“Let’s see if we can find a leopard,” invited Abraham, our safari guide. We’d just finished our gin-and-tonic sundowners and were driving back to Chinzombo camp in the inky darkness, the vehicle’s spotlight shining in the bush. “Leopards like to hunt at night and this plain is perfect. Look at the fringes of the treeline over there.”
Sure enough, Abraham spotted a leopard in the distance, slinking along in the grasses.
We moved in closer in the Land Rover. The leopard stopped and crouched behind a clump of bushes, looking at a herd of impala and puku (antelope). An impala squealed, letting out a warning cry of danger, and the other antelope froze, making themselves more difficult for the leopard to locate. We watched patiently; minutes ticked by slowly. This would be a long wait if we wanted to see the leopard take down its intended prey.
After a while, we drove off, not wishing to linger any longer. But… We left too soon.
Suddenly, a flurry of squeals pierced the air.
Quickly circling back, we came across the leopard, its jaw in the neck of a fallen puku about the same size as the leopard itself.
We’d missed the actual moment the leopard lunged at the puku, but how amazing that we could witness a leopard with its fresh kill! Leopards are elusive creatures and can be hard to find on safari.
The hunter didn’t start to eat its prey, however. “It’s assessing the situation, what else could be around,” whispered Abraham. That’s when a hyena came skulking toward the leopard guarding its fallen puku. The hyena was small though, and alone – no match for the leopard. When it got close, the leopard reared up and leaped at the hyena, snarling as it chased the hyena off. With no competition around, the leopard finally started to tear into the puku’s soft groin, ripping the juicy innards out.
“They start with the good stuff,” explained Abraham. “The liver, the kidneys, the heart and the blood.”
Then the leopard looked up at us, golden eyes glinting in the spotlight, blood smeared on the fur around his mouth and chin. Good for the leopard, we thought – it had won its fight this night.
And so ended our leopard encounter, one of many game-viewing highlights of our stay at Chinzombo…
“Wildly luxurious” Chinzombo
Of the three safari camps we bedded down at on our recent walking safari in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, Chinzombo was our favorite. It’s Norman Carr Safaris’ newest camp in this park (re-opened in June, 2013 after many years of closure) – and billed as “wildly luxurious.”
Designed by award-winning Italian-South African architects, Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens, who also created the deluxe Makalali Bush Camp in South Africa, Jao Camp in Botswana and Angama Mara Lodge in Kenya, Chinzombo is set on a grassy ridge overlooking the Luangwa River. To get there, you have to ride in a small aluminum boat across the river, your boat driver taking care not to bump into hippos on the way.
Bush-chic tented villas
Like all Norman Carr Safaris camps, Chinzombo is intimate – only six “villas,” including a large two-bedroom/two-bathroom family villa. Each basically consists of a huge gray canvas tent on a platform, with a heavy Zanzibari-style wooden door. During the day, the side facing the river is rolled up allowing easy access to your private pool.
Yes, each villa has their own large private pool; you can splash about while watching hippos in the river beyond.
The tented villas are very bush chic in decor. There are hanging copper lamps and woven sisal rugs on the floor. A metal trunk serves as the coffee table; closet shelves are made of leather. The enormous open-plan bathroom has a free-standing white stone tub, and luxuriant thick towels are folded on rods hanging from jute rope. The color scheme is a soothing gray and greige.
And virtually unheard of for a safari “tent,” an eco-friendly air conditioner cools the air above your king-size bed (especially welcome during afternoon siesta).
A typical Chinzombo day
Days at Chinzombo usually start with a wake-up call at 5:30 am. We’d join fellow guests for a full English breakfast by the river around 6:00 am. Sitting on camp chairs overlooking the river, we’d wake up over steaming Zambian coffee. Eggs and bacon were cooked on frying pans around an open campfire. Bowls of fresh fruit and thick yoghurt, along with crepes and jam (passionfruit and mango), were also available.
Then we’d venture off on our morning game drive. And to perk us up mid-morning, we always stopped about 9:00 am for tea, coffee and cookies or biscotti.
At Chinzombo, you get a special treat after your first morning’s game drive – a complimentary foot massage. The spa therapist was waiting for us at our villa with a large copper bowl of water with lime slices. She scrubbed our feet with rock salt first, then performed a skillful foot and calf massage. Our travel-weary feet were very grateful!
Lunch – delightfully light and delicious – follows your morning game drive and is offered at noon.
There were always lots of salads – rocket salad, potato salad, lentil salad, tomato and cheese salad, and so on. (The aubergine, rocket lettuce and many of the other vegetables are organic, grown at the estate where Norman Carr retired and lived out his last years.) The buffet table might also include a vegetarian thin-crust pizza and freshly caught Nile perch. A chilled glass of South African Sauvignon Blanc was always welcome. Dessert was homemade ice-cream, served in a sugar crisp cup with a sprig of mint.
And then it was time for a well-earned nap…
Afternoon tea was at 3:30 pm, as the heat of the day waned. A freshly baked cake (perhaps a chocolate torte or creamy vanilla cupcakes) would tempt us.
And then we’d head out for the afternoon game drive.
Sundowners around 6:00 pm were always a highlight. Our guide would set up drinks complete with an ice bucket on the front grille of the vehicle and haul out snacks from a cooler. Gin-and-tonics taste extra special when sipped in the African bush, hearing the occasional trumpet of an elephant in the distance!
On the way back to Chinzombo, we’d enjoy a night drive in the dark, keeping an eye out for night animals like genets – and leopards.
For dinner, Chinzombo offers a three-course meal, served at private tables in different settings. It’s a white tablecloth affair. One evening, we sat on the grassy lawn under the stars, dining by candlelight. Another evening, we had a table on the deck by the dining room’s pool.
(If you’re thinking a safari is as much about food as it is about game viewing, you’re right! But it’s surprising how hungry the fresh air and all the excitement over seeing lions and leopards and wild elephants makes you.)
And it’s very easy to get addicted to the safari rhythm…
Some of Norman Carr’s most experienced guides – and the best safari guides in the world – are based at Chinzombo.
We were very lucky to have Abraham. He trained under and worked for 30 years with the legendary Norman Carr, who set up the first safari camp in South Luangwa back in 1950. Abraham has also won awards for his work, including the prestigious Zambian Guide of the Year award in 2009 and a Silver in the annual Wanderlust and Daily Telegraph World Guide Awards in 2010.
A fount of knowledge, Abraham knew every bird call we heard and the behavior of every animal we spotted. Like: “That cooing sound is a green-spotted dove.” Of the beautiful multi-colored bee-eater birds: “They’re called bee-eaters because they have long beaks which can de-sting the bees.” Do lions go after the giraffes? “Oh, yes, they’re not high on the lions’ shopping list, but lions occasionally take them down.”
And he knew exactly how to find that killer leopard for us…
What to know about Chinzombo
You’re out in the bush where wild animals roam, but you won’t lack for any creature comforts at Chinzombo. You have electricity, flush toilets, rain showers and complimentary WiFi. You’ll even find a hair dryer in a hanging leather pouch in your bathroom. And, as is typical of most luxury safari camps and lodges in Africa, laundry is complimentary (you don’t need to, and shouldn’t, pack much when going on safari).
Zambia is considered to be in a malarial area, so see your doctor or travel clinic about appropriate anti-malarial pills. (We took Malarone.) The water is safe to drink at Chinzombo (it comes from a borehole), so thermoses of water are left in your villa; you can drink straight from the tap if you like. If you prefer bottled water, just ask.
You fly from Lusaka, Zambia, to Mfuwe (70-minute flight), where you’re picked up at the airport in a safari vehicle and taken on a game drive transfer through Mfuwe village and South Luangwa National Park to Chinzombo (about an hour away). Some of the many animals we saw along the way included three cow elephants and a gazillion hippos in a lagoon.
All photos are © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase (except lead photo and where noted)
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We stayed at three Norman Carr Safaris camps in Zambia as media guests; our story on “Walking Safaris in Zambia” was recently published in NUVOmagazine.com. (Note: Our words are always our own. As professional travel writers, we don’t accept media invitations in exchange for positive stories.)