At sunset, we parked at the edge of the Luangwa River, drank cocktails or juice, and enjoyed a snack while we watched the sun change the sky from blue to a fiery orange. The stark black branches and stunning shapes of African trees against the incendiary backdrop were worth every hour on the airplanes it took to get us there. I can close my eyes now and see it exactly as it was. Most of the time, I can’t remember where I put my keys or my glasses, but I will never forget every exact detail of an African sunset they call a “sundowner.”

With the sun beginning to set, the first thing I noticed was the air began to cool and pick up moisture from the nearby river where giraffes took their last drink for the night. Giraffes can only reach the water by propping their legs in front and off to the sides like extended tripods and lowering their necks to get their heads close enough to the water to drink. We parked at the edge of the Luangwa River where the riverbank dropped off steeply. The sun was setting in the west across the river behind the trees. The sky show began as streaks of pink, purple, and blue in the clouds downriver. I studied how differently-shaped the trees are from the trees I know at home. There were no redwoods or mighty oaks; here they were flat-topped wide, graceful trees. As we sipped our gin and tonics, the pinks, blues, and purples turned pastel yellow and then vivid yellow. The sky darkened, and as the sun dropped lower behind the trees, it became a fiery orange-red. Large dead trees were dramatically silhouetted in black against the sunset colors, along with feathery acacias. All the tree details became black as the setting sun quickly dropped further behind them. With time, the colors in the evening sky became a raging fire burning brightly behind the trees in shades of deep, dark orange. The air grew cooler, birds quieted, and hippos were quieter, too. The sun then dropped quickly out of sight, and we were in the dark.

Written by Patricia Cole

An Africa Hope Fund board member for 7 years, Pat is a writer and a conservation activist. After traveling to Zambia, she became dedicated to helping Africa Hope Fund provide education to the next generation of Africans and ensure their future by protecting wildlife. Find Patricia on Facebook and Twitter, or on her websites and

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Carol Van Brugen