Why writer SIMON BARNES is dreaming of Chikoko River in Zambia

Waking in the wilderness: Why writer SIMON BARNES is dreaming of Chikoko River in Zambia during lockdown

  • The Daily Mail’s Simon Barnes recalls co-leading a safari tour in Zambia
  • Highlights include getting ‘pleasingly near’ to a small group of giraffes
  • He also heard four elephants cross the Chikoko River at night 

The campfire is now nothing more than a campglow and my glass is offering just a couple of mouthfuls.

The night is full of the sounds of the African bush: whoop of hyena, proop of scops owl, bleep of fruit bat, crump of distant lion.

Amon Zulu and I are the last still up. Amon is a guide at Remote Africa Safaris; I am co-leading a trip with Wildlife Worldwide.

Up close and personal: Giraffes in Africa’s Luangwa Valley, much like those Simon’s group saw

During our afternoon walk we had taken our guests pleasingly near a small group of giraffes and shown them many other marvels.

Nothing beats walking in the bush: you get nearer in a vehicle, but on foot you know you are breathing the same air as lions.

The best place of all to do this is the Luangwa Valley in Zambia.

‘Thanks Amon. You’ve given us all a good day,’ I say.

‘You are most welcome. But I should go to bed now. Those elephants will be crossing the Chikoko very soon.’

He’s right. I have both mouthfuls of whisky at once, say good night and go to my hut.

I’m at the Chikoko bush camp, named after the nearby river, which is dry at this time of year.

We have been keeping an eye on four elephants for the last half-hour. Now they’re heading my way.

I’m in one of the staff huts, with four grass walls and a bed. Who could want anything more?

As I close the door behind me, the elephants are crossing the river. I can hear their slow bedroom-slippered walk, the tearing of vegetation as they snack on the go. They pause on the riverbed to dig a hole and, as it fills with filtered water, they drink.

Soul-deep delight: Simon also recalls hearing four elephants cross the Chikoko River at night

Soon, they are all around my hut: I could lean out of the window — it’s just a square hole — and touch them, should I be so foolish.

There’s an old one with a calf a couple of years old, and two younger females. They are using low, rumbling calls to communicate. There’s a lot of munching going on, too.

When you are out in the bush, you are constantly in the grip of two very powerful emotions: love and fear, at a ratio of about ten to one. At such moments as this, these feelings intensify — but in exactly the same proportions.

I can feel a little vulnerability, being so close to such beasts, but that only increases my soul-deep delight. Close, closer, closest. For half an hour I have it all to myself: Africa, four elephants and the moon, which is almost full and bright enough to read by.

I can see silent moon-silver elephants drifting in and out of moon-shadows. Are they touching the earth at all? Am I?

In the morning, I find a stripped coffee bush and moon-shaped prints in the dust as I step out for breakfast and the dawn walk. 

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