Like marriage, the Luangwa Valley isn’t all about bed, but that doesn’t mean bed doesn’t matter.
First night out in Chokoko, a bush-camp set in a bend of the sand river of the same name. A whisky at the camp fire and early to bed, but not alone. I took with me the African night.
It seems such a waste to go to sleep. Shame to waste the murmurs of the night with slumber: better to savour the restlessness of the crickets, the bleeping call of the fruit bats, the calls of the owls, scops and pearl-spotted. And every so often, the whoop of hyena, to add a thrill of danger.
All the same, I was dozing off – or had I already done so, and was awoken? – when a great double-syllable roar broke the night open. I was alarmed, because this was an alarm call, and like the baboons who made it and the baboons who heard it, I knew what it meant.
It was followed by a series of short, sharp whistles from the puku, the foxy-red antelopes for whom darkness is ten hours of legitimate fear. They too could hear it, or smell it or perhaps even see it. Or were they picking up on the baboon’s call? The baboons know they have an enemy that can climb almost as well as they can and which specialises in stealth.
I knew without needing to see that there was a leopard out there, close at hand, and that its hunt had been foiled. And I was pretty sure what the leopard would do: lie up in a gully – probably on the sandy bed of the Chokoko – and wait for the tumult and the shouting to die down. Wait for the antelope and the baboon to grow complacent and then try again…
The greyness brought me awake again. Not daylight, nothing like daylight, but the mere promise of a day to come roused me. Your senses are more in tune out here, and besides, there’s not much in the way of curtains or for that matter, windows.
And with the greyness came the roaring at the dawn: a sudden solo from a not-distant lion, rising, rising and then falling away. How close? Too close. Not close enough.
By then the day-shift was clocking on, the ground hornbills’ didgeridoo chorus in full swing, the first phrases from Heuglin’s robin. Another day of savage beauty lay before me: lay before all of us who survived the night.
Now the doves were calling. Tea, the camp-fire, another Luangwa day…
· I was co-leading the Sacred Combe Safari with Chris Breen from www.wildlifeworldwide.com