Turning east from the lakeside town of Mwanza, Tanzania, we headed for the border with Kenya. This was a relatively easy border (with some decent security for once), and we managed to get a 90 day, multi-entry East Africa Visa, which covers us for Kenya, Uganda and also Rwanda. We were lucky as these were the last two visa stickers that they had at this border, they cost $100 each but in the long run it will save us both time and money when we cross the next couple of land borders. These visas are not mentioned anywhere in the immigration building, but we had been told about them by another traveller. So after Immigration, we turned to the Customs counter to get our Carnet de Passage stamped into Kenya, and of course pay the road tax that each country deems fit to impose on Colonel K. After a quick look at our truck by a customs officer (from about 50 metres away), followed by a sharp intake of breath, we were told that we had to pay $30 road tax, but………. it had to be paid in Kenyan Shillings, despite the visa being paid in US dollars, plus we couldn’t pay by cash, or credit card, it had to be paid by mobile phone! This is a crazy situation, and we ended up getting a local guy with a Kenyan sim card in his phone to make a payment via Safaricom and charging us a small fee (of course), for carrying out the transaction. Eventually we were armed with our wad of papers, and we proceeded to the exit gate and out into Kenya, what could possibly go wrong?
We passed the border guards, armed appropriately with assault rifles, and out into the mayhem that is a typical African border town, there were cars, motorbikes, and buses everywhere, and coming at us from all directions. My attention wasn’t applied 100% to our offside (Jac’s side as Colonel K is LHD, and in true British colonial style they drive on the left here), and there was a Toyota Probox Estate (yup thats a real car here), diagonally across the road, and our fold up metal steps hit just before the drivers door and opened up the side of his car like a tin of sardines all the way to the rear and then ripped the rear light cluster out……. Bugger!
This was within less that 10 metres of the armed border guards, and we drove about 20 metres to park up and sort the accident out with the other party, and to keep the border road clear. As I jumped out of the cab, I was instantly surrounded by about 50-80 young men all looking to get involved. I pushed through the mob and found the driver of the Toyota (it was quite old and a bit tatty, but quite good for African standards). I told him that I was not willing to negotiate compensation with him (it was my fault after all) until the angry mob dispersed, by this time I was convinced that they were looking to lynch the “mazunga”, this had little effect, but some quick thinking by Jac saved the day. I turned back towards the truck to see a big crowd surrounding Jac in the cab, next thing I know she had climbed out and was standing on the wing, and started filming the mob on her phone. Wow that had the desired effect, and the majority just dispersed into their normal lives. With no Kenyan Shillings to our name yet, I decided to open negotiations in US Dollars, we agreed on a final sum of $20.00, Jac recorded the agreement and hand shake on her iPhone, and I drove off before he realised how much $20 actually was! Not a great introduction to Kenya, but things can only get better eh.
That night we camped in the rear of a Mission just before the town of Migori. The “staff” at Migori Mission really made us welcome, and the young kids here even carried buckets of water to fill up Robert and Clary’s truck water tank (this is the Dutch/Australian couple that we met at Mwanza, that we had caught up with here). They provided a room for us with a ‘hot’ shower and toilet in it, and in the morning,a Sunday, we were treated to some wonderful singing from the church hall. We were warned the evening before that there would be a lot of children around on the Sunday, and they weren’t kidding, there were hundreds here, but as always, they were very polite and friendly, and of course very curious about the two big trucks parked in the grounds of their church. We even had a guy bring us a local sim card for our phone and registered it on his phone and then showed us how to purchase data and airtime on it, this was more like the Kenya we were expecting.
After a brief detour into town ,again completely craz), and a trip to a few ATM’s, we managed to get some local currency, and so headed off to the Masai Mara Nature Reserve, via the lesser used route into the west of the reserve. After about 50km and about 100km still to go, we realised why this is a lesser used route, it was an horrendous track! Very rutted, very bumpy and very slow going. We were stopped by one guy in a Landrover Defender, telling us that the track got really bad further on as it had rained up ahead, and that we wouldn’t get through in the truck. But we knew that our Dutch friends were in front of us , but weren’t 100% sure if they were on the same track, so we decided to plod on. It was a bit slippery in places, and the ruts were quite deep but eventually we got to our campsite at Mara West. This was a fantastic campsite run by an American couple, and the showers and toilets were like nothing we had experienced for a few weeks. The owner also has three ex-British Military Leyland Daf T244’s (same as Colonel K), which he uses for bringing in supplies to the camp and also in his construction business (we also me another camp owner while in Nairobi that also runs a T244, they get everywhere, apparently 150no T244’s were shipped directly from Afghanistan to Mombasa).
It was here we also met Jason and Lisa, an English couple that are travelling around Southern and Eastern Africa in their Defender, it was great chatting to them and hearing about their travels. But we were here in the Masai Mara for one reason and one reason only……. to see the great migration across the Mara River of millions of Wildebesst and Zebra (as seen on TV ha). So we decided to camp for two nights inside the Mara Triangle, so we could get to the river crossing points early in the day, and stay until sunset if necessary. This was obviously more expensive than staying outside in Mara West Camp, but was about a third of the cost of the parks in Tanzania.
So we desended the steep rocky track down to the gate, with Robert and Clary behind us in their Mercedes truck, and after paying our fees, we set off into the Mara Triangle.
We hadn’t gone far before we saw what we had come here for, vast herds of Wildebesst and Zebra, but these had already crossed the Mara River, so we just hoped that we hadn’t arrived too late.
After about 30mins of driving we arrived at a small area known for some reason as Hippo Pool, this is the only area of the park where you are allowed outside of your vehicle (more on this later), where there is a guard, and toilets (nasty, very nasty long drop toilets), but still couldn’t see why it was called Hippo Pool !
More people are killed by these “gentle giants” than any other mammal in Africa, they need to be respected especially at night.
Then we got to the main crossing point of the river, we removed the Gun Hatch cover in the cab (also known as the game viewing hatch), and Jac popped out and took in the other side of the river.
And yes on the other side there were indeed large herds slowly building up ready to cross. They have to cross the river for new grass after the rains and they have travelled up from the Serengeti in Tanzania, and indeed will enter the river when thirst gets the better of them. But and it is a big but, there are huge dangers involved in that crossing, the river is flowing very fast, and its very rocky underneath,ideal for being swept away or breaking a leg,or lunch for the huge number of very large crocodiles waiting for them!
Time and again the herd would push up to the water edge and look like they would cross, then something would spook them and they would scatter back across the plain, this was very much a waiting game. At one point a Ranger (in a little Suzuki Vitara) stopped, and had a good look at Jac sitting on top of the cab roof with her legs dangling and instructed her to put her feet lower in the cab! It was ok to stand with her top half outside the truck but not too sit with all of her body outside the truck! Health and Safety eh.
After a quick drive around the park, we decided to return to the river again at about 5pm, and most of the other vehicles had gone, we parked up and waited again. Then suddenly a small number of Zebra and Wildebeest (about 200) broke away from the main herd and came up to the bank to our left, we had the perfect place to watch this, and sure enough they took the plunge and literally leapt into the river.
Jac was again standing through the gun hatch taking photo’s while I watched with binoculars at the unfolding drama, some of these animals really really struggle with the current especially the young Zebra and the noise as mothers are calling their young from both banks is incredible.
With animals literally jumping on top of each other, and climbing over each other it was a chaotic scene, and as I was looking at the far bank, I thought I was watching a wildebeest leaping onto another, but then almost instantly the herd scattered, and I realised what I had seen was a Lioness leaping from the bank onto a young wildebeest, and killing it by seizing it by the throat. It was obvious that no more animals were going to cross here again that day. An amazing end to a great first day in the Mara (but not for the young Wildebeest).
So we turned away from the river to find our campsite for the next two nights, all we had was the GPS coordinates for the location, and sure enough when we got to the top of the hill and our trusty Garmin was telling us to turn off the track, there was no sign, and only a track where a vehicle had driven across the grass. Eventually we decided to throw caution to the wind and try this “track”, unbelievably this did arrive at a small clearing at the top of the escarpment, no water, no toilets, nothing but an incredible view for us and our Cloggie friends.
Ok, so this is where “Health and Safety Africa LTD” goes a little array, earlier today Jac was told off for not having her feet planted on our front storage box of the cab, but now here we are surrounded by bush and long grass, with no fences, and the roar of lions all night, it was bloody fantastic! Early next morning at about 5.45am, this was the view from our ‘camp’.
After a quick look at the crossing point, we decided that it didn’t look likely that a mass crossing was going to occur any time soon, so we went off for a drive again, and soon realised that this is a special place, so much variety of wildlife, and different terrain.
A quick stop off at Hippo Pool for a pee, and a chat with Daniel, the guard, (he was so pleased that I’d remembered his name from the previous day), and he confirmed that because of the very hot sun, the herd will HAVE to cross the river by about 2.00pm. So after making a quick coffee here and chatting to quite a few tourists that were again surprised to see a British truck here in East Africa, we returned to the river to park up in a suitable spot to hopefully view a full on unimpeded crossing. By now there were tens of thousands of zebra and wildebeest waiting on the far side, but still no one was willing to be the first into the crocodile infested Mara River.
Eventually, as suddenly as someone throwing a switch, the pressure from the herd behind became too much and for the next 30 minutes or so, the river became full of animals throwing themselves into the churning river, driven by thirst and hunger to pastures anew.
This was a spectacle that we will never forget, and were very lucky to time our trip to coincide with this happening. All these animals will cross again in a month or so to return to Serengti in Tanzania, a true natural wonder. After seeing this there was no point in staying at the river so we set out for another game drive in Colonel K, and came across this zebra that unbelievably had escaped the claws and jaws of a lion attack, it was in a bad way, on its feet but I’m sure it would survive the night.
We then settled down to a final night in our “bush camp”, again to the amazing sounds of the night in the Masai Mara, but not before enjoying another “Happy Hour” with our Dutch/Aussie friends.
To get our monies worth from our park fees, as usual Jac and I were up and out in the truck by 6.00am, and had agreed to meet Robert and Clary at the gate at 10.00am (we had to exit the park by 10.10am or be charged another day). We had a long slow drive in the general direction of the Gate, taking lots of small tracks as diversions for game viewing, it was on one of these tracks that we came across a Hyena Den. There were so many Spotted Hyena here, probably a pack of about 15-18. The highlight for us was the very young cubs that were suckling from their mother, and a few pregnant females. We watched these animals for about 30 minutes until the inevitable happened……. and we were spotted by a couple of safari vehicles full of Chinese tourists all chatting away like Alan Carr on speed!, We moved on…..
Within about 3km of the gate we found a lovely spot by the river, so decided to park up here for a bit and wait for Robert and Clary to catch up.
It wasn’t long before their fantastic Mercedes appeared over the horizon, and spotted us.
At the gate we checked out and were given 120 minutes “free passage” to transit the East side of the Masai Mara National reserve, then exiting at Sekenai Gate, we thought we had plenty of time, but were held up for about 10 minutes before we could cross the Mara river by a safari vehicle jumping the queue and causing road rage between the other guides waiting patiently to enter the Mara Triangle, thus we arrived with only about 5 minutes to spare. Just outside Sekenai gate, we stopped for the night at Mara Explorers Camp, which we were surprised to find out was run by an English woman and her Kenyan husband, they seemed to be very busy here with lots of ready set up tents and rooms for guests, of course we were the only campers.
Next stop was Jungle Junction in Nairobi, but to get there was the long, long climb up from the Rift Valley at Narok. This is a busy route full of vastly overloaded and frequently broken down trucks, its a crazy road with many vehicles doing little more than walking pace, and some of the overtaking manoeuvres really do begger belief.
We stayed at Jungle Junction (in the nicer part of Nairobi, called Karen), for a few days, and again run into Jason and Lisa, they were busy sorting out shipping of their Landrover from Mombasa to Greece, and of course having some work done (it is a Landrover after all).
We had many “Happy Hours” with both our Dutch and English friends, and it was great to catch up with them again. We took the opportunity to get two new tyres fitted to Colonel K, and give him a oil and filter change. While in Nairobi, we were both treated to a trip to the hair stylist (worryingly called Extreme Hairstylist), in a new shopping centre that had just opened nearby. We also experienced lunch out, and a proper coffee shop, something that we hadn’t had for a long time. We also visited the new Carrefour Supermarket, and were shocked by the prices here, these are on the most part much higher than at home in the UK, but it was well stocked. It was also good to see that security was very tight getting into the shopping centre, with all vehicles being searched before entering the carpark, and then your bags scanned before you can enter the actual shops.
After a few days in Nairobi we headed out on the Mombasa Road towards Amboseli National Park, Robert and Clary also came with us, but decided not to go into the park, so we camped just outside the gate in a camp run by the nearby Masai Village, it was a nice campsite with not so great ablutions, but very friendly staff.
We were intrigued with the Masai footwear that they make completely from old motorcycle tyres.
And it was great to have a nice big fire to cook on at night, something that we have missed for the last couple of months.
At Amboseli you pay for a 24 hour period and are allowed to split this into two different visits, so we decided to enter the park at about 2.00pm on the first day, then had to be out by sunset (6.30pm), then re-enter the park the next morning at sunrise (6.00am) then have to leave by 2.00pm that afternoon. Amboseli is a beautiful park, with lots of wet areas (swampy conditions), and open dry savannah, strangely we didn’t see any of the large cats that its famous for (no one during that time seemed too either that we spoke to). But we did see lots of other wildlife including hundreds of elephants, sometimes in quite large herds, and with all the adults having absolutely huge tusks, they really are beautiful animals. It seemed strange that the Masai are still grazing their cattle alongside the other wildlife actually in the NP.
This Big Boy was right up to his Axles in swamp, but he just pushed on through munching all the time.
And then we found our second Hyena Den in less than a week!
When we got back to the campsite, Robert and Clary had left and were travelling to the coast near Mombasa, we still hadn’t made up our minds whether to go there or head back to Nairobi. Looking at the map made the decision for us, it was along way (about 1,000km round trip) on the most dangerous road in the country and we don’t really enjoy beaches that much, so despite lots of messages from the” Cloggies” telling us how nice it was, we left the next morning for Jungle Junction yet again. From here we will head north to the lakes before heading towards the Uganda border.
Thanks for reading
On our way to Serengeti NP we had looked over the rim of Ngorognoro Crater and saw the beauty of the place 620m (over 2,000 feet) below, and were very excited about getting down there the next day, but first we were booked into Sopa Lodge for the night, and got there about an hour before sunset (which was at about 6.30pm). This is a large but really nice lodge, and is the only accommodation located on the less accessible eastern side of the rim, obviously this means that you have a fantastic view of the sunsetting over the far side of the crater. As it turns out, it wasn’t a great day for sunsets as it was a bit hazy, but it was still beautiful.
We were amazed that there was even a wedding going on here, there didn’t appear to be any guests with the bride and groom, but there were a few Maasai that were following the happy couple, perhaps they were witnesses, but it is a stunning place for a wedding here.
As the sun started to drop over the far rim, the temperature started to drop quite rapidly, and the ice in our gin and tonics suddenly seemed to stop melting (we were at 8,500 feet here), but we had paid dearly for this place and weren’t going to waste a minute here, though the pool was absolutely out of bounds, it was freezing.
We had a lovely big room that was a long walk from the bar/restaurant (up hill), but the one fantastic thing about that room was the hot shower! It was amazing, so much water, so hot, constant heat, even the water drained away as it should, I was starting to think that plumbed in hot water that drained away was something that couldn’t happen near the equator, thankfully I was proved wrong.
We had a lovely dinner again that night, this time a buffet and sadly Ole our Maasai guide wasn’t allowed to join us this evening, so we arranged that he would pick us up in the reception as early as possible the next morning. So after a very quick early breakfast (specially arranged with the kitchen the night before), we met Ole before the sun came up. Sopa Lodge has its own “descent road” as its about an hours drive to the main “descent road” on the western side of the crater, and we soon discovered why we weren’t allowed to bring our truck down here, its very very steep.
It looked like we were the first safari vehicle to enter the crater (from this track anyway), and even before we had finished descending we were upon four Lionesses, all of which appeared (according to Ole) pregnant. Things were looking good.
It was freezing down in the crater, obviously made worse by standing up to look through the pop up roof of the Landcruiser, but we were wrapped up and prepared for it, thanks to Jac insisting I would need my Rab Down jacket and wooly hat.
The crater was formed about 2.5 million years ago when a volcano imploded in on itself, leaving today the largest unbroken and unflooded crater in the world, apparently it is home to approx 30,000 large mammals, the vast majority of which are the large herds of wildebeest and zebra, that unlike their cousins on the Serengeti plains do not migrate, there is no need too, as there’s a constant supply of fresh water and grass in the crater.
But apart from the grasslands, and the walls, the main feature of the crater is the shallow and alkaline Lake Magadi, this is home to huge flocks of Flamingos, and creates yet another stunning back drop.
There is also a large array of other birds in the crater including Crowned Cranes, lots of birds of prey likes these Black Kites, and of course Ostrich.
Ngorongoro may be the largest unflooded crater in the world (its 19km across), and there may be a lot of mammals, but Tanzania has once again ruined the experience by putting too many of us tourists in one place at one time (especially considering how much they charge for entry into these National Parks/Conservation areas). This was highlighted when Ole our excellent guide got an inkling that someone had spotted possibly, maybe, an elusive and endangered Black Rhino, there are just over 20 of these beautiful animals in the crater, (not to be confused with the more common White Rhino that is normally seen, though there are no White Rhino in Ngorongoro). So off we set at high speed on the very very bumpy track, along with quite a few other identical Safari vehicles (again all closed in apart from the pop up roof), for about 10 minutes until we were faced with this in front of us!
Within two minutes the same scene was also behind us, Ole managed to push his way into the centre (he is without a doubt a very respected guide, and we were lucky to have him), sure enough there was the Black Rhino……..almost a kilometre away from the track, down in the long grass, and impossible to see without binoculars, even my trusty Panasonic Lumix with its 600mm (equivalent) lens could not pick out this fella! I counted over 100 safari vehicles watching this distant Rhino slowly getting further and further away, all three of us were laughing (Me, Jac and Ole) at the ridiculous state of affairs that was unfolding, there were cars pushing in everywhere, and tempers fraying, with everyone wanting that shot of a Black Rhino (I suggest going to Damaraland in Namibia, if your lucky you can watch one there on your own, without paying any park fees at all). Earlier this year the Tanzanian government hugely increased the entrance fees to Ngorongoro, and then at the end of May decided to put 18% tax onto ALL park fees as well………. I wonder how many people will be here in a few years time. Perhaps when you book your safari as a package from the comfort of your home country you don’t notice the costs of the parks in Tanzania, but it is making the overall holiday much more expensive than say, Botswana, or Zambia. I understand that they don’t want people self driving in the parks, but ask any campsite owner in northern Tanzania, and their takings are massively down. The South Africans especially have stopped coming as its too expensive now.
Ole decided that we wanted to stay away from the crowds (we definitely agreed), and we had a lovely time (on our own) in the only forested area of the crater, where there were a very large herd of elephants, monkeys and some great bird life…. this was more like it.
We left the crater just after lunchtime, after another very good packed lunch (see last post), but even then it was still freezing cold (its difficult to guess the temperature as we’ve really got used to the hot daytime temperatures of Eastern Africa).
By the time we drove up the “ascent road”, it was even colder, but the air was a little clearer, in the distance you can see the salty Lake Magadi on the floor of the crater.
By the time we got to the entrance gate, we were down to tee shirts and shorts again. We ended up staying at Maasai Camp in Arusha for another couple of nights, giving us chance to catch up on the clothes washing etc. On the day we left Maasai Camp we decided that as we needed to travel directly through Arusha centre (the traffic here is not good) and as we wanted to do some food shopping we wouldn’t go too far and would camp only 25km outside of Arusha at Meserani Snake Park, this would then give us a good place for an early morning start to Singida (our next planned stop).
Meserani is owned and run by South Africans that love snakes, any snakes, all snakes. The family here remove snakes from certain areas if the only other option is that the locals would kill them, they also have a large collection of snakes that you can view including, Mamba’s, Cobra’s, Boomslang’s, and more harmless snakes. When they first opened the campsite and started the Snake Park, they obviously kept anti-venom on site as a precaution for themselves getting bitten. The locals soon discovered this and started to come to them when they had been bitten for treatment with the anti-venom. The next step was to build a snake bite clinic, and now together with donations, the campsite, bar and snake park all contribute to the funding of the Clinic (which is opposite the campsite). After a quick walk around and viewing the snakes and other reptiles, we asked if we could visit the Clinic ,obviously with Jac being a nurse, she wanted to see inside. Unbelievabl ,for me anyway, all six beds of the clinic were full, including two young boys, one older woman and three men, all recuperating after their potentially deadly bites. The biggest problem we were told by the amazing nurse was necrosis and infection into the wound. This was highlighted by the youngest boy who I guess was about 4 years old and who had been bitten on the top of his head by a Red Cobra . The snakes apparently seek the warmth of a human in bed at night, and usually strike when that person wakes up. This little boy had been in the Clinic for two months while they ensure that the wound is cleaned and redressed and so heals properly. The other boy who was a little older had been bitten on his hand, again by a Cobra, while the woman in the end bed had been bitten just above her ankle by a Puff Adder. The thing that amazed Jac was that the nurse just walked us into the two three bed wards, and threw back the blankets and showed us the injury, there’s not too much discretion here!
There are two nurses that work here, with one on site at all times, they do a fantastic job and although the main stay of their work is with snake bites they also treat other ailments if they can’t get to Arusha. This is the Nurse (sorry I can’t remember her name) that showed us around the clinic with one of the precious anti-venom phials, these cost almost $250 each, and one guy that had been bitten by a Black Mamba required nine phials (thats well over $2,000).
Next the nurse opened her lap top and showed us photos of the wounds when the patients had first got to her (usually leaving it far too long), showing the grossly affected areas of skin then proudly showing the same areas after all the infected/necrotic flesh had been cut away, right down to the bone in places, Jac was intrigued, I was trying to be brave and not throw up!. It goes without saying we were very impressed and left a good donation. We returned about 30 minutes later with a couple of toys for the young lads (their little faces were beaming), and a bag full of toys for future kids that are unfortunate enough to get admitted. The owner later told is that there is very little provision from the government for treatment of snake bites in Tanzania, and many end up having at the very least limbs amputated ( http://www.meseranisnakepark.com ).
That night was spent in the bar of the campsite in the company of the owner “Ma”, she was such a character, and infectious to listen too. But just as she was closing the bar (of course we were the last customers left), some how she mentioned that her brother was Kork Ballington! For those that have never heard of him, Kork was a famous South African motorcycle racer from the late 70’s, four times world champion (250cc, and 350cc) and was a childhood hero of mine. I couldn’t believe it, and “Ma” was equally surprised that I was so excited about hearing stories about Kork and his mechanic and brother Dozy. Out come the old photos, his autobiography, and a guided tour of the photos on the wall of other racers (such as Kevin Schwantz, and Mick Grant) that Kork and Dozy had brought to Snake Park over the years.
Our next night was spent camped in a hotel car park in Singida, we negotiated a fee that included a room for us to use just for the toilet and a hot shower. Ha, yeah right, first of all the hot tap was as cold as the cold tap, and guess what? The bathroom was flooded as the fall in the wet area was going the wrong way! More dodgy ablutions, but hey, TIA, That Is Africa.
We are now camped on the southern shores of Lake Victoria, at “The Yacht Club”, (well there are two small motorboats moored here), on a nice flat grassy site just on the edge of the booming town of Mwanza. Here we met the rare breed, that is a couple travelling Africa in an overland truck. Robert and Clary are a Dutch couple that now ‘live’ in Australia, but have been travelling on and off around the world for the past 6 years.
Their Mercedes is a very well thought out truck, and includes a little cubby hole for a Suzuki scooter.
They travelled through Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya in 2010, and were kind enough to share a few good camp spots in these countries (we also shared a few beers over the evenings that we spent together).
Our view from the campsite is back towards the town, and is beautiful both day and night.
This is one of the local fishermen out on the lake in his bamboo boat, rather them than me!
The skies here are full of huge Yellow Billed Kites, and there are hundreds of Pied Kingfishers, Herons and beautiful Blue Waxbills looking for seeds in the grass
Our plan was to drive from Mwanza up to the border with Rwanda then do a loop in a clockwise direction around Lake Victoria, going from Rwanda through Uganda and Kenya before arriving back in Tanzania. Obviously the big pull for us is Gorilla Tracking on the borders of Rwanda and Uganda with the DRC, but Permits for tracking are very hard to come by at the moment as its peak season, so we once again are changing our plans and are going to cross into Kenya first and go anti-clockwise round the lake. The other advantage of doing this, is there is the possibility (slight possibility) that we might witness the mass migration of the Wildebeest herds across the Mara River, with hundreds of hungry crocodiles waiting for them. Hopefully by the time we then get to Uganda and Rwanda we will stand a better chance of getting those elusive permits.
Today we have been catching up on ALL the washing, including towels and bed linen, and took over the lawn area with our washing lines, ah the glamour of travelling eh.
Thanks for reading
After getting stopped for speeding (see last post), I should have learnt my lesson, but I’m weak willed and the 50kmph limit is ridiculous in places, so yes I got caught again and this time had to pay an on the spot fine of 30,000 Shillings (about £11.00) for doing 63kmph in a 50kmph zone. Whilst talking about the roads here in Tanzania, I have to say they are probably the best surfaced roads that we have seen here in East Africa, but without a doubt the worst drivers that we have seen on this trip. Bar None! Its almost as though Tanzanians have no concept of risk or danger, over taking around the outside on a blind bend, over taking on the brow of a hill, all par for the course here. We have seen some horrendous accidents (some without a doubt fatal) and are still not sure how after doing about three thousand kilometres , how we haven’t been involved in an accident ourselves. Coaches are the worst, a total disregard for human life, other drivers, cyclists, motorbike riders, their own passengers, it doesn’t matter, its as if the are in some weird version of “The Wacky Races” (under 45’s may not understand this).
We decided to head for the coastal resort of Bagamoyo, just north of Dar es Salaam, on the warm Indian Ocean. We were surprised to find that a new tarmac road had recently been completed from the main Dar to Nairobi road down to Bagamoyo, great we thought…… apart from the speed humps (on the way back out we counted 115 speed humps in less than 70km). It seems that the only way to vaguely control the traffic here is to put in suspension busting speed humps, sometimes just to slow you down for a mediocre corner. Anyway eventually after a long drive we arrived in the old “slave town” of Bagamoyo, and headed to “Firefly Camp” in the narrow streets of the old town, drove in and drove back out, it was not good (it had been recommended to us by some other travellers). So we drove further along the narrow streets of town, ducking Colonel K under the very low power cables that criss crossed the road, and tried the Travellers Rest Hotel. This is a big place, and it was obvious from the signs everywhere that they were hosting the Tanzanian Rally 2016 here, oh bugger we were running out of options (I really didn’t want to eat humble pie and go back to Firefly Camp). After a quick chat with the manager, the head groundsman, oh and the owners “helpful” teenage son, we were told that we could park Colonel K in between the palm trees in the centre of the bungalow rooms. This was tight, very tight to get below and between the trees, but we got there and drove out into the more open area in the centre…. until we got stuck! Yup they had sent us into the deepest softest sand and we were proper stuck. In the heat and humidity of late afternoon, we got the Maxtrax sand ladders out again and used them to get back on the surface and turn around and thread ourselves out again through those same trees. We parked directly in front of the bungalows in the end.
Up to this point we had been very impressed with the campsites that we had stayed at in Tanzania, all that changed in Bagamoyo, the ablutions were not good, and we ended up using the shower in the truck while we were here. The only thing that kept us there was the promise of the Rally stopping here overnight ,this was the reason that we weren’t allowed to park on the expansive lawn area, as it was reserved for the cars and the support vehicles. In the end the swarms of Mosquitos and the horrendous Sand Flies, together with the very uncomfortable humidity drove us back inland onto higher and cooler ground before there was any sign of the Rally arriving.
To highlight the strange rules of the road we took a photo of this road sign as we drove through Mikuni National Park (sorry about the quality, Jac took it as we were moving), it lists the wild animals that are resident in the Park and next to each animal is an amount that you have to pay if you hit and kill that animal on the road. An Elephant or Giraffe will set you back $15,000 (and your car written off), but a poor old Baboon is only worth $110, even a Lion will only cost you $4,900, crazy!
After Bagamoyo, we had an overnight stay parked in the carpark of a Hotel in the small town of Same, and ironically this was a better camping experience than the time we spent on the Indian Ocean. That evening as we were sitting outside the bar having a cheeky beer, we witnessed the distressing scene of a domestic cat carrying her (fairly) new born kitten out of the bush and and hiding it in the nearby flower bed, hotly pursued by a huge troop of Vervet Monkeys. She gently laid it on a bed of leaves, and briskly set off, I assume to retrieve another kitten, we spent the next hour or so chasing Monkeys away from the kitten, while another couple tried to find where the cat went. Eventually it got dark, and the Vervet Monkeys disappeared off into the trees for the night, but we never saw the cat again. When we went to bed the tiny kitten was still asleep where it was left, but in the morning it was gone, hopefully the mother returned during the night to take it to safety (this is the story Jac wants to believe), but over grown flower beds are dangerous places for a little kitten in these parts. We managed to negotiate with the manager our breakfasts included in our “camping” fee, and we enjoyed a nice omelette with a sausage, and toast, they even had the BBC News channel on the TV. A good experience.
From Same, we drove along the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, and through the large town of Moshi, disappointingly most of the mountain was shrouded in cloud, and we didn’t get to see the iconic peak, we then pushed on to the city of Arusha to Maasi Camp. Based here were about 30 kids (about 15-16 years old) from two schools in Bristol, that were staying here for about 3 weeks and were constructing a fence around a local school nearby, these were great kids, and they were having a great adventure of their own. After the 3 weeks in Arusha, they had the choice of either a few days safari in Tsarvo, Kenya, or a six day climb to the top of Kilimanjaro. The majority opted for the easier safari…..
Tanzania is by far the most expensive country that we have traveled through in Africa (and that includes Botswana), especially once you get near the National Parks. Our original “plan” was to drive through Serengeti NP up to Lake Victoria, but we worked it out that it was going to cost us well over $1,000.00 just to drive through, and we would only have 24 hours to clear the Park (its illegal to drive after dusk in the NP), after that if we weren’t clear of the gate they would charge us another days fees. This is ridiculous, but we really wanted to experience both the Serengeti, and Ngorongoro Crater (we wouldn’t be allowed to take Colonel K into the crater anyway), so we looked at booking a 3 day safari. We ended up booking a trip with Tropical Trails (based at Maasi Camp) for just over $2,000.00 for the two of us, which included all our park fees, one night in a tented camp in Serengeti NP, one night in a lodge on the rim of the crater at Ngorongoro, our own Toyota Landcruiser and a driver/guide. This seriously blew our budget but it seemed to make sense if we truly wanted to see these places, and it meant not having to drive for those three days.
So early on Monday morning with our tiny rucksacks packed, we set off with Ole our guide in the enclosed Landcruiser safari vehicle. Ole is a genuine Maasi tribesman (with huge piercings in his ears), and it was great to understand more about this amazing nomadic tribe.
On the way Ole stopped on the edge of a small town (the NP is about 200km from Arusha), and showed us a huge colony of Maribou, and Yellow Billed Storks in the trees above the road, lovely to see, but the stench from the droppings was horrendous, I really don’t know how people would live near that.
To get to Serengeti National Park, you have to drive through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area ,this includes the Crater area, but paying to drive through doesn’t allow you to descend into the crater. So first stop was at the Gate into Ngorongoro, this took Ole about 30 minutes to sort out and enabled us to get coffees for the three of us. To highlight the “rip off” that is Tanzania National Parks, the three coffees cost us 24,000 shillings, this is nearly £9.00, you may think that £3 for a coffee is not bad but here its a seriously lot of money ,normally we would pay less than a £1 for a coffee in a nice coffee shop and don’t forget they grow coffee here.
After setting off from the gate, we hit the notoriously bad track and quickly climbed to the rim of the crater (we were just passing at this stage), this is about 8,500 feet above sea level, and the temperature here was markedly lower than at the gate, but it did give us our first glimpse of the crater floor, including the herds of Cape Buffalo that we could clearly see even though it was 2,000 feet below us. We couldn’t wait to get down there in a couple of days time, it was stunning.
Away from the Crater Rim we stopped for a packed lunch that Ole had picked up on route, during this trip we had three packed lunches and they were all very good, and this one included a chicken leg, a sandwich, a boiled egg, bag of crisps, bar of chocolate, fruit, a packet of nuts, drinks etc in each box. Each day was slightly different but all were equally as good, it sure beats our usual crackers and tomatoes that is our norm.
As we started to descend down towards the Serengeti Plains, we left behind the lush green almost “rain forest” environment, of the highlands and below us appeared the vast grasslands with the Maasi villages dotted around.
We even spotted an old ex British army T244 Leyland Daf (same as Colonel K) coming the other way, creating its own cloud of dust.
After about 30km we came to the edge of the national park, and Ole thought we might like to use the “bush toilet” here while he chatted to a few fellow Massi.
Next up was the gate where Ole had to pay the park fees, this took a frustrating hour and a half, and considering the amount of money that people like us had paid for this experience it wasn’t surprising that there were a lot of very pissed off people here! There were about 40 safari vehicles waiting to pay and enter and about 20 trying to exit the park, all had to queue up to sort out the appropriate paper work.
But as soon as we set off from the entrance we soon forgot about this crazy state of affairs, the wildlife was coming think and fast in the long dried grass, including this Jackal and the Grants Gazelle keeping a close eye.
And this stunning Secretary Bird
And of course there were Lions, and Hartebeest.
We saw these two Secretary Birds on the top of a Flat topped Acacia no doubt looking for a tasty snake for dinner.
There were birds of prey everywhere and of course many many elephants, and hippos in every available pocket of water.
Just as it started to get dark we arrived at Katikati Tented Camp, this consisted of eleven tents, each with its own bathroom with bucket shower and another open tent that served as a dining area. We were given strict instructions not to leave the tent during the hours of darkness (there are no fences here), and had to flash our torches for an unarmed escort to take us to dinner and breakfast. This all seemed a little over the top to us, as we had spent many many nights on this trip in just as wild places on our own, without any guards or fences. But I guess for some people this might be their first experience of “wild” Africa, so the comfort of an emergency whistle, and being led to dinner by a “responsible adult” is quite reassuring for them.
This was a really nice place and we were served with an amazing dinner, but ultimately we arrived in the dark, and left at sunrise.
Fifteen minutes after we left Katikati the following morning, we saw the sun rising through the early morning clouds, and in true Tanzanian style the sky filled with five tourist packed hot air balloons, (the cost of this 60 minute flight was $500 per person!).
Of course in this early hour with the chill of the night still evident, there was of course another dose of wildlife to see, like this Oxpecker hitching a ride on the horns of a Cape Buffalo, and of course more elephants.
Then came the highlight for us on this Serengeti safari, Ole spotted a Leopard in a tree about 20 metres from the track, she had killed a Gazelle in the night and to protect the kill, had dragged the carcass up into the Sausage Tree and was devouring it without the threat of it being stolen by the many packs of Spotted Hyena that move around the plains.
Those of you that regularly read our blog will know that we have been lucky to see Leopard on this trip, but we had yet to see one in the tree, so this was a real treat. We watched her changing position and tearing lumps of flesh off the gazelle, with most of the carcass hanging from the tree, then amazingly another slightly younger Leopard appeared from nowhere and leapt up onto the lower branch of the tree obviously tempted by the hanging rear leg and body of the meal.
In a flash the older female jumped down and chased the young pretender away (dropping the carcass in the process).
With the youngster gone, the older female seemed content with finishing her meal on the floor,not that there was much meat left on the carcass by this time and this was the last we saw of her, they are very difficult to see once in the dried grass. We also saw the head and shoulders of a Cheetah in the long grass but it was quite a way off and with the heat haze, the photos weren’t great, but it was our first Cheetah sighting, maybe we will see one in Ngorongoro the next day.
On the way out of the Serengeti, in early afternoon we saw a large pride of Lions, with both male and female, all of the Lionesses appeared to be pregnant, which bodes well for the future, (though perhaps the Buffalo and Gazelle might not think so positively). There were nine adults in the group and they were very slowly edging there way along a river, perhaps following their prey.
But time was moving on, and we had to get back to Ngorongoro for that night, so we left Serengeti, and again had the crazy situation of having to wait to get stamped out, this time it took a “mere” 60 minutes, and again there was some fabulous wildlife viewing to be done, large and small.
So what were our thoughts on the Serengeti? Well as you can see from the photos’s its a great place to see animals, in a Savannah environment. BUT……. and for us its a massive BUT, the” safari experience” was not that great, and its ridiculously expensive (our park fees made up over $800 of our trip), but the biggest issue for us in the Serengeti was the vehicle. Every single safari vehicle there is closed in Landcruiser with a pop-up roof for viewing, all identical (apart from a few Landrover Defenders, also with pop-up roofs, mostly broken down lol), and we ended up standing up almost constantly to game spot. No vehicle that we saw, and we saw hundreds during our safari, had a spotter, everyone only had a driver/guide, and it is left to the guests ,who are set higher than the driver to see over the grass, not such an issue for us, but we saw dozens of “guests” in other vehicles with ear phone’s in and looking at their phones, unbelievable! They use closed in vehicles for two reasons, first the drive from Arusha, which is where almost all the vehicles come from, is about 200km, and thats a long way in an open safari vehicle, and secondly and to me almost unbelievably, Tanzanian National Parks (the government in effect) charge a 50% increase in park fees if you travel in a open vehicle!!!!!
But all of the above does not take away from the fantastic wildlife that can be seen, the trouble is you are never, ever, ever alone! There were, hundreds of vehicles in Serengeti at any one time, and although its a vast area, as soon as a decent sighting is made, vehicles appear from everywhere.
We’ve been spoilt with game viewing in Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia, maybe you don’t see so much game but its a much nicer(and considerably cheaper experience.
But tomorrow we are off to Ngorongoro Crater and are very excited about this, we’ve read the hype and paid the money, so can’t wait! I’ll tell you how we got on in our next post.
Thanks for reading
Vince, Jac, and an abandoned Colonel K.
We ended up stopping for a week at Kande Beach, during which time we enjoyed the walks into the village (to do a bit of fresh food shopping), this was about a 20 minute walk each way. On one such visit we met a young lad who stayed with us and helped us get a decent deal on our fruit and veg, somehow we ended up back at the hut that he shared with his Gran, who was busy washing clothes. Before we knew it, we had been invited to their local church the next day (Sunday) for singing and dancing, and also to have lunch afterwards at his Gran’s. Although we would dearly have loved to experience this Malawian Church, deep down we knew that it wouldn’t end with just a brief visit so we declined his kind offer.
We had a great time at Kande, but we had to move on further north towards the border with Tanzania, so it was time to say goodbye to the Sass, Skank, and their two adorable daughters, and of course the dogs (including the would be stow away, Pie).
We needed to restock the truck with provisions, including tins (we use a lot of tinned food, including chopped tomatoes, green beans, sweetcorn, baked beans, tuna, etc), so we headed for the busy town of Mzuzu, this involved another epic climb up away from the Lake. We found a brand new “Shoprite” super market, and parked in the Overland Truck section (no height restriction), our wheels were still turning when we were crowded by local “hawkers”. Amongst them (most were selling the usual tourist stuff) was a guy that introduced himself as “Georgie Porgie”, he was a vegetable and fruit runner, he presented us with a comprehensive list of produce that was available, and Jac went through it ticking off what we wanted and roughly how much. There were no prices, but Georgie Porgie assured us that if we weren’t happy with the quality or if something was too expensive then we didn’t have to pay for it. So off we went to do our shopping, including a visit to the pharmacy next door where we bought our “worming” tablets to help combat the possibility of Bilharzia from our swimming in Lake Malawi. Returning about an hour later to Georgie Porgie camped next to Colonel K with bags and bags of fresh fruit and veg. All was in good condition and after some negotiation we agreed the price of 7,000 Kwatcha (about £6.90, this was pre-referendum). The remainder of that day was spent on the road to Chitimba Camp, again on the shore of Lake Malawi, and involved a steep descent down to the village, during which the views were stunning.
Sometimes its hard to remember that this is a fresh water lake (the ninth largest in the world), but it is huge, roughly the length of England, and 700 metres deep in places, its also nice and warm for swimming, and of course is a huge natural resource for the Malawian people, being a source of (almost endless) fresh water (for drinking and irrigation), a supply of food, and a massive tourist attraction.
We intended only to stay at Chitimba Camp for two nights, but as usual plans are there for changing, we ended up staying there for eight nights. The Dutch owners here, Eddie and Carmen and their staff made us very welcome, and this was the first place in Malawi (or indeed Zimbabwe and Zambia), where the campsite and rooms are being hugely upgraded. If anyone deserves to do well in Malawi its these guys,oh and their dogs Ziggy and Nyasi, (meaning garbage apparently).
Eddie and Carmen really look after their staff and do a lot for the local community, they supported their local school until they found out about the corruption, so switched their support to the school in the next village. The locals know about the corrupt head master and the damage that its doing to the local kids, but still do nothing about it, this really needs to change.
Although there are a number of water pumps in the village, Eddie allows staff families to enter the camp and use the taps here, and even the smallest children (especially the girls) are expected to carry massive buckets of water on their heads back to their houses. One young girl was struggling to pick up this huge bucket (I would guess that it weighed about 30kg), so Jac went over to help lift it onto her head, she couldn’t believe the weight! They found it highly amusing.
As at Kande, the beach at Chitimba Camp is stunning, but now with the added back drop of the mountains and escarpment behind. On top of these hills is the old Mission settlement of Livingstonia situated 3,000 feet above the lake shore.
On the beach at Chitimba, we ended up playing football with the local kids ,there is a football pitch in front of the camp that Eddie lets the kids use, but as we spotted a small snake on the pitch the previous day I decided to stay playing on the beach! During this “knock about” I was running for the ball when one young lads did a forward flip in front of me (these are seriously agile kids) and caught me with his foot across the bridge of my nose, digging my sunglasses in through the skin. Poor little Asher was so upset that he had pole axed the “Mazunga” and caused me to bleed. It was an accident but these kids are super fit and very skilful with a football (a load of plastic bags wrapped up in a number of rubber bands).
One day another truck pulled in, this time from South Africa, after introductions we were given a guided tour of this super equipped 4 wheel drive vehicle, it boasted a front loading automatic washing machine, a dish washer, a huge deep freeze, an ice maker, a coffee machine and a massive pull out gas braii (barbecue to you in the UK), oh and not only a TV with a full satellite system on board but also a TV screen outside so you can watch while cooking your braii. Unbelievable!
He also has a small motorbike on the back, a full set of golf clubs, and two sets of scuba diving gear!
But the real shock for me was the amount he paid for the brand new Mercedes 4×4 chassis cab, complete with auto-box, diff locks, air suspended seats, etc, it was 620,000 Rand (£27,000 pre-referendum rate), with a total cost including the above mentioned kit of £75,000 (pre-referendum rate). In Europe this would be about 3 to 4 times that amount. Not that you need any of that stuff on board an overland truck for two people. But there was a little bit of truck envy, and of course I had to convince Jac that washing clothes and dishes was good for the body and soul.
That morning we heard the news that the UK was to leave the EU after a very close referendum, this was a real surprise to us but a source of much humour for Eddie, and even some of the guests. But the real shock came a few days later when we checked the exchange rate (after it supposedly had recovered), we had gone from 1,030 Kwatcha to the pound, down to 865 Kwatcha, this meant everything was now going to cost us over 15% more on this trip! (for the moment at least) Ouch……( It has since recovered slightly but no where near what it was before the vote).
At Chitimba Camp we met a lovely English couple, Lloyd and Emily that are cycling from Nairobi, Kenya down to Capetown in just over 100 days. They decided to have a rest day , so after a long chat that evening, we arranged to visit Livingstonia with them, hopefully sharing the cost (now post referendum). Eddie had already advised us not to try to drive the Daf up the dirt track as it involves some seriously steep and tight hairpin sections and is very rocky. So early the next morning the four of us walked up to the tarmac road and along to the turning to Livingstonia, after a lot of negotiating we agreed with the owner of a seriously beaten up Landrover pickup/backie (4 bald tyres, covered in dents, etc), that we would pay 5,000 Kwatcha each for a return trip and he would wait for us as long as we wanted him too. There were already 3 passengers in the back with all their pots, pans, dried fish & maize etc, so with us 4 that would mean a total of 7 in the back of the pickup. But even that wasn’t enough we had to wait for another 4 passengers to make it pay!!!
Eventually we set off, it was soon apparent that Colonel K would have seriously struggled on this mountainside, from the tarmac its 15km to Livingstonia, and its over 3,000 feet up there from the lakeshore. We were shaken to bits, battered and bruised, the only respite came when we got an inevitable puncture in one of the bald tyres.
But it did give Emily the chance to show her maternal side (she is a midwife), taking one of the passengers baby off of her as she nimbly climbed out of the back of the Landrover. I warned Lloyd that his girl friends body clock appears to be ticking loudly.
Eventually we arrived at Livingstonia, somehow in one piece, found a “coffee shop”, visited the museum, had a quick walk around the village, and then walked the 3 or 4 km back down the track to the waterfalls. The views from here are beautiful, and its quite a wild place, with I guess very few visitors.
But strangely the highlight of the day for me was walking down the track another few kilometres and finding Lukwe Ecocamp for a lunch stop, the food was very good (all freshly prepared), the surroundings were great, but the view from the veranda was truly breathtaking.
On the way to Lukwe, we were passed by our driver that had now “moved the goal posts” and wanted us to go down to Chitimba now, so we paid him half of what we agreed and decided to take our chances on getting another lift down or walking the remaining 10-12km back to the tarmac. After walking a few kilometres (and realising that we wouldn’t make it before night fall), we heard a vehicle coming down the track behind us, we flagged him down and asked if we could pay for a ride down to the road. It was a fairly new Toyota Hilux pickup, owned by an electric supply company, and was full of ladders, coils of cable, and what looked like huge man traps (these were spiky metal things used to climb timber poles), oh and 3 large men, so after agreeing 1,000 Kwatcha each (roughly a Pound), we climbed in the back and set off down the mountainside. Wedged into any corner that we could, holding on for grim death, we descended like it was a Subaru rally car! I love speed, but wow this was crazy driving, you could tell that this wasn’t an “owner driver” and I think he was showing off just a little. Amazingly we survived with little worse that a lot of bruises. That evening Eddie told us the tale of how he was asked to drive up in his Hilux to collect the body of a young girl that had fallen from a backie whilst travelling this route! We all drunk too much in the bar that evening, and Lloyd and Emily decided to have another “rest day” the following day.
We cooked a “one pot “ steak meal for the cyclists, with Jac deciding that they needed more nutrition that they were getting from the vast supplies of Peanut Butter that Lloyd was consuming. There’s nothing of Lloyd but boy can he put it away!
Next morning we said goodbye to Emily and Lloyd, promising to stay in touch, and wishing them all the best on the rest of their trip. We also said a sad farewell to Eddie and Carmen and the staff at Chitimba Camp. Below is Eddie with the Genet that he rescued as a baby, both are real characters, but only one is a fantastic photographer, and only one pee’s in the ash trays on the bar (can you guess which one).
We thought we would have a fairly easy day, driving to the border, and then on to Mbeya in Tanzania to find a campsite, get some local currency, and a sim card for the iPhone, in all about 270km, no problem eh.
The border was chaos, there was a massive queue of commercial trucks, on the Malawi side (which we obviously jumped), stretching back for a couple of kilometres, and it wasn’t moving, the idiots had caused gridlock, and nothing could get through from Tanzania over the bridge. Paper work was done quite quickly in the offices on the Malawi side, with one woman Customs official asking for a payment to “process” the Carnet de Passage, after we both laughed at her, she handed the document back to us, and went back behind her desk. We have not paid any bribes at all on this trip and didn’t intend starting now.
For some reason the drivers of the commercial trucks seem quite happy for us to push in to the front of the queue (we only saw one car crossing this border, it was all trucks), and so eventually we crossed the bridge into an equally chaotic Tanzania border post. We paid for our Visa’s, ($50.00 each), then road tax etc, totalling another $25.00, and we were good to go. At no point on either side were our documents checked (you are normally given a gate pass once you have completed all the necessary official stuff), and we could have just driven through both borders without being stopped (in theory). It took a total of 3 hours to get through the shambles, mostly caused by the Malawi side, and would have been all day if we hadn’t jumped the queue.
We decided not to stop in the town but to drive straight through and head for Utengule Coffee Farm, that has a Lodge and Campsite, we got there just before it got dark, luckily they take payment from a Visa card, so we didn’t need to panic about getting some Tanzanian Shillings (we had got a small amount at the border, at post-referendum rates). Its a lovely place with a very very cold swimming pool, tennis court, volley ball pitch and a great restaurant. We stayed there for 3 nights, and really enjoyed the coffee, it was like being back in “Slowtown Coffee” in Swakopmund, Namibia. We walked along the hill side to the actual coffee farm (about 20 minute walk), and watched them sieving and drying the beans in the daytime sun.
Even here there was a guy with a gun!
There was one other campervan at the coffee farm, a German couple that were part of a larger group on an organised tour of Southern Africa, 24 vehicles in total, all shipping their own campers from Europe. These two sadly had to split from the rest of their group as she caught Malaria, and was stuck in the nearby hospital for a number of days, and were waiting for the rest of the group to return to the coffee farm (2 weeks later). But the amazing thing is, that this camper (apparently the only one in the group) is just a front wheel drive Fiat based camper that you would find travelling around Europe! It has got very little ground clearance and a huge wheel base, and of course grounds out constantly on the dirt roads! It will be wrecked by the time it gets shipped back to Germany in a couple of months time. As they are German, they are looking forward to what will be the trip highlight for them, Namibia. I didn’t have the courage to tell them that the gravel roads there will destroy their camper!
After leaving the coffee farm, we stopped in Mbeya at a ATM, Jac jumped out to get some cash while I parked the truck, This must be the best guarded Bank on the planet! There were 4 uniformed guards outside the (still closed) bank, all carrying machine guns, and there were another two guarding the bank next door.
We are now camped on an old Colonial farm near the Southern town of Iringa (towards Dar es Salaam), it was exactly 300km from the coffee farm and it took us 8.5 hours to drive. There were numerous diversions off of the tarmac (some about 10 km long), for about half the journey, it was very very slow. Then to top it all I managed to get stopped for speeding! Yes speeding in our ultra slow Leyland Daf. I had actually been speeding coming out of the previous town, over taking a very slow truck, up hill, in a 50kmph speed limit doing about 65kmph, but obviously I denied it (my mate Clive would have been proud of me), and we asked to see the evidence. The Sergeant took away my driving license and informed me to wait for the speed gun to be brought up to us from the previous town (where the operator had been hiding in the scrub no doubt). For about 15 minutes we waited (along with a few other vehicles), some just paid the fine and carried on, but eventually this plain car pulled up, and out jumped 4 very excited civilians (they obviously had been using the speed gun). Then the Sergeant sternly told me to get out of the cab and follow him to the rabble that were viewing the speed gun (consisting of a digital SLR camera fixed to a double lens bit of kit), there was lots of shouting and excitable voices that kept turning their gaze from the camera to Colonel K and back to the camera. Buttons were being pressed by lots of fingers, then it went quiet, and there were two very pissed off policemen, they had accidentally deleted the filming of Colonel K! I was told by the Sergeant that an error was made and that his men had stopped the wrong vehicle, and that he hoped “we would forgive the Tanzanian Police” for their mistake! With driving licence back in my guilty little hand we were off. Very lucky indeed.
Thanks for reading
We’ve now spent a couple of weeks in Malawi, and it seems to me that Malawi is the Foreign Aid capital of Africa! Is it actually doing any good? mmmmm read on, but some people may not like what they are reading.
After leaving Liwonde National Park, which is a lovely campsite, basic but clean and efficiently run, we headed south to the town of Zomba. This is the former capital city of Malawi before it was moved to Lilongwe, and has actually got some quite nice former colonial buildings (these have mostly fallen into disrepair, which is a shame as they could be lovely places and have many uses). I dropped Jac off to raid the ATM of the most modern looking bank (also the one that had a guard with a machine gun), she then returned with handfuls of notes. Let me explain, the largest note is circulation in Malawi is 1,000 Malawian Kwatcha, this is the equivalent to about 98p, and because of this, the bank can only give out a maximum of 40,000MK at a time, so two lots is 80 notes, and this is less than £80.00 worth. Malawi isn’t cheap either (compared to Europe its cheap, but not to other Southern African countries, such as Namibia, South Africa and Zambia), so this means we go through 40,000MK quite quickly, especially with diesel being a relatively expensive 77p per litre. Next stop was a Shoprite Cash and Carry “Supermarket” down one of the manic side streets of Zomba, as is usual with most supermarkets in Malawi there was no fresh produce such as vegetables, fruit or even meat (you are expected to buy this on the street from local sellers), so after stocking up on cans of stuff, and few other bits we again ran the gauntlet of locals with their hands out. Malawi is by far the worst country that we have been through for people asking for handouts, could this be a result of all the handouts from western countries, charities and “non profit organisations”?
Zomba town is set at the base of the mountains (at about 800m above sea level) and the campsite that we were aiming for was almost at the top of the plateau (at about 1400m), and that 600m (nearly 2,000 feet in old money) is gained in a very short distance, its a very very steep climb. Thankfully virtually all of it, apart from the final part was tarmac (this was built a few years back when they constructed a large dam wall and reservoir, to supply water to Zomba), Colonel K earned his diesel that day. On the way up we noticed lots of men with their cycles fully loaded up with logs, struggling to control them on the steep decent (walking alongside them), and also many women carrying huge piles of wood on their heads, we would learn more about this extreme work later.
Amazingly near the top of the climb we were met by lots of men selling fruit, not your usual bananas and oranges, but strawberries, raspberries and even gooseberries, we filled our boots! These were the first locally produced “red” fruits we had seen since leaving the England over 14 months ago, and they were fantastic, especially the strawberries.
We had heard that the campsite up here was very basic, and run down, and in true Malawian style it didn’t disappoint. It was previously (not long ago I think) a thriving trout farm, with lots of fish holding tanks, and ponds, and it obviously was an attraction for day visitors and campers and there was a former restaurant over looking the largest pond. It must have been very nice here, but as you can see from the photo of one of the huge log cabins, it would now make a great film set for the sequel of the “Blair Witch Project”!
Zomba Plateau is renown for its hiking opportunities, so we arranged for a guide to take us on a 3 hour walk up in the hills, and we were lucky enough to meet Benson who made the experience very enjoyable and interesting. First stop en-route to the “top” was Williams Falls, this is a long series of fairly short waterfalls.
We climbed a total of about 1,000 feet from the trout farm up to the top of the Plateau, and it was quite tough going for us as we have lost our fitness a bit since we have been away (lots of sitting in the cab, and of course its too bloody hot to walk quite a lot of the time), but it is so green and lush at the top (it wasn’t the highest point, that was further round the plateau).
Even up here, we passed guys trying to hold up their fully loaded cycles under the incredible weight of the logs, it was about 15km down to the town from here, and Benson explained more about this. Each morning before it gets light these men and women leave the town and start the long walk up the hill (men with push bikes), and at the gate (near the top) they have to purchase a forestry permit for 200MK (this allows them to cut logs for that day and remove them from the Plateau), they then spend ALL DAY cutting wood and loading it onto their bikes (I would estimate there is about 50-75KG loaded onto the bikes (they even in-fill the triangle of the frame), and slowly struggle to control the bikes down the long and very steep in places tarmac road, down to Zomba town. Benson told us that the going rate for one of these loads of firewood is 4,000MK, so after buying the permit the profit is 3,800MK (approx £3.80) for a very long hard days graft.
There are two famous viewpoints from up on the Plateau, Emperor’s, and Queen’s viewpoints, respectively named after Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, and the Queen Mother of Great Britain both of whom visited the Plateau in the 1950’s. I showed my ignorance of all things African when I asked if the sign was painted in the colours of the Ethiopian flag.
“No” Benson replied, “thats the Rasta colours”! And so it was, down at the viewpoint was a stall with a Rastafarian selling all the usual tourist stuff, but with a Rasta theme, very strange and also very friendly. The view from both here and the nearby Queen’s is quite breathtaking, and really shows the old volcano that stands on the other side of Zomba.
On the way back down to the trout farm, we passed two man made lakes, the highest one was so still, and peaceful in amongst the pine trees.
Benson, only guides walkers when required (he said its usually only once or twice a week, there really are very few tourists staying up here), the rest of the time he works with his brother who’s a carpenter making things to sell to tourists and when he told us that he wanted to take us to their shop on the way back to the campsite, I groaned inwardly! Another tourist trinket trap, selling all the same old crap? Well no, quite a bit of this stuff was actually very good, and a bit different. They make everything themselves in their “workshop” opposite the shop (obviously not an actual shop, more a set of tables with roof over them), and in this instance we broke our usual rule not to buy any touristy stuff. In the end we bought a “globe” with a map of the world (approximately) hand carved into it, then cut in half and the insides chisled out and sanded to allow some storage (peanuts?) inside. Its all made from one solid piece of “ironwood”, and is beautifully finished, we agreed a price of 10,000MK (approx £10.00). On the way back to the campsite I asked Benson how long it took to make this one off globe, he told me it took his older brother about seven days to make this one item, and judging by the quality of it, I believe him.
It took us as long to get down from the Plateau as it did to get up there! It was tough on the brakes this time, and most of the time we were doing about 15kmph down the long steep road. Concentration was the key.
Next stop was back to Lake Malawi, and this time Senga Bay, we chose Steps Campsite, as we knew it had a private beach, and that we could use the facilities at the adjacent Sunbird hotel. We got there on a Friday, and was met at the huge steel gates by the head of security “Pax”, he suggested that we use their “old” campsite as it was likely to get very busy at the new campsite with day visitors at the weekend. It was already quite busy so we took his advice and parked right next to the sandy beach and almost next to the actual hotel rooms. Next day was very busy and included a coach load of teenagers that were just finishing their exams at school and were here to let off steam. The music was pumping, and it was great to see them having a fun time in the lake, playing football, and generally doing what all teenagers do. Most of them had no change of clothes or swimwear, they just went in fully clothed.
We spent a couple of days chilling around the very nice swimming pool at the hotel, and watching Euro 16 football in the nearby bar, but while we were there a local choir (consisting of about 30 women) used the hotel pool and beach areas to film a video (very low budget) for their latest song, it was quite surreal really, but they seemed very excited about being in this hotel.
We heard that song so many times, that I couldn’t get it out of my head for days afterwards!
Whilst at Senga Bay, I asked Pax why there was such a high level of security at the campsite (we were the only guests staying here), his immediate answer was to tell us that it was to make us feel safe (his guards are dressed almost as paramilitaries and march and salute as such), but then he also explained that it was to stop the locals coming to sell Cannabis on the beach. I was quite shocked at this, and asked him if it was a big problem in Malawi, he said that although it is illegal to grow, sell or smoke cannabis here it is a huge issue for them here at Senga Bay. I was intrigued about this and wondered where it was coming from, we were soon to find out!
After again being on the lake for a few days, we decided we would head inland again and this time to a campsite on the Bua River in the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. Bua River Lodge is about 12km from the tarmac M5 lakeside road, and as we turned onto the dirt track, it was soon obvious that they had received some rain here earlier that day, and in places the hard packed mud had chewed up a bit and was very slippery, but eventually we got to the Reserve gate, and was told that we would have to pay $23.00 to enter the park to reach the campsite . We agreed with the female ranger on the gate, that we would pay when we came back out, as we didn’t know how many nights we would stay for (and also if the campsite wasn’t suitable for our truck then we could leave within the hour without paying). From the gate Tracks4Africa was showing that it was about 4km to the lodge and campsite, and with 800m to go, the track split and was signposted left to the lodge and reception, and right to the campsite, there was also another sign below instructing campers to proceed straight to the campsite, so we turned right…….
After about 250m we knew we had made a big mistake, the track was extremely steep, very rocky, and after the rain that morning, very very slippery! There was no way that Colonel K would be able to reverse back up, we just had to carry on very slowly and hope we could turn around at the bottom and drive back out. It got worse, a lot worse, in places we had wheels locked up and was sliding down (9 tonnes is a lot of weight to hold on wet, muddy and slippery rocks), but eventually we got down to a very small tight campsite, and was met by a very smiley Manager. My first words were “why the hell don’t you have a ‘caution steep descent’ sign at the top?”, at least that would have given us some warning and would have walked down and checked it out first. He just looked and smiled again, and said “you should be ok to get out tomorrow if it doesn’t rain again!” I walked up the track and thought NO WAY!
I calmed down and just crossed every part of my body that it remained dry for the next 18 hours, but even if dry (and it was completely covered by a thick canopy of trees), I really had my doubts that our 150hp Cummins engine would haul our 9 tonne truck up that bank of rocks and mud. So we went on a sunset walk with a couple of beers and our guide “Tony”. Health and safety don’t feature very highly in these parts, and as we walked down and along the river bank, we came into a clearing for our beers to watch the sun go down, and it was full of sun bathing crocodiles!
Also present at this lovely pool was a family of Vervet Monkeys, a stunning African Fish Eagle, and a young Bull Elephant.
It was a lovely hour or so, and the walk/guide was free, we just had to pay for our beers (which Tony carried for us of course).
After a good nights sleep (for me anyway, Jac said she hardly slept as she was worried about getting out of the campsite) in this very peaceful spot, we woke to thankfully a dry morning, so after putting the coffee pot on, and planning to have a leisurely breakfast I went to use the toilet. Bugger, the sky is seriously black in the distance, rain is on the way………. So a rapid pack up, with the truck having a very long warm up of the engine, Jac went and settled the bill, and we readied ourselves and Colonel K before the heavens opened! First Gear, Low Range, and off we went……..In the end the Daf made very light work of it, just feeling the tyres spinning every so often on the wet and muddy sections, but once again Colonel K surprised us with his capabilities. We stopped at the Reserve gate and had toast for breakfast and laughed at how worried we were about getting out, and the young female rangers ridiculously large military style boots (she was tiny, with about size 43 boots!). Oh and it didn’t rain, the sky cleared and it was another hot sunny day.
On the track back to the tarmac, we suddenly noticed the crop being grown here, Cannabis on a huge scale (small plots, but almost everyone was growing Pot here), there was no sign of the usual maize or sugar cane. This theme continued all the way to Kande Beach. Yes there was now some plots of sugar cane and maize, and even a few people growing cotton, but there is tonnes of Cannabis being grown here, and apparently most is exported to South Africa, and Mozambique (where of course it is sent to Europe amongst other places). It is illegal to grow it here and yet it is so blatant along side the main roads, the authorities must be turning a blind eye to this (or taking a cut), but what really makes me angry is this is prime land and could be used for growing maize etc, and providing food for the amazing people of Malawi. But of course hundreds of tonnes of food aid is brought into Malawi each year, so why bother growing your own when we could grow profitable illegal drugs! Rant over? Nope not yet!!!!
While travelling around Malawi you get to realise how many “volunteers”, aid workers, and NGO’s there are here, I’m sure that intentions are all good, but with literally thousands of “gap year” students spending a month, or even a few months ‘painting a school’, or ‘playing with orphaned children’ (then leaving them behind once they have got used to them), is it really helping this country?. Almost every child that you drive past is screaming “sweety”, or “pen” with his or her palm held out, they have got used to the “Mzungu” (white man) bringing gifts into the communities. Is this good for the long term of this country or its people? We have met a few “overland truck/bus” drivers that say that Malawi is the only country that they drive through (except Zimbabwe), that hasn’t moved forward at all in terms of infrastructure, and this is despite the massive amount of aid that comes in from the EU and USA. Along the tarmac roads, especially the long lake side road, at almost every 10km you will see a sign with the EU flag on it proclaiming a new initiative such as a “Goat Club”, or “Community Feed Initative”, many are now faded, so are they still operating? Who knows, but I doubt it. Then there’s the obscene amount of money spent on brand new Landcruisers, Hilux’s, etc that are driven by idiots that have no regard for other road users, cyclists, and pedestrians, all have got some sort of charity or foreign flag stuck to the front doors. Money well spent? Not in my eyes.
We are currently staying on a fantastic campsite on Kande Beach, which also has a number of good quality cheap rooms (there is also a certified dive school attached) they employ 40 full time local members of staff (yes 40! not including the dive school), there are many like this place on Lake Malawi. As I see it, having a two week beach holiday in Malawi may benefit the country more, and you would have a great African experience as well. As with a lot of Southern African countries, there is a lot of hope in the new president here and that any curruption will stop, I for one hope so too, the people of Malawi deserve better.
Ok rant over, sorry if you don’t agree with what I said, but its just a view on what we have seen and listening to people here in Malawi.
Thanks for reading
The drive from Zikomo Safari Lodge, was the same bone jarring experience as when we arrived seven days earlier, but this time we ignored the Garmin (loaded with Tracks4Africa) and followed our nose’s to the town of Mfuwe. This could end badly, or maybe its a short cut, whats the worst that could happen?
Well, the first thing was the raging bush fires that we had to drive through, windows up and foot down! Then there was the two river crossings up ahead shown on the Sat Nav, we were pretty sure that there weren’t going to be any bridges, it was just a case of the state of the rivers and the entry and exit of the river banks. On we plodded, and luckily both were dry and despite the banks being very steep and rutted, Colonel K proved he was up to the task again. It was indeed a short cut, and a very interesting one taking us through many small villages with their individual cotton plantations. I think the reason that the T4A software wanted to take us the long way round is because most of the year this route would be impassable for any vehicle because of the large rivers (not sure it knew about the bush fires though).
On the way through Mfuwe we decided to stop and get our 5lt petrol can filled up to put in our Honda generator, so Jac went off into the village looking for some bread and I waited at the pump for my unleaded. The attendant looked at our plastic container and told me that he couldn’t fill it up as they arn’t allowed to fill up plastic fuel cans, even purpose made ones. I thought this was crazy, but he said the Police in Zambia are very strict about this and can close a fuel station down if they are caught. “Ok” I said, “do I need to get a metal can then?”, “oh no” was the reply “I’ll get you a Jerry can and then I can pour it into your plastic fuel can”. This is a typical African rule, crazy, stupid and bloody dangerous! The smiling attendant then proceeded to put 5 litres of petrol into a rusty old jerry can, then found a funnel made from an old water bottle (that was split), then next to the pump (and a crazy old man smoking a cigarette), he poured the petrol into my plastic can (I think I lost about 250ml through the split funnel). As it was a Sunday Jac returned without bread.
Wildlife Camp was very different from the quiet atmosphere of Zikomo, different but still a nice place, its a busy campsite with “overland buses/trucks” coming and going, usually staying for two nights. But we really enjoyed out time here, and met some great people too. The campsite is also completely open for wildlife, its not actually in the South Luangwa NP, but there no fences and animals don’t understand lines drawn on maps, so its not unusual to have elephants next to the truck, and lions and leopard do come in late at night. The river in front of where we were camped is packed with hippo’s and there are lots of very large crocodiles in there too.
In the bar there was a huge family of Mongoose, that the lodge feed catfood to, (this is usually a no-no to feed wild animals), this is to keep them around the lodge area, as they help to keep down vermin and snakes, they were very tame and weren’t bothered by us being near them, though they did also chase off “Boo” the owners dog.
But we will alway remember Wildlife Camp, by our one and only game drive there. We booked an afternoon/night drive ($50 plus $25 park fees each), we weren’t expecting much as this is a much busier part of the park, and of course we had just had a fantastic sighting of a Leopard at Zikomo, so in a packed safari adapted Defender, driven by our guide Moses, we set off for the park gates. Before we got to the end of the track we saw a male and female Lion mating (its that time of year here), and a herd of elephants in the same place, wow, can it get any better, we’ve only been out 5 minutes!
Next it was the 10 minute drive to the gate, Jac and I had the front seat to our selves but behind us was seven very excited teenagers (mostly), that didn’t stop chatting and laughing and joking (fine, but on a safari drive?), after registering all the visitors, we set off into the park. After a few nice close up’s of hippos and crocs out of the water, and lots of great birdlife, we stumbled upon a real treat, it was “Ginger” an albino Lion. We had already heard about “Ginger” from when we were at Zikomo, its unusual for an albino lion to live very long but “Ginger” has bucked the tread and has fathered at least 2 sets of cubs (none of his off-spring are albino). It was late in the day and he was sleeping in the long grass when we saw him. Before we drove closer, our guide Moses turned in his seat and told the mixed group behind us (mainly English and American’s) that they must remain quiet and still because “Ginger” will wake up!
Well “Ginger” did wake up and when an adult male lion gets up and walks towards you (less than 2 metres away), you respect it and remain quiet! Don’t you? Not if you are an excitable teenage girl! Moses had to quickly remind them not to be scared, and not to make any noise or quick movements as he walked past them (slowly and looking at those on that side of the vehicle, which included Jac), quite menacingly. In other words SHUT UP!
By now it was pitch black dark, so our young spotter was called into action with his huge flash light, and amazingly within 15 minutes he saw in the distance a Leopard, as with our sighting a few days before at Zikomo she was stalking her prey, this time a herd of Puku, and again she was indeed a thing of beauty.
We continued to watch her for about 15 minutes as she slowly got closer to the Puku, then Moses thought we should leave her so we didn’t disturb her hunting any longer than necessary.
But this game drive wasn’t over just yet, next up we saw a lovely little Genet, although this looks like a cat (and until recently it was deemed a type of cat) it is a separate group of animals.
Next treat was a huge pack of African Wild Dogs (or Painted Dogs as they are also known), these are very rare but we have been lucky to see 3 packs of these endangered animals now, this was a pack numbering 18 in total.
While we were watching them (the youngest members of the pack were playing like domestic puppies), incredibly a lone Spotted Hyena wandered into the pack, we were treated to a display that showed us just how formidable a predator these Dogs are, they reacted very quickly to the threat, and as a pack they saw off this huge Hyena.
But still we weren’t done yet. Just after watching the African Wild Dogs we found yet another mating pair of lions (there’s something in the air I think). Moses told us that a pair mate every 15 minutes for a 3 to 4 day period, to ensure that the lioness is suitably pregnant, and sure enough after seeing them seemingly asleep next to each other, the female wakes the male and insists that he does the business yet again (no beer or football on the telly for this guy afterwards).
It was an amazing game drive, but our very excitable co-passengers (whom I’m sure for most of them it was their 1st ever visit to a national park), didn’t seem to grasp how lucky they were (God help their next guide on a game drive), they’ll expect every game drive to be like this.
At Wildlife Camp we were parked next to Raphael, and his wife Isabella from Brazil, they had been travelling for three and half years (they go back to Brazil in 2 months time), and it was great to share a few tales of both our travels, but they deserve respect for spending that amount of time mostly in a roof tent on a Landrover Defender. But after a couple of days with them it was time to say goodbye as they were heading to the border with Malawi that day, and escorting another vehicle (Herman the German, not his real name I don’t think, but hey it rhymes) that had trouble with cracked alloy wheels, to the capital of Lilongwe.
We also left that day, but we decided to break up the journey with an overnight stop in Chipata, before we hit the border. While in Chipata we planned to stock up at one of 2 supermarkets in town, outside Spar was a nightmare, with people and cars everywhere (we would have had to park the Daf miles away), so we drove on until we got to Shoprite. As we got closer, the carpark in the front looked quite big (it was down a very steep ramp off the tarmac road), so we turned in, bugger big mistake! It was very tight and only two rows of parking, then our guardian angels of the day appeared (a couple of cheeky Zambian kids dressed in nothing more than rags), were ushering us right to the far end of the car park. Do we trust them or try to reverse out? As we got up to them a car pulled out and miraculously we had 3 empty spaces in a row, we took up all 3 plus a bit on the end. For the first time I didn’t tell the kids to bugger off, but told them to guard Colonel K (it didn’t need looking after), and I’d see them when we got back, but not to touch it as the alarm will go off. After an hour or so in Shoprite, our “minders” were keen to help us load our food and drink into the truck, and we paid them for helping us. The two original lads we super pleased with their pay-off, and even helped Jac guide me to turn round in the incredibly tight carpark. By this time another kid had turned up and was expecting payment (that wasn’t going to happen), he was about the same age as his mates, (about 12-13 I guess), so Jac gave him a toy (this was proberly more suitable for a 2-3 year old), and how the other kids laughed, but he wasn’t giving up his little plastic toy! They were great kids, and no trouble at all.
Next day we crossed the border into Malawi, and headed into Lilongwe. The border crossing was fairly swift and reasonably organised, taking just over an hour, and again was quite expensive with the visa’s costing $75 each for a single entry 30 day, we also had to pay road tolls as well.
We spent one night in the capital city of Lilongwe, camped at a back packers place, which was about 2.5km walk into the main “shopping” area (this is not a European city here), and we used the opportunity to stretch our legs to get a new Sim card for the phone, get some money from the ATM’s at the numerous banks (theres a limit of 40,000 Kwatcha, about £40 limit, per withdrawal), have a fantastic ice-cream, oh and get a very severe hair-cut! At this point I should say that Malawi has got a real “African” feel to it, one reason is the poverty (especially in the more rural areas), but the main reason is the size of the population here, there is about 18 million living in a very small area (by African standards), and there are people EVERYWHERE! Roadside pee stops, with any sort of privacy is just about impossible, but it really is a great and very friendly place.
Driving through the towns and villages in Malawi are always chaotic, and you really have to have your wits about you, looking out for people, dogs, goats, cars and of course push bikes.
Cycles here are not just a form of personal transport, they are also used as a way of moving your goods that you intend to sell, and as we left Lilongwe we saw hundreds of guys cycling fully loaded cycles with everything from firewood, 4-5 sacks of charcoal, sugar cane, or up to 4 people on board (we once saw with 3 adults and a child on one cycle)
We decided to head for the small village of Monkey Bay on the southern shores of Lake Malawi for a couple of days, and after turning off the main road, we descended towards the lake shore, we dropped 3,500 feet in about 15km! It was unbelievably steep in places and relentless on Colonel K’s brakes, we even had one local lad on a rusty old Chinese bicycle over take us between two hairpin bends, flat down over the handlebars, I couldn’t stop laughing, when we eventually caught him up on the flat, he gave us the biggest smile, and we shared a thumbs up.
At Monkey Bay we were told by a local guy that we wouldn’t fit down the track to the campsite or indeed fit in any of the camp spots, we decided we would try anyway. After pushing our way through the trees, we arrived at the site and met by the South African owner who made us very welcome. She showed us one camp spot that we could just about fit in, but it was too tight really to be comfortable, our other option was to park on the sandy beach next to the waters edge. It was deep soft sand (this is a fresh water lake, with no tides), and it was down hill slightly to the lake and a tight turn to stop us getting Colonel K wet. Despite sinking in quite deep as we turned we got parked up about 2-3 metres from the water, in a lovely quiet spot. To our amazement our new Brazilian friends were also here!
That evening was spent sharing food and drink with Raphael and Isabella, and also two young lads (cousins,one from Mozambique, and the other from U.S.A), who were on their first overland trip, and had just bought two puppies! Rob and David’s excitement for their trip was infectious and great to see, though how they slept in a roof tent with 2 six to eight week old puppies I’ll never know.
As you can see from the photo’s above there was a damaged boat on the lake shore that the owner was waiting to get dragged out and repaired, but when we arrived there was another boat on the beach that was also damaged, and was leaking water badly, but in Malawi things are done a little differently! Rather that sealing the leaky hull, they rowed it out into deeper water and sank it, they will leave it for a month, and then drag it out and hopefully the water logged hull will now be sealed up tighter. How long that will last before it drys out again? And as a tourist would you fancy boat trips in a ever more increasingly leaky boat? mmmmm
It was time to leave Monkey Bay, and exit the beach. Low range and centre diff lock engaged, we were fine until the 90 degree tight turn up the slope, the tyres were just slipping in the sand and digging deep, so for the first time since we bought them in Swakopmund we got out our very expensive “Maxtrax” sand ladders. Would they be strong enough to withstand our 9 tonne truck? They worked perfectly and we were out in about 10 minutes, they are much lighter and easier to use than metal sand boards or plastic waffle boards, and they were completely undamaged by Colonel K driving over them. Money well spent I think.
Next we went to Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi, its only a short drive, but this was a very different experience as it is a very busy tourist town, with the locals still living in their traditional way. There are fishing boats bombing up and down the lake all day and you can clearly see their lights out on the water at night, but with tourists it attracts street/beach hawkers. They are selling everything from fruit and veg, stickers, key rings, and of course tourists activities on the lake, including, fishing, snorkelling, scuba diving, and boat trips. These after a while can be a bit of a pain, just because of their sheer numbers, but they are always polite and once you say no, they do leave you alone (not the case in Morocco). We did agree with a guy (the biggest, baddest looking of all the hawkers on the beach, who’s name unbelievably was Alice!) to buy two “Chambo” fish off of him the next morning, but only if they are fresh. The trouble is, to prove to us that they were fresh, he brought them straight from the boat and they were still breathing! I quickly dispatched them to stop their suffering and paid Alice for the fish. That night we cooked the fish on the braai, in garlic and herbs, they weren’t great really, being a bit tasteless and it reminded me that freshwater fish isn’t usually great for eating.
On this trip we have seen hundreds of fantastic sunsets, but the one across the lake at Cape Maclear, with the islands in the background, must rank as one of the best, it made a great setting.
We are now in a lovely campsite in Liwonde National Park, which is south of Lake Malawi on the Shire River (nothing to do with Hobbits and Middle earth), and next we plan to drive further south and visit the Zomba Plateau where there’s hiking to be done. Then its north to spend a few more weeks travelling in Malawi up to the Tanzania border, thats our plans, and I bet it changes, it always does!
Thanks for reading
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.
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.
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”.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
And an amazing array of birds like the Indigo Bird, and the African Harrier Hawk.
We also watched some duelling male Impala’s that were really going at each other.
Back at the camp we chilled and watched the wildlife around us and thought about wether we should try again here .
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.
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 ?
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.
After 7 nights at Zikomo, we left with a heavy heart and a heavy bill! It was $850, which included 3 game drives, plus park fees, one meal for two, and a few beers.
We have decided to go to Wildlife Camp near Mfuwe for a few days, which we know will be busier and noiser, but will also be cheaper! We might even be tempted into another night game drive to spot another Leopard……. its tempting.
Thanks for reading
A Year On ……..
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 !
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 !
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.
thanks for reading
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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”.
Fingers are suitably crossed here for good news on the UV joint………..
Thanks for reading.
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.
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.
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).
And just as you start to descend back to the car, you are faced with views like this……
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.
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.
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!
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
The perfect place for a cold beer or a gin and tonic.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the fanciest houseboats was called “The Lady Jacqueline”, which Jac assures me was named after her, apparently its a “boat of note”……
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.
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!
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!
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.
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).
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!
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 !……
Thanks for reading