Uganda…much has happened but I shall divide this into sections, this one is all about Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. And Mzungu well that’s the word for European or white person in these parts.
The border crossing to Uganda from Western Tanzania was the easiest and most straight forward crossing in some time. Granted the original border I was hoping to use no longer exists and I had to add 4 additional hours and hundreds of KM to get there but it was all good. The goal was to make it to Mbarara so that I would make it to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Bush Lodge Campsite by the next day to prepare for the Gorillas.
I found a rather posh hotel in Mbarara, a treat for myself with a hot shower and good food. Sometimes a nice bed and shower are necessary. Had I know about the road ahead I would not have felt as guilty. The ride along Lake Bunyoni to get to Kabale and then to Muko to connect with the tarmac for a wee bit and get across to Bwindi NP conjured images of Chizarira. Luckily it was only for a about an hour. The tarmac was wonderful, but short lived, as I turned off to head to Bush Lodge. Up into the valley with the mist and hilltop farm lands.
Around the campsite I was amazed by the plethora of birds and the Colobus Monkey’s. The view was stunning. The hike up to the room and the restaurant was good training for the Gorilla hike a day later. So let’s start with the birds and the Colobus monkey’s. A little anticipation is good for y’all.
Bwindi means impenetrable so it’s really Impenetrable Impenetrable Forest. There are 808 mountain gorillas left in the world according to the last census from last year (2015). Up from the 700’s about 10 years ago. They all share the border with Uganda, Rwanda and DRC. Uganda has the largest population of mountain gorillas. There are many lowland gorillas that are often mistaken for the mountain gorillas.
The morning of the trek I was excited and filled with some trepidation. Once you arrive at the park you get sorted, no sorting hat, into groups by the guides. Each group has a guide, 2 trackers and an armed guide to scare of crazy elephants. Some walks are 40 minutes others are hours. I was placed in the Kahungye group. First thing we get back into the cars and drive 20 minutes away. Weird, the other groups started right there. Have a funny feeling I’m going to be hiking for hours. And then we start the ascent. It’s hot and humid and the sweat just pours off you. I have yet to be so fully drenched in my own sweat. And yes it was up hill mostly for over 2 hours. We had a great group. 7 of use. The american’s name I can’t remember but he took off quickly on the way back to get to the DRC. The remainder we had the youngin’s at the front, leading the charge. That included Antonia, Dominic, Pascal and Evika. Sorry if I misspelled anyones name. Then the senior citizens in the back sweating to the oldies. That was myself, Dolly and her husband Stephen. A great group. We encouraged ourselves on and we did it. Yay Dolly! After making it to the area where the gorillas were we unloaded and just grabbed our cameras. I switched to a smaller lens as we are so close. Now I need to mention one small factoid. Half way I thought I had dropped my cellphone when I slid a wee bit after stepping on what I thought was solid ground. Nothing I could do, it was gone, hopefully we find it on the way back or maybe I left it in the car. Either way gorillas! Please enjoy I took hundreds of photos, no really, here are some of the favourites.
They puled me in front of this silverback or that one and it was amazing. The trackers and our guide did a phenomenal job we had such an epic siting they were even taking pictures.
The family has 3 silverbacks I think. This was the first one we met.
The hike was hard but so worth it. It is one of the best experiences I have had to date and worth every penny of the very expensive permit. Would do it again all in a minute. Beyond amazing. This group has some 19+ gorillas and we hung out with 10+. Meters away. Unreal.
Pascal and Evika joined me at the lodge and we headed to the same destination. Queen Elizabeth NP is next, sort of…Oh and the cell phone, left the stupid thing in the car charging.
Crossing into Tanzania was not to arduous, after which I stopped at Utengule Coffee House. It is situated, as you may have guessed, on a coffee plantation. Could there be a better place for me? Me thinks not. After weeks of instant coffee this was my bliss! I cannot wait to visit it again on my way back to SA and fill the car with wonderful coffee beans. And that is the best thing I have to say about the route to Katavi NP. We’ll leave the sketchy places out.
Katavi is on the western aspect of Tanzania, often overlooked for the east and The Serengeti, Ngorongoro etc. etc. But nonetheless a great park around Lake Katavi and Lake Chada. Mahale NP is another overlooked park but is strictly fly-in fly-out. Out of my budget for sure but that’s were the golden monkey’s and chimps are. At Katavi I managed to get a banda which is like a little cabin in the park. No real camping sites that I could find so this will do. Not bad, nice to have a bed every once in a while, but no real place to cook.
A quick trip around Lake Katavi, before sunset, was wonderful. Huge herds of Cape Buffalo as far as the eye could see and of course Southern Ground Horn Bills. Couldn’t be in a NP without them. But also a few new birds like the Palm-nut Vulture and an oldie, the Verreux’s Giant Eagle owl. The following day was going to be a rather full day, driving the length of the park to reach Chada Lake and then hopefully to Paradise plains.
I had an early start the following day and was reintroduced to the Tse-tse fly. I thought I fared well the day before until I noted a modest cluster of bites on my muffin top where the seatbelt left me exposed. Dang it! I really really hate these things. I was extra vigilant and do not think I suffered any additional bites the following day. But the carcass load increased in the vehicle.
The drive to Lake Chada was scenic with plentiful Eland and Roan antelope and Impalas.The Hippo pools were teeming with hippos at least 60+ in the small bodies of water.
I had turned to go to Paradise Plains when I spotted this Crocodile in his cave. He backed up out of sight rather quickly for one so large.
Set to continue on to Paradise Plains I spotted that the vultures started to circle. Not the typical circling when they ride thermals but the “I found something yummy” circling. I changed course accordingly and headed back to the main road.
Katavi is split by a main highway. So you can technically enter the park without paying if you stay on that road. Turning past the hippo pools and only a few meters north there was a large hippo carcass with trees full of vultures. I pulled over noting the unpleasant scent of rotting death and started to take photos of the vultures. I assumed the hippo either died by being hit by a vehicle etc or starved to death. I was occupied by the vultures for a good 5 or so minutes. I heard occasional leaf rustling and thought well that’s the vultures leaving their mark.
But the rustling became more distinct. I was parked on one side of this almost two lane dirt road and looked past the heap of dirt on the other side to see the real cause behind the death of the hippo. Lol! You know you love birds when you note them before the pride of lions.
Turns out there were two males, not quite full adults as their mohawks revealed with 2 females. I could see one male doing what lions do best, sleep and the other panting. It was a sweltering day. I sat their with the car off so no AC being inundated with flies off the carcass. They don’t bite but man are they annoying. And the smell, oh the smell, the wind would change from time to time and the mound of maggots seeped over to reveal a new layer of putrefaction. I’ll spare you all that image.
The one brother became enraged after one of the females, one with suckle marks, tried to feed and marched down for a bite himself. Probably for the best he looks rather skinny.
I had just finished remarking to myself that one of the females, Lady one, had suckle marks when this happened.
Yay, cubs! These two little rascals didn’t wait long to get riled up. From trying to eat the hippo to pouncing on everyone and all the trees. Too cute and how amazing?! I spent many hours with this pride and the shenanigans are great. So turns out Lady one is Mom and Lady two is Auntie. Eventually the Safari Vehicles showed up and I bowed out having had my private showing. It was time to go plus I had at least an hour drive back to camp with the sun getting ready to bid the day adieu.
The cost of the hippo supper became evident and the reason for Brother one looking so lazy and sleepy. Hope he recovers from his wound, it looks bad to me. Can’t tell how bad it is as he never moved more than rolling from side to side. At least the meat is close by to help him keep his energy up as he heals.
Here’s one to give you an idea of how close I was able to get. It took a little patience but ultimately they didn’t care that I was there. They chilled, ate, and slept as if I was a fly on the hippo. Once the safari vehicles showed up they became a bit more testy, can’t blame them.
Katavi was amazing. I ventured further north to Kigoma and Jakobsen Beach for a day of swimming in Lake Tanganyika and oh the views, and a quick wave at the Congo. Rested I headed for the Ugandan border the following morning.
Malawi as stated before is primarily for the birds and the beaches of Lake Malawi. But I was pleasantly surprised. But a Prince well that one was something else.
So we start in Lilongwe, city, loud, gritty, enough said. I quickly dashed off to Liwonde National Park. I had completely forgotten about the 500 Elephants project. They are moving 500 Elephants from Liwonde NP and Majete Game Reserve, slightly overpopulated, to Nkhotakhota NP were Elephants had been poached out. Now a national park and protected they are hoping to re-introduce not only the Elephants but Cape Buffalo, Wart Hogs and many more herbivores. I managed to get the tail end of the capture. They darted small family groups to make the transition a bit more acceptable. On my way out I even managed to see them load some of the elephants. Of course no photos but that was do to the presence of a certain prince, who knew. Mvuu Lodge was right on the river and the campsite was great. The birds were brilliant even a few endangered. And as a bonus on my way in I purchased some homemade Baobab Jam. Pretty good, tart and great with meat.
From Liwonde I headed further south to Lengwe National Park. Again full of wonderful birds and ample opportunity to just sit and watch. No driving was necessary the camp was full of life and laundry. Had the camp to myself for a couple days was great. And just in case all the bird watching hadn’t completely relaxed me from 2 months of driving Cape McClear on Lake Malawi would certainly do the job. It was a nice break from the at dawn wake ups to catch the cats before they fall fast asleep.
Cape McClear most people stay at Fat Monkeys but I chose Eagle’s Nest and had an exceptional time. I mean my camp site was right on the beach, can’t complain about that. And no matter the request Martin, Sam at the bar or Isaac would happily help out. Like Kapenta, a local small fish. Often served deep fried in corn meal. A great lunch snack Sam managed to procure and the chef fried fresh with a twist of lemon. Oh this little buggers are addicting and go great with a beer or cider!
I couldn’t avoid swimming in Lake Malawi or go on a catamaran trip to swim with the cichlids. I joined Pauline and Bruce and we enjoyed a great morning on the boat. They swim right unto you and nibble on pieces of bread. At times they get a wee bit overzealous and take a nip at your fingers. Alas I left the water camera on shore, not my brightest moment! But I managed a couple above water shots. They have hundreds of variations and remains protected as part of the National Park around Thumbi Island.
The other amazing thing are the African Fish Eagles. Normally they come when whistled at and grab a fresh fish as a token of appreciation. The wind was not cooperating and as such neither were the birds. But thanks to Martin and his faithful Red Patches, the little dingy boat that could, I was able to get some amazing photos nonetheless. Thanks Martin!
Then there are the small and large crawlers around camp, lizards.
And the sunsets. I left fully refreshed and the reigning Tsoro champion, Isaac keep practicing, lol!
The only bad thing about my time there were the blasted vervet monkey’s. Again I was robbed of a breakfast. Perfectly soft boiled eggs in a kettle. I just turned around to grab the salt and the little %*$& had cracked on open, as it was still hot and had his filthy grubby paws all over my perfectly soft yolk. He took of with the other egg tossing it between his paws as it was still hot. Not a fan! They may look cute and all that but they are on my naughty list.
I began my way up along the coast of Lake Malawi with my next stop at Bua Camp in Nkhotakhota NP. Again didn’t make the connection until I arrived that I was going to were the elephants were being released. Amy arrival the whole of the 500 elephants were settling in at a sanctuary before they were to be released into the NP. The local herd of 28 were in for a rude awakening! A beautiful park that will no doubt thrive with more herbivores and the elephant. The camp has numerous sitting spots along the river. It will be no doubt an amazing site to see all those elephants coming in for a drink. And they do great walks around the park. I joined Natasha for a great morning walk and conversation with our guides. Bushbucks and trumpeter hornbills and of course crocodiles. The trumpeter hornbills were too quick for me to snap a shot but I shall see many more in Tanzania, I hope. From Bua I headed to Chinteche with a quick stop in Senga Bay to check in at Cool Runnings if Vincent/Nikita or Pierre/Trisha had made it that far up. Sadly the only two campers that had been there left prior to my arrival that morning.
Chinteche is in the norther aspect of Lake Malawi and to my surprise after I settled in and enjoying a glimpse of the Olympics Nikita and Vincent appear. Yay! Quick catch up and off for a swim. We also run into Thomas and Barbara whom I had met in Mvuu. Austrian duo of a quartet that went their own ways after a wonderful hike from Nyika to Livingstonia. The added benefit to meeting up with Vincent and Nikita is that Nikita is wealth of travel information. Although my plans had to be altered due to her info it was better to know before hand then once there that many of the roads and borders I had planned on didn’t exist. Especially since I had planned on going to Nyika NP via route that turns out was a hikers trail. Don’t think Springbok would be welcome, I have no doubt he’d make it though.
I went off on my way to Nyika prepared for a road like no other, which it was not. The road was great. Some sections not the best but the climb up 2.5 KM was stunning. Now the weather that was not great. I left Chinteche with a light drizzle. Thrilled Springbok would get a decent cleaning the drizzle quickly turned into a torrential downpour and the roads turned into rivers. I had a stop over in Mzuzu for diesel and meds to prevent and Schistosomiasis after swimming in Lake Malawi, just in case. The rain finally started to let up leaving the dirt trail up to Nyika unmarred. Thankfully, those roads would have been rough and muddy and I’m sure I’d be stuck if it had continued to rain. Nyika NP is a mind boggler. Yes it’s in Malawi, yes Malawi is in Africa but they have Lupins and alpine flowers and conifers and mist over the damns and scottish highlands with gazelles. Needless to say I had a hard time wrapping my brain around what I was seeing. But the rain brought a mist over the rolling hills. Many had been recently burnt as controlled fires to prevent poachers and bee-farmers from burning sections unnecessarily. But the tall grasses that remained with the hills and the mist and the damns. It was all amazing. Oh and bloody cold! Not enough layers. Again I had the camp to myself and the attendant. Hot water at the ready and a fire every evening and morning. Not to mention a wood burning stove. I arranged for a night drive to get the lay of the land. I was losing a day as I had to back track to go further north and spend a night in Livingstonia in order to make the Tanzania border is a timely fashion.
My quick drive before the night drive I managed to find Stanley’s Bustard, Jackals and Zebra’s. Nyika plateau is swimming with life and continues to grow until all the alpine flowers are in bloom at the end of September and all the herbivores in hundreds come back up to the plateau. They started their journey as the large groups of Zebra, Eland, Roan, Bushbucks and Reedbucks. The Zebra are identical to the Cape Mountain but are called something I can’t remember. The night drive yielded, you guessed it, birds. The night jar in particular. Que the photo montage.
My full day I drove all over the plateau and was lucky to catch a Bustard in full display mode with his throat balloon and booming call to woo the ladies. Too bad he didn’t realize the ladies were across the dirt road and about a block away. That evening I enjoyed dinner as a small herd of Zebra with a very young foal come into camp and get within 10 meters of me. Followed by Reedbuck and Bushbuck, all aware I was there sitting next to the fire but felt assured enough to graze peacefully. I fell asleep listening to the Zebra graze and a not-so distant Hyena whoop. I only found tracks of Hyena. As much as I wanted to find them they did not appear. The hyena on the plateau are hunters as there are no lions to steal from. And then there are the leopards. Nyika has a healthy population of leopards but those cats are truly elusive and hide in the bush as there are few worthy trees. Pine forests are plenty from when the British had plans to turn the area in to a paper mill. The country acquired it’s independence before it happened and now is cutting them down. They are a encroacher species and endanger the indigenous species much like the fern that has popped up everywhere after the fires. Apart from the pine forests the British also built damns to fish.
My last morning I was up at first light to make the arduous journey to Livingstonia. I had just finished recalling how at Mana Pools when I had to leave a day early a leopard presented itself. I laughed to myself at such thing happening a second time. But as I made the next turn I quickly saw a disappearing leopard butt and tail. Unbelievable. Again. What are the odds. I drove slowly to where it had crossed and starred longingly to find any sign of it. Binoculars at the ready I sat for a minute. Then without reason I thought well lets back up a little bit just in case. I glanced at the rear view mirror and then the side mirror and their he was. Behind me starring as if to say, bugger she turned around. At that moment he stood there watching me watch him, again I think it was a him. I quickly snapped a few photos as he crossed the dirt road and disappeared again. I mustered the fasted 10 point turn I could in the hope of just catching one more glimpse of this magnificent animal. I stopped where he had hopped over the dirt and looked through the binoculars. At that moment the light shone upon him and his golden pelage was illuminated, stunning as he looked straight at me. What a moment. I blindly fumbled for my camera and he quickly trotted away. Just wow! I sat there for a few moments just taking it all in. How lucky, how unbelievable lucky.
That leopard high kept me in good staid as the road to Livingstonia was the funnest road thus far. A rocky then dirt climb up the hill side with endless hairpin turns. Love these types of roads. You just have to take it slow and wide turns and no worries. It was a fun ride up and the few from the Camp was worth every turn. You could see the falls from the swing. And the food, all locally grown in their own garden, amazing. And to make things better Vincent and Nikita with two new friends showed up again. Fun night ensued and plans laid out for my crossing to Tanzania and their eventual crossing with hopes of meeting as out paths crossed with me heading west to east and them east to west across Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Here’s hoping.
And this picture was a surprise when I was reviewing photos. Is it just me or does this look like one of the angry birds characters?
Hello from Lake Malawi! Let’s catch up on Zambia. And I forgot to mention a rather large milestone from the last post. Somewhere in the middle of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, Springbok (I have since renamed him buckbeak) and I have hit the 10K mark. Though since that time we are up to 15K driven. But I digress.
Well the border crossing from Zimbabwe to Zambia happened. What transpired I will plead the fifth to and…moving on. Lusaka, probably the biggest city I have visited in some time and it’s crazy full of people randomly walking everywhere. In front of cars, behind, besides regardless whether stationary or moving. And then you add the bicycles and the crazy bus/van drivers, a-eish as the locals say. Quick supply run to the local shopping center and off to Pioneer Camp. I should add I cast away my favourite travel jeans somewhere in Zimbabwe as they received that final fatal blow and suffered irreparable damage. I am now a proud owner of a fine pair of Zambian skinny jeans. If nothing else it’ll entertain the masses. Also a new bird book. My bird book is serving me well in Canada! Really smart of me to leave it on the table. Anyways I will happily buy a new one, all birds of subsaharan Africa. Yay!
I adore Pioneer Camp, the owners are great, the food is awesome and the fur babies all 4 are there for extra snuggles and ear scratches. 3 Jack Russel terriers and one Bull Mastiff cross. And as a bonus they have a washing machine. This may seem like no big deal but to me it’s huge. Here is my philosophy, thus far, it may change as we go on. If anyone is to hand wash my clothes, and I know how dirty they are, it’ll be me. I got them that filthy I will therefore cleanse them. But a machine, oh the sky opened forth and the choir sang down as the beam of light hit the washing machine. I unloaded all my laundry even things I had hand washed just so it’s good and clean. Hand washing and rinsing in various sources of water I’ve had to let go of rinsing completely to clean water status. I now whole heartedly accept chia latte colour water as clean-ish. After all, this is Africa, dust and sand is everywhere.
Laundry sorted, belly full of rump steak that I will dream of for days, that good people, that good. And some quick road advice and off to Kafue National Park. I’ve looked forward to this for a while and am spending 3 nights in the south and 3 nights in the north. Wild Dogs, Leopards, the lot, I can’t wait. And enter uncle murphy, of course!
There are two ways into the park, a questionable road through Choma and the Spinal road (long way round). After some discussion the spinal road seemed like the better option. And it’s a single lane road, can’t beat that. One way in one way out…right. Great drive but long, I sped up as time ticked on and the sunset was drawing near to make it to camp in time.
Here’s the thing, apart from the initial gate I never saw a single gate. Which is odd because you need to pay park fees as you are in a national park. Somehow I managed to drive down the one road, the only road, and make it to camp without seeing a single gate. The camp guy was as confused as I was. It was a well developed road and I didn’t pff road or steer from it. Granted the GPS has nothing, I think tracks4africa on GPS is a little outdated in comparison to the app (I think the app gets updated more regularly. It’s a theory). So how I got to camp without seeing a single gate I have no clue. You’d think that should be a reward for not having to pay, finding a free way in, right?! Nope, and oh do these park fees hurt. The next morning I paid the ridiculous, and honestly it is ridiculous, fees. Previously you paid once for a lump sum of days now I’m paying daily. There was a whole extra digit I was not prepared for, A-eish indeed.
Having been robbed of many a dollar bill I set forth back tracking the 30 minute drive to the nearest gate taking close to 2 hours photographing every single thing with a heart beat to ensure I got my pennies worth, lol! A little excessive I admit but I soon settled done. The view from the camp site is amazing. Overlooking the water and the plethora of elephants, hippos and birds. And you know how I love my birds. The wild dogs have been around and I cannot wait to run into them. And then my first introduction to the many things that will sting on this part of the journey. Tsetse flies (pronounced, or so I’ve been told, with a tongue flick like tsk-tsk). I loathe these MF with all my being.
I love driving with the windows down, you hear, smell and feel where you are. Plus you can catch alarm calls and find wicked animals just by listening. But these little shits made that impossible. They love white cars and more they love me. And no amount of deet, burning elephant dung or any other remedy will keep them off you. I almost drove off the road trying to kill the bastards that snuck in the car. I quickly learned to stop before beating them to a pulverized dust with the savage anger of Thor! My outdated paper map of Zambia served as my hammer. Yes I really, really despise them that much and took maybe a little too much pleasure in eradicating their being if they happened upon me in the car.
For those of you lucky enough not to know their sting let me elucidate. Mosquitos as annoying as they are are tiny pricks, literally and figuratively. But Tsetse, they are flying dull 10 G hypodermic needles. You can actually feel them chomp down. They hurt and oh do they itch. I’m still scratching 3 weeks later and the heat does not help. I am also convinced they all took an anatomy class prior to becoming the totally A-holes they are because they know exactly what dermatome to bite. Bastards!
I pity anyone cleaning the car after me because the carcass load will be vast. As you can tell we do not get along. The first day was pleasant apart from the flying menaces. And the following day I ventured into the wooded area. So, the tsetse flies love white cars. As soon as you see one on the hood. Close the windows because within seconds you will have 20-30 minimum. Really. And then wooded areas, aka homeland of the flying menace. Bad, bad, bad idea. Now the animals I saw were almost worth the beating I took. The shits discovered if they hang out by the foot pedals I can’t get them and they are free to savage my ankles to oblivion. A-eish and a whole lot of other profanity laden words.
That night I met Anna and Tyce, a lovely Dutch couple and turns out they are heading to the same camp as I am next. Nice! They also found the elephant sanctuary . I remember vaguely seeing something about it on one of the documentaries but it had completely slipped my mind until they reminded me the day after. Next time.
And sting number two, the bush fires. Not sure if they were deliberately set by poachers or accidentally started but the bushfires came. Unlike at home when a forest fire happens these fires basically burn the shrubs and leave matter on the ground. The trees survive unscathed. But all the animals go running. Elephants, hippos, leopards and wild dogs. So sorry guys no wild dogs or anything with teeth and claws in the south. As the food runs off and the bush is burnt, ambush predators have nothing to ambush or hide behind. And it brings out the flies in droves. Birds it is. The road to Mayukuyuku and into the north of Kafue only enforced the extent of the fires as the north was not much better which is the third sting. We tried a night drive and we were somewhat successful. As a self-drive you can only be out in the park from sunrise to sunset. In order to see the things that go bump in the night a sundowner or night drive is a must.
Although no leopards, lions or wild dogs we did manage to see a civet (too quick for a photo), genet x3 and a porcupine which is rare. Not to bad. Sadly for Anna (despite having been to Namibia and Botswana) no lions making her still lionless. The following morning Tyce found a quill from the porcupine and that my friends is a lucky charm. And it was, but that later. Not much more luck the next day. More of the same herbivores including the waterbuck but the defassa (ringless) sub-species. That night we were also visited by a rather brave and large hyena. It did not scare easily. We parted ways in the morning as I headed for the Lower Zambezi NP and they were off to South Luangwa.
Lower Zambezi, the land of leopards, just look in any sausage or mahogany tree and spot a leopard, if only. And the road to LZNP, well at first I couldn’t understand why the GPS stated the road I was on was not recommended. I mean it started as well grated gravel and moved to newly paved. Perhaps it’s just outdated. And then it switched back to well grated. Not bad but doable. As I plotted forward the other shoe dropped. The roads went from well grated to gravel to chunky rocks that chew up tires to the mountain pass with hairpin turns one after the other with a raging bushfire on one side. The worst lasted only 10 KM but that 10 KM took over an hour to do. Again the road turned to merely a suggestion of a path through implausible obstacles. And come on the hairpins on the ledge of a mountain back to back. Really, really is that necessary the road was bad enough. I managed to stay on the road and not go over but I know understood why it was not recommended. If you are going to try it go in a convoy. Nuff said.
Camp site was wonderful on the Zambezi looking almost directly where I had stayed 2 weeks prior at Mana Pools! I was to stay 2 nights and then make a hail mary run to South Luangwa in one day. On a map it looks plausible. I’m not sure how I envisioned getting to South Luangwa in one day in reality. I mean the road to the T4 (the Great East Road, aka paved and easy going) was hours via treacherous routes to get to. And enter Pierre and Trisha. I had chewed on what to do and which way to go all night. Do I play in the park for a day burning diesel and return the route I took burning even more diesel to get to a possible diesel station and then set the 11+ hours to SLNP or do I go a day early or do I burn diesel back tracking etc etc. I finally decided I will go through the park and head forward to Bridge Camp on the other side. Instead of south west, where I was I would be heading to the north east to Bridge Camp.
I was paying the extortion fee, I mean park fee, to drive through the park and get some road advice from the rangers. They also agreed this was a far better idea then doing it all in one day. And Pierre overheard and stated they too were planning to go the northwest passage. Convoy created. Thank heavens for that. Now Pierre and Trisha are amazing. Or as Pierre puts it NFA NDJ – no fixed address, no discernible job. Having worked quite hard the majority of their lives they are now retired and travel in a rigged out land cruiser. And as luck would have it more or less in the general direction of my whole journey. Hopefully we can keep connecting along the way. I really adore these two. So we spent a couple hours looking for anything with teeth and claws.
It is true LZ is teeming with leopards. We were just not lucky enough to spot any on our way to the north passage through the mountains. The northwest passage, as I like to call it, is unreal. Unlike the previous passage which had 10 KM of badness this dragged on for over 60 KM. Sharp jagged rocks that want nothing more than to tear the tires and the up hills that would not qualify for a road anywhere. So low range, second gear and slow as slow can get we muddled on. But we made it, how I’m not sure. You’d be done with one seemingly impassible uphill and enjoying a brief straight pass only to come upon yet another. Even after traversing the mountain range and in sections where there should not have been more ups, there were more up’s. You have to implicitly trust your vehicle will get you through. Buckbeak (formerly known as Springbok) has that from me in spades.
And finally the T4. Well sort of. Yes it’s paved and yes highway speeds are great but what they leave out of the brochure are all the blasted speed bumps with every village. So you really can’t go to fast or for very long. Thus dragging out the path all that much more. How on earth I thought I could do that trek in one day I have no idea. We drove for well over 10 hours without really stopping and just, and I mean just made it to Bridge camp. Sorry Vincent and Nikita I had no time to stop at Katete, hope Tikondane.org served your volunteering wishes well.
But luck was on our side and we meet James and Sharon. Newly weds, sort of, on a similar journey but on the way down back to SA. The conversation ran well into the night and the company was greatly enjoyed. We all begrudgingly said good night well after midnight. James and Sharon hope you enjoy the rest of your journey. The morning, a late start and well deserved we quickly stopped at the bridge to buy a couple baskets from the local weavers and off to South Luangwa NP. Here we would separate into different camps but hopefully we shall meet again in Malawi.
Have you ever had one of those morning were you wake up in the most fowl of moods with no real reason? Try as you might you cannot shake it. Well that was my first day at South Luangwa. To make it worse I inflicted the second driver induced injury to Buckbeak. Reversing into a fallen down block and making it rather obvious what transpired upon the rear bumper. I may need to invest in a rear view camera. Sheesh. And no anything grand to speak of that morning and I sheepishly returned to camp to lick my wounds. After a little time out I had just crossed the gate and was about to cross the Luangwa River bridge when I spotted two familiar faces. Anna and Tyce with big grins. The had seen over 20+ lions and even witnessed a leopard kill. Wow! That porcupine quill was a lucky charm after all. I was not so lucky. The 2 hours I milled again in the park yielded herbivores and birds. So yes there are tonnes of bird pictures people.
I had been advised that if a night drive should happen anywhere it should be here. My first night drive was a little slow. We had Rose, as she proudly proclaimed, the only female guide in all of Zambia. One lonely hyena and 2 lions. Brothers. Wonderful specimens pacing right by the car. The problem with having a telephoto lens is when they are that close there are no pictures. Instead I get to enjoy the moment. It was unbelievable, a good old head rub right next to me. They were fine specimens.
Whatever funk I had found myself in the night before had lifted by the following morning. Despite the monkeys stealing my breakfast. They are cute from a distance but with their grubby paws in my Jungle Oats not so cute. A fine pelt they would make if I could catch the one responsible. Having been robbed of my breakfast I headed to the park. Saw a bird I was hoping to see, the Grey Crowned Stork and something rather unexpected. A little leucystic baboon. Not albino as the eyes retained colour. Never even thought that was a possibility. I ventured far to the east of the park and happened upon a hyena that was heavily panting after chasing a leopard off it’s waterbuck kill. And the night drive continued the train of plenty. He had stopped for a quick drink and popcorn when a impala darted across the river with something running after it. Rose shouts Wild dogs. Bugger where is the camera? I ran to the safari vehicle grabbed the camera steadied and as zoomed as I could and yes we have a pseudo-blurry but you can tell what it is picture of a wild dog. The same Rose had seen on the morning drive on a kill. And to make the night better a leopard!
Grinning and relishing in the events of the evening I all of a sudden realized my cellphone that had been in my pocket at the previous hyena sighting is now gone. And it’s on vibrate so calling it is useless. I ask quickly make the declaration and we turn round. Luckily the spotter is awesome and within a few minutes it’s found. What an awesome night, leopard, wild dogs and cellphone. I was heading to Malawi the next morning and awoke to a parting gift from the bastard Vervet monkeys of fecal matter on the car. Want to piss me off mess with Buckbeak. The perpetrator was long gone, good thing as I would have skinned him for sure! Ok, maybe not but menacing verbal lashing definitely.
I will prepare you all for Malawi. Malawi does not have a great abundance of hairies and scaries it’s more for the birds. So if you have had it with the birds you may want to skim the next blog, lol!