My bag was already more than half packed when we set off an for afternoon drive, one that would merge into sundowners and carry on into the night with a spotlight: the old routine, but as this was the last afternoon of this trip to the Luangwa Valley in Zambia, everything we encountered took on an added layer of wonder.
I remember the prospect more vividly than any camera can recall. The buffalo had drunk from the waterhole but they weren’t in any itchin’ hurry to leave, standing around muttering to each other and giving us the stare. The dust of their movement hung in the air, diffusing the light; behind them the sun was hurrying down in that unnerving tropical way.
Here was a vision of plenty, another classic Luangwa vista of bioabundance. I counted 220 buffalos, the back-lighting made their horns shine with a glint of tangerine. The view before us was a series of horizontal striations: I wished van Gogh could have painted it, but my memory has to do the job instead.
Before us the lowest stripe was all dried grasses in various shades of lion. Above that the sandy bank of dried river was a scratchy gold. The next stripe was all buffaloes: a black line, the calves brown, all the eyes black, glances that challenged us to understand the unreadable buffalo mind. The next layer was the livid green of the kigelia trees that line the water-courses and hold their colour even in the heart of the dry season. And above that only sky: a relentless blue, without even the customary cloud the size of a woman’s hand.
All was frozen, if you can use such a word in the heat of an African twilight. I remembered a children’s television programme from my youth, an Australian import called The Magic Boomerang: “When this boomerang flies through the air – all time stands still!”
I couldn’t see the boomerang, but someone must have thrown it. Maybe it was me. The buffaloes looked back at me as if the whole idea of time was a supreme irrelevance.
- I was co-leading the Ultimate Luangwa safari for wildlifeworldwide.com. Next year I will be co-leading https://www.wildlifeworldwide.com/group-tours/sacred-combe-safari and I will also be participating in https://www.wildlifeworldwide.com/group-tours/festival-of-wildlife-zambia