Whilst camped in Pioneer Camp, just to the East of the Zambian capital of Lusaka, we were sharing a beer or two with a German couple that we had met previously in South Luangwa, when we heard a truck pulling into the camp it was dark and we couldn’t see who or what it was, but assumed as usual it was a “tour bus” or as we like to call them “magic bus”, or “happy bus”. Off we went to bed only to find out, with great surprise in the morning, that the truck parked no more than 20metres away was not only a private truck, but it was a British registered Leyland Daf T244 (a clone of our very own Colonel K).
It wasn’t long before the owners Clare and Ed appeared and came over for a chat, we compared notes about our journeys and the trials and tribulations of long term travel in a 10 tonne truck in Africa. It was then that we noticed further movement in the back of their Daf, they are travelling with two teenage boys (Jack and Harry)!!! Now thats hardcore in a small box, especially as all four travel up front in the cab.
Whilst we have seen many T244’s here in southern Africa, this was the first one that we had seen as a converted camper like ours, and once again it seems that the trucks are very strong and seem ideal for travel in the harsh environment of Africa. The main problem that Ed has experienced was a broken gearbox, which they had rebuilt and then it failed again shortly afterwards, obviously not rebuilt correctly. But generally most issues have been small and easily sorted en-route due once again to the mechanical simplicity of the Daf. It was great to catch up with some fellow Brits (we are a rare breed in these parts, once outside South Africa and Namibia), and instead of an early start to avoid the mad city traffic of Lusaka (there is no route round the city, you have to drive through the centre) we didn’t leave Pioneer camp until late morning.
The plan was to stop at German Truck Tech (the workshop that sorted our issues on our way north, about 6 months earlier), and get Colonel K booked in to sort out the fuel leak from the diesel return pipe, then stop a few days at nearby Eureka Camp until the work was able to be done. As it happens the owner, Carsten very kindly got his guys to do the work there and then, it took them a couple of hours, including a good dosing of diesel over their faces and clothes, and we were on our way. When I asked Carsten how much I owed him, he said just give the lads a drink! I can’t imagine that in the UK.
For a city campsite Eureka is actually not too bad, but since we were last here they have put their prices up by quite a bit, and wow was it noisy. It was Friday night, and the start of the weekend, and the bar and pool area was packed with local day visitors. The noise still doesn’t seem to deter the Zebra and the Giraffe from wandering in through the gate though, despite the staff trying half heartedly to keep them out.
From here we drove via an overnight stop at Moorings camp, to Livingstone. As we entered the town we were hit by a wall of noise from the trees, it was a mass of Cicada, and it was so loud you really needed ear defenders, it was unbelievable, but once through the trees it was quiet again. We decided to stay at the same campsite we used before on the banks of the river, as its such a beautiful spot and the ablutions are very nice too. Guess what ? As we pulled into the campsite we spotted another British registered vehicle, this time a Landrover Defender, owned by Scott and Helene. We ended up staying for about a week here and had a great time hearing about Scott and Helene’s travels and adventures. They had actually been at Muramba camp for several weeks, as the Landrover dealer in town had completely rebuilt their Defender including a replacement chassis, and many new panels etc, and of course a complete respray. The Landy looks like new, very smart indeed.
But this was only part of the story of their journey with the Defender, every tale that this great couple told involved an issue with a breakdown or just a broken vehicle, but the Landy had made it this far!!! Those of you that are familiar with that fantastically funny British Sitcom “Only fools and Horses”, will understand that their vehicle has been renamed “Triggers Broom” (google it)!!!!
One great part about travelling without too tight a time frame is that we get lots of time for reading, and our Kindles are used a lot (having read well over 100 books on this trip over the last 20 months). Scott has got literally hundreds of books on his laptop and a program to convert the files into a kindle friendly format, so in exchange for a beer at the bar, he loaded over 200 books onto my Kindle and a similar number onto Jac’s unit. Thats going to save us a few Bob in the future.
The river at Muramba is very different to when we were here last time, it was absolutely clogged with weed in places, but there were still huge hippos and crocodiles around and to watch out for.
One evening we were sitting outside (in the dark) cooking dinner, when two huge hippos appeared, grazing near us, and getting closer. At one point one of them was less than 5 metres from us, but then thankfully these huge animals moved away a bit, at the same time Scott was returning from the ablutions (shower and toilet block), walking cautiously looking left and right, when out of the darkness a huge two tonne hippo charged at him, showing his tonsils in all their glory! Luckily the startled hippo and the even more startled Scott, didn’t actually physically meet, but it just goes to show these dangerous animals need respect (the hippo, not Scott). I got a feeling after his little night time meeting, Scott probably could have done with visiting the ablutions again.
This is the start of the summer here and so the start of the rains, and of course we have a couple of leaks, one requires the solar panel to be removed, and the other is leaking through our air conditioning unit, both we hope will be sorted out when we get to South Africa, until then we just need to manage the situation (we have covered the air-con unit with an off cut of tarpaulin) and try to park with the front slightly higher that the rear, so water runs away from the solar panel.
Whilst at Livingstone we had a fantastic lunch at The Waterfront, and sat overlooking the mighty Zambezi River just before it hits Victoria Falls, it really is a lovely setting for a gin and tonic, and a beer, and although the falls aren’t as spectacular at this time of year, due to the lack of water, its still a very big river here.
From Zambia the shortest route into neighbouring Botswana is via the ferry at Kazungula. This ferry can be a nightmare, as its notoriously unreliable, extremely busy with trucks, and very very slow. Only one truck can go on the ferry at one time with the remaining space taken up with smaller vehicles such as cars and pedestrians. This is the main crossing point for all commercial vehicles going north into Zambia, DRC, Malawi etc, and going south into Botswana and South Africa (Zimbabwe and Mozambique are not used due to cost, road conditions etc). By the time we had driven the 50km from Livingstone to the turning to the Kazungula Ferry, we realised that the queue of trucks to the ferry was at least 20km long (I would guess about a weeks queueing for a truck, maybe more). Whilst we would have just driven Colonel K to the front of the queue (very embarrassing but acceptable as we are tourists and not a goods truck), we decided to avoid the hassle and carry on north and cross the bridge into Namibia’s Caprivi Strip. Yes, it was an extra couple of hundred kilometres, and yet another border crossing, but time is one thing we have in abundance, and Im sure the borders will be more civil and organised.
Within 5km we could see why not many vehicles come this way, the tarmac road was shocking, huge potholes, and broken sections. In many places it was far easier to drive off the “road” on the sand, as the edge of the tarmac was completed gone. This next 50-80km took forever, and there were lots of broken vehicles littering the route. After a few hours we reached the bridge that formed the border between Zambia and Namibia, at least this should be smooth going. Indeed leaving Zambia was a polite and easy experience, that soon changed once we got to the Namibian Customs. After receiving our entry stamp at immigration (we only asked for a few days as we are literally only crossing the short Caprivi Strip to Botswana), we moved across to the Customs desk, where a woman with serious attitude stood facing us. She completely refused to acknowledge my existence and wouldn’t look at me, she would only communicate with Jac, we presented her with our Carnet de Passage, and she refused to stamp it into Namibia, saying that it wasn’t needed!!! I tried to explain that we must have it stamped into every country and out of every country or we my lose our bond with the Carnet issuing company, still she wouldn’t look at me, or acknowledge me. Eventually after lots of huffing and puffing and a huge physical effort of her lazy fat arse part, she stamped the Carnet into Namibia. Welcome to Namibia eh.
We overnighted on a campsite on the river and stocked up with a huge amount of “dog fuss”, from the camps four dogs.
Next stop the border from Namibia into Botswana, this time the Namibian border was a much more friendly affair, then it was over the river to the Botswana border. As we approached the small border post we had to drive the truck through a disinfectant dip, and then as we approached the tiny building Jac noticed a sign says that no uncooked meat, or dairy products are to be taken into Botswana, bugger, we had just stocked up at the supermarket in Livinstone, and hadn’t realised this restriction. Now bearing in mind that all the food for these South African supermarkets comes via Botswana, we guessed it wouldn’t be strictly enforced, and as we hadn’t had time to hide the stuff from the fridge, we would just blag it.
Paperwork was done both friendly and efficiently, and the lovely lady from customs wanted to see the truck before doing our road fund paperwork and insurance (our Comesa insurance expired once we left Zambia). Would she want to check in the fridge for meat or dairy stuffs? No, she was happy, and our paperwork was completed and we were free to go. Well nearly!!!
We were told to stand in a disinfectant mat with our shoes, Jac had to walk through the gate/barrier, while I had to go and get Colonel K. As I approached the barrier an official appeared and asked to see inside the truck. As he climbed the steps, he asked “do you have a fridge?”, yes of course was the answer, as I opened it for him to look inside, we were greeted with a view any Deli would be proud of, sirloin steak, rump steak, bacon, butter, eggs, sausages etc etc! As he bent down to get a closer look inside he asked “do you have any meat or dairy products in here?”, now I quickly had to think about this, was he asking me sarcastically? Was he blind? Or was it a trick question and he was setting me up for a big fine? “No of course not sir, no meat or dairy in here”, he turned and said “ok you may proceed, but you need to place those other shoes under the table onto the mat”. Incredible levels of laziness or incompetence, but our supplies were still intact.
Now that we were the right side of the ferry at Kasungula in Botswana, we stopped for a few days at a newly opened campsite between Kasane and Kasungula, each campsite here had its own private ablutions, but as it had only just opened none of its usual facilities were open, such as the bar or restaurant, and despite the luxury of having our own shower (with hot water no less) and toilet, it just didn’t have much atmosphere to it. All the camp areas were in perfect lines, its was surrounded by a huge fence, it just didn’t feel like a nice place.
Whilst here, we spotted quite a few Bush Baby’s in the trees above us at night, bouncing around from branch to branch and tree to tree, they are fantastic to watch, but with them constantly moving (like tiny possessed monkeys) and the very low light, its impossible to take a photo of them. But we did have a resident Chameleon living in the shrubby bush near us, in the morning he would slowly descend to the ground, turn green to match the grass and then feast on the hatching lace wing type flies (that were appearing from their tiny burrows in their millions after the rains each night) with its amazingly quick tongue.
To show how quickly these creatures change colour, I took the following photos less than 30 seconds apart, as I approached the Chameleon on its branch, it was a very camouflaged grey/brown and blending into the branch perfectly, then I guess it thought “Oh No I’m being looked at, I’d better try green to match the leaves”! Instantly he went green, a fantastic thing to witness.
After staying here for a few nights to catch up on washing clothes (again!) we started moving south in Botswana towards South Africa, next stopping at a nice campsite in Chobe, where guess what? We had our own ablutions again, two camps in a row! There is a pumped water hole in front of the main bar, and although there is plenty of water around the area, the elephants still came and visited the waterhole. There were also a large troop of baboons that live nearby and walk through the camp all day looking for opportunities to steal anything, its a constant battle for the staff to keep these away, and every respectable camper really should have his own catapult with them, most of the time you don’t need a stone in it, just pulling back on the elastic is enough to see them scuttling off.
Mmmmmm African bugs, again! It really is a constant battle against bugs here, from biting ants to cockroaches, from biting spiders to Malaria carrying mosquitoes, we’ve had them all in the truck, and outside it. Our constant companion since we left Mauritania has been our mossy net over our bed, we always have copious amounts of insect spray for inside the truck, and repellent for your skin. These little critters will make a nest anywhere given the chance. One example of this was when we were at Chitimba camp in Malawi, we used our outside gas bottle and head to make a fresh coffee (our no1 luxury item) first thing in the morning, and although it worked the flame wasn’t great coming out of the burner head. A couple of hours later (after doing a load of clothes washing!), we decided another coffee was needed, this time there was no gas coming out of the head at all. In the end Eddie the owner blasted it through with his high power air line, and out popped some spots of dried dirt from the air holes. Perfect, coffee was brewed and drunk and the burner was working great. We then went for a swim in the lake and returned to find quite a large fly buzzing around the gas head, the bugger had filled all four air holes with compacted dirt again, all in less than a hour! Another blast with Ed’s airline and now the gas bottle is stored away while not in use. We had a similar looking fly start to build a mud nest on one of our wall pictures, another had built up a much bigger construction on our spare tyre on the rear of the truck. Its a never ending battle, that Jac is now much braver dealing with, “oh theres another cockroach, pass the spray”, or “Vinnie, I think there might be maggots in the Sog filter again”.
This is one massive flying beetle that was in our sink one morning (our outside campsite sink, not inside the truck, that would be gross), as you can see by the size of it against the tap head, its a big ‘un.
Our next stop on our journey south was one of our favourites, Elephant Sands, and it didn’t disappoint, there were elephants here almost all the time, sometimes only one or two, at other times,usually at night, there could be 40 or more at the waterhole, often causing these usually gentle giants to allow tempers to flare, especially among the young bulls.
At Elephant Sands we met some fantastic young travellers, first of all we had two young French girls pull up with their rental 4×4 complete with roof tent . They were on a three week trip and were planning to originally just visit SA and Namibia, but just like us plans are for changing, and they were now in Northern Botswana without a map or any guide books. After a quick chat with them we gave them our maps and guide books and few tips, they then spent the whole evening in the bar area, pouring over the maps etc and making a new plan for the next few days. These girls had some guts to do this on their own.
Next up, (as we were talking to the French girls), a young German couple arrived, took one look at the massive elephants roaming around the place and asked if they could camp next to our truck in their ground tent. Fabian and Janika didn’t put their tent up that night and thought it was safer to sleep in the car! The next day, they decided to stay another 24 hours at Elephant Sands, and we discussed about where they should reposition their car, and where they should erect their tiny two man tent. I’m still not sure that Janika slept much that second night, as at about 6.00am she went over to the pool area and had a sleep on one of the sun loungers. This is the first leg of a nine month round the world trip for this young German couple, going next to South America, then Australia etc, they left school, worked hard for a year and saved every euro that they could before they start their University courses in a years time. We discussed their budget, and it goes to show that you can do these trips on very little money if you really want to.
Here at Elephant Sands we had a new type of pest aboard Colonel K, a bigger pest, but slightly more worrying. We had a bloody mouse on board!!! The first sign was a munched banana in the cupboard along with lots of droppings.
Then that night we were woken up by what can best be described as someone chewing a coke can, it was obviously coming from the void behind the kitchen cupboard units, where all our water pipes and electric cables run, not good! Definitely not good!!! A quick bang on the wall or ceiling stopped it for about 20 seconds then off he went again, I got up emptied all the cupboards, taped up all the small gaps and hoped he might leave of his own account, next night was a repeat, he was still resident at Hotel Mouseville. The next morning we were leaving the camp and I noticed that under the truck were very tiny footprints, could it be, I wonder he was just coming in to the truck at night and then going home to his burrow in the sand for the day? Yep we never saw or heard from the little desert mouse again, it appears no damage was done, and to this day we can’t see where he got in and out of Colonel K.
We planned one night at a campsite just before Francistown, which was about 10km down the old “Hunters Road”
Woodlands Camp was a very pleasant surprise and we ended up staying for two nights, the stunning pool here was just too tempting, and the birdlife is so profific, including the Woodlands Woodpecker (from where the camp gets its name). In flight this has to be the most striking and stunning bird we’ve seen, with flashes of brilliant blue and white, even its bill is special, the top is bright red and bottom is black, they greet another Woodlands with an amazing display of open wings to each other, a really stunning bird.
There were also Guinea Fowl, and Go-Away Birds, and Crested Barbet
Although it was quite a detour, we decided to visit a community run nature reserve about 30km from the town of Serowe, towards the centre of Botswana, its called Khama Rhino Sanctuary, and whilst it is a closed in area, it is pretty big at 4,300 hectares of Kalahari sandveld and because it’s near a military base, the Rhinos are basically given 24 hour protection by the Botswana Defence Force. Its a great place, and they have received Rhino here from many places including South Africa, where it was felt that the danger from poachers was too great for the Rhinos. At Khama they offer camping and chalet type accommodation, and very reasonable game drives.
The campsite has very real wild feel to it, indeed it is not fenced and animals roam through here all the time, we were told that there are a large number of leopards in the reserve.
We decided to have a early morning guided game drive (the sand here in the park is very deep) and it was only $55.00 for the two of us for a two hour private game drive. At six the next morning our guide pulled into our camp area, and worryingly started looking at the sand by the truck “oh I see you had a friend last night” at first we couldn’t see anything then she pointed out the track of a snake as it had pushed itself along on the soft sand.
If you want to see Rhino in their natural environment, Khama is a great place and during our two hours in the back of the Landcruiser, we saw a total of 19 White Rhino, including a group of 9 with youngsters. It really is such a shame that they have to be placed into a reserve like this to help protect them from a truly ridiculous trade, with the end product (ground rhino horn) being sold to idiots thousands of miles away!
Obviously there are lots of other animals on the reserve, including Giraffe, Black Backed Jackal, and many others.
Next we head for the border and cross into South Africa, where we have very kindly been invited to camp on a friends parents farm in the east of the country.
Sorry I’m a bit behind with the blog, but will try to get up to date over the next few days.
Thanks for reading