Planning the Trip " We are going to The Valley.” Those were the words that Charles Reedy (@cpr0312) said to me when he called and confirmed that it was indeed happening. We had made a verbal commitment to Strang Middleton to hold the dates and a deposit would be on the way. Those words meant the dream was coming true. The dream I had held for years of hunting Africa was not only going to be a reality, but I was heading to Zambia and the Luangwa Valley, my top choice. When Charles and I spoke for the first time on the phone, I expressed to him my desire to hunt Africa, and specifically The Valley. I had first become enthralled with the idea of hunting the Luangwa Valley when I read Death in the Long Grass by Peter Capstick, a book and name that I am sure are well known to those who dream of hunting Africa. I had first become acquainted with Peter Capstick years earlier in high school when a VHS copy of "Hunting the Cape Buffalo" was included in a bundle of hunting videos given to me as a Christmas gift. As I read DITLG, I knew that I wanted to travel to Zambia for my first safari. I wanted a chance to hunt wild remote Africa and a chance at a good buffalo. In my research, I found that The Valley had significant buffalo numbers, and I had a chance to take other plains game that was on my list. It had taken about a year of planning and research, and I have to thank Charles for all the effort he put into making this trip a reality. Once the dates were held and the deposit paid, it was time to start seriously training and preparing for the adventure that lay ahead. I spent the night of July 17th at Charles's house and he helped me go through my gear one last time and dump a few items that he, an experienced traveler, thought I could do without. He then showed me his mounts from previous safaris and recounted some stories until it was time to get some sleep for our long day of travel ahead. Travel Day Today held a lot of firsts for me. This was my first international trip and my first time flying with guns. We arrived at the Charlotte Airport early and expected it not to be crowded at 5 am, but it looked like rush hour. I was a bit apprehensive on dealing with the guns, but it could not have gone any smoother than it did. The guy who checked my guns was a shooter himself, so dealing with someone who was pro-gun possibly made the process even smoother. Once the guns were checked it was time to wait on our flight to JFK. The flight to JFK was uneventful and upon arrival, we had plenty of time to make our connection to Johannesburg on South African Airlines. We grabbed something to eat and waited. As the time grew closer to departure, we moved down to the gate and saw that this was going to be a very full flight to “Joburg”. This is a memorable moment as I learned a valuable lesson in the importance of confirmation emails. We approached the ticket booth and received our tickets. After checking the seats, we noticed we were sitting a good distance from each other. Keep in mind that a few days after we booked our tickets on SAA, we selected our seats so that we would be sitting together. This being my first flight to Africa and knowing how long the flight would be, I wanted to sit next to Charles to talk and pick his brain on the upcoming hunt. The lady at the ticket counter said that she had no record of my seat being bought next to his and that the flight was full. Basically, there was nothing she could do, so I left the gate, grabbed a seat, and scanned my email. We had bought our tickets at the same time, and I had chosen the window seat giving Charles the aisle. I saw where I had received an email from SAA, but I had not checked the email assuming it was just a typical confirmation email. One should never assume, since it was actually an email saying they were having trouble processing my request and I should contact them again if a confirmation was not received within 24 hours. Well, I never did, and now I was stuck with a random seat. I was little perturbed, but life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. Regardless, no matter where my seat was on that plane, it was going to Africa and that was the only thing that really mattered. I had read all the stories about the long flight to Joburg. My advice for anyone planning a trip to Africa is that the flight is long , but if you have the right mindset it is nothing that should stop you from the hunting trip of a lifetime. I slept, walked, drank plenty of water, watched the animation of the plane flying over the ocean, and concentrated on the countdown till we landed in South Africa. We landed the airport in Joburg, and I have to admit, I was impressed by how nice the airport was. There was quite a variety of shops and restaurants. When I saw the zebra rug hanging outside of a shop called “Out of Africa”, it started to actually sink in! I am in Africa! Because July 18th marked the 100th Birthday of Nelson Mandela, there were numerous displays commemorating this event on the plane and around the airport. Regardless of one’s opinion of him, these were very interesting to see. We had some time to kill before the next flight to Lusaka, and it was good to stretch our legs and relax, but I was eager arrive in Zambia and start the trip to camp. I did not get to see anything when we flew into Joburg from where my seat in the plane, but as we started our descent into Lusaka, I will admit my heart sank a little because it was a sea of buildings. I knew Lusaka was the capital and it would look like a city, but this wasn’t the first image of Africa I had longed for. We landed in Lusaka and made our way to customs to get our visas. Charles was ahead of me and everything went smoothly. When my turn came to buy my visa, I handed him the $50 bill. I was informed that it would not be accepted, because it was not new enough. Thankfully, everywhere takes debit, so I was able to pay with my card. I collected my bags and my gun case, and we met with the officials to clear the guns. We had a representative there to help with the process of clearing the guns and ammunition. Unfortunately, the cost to bring my ammo into the country was much higher than what I had been quoted. The dollar per round quickly increased to more than $200 to bring in the 80 rounds. Luckily, I had some emergency cash to take care of that problem. We ate lunch and waited for the flight to board for Mfuwe. When we started our descent into Mfuwe, I got my first look at the wild Africa I had dreamed of for so many years. Seeing the rivers, the wide-open landscapes, and the villages, my mind raced thinking of the adventures that lay before us. We touched down at Mfuwe and made our way to the terminal where our guide, Strang, was waiting for us. He helped us get our bags while the local police looked over our gun paperwork. Once everything was clear, we made our way out to Strang's truck and introduced ourselves to one of his trackers named Obvious. We loaded our gear and climbed into the cab for the long ride to camp. Upon leaving the airport, my head was on a swivel and I was taking in all the sights. There were people walking and riding bicycles and women carrying goods on their heads just like the images I had seen of Africa on TV, except now it was playing out in person before me. We soon turned off the blacktop onto a dirt road and into the heart of wilds of Zambia. As we traveled down the road and the sun sank and night crept in all around us, Strang mentioned to us that while it was cold, he needed to have his window down to listen for elephants. I saw my first African animal very shortly into the trip as a small antelope species darted across the road in front of us. It had taken us over thirty hours to get to this point in the trip, and while I was exhausted, I kept watching the road wondering what we might see on the way into camp. As we rounded a curve, Stang slammed on brakes as we hear an odd but familiar sound. Just ahead of us are four grey shapes that we soon see are a couple of cow elephants and their calves. The truck backed up and gave them plenty of room to move. After they pass, Strang puts the truck in gear, speeds ahead, and says, “Welcome to Luangwa!" It was around 10:00 PM when we arrived in camp, and we were road tired, to say the least. It took us 36 hours of travel to finally get to the Luangwa Valley, but we were in camp, unloaded and were shown to our chalets. I purposely did not want to know what camp would be like; I wanted it to be a surprise. When I opened the door to the chalet, it was everything I had hoped for a remote African camp, rustic and comfortable. Once we settled in, it was lights out as we needed to prepare for our first full day in Africa. I’ll work on getting the rest posted and I hope this first part of the report isn’t to long!