Written by Shauniece Drayton on July 7, 2013
Marula Lodge in Mfuwe is a special place. It is located in the most rural area of the country along the Luangwa River. I remember when we first arrived and I had no idea what to expect as we piled our dusty bags on top of each other. The owner of the lodge took us on a quick tour of the property. She showed us where the outdoor bathrooms were, the common area, and the beautiful river that we had front row access to. Having only been to the more urban parts of the country we had not seen many animals. She informed us that the large “rocks” in the water were actually hippos, and we even saw crocodiles bathing in the sun. She informed us of the rules of the lodge one being if you run into an elephant, you must freeze, and not make any sudden movements. That was a little worrisome for me considering I had never seen a wild elephant before! Funny enough that very night I had to practice that rule, and believe me I did not move a muscle. Another rule was that at night we had to use a flashlight and staff had to escort us when walking around. Apparently the hippos, and elephants came out to graze at night and you wouldn’t want to startle one of them unexpectedly.
When we were getting assigned to our rooms I was praying that I wasn’t in a tent. My biggest fear was that I would get smashed by a hippo or elephant who was trying to graze on the trees above the tents. Luckily, I was granted a room. Although a couple nights ago I woke up from a strange dragging sound. I climbed out of my mosquito net secured bed and peeked out the window, that’s when I saw a huge hippo walking slowly right past my room! That was something I’ll never forget because it was so close, and I was the only one awake to witness it. It’s silly, somehow the only emotion I could feel was fear, like the hippo would sense me staring at it and come stampeding through the window. I have had to make a habit of wearing ear plugs to bed because of all the strange sounds. Elephants ripping leaves off the trees, and monkeys running around on the ceiling above to name a few. One thing that really surprised me about the elephants is the fact that they are extremely quiet when they move. Unless they are pulling branches off a tree they are very light on their feet, which seems strange for an animal of that size.
Marula lodge has become a kind of home for me, we are staying for two weeks, the longest amount of time in one area since arriving in Zambia. While we are here we get to work with different schools in the area, go on safari rides, and work with a non-government organization (NGO) called Project Luangwa. My favorite part of the safari rides so far are the sun sets and the sun rises. The way that the fiery red sun rises and sets in the sky is nothing like I have ever seen. It is absolutely magical against the backdrop of the trees and vast plains. Not only do I get to experience beauty in the form of nature, but I have already learned a lot about the animals in the South Luangwa Park. Yes, park, not a zoo these animals roam free and I feel like the intruder on their territory. I got to see so many large animals that I had only ever seen on TV or in a zoo. Lions, giraffe, hippo, zebras, elephants, leopards, hyena, warthogs, bison, and gazelles. I learned that zebras travel in a heard because their stripes make it harder for predators to catch them, and that you an tell the age of a giraffe by the light or dark color of its spots. Last night we went on an evening safari ride and we stalked a leopard, hoping to see it catch a gazelle. Although we did not get to see it in action, the night was exciting enough, a bumpy ride in an open safari car at night, animals on the hunt, no worries right? Well I’m still here and enjoying my time. This place feels surreal to me, like I am in the greatest dream of my life.
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