OUT: GJ couple’s contest win nets them free African photo safari

Photo Courtesy of Kimberley Last/ A sausage tree is a popular place for animals such as this leopard in the dry season when little food is available.

Photo courtesy of Kimberley Last/ Victoria Falls,  just outside Livingstone, are named for the Scottish explorer and missionary’s British Queen. Twice the height of Niagara Falls, they were spectacular, even in the dry season. Kimberley Last with her husband Al Kreinberg.

Photo courtesy of Kimberley Last/ WHILE CANOEING THE Zambezi River in Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia, we saw an elephant trot to the bank to check if we were friend or foe.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Kimberley Last and her husband, Al Kreinberg, last month explored Zambia, Africa — for free — during an eight-day, all-inclusive custom safari. They won the trip in April through an Outside magazine contest sponsored by Pioneer Africa, which specializes in custom photographic safaris. To win the safari, Last and Kreinberg correctly answered 10 questions about Africa and were selected through a random drawing.

My husband, Al Kreinberg, and I just returned from our eight-day trip to Zambia, Africa. People are driving on the other side of the road again, and fall is evident, not spring. Combined with the eight-hour time difference, my world feels upside down.

I am in mourning for Africa.

When we spotted two of the three remaining white rhino in Zambia on day one, the magic had only begun. Originally named “wide-lipped” rhinoceros by the Dutch, the “wide” was understood as “white” by the English, and the name stuck. White rhinos are vegetarian and placid compared to their notoriously aggressive black rhino brothers.

On the first evening’s game drive in Mosi-Oi-Tunya National Park, we also spotted a small herd of zebra with a 1-day-old foal and a couple of giraffes; impala roamed all around, and bush buck shyly retreated under cover.

A 4-foot monitor lizard crossed the road in front of the jeep as we stopped to observe a large herd of water buffalo. And birds, glorious birds.

I am no birder, that is, not in North America. In Africa, I didn’t go to the bathroom without binoculars.

We’re talking lilac-breasted rollers and carmine bee-eaters, blacksmith plovers and Goliath herons.

Giant eagle owls and red-billed oxpeckers, blue oxbills and African fish eagles (Zambia’s national bird), purple-crested louries (“cover bird” of our Birds of South Africa guidebook) and trumpeter hornbills.

I now have a “life list,” as birders say, with 60-plus African species on it. Words fail, beauty flies.

Zambia lies in the heart of central Africa, 18 to 20 degrees south of the equator, making for very even days and nights. The sun goes up at 5:30 a.m. and sets just before 6 p.m. every day, which made it easy for the guide on night game drives to time our “sundowners.” That’s Zambian for “cocktails.” I heartily recommend a G&T enjoyed on the bank as the red sun sets over the Zambezi River dotted with hippo backs.

Mind the crocodiles.

Back at Sussi & Chuma Lodge after sundowners (Sussi and Chuma were Dr. David Livingstone’s native traveling companions), we were offered a choice of main meal — lamb chops, crocodile or vegetarian pasta. We ordered identically and there was one less crocodile in the Zambezi River.

Tender, slightly flaky and absolutely delicious, the light meat was completely unexpected from a prehistoric-looking reptile that stuffs its prey into the river bank to decompose before eating.

On our second day, we flew into a red dirt airstrip and were met by our new guide, Elisha. Driving into Kulefu camp on the Zambezi River at dusk, we were greeted by George, the camp manager, as well as two of the housekeeping staff, Patrick bearing a tray of fruit juice and Norad with a tray of cold, wet washcloths so we could wipe our hot and dusty faces — daily high temperatures reached the low 90s. For the duration of our stay, we received this ritual greeting every time we returned to camp from an excursion.

We learned many amazing facts from the guides as they took us walking and driving through the bush and canoeing and fishing on the river. In some ways, the experience felt like a semester of African Natural History crammed into one week. The Latin for “giraffe,” for example, is giraffa camelopardalis, because the long-necked, spotted animals were originally thought a cross between a camel and a leopard.

Canoeing the channels of the Zambezi was probably the highlight of the trip (There were so many!).

Paddling past floodplains of water buffalo, baboons with bright-red behinds, prancing warthogs, water buck, elephants … suddenly we realized we had pointed the canoe straight at one (a no-no); it trotted over to the bank, ears flapping, trunk high and trumpeting. I bowed my head low, turned the canoe and paddled away, doing all I could to say, “No competition here, you’re the boss, Big Guy.”

The river has its own “rules of the road.” Hippos are given right-of-way. In case a hippo surfaces under your canoe and you’re upended, stay with the canoe. If the canoe breaks in half, swim for shore, but don’t swim in front of the hippo. When reaching shore, beware of the crocs.

So much to remember.

The next day, we boarded the seven-seater flight to our final destination: Puku Ridge Camp in South Luangwa National Park. South Luangwa River is a tributary of the Zambezi, and the man-powered ferry crossing was an adventure in itself. Camp was set on the sloping edge of a large plain with two waterholes just off the main area. We arrived to the ritual greeting of half the staff, trays of fruit juice and cold, wet washcloths to wipe our dusty faces.

We took our morning walking safaris with our new guide, Keenan. He speaks five languages, is intrigued with Appaloosas and the American West, and has traveled out of Africa. As we walked, we discussed everything from the habits of lion ants to American history, the mating habits of hippos and world politics.

Keenan passed his guide license exams 26 years ago and now teaches and mentors new guides, working on the Board of Examiners. We felt honored to tap into his depth of knowledge of all things African.

On our final evening at Puku Ridge, already mourning this great continent, I asked myself if I will return to Africa. At dinner, a huge bull elephant drank from one of the pools, then came almost into camp to strip the leaves from the branches of a tree. Our guide was very cautious an hour later, lighting the way to our tent, the farthest away.

“Is the elephant still close?” we asked. “Just on the other side of your tent,” we were told.

When we got inside, we left the lights out, and I silently opened the far door to our outdoor shower.

Crouching as low as leopards, we snuck out and peeked over the wall to watch this magnificent animal for another 20 minutes. He finally headed up the slope and out of sight.

I’ll be back.

Last is a financial planner at Kimberley A. Last Financial Services Inc. Kreinberg is an English teacher at R-5 High School. It was Last’s first trip to Africa. Kreinberg previously spent five weeks in Kenya on a Fulbright Scholarship.


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