In July 2012, I visited Zambia on an organised trip using a company called 'Exodus'. The trip was for 10 days and would involve wild camping in the bush as well as canoeing down the Zambezi river. I was super excited as this was the first time I was going to visit Africa - a place that draws me in and never fails to fascinate me. I cannot count the number of wildlife documentaries I have watched on Africa, always dreaming that one day I would see the beautiful animals for myself in their natural habitat.
After a long plane journey, changing flights at Amsterdam and Kenya, we finally arrived. I disembarked from the plane and breathed in the African air for the first time. Fresh, warm and with a hint of sand, I could feel the essence of the country already. Finally - I was in Africa!
Our first campsite was near the border with Zimbabwe, near the Lower Zambezi National Park. That was a drive that would take a few hours and we took it by minibus. I sat gazing out of the window, fascinating by all the sights I saw. Already I was hit with a completely new culture. I saw cattle roaming by the side of the road, small markets, and houses that look so different to anything I'd seen before. The houses got ever smaller, the further we drove, exiting the city.
Although beautiful and exciting, there were also some shocking elements to the drive. When we were stuck in traffic at a traffic light in Lusaka, the capital city, a little child put his hand through the window of the bus and begged me for money. I was completely taken aback and unsure what to do. The bus drove on shortly after but I was slightly shaken and wound up my window.
It started to turn into a frequent sight with young children standing by traffic lights and approaching vehicles when they were stationary. I'm sure I wasn't the only one on the bus who was asked for money.
Once we were out of the city centre, the journey was more relaxed.
We arrived at the campsite towards the end of the day. Completely exhausted, I indulged in my dinner and prepared for my first night of camping. I was sharing a tent with my friend, Emily. It was a cosy little tent, just big enough for the two of us. We set up our sleeping bags and hung our mosquito nets over our new little beds.
Before we went to bed, we were warned that at night hippos sometimes liked to roam through the campsite. That sounded crazy - I could hardly imagine such large animals stomping through camp, nibbling on the grass. I felt apprehension as I always need the toilet in the night - weak bladder I guess!
When I did need the toilet in the night, I listened carefully before leaving the tent. Fortunately I didn't run into a hippo in the night... well, that night, anyway.