Zambia, Lusaka to South Luangwa

When I last wrote on lorrywaydown, we were in Lusaka waiting to get a new UV Joint for the rear prop shaft, and obviously with it being a military truck it meant we could be in for a long wait. Well believe it or not, within 24 hours the UV Joint was delivered to the garage, and next day we were were back with a full functioning 4 wheel drive Daf, our luck seems to be holding out.

You may remember that when we were in Morocco we had a leak on the diesel fuel line, that was fixed (well African fixed) which of course meant that it had been slowly leaking ever since! So the owner of the workshop fitted us with a new PVC fuel line from the tank right through to the diesel/water separator. Hey presto….no more drips of fuel when we are parked up. They also did a few minor jobs too, including fitting a new fuel filter, and replacing a couple of rivets and bolts etc, the cost of all this work was just over £200, they are a great bunch of guys here, and we have just recommended the place to a German traveller that we have met, that badly needs new wheels for his Landcruiser (Africa is not kind on alloy wheels).

So after one more nights camping in Lusaka, in the very strange Eureka Campsite, where you share the camp ground with Zebra, Giraffe, Subaru Rally Cars (with full back-up), dogs, and a few other campers, we left the capital city and headed south east towards South Luangwa National Park.

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But first you have to drive through Lusaka city centre (there is no ring road here), wow it was busy, especially with most of the traffic lights not working (due to power switch offs between 6am and 2.30pm?) and any roundabouts were controlled by traffic police that didn’t have a clue and just made matters worse. At one set of lights right in the heart of the city, we were in the middle lane (going straight on) of a three lane road, and at the front of the queue, and although these particular lights were working, three police officers were over-riding the lights and controlling the traffic (making the traffic worse of course). One quite angry policeman walked up to my window and told me that we were in the wrong lane, and only the left hand lane was for going straight on. This was despite the fact that there was no signs to indicate this and virtually no traffic was turning right (most was going straight on, including the cars that were in front of us before he stopped us). We were told we HAD to turn right and stop (where I guess we were to have been given a fine), so eventually the traffic was allowed to go, so we went straight on!! Eventually we were out of the traffic, and on the Great East Road, and into the beautiful Zambian countryside.

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We stopped overnight at a really crappy campground that was behind some chalets at a quite nice lodge, about half way towards the town of Chipata. After a leisurely breakfast, we packed up and was just driving out of the campsite when Colonel K just died……It was obviously fuel related, and my first thought was our new fuel line, but after a quick look all seemed ok, so we quickly tilted the cab up to get access to the engine. It soon became apparent that the fuel wasn’t getting to the lift pump (there was no pressure at the lever), but we were blocking the entrance from the lodge into the campsite (though as usual we were the only campers anyway). While I was climbing all over our Cummins engine, the lodge’s mini-bus drove past, I stopped the guy and asked him if there was a mechanic in the village that might help us, with that he sent a young lad off down the road on foot to find the “bush mechanic”. Not knowing whether of not anyone would turn up, I carried on looking and narrowing down the cause of the problem ,it was soon apparent that if we were to move the truck we needed help. Thirty minutes later, our “bush mechanic” turned up with a young apprentice, within 5 minutes he was convinced that the water separator was letting in air, and promptly removed it (using some of my tools) and sealed it up (using my silicone sealant). Still no pressure at the pump….

Next he sent his “boy” back to get his “special tool”, this turned out to be a small submersible pump that was connected to our fuel line and pressurised it up to the lift pump. The fuel line from the separator to the pump had a tiny hole in it next to the fitting (this was the only fuel line that was not replaced in Lusaka) and it was here that it was sucking air into the system. He needed to re-use the fittings from either end of the existing pipe, but didn’t have any 11mm PVC pipe, only 10mm…..this was obviously going to be an issue………..but not for a “bush mechanic”!

By this time we had gathered quite an audience, as well as Osward (the “bush mechanic”) and his boy, there were two other “helpers” from the village, plus loads of staff from the lodge were sitting on the grass and watching the proceedings. Oh and there was this strange guy on a push bike that just kept grinning and talking to the rest of the guys in the local language, with a big hat. 

“Do you have any Superglue?” Osward asked, “no” we replied (we had just used our last tube to repair our mascot Colonel K in the cab), so he sent one guy off to the village to buy 3 tubes of the stuff. Next he asked if we have any salt, so Jac went and got our salt grinder, this was no good at it was too coarse, for some strange reason he wanted fine table salt, so he sent another guy off to get a large handful of salt from the lodge. Once his “ingredients” where all in place he wrapped the ends of the too smaller pipe (by 1mm) with PTFE tape, pushed that into the fitting on each end, the dribbled Superglue around the joint and then rolled it in salt, then repeated this a few times until a strong bond was formed between the brass fitting and the PVC pipe, the salt acts as a reinforcing to the superglue. Apparently if no salt is available they use clean sand and superglue when “in the bush”.

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After lots of pumping on the lift pump, and cranking over of the engine, Colonel K fired up back into life. Next was the small matter of how much……….After lots of talking, Osward sent his boy over to us, clearly they were uncomfortable talking about money, (or were looking to get the maximum from us), and when I asked “how much?”, he asked “how much we could afford to pay?” Bearing in mind that Osward probably had half a litre of diesel in his mouth several times, had got a soaking in diesel when laying underneath the fuel tank and disconnecting the fuel line (soaking his leather jacket in the process), and then getting his eye full of diesel on one occasion (in front of the very concerned “Nurse Jac”), and had now been here for three hours, we decided that 1,000 Kwa (£71.00) was about right. We ended up agreeing on 1,100 Kwa (about £78.00), and I think all parties were happy with that, all that remained was a group shot of “the team” (check out the strange guy in the hat in the background).

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We were on our way again and after a few hours, arrived at the town of Chipata, and an overnight stop at “Mama Rula’s”. We were again the only campers, and judging by the massively overwatered camping area (turning it into not much more than a mud bath), they weren’t expecting any other campers! After a quick trip to the bar (I had just had a whatsapp message from our friend James to tell me it was FA Cup Final day), the barman found out that they could get the football on the TV if I wanted to watch it……RESULT! So after a quick (not so great) shower, with all manner of bugs and wildlife, I left Jac to cook the dinner on the outside fire, while I returned to the bar. There was only me and the barman who quickly turned the channels over from a Nigerian Bollywood film to Man Utd and Crystal Palace appearing from the tunnel at Wembley Stadium, and the huge German Shepard Dog that was the security for Mama Rula’s. Thirty minutes after kick-off, the barman asked me “how many bottles of “Mosi” do you want for the evening?” Even he was going home…….. So after Jac brought my bowl of steak stew to the bar to eat, and my “Mosi” beers were queued up, me and the fearsome looking guard dog settled in for the cup final, a game I won’t forget I guess.

While in Lusaka we met an English guy (sorry can’t remember his name), and his Nigerian wife Anna, they gave us a tip for a campsite in the South Luangwa area that wasn’t on either Tracks4Africa or Ioverlander (the two main resources we use for finding campsites here in Southern Africa), that was a much quieter option from the main campgrounds around Mfuwe town.

Zikomo Safari Lodge is located 26km from the tarmac road from Chipata to Mfuwe, and is closed for six months of the year as access is impossible due to the low lying area that holds the water longer than the camps further south. We rang the lodge first to check they were open for camping, and to check that our truck would fit down the track. All was good, so we set off down the very tiny track that takes you through lots of small villages, then after about 15km, the villages stopped. It is a tough track, and the 26km took us about an hour an a half, with the last section being very bumpy ‘black cotton soil’ than had been “poached” by all manner of animal hooves including Elephants and Hippos, making it walking pace to prevent damage to your vehicle. 

It was worth it though, it really is a lovely place nestled just outside the Nsefu Sector of the National Park, which means very few other visitors, in fact when we arrived at Zikomo we were told by the American owners, that we were in fact only their 3rd campers this year (they had only just opened for the season), so wonder the track is still bad.

The following photos were all taken from the campsite, the herds of Puku (the small rusty coloured Antelope) were right below the truck, and looked beautiful in the low evening light.

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Zikomo Safari Lodge is a bit more expensive than most campsites (at $40 for the two of us per night), but the peace that it offered and the excellent service offered made it worthwhile for us, and despite the fact that there are a large number of Baboons and Vervet monkeys around the campsite they are not a problem (this was a first for us), as they haven’t realised yet that the campers are a possible food source. Baboons especially will steal anything and can be quite aggressive if they are determined to take something, but here at Zikomo you could sit there for hours watching them and see how they socially interact with each other in the group. There were troops of Baboons at Zikomo numbering in excess of 100, and trust me thats a lot of Baboons!

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The Lodge have agreed with the National Park that they can have a direct access into the Nsefu Sector, which means that they don’t have to use the gate entrance, so if you use their game drive services you are in the NP in a couple of minutes. We decided to take advantage of this and decided to go on a couple of their game drives with a guide. The first one we did was an afternoon/evening game drive, which took us to the Chichele Hot Springs, this place was the subject a few years ago for a BBC documentary, and was nick-named “The Killing Fields”, due to the massively high concentration of animals on the open plains. For 365 days it is the only reliable water source for miles around. This obviously brings large numbers of predators.

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The spring water is indeed very hot as it emerges from the ground, but only a few metres away there were Herons, Storks, and Ibis’s feeding on fish in the waters.

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As it was the end of the wet season, and the animals still had choices of water availability there wasn’t the large numbers of Zebra, Puku, Impala etc that would bring the large cats, but what we really wanted to see was Leopard, and South Luangwa is known for its population of these stunning cats, so how hard can it be? Well despite spending a lot of time in African National Parks over the years, we have only ever seen Leopard as a flashing glimpse at best, and only a few times, not even long enough to get a decent photo. Well my birthday was near, and I was convinced that we would find one of these reclusive creatures that only ever really hunt at night…….. So darkness has fallen, Mosumo our guide was driving and our “spotter” was armed with a huge high power torch, we were optimistic!

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Well we did find a cat, and it was one that we had never seen before, but not a Leopard, it was two beautiful Serval, that had just caught a Guinea Fowl in the grass.

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On the way back to the lodge, we were constantly being bombarded by bats and birds such as Coursers, as we drove through them in our completely open safari vehicle (no doors, roof or windscreen on this Landcruiser), when our guide suddenly stopped the car, as he had been hit in the side of the head by a bird, that lay stunned in his lap!

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So we had a great time, but alas no Leopard!, we decided to book an early morning game drive for two days later, and see if that works out any better on our quest for our spotted friends.  Once again no Leopard, but we did see a few more “first’s” for us including the Thornycroft Giraffe, which is only found in the Luangwa Valley.

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And an amazing array of birds like the Indigo Bird, and the African Harrier Hawk.

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We also watched some duelling male Impala’s that were really going at each other.

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Back at the camp we chilled and watched the wildlife around us and thought about wether we should try again here .

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We decided that as it was my birthday the next day we would treat ourselves to another game drive, and then have dinner at the lodge (we cook for ourselves almost every day), and surely as it was such a special occasion we were bound to see a Leopard eh?

After we had consumed our “sundowners” (bottles of cider in our case) overlooking the river, we set off with our Guide ‘James’ (a new guide for us), the spotter (with the torch), and bizarrely a ranger armed with a loaded rifle (sitting next to me in the back). Well James really came up trumps, the guys spotted a Leopard slowly stalking a small herd of Impala in the long grass.

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We sat and watched this beautiful animal for about 15 minutes, and he seemed completely oblivious to our being there, it was a real treat and a perfect birthday present.

Back at the lodge, we were greeted with everyone asking if we saw Leopard, they all knew how desperate we were to see them, then it was to the dining table where there was a buffet barbecue laid out, for us and the rest of the guests (consisting of a grand total of a family of 4 Americans, and a Journalist). Next was a very embarrassing “Happy Birthday” rendition where here the last line to the song is “how old are you now?”, over and over and over again. The kitchen staff had made a fantastic cake and iced it with “We Love U All” at the bottom, and obviously the cake was in the shape of a heart. Weird ? 

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We stayed for another couple of days (7 nights in total), and took the opportunity to carry out a few chores and do a bit of maintenance on the Daf. On our last day one of the guides “Masumo” came up to us and asked if we would like to see African Wild Dogs, as there were some not too far from the lodge. We explained that we had already blown our budget doing the game drives (we’d had 3 already) and couldn’t afford anymore. That wasn’t what he meant, he wanted us to jump in the Landcruiser NOW and he’d drive us there to see them.

We were lucky to see 4 “Painted Dogs”, as they are also known, when we were in Chobe NP in Botswana, these are quite rare and are on the endangered list, but here right in front of us were a pack of sixteen of these very effective predators.

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After 7 nights at Zikomo, we left with a heavy heart and a heavy bill! It was $850, which included 3 game drives, plus park fees, one meal for two, and a few beers.

We have decided to go to Wildlife Camp near Mfuwe for a few days, which we know will be busier and noiser, but will also be cheaper! We might even be tempted into another night game drive to spot another Leopard……. its tempting.

Thanks for reading

V

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

  

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

   

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

  

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