Some of my readers may be wondering what the heck is a flatdog? A squished mutt? Others that have been Zambia, however, may know that it is the local nickname for crocodiles. Both the protective dogs and crocodiles in Zambia can be aggressive, and of course, crocodiles are relatively flat, thus the name.
Flatdogs is also the name of the camp where we stayed for three nights while on safari in the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia.
The camp, located just outside the park, includes permanent structures for the kitchen, dining, pool, and bar area, large canvas tents, some chalets, and a treehouse. In all, Flatdogs can accommodate 40 guests.
We had originally booked our safari to Zambia for August of 2020, but as the world knows, COVID changed that. The Delta variant almost interfered again, but we persevered. My post about getting to Africa during COVID provides the details on that!
Anyway, I rarely ever write an entire post about a place I stay. Only Anse Chastenet in St Lucia, the W in Costa Rica, and my housesitting farmstay in Southern France have garnered that feat in the last then years! Flatdogs has now joined the list. I absolutely loved this safari camp.
After extensive travel including three jets and two prop planes, our group of six of finally touched down in Mfuwe in eastern Zambia. We were shocked to find a paved runway and a clean, permanent airport building. In Kenya and Tanzania, you land in the bush and start your game drive on the way to camp. But I digress.
The ground handlers from Flatdogs greeted us at the small airport with a sign and water. We piled in the enclosed safari vehicle and drove thirty minutes to camp. The sun had already set by 6pm since it was still their winter. Consequently, we saw little of the quiet town as we followed the mostly paved roads to our home away from home for the next three days.
At Flatdogs, the owners Jess, AD, and Paulo all donning masks greeted us in the entryway to the main gathering area where we got our hands spritzed with sanitizer. We had a choice to go to our accommodations or to simply sit for dinner.
Meals at Flatdogs
Given our late arrival and the planned early morning game drive, we opted for dinner. We were very pleasantly surprised to find an a la carte menu. The chalkboard menu featured pasta, salads, burgers, avocado toast, and chicken, fish, and beef entrees, as well as daily specials. I couldn’t believe the choices. Usually, safari camps provide a fixed three course meal with the entrée option being vegetarian or not.
After we ordered and waited on our meal, we worked out the game drive details, breakfast options and the like. All food as well as tea, coffee and water were included as well as high-tea and the first drink at the sundowner. Any other drinks would require settling a tab at the end of the stay.
The game drives began at 6am which resulted in a 5am wake up call and a light breakfast at 5:30. The light breakfast included toast, yogurt, cereal, tea and coffee. The staff would memorize what you liked and have it ready for you the next day! They also noticed which table we selected and each day had it set for us. We’d throw them for a loop if we wanted to change something!
Accommodations at Flatdogs
With the details settled, we were escorted to our accommodations. Kim and Jackie had a tent toward the end of camp where elephants liked to spend their afternoons. While they could walk to the main area during the day, they had to be escorted at night. This is commonplace in most safari camps.
Marty, Ruth, Mike and I had the treehouse. The treehouse is located about a ¼ mile from the main camp past the chalets. We were never allowed to leave the treehouse, day or night, without an escort due to a bushy area home to frequent elephant and hippo traffic. As a result, the owners or our guide, Bvwalya, would drive us to our accommodations.
For a wildlife lover like me, the treehouse was one of the coolest places I have ever stayed. Stairs led up to deck between large trees. The stairs, deck, two ground floor bathrooms, and the blind underneath were permanent, but the bamboo walls and thatched roof had to be rebuilt every year.
With the limited bookings, a month before our stay, the owners asked if we’d like to upgrade to a chalet. Thankfully, Ruth replied, “If it is not too much of a burden, we’d really like to stay in the treehouse.”
Consequently, the owners spent two weeks building the treehouse just for us. It was magnificent!!
The center of the deck featured the living, dining, and bar area and was completely open to the trees and small watering hol3. A bedroom bordered each side of the main area. The bedrooms were enclosed with three bamboo walls and a thatched roof and mosquito nets draped the beds.
The fourth wall was missing so that the bedrooms could also look out the small watering hole. This watering hole was a revolving door for wildlife. After each morning game drive, we’d return to the treehouse, order brunch and watch the animals come by. We could never nap or shower for fear of missing something! FOMO at its finest.
The Wildlife at Flatdogs
First the elephants visited. They were a little skittish the first day since they were not used to anyone in the treehouse and kept a safe distance away at the mudhole to the right. The following two days, however, they came closer and closer.
They sucked in water with their massive trunks and sprayed mud all over themselves to cool down. The little ones even took mud baths. It was so much fun to watch.
While we were entertained by the herd of ten, down by the tents, Jackie and Kim were regularly trying to sneak by four elephants that liked the mud hole by their home away from home. When the elephants flared their ears and took an aggressive stance, they had to wait it out. Kind of like moose in Colorado!
Antelope and Giraffes
The antelope came after the elephants. While many passed across the plains, only a single bushbuck or puku would stop in for a sip of water. But not to worry. The giraffes came next. It is very entertaining to watch the giraffes kneel to the ground for water. More interestingly, when they rise up, they spit! It was tough to capture that shot.
Baboons and Mongoose
When the giraffes were finished, a troop of baboons would bound into the area. The adults picked out grasses, seeds and roots from the mudhole and drank water while the babies clung to their mothers back or nursed. The little ones ran around chasing each other and created all kinds of raucous.
Some of the baboons and vervet monkeys then climbed the trunk to our tree house, jumped from the branches to the roof, scampered across the wall, and exited the bedroom on the other side. They are messy and can be mean, so we made sure to keep our belongings hidden and put dirty dishes and left-over food in the cabinet.
Our treehouse fared pretty well, but during one of our game drives, the baboons had a heyday in Jackie’s and Kim’s tent. They smeared poo across the bathroom and took towels out into the bush! Too bad they are so gross, because they are fun to watch. If they aren’t up to some form of shenanigans, they are grooming each other which makes them seem so sweet.
By the late afternoon, just before high tea, the mongoose popped out from their hiding place. We could always count on this wildlife rotation, and in between we had other visitors, generally more elephants. When you’re just relaxing in your living room, it doesn’t ever get tiring to watch, at least as a 3-day visitor!
Game Drives from Flatdogs
While not relaxing at the treehouse or eating non-stop with breakfast, lunch, high tea, and dinner, we were out on game drives with Bwalya. The morning game drive lasted from 6-10ish and the afternoon game drive lasted from 4-8ish. Each had a stop for coffee/tea and happy hour, respectively.
Elephants in South Luangwa National Park
Some drives were a little quiet, but on the day before the full moon with a storm in the works, the animals were out in force, especially the elephants. We counted 100, though I imagine some of them were repeats. They were everywhere, but the highlight was watching three youngsters frolic in the river. They locked tusks, climbed on each other, and sprayed water until their hearts’ content.
As much as they were fun to watch, they also became my nemesis. I really wanted to see a leopard. Unfortunately, we were stopped talking about elephant teeth when a leopard strolled through a scene of five lions on a warthog kill with two hyena and a crocodile waiting to sneak the scraps.
Lions in South Luangwa National Park
Luckily, we still got to see the entire scene minus the leopard right next to one of the dirt roads in the park. Just about every other safari vehicle saw it too. Perhaps a total of six. Under normal circumstances in Kenya, this would be common because the guides radio amongst each other when they find something special.
In Zambia, they don’t. They will only radio among their camp. And given we were six of only twelve guests at Flatdogs over the weekend, we didn’t do any radioing. And the last day we couldn’t have as we were the only visitors in camp. But I digress…back to the lions.
Though the female lions hunt, the male lion eats first. When he is finished the next one gets a bite. In this case, the five lions took their turns before sauntering to a nearby waterhole. Then the hyenas, one of them injured, rushed into snag some leftovers.
Crocodiles and Hippos in South Luangwa National Park
Strangely, the crocodile kept following the lions. This was a very rare occurrence as they usually don’t stray far from the river for long. But at the end of our drive, the crocodile was still there with the lions. The one nearest the croc was slightly perturbed because it couldn’t go to sleep! None of us, including Bwalya, could come up with a good reason for this odd behavior, so I jokingly speculated that it was adopted at birth. Believe it or not, that’s our story and we’re sticking to it!
Sticking with crocodiles for a minute, we’ve never seen so many on safari in Kenya or Tanzania. They were like ants, as were the hippos. Good grief! Usually, you see one group of hippos soaking in their poo filled waterhole.
In Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, they filled the Luangwa River and even came up on land. At one of our coffee breaks, I jokingly said, “let’s count the hippos.”
Bwalya exclaimed, “That’s impossible!”
We loosely figured sixty just at our stop.
Leopards in South Luangwa National Park
To make counting easier, I said, “let’s count leopards.” These shy and elusive cats are hard to find, but by the end of our stay at Flatdogs we spotted four. I can’t say any of the encounters were amazing, but that is the nature of this beast, and why I am so obsessed with seeing them.
The first one we spotted was on a night drive, in fact my first ever night drive as most parks close at dark. She was on a hunt and used the many vehicles around as camouflage. Guides shined a red light on her, so we could see her, but the nearby impala couldn’t. The hunt was short lived, and she didn’t catch her prey, but moreover, while temporarily exciting, I’m not that fond of human interference.
Not to mention, I really wanted to see leopard with a good photo opportunity. The following days, we found three others. All during the daylight. One was a mama leopard with two cubs, but she was bedded down in the grass while her cubs were hidden in the den.
Another was in a tree with its recent kill, but a few folks in our group couldn’t see it, so it ran off after a few loud “where” shouts. Fortunately, it didn’t go far, but far enough that it looked like a dot in my camera. We left it alone to watch the elephants cross the river, but by the time we came back it was dusk and difficult to capture at a full zoom. Those elephants proved to be my nemesis again! At least we got some time with the leopard from afar, but I had to borrow some binoculars.
The last one leapt down the branch and tree trunk as soon as we drove up, so we only got a glimpse of it! In all, four leopard sightings is generally remarkable, but South Luangwa National Park is famous for them. Given there are more leopards in the park than lions, I was hoping for a long and close, daytime encounter. It wasn’t a bust. The lions certainly cooperated, and we still had three more days scheduled in the northern portion of the park at Kakuli camp.
Other Wildlife in South Luangwa National Park
When we weren’t scouting for leopards, we enjoyed seeing the other typical African wildlife including warthogs, monkeys, baboons, zebra, giraffes, bushbucks, kudu, waterbucks, puku, impala, a variety of birds, genets at night, and more lions. So many, that it prompted Bwalya to announce in dismay, “There are lions everywhere!”
In summary, our stay at Flatdogs was amazing. The game drives…great. The food…lovely. The service…impeccable. The treehouse…priceless! Stay tuned for our next three days at Kakuli. ETB