We woke Saturday morning at 5am so we could quickly fill our veins with a boost of caffeine that only coffee can provide, before we jumped on the truck to head out on our safari through Liwonde National Park. With my iPhone battery charged only at 37%, I turned on airplane mode, determined to make this charge last long enough for me to capture any of the animals I might be lucky enough to encounter through the park.
After paying our entry fee, we entered Liwonde National Park roughly around 6:30am. Passing through the gates I couldn’t help but feel I was entering Jurassic park. The gates weren’t nearly as fancy, but there was a sense of wonder about the entire experience that had the kid in me completely nerding out. With so much anticipation and excitement, I attempted to rein myself in. There was no guarantee that the animals would be on our trail, nor that they’d stick around long enough for a viewing even if they were. Still, despite my best efforts, this nerdy kid was absolutely stoked.
Having passed the threshold we crossed a small dilapidated bridge. I peered left and right willing myself to see something other than foliage. Sadly that’s all I could see. Still, since we’d been officially on Safari for only 3 minutes this did nothing to hamper my spirits. I continued scanning the trees undeterred. It couldn’t have been more than a minute later that someone said they’d spotted an elephant straight ahead. I quickly changed the focus of my view, but still saw nothing. I tried peering more intently, darting my eyes back and forth around the general area I was told the elephant could be found. Nothing. I tried looking deeper into the trees, into layers of the environment I had been neglecting in my first scan. Nothing.
Not being able to see the elephant, having no idea how close our driver might get to it, having no clue as to how long the elephant might stick around, nor if this sighting was a typical or atypical event, I began to worry that my eyes were going to get in the way of my very first safari.
I’m thankful to say that wasn’t the case. As we drove deeper into the park several elephants came into view, including some wee baby elephants. In terms of how I was feeling, I’m sure the stupid grin on my face was enough to say it all. And I’m sure that same stupid grin kept getting wider and wider as more and more elephants came into view. It was absolutely surreal. I watched as a small herd marched by us. Some of them looked in our general direction but for the most part they ignored us, focusing only on their march, munching on the foliage that had once hid them from my view, and protecting their wee ones. I remember thinking that if my Safari ended right then and there, I still would have been a happy man.
Of course, the Safari continued. As the small herd moved on, our driver followed and repositioned us so that we were closer and better situated to see the elephants head on. The matriarch of the family seemed to take exception to this, signalling her discontent with what seemed to be an inflated chest, some snorting and trunk wagging, flared ears, and a small threat provided through a demonstration of her ability to charge if she wanted to. It was incredible. She was 30 feet away from me, maybe less. I probably should have been frightened, but I was completely loving every minute of it.
We moved on through the park, coming across more herds of varying sizes and several lone males. With each encounter it felt that our driver would inch us closer and closer. And each time I kept thinking I’m in Africa. I’m on Safari. There are elephants right over there! It really was such a surreal experience being able to live out a dream that I’ve had since I was young.
But the Safari wasn’t all elephants. As we pushed on into the park we were granted the opportunity to watch warthogs, waterbucks, and impalas in their natural habitat. At one point their territories overlapped in a way that made me think that Disney himself must have organized it. Several waterbuck chased a small group of impalas, as a band of warthogs proudly strutted through the commotion with tail-up-snout-up piggy confidence. It was almost comical.
Eventually we returned to camp. I ate, showered, and napped before heading out on a walking Safari that would take us to the Shire river. On our way we saw a few more warthogs and impalas, as well as some massive termite mounds, elephant footprints, and a variety of plants and insects. When we finally reached the water’s edge, we could see the shapes of hippos in the distance. – a preview of things to come during our river Safari the next day.
Once back at camp for the eve, I grabbed a beer and ventured to the observation deck to watch the sunset and reflect on the day. I stared out across the scene in front of me not really focusing on anything. I was beyond content. I was beyond happy. And just when I thought it couldn’t get better, I heard the now familiar sound of elephants munching their way through the trees. This time, however, there were many more of them. As dusk transitioned to night I could tell that the elephants had moved closer to me. And as had happened the night before, they eventually moved close enough for me to see them. While I couldn’t make out their specific details or numbers, it seemed to me the there were at least 10 of them.
I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better end to my day.