Saturday was an adventure day! It started out with breakfast at a great café called Zebra Crossing. What a score. Great coffee and atmosphere.
Then, we headed off to the real adventure. Only 10 minutes from the house is the Lusaka National Game Park. It is 6,715 hectares (16, 500 acres) and the smallest game park in Zambia. It is the home to two endangered white rhinos as well as zebras, giraffes, warthogs, and another 1000 different species of animals that are protected or endangered. These animals get to roam free and relaxed as there are no predators in the park.
As we got out of town and away from some of the heavy city traffic, it was time for Kat to finally get some time behind the wheel. I know, I know—I am way to kind to let her drive her own car! We pulled up to the main gate and talked with the game rangers who were carrying AK47s, in this case, to protect the white rhinos from poachers. This I can really appreciate. It cost 30 Kwacha each (about $5.00 USD in total) to enter the park. They asked if we would like a game ranger to serve as a guide in the car. Being the “man” that I am, I figured that as it wasn’t that big of a park that we don’t need a guide. I politely declined and they gave us directions to get to the enclosure that help the white rhinos.
We drove about ten minutes to reach the parking area and office for the rhinos. We met another armed game ranger who told us to park our car and then walked with us to the rhinos. They take their job seriously to protect the rhinos. The rhinos, one female and one male, are brought into their enclosed feeding area on Saturdays and Sundays so people can see them. Monday thru Friday, they are able to roam in the park. As tourists wouldn’t be able to find them in the park. Our game ranger escort was named Mwali and very knowledgeable about the rhinos. He gave us their history (from South Africa), ages (approximately both twelve years old), weight (2.5 tons each) and that they hope the female is pregnant by year’s end. Gestation is 16 months! As we stood there marveling at the sheer size, the rangers called out the rhinos names’ and they both walked over to the view area’s wall and we were able to reach out and touch them! What an amazing experience. To be able see and touch this giant yet calm animal was incredible. Their skin is about 2 inches thick and very tough with tiny little hairs that you can only feel not see. The rangers said not to touch the horn. We spent a good hour at their “home” enclosure area and walked back to the car thanking the ranger for his knowledge and dedication to protecting these animals.
We shared with the ranger that we would like to also try to find the zebras and giraffes and asked for ideas of where to find them. He said that a lot of the park was not driveable due to rainy season but if we just make left turns on the roads, we may see some more animals, as well as head back in the direction of the main gate. That’s easy enough, right? Well, this was when the self-drive game drive became FUN! Kat started driving again and we see impala, eland, wildebeest, and guinea fowl although we did not find the zebras or giraffes.
We did as we were told and took the left turns. The gravel road turned into a dirt path that turned into tall grass with traces of a dry season trail. The further we drove, the thicker it got. Then, we started coming up on the unpassable areas. Bah! It’s fine as we were in a vehicle set up for exactly these conditions so the unpassable was never a problem. At times, we contemplated turning around but the paths were just wide enough for the car. It soon turns into over an hour of being completely LOST in areas of the park with no marked roads/paths and what felt like driving in circles. We finally come across a gate and two little boys, who were no more than five years old, playing and rolling a tire (the common toy of choice here in Lusaka) and so excited to see a car come up. Their eyes were open wide as we rounded the corner. They were obviously not expecting to see a car in that that area of the park. They started waving and saying hi. They were the cutest guys wanting to speak English to us muzungus (name for “white people”). We were excited, too! A gate! Until we realized that it was an unmanned gate that was locked! We were still very very lost. Kat said we should we call Mwali, the game ranger who escorted us to the rhinos, who gave us his phone number in case we got lost. I figured “we got this” and we kept driving.
As we continued driving, the small boys followed behind the car, rolling their tires along the way, and chasing us down the path. They couldn’t be happier and where having the time of their lives. We finally come across a house. I get out, said hello, and asked the lady how to find the front gate. We were told to ‘just keep driving straight”. The boys had caught up to us, still playing and screaming, “hi, hello!” over and over again. We followed the simple directions to “just keep driving straight” and we were still not finding the gate. Well, she forgot to mention the fork in the road. Ugh. We took the one that looked a little more used. I had already checked the closing time of the park (a few hours away still) and that we had enough diesel in the car (over ½ a tank) to make sure we were still had a chance to get out this park, the smallest park in Zambia, before they locked us in for the evening! As we drove, low and behold, we started seeing our OWN tire tracks again. Shit, we have been on these paths before and we were the only tire tracks. We kept going, though mud bogs and tall grasses. Then, we see that we are driving towards the same power lines that we had seen before which ultimately led us to the unmanned locked gate. We were backtracking in the same direction. Crap. We are now probably three hours into being lost and driving in circles. At this point, Kat had begun to call the park “Jurassic Park” as she was sure that we were never going to get out of it. She also had given up driving in circles. We swapped spots and I made a 15-point turn to head back the other way. On the plus side, we got to go through the big mud holes again. 🙂 We were back at the “Y” (she said that) and took the other direction in hopes it being the correct direction. Finally, we saw a sign for the office of the rhinos! One of the only signs in the park aside from random signs with road names but no guidance on direction or how to exit! At this point, I’m sure you are thinking, why didn’t I at least grab a map at the entrance gate when I turned down the idea of taking a guide with us, right? Well, we did find out after the fact that they were out of maps so even if I would have thought of it in advance, there would have been no maps available. Ecstatic that we found help, we pulled into the office area to get directions from the rangers. The directions were like this, “Just go up here and take a left, go there, and take a left, and you will be at the front gate.” Well, hell NO to any more “just turn left” type of directions. The ranger was laughing along with us because he could tell from how dirty the car was that we were very lost in some fun areas. Then he says, “OK, just turn your car around, go to the fork, take a right, and there is the front gate.
We followed those directions and there it was. The exit to Jurassic Park. We had survived.