Sacred Combe Safari III
They arrived in darkness and dined in darkness, the sounds of the bush all around them, but no one had any idea what the damn place actually looked like. They were weary after 24 hours of aeroplanes followed by a two hour drive, and most of that in the dark. How do our guests feel, I always wonder, on that first morning – the first morning of the world — when they wake to see the Luangwa Valley in daylight for the first time?
One by one and two by two they came from their sumptuous accommodation at Tafika. They took tea and coffee staring glassily across the great bend on the river: the vast beaches of the dry season leading down to the narrow stream in the middle. They listened unconvinced to my assurance that in six months time this river would as wide as the Thames at Westminster.
They sat staring at the mad Luangwa lashing its way from side to side as it has done across the millennia, hippo-thronged and crowded with unfamiliar birds fishing earnestly in the water that’s left… wondering what the next nine days would bring.
It was not only Will’s first visit to the Valley, it was his first time in Africa. He turned out to be a quiet-spoken, good-humoured man who loved everything and complained about nothing: a top-quality guest. But his first contribution to the trip was the greatest.
Scanning the far bank of the river with bewildered eyes, he said suddenly: “Wild dogs! Surely those are wild dogs.”
It’s one of those fire alarm remarks: all around him people leapt to their feet clapping binoculars to their eyes, thankful they had the forethought to bring them to breakfast. And Will was right: there really were six dogs in view, cruising along the beach in that all-day canter that wild dogs specialise in, but cheerfully socialising as they went. They are deeply doggy, these dogs: one made a playful pounce at another and the other offered a cheerful shoulder-charge in return. These were dogs in holiday humour.
I have seen dogs in the Valley on only two previous occasions, and they were the same dogs on the same day. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been here. Wild dogs are not animals you see everyday – and yet they were Will’s first beast of Luangwa, an inspired piece of beginner’s luck.
As the dogs disappeared around the river’s bend the conversation was all thrill and buzz. We had peaked pretty early –the first ten minutes of any trip is early to hit the top – but we had peaked high.