From Zambia, into Malawi

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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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. 

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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.

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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)

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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. 

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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!

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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













































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.

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Living in a box 4, a year on…….

A Year On ……..

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 It’s been a while since I’ve given you The Female Perspective of travelling & “Living In a box”. We have now been away for 443 days and in fact it has become quite like home, which is a good thing I guess, and we haven’t killed each other yet!!!!!. We did actually fly home for a few weeks over Easter staying with family and having the luxuries of living in a house and chocolate. We were kindly given a Lindt Easter Bunny each (thanks Emily & Pete) and savoured every mouthful , and yes we felt sick ! We haven’t really had the luxury of eating chocolate ………..and as you know Chocolate is a girls best friend. We were lured into buying a box of Quality Street in Ghana, which had been reduced in price, and we couldn’t wait for our treat that evening in the hotel in Tema, (whilst waiting for Col K to be shipped to Namibia) to devour the whole box. We set ourselves up, TV on, and tipped the box out on the bed, divided them up into equal shares & then unwrapped them………………in the dim light…. the chocolate was moving……..is this a new Fad in chocolate?………No they were full of little Bugs….like chocolate weevils. You have never seen us move so fast and be so disappointed. We had to shake the bed linen out in the hotel corridor. The heat out here is also not conducive for keeping chocolate either. We occasionally buy a little bar of cadburys from a supermarket and keep it in the fridge for a treat. Yes I do have to share it with Vinnie! I guess at least its been a good thing for the waist & hips though !

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Cooking outside is still great and what we actually cook ON really does vary. In Africa all manner of things are recycled and at one camp “Split Rims” have been used as Braai’s (BBQ) purched on top of a post. In most countries you can buy wood either along the road or at campsites.

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In Zambia there is a lot of charcoal produced by local people and you see these tall tube like parcels being transported on bicycles to sell at the local market. We are still mainly cooking our “one pot” concoctions as its much easier and we make one big pot and it lasts for 2 days. We mainly buy steak & mince and then add any fresh veg that we are able to buy, and of course a tin of tomatoes and onions, garlic and spices or make a curry. We try and buy local veg from stalls along our route, as it seems to be much fresher than the supermarkets and its usually a welcome stop to have a laugh and a chat with locals. Since getting into Zambia we have seen bananas for sale again along the road, very tiny ones to huge ones, so when we can, we stop and buy fresh fruit, something we have missed since the mango’s of Senegal ! We actually brought some great carrots in Zimbabwe , the best we have ever eaten. Some carrots can be quite bitter and one man told us that its because they don’t get enough water.

Moving countries and shopping can get very strange. Opening times vary, in Namibia nearly all shops close half day Saturday and all day Sunday and we were shopping one morning in Zambia and filled our trolley with a few bottles of wine, only to be told at the check-out that we couldn’t buy them as it was before 10am, it was not even a Sunday! The price of food has got more expensive,  Botswana and Zimbabwe have been the most expensive so far. Our diet is not terribly adventurous , but we actually look forward to our plastic bowl of stew. The Denby pot, (a present from Vinces Sister) is still going strong, the South Africans use potjie in a similar way, which is a pot that looks like a witches cauldron and translated means small pot food.

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It still amazes us the different modes of local transport that are used in different countries, you don’t really realise until you cross a border, that the mopeds or donkeys or bicycles have disappeared. In Zimbabwe it seems most local people walk everywhere, here in Zambia there seem to be a lot of bicycles and in Burkina Faso & Mali there was an abundance of mopeds.

We still miss having a dog and take every opportunity to get some “Pet Love” from the camp dogs and cats. They seem to know we are a soft touch and we have even taken to buying the odd sachet of cat and dog food. Once having their fill, they seem to know when we are leaving and move onto the next pet loving camper. At one camp there was a 3 legged jack Russel and the next day he returned again with 4 legs. Vince was convinced it was the same dog, so he got nick named 3 plus 1. A black dog, nick named Blackie by the camp staff was so cute, she very nearly became the 3rd addition to our trip ! The dogs and cats here seem to learn that just by sitting and laying close, looking cute, can get them their next meal. They never seem to scrounge or whine, maybe they learn very quickly that they are likely to get a swift kick if they become a pest.

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Bugs………Yep there are plenty. Ants have been our worse enemy inside the truck and we have had a massive second infestation to deal with. We have learnt now that the problem seems to arise after we have parked closely underneath a tree (actually touching it), so we try to avoid this if we can, but the height of Col K is sometimes an issue. With diligence and armed with cans of “Doom” or a rather unsavoury can of Anti-Bug spray we purchased in Morocco, which I’m sure probably did US more harm (although it was lavender scented), we eventually got rid of the little Blighters!

Mosquitoes, although present have not really caused us a major problem. They were worse in Senegal. We are very good at covering legs and arms in the evening, using various varieties of anti-mosquito spray or cream and the mossie net over our bed has been a god send. We are still taking our daily doxycycline tablets to help us against contracting malaria. So far we haven’t really experienced any major side effects. The increased sun sensitivity seems to be managed by sitting in the shade and using factor 30 sun cream. I did lose a toe nail a few months back, which may have been due to a side effect of the doxycycline and was waiting for more to fall off, but so far so good, all other 9 intact. We have both been in good health, apart from a couple days in Swakopmund, when I think I had a touch of food poisoning the day after eating sushi and bringing back a cold from our trip to UK. We also have to make sure we drink enough water, as there was one day in Maun, in Botswana, when we stopped after a long drive to carry out some food shopping. Vince became very sweaty and pale and almost passed out at the check out……………………that was before paying…………….I had to sit him down on a pallet and ask a cashier to keep an eye on him, whilst I paid and packed ! Anything to get out of shopping eh ! I am now, not only a passenger, but also a hydration monitor, making sure he drinks enough water and that we stop for some lunch if we have a long drive. Stopping for lunch or anything in Zambia along the main roads has actually been very difficult. As they have put in miles of new tarmac, but not put in any picnic spots or lay-by’s and the road has been built up to such a level that its not easy to stop in any of the villages on-route either and a little more difficult to “water the plants”! In Namibia, SA, Botswana and Zimbabwe there has generally been quite a few picnic spots or lay-by’s to use or “Lay-Bye” as they were called in Zimbabwe !!!!

Daily chores have become a little easier now we have got rid of the carpet tiles and have our new plastic wood effect floor covering. So much easier to sweep and keep clean from all the sand, grass and dirt that gets taken inside.We are still washing clothes by hand and try and wait until there is hot water available to do this, but sometimes we have to just use cold water. We are a slick team, one washing , one rinsing and Vince usually gets to ringing out, or we both hold one end, especially sheets and towels to turn in opposite directions to squeeze all the water out. Not that drying anything is usually a problem as most days are “a good drying day”!

Ablutions…………thats what a bathroom is called when camping, have become a bit of a lottery. They all vary in design, in most the water is heated by a wood fired dolly, some by solar, some only cold water. So you need to choose when you have a shower, morning , afternoon or evening. Solar powered is defiantly an early evening shower, hot water dolly will depend on when its been lit and is best to ask or try before you go in and strip off, otherwise you will get a shock.Oh and how many people are using the water. One evening I decided to shower in Col K, as the facilities were not very nice and I was fed up with showering with various spiders and creatures that were left lurking. Vince decided he would use them and he had soaped and had shampoo in his hair, when the water disappeared completely, and there were screams heard from the ladies ablution block! So many showers had been taken, that the water ran out ! I thought after Ghana that I would be used to a cold water shower, but guess what……….Nope. I reckon its a ploy by the campsites to save water, as you certainly don’t use much !!!!! Some  Ablutions can be made from a variety of materials , brick, some thatch or bamboo, some have roofs of tin or thatch. Enclosed ablutions tend to attract mosquitoes, especially when the lights are left on. So I like the open air ones personally, as they are less likely to have spiders making webs above your head and you can also look at the stars at night.

Currently we have squirrels eating sausages from a sausage tree above the ablutions and making a right mess. I think the guy cleaning, has had enough and he came yesterday with a long bamboo stick with a cutter tied on the end to lob the offending overhanging sausages off the tree. These “sausages” however, apparently have many uses, not only as a food for many of the animals (baboons, elephants etc), but as medicine for anaemia as they are full of iron, and a topical application for skin complaints and healing ulcerated skin, a nutritious drink and a local beer in Tanzania, so no wonder the squirrels love them.

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Whilst on the topic of grooming, when we were at home we both had the opportunity to get our hair cut and the magic ingredient to cover over grey hair. Now its back to manually plucking my eyebrows………..no eye brow threading here! Vinnie still has his beard and his hair is getting very long again as he won’t let me near him with the hair clippers. Personally I think he fancies himself as a Real Madrid football player, like Gareth Bale with a top knot ! Our feet get very dirty from wearing flip-flops/thongs all the time, so a nail brush is a must. Ive given up on using nail polish and its just easier to keep all nails short.

Oh and here is where all of your cotton T-shirts start. Here in Zambia we have seen loads of cotton growing in small allotments, individual families growing cotton to sell instead of, or as well as crops to eat.

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Ergonomics (my Occupational Health friends will understand) has been quite interesting and frustrating. Design of day to day items such as sinks and showers. These are made in Africa I’m sure to give you back ache whilst doing your washing or washing up. Either too low, too wide or the taps do not reach over the sink. One pet hate of ours is that most of the showers have NOT been designed to take the flow of water to the drain. A simple thing, but about 80% of campsite showers we have used you have been left with pools of water at your feet and/or water all over your shoes and clothes as there is no upstand, curtain or a very small changing area. When they get it right, we definitely remember.

Something that has intrigued me is how most African women and children carry almost every item on their head. They make a ring of cloth and put it on their head and then put the stacks of wood, bowls full of clothes, fruit or buckets of water on top. We saw this a lot in Ghana and again since leaving Namibia. Such huge weights are carried with ease, and day to day activities are still being able to be carried out. It would be interesting to find out the incidence of back or neck problems with this mode of manual handling. It certainly seems to help with deportment and a good posture and may be we need to re think some of our “western ways”. It seems that at the age of a child being able to walk they learn to carry things in this way. I remember in Ghana, Vinnie helping “the banana lady “with her big bowl of fruit back onto her head and he could not believe the weight of it ,he did struggle . We did also try and carry a bowl of fruit, much to the amusement of the local Ghana children. Women also strap  babies and toddlers  on their backs all day cradled and tied on by a length of cloth. This enables the women to carry out their daily chores and carry other items and the children seem very content and happy with very few crying or whinging, maybe its the closeness to their mothers all day ?

Ah and then there is “Elf & Safety”. I have cringed watching mechanics work on Col K sucking diesel out of a hose with their mouths, getting soaked in diesel knowing that they will stay like that all day. I was so worried after one mechanic got diesel in his eyes and he was bemused by me insisting he wash it out and giving him a clean towel to use. Most work activities are still carried out by hand, for instance there are no verge grass cutting machines, its all done with a scythe manually in a rhythmic manner in long grass with possibilities of snakes lurking, we often say if it was us, we would have cut our arms and legs to shreds. Work is carried out at height with no harness or rail, bricks are still made by hand in many villages for a source of income. Safety shoes are likely to be a pair of wellies, if they are lucky. Our split rim tyres were changed with no cage over them and people standing on them as they are inflated.The list is endless. In Africa however the children seem to have more freedom to explore, play & get dirty & probably  learn very quickly to make their own risk assessments. The kids here are not dropped off or picked up from school, but have to walk miles sometimes to get an education, even the little 5 year olds carrying a bag with their books in, that is if they are lucky.  It is also quite refreshing as a traveller not to be restricted by so many Western rules, as we would not be able to experience the rawness of the bush if it was in the UK, you are allowed to make your own “risk assessment” and take your own risks. Take for instance having a gin & tonic sundowner, adding lemon or lime will depend upon wether there are any elephants around…………….as they apparently love citrus fruit and have been known to break into vehicles after these delicataces.

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Ah well time to go as the fresh coffee (luxury item) is ready, the sun is shining, hippos in the river and the vegetable man has turned up on his bike, so time for shopping !

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Oh yes, the first photo of this blog……………….well you do see a lot of this sort of stuff in Africa, and you parents out there can explain the meaning of life to your children when they see this.

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Zambia, flying about……then waiting about……

Its a very short drive from the town of Victoria Falls to the Zimbabwe Border, (about 5 minutes), and all was completed smoothly and quickly, then all that remained was a drive over the old iron bridge that spans the gorge over the Zambezi River. Only one “heavy vehicle” is allowed on the bridge at a time, and it is quite narrow (it was originally designed as a railway and pedestrian crossing), but eventually we were waved on, and slowly drove across. The views from up there are equally stunning, so it was worth taking it easy, and watching the spray reaching far up into the sky.

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Once across the iconic bridge we arrived at the Zambian border crossing at Livingstone, and after the expensive entry into Zimbabwe, we were expecting Zambia Immigration officials to be a kinder on our budget. How wrong we were! We each had to pay $50 for a 30 day single entry Visa, then there was the Carbon Tax, the Toll Fee, the 3rd Party Insurance, and even a Livingstone Community Tax! All in, it ended up costing about £160.00 for both of us and Colonel K to enter Zambia, and remember we do have a Carnet de Passage, so no temporary import fee was paid for the truck. I’m sure last time we visited Zambia (about 7 years ago) we didn’t have to pay for an Entry Visa, but hey ho, things change I guess.

This was probably our shortest ever driving day, because after exiting the border post, we drove less than 5km and stopped at a lovely campsite at Maramba River Lodge, this meant that although we crossed the border this day, we only travelled about 15km in total from campsite to campsite. We chose Maramba because after spending a few nights in the centre of Vic Falls we wanted a bit of peace and quiet, and it is actually in the National Park, so we may see some wildlife here too. We weren’t disappointed on that account, the Maramba River (which runs into the Zambezi just before the falls) is teeming with wildlife, just in front of the bar was a big “pod” of Hippos, with lots more moving under the water blowing air periodically, but remaining underwater for ages.

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There were also a couple of Crocodiles, one of which was huge, lazing in the sun one minute, then disappearing under water the next. We loved watching these prehistoric looking reptiles up close (especially with an ice cold Gin and Tonic in one’s hand).

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We needed to visit Livingstone town for the day so we decided that getting a taxi from the Lodge might be easier, so we were picked up by “Frank” (neither of us ever discovered wether “Frank” was actually a bloke or a woman, and its not really the done thing to ask questions like that is it), and dropped off outside Nico Insurance offices, in town . Nico Insurance was the company that sold us our Zambian 3rd Party cover at the border (there was no other option, and getting stopped by the “rozzers” on the exit from the border without cover would have meant a hefty fine).  There is an agreement by most of the Eastern and Southern African Countries whereby they share and accept insurance cover, this is called a Comesa Yellow Card. This must run alongside an already purchased policy (we tried to do this previously in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, but I don’t think the Insurance Office there understood how the Yellow Card worked), so we extended our Zambian cover to last for 9 months and got 3rd Party cover for Malawi, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, all for the princely sum of £80.00. This should not only save us money over the coming months, but will mean that we won’t have to hunt around for insurance at every border crossing (which as we know from West Africa can be a nightmare). Then after visiting ATM after ATM (each only allowing us to withdraw a small amount of Zambian Kwatcha), we purchased a local Sim card and airtime, drank lots of coffee (some good, some very bad), and then visited the Livingstone Museum. After a bit of shopping in Shoprite, we tried our new Zambia Sim card and called “Frank” to pick us up. 

Next morning is was a very early rise for us, it was still dark but we had a special early morning treat planned, an early Birthday Pressie to me! We had booked  a Microlight Flight over Vic Falls, and the National Park of Mosi-oa-Tunya. 

So trusting a tiny engine driving a plastic propeller behind us, with not much more than a small sheet for wings, we boarded the tiny machines, wow what an experience! We have been lucky enough to do scenic flights in various places before using, hot-air ballon, helicopter, and light aircraft, but the feeling you get in a Microlight really is very special, and the fact we were flying over the beautiful setting of Victoria Falls just about topped it.

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The above photos were taken as stills from a GoPro that was recording a video mounted on the wing of each machine. As it was early in the morning the spray was able to reach high into the air, and a couple of times the pilot flew through the spray which gave you the impression of being very close to the Falls (apparently descended as low as 800ft above the top of the falls at one point). Then it was out over the National Park, where we saw Buffalo, Antelope, and Hippos, and Jac was lucky enough to see into a Fish Eagles nest with its two chicks inside. Then after a very smooth landing, I dashed off to get my camera before Jac came into land (you aren’t allowed to carry any loose items on the flight).

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I must admit, as I was taking off, I was thinking to myself I’m not sure that Jac is gonna like this, but she loved every second of it. This really was one of the highlights of our trip so far, and if you ever find yourself in Livingstone I’d thoroughly recommend taking this Microlight experience.

Then to top off the day, when we got back to the campsite (by about 8.30am) we were treated to a herd of elephants on the other side of the river from where we were camped, using one particular area to take it in turns to have a very wet mud bath.

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The river here seems strange after viewing the Falls, as it is a very placid place, with not much flow to it, but occasionally along came a clump of broken off weed, with the most amazing flowers on board (you just have to remember the huge croc that is there too).

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Next stop was Mooring Farm, which is a working Farm on the main road to the city of Lusaka, just before Mazabuka. It was on this road that we noticed a fairly heavy clunking when changing gear, and also a strange noise coming from the engine area (which on Colonel K is right under you). So once at Moorings Farm we let the truck cool down and then had a good look underneath and tilted the cab to see what was going on there. It quickly became apparent that a Universal Joint on the rear propshaft was knackered, and that this would need to be replaced quite quickly before anymore damage was done. We couldn’t see what was causing the noise from the engine (perhaps it was actually the UV joint that we could hear from the cab?).

Next day was Sunday, so we decided to stay another night at Moorings just in case we had a problem driving to Lusaka ,breaking down on Monday, seemed a much better proposition than breaking down on a Sunday for some strange reason. We also had to catch up on some chores like washing clothes etc. We were the only campers here yet again, but we did have someone protecting us and Colonel K (well she did like our supply of UHT milk).

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As with almost every campsite in this part of Africa, there are the Vervet Monkeys , they weren’t too much of a problem here but I couldn’t resist taking this photo of one of the little fellas trying to get the last little drop of water (or is it ants up in there?) from this stand pipe.

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Then is was off again, slowly making our way to Lusaka which was about 180km away, stopping at Mazabuka “SuperSpar” for a bit of food shopping ,during which we were plunged into complete darkness several times, as the power failed. On the way out we lit up one young lads eyes when we gave him a toy F1 Ferrari, the look on his face as I gave it to him will stay with me for ages.

On the outskirts of Lusaka we found a place run by a German guy (Carsten) called “German Truck Tech”, who looked at the damaged UV joints and said how lucky I was to have got that far without damaging the propshaft (it was completely knackered by now), I also explained about the noise that I was convinced by now wasn’t related to the UV joint. So we jumped in and went for a drive down the road, and he said it sounded like a turbo problem (it was only making the noise when under a load), this was not good!

As one of the mechanics was stripping the rear prop shaft off, I tilted the cab once more and Carsten had a better look in the engine bay, as he leant over the engine, he put some weight on the turbo to cylinder head pipe and it moved, it turns out that the huge clamp that bolts to the exhaust manifold has sheared off! So another technician was deployed to make up a new bracket and fit to another mounting point. By the time the prop shaft was removed a guy had turned up from the spares supplier to take the UV joint away to try to match it up.

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So without the rear prop shaft and with the centre diff lock engaged, we now have a two wheel drive Daf, and while driving to the fairly nearby campsite it seems as though the noise issue has been resolved with the new bracket. 

So at the time of writing this, we are parked up at a campsite on the outskirts of Lusaka, waiting for a call from Carsten about the availability of a suitable sized UV joint, we may be here for sometime.In the meantime  we do have lots of friends to look at, including Zebra, Giraffe, Kudu, Impala and of course Monkeys. It does seem weird seeing all these animals so close to a huge sprawling African city. Oh and then theres Jacs new special friend, “Blackie”.

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 Fingers are suitably crossed here for good news on the UV joint………..

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Zimbabwe, You meet the nicest people

With some trepidation, we set out early in the morning for the border crossing from Botswana to Zimbabwe at the Ramokgwebane/Plumtree Border Post. Why some trepidation? Well, Britain really isn’t a favourite of Robert Mugabe, and we are carrying our lovely bright red British Passports, so I guess it was a case of “suck it and see”. The exit from Botswana went efficiently, if not the most friendly of experiences, then it was short drive to the Zimbabwean side, oh well here goes…….

The first sign of the governments anti-British sentiment was getting the Visa to actually enter the country, all citizens from outside Zimbabwe (apart from Southern African countries who pay nothing), pay $20US, but if you are from Britain, Ireland, or Canada you pay $55US ! To be honest we did already know this as we did a little homework before hand, but the immigration guy was almost apologetic about the increased charge. We then had to go to another desk to pay for the Visa’s, then back to get it stamped and inserted into the passport. Then the Carnet de Passage was stamped (so no payment for the Temporary Importation of Colonel K), then we had to pay Carbon Tax ($30US), and when we tried to pay for 3rd party insurance we were told that we didn’t have to pay anything as it is covered under the Carnet by the Zimbabwean AA! I was extremely doubtful about this and continued to ask if I needed to pay it, but apparently no, its included. Everyone at the Zim border was so helpful and friendly, we even had a bit of a laugh with them (honestly this is unknown at African borders). All was going well, perhaps too well……. maybe.

We were told to proceed through to the next stage (this was to hand in our stamped exit fee, and pay the Road Access Fee), there were two lanes, a red route and a green route, and although we were told to drive through the green route (no items to declare), the official in charge insisted that we go through the red route and wait behind a coach. It was chaos! The coach was packed, both with people and goods (ranging from a double mattress, a cycle wheel, a wheel barrow, plus hundreds of bags), every person that was on that coach, and every item was taken off and then EVERYTHING was checked. Jac, went back to the kiosk and asked why we had to go through this red route, we were told that our vehicle must be checked over by “Isaac”, oh no, we are going to be here all day, and the truck is going to get stripped! Then Jac found Isaac, amazingly he stopped what he was doing, asked “do you have any rocket launchers on board?”, then asked to look inside Colonel K, opened a few cupboards, and signed our exit card. No bribes, no thieving, just lots of helpfulness and smiles. Perhaps Zimbabwe is going to be ok for a couple of Brits after all.

We then caused our own chaos by reversing back out of the red route and drove through the green route, and got to the final stage of paying our $20US Road Access Fee. Being left hand drive, Jac usually deals with this stuff at booths etc, and the first I knew of a problem was hearing Jac say “what do you mean, coupons?”. We were told very politely to park the truck (we were blocking the exit from the border), and follow an official back to the main area again. I was convinced that we were about to get shafted big time, especially as we went past Customs and Immigration to a separate building. Inside were two Road Agency guys, eating a cooked breakfast (at their desks from the frying pan) and watching Southampton Vs Man City on the TV. It turns out that as Colonel K is classed as a Heavy Vehicle, we have to buy coupons to drive on the main highway, and after a long discussion with a map of Zimbabwe in front of all 5 of us, it was decided that we would be driving from Plumtree, to Bulawayo, then up to Hwange National Park, and then exiting the country at Victoria Falls. This would cost us 50US dollars, and would be valid for 14 days, but if we wanted to stay longer we could only renew it at Vic Falls, and we would again have to state the route we wanted to take. They also told us that as we have paid this fee we wouldn’t have to pay the road tolls that are all over Zimbabwe (if we had paid the Road Access Fee we would have still have had to pay the tolls), so not so bad. We had a good laugh with these guys, and of course discussed how the hell Leicester City have run away with the English Premier League. And that was it, all in all a very pleasant border experience.

If you believe everything that is written about Zimbabwe (especially in the UK Press), you’d think that the infrastructure was a mess, well maybe things have gone drastically down hill over recent years, but first impressions of the roads was good, in fact way better than nearby Namibia and Botswana. Don’t get me wrong there are sections that are horrendous by European standards, but still better than much of what we have travelled on, it didn’t feel like we were about to break a leaf string every five minutes.

About 120km from the border (and after several Police road blocks) we got to the small village of Figtree. Here was the turning for a track off the tarmac, that was a short cut to Motobo Hills (an area we wanted to visit), also at this turning was a sign to Phomolo Lodge, there was no mention of camping here, and we tried the phone number but couldn’t get through, so as it was “on the way” we thought we would give it a go for camping. Several villages and a couple of gates (and a long sandy track) later we arrived at the gate to the farm. It truly looked closed down, but in the distance we could see a guy walking towards us to open up the last locked gate. ‘Wilfred’ greeted us warmly, and told us that ‘Mr Vince’ will be along shortly to take us to the campsite. ‘Mr Vince’ couldn’t believe that I was also a ‘Vince’. Next thing we knew, we were getting a guided tour of their two lodge rooms, (which were very new and very nicely done), it turns out its a national pastime to experience the lodges that you aren’t going to stay in!

It turns out that we were the first “overseas” guests to stay at the campsite (I think we might have been the first guests full stop), and we were made to feel very welcome, we had Mr Wilfred, Mr Vince, and the farm manager Mr Lee, all running around getting things perfect for us. The cost of camping was $5 per person, including firewood, amazing value. It’s a lovely quiet place, overlooking a “dam”, and surrounded by some fantastic rocky outcrops (that this area is famous for). There was a family from one of the villages down at the dam, and the kids seemed to be playing at fishing, it was a lovely scene, and they were quite unaware that I was there.

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Then the owner of the farm and lodge turned up, his title, Mr High Chief Justice Cheda, (like our Cheddar Cheese, he said), what a lovely guy. He couldn’t do enough for us, and suggested that we should be his personal guests into the National Park at Matobo Hills, and take us to the various sites there, including the grave of Sir Cecil Rhodes. Obviously it would be rude to turn down this offer, so agreed we would stay here another night. As it turned out Judge Cheda couldn’t make it the next morning so he got the farm manager Mr Lee to take us out for the day in his double cab Toyota Hilux.

Motabo Hills is a stunning place, and my photo’s can’t begin to do the rock formations justice, the balancing granite boulders mixed with the lush green vegetation form a beautiful backdrop to various “tourist” sites within the park.

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Within this area there are an abundance of ancient rock painting’s, and whilst we experienced some of these in Namibia, the ones here in Zimbabwe are in such good condition, and of course in great locations, that makes them very special to see. The ones below are in “White Rhino Cave”, which was a fair hike up into the hills (bear in mind that this place is over 4,500 feet above sea level).

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And just as you start to descend back to the car, you are faced with views like this……

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After hearing that we were going to see the grave of Sir Cecil Rhodes, we thought we had better find out who this guy was….. Well it turns out (according to our Western Guide book) that he was not a very nice guy, that he tricked the local Chiefs out of their lands, had his own personal army, and made a fortune out of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi). But in true Rhodes style he chose a  sacred tribal area of land as his final resting place in the event of his death. He named it “World’s View”, and from the top of the Granite hill you can see for miles.

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The grave is a simple, but huge bronze plaque, nearby (but obviously slightly lower than Rhodes grave) are two similar graves, one of these was his close “friend”, and the other is the former Prime Minister of Rhodesia (from this time). But under the instruction of Rhodes, a huge monument was built containing the bodies of 34 of his soldiers that were killed as they tried to capture the local King. This is so out of place on this hill top, it looks like it should be in a city centre.

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But the thing that made me laugh, was that it seems Zimbabwe has had the last laugh on Sir Cecil….. His grave was absolutely covered in lizards, maybe they are taunting his soul ha!

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“Mr Lee” then drove us to ‘Pomongwe cave’, which is the home to yet more ancient cave paintings, again the condition of these really is amazing bearing in mind that theses date from between 2,000 and 6,000 years ago.

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In ‘Pomongwe cave’ an experiment was carried out to try to preserve these painting during the 1960’s, they painted over a large section of this priceless art with linseed oil, the result is plain to see in the cave, the rock paintings behind the linseed oil had completely disappeared! I’m no expert but I’m not sure they actually needs preserving, the rest of it is so clear. The cave lives up to its name (Big Cave) and is huge, and must have made a fantastic dwelling for a family or community.

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Just as we thought we were due to leave the National Park Mr Lee had other idea’s, he needed to do some ‘market research’, or check out the “opposition”. He drove us to a lodge that is set inside the park, but is only about 30km from their farm’s lodge. 

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Ingwe (Leopard) Lodge, is hidden away down a very bad mud/sand track, and we arrived to what seemed like a deserted place, there was no sign of any staff or guests, eventually Mr Lee found a young guy who said he was the manager. I think Mr Lee told him that we were potential guests and wanted to see the rooms and have a full price list, so once again we were shown rooms that we were never going to stay in! This place was a serious step back in time, the decor and furnishings were like a 1950’s english house.

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The rooms are a massively priced $120 per night, not including meals, and we were shown round the WHOLE place. The manager (who is also the chef, and receptionist) was so polite and helpful, that we decided we should at least buy a couple of drinks at the bar. I got chatting to him a bit more and it turns out that it only opened in January this year after being closed down for 16 years, they have reused all the original beds and furniture……. mmmmmm.

On the way back, Mr Lee was proudly telling us about his Toyota Hilux, it had done nearly half million kilometres, all with nothing replaced apart from service items, this is incredible and of course the kiss of death! Ten minutes later we pulled over as the temperature gauge was rising rapidly. Under the bonnet it was obvious what the cause was, the top breather hose off of the radiator had snapped clean off, not the hose, but the entire outlet. In Europe this would have meant a tow-in and a new radiator, but this is Africa! Mr Lee used superglue, and a reinforcing powder to stick the broken outlet back on! Leave it for 10 minutes to harden, scrounge some dirty water from a local village, top it back up and we were away! Unbelievable! I must get some of this glue and powder……..

Again that night we had Mr Wilfred “protecting us” on the campsite with his short barrelled pump action shotgun (slung over his shoulder with some nice blue string), we were not sure what he was there for, but they were convinced that we were petrified of the wildlife! We assured them that we were fine but still Mr Wilfred was there in the background. Next morning Mr High Chief Justice Cheda turned up to see us off and take photos of us and Colonel K, he also gave us his business card (High Court Judge, not farmer), with his personal mobile phone number written on the back. He told us not to accept any nonsense from the many Police blocks that we were to encounter on route, and we were to ring him if we have any trouble. He had effectively given us “a get out of jail free card”.

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When we crossed the border into Zimbabwe, we purchased a local sim card and some airtime scratch cards, and whilst the phone was working ok for calls and text messages (local only), we couldn’t get any internet connection, despite buying separate Facebook and WhatsApp packages (only $2 for a week), so we headed for the large town of Bulawayo. After trying 3 or 4 different “shops” (and having a right laugh with a few of the locals), it was obvious that we had to visit an actual Econet shop and get the sim ‘internet enabled’. This would mean driving right into the city centre and parking Colonel K, so we decided to leave it and head straight to Hwange National Park. This days driving meant us passing about a dozen Police Checkpoint’s, a few we were waved through, but most we were stopped, and the truck and our paperwork was checked, but all without exception was carried out with a smile and a bit of a laugh and joke. All was in order each time.

We stopped that night at “Tuskers Campsite” that is part of “Ivory Lodge”, just outside the National Park, this is a lovely place (and unlike most places in Zimbabwe has seen continued investment and upkeep), and there’s HOT WATER! There is a large waterhole in front of the Lodge and Campsite, and this is frequently visited by Elephants, Kudu, Impala, Warthogs, Hyena, and there was a fantastic platform right next to where we parked to give you a better view of the waterhole and surrounding bush veld.

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The perfect place for a cold beer or a gin and tonic.

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That night as usual we cooked our dinner over the open fire, that we had made in a oil drum that was provided for this purpose, we didn’t want to make a mess with the ashes. Then at about 8.30 “Papa” appeared and dragged a few very large lumps of wood over to us and used our cooking fire to light them, that night we had the mother of all fires!

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We loved it here, and spent three nights, the staff were amazing, and we got internet on the wifi….

And of course there was the sunrises, and the wild life.

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One afternoon, we were enjoying a drink from the bar (it would have been rude not too), and using the wifi, when there was scream from ‘Jamie’ the manageress, then the shout “SNAKE”, I ran round with my camera (it was only a couple of settee’s away, and I do love a photo), she had been walking through the side opening (there are no doors to the bar/reception/restuarant), when a snake lunged at her, fangs bared at face height! Apparently it was highly venomous, bright green with spots, and it was definitely NOT HAPPY.

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No one was going near it, but wasn’t coming out of its own accord, so they sent for Peter the guide, he confirmed it was venomous, and agreed that it must be removed…… He did no more than pick up a tin of “mossy spray” and spray it in the general area of the by now very pissed off snake. It dropped like a stone offf the roof timbers and the slim 4 foot reptile shot out (luckily away from us), onto the garden and straight under the raised deck that we had been sitting on, as far as they were concerned the snake had been dealt with! We went back to the raised deck to finish our drinks, knowing there was a highly venomous (and quite angry) snake just under our feet (but the gap between the boards were nice and close). Whilst talking about snakes, we have seen lots more snakes in Zimbabwe than in any other parts of Africa (mostly on the roads). Eventually Jamie’s heart rate returned to normal, she was a very lucky girl.

The plan was to spend the next couple of days driving through the huge National Park, but the officials at the entrance office had other ideas, and decided that Colonel K was too big for the roads in the park, and that other vehicles would struggle to pass us! This was crazy, as we had already been told that the vast majority of roads in the park were tarmac and quite wide, and secondly there are virtually no tourists self driving in Zimbabwe anyway. I think we got the wrong person on the wrong day, but her mind was set. When asked what the weight limit is for the park, no one knew anyway. She did say that we could stay on the campsite that night, but we would have to pay park fees to stop there, even though we weren’t allowed into the bloody park! Bye……

We decided to take a chance and drive up to Lake Kariba on the Northern border with Zambia, and find a camp up there, it was a little risky as our road coupons didn’t cover us for this 350km detour from our stated route, but we thought it unlikely that there would be Police road blocks on this tiny road, plus I was still convinced that we had no insurance. How wrong we were, this is Zimbabwe and there are Police everywhere stopping traffic, always a minimum of 3 officers, and no Police vehicles, no cars, no bikes, not even a cycle. Despite being stopped at each one, luckily none of them asked to see our coupons or insurance, and not one of them had ever seen a Carnet de Passage before. We had been warned by the staff at Tuskers that the road was very hilly and dangerously steep in places, and told “when the sign says use low gear, you must select low gear!”. Wow they weren’t kidding, steep downs mean steep up’s, we ended up doing about 50km in low range, it was seriously steep in places.

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We found a campsite near the village of Binga, right on the Lake in a small secluded bay (its not actually a lake really, its more a very wide section of the Zambezi River), it was down possibly the smallest and toughest track we had driven with some huge boulders to negotiate (even “Tracks 4 Africa” had given up on us). But eventually we arrived at a rough looking boat yard with a sign to Chilila Lodge. The place was once obviously very nice, with beautiful gardens, but now it was very run down, clumps of thatch was missing from the roofs of the chalets, and reception area, the camping area, obviously hadn’t seen many visitors recently, and the ablutions were full of leaves and debris. But we were as usual met by the most friendly guy, that could not do enough for us, he swept out the toilets and showers, brought us a wheel barrow of firewood, and generally made us most welcome. Zimbabwe desperately needs the tourists to return to these places. It was a beautiful setting, with a few house boats moored nearby.

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One of the fanciest houseboats was called “The Lady Jacqueline”, which Jac assures me was named after her, apparently its a “boat of note”……

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These are the ablutions, a little grim, but there was sort of hot water in one of the showers, these guys are trying their best under increasingly bad economic conditions.

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Next it was the long drive to Victoria Falls, oh the Police road blocks, this day  were becoming very tedious, always polite and again always jovial, but very tedious. We had about 15 to 20 this particular day, and almost every one (even if they are only 20km apart), checked headlights, tail lights, indicators, brake lights, reversing lights, driving licence, TIP (our carnet), and of course the fire extinguisher! But it did give me a chance to catch up on the English Premier League scores, and discuss the return to fitness of Wayne Rooney, several times……. but again no fines, no bribes and definitely no heavy handedness. At Vic Falls later, we were chatting to a guy from the campsite that was amazed that we had no complaints against the Police, and didn’t have to pay any bribes, he was telling us he had seen self drive tourists in tears about how they had been treated by the Zimbabwean Police. Personally I think its more about how you treat them, its so important to arrive to them with a confident, but polite smile and try to immediately engage with them, but also to show them some respect.

Victoria Falls was a shock, after over a week in rural Zimbabwe, at Vic Falls we were suddenly plunged into a huge tourism hub. We found Vic Falls Rest Camp which is right in the centre of town, and as we got out of Colonel K and switched off the engine, the roar of the falls hit us. It is more than two kilometres away, but the noise from the water is always (during high water times anyway) in the background, then theres the helicopters constantly buzzing over the falls , and there’s tourists here! There seemed to be very few self drive tourists in Vic Falls, but there were lots of “overland tour trucks”.  It seemed like lots of German tourists that were on air-conditioned coaches and staying at the posh hotels down near the falls (we are still not far from the Caprivi Strip in Namibia after all). The camp site was huge, but very few people were camping here, there was a bar next door that had thumping music until late into the evening, it was a real shock for us. 

Next day we walked the two kilometres to the falls, after paying our $30US per person entry fee, and telling lots of locals that we didn’t want to “rent a poncho”, we walked the short distance to the actual Falls. At this point we noticed that 99% of the tourists had indeed “rented a poncho” and WE were the remaining 1%!  Within 5 minutes we were absolutely soaked to the skin, tops, shorts, pants, socks, rucksack, and even my trusty Panasonic camera, all soaked…… Check out the guy behind Jac in the photo below, he’s got a poncho and an umbrella!

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About six years ago we visited Victoria Falls from the Zambia side, and it was impressive then, but this was on another level, and will definitely be one of the high lights of this trip. Here you can walk  for quite a few kilometres, and all the time the water is coming UP at you, falling Down on you, and blowing horizontally in the wind straight into your face! Its very invigorating, and we got some very strange looks from the many groups of Germans, with their tour guides all neatly wrapped up in their “rent a poncho’s”. How we laughed……. Not sure what David Livingstone would have made of it!

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Next it was a coffee stop back at the entrance gate, this was a cappuccino Zimbabwe style. We just ordered a couple simple cappuccino’s, and with each came a shot of Amarula, and a glass of iced water, very welcome, but perhaps not very “pc” at 11.00am.

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We then walked to The Lookout Cafe, this was only about 1km away, but overlooks the canyon a fair way after the falls, and the Zambezi is now just a churning, boiling mass of water. On the walk to the Cafe we had to walk past a herd of elephants…… they really are close to the town centre here. We had a lovely lunch sitting on the terrace overlooking the Zambezi, with the old British built Iron Bridge in the distance ( we are going to have to cross it in a couple of days time to get to Zambia).

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The last day at Vic Falls, was a day for chores in the morning, lunch out, and then Jac decided we should go to the poshest, most expensive hotel in town for afternoon cocktails, and wow was it posh! The Victoria Falls Hotel is sheer decadence, and clearly harking back to the days of the British Colonial Rule.It even had King George V, the Queen, and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret stay in 1947. It really is lovely and more like a working museum, but it is immaculate with beautiful gardens, and the view up to the Iron Bridge is the best we had seen, oh and the cocktails were pretty damn good too!

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It really is a fantastic place, but on another planet as far as the rest of Zimbabwe is concerned. The vast majority of guests here I suspect, arrive by coach from either Namibia or Zambia, visit the Falls, and then exit the country again. There’s nothing wrong in that, but I wonder what their thoughts on Zimbabwe are? Perhaps they think all lodges and hotels here are like this.

The people of Zimbabwe are without a doubt the nicest people that we have met on this trip (and the bar had already been set very high by Ghana), it is a country that has gone backwards economically, and the vast majority of its population are struggling big time. We were told by a few people that they have partially stopped trading in money (as they can’t trust the value of it), and have gone back to the old days of bartering goods for other goods and services (a bag of maize for some thatch maybe). The country is now officially using the US dollar as currency, which has stopped the unbelievable inflation that was hitting the average person in 2009. One guy was telling us that shop keepers were increasing their prices on an hourly basis, every day. Another told us how by the time he got paid at the end of the month, he didn’t have enough money from his salary to buy a can of Coke.

To show how bad things had got, I bought a banknote from a street vendor in Vic Falls, the face value of this note was 50 Billion Dollars! Thats, 50,000,000,000.00, and that wasn’t the highest they got to (I paid $3US for it as a momento). The prices here are all out of kilter, with a loaf of bread being a dollar, and most food stuffs being very expensive for the average Zimbabwean, (we were told that the unemployment rate was 90%), there are virtually no cars on the roads outside of the main cities (fuel is the most expensive we have seen in Africa so far). But still we are greeted warmly where ever we go. Lovely people……

Sorry its a bit long, we would have done it in two parts, but we were warned not to blog from inside Zimbabwe, as we could be accused of working for the BBC as journalists !……

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Botswana, tyres, elephants, and bugs

On our last post I mentioned that we had wrecked a tyre, so the plan was that we were going to find a local tyre repair place in the small town of Kasane and get them to swap that wheel over for the spare (it is seriously hard work changing a wheel on Colonel K, with each wheel and tyre weighing in at 135kg), before heading south to Francistown where we would find a larger tyre dealer and order in a couple of new tyres. While waiting for the tyres to be delivered (we were expecting a 2-4 week wait for these to get to Botswana), we would go off exploring for a bit, and hope we didn’t get our first puncture of the trip.

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At the filling station in Kasane we were told there were no tyre repairers in town but there was a small one in the next “town” along called “TyreMax”, and you can’t miss it because the whole place is tiny. So once in Kazungula, we found TyreMax and asked the guy if someone could swap the wheels over, whilst waiting (its a busy little place), I went into “reception” and enquired about getting a couple of new tyres delivered, after a few sharp intakes of breath from the woman behind the desk, she told me she had that size in stock! No way I thought, this size is impossible to source (even the two new ones we had fitted in the UK took about 3 weeks to get to the dealer, they are old Imperial sizes after all). I was taken through the back to the mad house that was their store room, there was no light, with tyres piled everywhere, but eventually I was taken to a pair of “Apollo” tyres, my heart sunk! These were the correct size, but were a pure road tyre, and weren’t even the correct load rating (very important on a single axle truck weighing nearly 10 tonnes). Back to square one then…………. More out of polite conversation than anything else, I asked if these were the only ones of this size that they had in stock, “oh no” came the reply, “we also have Bridgestone’s but they are very expensive”. When I saw this brand new pair of Bridgestone tyres my eyes nearly popped out of my head! These were my first choice of tyres before we were to leave the UK, but I was told by every dealer that they were not obtainable in my size. I checked the sizes, the load rating, even the date of manufacture, all was perfect, this was unbelievable…….. Now to do a deal. Before we left the UK we paid £800.00 for each Michelin, plus inner tubes and plus flaps (but including fitting), we ended up agreeing to a price here in Botswana of £400.00 each including genuine Bridgestone tubes and flaps, and fitting. Two hours later we were on our way!!!! We were incredibly lucky to find these tyres, and we just hope that these tyres now last the rest of our trip, as I’m sure that type of luck can’t repeat itself too often.

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You could tell these guys are used to dealing with split rim wheels like ours, and as they were busy inflating the tyres without a cage over the wheel (this is a seriously dangerous business), there were people walking over the wheel and tyre, people standing around eating, whereas me and Jac were hiding behind the truck! They were a great bunch of guys, (there was about 4 of them working on the truck) and despite the fact that their English wasn’t great we did have a laugh with them.

Kazungula is a small border town where you can get across to both Zimbabwe, and Zambia, and there was a queue of trucks to rival any West African border crossing, it went back for miles, the majority waiting to cross to Zambia. Apparently there is a pontoon crossing here, and one of them was broken, these truck drivers must have the patience of a saint. Luckily we weren’t planning on crossing here.

After getting sorted we set off down the A33 tarmac road towards Nata, this is a strange road with only one town or village along the route (the fantastically named Pandamatenga), there are no other settlements for 300km, but at Panda the landscape changed from deep lush bush and grasslands to a huge sea of various crops, we saw, peas, maize, and sunflower, all stretching deep over the horizon.

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Then as suddenly as it appeared, it returned to bush again. Now I must point out that all along this road (apart from where the crops are) there is lots of wildlife including elephants, it must cost a fortune keeping these animals out of this huge area of lush food (elephants in particular have no respect for boundaries or fences).

The other surprise with this road was the odd military presence in heavily camouflaged tents (but not camouflaged enough obviously), just set back from the road side, then we realised that the road (in three different places) would be blocked when deemed necessary and turned into an airstrip. This road does run parallel and quite close to the border with Zimbabwe, so I don’t know if thats why its so multi purpose, but i’d hope that they cleared the area of elephants and giraffe before they were cleared for landing.

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That night we stopped at Elephant Sands, a lodge and campsite about 50km north of Nata. We had met a few people on this trip that had recommended this place. It has recently (in the last year) been taken over my the previous owners daughter and husband, and they are investing quite heavily on improving the place, including new tented chalets, and extending the restaurant/bar area.

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The campsite (right next to the waterhole and bar), also has some updated ablutions, and is unusual in this part of the world in that there are no set camp areas, it is a bit of a free for all, but is no worse for that. The big attraction of Elephant Sands (apart from the really friendly family that are running it), are of course the elephants themselves, all the accommodation is arranged in a horseshoe shape around the waterhole, and this allows the elephants to wander in and out, but be observed from the safety of the bar or your own stilted tent. 

Mike the owner explained when we arrived, that due to the very late and heavy rain’s this year, there weren’t as many elephants at this time, as they have a huge choice of waterholes scattered around the area at the moment, never the less we did see a few elephants over the first two days that we stayed (mostly because we were still in the bar area once everyone else had gone to bed). Mike also explained that during the dry season the waterhole here is the only source of guaranteed water for hundreds of kilometres, (its trucked in tankers and pumped in to top up the water at Elephant Sands), consequently they can be over run with elephants, last year they had over 500 elephants at the small waterhole in one 24 hour spell, this meant that they had to close the campsite for a time and that they had to drain the small swimming pool, as the elephants managed to scale to patio area in a desperate attempt to get to some water! A victim of your own success? Maybe. Elephants have been recorded coming from as far as Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, just to get to a reliable source of water.

After asking the owners about the possibility of self driving the Nxai National Park, or the Makgadikgadi National Park without having to pay the 1,500BWP (£100.00) per day in vehicle park fees, we realised that this wasn’t really an option for us (especially after blowing our budget on 2 new tyres). But an hour or so later they came back and found us , and asked that if we wanted to, we could spend a night camping on their “farm”. We really didn’t understand what they were offering us, and so asked politely “why would we want to do this?”. It turns out that their “farm” isn’t really a farm as we know it but a huge 16,000 ha area of wild unspoilt bush and grassland that is at the moment dotted with pans that are full of water. Wow, this really was an amazing opportunity and obviously we thanked them and jumped at the chance. So the next morning, armed with nothing more than a sketched map, we set out into the bush, Mike had marked were a couple of pans were that were accessible with a vehicle, so we headed for these.

The first one we past was quite small with very little water in it at present, then we came across another much larger body of water so we found a suitable place to park up (not blocking the obvious elephant thoroughfares), and after a few moves we parked up about 8 metres from the waters edge, on a slightly elevated flat area.

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There were fresh elephant prints and dung everywhere! But when we first got there (about 10.00am) there was no sign of elephants…….surely they will come though eh? We used the opportunity to collect fallen firewood, as there was lots of it due to the damage caused by the elephants, of course using our “ironman” welding gloves (that we use for cooking on the open fire) to protect us from scorpions lurking under the fallen wood.

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Gradually at around noon we started to hear the distant sound of elephants, sometimes eating, sometimes destroying the odd tree, we could even hear them splashing in another waterhole further into the bush, then our first young bull elephant appeared……….. Then for the next 5 or 6 hours it was crazy, there were elephants everywhere!

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We were hoping to see a few at close range at this water hole, we ended up counting to approx 60 elephants during daylight, but they just kept coming in during the evening. Many of these huge creatures were quite agitated by us being there, and were especially unhappy about the truck.

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That night we had the mother of all camp fires, cooked our fish and vegetables, drank our wine and settled back to listen the drama of the African Bush at Night, and wow what a night. We had elephants moving very close by in the pitch black of the night, it was a perfect clear, but black night with no moon up until much later. I slept like a log….. I’m not sure Jac did.

The birds at the waterhole were quite breathtaking, including, Hornbills, Crimson Breasted Shrikes, Rollers, Bee-eaters, Weaver Birds, and the stunning Shaft-Tailed Whydah. Thumb P1080889 1024

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 But that 24 hours was definitely all about the elephants.

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After a leisurely breakfast we headed back to Elephant Sands (which was preparing to host a wedding the next day, what a place for a wedding).

Unbelievably we also met the parents of the two English couples that we met a few weeks ago in the Caprivi Strip, Namibia, who had come out to visit them. Later in the day (about 5pm), Jac decided to go off to the ablution block for a shower (I was left typing this blog), when she hadn’t returned after about 15 minutes, I thought I’d better take a look to see what was keeping her………….

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Poor old Jac, she was in the shower, covered in soap, when a huge bull elephant decided that he liked the smell of her shower water, as she turned round there he was, face against the 2 foot gap above the wall, ready to do as much damage with his truck as he deemed fit! She ended up wrapped in her towel in full view of the bar (much to the amusement of the guests and staff), at the entrance to the ablutions waiting for the elephant to lose interest. Eventually he wandered off to the water hole, much to the relief of Jac’s who finished her shower very nervously. 

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If you think I’m exaggerating about an elephant damaging property to get at the water, last year Elephant Sands had 14 WC’s ripped out by elephants as they were trying to get to water, all smashed to pieces.

Bugs…………Living in Colonel K is a constant battle with bugs. Mosquitos are much more prevalent here in Eastern and Northern Botswana, but we are getting more used to them, as we are constantly above 3,000 feet, its a bit cooler as it gets dark, and this allows us to wear long trousers and sleeves if the mossies are bad, with just a bit of repellant on your exposed skin. This seems to work most of the time, and obviously we sleep under a net and take anti-malarial tablets each day. Ants are a different kettle of fish! It is a constant battle to keep on top of them inside the truck, there is always a nest somewhere that needs eradicating, above the bed, above the kitchen wall cupboards, in the air-con unit………. the list is endless. We have found that “Doom Super Strength Multi Insect” seems to sort them out without killing us, but you really don’t want to be in there once we’ve sprayed the place, its nasty! Its not unusual to use almost a whole tin of Doom when we have a bad infestation, but I guess we just have to accept that it is part of life in Africa when moving about, parking under trees for shade, and walking in and out of the living area (Im convinced that we are taking them in on our shoes and clothes).

One day (the night we bush camped at Elephant Sands), we were constantly visited by some African Bees (thats what we call them, not sure of the correct name), these are huge flying black bees, about 30-40mm long, and for some reason they wanted to fly in and out of the truck, when we went to bed that night this was what we found on one of our pictures that we have on our walls……

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The buggers had been bringing mud in to build this nest!

Then there’s the more cute bugs like this strange creature that looks like a piece of grass.

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We are now in Francistown (Botswana’s 2nd biggest city), catching up on washing clothes etc, and will head over to the border with Zimbabwe and cross over at the Plumtree border crossing (we are not expecting this crossing to be as smooth as the last few that we’ve had). There are a few National parks that we want to visit while in Zimbabwe, so we will see how we get on.

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Botswana, out into the Sands of Chobe

From Drotsky’s Camp in Western Botswana, the only choice was the tarmac road to Maun, there is no other way across the Okavango Delta if you have four wheels. This gave us time to think about  how things can change just by crossing a land border. The most immediate striking difference when crossing from Namibia to Botswana was the amount of unattended livestock on the roads. There are cattle, goats and donkeys everywhere, and it seems that in Botswana the “owners” don’t need to keep them from the traffic. Oh, and the Butterfly’s, they are everywhere at the moment, clouds of them rising from the long dried grass, all different colours, all trying desperately to clog up Colonel K’s radiator and overheat the engine. Then there’s the road surface, at some point the government of Botswana must have taken a decision to tarmac even some of their more minor routes rather than using gravel tracks as in Namibia and to some extent South Africa. That is fine but its much cheaper and easier to maintain a gravel road with a ‘grading machine’ than it is to continuously fill pot holes and mend broken tarmac edges, consequently there are a lot of very big and nasty pot holes on the Shakwe to Maun road. 

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Anyway after a long drive we arrived in Maun, and after a quick bit of food shopping, and getting a local sim card for our phone, we found a nice campsite that was part of Sedia Riverside Hotel, which was about 6km out of town. We ended up staying here for a few days, using the swimming pool and lodge facilities, and trying to find out if it was possible for us to drive the direct route through Chobe National Park, via Savuti. This was something that we really wanted to do in Botswana, having done this route about 7 years previously in a Landrover Defender. This was going to be very different, driving in deep sand in a 10 tonne truck is not the same as a 2.5 tonne Landrover! First of all we needed to find out if anyone else currently in Maun had done this in a large truck, or indeed if it was allowed by the Park Authorities. So after a chat to a few people in travel/excursions shops and a quick trip to a very nice coffee shop where we met an English guy and his Belgium girlfriend we decided it probably could be done as long as we avoided the small bridges (some wooden) of Moremi Game Reserve. The English guy was especially helpful, telling us about some of the tracks to avoid due to the mud around the Savuti Marsh. They are trying to set up a conservation project in Moremi, and are hoping to get a permit to stay in Botswana, so good luck with that guys.

Another difference in Botswana is the tourists, in Namibia I guess about 80-90% of tourists are German, here in Botswana, there is a much greater mix of nationalities visiting the country, and they seem much more willing to speak to you, and many seem much more travelled here than in Namibia. I get the impression that many Germans visit Namibia many times year after year (a bit like the Brits going to Spain?).

One pain in the butt when self driving in Botswana is that you will be denied entry to a National Park (if you plan to overnight there) without a confirmed booking in an official campsite, so despite still not meeting anyone who had driven a large truck through Chobe, we headed off to a booking office to pre-book and pay for a couple of nights camping at Savuti Campsite. The next big difference of Botswana over Namibia reared its ugly head…………its so bloody expensive! One nights camping at Savuti was 1,150BWP, or £76.00, thats crazy, stupid, mental! We are used to paying between £5.00 and £12.00 per night on this trip, so staying at Savuti for two nights was out of the question. Eventually we found another site located just outside the Gate into the National Park, so we booked that at another agency for one night at a much more reasonable 400BWP, or £27.00 per night. This second agency was very helpful, and managed to find out how much we would have to pay in park entrance fees, we already knew that it was 120BWP per person per day, and that if you have a vehicle under 3.5 tonnes then thats an extra 50BWP, so it was with shock and dismay that we were told that if a vehicle is over 7 tonnes its 1,500BWP per day! Thats a 3,000% increase over a Landrover. This trip needed planning carefully otherwise our budget would be blown big time! If we spent 7 nights at Savuti with the truck it would cost us over £1,200, just to camp, with no electricity, and no drinkable water!  Yet they are busy here, very busy, with Savuti being fully booked most nights. Botswana really is all about low volume, high prices, especially in the National parks, and it seems to work for them. The lodges are busy, and yet the National Parks are very quiet and totally unspoilt.

So having booked a couple of nights camping ahead of us it was time to return to Sedia, on the banks of the Thamalakane River, and watch the Fish Eagles here for one last night.

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There was a huge storm off to the south, with a lightening show in the darkening evening skies, this is not unusual during late afternoon at this time of year, but once again we only saw the rain in the distance and it never actually reached us, but it made for a stunning last evening here.

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Our first prebooked campsite was a fairly new place called Dijara Campsite, and on the way up here from Maun, the wildlife was coming thick and fast, especially elephants.

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Including this rare six legged elephant.

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As we got closer to Chobe and Moremi we started to see water, lots of water, and some tracks were closed off and we had to ‘back track’ to find ways around the flooded areas (no vehicle tracks were entering these waters, all had turned around), we were hoping that Chobe wasn’t too wet as it can get very muddy (9 tonne trucks don’t like mud).

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Early afternoon we reached Dijara, and the very friendly owner got us to follow him in his Landrover Defender to our camp spot, wow what a place! It was right on the banks of the Khwai River, with  long distances in-between each camp  spot (there are about ten camp areas here), and each camp has its own ‘flushing toilet’ and bucket shower. And then there’s the elephants, they were constantly coming out of the river and through the campsite, sometimes eating, sometimes deciding to stop and have a snooze.

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What ever they were doing, there was never an elephant too far away, never threatening us but you really must respect these animals! This was proved late in the day when the guys came up the track quite quickly in the Landrover, and surprised the young bull elephant in the photo above as he was dozing against the tree, he completely freaked out, but fortunately he charged off in the opposite direction to us and Colonel K.

It really is a special place, and just goes to prove that you don’t have to be in the National Park here in Botswana to experience wild animals, after all there are no fences here and these animals do not know the park boundaries.

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And again the bird life was great, with Fish Eagles, Tawny Eagles, and Open-Billed Stork.

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Soon it was time to fill the bucket shower and allow the sun to heat the water in the said bucket, so we lowered the bucket using the cord and pulley system and started to fill the bucket using the “river” water from the tank and tap nearby (check out the lovely “clean” water we are about to wash in).

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Then just as we started to hoist the bucket up, the cord snapped and the bucket came crashing down. A quick re-tying of the cord (shortening it somewhat) and another refilling of the shower bucket, saw us slowly hoisting it up into position above our heads, gently, gently, crash!!!! Ok this is crazy and dangerous under this bucket with rotten cord, so we resorted to using our outside shower instead (this was only the second time we’ve used it on this trip, as we do need a decent amount of privacy to get your kit off and shower outside). But despite the shower issue, this is one of the nicest places we’ve camped at on this trip. That evening we cooked dinner on the fire to the sounds of elephants, hippos, and hyena, then it was off to bed for an early rise to tackle the sands of Chobe.

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We didn’t get away quite as early as we had hoped in the morning, leaving Dijara campsite at 7.30am. We only had about 80km to do that day to get to Savuti Campsite, but we really didn’t know what to expect as far as driving in the sand was concerned, its also better to drive the sand earlier in the day when there is a small amount of moisture in it and so it holds the sand together slightly better.

Then just after leaving the campsite, we had a first for us, a real treat…….. we came across a small pack of African Wild Dog, these are quite rare and can be difficult to spot, but they seemed to have a ‘kill’ on the edge of the track, and were reluctant to leave it.

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It was just after seeing these beautiful animals that we arrived at Mababe Gate, officially the entrance to Chobe NP, and expressed our shock and horror that they were going to charge us 1,000BWP for our 6.8 tonne truck to enter for the day!

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 Job done, we set off and almost immediately we were in deep sand, very deep sand…… oh bugger this is going to be a long couple of days! We were already in low range  and selecting first gear, the Daf just dug in and slowly (4 kmph) it pulled us through . No using the sand ladders yet so job done! But despite letting the tyre pressures down, I felt that reducing them further would help us even more after we had seen the extent of these deep sections (and we knew worst was to come). So we decided to wait until we got to a clearing and then get out and reduce them further. Soon we came across a vehicle that had stopped ahead of us with a trailer, so slowly we pulled up some distance behind him thinking that they had seen some animals and were stopped and were watching them. After about 5 minutes I decided that they weren’t moving and got out to look at the tyres (it was nice firm ground). to my amazement I realised there was no car in-front of the “off-road” camper trailer, and looking closely I realised it had been abandoned after the chassis had snapped! Not a good advert for Conquerer Trailers, Africa is tough on vehicles.

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Anyway we quickly whipped the valves out and reduced the tyres down as far as we dare, trying not to drop the valve into the sand (Jac having the spare valves close at hand), and drove around the trailer through the long grass and back on our way.

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There were indeed lots of sections of deep sand, some longer than others, but as long we reduced our speed to walking pace in first gear, the truck managed to pull through each one. Other than the weight of the truck (over 9 tonnes), our other big disadvantage in the sand is the much wider track of the wheels. A Landrover or Land Cruiser 70 series track neatly fits within the inside of our wheel tracks, that means that the Daf has to cut its own track in the outside of the ‘normal’ vehicle route, so being in soft sand all the time.

But slowly we were getting there, and the animals along the route made up for the demands of this driving, there were huge herds of Zebra, Giraffe, and literally hundreds of elephants.

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But after six hours of driving, we eventually got to Savuti, this is about midway through Chobe, we had averaged 12kmph (7.5mph), we had met only 4 vehicles (all coming in the opposite direction, nothing caught us up). We quickly set up in our camp spot for the night (a very expensive one), had a quick look around and brewed a well earned coffee. That evening we were entertained by a family of small Mongoose’s, the young ones being very bold and approaching us perhaps a little too closely.

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The next morning we left Savuti campsite at 7.00am, knowing that if we got to the exit gate later than 11.00am we would have to pay another day of vehicle and personal fee’s, and we had been told that there was again lots of deep sand in front of us. Also there was the stopping for the animals, including these Impala in the early morning light.

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And of course the elephants, hundreds of elephants, sometimes having to wait for them to move before we could carry on.

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But we made it to the gate before the extra charges kicked in, and were told that the track leaving the NP was closed due to deep sand and that we needed to follow a “new” route, this was a much longer route but hopefully not so much deep sand. The original route must have been bad as this detour was indeed very sandy, but we did the 85 km by about noon. On reaching the tarmac, we stopped under the shade of a tree in the village to re-inflate the tyres (front from 40psi back up to 90psi, and the rears from 65psi back up to 125psi), we timed this and it took almost 90 minutes to carry out this task (that also included spraying and releasing the coupling on the air tanks so we could attach the airline, as it was packed full of sand and crap). This is a big disadvantage of a big truck, as the air tanks only inflate to about 100psi, so we have to use a heavy duty portable compressor to slowly get the rear tyres up to 125psi. We then have to wait for the compressor to cool down before we can store it away (it gets seriously hot).

Overall we were gobsmacked at how well the Daf performed in the Chobe sands, we never got stuck once in the 180km’s of sand that we drove, not needing the sand ladders that we invested in at all. The cooling system coped well with the massive heat of the day, and the very low speeds at times (so little air was passing through the radiator). The biggest issue was the rear wheels occasionally got “crossed up”, with say the right rear deciding that it wanted to be in the left hand rut! This could only be cured by almost stopping, correcting the steering and then moving forward again. You really had to concentrate to make sure the wheels were pointing in the right direction, but this happens with all vehicles in this deep sand environment.

On the way out of the National Park, just before we got to the town of Kasane, we suddenly got a ping on the phone (we hadn’t had a signal for three days), and Jac was just reading an email from my sister Brenda (these emails are always precious from home, WE DONT GET ENOUGH!), when suddenly we spotted this absolutely stunning Lioness, no more that 3 metres from the edge of the road.

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A fitting end to a fantastic few days of driving in the bush? Well no not exactly, because Africa will always through up a surprise (sometimes many every day), as we started slowing down to enter the town, a young elephant ran across the road in front of us, he obviously wasn’t heading for the border, he wanted the town centre.

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We are now at Chobe Safari Lodge Campsite, which is right on the edge of town (less than 5 minute walk to Choppies Supermarket), its a huge hotel/Lodge with 81 rooms, 2 bars, and the tightest campsite that we have ever stayed in! We really struggled to get into a camp area, but we have been here for 3 nights, and it is a wildlife park all on its own. Since being here we have seen Crocodile (one was about 2 metres from Jacs feet and the first we knew of it being the was it shooting off into the river), elephants, a snake (at the river edge), Vervet Monkey’s, Baboons, and lots of families of Warthogs. There are lots of security roaming the campsite, which I’m sure is for protecting against animals rather than petty theft. Today we have done all our clothes washing, and had a purge on an infestation of tiny ants (a constant problem in this heat), this travelling is so romantic eh.

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The view from here over the Chobe River is stunning, but it has changed since we were last here about 7 years ago, there are lots more “evening cruise” boats now, some seem more about party boats rather than scenic cruises, so we won’t bother this time, this is strange as we hardly saw another vehicle while actually driving in the National Park. 

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But the birdlife is still the same, including this Brown-Hooded Kingfisher, and Striated Heron.

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But we have a small tyre issue, whilst driving in the sand we somehow must have hit something sharp somewhere and have wrecked a rear Michelin ZXL. So tomorrow we are going to see about the possibility of replacing it. I did risk arrest whilst in town on Saturday to approach a Botswana Army truck to inspect the size of its tyres, they are old imperial sizes like ours, but a slightly wider rim size, but I’m sure I saw a smaller tyre on an older MAN truck earlier in the day. So fingers crossed that we can get a couple of tyres either here in Kasane or near the border at Francistown, we really want to get this sorted before we cross into Zimbabwe.

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As you can see the damage is about 150mm long and deep enough to show the steel bands, amazingly the tyre held all the way to Kasane (though at a low speed). We will now change the wheel for the spare, but may end up hanging around for a bit until we can source a new tyre.

But hey, thats Africa!

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Along the Caprivi, back, into Botswana, onions and floods.

Travelling in Africa can do some funny things to your mind, obsessions start to form, sometimes on the most mundane subjects. Take onions for example, we have taken for granted that fresh onions are always readily available, and all the way down north and west Africa, we have been able to buy these by the bucket full (literally sometimes). You see, onions can grow in almost any sandy soil condition (as we saw in Senegal), and because of this we have got used to having a fresh, sliced onion as the basis of every meal we cook, curries, one pot stews, even a parcel of veg always has a sliced onion in it. But hang on, where are all the onions? Jac has become obsessed with finding onions, and it appears that they don’t have onions in the Caprivi Strip (well non rotten ones anyway).

We set off down the long road to Kongola, which is about half way along the Caprivi Strip, leaving behind the Okavango River, and headed for a camp spot on the Kwando River. On the way we stopped for a quick pee break (and get a fresh bottle of water out the fridge, to top up our pee), and across the road appeared a few children, very curious, but also very nervous of us. We have found that if you want the kids to be more accepting of you, the thing to to is give them a little “wiggle of the hips”! So after a quick boogie for them, and them in fits of giggles, they approached us slowly, so out came the toy box again. With old toys donated by our nephews and nieces, Hannah, Oskar, Albert, Herbie, Jess, Max and George (Ronnie and Reggie), they instantly rewarded us with miles of smiles.

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Such simple little toys, give so much pleasure to these kids, smurfs, dinosaurs, dolls, cars, it doesn’t matter, its the fact that they have something.

The camp just outside Kongola, was a very quiet place, and again right on the river bank again, with just us there. Just us, and Timothy (the local lad that lights the “dolly boiler” for your hot shower), the Kwando River is a much quieter river than the Okavango that we left behind at Ngepi Camp.

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But the bird life here was stunning, including this little fella, an African Golden Weaver, that was attacking itself in the mirrors, and windows of Colonel K, even after we chased it away, it still came back for another go, I not sure if it was looking for a mate, or was being territorial.

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And there were quite a few Little Bee-Eater’s about especially in the morning.

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There was a lodge as part of the campsite, with a bar and a restaurant, but you have to take a boat to it, and as we had plenty of food and drink (but no onions), we didn’t bother, and stayed all alone on the campsite. The facilities actually weren’t too bad here, with hot water for a shower (obviously only river water), and although there is no electricity here (in fact there is no electricity in the nearby village of Kongola, despite huge power lines running along the main road), they do have possibly the worlds smallest solar panel to power the bulbs inside the ablution block.

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From here we wanted to drive the long bottom loop that runs down to the Linyanti Swamps, and then back up to the border town of Katima Mulilo, we really didn’t know what to expect on this route, and thought it might mean an overnight stop somewhere en-route, we were gobsmacked (and a little disappointed), to find that the entire route had recently been tarmac’ed. But it was a lovely day’s drive and there were literally hundreds and hundreds of tiny village communities along here (I guess thats why they surfaced the road).

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Following a few good reviews on “i-overlander”, we decided to try the ‘Caprivi House Boat Safari Lodge’ for camping just outside Katima Mulilo, but not before doing some shopping at the new Pick-and Pay Supermarket, and guess what, they’ve got onions!!!! So we stocked up on all sorts of fresh fruit and veg, it was the best supplied shop since we left Tsumeb, we even got some nice bread and rolls here. The campsite here really is a lovely chilled place, it only has four camp spots, but again we were the only campers here. Oh and they have 3 lovely dogs, including the very friendly Great Dane, Ceaser, and a Labrador cross that the owner Kurt rescued. We stayed here for two nights, and had our “fill” of canine affection.

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The lodge is right on the Zambezi river, and across the water is Zambia, with this particular river flowing very hard, and in flood at the moment heading towards Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe/Zambia border. We hope to visit the falls after driving through Botswana (from the Zimbabwe side), and I guess its going to be in approx 1-2 months time, I just hope that the Falls at that time are as impressive as they must be now. Although all these rivers are in flood, its certainly not wet here at the moment, all this water is what fell many months ago in the faraway mountains in Angola. Much of this water will just fizzle out into the Kalahari Desert to the south.

Whilst here, we went on an evening boat trip down river for a few hours, once on the boat you realise how high the water levers are currently. According to Kurt, the temperature of the water is currently high enough for the crocodiles to remain in the water, and don’t go onto land until night fall (they can remain under water for 45 minutes before they need air).

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Again the birdlife was spectacular, including this flock of White-Fronted Bee-Eaters.

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And this Blue-Cheeked Bee-Eater

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And this bizarre African Open-Bill Stork.

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We had a few beers on board, and shared the trip with three expat’s from Zimbabwe and Zambia, they were quite a laugh and had many tales to tell.

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After settling our bill (including the honesty bar), which was less than £50.00, including the boat trip and camping for two nights, it was back on the road again to do the 330km trip back to Ngepi Camp, near Duvindu and the Botswana border post that we want to take, but not before a quick trip to the liquor store in town, to stock up on gin, tonic’s and wine. The detour around the Caprivi Strip was just over 800km’s, and although it was mostly boring tarmac, it was well worth doing, and again we met some great people along the way.

We had been away from Ngepi Camp for 4 nights, and as we got to about 2km from the lodge (down the sandy track, we were faced with this scene. This landscape here can change very very quickly!

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Not too bad, we suggested, its only a flooded track, so on we went through the water which was only about 300mm deep up to this point. Then we took a slight detour through a small village and in front of us was what appeared to be a 4×4 car park. After stopping and chatting to a couple of members of staff from Ngepi, we were told that the causeway to the lodge is completely underwater, and is waist deep, oh and is flowing quite strongly. The lodge were laying on boats for guests to reach the site, but obviously we needed our truck to camp in, so after receiving detailed instructions from “Mr Chelsea Shirt” to stay within the canes with the Coke cans on the tops, we set out into the flooded river! Wow that was deep, our front winch was submerged, and out lower lockers were under water, I guess at its deepest it was about 1.0metre deep, that seriously got the adrenaline pumping. Then we got across the causeway only to be presented with this track to the lodge.

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And this is the area in front of the lodge, completely flooded right up to reception, it meant getting out of Colonel K and knee deep in water (the lodge is in the far right of the photo).

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It appeared that we were the only vehicle camping here, and so set off to pick a nice dry site. Amazingly the next day we walked to the reception for a quick beer to find about 3 other vehicles that had attempted and made it across the flooded causeway, all had their carpets and mats out drying in the sun, and of course the Landrover Defender was having trouble with his flooded electrics!!  Africa really is split down the middle as far as 4×4’s are concerned, you are either Landrover or Toyota, and this is perfectly explained in this photo (obviously put there by a Toyota guy).

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This is the entrance to one of the lodge’s “tree house’s”, as you can see the walkway to it is completely underwater.

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The noises at Ngepi Camp are non-stop, especially the Hippos, that are hiding out in the reed beds, but occasional we could hear the unmistakable roar of Elephants of the far bank of the river, but as its very thick deep bush we never saw them, until one evening there was a huge group between the river and the trees.

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We have seen the hippos in the water, blowing like a huge whale’s as they come up for a breath, but they seem reluctant to come out on to this bank to graze for some reason.

To give you some idea of the amount of flooded water there is, this photo is across to the track that we drove down, this is the “causeway” that is under water.

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And to get to the bar……. Well, it requires a small amount of determination.

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I spent many an hour trying to get a photo of the Go-Away Bird (yes thats its proper name), and although they are quite common here, they proved quite difficult to get a decent photo of, especially with the magnificent crest up (cause they go-away? sic). I still didn’t manage it really but after all that effort this was my best shot (a small obsession maybe?).

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While at Ngepi camp, we encountered a very rare thing indeed, British overlanders! This was two couples, who have driven the whole of the western route, and managed it to Namibia in six months, that is seeing Africa at high speed. It was great to catch up with them and hear some of their many adventures. If you are interested they have a Facebook page “where to next africa”, and the funny thing is we have been watching their posts on FB (and they have seen lorrywaydown), and then you bump into them, its a small world eh. They are travelling in two very well sorted and equipped Landrover Discovery’s.

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It was time for us to finally leave Namibia (mind you the Caprivi really does feel like another country), and so we set off across the flooded land again, the river was slightly higher and running a bit faster now but the Daf took it all in its stride. Check out Colonel K, phone in hand, already to call Dangermouse should the worst happen!

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After a short drive through the national park, we arrived at the Mohembo border post, wow what a pleasant experience (its all relative), we were through both borders in about 45 minutes. The Botswana side even let us pay for our 3rd party insurance, road tax, and vehicle permit with our left over Namibian Dollars (all less than £16.00 for up to 90 days), and she gave us change! Lovely people, working very efficiently. After a chat with the Immigration Officer we were given 60 days in Botswana, and then if we want to re-enter later this year we can have another 30 days then. There were no costs for the visa.

After clearing the usual checks we drove to the nearby town of Shakawe, to find a ATM to get some local currency (Pula, approx 15 Pula to the GBP), and try to get a sim card for the mobile. We managed the currency ok (a Barclays Bank there with an ATM), but there was no-one selling local sim cards, this will have to wait until we get to Maun.

While in Choppies “supermarket” we brought a loaf of bread, and as is usually the case we looked around for the bread slicing machine with its operative standing nearby, nope no slicing machine, but thats ok we have a bread knife. When we got to the checkout we saw that the bread slicing machine was strangley located just inside the door, so after paying for our groceries we headed for the evil looking machine. No operative! No finger guard! No Instructions! After a few minutes of struggling how to work the machine without the twenty or so completely exposed blades taking my fingers off, two young local girls took over, and calmly pushed our loaf through, laughing all the time that the stupid white guy was scared of the blades. Her finger tips were so close to those blades, first pushing from one side then pulling from the other. Health and Safety ha! 

We are now camped at a place called Drotsky’s, again on the Okavango River, its got a very tight and heavily forested way in (the Colonel got a few bumps to its top rails), and there are Vervet Monkey’s everywhere, we’ve never seen so many, so everything has to be locked away (these little blighters look cute but will dash in and steal anything).

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Drotsky’s is a lovely camp, and the cabins here look amazing, but we are only going to stay one night and then head on the the Okavango Delta “town” of Maun. Loving Botswana so far……..

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Off we go again, Caprivi Strip

We left the mining town of Tsumeb, and headed the relatively short distance to “Roy’s Rest Camp”, en-route we diverted off the main route to visit the Hoba Meteorite. This is the largest meteorite that has ever been discovered on Earth, and weighs a staggering 60 tonnes, and apparently fell to Earth less than 80,000 years ago. There is no real crater at the site, so some believe it bounced (a bit like a stone skimming on a pond), from the crater site over near the west coast of Namibia. However it got here, it is mighty impressive to see (and for Jac to jump on).

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The site is now a National Monument, and unlike most places like this in Africa (and that includes Namibia), it has been done really nicely, and obviously it doesn’t get that many visitors but its got decent toilets (Africa decent……..), and a small shop, apparently funds were made available by Rossing Uranium LTD to build the centre and protect the site (which had been damaged by vandals previously).

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After a night at Roy’s (and giving three very excited Spanish women a guided tour of Colonel K), we set off to visit a San Bushman village. This was about a 130km round trip including 12km down a very narrow sand track to the village. It was a long drive “just to visit a village” but it was well worth it. The village is part of the Ju/Hoansi tribe (this is the localised tribe, but they are known as San Bushman in general terms). We were met with a very warm welcome, by a young lad that spoke reasonable English (he was the only person in the village that seemed to speak or understand English), who instructed us that we were going to meet a” San” hunter, who would show us how they make a fire. The old guy made it look very very easy.

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There is a more “modern” part to the village about 2 kilometres further down the track,where about 400 people live. Apparently about 80 people live in the traditional way of the San, here in this amazing setting.

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The San Bushman traditionally hunt their food with tiny bows and arrows, but make no mistake those arrows are deadly, as they are tipped with poison (made from the larvae of a particular beetle that feeds in a particular type of bush), and have sustained the tribesmen for many thousands of years. They rely on “stealth” creeping up on their quarry and hitting it from close range. I asked how long it takes for the poison to work and for the prey to die, after much chatting our young guide translated that if say a Giraffe or Eland (a large antelope) was hit with three arrows they would have to track the injured animal for about two days, and then hopefully get to the dying quarry before any of the other predators beat them to it. Life is, or was tough here.

Before we left the truck we had a debate about what footwear we should have on, trainers or full on walking boots (obviously to protect against snake bites, and scorpions, walking boots are a safer bet), but we figured that if we did walk with anyone in the bush, they would only have flip flops on, so we went with trainers. These guys were barefoot, there were no shoes to be seen anywhere, and trust me, the thorns in Namibia are huge and will puncture a car tyre. It was decided that they would take me and Jac on a ‘bush walk’, so off we went after the “Hunter” and our “guide”.

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Whilst on our walk we were shown, a traditional snare, that was set up to catch ground feeding birds, which really are ingeniously set up, and super sensitive. Then we were shown a few of the herbs that they use, this included our young guide getting under a bush and digging with his bare hands to unearth a tiny piece of Camphor root.

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We noticed that we were being followed by a couple of ladies from the village (we never did find out why), but they followed at a discreet distance, so I stopped and waited for them to come round the corner to take a photo of them, straight away, they smiled and posed for the camera. 

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Eventually we arrived back in the clearing of the village, and there were a lot more people up and about now, with many of the women making traditional jewellery.

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At this point we were split up, Jac taken to do woman’s work (making jewellery) with an old lady, and me, well I did manly things like making a bow! I noticed when we were out walking, that the old fella had cut down a stick, but didn’t realise that this was to be the basis of my own start into archery. So whilst Jac was shaping Ostrich egg shell into round discs and drilling it with a stick with a pin in the end of it, I was shaping my bow and making the string from the fibre’s of a local plant.

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Then hey presto…. Jac’s had a fantastic necklace and bracelet made, and I had my very own bow! Apparently Jac’s bracelet was free but if she wanted the necklace (which was very nice), it was $80NAD (about £3.50), and my bow was free, but if I wanted any arrows they were $40NAD each, so I bought one bone tipped one, and one steel tipped one (I was not trusted with the poison).

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So Jac was wearing her stuff, so that meant I had to try out my bow! The village elder decided we should re-enact a hunting scenario, and so we had to creep up on our “quarry”, and then loose our arrows into the tiny target. It was great fun but he seemed to be taking it all very seriously.

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I even managed to hit the target on my fourth go, I was pretty chuffed.

We were then taken back to the village clearing, and the village elder told us that the women would carry out some traditional dancing for us, so off he went to round up some willing participants.

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The first part involved a strange dance using a fruit that they called a ‘mango-orange’, and involved each woman doing a short dance and then throwing it behind them for the next woman to catch and carry on the dance, this is a traditional dance when the men return with a successful kill.

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Then of course Jac got ‘roped in’ to dance with these tiny people, I was videoing it, and it was so funny to watch, the camera was shaking.

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Lastly a dance was performed showing how a sick person could be healed using the power of the mind (the guy smokes something to take him into a trance), this was quite an eerie sight and very atmospheric.

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Eventually we had to say our farewell’s, and we were taken back to our truck by our guide and was shown the “shop” to see if we wanted to buy any of the items made in the village.

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Obviously I had to buy a quiver for my two arrows! At the shop there was a small girl with her mum, and Jac decided this was the perfect time to give away one of the many second hand toys that we brought back to Africa, that were kindly donated by our great nephews and nieces. So after a quick rummage in the toy box, Jac presented the little girl with a Minnie Mouse, that was donated by my sister’s daughter Hannah. This simple gift has made this little girl a very happy bunny!

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We felt very privileged to have been allowed to visit these people and we had an amazing day seeing how they live. It seems that the young San people now aren’t interested in learning these ancient ways, and would rather either work on the local farms or move to the nearby towns. It’s a real shame, as this village has shown that tourists would support these local communities.. We really had a great day.

As though to prove this fact, Jac decided for the first time on this trip she would try driving the Colonel. She done good!

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After another night at “Roy’s”, we set off for the northern town of Rundu, and after driving through the scruffy but booming town, we came to the turning off the gravel track down to the campsite that we were aiming for. After about two kilometers we were faced with a seriously flooded track infront of us, there was a sign to say that it was flooded for 0.8km, and the depth was 800mm, the trouble was we couldn’t actually see the route of the track, and could we actually trust this sign? Or indeed was the campsite open anyway? There was a local guy sitting there that assured us that we could manage the flood in the truck, but we decided to turn around and find another campsite. If we had to cross it we probably would have gone for it, but with no markers visible, it was only for a campsite ,we decided that discretion was best used here. We ended up at a campsite/lodge quite near the town centre, but still overlooking the flooded Okavango River, this is the border with Angola.

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Our plan was to get some fresh fruit and veg, and spend one night here only, then head on down the Caprivi Strip (Zambezi), the next day. Plans never quite work out eh…….

The next day after a leisurely breakfast and a long chat with a South African couple (the only other campers here), we set off for the village of Divundu, about 200km’s east. After about 30km on the bumpy tarmac road, the steering on the Daf went mental, shaking and shuddering,  so we stopped. I expected to see a punctured tyre. but no all tyres were fully inflated.So I got underneath and checked the steering to see if anything had worked loose, but all seemed ok, so we set off. About 2km’s further down the road, it happened again, and it wouldn’t clear the very violent shaking until we completely stopped. After another longer look underneath, and checking the wheels we decided to return to Rundu to try get it sorted there. After a slow drive back, and asking lots of people we eventually found a truck repair workshop, ATR (Advanced Truck Repairs), this reminded us of our local village garage but much bigger!

The workshop foreman, decided (as I thought) that it was probably a ‘shot’ wheel bearing, so he got one of the guys to jack up all four corners and check the wheels, nope all good here. Then an older mechanic  noticed that the front tyres (and the left hand side in particular) were wearing unevenly, so got the guy to swap the spare for the worst worn tyre. We then took it for a test drive, and amazingly it seemed ok! He deduced that the wheels were badly out of alignment and this needed doing urgently, so we booked it in the next morning for 7.30am. 


The next morning arrived and it was wet, very wet, but here a bit of rain doesn’t stop anything, and the guys carried on setting up the lazer equipment, and eventually (after freeing up the seized track rod ends), set up the truck hopefully with perfectly aligned wheels (fingers crossed). What you can’t see on the photo below is the guy under the truck, laying in about 3 inches of water.

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Anyway after 5.5 hours of labour (for two guys mostly), and the wheels aligned we paid our bill (approx £90.00), and finally set off for Divundu at about lunchtime. All seems good with the steering now, with no shaking, so again fingers crossed. 

We headed for Ngepi Camp, which we phoned ahead to make sure it was accessible during the flood season, we were told that the camp was accessible all year round even by a 2 wheel drive! Well I’m not sure what sort of 2wd vehicles that he meant, but it wasn’t a Fiesta or Focus! It was a long slow 5km drive down a bumpy sandy track to the camp, but what a camp, it really is a great place, right on the banks of the Kavango River. 

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The river is fully in flood at the moment (running into the Okavango Delta in nearby Botswana), and is full of crocodile’s and hippo’s (which you can hear constantly). The thing that Ngepi Camp is most famous for is its Ablutions! Some of these toilets and showers have had so much thought and work put into them, including the “Poopa Falls” WC (this was the nearest toilet to our camp spot).


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Even the plumbing looks like something out of the old “mouse trap” game. But the view from up there on your “throne” is breathtaking (for a toilet) over the flooded farmland away from the river.

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And of course you have to share it with “friends”.

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And then there is the appropriately named “lav-a-tree” which has been built up over a fallen tree.

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It is a lovely rustic, and amusing place with a great relaxed atmosphere, after our loop of the Caprivi Strip we will return here before crossing the nearby border into Botswana, a beautiful, and wild place.

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Thanks for reading 


























































A quick trip home

We have just had a very hectic but also enjoyable 19 days back in England.

During this time we tried to see as many family and friends as possible, but obviously we were unable to see everybody. We would like to thank everyone that we did see, for making time to see us, and especially those that put up with us staying the night (or nights, in Karen, and Kev’s case). Jac’s brother was kind enough to lend us his car for the whole time, during which we did 2,800 kilometers (just over 1,700 miles), thanks so much Kev.

The massive plus for us driving a Toyota Prius for 19 days, is that I have calculated that to off set our carbon footprint for the past year (during 30,000km in a 5.9L four wheel drive truck), we need to plant two trees, this will then wipe the slate clean! Ok maybe not, but it was a pleasant surprise doing 60mpg in the Prius.

Obviously,  seeing everyone for the first time in over 12 months was a big thing for us, but there were a few very special highlights. We did quite a bit of walking in the fantastic English countryside, including meeting and walking on the South Downs with our friends Ray and Aileen, which included a great pub lunch half way (thanks guys), we also had a lovely few hours walk with Kev, Pauline, Jen and Matt, which again ended in a pub (a recurring theme) starting from the stunning Sissinghurst Castle. Jac and I also did a few walks locally around the area that we live. Despite the fact that we were in England in March, the weather was kind to us, and certainly reminded us how beautiful England can be, what ever the time of year.

One day during our trip home will remain in our memories here in Africa for a very long time. We had arranged to stay the night at our friends Richard and Jocie’s over in East Kent, and told them we would be at their house at lunchtime, after a quick hello and coffee, we were told that we would be taking a bus ride and knowing that Richie likes a beer, I assumed it was a bus to a nearby village for a pub lunch. After a short wait at the bus stop the four of us plus Ghillie the Springer Spaniel, got on the bus and started heading for Canterbury. Every time we stopped I expected us to get up and exit the bus, but no, we went right into the city centre. Jocie and Richard, sort of apologised for taking us into town (we are not city folk, but hey a city pub would be fine), after a short walk we entered the side gate (non public) entrance of Canterbury Cathedral. At this point I should point out that Jocie works part time at the Cathedral. After waiting outside the offices for a few minutes, Jocie appeared with a lady called Chris and two short wave radios. With a huge grin both Jocie and Chris announced that we were going to be taken up Bell Harry Tower.

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The Tower is not open to the public on health and safety grounds, but Jocie had amazingly got permission to take us up there, after a long climb up the very tight spiral stairs including a brief stop at the entrance to the wheel room (we were not allowed entry to the room), the four of us (Richie and Ghille remained at ground level) clambered through the tiny door out onto the roof of the tower. What a fantastic 360 degree view we had from up there! Including this view towards Kings School (part of the Cathedral).

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And this view down onto the main Cathedral and towards the ruins of the old infirmary.

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On the way down we paused at the fabulous Wheel Room and marveled at how two men walking in this “giant hamster wheel” managed to bring up the stone and other building materials  to this level to enable the building work to carry on above.

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Then we came out into a gallery (not sure of the correct terminology), and looked down on the shrine where Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170, and was subsequently buried.

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What an amazing experience, we felt very privileged to have been given access to the tower, but I will never forgive Jocie for not giving me warning about it! I didn’t have my trusty Panasonic camera, and only had our iPhone 4s, so sorry for the quality of the photo’s, blame Richie and Jocie!

Next stop was a pub for lunch, then a pub on way back and finally a fantastic dinner in the evening, cheers guys.

We were thoroughly spoilt during our time back in the UK, and probably put on a couple of kilo’s each! Not sure why, but oh the cakes.

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We have realised that we have missed a few things while away, these being the long walks, and not having a dog with us! It has also confirmed a few things that we definitely do not miss, these being the hideous traffic in South East of England, and the Television! …………TV has got to be the worlds biggest time waster, and amazingly the UK probably has some of the worlds best TV, but to me it is 99% rubbish, and watching TV very rarely enhances your life, it just wastes it! Rant over, sorry.

We had a small drama at Heathrow Airport on the way back, we had booked return flights with South African Airways, and obviously this was our return leg of those flights, but while checking in, we were asked if we had return flights booked, we told them that this WAS our return flight and that we were returning to our vehicle in Windhoek to carry on travelling. After much debate with lots of people (quite heated at times), we were instructed by a supervisor that SAA could not let us board the flight without a flight booked back out of Namibia! Apparently they are concerned that we may be turned back at the immigration desk at Windhoek Airport, and that they would pick up a fine for this and have to pay to get us out of Namibia. So in the end we agreed to buy two fully refundable flights from Windhoek to Jo’burg. This was a crazy situation, and of course no-one asked to see our return ticket at the immigration desk anyway!

But we are now back in Namibia, we collected Colonel K from the storage near the airport, and then the next day we drove nearly 500km to a campsite near Tsumeb in Northern Namibia, stopping en-route at a Pick And Pay supermarket to restock our fridge and food supplies. Today’s mission was to find somewhere to refill our UK 6kg gas bottle, and our 5kg South African gas bottle, the second one was easy (done a local builders merchants), the UK bottle was a bit trickier and took us to four different places before we managed to find somewhere that could do it, the cost was £7.00.

Poor Jac has come back to Namibia with a stinking cold, which is typical, after we have spent the last year away free of any illness.

Thanks to Jac’s sister Karen, Colonel K is officially the best dressed overland truck in Southern Africa! She has made us some very smart blinds for the inside of the 3 large windows, the main use for these are to drop them down while driving or parked up while away from the truck, this will help keep the inside cool (you are not supposed to drive with the build-in Seitz blinds closed as it puts too much pressure on the spring mechanism), but they will also help with privacy sometimes (we can’t keep them down all night as they stop the air flow, and so the heat builds up). The ties allow for them to be part down so they are really versatile. Thanks so much Kaz x

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Tomorrow we are heading North East towards the Caprivi Strip (or Zambezi Strip as its officially known now, Namibia is trying to lose its old colonial roots and changing many old Germanic names), and then into Botswana.

We are so glad to be back in Africa and living in the truck again, and are really looking forward to the adventure that we face over the coming months.

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