May 19 2010

Zambia – diary 2010-04-24 to 2010-05-02

2010-04-24 to 2010-05-02

We crossed into Zambia via the Wenella-Sesheke border post. All went smoothly at immigration but customs proved to be very expensive. We were told that we had to pay ZK112 500 for insurance, ZK200 000 for Carbon Emission Taxes (there are so many trees and so few industries in Zambia my mind still ponders the reason for this tax), KZ92 500 for Transport and Safety Agency and the last straw was the KZ31 600 for community tax. This all amounted to KZ436 600 or €70 all to drive a vehicle in Zambia So with many Euros out of pocket we headed towards Livingstone in the hope of seeing Vic Falls and possibly doing some sort of  wild activity that the area is famous for. The drive there reminded us that we were in Africa! We couldn’t help noticing just how rural Zambia was in comparison to Namibia. We had a feeling of gratitude as Zambia would be a good reintroduction into the African way of life, but not in a harsh way, as we would still have the luxury of shopping at Shoprite and other westernised stores.

We drove through the town in search of a Foreign Exchange Bureau only to find that all of banks and exchange offices were closed. Our only option was to use the dodgy black market guys who park themselves conveniently outside the closed Forex offices. We should have taken the guide books advice and given these guys a wide berth because as it turned out they managed to scam us out of £100 by their fast fingers and sweet talking. Kirk called off the deal when they decided to change the rate at the last minute and when they returned our cash which hadn’t actually left Kirk’s hand there were 5 £20 notes missing. After driving down the road for 30 seconds and counting the money we realised what they had done. Kirk gave chase on foot. He managed to catch one of the perpetrators who claimed he had done no business with us and was making such a noise that he was beginning to attract a crowd. Kirk thought that it was probably in his best interest to leave him and get the help of a military man who too was coming to investigate what all the commotion was about. Kirk returned to the car and we went in search of the other 2 assailants who we managed to spot but they managed to out run Mvubu. He certainly was not made to pursue criminals at high speed and narrow roads. There was nothing we could do; we had just lost £100 due to our own stupidity and carelessness.

Our spirits were definitely dampened. It was our 1st negative African experience and harsh realisation of just how complacent we had become. With our tail between our legs, we made our way to Livingstone Safari Camp where Kirk fixed the starter solenoid and I did some washing. We were in no mood to do anything touristy and so stayed in the campsite in the hope of an improved mood in the morning. We spoke to the owner, Tjiss, who was very helpful in assisting us with our future travel plans in and around Zambia.

The following morning was a gloomy day and started with rain. We decided to treat ourselves and headed into town to the local coffee shop where we enjoyed a Full English Breakfast. We then found a great little restaurant that had Wi-Fi where we spent the remainder of the day drinking tea, updating the blog and reading magazines. It certainly was a very lazy day which was just what Kirk and I needed. We certainly were not yet ready to give up the luxuries that the western world has to offer. We had spent the last week driving every day and we were in need of a bit of R and R. On the way back to camp we stopped in at the viewing point for Vic Falls, took some pics of the spray and settled in for the evening.

Lake Kariba was next on our itinerary and with the prospect of possibly doing some sailing we headed towards The Houseboat Company only to find that they were no longer in business. After further investigation it became apparent that we were not going to be able to hire a yacht for a couple of days and so had to change our plans yet again. We drove a further 80kms along the lake shore and arrived at Kariba Bush Club, a beautiful lodge set right on Kariba with stunning views of the lake. We stayed for 2 days and again used the time to relax, do car maintenance, and plan our stay in Zambia. Mvubu has had bad luck with his tyres. We found that the rear right tyre had not one but two nails in it resulting in a slow puncture. We also found that the rim was also leaking again!

 The late rains had caused havoc with out travel itinerary and after speaking to the manager of Kariba Bush Club it was certain that many of the things we wanted to do in Zambia were impossible at this time of year so after careful consideration we decided to give the Lower Zambezi National Park a miss and head on to South Luangwa National Park. We stopped off in Lusaka for one night to sort out a Yellow Card for insurance and camped at Eureka Camping where we met our 1st Overlander Truck group as well as some other independent overlanders who had been travelling for 1½ years through West Africa and were now tackling the East.

Our trip to South Luangwa took 10 hours from Lusaka but took us through the most beautiful scenery. Zambia was looking healthy and green after the abundant rains they had received. The sugar cane fields towered in height and the wild flowers were in bloom. There are many farming programmes being initiated in the rural areas with Sunflower seeds being one of the easiest crops to grow and maintain. With the sunflowers in full bloom it was impossible to feel glum. We arrived at Flatdogs Camp, a safari camp right outside the gates of the National Park, when the heavens opened and Zambia received yet another douse of late rain. Our spirits were not dampened by this and with the prospect of seeing leopard, elephant and lion in the park we made our way to our campsite. We were instructed to be very aware of our surroundings as the hippos like to come out of the Luangwa River and into the camp at night to graze. Kirk and I were filled with a renewed sense of adventure and we were now faced with being in the real wilderness with the prospect of wild animals entering our personal space at night!

The sunshine the following morning gave us the opportunity to explore our surroundings that would be home for the next few days. Flatdogs Camp is set in the most beautiful setting; right on the Luangwa River it affords you the opportunity to spot hippos and crocodiles during the day and if you were as lucky as Kirk and me, a bull elephant drinking and eating on the opposite side of the bank. We hadn’t even entered the park yet and were already getting glimpses of the wildlife that existed there. Our days were so peaceful and the silence was only disturbed by the grunting of the hippos, the cheeky laugh of the monkeys and baboons and the sweet chirping and singing of the birds.

On our third day at Flatdogs Camp we were blessed with the most incredible sighting. A bull elephant had entered the camp and had ensured that everyone staying in the campsite knew of his presence. He trumpeted through his trunk and munched noisily on the leaves of a nearby tree which was followed by a very unusual action.The elephant decided to take a nap and actually lay himself down supporting his hefty body by resting it on the roots of the tree that he had been grazing on earlier. This was a very rare sighting and we were fortunate enough to capture this moment on camera. Our elephant friend was not bothered by the movement of people around him (we were being exceptionally quiet and kept a safe distance) and proceeded to fall into a deep sleep accompanied by snores and grunts. At 4pm after tea, coffee and a peanut butter cookie we set off on a night drive in the hope of spotting some leopard. The previous evenings’ night drive had seen leopard and lions so we were very hopeful.

The park was just stunning. It had huge aesthetic appeal and the recent rains had ensured that the vegetation was lush which showed that the herbivores were thriving in these conditions. The elephants were in abundance, there were parades and parades of them. It was a treat to be able to observe these magnificent creatures at such close proximity and watch how they shelter their young from any possible danger. The antelope were also on their best behaviour with 2 male Waterbuck locking their horns and giving us a display of typical animal behaviour and the Impala raising the signal by whistling through their noses. It really was an education and a privilege to be submerged into the wilderness to observe the animal instincts. Our game ranger had got wind of a pride of lions up ahead and was desperately trying to get us to witness them before sunset but with so much to see he was finding this a near impossible task. We reached the pride of lions during the golden hour. They were waking up from their afternoon slumber and were going about their daily ‘ablutions’ before setting out for a night of hunting. They were magnificent. Ginger, a male lion in the pride, was a sight to behold. The game rangers named him so because he has a somewhat distinctive coat which is much lighter than that of a usual lion. The lions set off to catch their dinner and we settled on the bank of the Luangwa River for sundowners before our night drive began. South Luangwa National Park is one the only parks that allows for spot lit night drives. This was a perfect opportunity to spot some of the nocturnal species that hunt at night. We saw an abundance of civet cats, hyenas and bush babies but unfortunately no allusive leopard! We returned to the camp satisfied with our game viewing and turned in for the evening.

We decided to cut our time in Zambia short. We had really enjoyed South Luangwa National Park and Flatdogs Camp and would have loved to have ventured further north but the weather was not playing ball with us and we didn’t want to be disappointed by not being able to access many of the location due to flooded plains or inaccessible river crossings. We decided it was best to head east, towards Malawi, and perhaps visit Zambia another time to explore the more remote areas.

We enjoyed the drive back to the main road which took us through traditional villages and subsistence farming land. It is always a novelty to watch the local people carry out their daily activities; the women busy in the villages plucking the corn from the cob and drying them on grass mats, the children playing football with home made soccer balls and shouting ‘Hello! Hello!’ when we drive by and the men either sitting under a tree or riding their bicycles that are laden with sacks of dried corn. It is a basic life that they live out here in rural Africa and the thing that amazes me the most is that they always have a smile on their face and seem so happy and content with life.

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