The drive from Zikomo Safari Lodge, was the same bone jarring experience as when we arrived seven days earlier, but this time we ignored the Garmin (loaded with Tracks4Africa) and followed our nose’s to the town of Mfuwe. This could end badly, or maybe its a short cut, whats the worst that could happen?
Well, the first thing was the raging bush fires that we had to drive through, windows up and foot down! Then there was the two river crossings up ahead shown on the Sat Nav, we were pretty sure that there weren’t going to be any bridges, it was just a case of the state of the rivers and the entry and exit of the river banks. On we plodded, and luckily both were dry and despite the banks being very steep and rutted, Colonel K proved he was up to the task again. It was indeed a short cut, and a very interesting one taking us through many small villages with their individual cotton plantations. I think the reason that the T4A software wanted to take us the long way round is because most of the year this route would be impassable for any vehicle because of the large rivers (not sure it knew about the bush fires though).
On the way through Mfuwe we decided to stop and get our 5lt petrol can filled up to put in our Honda generator, so Jac went off into the village looking for some bread and I waited at the pump for my unleaded. The attendant looked at our plastic container and told me that he couldn’t fill it up as they arn’t allowed to fill up plastic fuel cans, even purpose made ones. I thought this was crazy, but he said the Police in Zambia are very strict about this and can close a fuel station down if they are caught. “Ok” I said, “do I need to get a metal can then?”, “oh no” was the reply “I’ll get you a Jerry can and then I can pour it into your plastic fuel can”. This is a typical African rule, crazy, stupid and bloody dangerous! The smiling attendant then proceeded to put 5 litres of petrol into a rusty old jerry can, then found a funnel made from an old water bottle (that was split), then next to the pump (and a crazy old man smoking a cigarette), he poured the petrol into my plastic can (I think I lost about 250ml through the split funnel). As it was a Sunday Jac returned without bread.
Wildlife Camp was very different from the quiet atmosphere of Zikomo, different but still a nice place, its a busy campsite with “overland buses/trucks” coming and going, usually staying for two nights. But we really enjoyed out time here, and met some great people too. The campsite is also completely open for wildlife, its not actually in the South Luangwa NP, but there no fences and animals don’t understand lines drawn on maps, so its not unusual to have elephants next to the truck, and lions and leopard do come in late at night. The river in front of where we were camped is packed with hippo’s and there are lots of very large crocodiles in there too.
In the bar there was a huge family of Mongoose, that the lodge feed catfood to, (this is usually a no-no to feed wild animals), this is to keep them around the lodge area, as they help to keep down vermin and snakes, they were very tame and weren’t bothered by us being near them, though they did also chase off “Boo” the owners dog.
But we will alway remember Wildlife Camp, by our one and only game drive there. We booked an afternoon/night drive ($50 plus $25 park fees each), we weren’t expecting much as this is a much busier part of the park, and of course we had just had a fantastic sighting of a Leopard at Zikomo, so in a packed safari adapted Defender, driven by our guide Moses, we set off for the park gates. Before we got to the end of the track we saw a male and female Lion mating (its that time of year here), and a herd of elephants in the same place, wow, can it get any better, we’ve only been out 5 minutes!
Next it was the 10 minute drive to the gate, Jac and I had the front seat to our selves but behind us was seven very excited teenagers (mostly), that didn’t stop chatting and laughing and joking (fine, but on a safari drive?), after registering all the visitors, we set off into the park. After a few nice close up’s of hippos and crocs out of the water, and lots of great birdlife, we stumbled upon a real treat, it was “Ginger” an albino Lion. We had already heard about “Ginger” from when we were at Zikomo, its unusual for an albino lion to live very long but “Ginger” has bucked the tread and has fathered at least 2 sets of cubs (none of his off-spring are albino). It was late in the day and he was sleeping in the long grass when we saw him. Before we drove closer, our guide Moses turned in his seat and told the mixed group behind us (mainly English and American’s) that they must remain quiet and still because “Ginger” will wake up!
Well “Ginger” did wake up and when an adult male lion gets up and walks towards you (less than 2 metres away), you respect it and remain quiet! Don’t you? Not if you are an excitable teenage girl! Moses had to quickly remind them not to be scared, and not to make any noise or quick movements as he walked past them (slowly and looking at those on that side of the vehicle, which included Jac), quite menacingly. In other words SHUT UP!
By now it was pitch black dark, so our young spotter was called into action with his huge flash light, and amazingly within 15 minutes he saw in the distance a Leopard, as with our sighting a few days before at Zikomo she was stalking her prey, this time a herd of Puku, and again she was indeed a thing of beauty.
We continued to watch her for about 15 minutes as she slowly got closer to the Puku, then Moses thought we should leave her so we didn’t disturb her hunting any longer than necessary.
But this game drive wasn’t over just yet, next up we saw a lovely little Genet, although this looks like a cat (and until recently it was deemed a type of cat) it is a separate group of animals.
Next treat was a huge pack of African Wild Dogs (or Painted Dogs as they are also known), these are very rare but we have been lucky to see 3 packs of these endangered animals now, this was a pack numbering 18 in total.
While we were watching them (the youngest members of the pack were playing like domestic puppies), incredibly a lone Spotted Hyena wandered into the pack, we were treated to a display that showed us just how formidable a predator these Dogs are, they reacted very quickly to the threat, and as a pack they saw off this huge Hyena.
But still we weren’t done yet. Just after watching the African Wild Dogs we found yet another mating pair of lions (there’s something in the air I think). Moses told us that a pair mate every 15 minutes for a 3 to 4 day period, to ensure that the lioness is suitably pregnant, and sure enough after seeing them seemingly asleep next to each other, the female wakes the male and insists that he does the business yet again (no beer or football on the telly for this guy afterwards).
It was an amazing game drive, but our very excitable co-passengers (whom I’m sure for most of them it was their 1st ever visit to a national park), didn’t seem to grasp how lucky they were (God help their next guide on a game drive), they’ll expect every game drive to be like this.
At Wildlife Camp we were parked next to Raphael, and his wife Isabella from Brazil, they had been travelling for three and half years (they go back to Brazil in 2 months time), and it was great to share a few tales of both our travels, but they deserve respect for spending that amount of time mostly in a roof tent on a Landrover Defender. But after a couple of days with them it was time to say goodbye as they were heading to the border with Malawi that day, and escorting another vehicle (Herman the German, not his real name I don’t think, but hey it rhymes) that had trouble with cracked alloy wheels, to the capital of Lilongwe.
We also left that day, but we decided to break up the journey with an overnight stop in Chipata, before we hit the border. While in Chipata we planned to stock up at one of 2 supermarkets in town, outside Spar was a nightmare, with people and cars everywhere (we would have had to park the Daf miles away), so we drove on until we got to Shoprite. As we got closer, the carpark in the front looked quite big (it was down a very steep ramp off the tarmac road), so we turned in, bugger big mistake! It was very tight and only two rows of parking, then our guardian angels of the day appeared (a couple of cheeky Zambian kids dressed in nothing more than rags), were ushering us right to the far end of the car park. Do we trust them or try to reverse out? As we got up to them a car pulled out and miraculously we had 3 empty spaces in a row, we took up all 3 plus a bit on the end. For the first time I didn’t tell the kids to bugger off, but told them to guard Colonel K (it didn’t need looking after), and I’d see them when we got back, but not to touch it as the alarm will go off. After an hour or so in Shoprite, our “minders” were keen to help us load our food and drink into the truck, and we paid them for helping us. The two original lads we super pleased with their pay-off, and even helped Jac guide me to turn round in the incredibly tight carpark. By this time another kid had turned up and was expecting payment (that wasn’t going to happen), he was about the same age as his mates, (about 12-13 I guess), so Jac gave him a toy (this was proberly more suitable for a 2-3 year old), and how the other kids laughed, but he wasn’t giving up his little plastic toy! They were great kids, and no trouble at all.
Next day we crossed the border into Malawi, and headed into Lilongwe. The border crossing was fairly swift and reasonably organised, taking just over an hour, and again was quite expensive with the visa’s costing $75 each for a single entry 30 day, we also had to pay road tolls as well.
We spent one night in the capital city of Lilongwe, camped at a back packers place, which was about 2.5km walk into the main “shopping” area (this is not a European city here), and we used the opportunity to stretch our legs to get a new Sim card for the phone, get some money from the ATM’s at the numerous banks (theres a limit of 40,000 Kwatcha, about £40 limit, per withdrawal), have a fantastic ice-cream, oh and get a very severe hair-cut! At this point I should say that Malawi has got a real “African” feel to it, one reason is the poverty (especially in the more rural areas), but the main reason is the size of the population here, there is about 18 million living in a very small area (by African standards), and there are people EVERYWHERE! Roadside pee stops, with any sort of privacy is just about impossible, but it really is a great and very friendly place.
Driving through the towns and villages in Malawi are always chaotic, and you really have to have your wits about you, looking out for people, dogs, goats, cars and of course push bikes.
Cycles here are not just a form of personal transport, they are also used as a way of moving your goods that you intend to sell, and as we left Lilongwe we saw hundreds of guys cycling fully loaded cycles with everything from firewood, 4-5 sacks of charcoal, sugar cane, or up to 4 people on board (we once saw with 3 adults and a child on one cycle)
We decided to head for the small village of Monkey Bay on the southern shores of Lake Malawi for a couple of days, and after turning off the main road, we descended towards the lake shore, we dropped 3,500 feet in about 15km! It was unbelievably steep in places and relentless on Colonel K’s brakes, we even had one local lad on a rusty old Chinese bicycle over take us between two hairpin bends, flat down over the handlebars, I couldn’t stop laughing, when we eventually caught him up on the flat, he gave us the biggest smile, and we shared a thumbs up.
At Monkey Bay we were told by a local guy that we wouldn’t fit down the track to the campsite or indeed fit in any of the camp spots, we decided we would try anyway. After pushing our way through the trees, we arrived at the site and met by the South African owner who made us very welcome. She showed us one camp spot that we could just about fit in, but it was too tight really to be comfortable, our other option was to park on the sandy beach next to the waters edge. It was deep soft sand (this is a fresh water lake, with no tides), and it was down hill slightly to the lake and a tight turn to stop us getting Colonel K wet. Despite sinking in quite deep as we turned we got parked up about 2-3 metres from the water, in a lovely quiet spot. To our amazement our new Brazilian friends were also here!
That evening was spent sharing food and drink with Raphael and Isabella, and also two young lads (cousins,one from Mozambique, and the other from U.S.A), who were on their first overland trip, and had just bought two puppies! Rob and David’s excitement for their trip was infectious and great to see, though how they slept in a roof tent with 2 six to eight week old puppies I’ll never know.
As you can see from the photo’s above there was a damaged boat on the lake shore that the owner was waiting to get dragged out and repaired, but when we arrived there was another boat on the beach that was also damaged, and was leaking water badly, but in Malawi things are done a little differently! Rather that sealing the leaky hull, they rowed it out into deeper water and sank it, they will leave it for a month, and then drag it out and hopefully the water logged hull will now be sealed up tighter. How long that will last before it drys out again? And as a tourist would you fancy boat trips in a ever more increasingly leaky boat? mmmmm
It was time to leave Monkey Bay, and exit the beach. Low range and centre diff lock engaged, we were fine until the 90 degree tight turn up the slope, the tyres were just slipping in the sand and digging deep, so for the first time since we bought them in Swakopmund we got out our very expensive “Maxtrax” sand ladders. Would they be strong enough to withstand our 9 tonne truck? They worked perfectly and we were out in about 10 minutes, they are much lighter and easier to use than metal sand boards or plastic waffle boards, and they were completely undamaged by Colonel K driving over them. Money well spent I think.
Next we went to Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi, its only a short drive, but this was a very different experience as it is a very busy tourist town, with the locals still living in their traditional way. There are fishing boats bombing up and down the lake all day and you can clearly see their lights out on the water at night, but with tourists it attracts street/beach hawkers. They are selling everything from fruit and veg, stickers, key rings, and of course tourists activities on the lake, including, fishing, snorkelling, scuba diving, and boat trips. These after a while can be a bit of a pain, just because of their sheer numbers, but they are always polite and once you say no, they do leave you alone (not the case in Morocco). We did agree with a guy (the biggest, baddest looking of all the hawkers on the beach, who’s name unbelievably was Alice!) to buy two “Chambo” fish off of him the next morning, but only if they are fresh. The trouble is, to prove to us that they were fresh, he brought them straight from the boat and they were still breathing! I quickly dispatched them to stop their suffering and paid Alice for the fish. That night we cooked the fish on the braai, in garlic and herbs, they weren’t great really, being a bit tasteless and it reminded me that freshwater fish isn’t usually great for eating.
On this trip we have seen hundreds of fantastic sunsets, but the one across the lake at Cape Maclear, with the islands in the background, must rank as one of the best, it made a great setting.
We are now in a lovely campsite in Liwonde National Park, which is south of Lake Malawi on the Shire River (nothing to do with Hobbits and Middle earth), and next we plan to drive further south and visit the Zomba Plateau where there’s hiking to be done. Then its north to spend a few more weeks travelling in Malawi up to the Tanzania border, thats our plans, and I bet it changes, it always does!
Thanks for reading