Africa’s national parks differ a lot from country to country and they are run in very different ways, so I never know what to expect next. In South Africa and Namibia, the parks are over-organized operations with gates, curfews and strict rules, though I found them somewhat bendable despite constant ranger patrols. In bureaucratic Botswana, the seemingly dead plains of the Kalahari Desert are empty from any regime, and, even though certain things are frowned upon, you can easily feel one with the animal kingdom and abide by its much logical rules, not the parks’. In Zambia, going by the minimal information in the guidebook and a bad map, I drove deep into Lower Zambezi NP only to discover nobody in their right mind would have attempted such a journey by car. Most people get to the lodge of their picking by plane and then motor boat and not attempt at a three hour journey on endless dirt roads.
Finally, I found a road sign to a lodge, and followed it. I can’t say the managers of the lodge were ecstatic to see me. Apparently, the whole point of the lodge being in a secluded and relatively inaccessible wilderness is to avoid visits by penny-pinching independent travelers like me. People that can afford flying in, paying $460-$900 pp per night to sleep in a “wilderness camp”, and being escorted to and from their rooms by a guard heavily armed with a flashlight are the only ones who get to enjoy the park. As there are no designated camping sites and “bush camping” is not allowed in the park, the only remaining option for the riffraff like backpackers is to drool watching Animal Planet.
I can’t help but think to myself how I’d still prefer much more my own raggedy tent on a high bank in a shade of a baobab tree – my own VIP wilderness camp. I have an experienced guide who can even find a pangolin and a gourmet cook that will turn every pasta meal into a mouthwatering delight.