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!
Enjoy the photos.