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Weather the Storm: disaster strikes Zambian safari

Well it's official, that familiar drone from the television, "the wettest winter in the UK", yep you guessed it, "since records began". Now the waters look like they're starting to recede a bit and winter appears to be turning its soggy corner, it got me to thinking about crazy weather I've experienced abroad on my travels. In the South Luangwa National Park, one Zambian safari quickly turned into quite a debacle with the deluge of a rare storm…

Late afternoon is a beautiful time to go for a game drive. Dappled, earthy light cloaks ground and animals alike. Aglow in the dusk, Giraffes strike a pose for our photographs, a herd of elephants file majestically past, their adorable calves tripping along under plodding legs.

As the sun bid its rapid equatorial adieu, the sky blazes fifty shades of red on one side of the river, whilst aggressive fork and flashes of lightning illuminate the ominous grey horizon on the other. “Kumbuku, Kumbuku!”, excited chattering crackles over the radio – it is a tipoff for a leopard sighting. Lurching the gears of our ancient but trusty open-air Defender, our guide, Moses, speeds off at full pelt, masterfully whipping the jeep through the darkness, whilst the other ranger shines a spotlight into the trees, hunting out reflective eyes.

“In 11 years of safari, I’ve never seen a leopard” declares group member Saskia. It turns out she’d never experienced rain on a game drive either…tonight was her lucky night.

Like a beast pouncing on its pray, several things happened in quick succession, rendering us helpless. The guide’s spotlight falls upon the figure of a leopard, slinking out of the darkness, its feline frame only metres from our vehicle. Whirling the light round, hanging awkwardly in the branches of a tree, he picks out a rare glimpse of his mate feeding on an impala kill in, all splayed limbs and blood. Our silent elation was momentary. All of a sudden the heavens opened. Thick, fat, African rain spewed from the sky, soaking everything in moments. Out of nowhere, a gale force wind gathered breath, sucking heat from the day. Sloshing at speed into the blackness through newly-formed puddles, we tried and failed to stay dry under supposedly-waterproof ponchos. Sacrificing my camera (which didn’t survive the storm) for a shot of the beast, I was rewarded with the jackpot – albeit a little blurry – shot of those extraordinary spots. Devices were lobbed into cool boxes for protection and a round of ‘row your boat’ was sung merrily on the bumpy, wet drive back to camp, where, oblivious to our soggy plight, it remained miraculously dry!


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Angharad Paull lives in Bristol, former Editor of Alastair Sawday’s ‘French Special Places to stay’ guides, following a 4-month ‘Wandermoon’ traveling across Africa, she now shares her own adventures, photography and tips on quirky places to eat, stay and play around the globe for independent budget travellers.

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