Aug 02 2013

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Trip to South Luangwa

Young Leopard smiling for the Camera.

Happiness is a journey, not a destination. Live for today – there will never be another one quite like it.

Alright, to continue where I left off from my post on my brother’s visit, we also went on a safari in South Luangwa in Zambia. It was a really good trip and was the highlight of his visit. We booked our trip through Land & Lake Safari as they offer discounts to Peace Corps volunteers. We booked the 4 day Luangwa Valley Camping Safari and stayed at Thornicroft Lodge. The package included transport to and from South Luangwa, 3 nights tented camp inclusive all meals and 4 game drives. However, it excluded visa fee ($50 for American citizens), 2 day park fees and drinks. The park offered discounts to Malawian residents which I got to take advantage 🙂

Land and Lake picked us up from the hotel in Lilongwe and began traveling before 9 a.m. There were only 3 of us in the vehicle (me, my bro and a volunteer from Canada Morgan) and within 2 hours, we reached the Mchinji border. My brother and I just paid the fee and crossed but Morgan ran into a slight hiccup. By slight hiccup, I mean the border patrol wanted to detain her for overstaying in Malawi. She was not aware that she had to renew her visa after 3 months. Luckily, our awesome driver Henry talked to the border patrol and took care of the situation and we crossed the border. We drove to Chipata to exchange Kwacha/Dollars to Zambian Kwacha. The exchange rate at that time was $1 to 5,500+ Zambian Kwacha. Both me and my brother had a million kwacha in our pockets!!

After the money transaction, we started off again and drove for another hour or so and had lunch at  a very nice location looking at rocks.. When I say nice location, I meant … hidden location where we could pee and not show the world what we’ve been keeping… Anyway, the drive was really enjoyable and the road condition wasn’t too bad considering we were in a 4×4 with special suspension to make the ride comfortable. We probably reached our destination around 4 pm. We were greeted by the staff and helped us get situated and offered a glass full of orange juice.

The tent was really comfortable with two single beds inside… not the typical camping tent you see and it was pretty roomy too. I would highly recommend the camping package and if you decide that you do not want to stay in the tent, chalets available and you can upgrade from the tent.

Picture of the tent (Photo credit: Land and Lake Safari website

We were advised not to store any food in the tent as we are staying in a park and wild animals roam around at night. Elephants frequently visit the lodge and drinks from the swimming pool. They are also very dangerous animals so the staff at the lodge advise visitors not to walk around at night alone and ask that we should be accompanied by the guards at all times even coming from the restaurant to the tent (probably around 50 feet apart).

I can’t remember all of the details from the trip since it’s been 9 months but I will try my best to describe our experience.

Day 1:

I think this was the most exciting day of all since we wanted to see some animals and see the Lion King in real life! We were joined by Samir (from Brazil), Morgan (volunteer from Canada), Godfrey (Our guide). Samir was traveling around the world and documenting his experience.

We started off early to beat the line at the park entrance and to our surprise, we were the only ones there.. which was good so we don’t chase the animals away. As you can see from the pic below, a baboon came and welcomed us 🙂

A baboon welcomed us at the gate…

Got my tripod setup and ready to shoot!

Right after paying the park fees, we asked the guide to look for the lions. We drove around for 2 hours and saw many animals like warthogs, kudus, zebras, hyenas, elephants.. But none of them were the ones we wanted to see! We also wanted to see a lion kill. We drove for another hour and just went further and further into the park but nothing… Until..UNTIL, everything was so quiet and our guide Godfrey said, “this is unusual, let’s just go this way..” THEN BAM!!!!.

We saw 5 lions in the corner just hanging out…

Waiting for his prey…

The female lions surrounding him started moving but he remained calm and just looked where they were going..

He started moving. The lions moved strategically to corner their prey..

When the lions started moving, we panicked and my heart started pounding. Then the lions started running and our guide went after them and all of a then we heard roaring..”ROAAARRR RAAAWR??” and then “EEEKKKKK, EEEEEkkkkkk…”. We pulled up in this very bushy area and saw these lions eating a huge warthog!

Poor Simba



No one should ever get in between this lion and her food.

Don’t look her in the eyes…


Stay away!

We watched the lions eat the warthog within minutes. The smell was really bad and you can hear t bones crunching and it was a scary moment You never know if they’ll go after you or not.

It was definitely a good first day!

Night 1:

So the morning drive was really epic and we did not expect anything to happen in the afternoon. So we just drove around talked about our morning experience and just enjoyed the scenery. We drove for an hour.. I feel like I’m always saying an hour but it’s probably more than an hour .. sometimes less than an hour… Anyway, I’m rambling.. So we drove for an hour .. went deep in the bush.. haha .. and then as we pulled into the main “road”, we saw a family of warthog (without the dad) running across being followed by a Leopard! We all jumped out of excitement and got myself ready to take some pictures. The sun was down so it was a bit hard to see but I was still managed to get some cool photos. So the Leopard caught one of the baby warthogs and dragged it on a tree. The mommy warthog tried to chase after the Leopard but she was unsuccessful, her baby was taken up on a tree and bled to death.

Leopard carrying a baby warthog on a tree

The leopard was up on a tree for a while and when the warthog stopped moving, she finally brought it down and dragged it into the bush about 100 meters from where we were watching.


She’s watching us…

20 minutes had gone by and she still wasn’t eating her dinner. She just kept watching us and was really jumpy to all movements and sounds. Then finally, our guide told us that we need to stop moving because she looked scared and might attack. Samir was taking a video documentary so he had to switch from video to photo and was moving a lot. I on the other hand had my eye fixed in the viewfinder watching the leopard when all of  a sudden, I see her tense up and looked straight at us….(see below)

Ready to attack! Last photo I would have taken if she had eaten me.

She charged us and got really close to me! I froze!!! i didn’t know what to do. I took that photo above and saw her running toward the car and I froze, I looked up and froze again… Then she stopped 3 feet from the car … paused for a second…and ran away… I didn’t know what to do… I just wanted us to get out of there… out of danger. *invisible text* I think a small drop of pee came out *end of invisible text*

So we drove away and it was probably the best and looked for other animals. We saw a few giraffes and elephants. Then an hour later, we spotted the same leopard that attacked us just hanging out.. Probably full from the baby warthog.

Just hanging out.. Digesting.

in bed.. wearing leopard prints…


Washing down the fats from the warthog.

That was a really crazy first day. What a great experience that was! Definitely AAA++++ and will definitely go again.

Day 3

I’m skipping to day 3 because nothing interesting really happened in day 2 plus day 3 was my brother’s birthday. This was the first birthday in 6 years that he did not celebrate in Las Vegas. So this was definitely a change of scene for both of us since I always celebrated with him. Anyway, Morgan was also celebrating her birthday and it turned out that she and my bro had the same birthday! What a coincidence.

So our guide Godfrey promised that he would try to make something happen. I don’t know how he was going to do it… Maybe some juju.. haha. But anyway, the morning was disappointing.. When I say disappointing, I mean nothing exciting happened.. So the afternoon came and we drove for an hour and didn’t see anything.. Godfrey went far and to a different area. He said he was following the calls of the monkeys. I personally did not hear any monkeys calling but what do I know right? So i just said, okay.. Then we drove to a very clear area without any trees and he pointed… “There’s a monkey looking around… there’s gotta be something there!” My bro and I just looked at each other and said “We don’t see any monkeys”.. then he pointed north… ( don’t know if it was north but you can’t verify my story anyway haha.). So he pointed north, and I looked in my viewfinder.. I saw a monkey but was really small and i’m looking from a 200mm lens. So Godfrey decided that we should all investigate and see what’s over there. Fun fact I learned about monkeys is that they will alert the fellow animals of the nearby predator.

So we continued driving and then all of a sudden I heard my brother said “STOP!… There’s a baby leopard over here..”.

Young leopard resting..

Just looking at us.

After seeing the leopard, we parked our vehicle to watch the sunset. Celebrated their birthday and popped some bottles and watched the sunset. At that point, I was content and ready to go home. I didn’t wanna see anymore animals and felt I’ve seen everything.

I saw all of the animals I wanted to see except for Rhinos and African wild dogs.

Here are some of the pics my bro took:

Elephants crossing

Me taking pics of elephants crossing


Elephant in the room…


I guess i’ll end my post here about the safari and will post another blog on my bro’s visit to the northern region of Malawi.

I have not had a chance to upload the rest of the pictures since internet cost a lot of money here and it’s also really slow. i would have to dedicate a few days just to upload pictures.

But I promise I will upload them when I get a chance 🙂

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  1. Patrick Kadian

    Hey John — Looks like you’re having a great PC experience. I know my PC time in Niger many moons ago shaped a lot of my life to come.

    Now I’m new in Blantyre with my family. I was wondering if you could share either Peace Corps or training instructor contact information? I’m looking for a Chichewa teacher, and I know my instructors had been top notch. Any lead would be appreciated.


    1. jesplana

      Hi Patrick, I apologize for the late reply. Your comment went in the spam section and didn’t see it until today. Please send me an email and i will gladly send you the PC trainer’s contact. Hope you and your family are enjoying your stay in Blantyre. I travel to BT for work once in a while, it would be good to meet a fellow PCV (RPCV in your case) and share experiences.


  2. Herman Fung 馮學文

    Awesome pic mate!

  3. Ray Blakney

    Good Day John!

    Sorry to bother you. My name is Ray Blakney and I am a RPCV from Mexico. I am working on a 3rd goal project with the PC regional offices and the main office in DC to try to create an online archive to keep the language training material made all over the world from getting lost. I have created a sub-section on the website my wife and I run – http://www.livelingua.com – with all the information I have been able to get to date (from over the web and sent to me directly by PC staff and PCV’s). I currently have close to 100 languages with ebooks, audios and even some videos.

    The next step for this project is that I am trying to get the world out about this resource so that it can not only be used by PCV’s or those accepted into the Peace Corps, but also so that when people run across material that is not on the site they can send it to me and I can get it up for everybody to use. I was hoping that you could help getting the word out by putting a link on this on your site at:


    so that people know it is there. There should be something there for almost everybody. It is all 100% free to use and share. Here is the specific page of the Peace Corps Archive:


    Thanks for any help you can provide in making this 3rd goal project a success. And if anybody in your group has some old material they can scan or already have in digital form, and want to add to the archive, please don’t hesitate to pass them my email. Thanks and have a great day.

    Ray Blakney

    1. jesplana

      Hi Ray, I’d be happy to do that. I’ll link your site to mine.

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