22 July 2011
We eventually reached the Zambian border at Katima Malilo on Friday and after a two hour run around we finally had all the little receipts for all the taxes (district, road toll and carbon tax) and 3rd party insurance that we would surely require on the road. A terribly rocky road lined with scores and scores of villages followed, each with a signpost with the headmans name on. We stopped to wait for Oom Nick and Tan Lil and soon a few curious faces appeared from nowhere. As expected they demanded “Twee stwee”, but unlike the Namibian locals more or less understood when we said we had none. They slowly came closer and closer and found our attempts at greeting them hilarious. I took a photo of them all together and they were amazed when I turned the camera around to show them…each one pointing to themselves excitedly. That night we camped at Kabula lodge with the friendly Kennister as our host. Tan Lil was delighted to finally see some grass under the huge trees of the camping area. The showers were one of the best I’ve seen and I could see myself staying here for a while.
This last few days showed me that it is not possible to really appreciate a place without getting to know the people. The beautiful scenery we have seen in the past days in Zambia was made so much more special by the friendly faces of these people.
Finally, I would like to say that I’m typing this on the highway between Sesheke and Mongu at the racing speed of around 30km/h with the sun shining down like a giant torch!
27 July 2011
Today is Marius’s birthday. We spent the morning having a delicious breakfast consisting of some of the best pork sausages we have ever had. We stayed over at a campsite just outside of Luiwa plain the last two nights trying to recover from a 22km road between Mongu and Kaledo which took two days and two ferries. We left Mongu in the morning after visiting their well-stocked Shoprite heading on a road which the Zambian government attempted to tar on a few occations. The road runs across a floodplain and after the summer rains washed their efforts away for the kazllionth time, they gave up and left a sandy ridge across the floodplains to drive on. The 22km started out ok with occational dips through puddles of about half a meter deep where the bridges had washed away and then back onto the ridge.
However after about 10km the havoc started. We reached a section with a 200m long stretch of cottonsoil mud. Marius and Oom Nick walked through to check the conditions finally deciding to give it a shot (not that there were any other options). Marius and I went first and the EFI got stuck about 50m in. The cruiser sank about 400mm into wet, sticky clay. Within seconds there were about 9 locals trying to be of assistance (at a small fee offcoarse!). Being in a floodplain obviously eliminated the use of a winch and with the help of the local manpower and Maxtrax (sand/mud ladders), high-lift jack and some stabilisers (and I am sure all my little prayers) we managed to move the cruiser another 10m into a much bigger problem. Now the right rear end of the cruiser was about 600-700mm into the mud resulting in a dangerous roll angle. Here my fear of the cruiser tipping over got to a paranoid level and I jumped out onto semi-dry mud. No matter what we did, we could only move the cruiser one Maxtrax at a time. After two hours, all we accomplished was about 10m of forward movement. Three and a half hours of playing in the mud, one of the rural water supply vehicles (Landcruiser) came from the other side which gave us the option to use the winch as recovery. After our recovery, we helped recover some of the vehicles that came with the Landcruiser. At one stage three vehicles were stuck in the same section of road!
Now it was Oom Nick’s turn! He put chains around his front wheels to get better grip. I thought that we would be spending the night next to that area but with better route planning, taking the locals advice only as a guideline instead of a rule and a hell of a lot of speed he got through without getting stuck at all. The crowds that had gatehered to watch this tabakel by this time, the locals helping and ourselves cheered with delight as he was the first vehicle this season to reach the dry end without getting stuck. It was the best part of our day! We drove for another fifteen minutes before Marius had enough of getting stuck while driving in front, and called it a night on dry patch. The next day we had a mere 3.0km to the pontoon but it nevertheless took us three hours where we got stuck another three times. We had to use two winches to get Oom Nick out of section that looked rock hard covered with grass.
When we finally got to the pontoon we all felt like we had run the Comrades..I swear that everything was playing out in slow motion with that ‘final countdown’ song in the background. Our initial excitement was however met with disappointment when we found that the pontoon drivers first had to go get fuel at the nearest villiage. One would think that they would have gone to some when they saw us coming about 1km and 30min back..? Anyway, we waited patiently even when we helped to sort out their battery problem and finally started across the Zambezi for the second time (the first was between Seshekeand Mongu at Sitoti) toward what looked like the promised land. The pontoon driver told us that we were the first foreign vehicles and only the second vehicles in total since December to cross at this section. On the other side we met some South Africans that had just come from Luiwa plains via an alternative route. Interestingly, we saw the route they took on our maps but we thought that it would be the long one…which by the way we are driving on at the moment. They told us that Luiwa plain was a bit disappointing as there were almost no animals, except birds, and that a large area of the park was burned. In return we informed them of the horror road that was waiting for them and without hestitation and seeing the state of our clothes and vehicles, they opted to rather drive back the way they came.
After another 42km of mostly tarred road, we reached Kalabo where we now had to decide whether Luiwa Plains would be worth the visit. Most of the parks in Zambia are expensive but Luiwa in particular is the most expensive. Furthermore, to get to Luiwa Plains we indeed had to cross a third pontoon. It was around 17h that afternoon, we were tired and all slightly annoyed when we stopped at the Parks office to find out about a campsite..unfortunately there was only one smack bang in the middle of town..not exactly where you want to be in a malaria area! After a marvellous detour through the town of Kalabo to an abandoned lodge that we thought would be a good and cheap option, we eventually ended up crossing the pontoon to go to the campsite just outside of Luiwa plain. As I was told that this campsite was privately owned we did not stop at the harbour to get permits for Luiwa.which we later found out was a big mistake. We found this out on our second day just as we started a chicken potjie. Our host, Nuanga had gone into town and brought with him Mr Wildlife Park security appropriately fitted with an AK-47 rifle. They informed us that even though we weren’t planning to enter Luiwa Plains we WILL register with the wildlife park office and immigration on the other side of the pontoon. We put up a hell of a fight, but we gave up once he offered to take our passports with him and then bring it back “at a later stage”. We don’t know if this was just an exercise in authority or if it was just due to us scaring poor Nuanga as we later found out at a later stage.
We now have to make our way back to Sesheke on the alternative road as we are completely unwilling to drive back on that 22km road. It will take us a bit longer, but we will surely get there without damaging the cruisers??
Until next time..
4 August 2011
Happy birthday Sus! I was excited to get to Livingstone until we were there for about 25 min. One of our main objectives was to change currency at the best rate we could. The bureaux de change that was mentioned in the Zambia Bradt book turned out to be out of business and the new exchange agent didn’t have enough Kwatcha (Zambian currency). We decided that the annoying street dealers may be the only way to go. After the different currencies had exchanged hands and been counted a number of times by both parties we were just about to exchange the money when the dealers didn’t want to give us the exchange rate they promised….apparently they didn’t want U$50 notes, they wanted U$100 because they got a better rate themselves than with $50 notes. We didn’t agree with the new exchange rate and soon got irritated with their indecision and took our U$ and drove off to find another exchange agent open on a Saturday afternoon. Oom Nick had U$100 notes and the dealers therefore agreed to the rate that they initially promised. We drove to another bureaux de change and as soon as Marius took out the money to change he immediately noticed the difference….they had switched the U$ notes with fake notes! Just before Marius realized this the bastard dealers had also had some or the other story when Oom Nick tried to exchange the money at the promised rate and he also decided to send them on their way. Low and behold, they had switched his U$ as well..We were devastated..how could they have fooled us both! All Zambia’s friendly people had suddenly become the enemy! We drove back to try and find the sorry-excuses-for-humans but to no avail..we had lost a LARGE sum of money.
So that night we stayed in Livingstone and licked our wounds. A nice hot shower soothed the pain but we were still slightly pissed off when we made our way to Lake Kariba the next day. There is basically two areas on the Zambian side along Lake Kariba, Sinazongwe which is close to Sinazeze in the South and then Siavonga at the north end of the lake. (I know…try and differentiate between those three!). We drove to Sinazongwe which although right next to the huge Lake Kariba is a sleepy town with no real shops or accommodation. We ended up staying at a campsite which wasn’t finished yet and although right next to the lake had no running water. The lake unfortunately also has Bilarzia and we therefore opted not to use the water from the lake to wash. The site however was breathtaking with water almost all around us and we woke the next morning to the sound of waves crashing onto the shore! It sounded like being right next to the ocean..
The next day we planned on driving the ‘bottom road’, as the locals calls it, to Siavonga the town to the north of the lake. In fact, we thought we would get to Siavonga around lunctime. Once again, we slightly overestimated the conditions of the Zambian roads. A large number of scratches on the body of the cruisers and four days later, we finally got to Siavonga. Van Zyl’s pass may be the worst road in southern Africa, but it was only 11km in total. Try 280km of rocks, mountains and washed away ravines! Lets put it this way, at times the road looked like a walkway and at other times we were driving on roads carved by the flow of lots and lots of water. We believe that driving this road in the rainy season would simply be impossible even with a six-wheel drive Kamaz. I’m sure for Marius this road would make a great boys-weekend in the rainy season (I think it would rather take a week though!). Apart from the actual road, the area was lovely and the people friendly as ever.
After two nights of bushcamping we were hoping for a campsite to have a shower and wash our hair. I was delighted to finally see a campsite located on a peninsula in one of the bays on Lake Kariba. However all we found after another 25min gravel road was a Tonga local called Alamon (we found out later) who couldn’t speak a word of English and a variety of dogs. After exhausting efforts trying to explain to Alamon that we wanted to camp there for the night and him at one stage offering us his mattress, we started packing out the tables and chairs and he finally understood. The place looked abandoned and from his hand signals we could make out that the keys for the pumproom to get water in the ablution facilities were with someone who was away until that Friday. Later that night a friendly oke by the name of Friday pitched up and everything made a little more sense. We didn’t have a shower that night but they made some hot water in a donkey at one of the chalets the next morning and we felt a little bit more human again. Friday even baked us some delicious bread that morning and the treacherous road seemed miles awayA short 40km later that morning we arrived at Siavonga at a beautiful site next to the lake. There were lots of dirty washing and we spent a large part of the day spring cleaning. It was nice to have some grass under our feet and water from a tap. We later found out that the water is full of bilarzia and beside the fact that we all might have bilarzia as I write this, we are clean and happy and making our way to Lusaka to fill up on some stocks.
14 August 2011
We found Lusaka a beautiful, neat and clean place for any African city. The traffic was reasonable for a Friday afternoon (but I guess being use to the traffic in Luanda, any traffic would be great..) and the atmosphere was very calm.. We managed to get some gas for the cylinders and made our way to the one of the main malls in the town. The Shoprite had all the supplies we needed and more, I could have sworn we were somewhere in South Africa.
We slept at a nice campsite half and hour from Lusaka and started on the long journey to South Luangwa National Park the next morning. The 550km stretch to Chipata was too far at 80km/h and we aimed to get to a campsite shown on the GPS called Zula kraal in a little town a hundred or so kilometres from Chipata. Unfortunately the “kraal” turned out to be more of a kraal than we had hoped. The locals also seemed rather unfriendly and we pushed on to Chipata and arrived there at around 19h30 that night.
During our long drive we found that driving on tarmac roads in Zambia at night can be very confusing. Marius tells me that the drivers in Mozambique uses the same complicated system…When approaching a car from the front it is customary to switch on your indicator on the passing side..(possible to indicate where the side of his car is or because of a lack of headlights on the vehicles?). All good and well but you never really know if, or more importantly when, this person is going to turn right in front of you. You are also expected to turn on your indicator on the passing side and on many occasions we were flashed if we did not comply. They also do not believe in turning on their headlights until it is almost impossible to see them approaching except for the silly indicator. An over-complicated system we thought could easily be substituded with just watching where you are going and turning on your bloody headlights.
South Luangwa is considered one of the best Wildlife Parks in the world, up there with others Serengeti and Ngorongora crater. Just above South Luangwa Park lies North Luangwa Park with the smaller Lumbe Nat.Park located in between the two slightly to the east. All three these Parks lies in theLuangwa valley which is enclosed by the Mushinanga escarpment to the west. (I promise all this geographical jargon will be important later)..
South Luangwa (and from what I have read North Luangwa as well) cater less for self-drive 4×4 enthusiasts and more for fly-in visitors from overseas (..with the $$$). The park only offer accommodation in lodges and chalets and we therefore had to camp outside the gates of the park. The perimeter to the east of the park is formed by theLuangwa river around which most of the park and therefore all the wildlife is concentrated. Like all the lodges inside the park, the campsites are located along the riverside on the outside of the park. As there are no fences around the park lots of animals can be seen in the river and some even in the campsite. At one of the campsites we were woken by the sound of something large eating grass..it was the hippo we had seen that afternoon in the river. It was grazing within two metres of two Ducth backpackers’ tent. We were lying there waiting for them to open their tent but never got the pleasure…At Croc valley camp they even asked us to stow away all our fresh fruit and vegatables because the elephants had a tendancy to just take what they want. We obliged happily.
The park was lovely and within the first two hours we had seen a large number of antelopes like lechwe, puku, springbok and zebra, giiraffes and buffalo, large numbers of hippos and crocodiles and then lions! A pack of seven lionesses accompanied by the king himself, a young male. They were all carelessly laying around on the banks of a dry side riverbed whilst a few safari vehicles and ourselves were staring at them from 10m away in amazement. I couldn’t help but think that we must look like idiots to them. However careless they seemed, I was glad to not be in one of the open safari vehicles. Later that day at the campsite we spoke to people who told us that one of the packs had caught a hippo two days earlies. It certainly seemed as if these lions weren’t very hungry.
The following day we drove up along the river toward Luambe National Park. In between the South and North Parks is a road known as the corridor road which leads through a hunting area, up the Muchininga escarpment back to the main road heading north. Although there were many doubts about the state of the road, a ranger at the park gate informed us that the road was in good order as a number of professional hunters were in the area. There was however still the Luangwa river to cross before getting there… The first crossing the GPS led us to were lined with grass across the dry sand of the riverbed followed by a log bridge which disappeared into what seemed fairly deep water before reaching the other side. Checking the depth was a bit complicated after seeing the amount of hippo’s and crocodiles downstream not to mention the hippo that was lying about 20m from the proposed crossing. (The crocs obviously didn’t want to give away their position..). After a few minutes of deliberation, two men came paddling across on their mokoro. They informed us using hand gestures that the river crossing was further upstream. Getting there we found that the river was much wider than at the previous crossing! When we asked the two men how deep this crossing was, the one pointed to his hip and the other to his ankles simultaneously. We assumed it would be somewhere in between but had no way of checking and finally decided to just disconnect the fridge to prevent any short circuits if water entered the canopy, go to 4WD and take our chances. Turned out it was only about a metre deep and we crossed in no time!
Whilst stopping for lunch on the other side of the river we heard a gunshot and a few minutes later a vehicle with two hunters and a guide drove past us in the direction of the river. We knew it was a hunting area but who really expected to see them. As they drove past we saw the head of a hippo in the back of the vehicle. A few minutes later the vehicle returned with a crocodile tail hanging over the back of the Land Rover. Curiosity got the best of us and we followed them to their camp. There we met Mr.Big-Shot-Hunter guy straight out some hunting movie. He had the stereotypical kaki outfit and hat (with the appropriate guinea fowl feather!), the giant gold ring on a rather chubby finger and a self-contented grin on his face. Having a chat with them we learned that he was a German on a 14-day safari who had just shot himself a hippo and a croc which will be stuffed and become part of his collection in Germany (apparently a six month process). We took some photos and laughed to their jokes about the horrible practice and were on our way. We later had a wee chuckle at his disbelief when we told him that we were driving to Kenya and that we sometimes just slept in the bush. He couldn’t believe that anyone would risk their lives sleeping surrounded by all the ‘dangerous’ animals..(this coming from the man with the big gun!).
That night we slept in a riverbed just off the road and were attacked by tsetse flies and midges. It was so bad that we decided to finally try out the mosquitonet that I had made the day before we left. It worked like a charm and within about an hour the flies and midges made way for the mosquitos and spiders. Nevertheless we had a great evening and were ready to climb the escarpment the next day. And what a climb it was! We ascended a total of 1km in only 11km. When they said we were going up, they meant it. The area was beautiful with large mopane trees and giant black rocks lining the steep road..and the view of the Luangwa valley was breathtaking! We could feel it getting colder as we approached the top and luckily the higher we got, the less tsetse flies there were. That night we slept at Mutinondo lodge surrounded by strange large solid-rock formations and a number of pretty waterfalls.
The next two days we followed a tedious road into the Bangwuelu wetlands first camping at lake WakaWaka for the night and then made our way to Shoebill Island. On the road to Shoebill we encountered something that up to this point had been very uncommon to Zambia…aggressive locals. To date we were only met by friendly faces screaming for sweeties and other unknown items. Now kids were demanding to ‘give me money/pens/ect’ and jumping unto the back of the vehicle whilst the adults were telling us in no uncertain terms to bugger off, even throwing stones! Apparently being white in Muwele village wasn’t cool! At one point the road was barricaded with trees and demanded money because someone had passed away. We didn’t want to sound unsympathetic, but what the hell?
We got through though and continued on to Shoebill Island. Just beyond the village, the trees got less dense and eventually faded completely into a huge plain. We could see nothing but water mirages as for as far as the eye could see. There was also a raised causeway running across the plain that is used in the rainy season when the plain is flooded. Looking at the state of that road, I was glad we could drive on the plain.
As we drove further we saw thousands and thousand of black lechwe covering the plain. They were peacefully grazing on the grass relatively undisturbed by our presence. It was unbelievable how many there were. A research student stationed at shoebill island told us that there was around 75 000 or 175 000 in the area (depending if you ask me or Marius). Safe to say their numbers are huge and remain relatively stable as there are no natural predators in the area. They allow hunting to control numbers but more importantly generates an income for the local community.
The shoebill is a large fish-eating bird standing about 1.4m high with a beak resembling a wooden shoe. It is found in very few wetlands across Africa and the Bangweulu wetlands are one of them. TheShoebillIslandcampsite can only be reached by vehicle in the dry season and even then it still involves driving on recently made tracks around the wet areas. Like at Luia plains we were the first vehicles to reach this point this season. At the campsite our faith was restored in the Zambian people as they went out of their way to make us comfortable. They brought us warm water by hand to take a shower and wanted to wait for each of us to finish showering to fill the inventively self-constructed showers. Due to time constraints we opted not to go on a shoebill expedition as they migrate far into the wetlands and it would take a long drive and some bundu bashing through wet snake invested swamp area. Really, I swear it was due to time constraints!
Coming back from the island Oom Nick got stuck in one of the mud pools and Marius had to pull him out. From there on was another tedious drive on the dreadfully bumpy road. For some or other reason, there were no adults to be seen when we made our way back through Muwele village that morning. Marius said they must have made a killing with their barricade/tollgate and had enough alcohol to properly celebrate the funeral.
We seem to making a habit of arriving at the bigger towns on weekends making stocking up on essentials very difficult. Kasama is the last big town with a proper supermarket before we head out of Zambia and as we arrived on a Sunday we had to sleep at a campsite in the vicinity. Chishumba falls located about 35km out of Kasama was the closest campsite and we had the added bonus of seeing some of the beautiful waterfalls Northern Zambia has to offer.
We made our way to up to Lake Tanyanika to a place called Isanga Bay lodge. Driving over a few rather rocky hills on a very bumpy road we finally saw the lake. The lake was almost not distinguishable from the sky because of all the smoke in the air which was the result of the bushfires in the area. Next to the lake we found ourselves smack bang in the middle of a large village. Our mood sank as we were still waving at little kids screaming for ‘sweeties’ at a mere 200m from our destination. Arriving at the gate didn’t help the matter much and the rocky road we came on seemed a waste. However when we got to the camping spot we suddenly found ourselves on a deserted island complete with palm trees and white sandy beaches! It was by far the prettiest campsite I had seen up to this point. We needed to do some washing and get some rest so we stayed there for two days swimming and sunbathing and generally just relaxing.
Our stay in Zambia is now coming to end. After staying in Mpulungu for the last night, we will now make our way to Tanzania.