Kasanka National Park, Zambia.
The first stop on our Zambian adventure after Lusaka (which is an adventure all in itself navigating gridlocked traffic) was to be Kasanka National Park. With tent, table, chairs and all camping equipment in tow, Buck and I, at a max speed of 90km (on a downhill, with a backwind) finally pulled up to the main gate around 5pm – thanks must go to Ross O’Donoghue and Laura O’Donoghue for the sickest car ever and for the lend of all their camping equipment, Cuan Meredith for his hand drawn map and Mark Rollinstone James for his helpful directions. Note to future travellers, unlike us, do not rely on Google Maps as there often isn’t any signal once you turn off the Great East Road.
On arrival at Kasanka a friendly National Parks officer radioed through to Wasa main camp to see if there was any availability (of course, we hadn’t made a booking). Luckily for us, there was a free site at Bufumu and after about an hour drive through the park we arrived to an already lit fire, warm showers and a thatched, open sided hut and all to ourselves. Home for the next two nights. After a delicious meal of rice, and stir fried white aubergine, green beans, tomato, ginger and onion (brought from Mkushi market on the way up) we settled in with a steaming hot cup of tea and watched lighting strike in the distance – I thought to myself, now this is really living!
The camps are basic but comfortable. Each campsite has an attendant to fill the buckets perched atop the thatched roof of the ablution block – one with which to shower with and the other to flush the toilet from. The living space comprises a braai stand, fire place and thatched rondavel. Tapson (the attendant in charge of Bufumu) offered to do the washing up as carting water to and from his hut was hard work – we graciously accepted.
Bat day. After a quick breakfast of peanut butter, toast and coffee we packed up the Cruiser with water, snacks, sunscreen and our camera boxes. Passing by the ‘big tree’ (a 60m high wooden banana) we let our intuition lead us onward, bypassing the main park road which we had already driven the evening before, choosing instead to follow the roads less traveled. Big mistake. Perhaps my map reading skills are worse than what I thought they were, or perhaps there are a few more ‘other roads’ than the Kasanka map acknowledges but we got very lost. We drove through woodland forrest, snaking in and out of drained grasslands for 6 hours with a couple of doves, a family of slender mongoose and two mice spotted – it appears we had found our way out of the park and into the nearby communal lands. A bemused gentleman and his wife kindly pointed us back in the direction we had come with us finally popping out above Pontoon. Finding ourselves with just enough time for a quick lunch of noodles and sardines, we made our way back in good time to watch the bats.
On our way to Fibwe, we passed herds of Puku and scores of baboons – so here was where the game hung out. If you are here to see the bats, spend your first evening watching them from the public viewing point at Fibwe – they fly right over you and if you are lucky (which I was) you may even be blessed with a bat dropping on your head. The bat migration is truly amazing! Depending on who you ask, there are anything from 5-10 million of the straw coloured fruit bats nesting in the marshland trees of Kasanka, sleeping the daylight hours away before taking off en masse to feed on the surrounding water berry, mango, wild loquat and red milkwood berries. The bats fly from the Congo Basin to Kasanka every year, roosting in the park throughout November and December before flying back to the Congo again.
It is hard to describe the magnificence of having thousands and thousands of bats above you. The fruit bats are quite large – about a small chicken in size- dark in colour and absolutely silent. I suppose the best way to describe the experience is to describe what happens to the groups of humans watching – a hush descends, people start to whisper; it’s as if in undiscussed agreement, we all fall into reverent silence, watching in awe. It is simply incredible.