‘Safari is not only about looking,’ says my award-winner guide Abraham. ‘It is also about listening. You must try to understand who is where by listening to the sounds the animals are making.’
I don’t understand!
He goes into further detail. ‘Animals make alarm sounds. For instance, you suddenly hear baboons shrieking in a peculiar tone, and they gather together in one place. That means there is a predator nearby, and they are warning each other about it. It could be a lion, a leopard or a hyena. You stop and listen to these sounds and try to spot the predator by walking in the direction the baboons are shrieking into. This is how you can enjoy safari. Nature expects you to listen to it, understand it and discover.’
I learn about the art of safari from the oldest and naturally the most experienced guide in Africa. ‘Every sound, every trace is important in nature because everything hints at animal behavior.’ For instance, in one of the trips we are making on foot, we run into a hill where impalas have defecated. For us, this looks like a public toilet for impalas, but it actually turns out to be a love nest for these animals. How so? Male impalas come here and smell what is left behind by the female impalas, and they choose their mates, whom they go out to pursue later on, accordingly.
I find out about all of these during my stay in the camp set up by Zambia’s leading safari company called Norman Carr Safaris. Zambia is trying to lead the way in luxury safari tourism with important progress in recent years. It is not an easy task for them. They must compete with Tanzania and Kenya, known as the motherland of safari and the glorious Great Migration. But I believe that Zambia deserves good praise as much as Tanzania or Kenya does. The Victoria Falls and the Luangwa Valley and River on Zambian land are great wonders of nature. If you happen to visit Zambia during the ‘Emerald Season’, you will be spellbound by the different shades of green, undiscovered nature parks and the variety of wild animals. Even the Southern Luangwa National Park, by itself, can beat its rivals in other countries with its dense leopard population. This is why it is also known as the Leopard Valley. The only thing they must do here is set up five-star safari camps in the area.
Norman Carr Safaris has made the first attempt in safari tourism by opening Zambia’s first five-star camp called Chinzombo. Located in the Southern Luangwa National Park, this safari camp is lucky to carry the name of Norman Carr, the late founder of the company, who used to be a very respectable tourist guide starting out safari tourism in Africa. He was also the mastermind behind walking safari. Although he is no longer among us, his Hollywood-like life story still resonates. Despite his British heritage, growing up in Zambia because of his family’s line of business, Carr felt deeply attached to this piece of land where he decided to set up his life as an adult. Working as a safari guide in 1950s, he realized that one could witness the natural beauty in Zambia much better going around on foot and so organized his first walking safari. The company he set up serving this purpose has by far been the most prestigious walking safari company in Africa.
What kind of an experience does walking safari, Zambia’s forte in tourism campaigns offer? Basically, you walk on vast plains accompanied by an armed guard and an experienced guide. The style is here much different from what I have experienced in rivaling countries. For instance, the safaris I have been to in Tanzania and Kenya lasted much shorter and took place in close vicinity to our camps. In Zambia, you leave the base located by the riverbank, make your way through hippos and alligators by boat, reach the other side of the river and throw yourself into the arms of wilderness. In rainy season, you drag yourself among towering green grass in what feels like a swamp and experience an adrenaline-fueled safari, walking for hours with the fear of running into a leopard or a lion any second. I must admit I felt really scared the first day. It was creepy not to be able to watch out for what was going on around me because of the towering grass surrounding me. But as I got used to the hang of it and realized that there was nothing to scare me off, I started enjoying the whole thing. Staring at giraffes, which I have watched from the safari vehicle before, from just a few meters now, waiting in restlessness to see if elephants will charge at me, touching the grass the animals feed on and following the traces they leave behind mean a lot to a nature lover like me.
One of the managers in Chinzombo, Mari Voss, tells me, ‘Safari is an expensive vacation. But it requires courage to come to Africa, not money.’ I totally agree with her. It is on this principle they have built their five-star camp on. Besides comfort and quality, they have infused love of nature and adventure into the building blocks of this place. Unlike other nature camps, this place, right by River Luangwa, is not surrounded by fences or electrical wires. This way, animals are able to visit their own territory whenever they want to. For instance, hippos come out of the river at night and lounge on grass in front of our tents, and leopards stroll around as they wish. The armed security personnel standing on guard around our tents all night long protect the guests from possible danger.
Chinzombo is not the only safari camp built by Norman Carr. Having established a partnership with another renowned company called Chongwe Safaris in the recent past, they have five more safari camps all over the country. Some of them have four stars, and some have three. But all of them are managed by experienced guides. Their services, provided by personnel with top-notch training about nature, win numerous prizes each year. Mindy Roberts, Reservations and Marketing Director, says, ‘Norman Carr wouldn’t believe his eyes if he saw Chinzombo. Having served in simple and primitive conditions for years, this true nature lover would be amazed at how much Zambia has improved at the sight of Chinzombo, a project of his own company.’
In order to reach Chinzombo, you fly to the capital city of Lusaka, take the one-hour flight to the Southern Luangwa National Park with the only domestic airline Proflight, and from there you make a boat trip along the river running through the center. Built with natural materials—including the fallen trees thanks to the elephants—by award-winning South African architects Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens, the camp consists of six tents with spacious bathrooms, porches, pools and views of the river. The linen-and-real-leather-dominated decoration meets the eye in 150-square-meter canvas tents with thatched roofs. The guests’ tents as well as the lobby area and the bar are designed in different shades of beige, gray and brown. Plus, the tents, all of which are adorned with local decorative objects, are equipped with WI-FI, which is not a common element of luxury one would find in Africa. The camp mesmerizes its guests with a feeling of luxurious simplicity, which is defined as ‘Zen in Zambia’ by awe-struck visitors. Delicious meals, relaxing foot massages after walking safaris and savoring your whiskey served in vintage crystal glasses by the river are some of the luxuries they offer here. They have thought of indulging their guests with every aspect of luxury one would normally find in big city hotels, and the best thing is everything is orchestrated in such a way that protects and preserves nature. This is why you still feel surrounded by wildlife while savoring these touches of luxury and can take on walking safaris without fear or frustration just like a true nature lover.
A sentence catches my attention as I am reading a brochure about Chinzombo: ‘Nature was here first. We came afterwards. So, if need be, we can pull everything down and go somewhere else.’ Norman Carr would definitely claim the same thing today. Even though I will never meet him in person, I feel like I have known him forever. This proves why I am leaving Zambia fully embracing his vision and philosophy.