It is 5:30 am and I am off with my rifle toting guide looking for wildlife.
In Malawi, in early October at the end of the dry season. The European birds are starting to arrive from their migration and I will settle for some new birds but am secretly hoping for larger mammals. Maybe an elephant or two. After the past couple of days here at Kasungu National Park on the Zambian border I am confident there will be hippos. They are both around after all. I met the backside of an elephant a couple of days ago and yesterday I had a couple of views of their eyelashes. "They are not very friendly" the staff had warned me just before my encounter. No kidding, as it folded its ears in my direction. Yes, I was too close for foot travel and I developed a big appetite for breakfast after that adrenalin rush. Perhaps the small sign at the entrance to the lodge that says "Beware of Elephants" (with the last two letters on a new line) should be a little less subtle.
Today is a new day and I am facing it walking with my armed companion sporting a flashy smile and few words of English. Meditative but not quiet. The African bush teems with noise in the early dawn at any time of year. We head out past the elephant bathing pool, a massive mudbath for the largest mammals on the planet. I had heard about the pool yesterday from Erin, daughter of the man who came from South Africa a few years prior to save the Malawi elephants from a total wipe out. So far it looks like a success she explained. Elephants prefer mid day bathing apparently as no modern mastadons are taking to the waters at 6 am. We proceed along the dam that forms the lagoon where elephants and hippopotamus can be seen during the day from the resort. I eyeing the rifle flopping up and down on the back of my accomplice as I keep my eye out for some big ones. Soon we will be where they gather and things could get exciting. The environment is pretty parched by late September, the end of the dry season, small fires are always around and smoky air is normal. The entire walk is a continuous siting of birds, most are new to my list, interspersed with a few mammal species, dik diks, hippos in the water, now between us and the resort. Ever watchful. I am assured they will not be able to run out of the water and charge at us. I hope I understood that broken English correctly and I am not getting hippos mixed up with water buffalos. There are a lot of waterbirds that have just migrated down from Europe for the winter, ducks and geese along with shorebirds.
Black storks, trumpeter hornbills, purple-crested lourie, pied kingfishers, fish eagles, sunbirds, knob-billed ducks, African Golden Oriole, and more, so many more I admire fleetingly. A walking safari enables one to become intimate with the local species in their environment. It is not as removed as jostling along in a noisy safari vehicle, hanging on through the rough terrain and watching for flickers of life in the bush. Walking gives you the full experience of sounds and smells as well as the visual. So close you can almost taste it.
For more on African elephants from Malawi and Malawian adventures, see also: