounded us, letting any passing beasties know that this was a no-go area.  Batwell spends much of his time on patrol and is used to waking up automatically every half hour or so.  I slept in spells too, tuned in to the orchestra of night noises.

I woke as the sun rose and joined Jason by the fire as he brewed tea and toasted bread.  Over breakfast, we shared stories of what we’d heard during the night.  Lions had been calling in the distance and a herd of elephant crossed the river just below the camp-site.  A hyena had ventured close to investigate our leftovers and Batwell and Jason had chased it away with a flaming log.

This may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it is a raw African safari experience which will put everything you thought about camping in a new light.  Click here for a short video interview with my guide, Innocent, all about the sleepout.

Posted by: Amanda Mitchell

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