A Travellerspoint blog

Day 25. Zambia. Central Kafue Park

sunny 32 °C

We visited all our favourite water spots the next morning, not worrying today about being out there early. Yesterday it seemed that it took a while for the animals to arrive at the water and we found there was more going on there at 11 than at 7 or 8am.
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We made our way to the Musa gate. We had previously decided we were not going to pay our park fee, which we felt was way too high for the off season and for what the park offered in terms of roads, facilities and knowledgeable rangers. The rangers at Musa gate didn’t have a map of the park and seemed pretty unaware of the park roads, wildlife, and lodge locations. Now, I appreciate this is wrong. We were aware of the park fees before we arrived. I was just overall very disappointed not by the wildlife and growth in the park (we were aware we were arriving in the off season) but by what the park offered in terms of some of the above mentioned items. I feel if you are charging a high park fee you need to at least have knowledgeable rangers and signage. Maybe we’ve been in Africa too long and our be honest, follow the rules mentality is starting to slide. In any case we offered to pay by credit card, knowing full well they could only take exact change (also ridiculous when you charge such a high park fee and are expecting international visitors). Don offered to go to the bank at Itezhi Tezhi (ITT) and we figured we would then pay some amount of the fee since the ranger seemed out of sorts. Although I can only imagine this happens all the time since a lot of travelers to these parks don’t have huge amounts of local currency. The road to ITT was slow, full of potholes and then we got lost once we arrived. All this combined help me build my case and I was able to persuad Don not to backtrack to Musa gate (the rangers had said it was 1km down the road. It was more like 10-15km, which takes a while if you are only driving 25km/hr). What I really should have done was write a letter to Tourism Zambia, but as I am getting this post up months after the date you can guess how that went. But I dictated it to Don a number of times during our drive.

In ITT we stocked up on water (24x.75L bottles is all that was available) and headed on our way. The young man at the shop looked bewildered when I said I would carry all 24 bottles back to my car myself in one trip. His look said said 'crazy white girl'. We took the main road Northeast out of ITT and it was a tough almost 4hr drive to the tarred road that bisects Central Kafue. Potholes everywhere. The drive was quite long but we did see a lot of pretty cotton fields along the way. We were both relieved to arrive at the paved road. Considering the road condition and access to Southern Kafue one can understand why it is the less popular part of the park. We arrived at Mayokonkoya at about 4 in the afternoon after a fairly long game of 'dodge the potholes while at the same time try to drive as quickly as you feel comfortable'. Don was much better at this game than I was.
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We paid our park fee (there was a ranger stationed at this camp who seemed at least a bit more knowledgeable, although the guy working for the lodge was much more helpful in terms of suggesting routes and giving information on road conditions). The ranger seemed only there to collect the fee, which to me was disappointing, but his English was much better compared to the ranger at Musa gate who spoke almost no English. We wanted to get a feel for this part of the park so that we could decide whether we would stay two nights or one. Had there been a low-season park fee I think we certainly would have stayed for two. I guess it isn’t the absolute value of the money but just what you get in comparison to other international African parks, many of which have off season fees. Anyways, I digress. We started our afternoon drive almost immediately and headed out to the Kafue river.

This was a beautiful area and we saw a few antelope with their golden ears poking out from among the golden grass.
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We headed up past the river bridge where we turned off the main road, and somewhat to my surprise we saw a girl carrying with an AK-47 slung over her shoulder heading up the hill to a small community. Again, people living in the park felt strange to me. If felt like a huge clash between a protected area intermixed with communities, that had presumably been there before the area became protected. As I understand Zambia still has a significant problem with poaching and they in part find it difficult to control because of the number of people that live in the parks and the then relatively open access. Hmm. Food for thought I guess. Soon after we saw a few elephant in the distance and made our way closer. I am guessing that this herd would have passed within 75m of the nearby community. So yes I can understand that one may carry a weapon especially since these elephants were clearly agitated by our presence. This was in stark contrast to the nearby elephants in Chobe who couldn’t care less about people. We wondered if the elephants here were more apprehensive because the park has not been a protected area for a long enough time for animals that have relatively long life spans, such as elephants (60 years), to have forgotten the threat posed by humans and then of course there is the issue of ongoing poaching.

This encounter with the elephants was very interesting. We have seen a lot of elephants over the last year and most often they don’t give your vehicle much notice or less frequently are bothered and move quickly into the brush and disappear. We had inadvertently divided the herd. They were in the middle of crossing the road and had in their group a few young calves, maybe a year old. Almost immediately one of the elephants in the herd did a bluff charge at the car and I panicked. I quickly sped ahead not really knowing what to do. He was in must and trumpeting, along with another male who also gave a few trumpets. Next the matriarch backtracked and stepped into the middle of the road, planted herself squarely in front of us- ears opened wide, trumpeting and shaking her head while the lagging herd members passed behind her. The group seemed to relax once everyone was together again but moved off the road, the older and larger elephants being careful to stay between us and the young elephants. Phew. My heart had been racing so fast the entire time I could hear it in my ears.
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Sunset was quickly approaching and so we headed quickly back to camp. We met a lovely Australian couple at the camp who told us the lodge staff had set us a fire at the site next to theirs, which had a great river view. There was a little help yourself camp site bar and each campsite had a small shaded area under an open walled thatched roof. The campsites and staff at this lodge were really wonderful. We swapped information with our neighbours and discussed Khaudum park, in North Eastern Namibia, for some time. We had been thinking about the park but had seen on a few online forums that two vehicles were either recommended or required, depending on the source. The roads were apparently in poor condition and very sandy. We decided we would continue to collect information on the park before making a decision.
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Posted by Jmclellan 21:22 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Day 24. Zambia. Kafue- Hippo Bay

sunny 31 °C

This morning we were up early and out at the water. We saw many of the same birds as the previous day and were treated to glimpses of the Goliath heron. This bird stands up to 1.5m tall and is the largest Heron in the world. This guy was big, but very shy. The fish eagles were all over the place!
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After we’d made coffee on the road (the park was deserted except for the few fishermen we had passed) we tried the lake loop road, which on our semi-accurate map had a fork after about 50km that took you right up to the lake edge. We followed this road for about 1.5hrs and were up to about 65km. A ranger vehicle passed us on the way (the other fork of the road led to the Western side of the park to one of the ranger posts). We puled over, took stock, and decided either the map was incorrect or we had missed an invisible turn. We turned around since we figured there was a strong possibility we were heading out to the Western ranger post some 100km away. The brush was thick and there wasn’t much to see. Our goal had been to reach the lake and hang out there for the day but we cut our losses and headed back.

Midday we went back to check out the Hippo Bay campsite- we had arrived a day ahead of our reservation so we thought maybe the crew was going to fix up the campsite this morning. They had cut the grass but otherwise it looked pretty much the same as yesterday. We headed down the other road that led to the Lodge where we found the crew relaxing in the wicker chairs and napping. They had said that the plan was to have us camp at the lodge site, which was in very good shape. We found out later they had warm showers and even internet. We had done a lot of driving lately so I was very happy to spend the night at this site. We opted out of an afternoon drive and decided instead to take in the sunset from the campsite, which was right on the water.
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The staff at the lodge were very nice and were there getting the lodge ready to open in a month's time. One of the guys told me that the fishermen we saw pay a monthly fee of about 20USD to the local people to fish on the lake. The camp staff buy fish from them every few days and it is a main part of their diet out there when the lodge is closed. Most of the staff are from Lusaka, which is quite a distance away, and the fishermen are from the town on the opposite side of the lake, Itezhi Tezhi (the name of the lake and the town).
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We discovered these small almost see through white frogs in the bathroom- they looked like tree frogs with sticky pads on each of their toes- they were all over the place once it started to get dark.
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In the evening I had been sitting at the picnic table working on my computer and listening to the hippo sounds. I quickly climbed in the tent when it sounded as if the hippos were on the other side of a nearby bush. We lay in the tent for a long time listening to them and the next morning I could see all their tracks on the other side of the bush and in the reeds 20m in front of the tent. We had done a quick tour of the property when we had arrived and the permanent tent next to where we camped, separated by some think bushes, was evidently a hippo highway. We heard them over there, making a huge amount of noise just after sunset. We heard them as they headed out to feed for the night and just before sunrise, heading back to the water for the day.IMG_4639.jpgIMG_5106.jpgIMG_5114.jpgIMG_4622.jpg

Posted by Jmclellan 20:33 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Day 23. Zambia. Kafue South

sunny 33 °C

We awoke with day break, and others nearby had obviously already started their day. We could hear voices, and a young man, who we later realized lived about a 100m down the road on which we we were camping, came by first with his wife and then later with his piglets that he was taking for a walk. They were so adorable. I tried to feed them old pears but I was too excited and frightened them away. We scattered the pears around our site, hoping they would come back. They did, but not close enough to eat the pears and we weren’t organized enough to get any photos. We spoke with him and he told us he lived nearby and farmed maize, the most common crop we’d seen in this region. We were on our way shortly thereafter. We bought some charcoal from a gaggle of kids on the road and pulled over so I could stand in the field of sunflowers- something I highly recommend. We arrived at the Dundumwenze gate of Kafue park an hour later at around 7:45. IMG_4721.jpgIMG_4712.jpg

No one was at the gate so we ventured over to the nearby buildings where we found kids, women and the gate attendant. It took about 45 minutes to sort out the paperwork, mainly because we had to get the office keys, open various rooms and cabinets, laboriously fill out the paperwork, do some math, and finally pay in exact change. They had a great map of the park, which we had been unable to find elsewhere, but they had none for sale. We were thus still going off the Zambian map we had picked up in Katima Lulilo, which wasn’t always accurate. It did have blown up sections of the parks in Zambia but again the roads didn't always match, or exist. Our park fees here were about 60USD per day, compared to 17USD per day at Etosha. Neither of these included the camp site fee, but Zambian parks charge you an additional fee to camp in their parks, which is separate from the campsite fee. The gate attendant was very nice and got us on our way as quickly as possible, but it was clear they weren’t placing their grade A rangers down at this gate. He also seemed to double as a sort of police authority because he had ‘weapons’ in his office, which were large sticks labeled with the crime they had been used to commit- the label Don read ‘..was attempting to beat his wife..’. This gate also doesn’t get a lot of traffic at this time of year as the last entry in the log book was 2 weeks prior.

We headed up the Spine road, which we later found out runs the entire length of the park. The roads to the east were still closed due to flooding. Don had booked us in for a campsite at Hippo Bay, Mankonkoya Lodge. The lodge wasn’t open for another month and none of the other big lodges on the Itezi Tezhi lake were open at this time of year. High season for Zambia starts in June and goes into September. The rains are December to March but it is still very wet and the vegetation is quite full in April and May. The Spine road was dense with low visibility.
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Not overly surprising for this time of year, but compared to the drier climate of Namibia Zambia had much reduced visibility. Whereas most of the grass had already dried and fallen in Namibia it was still very thick and standing tall in Zambia. The absolute highlight of the morning, however, was a leopard that was running towards us on the road chasing a hare. It was so unexpected it took us some time to figure out what we were seeing and for the leopard to notice the vehicle. IMG_4729.jpgIMG_4732.jpg

Early afternoon we arrived at Ngoma, a town inside the park border. Throughout our time in Kafue we came across many park inhabitants, some of whom we saw fishing on Itezi Tezi lake. This is completely different than other parks we have visited in Namibia, Botswana an Tanzania where the parks are fly dedicated to conservation. It does give the area a different feel- passing by fishermen as you scan the water for birds and animals. It took us a bit of time to find Hippo Bay, mostly because we were coming at it from the less common direction, overshot it and ended up at the Musa gate.

We did pass through an incredible section of road where the water, because of the flooding, came right up to the road and had spilled over to the other side. Our first time through this section we saw antelope all over the place, including the new to us Puku. The Puku is similar to the Red Lechwe in being a water adapted antelope- making huge leaps through the water and reeds to get away from us and the road. We watched a very large monitor lizard swim through one of the flooded sections, also to get away from us, but he was in fact swimming alongside the road, allowing us a great and extended look. This place was filled with birds and hippos, making their amazing hippo grunting noises that travel long distances. Itezhi Tezi lake is quite large because there is a dam and power station to the North outside the town of Itezhi tezhi. The shallow areas, filled with hippos, are also full of dead trees and green bushes, the latter clearly not in the water year round. This section of the park was definitely making up for the thick southern section.
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Backtracking we found our turn off and found a deserted campsite that had not yet been cleaned up for the upcoming season, although Don had contacted the lodge ahead of time with our reservation. We made a fire and listened to the hippos over dinner.
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Posted by Jmclellan 03:29 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Day 22. Zambia. Livingston & Victoria Falls

sunny 32 °C

Olga’s was such a pleasant place we went there again the next morning for coffee. This restaurant is clean, feels safe, and has good food. They provide free training for youth in plumbing and electrical appliances, tailoring, computers, catering and construction. We still had a long way to go to make it to Kafue park in Zambia so had wanted to keep pushing forward. But you can´t drive through Livingstone without at least visiting the bridge that connects Zambia and Zimbabwe and spans the Victoria Falls gorge. You drop by immigration, show your passport, they give you a little stamped piece of paper which you then relay to the guard at the gate and walk the short distance to the bridge. The 18-wheelers were all parked on the side of the road, presumably as their drivers cleared customs. The baboons were certainly making the most of this opportunity by breaking into the trucks' cargo. We saw quite a few trucks hauling big blocks of copper, one of Zambia's main exports.
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Only one car can be on the bridge at once as there is only a single lane on one side of the bridge and train tracks on the other. We watched two girls bungee jump off a small platform in the middle. This seemed terrifying to me, partially because I am a bit afraid of heights but mostly because safety regulations in Africa are close to non-existent so who knows what condition those ropes and carabiners were in. I wouldn’t even consider white water rafting here with a commercial company. From the photos I think you can see that it is difficult to see much of the falls from the bridge and thus difficult to get a sense of how big they are. Very interesting nonetheless.
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We carried on our way and spent the rest of the day driving. Our plan was to enter Kafue through the southernmost gate, Dundumwenze. The Zambian park fees are expensive compared to Namibia and so we weren’t planning on entering the park that day but only trying to get relatively close to the gate and wild camping. At Choma, North east of Livingston, we turned off the main road and headed north on a secondary dirt road. The signage wasn’t perfect (see below) but we were quite confident we were on the right road, mainly because there aren’t that many road choices; the main paved road or the tertiary dirt road (filled with potholes).
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The driving was slow going but enjoyable. We passed quite a few people along the way and everyone was friendly, waving at us with big smiles as we passed. In contrast to the rural people passed in Namibia who consistently had their hands out asking for ‘sweeties’ the Zambians were just waving and smiling. This gives the country a completely different feel. For us the begging is very characteristic of West Africa and so Zambia so far was a nice change. Zambia is one of the most urbanised countries in sub-Saharn Africa with 44% of the population living in urban areas. The country has 72 ethnic groups, most of which are Bantu-speaking. The population is much larger than that of Namibia- 15million vs just over 2 million. The GDPs per capita are also quite different (Zambia: 1500 USD vs Namibia: 5800 USD).

Just before sunset we ducked onto a side road and set up our camp. An older fellow on his bicycle came by about 30 minutes later and stopped to chat. I asked if he lived nearby- he said in the village we had passed about a km back but was headed over this way to visit relatives. I also asked if he thought it would be OK for us to stay here tonight and he said absolutely, that it was a very safe place, no lions. He wanted to know if we had matches in case we wanted to make a fire. Just really incredibly nice. We set up our little tail gate bar and enjoyed the rest of the evening.
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Posted by Jmclellan 03:57 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Day 20/21. Namibia & Zambia. Drive to Livingston, Zambia

sunny 35 °C

We did a 2hr game drive in the morning before heading out of the park. As soon as we left the campground gates we ran into one of the cars that we had seen with the Hilali cheetah yesterday and they were watching a big male lion crossing the road. We pulled up and tried to get in a good spot to see but we were leap frogging with the other car as the lion was on the move. He wasn’t one bit fussed about us but preferred, I think, to be away from the noise of leap frog so relatively soon after we arrived he was deep in the bush.
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The rest of the ride was relatively uneventful but we did get a few more moments up close with zebra and saw quite a number of giraffe off in the distance, silhouetted by the rising sun. We filled up on gas (we have a double tank that takes a total of 160L of diesel), paid our park fees and headed East.

Our goals today were to acquire food (we had eaten almost everything we had while in the park) and to make it at least to Rundu. We also had several veterinary checkpoints to cross, marking the unusual shape of the veterinary enclosure. At one previous checkpoint we had to give them all of our raw meat and not wanting this to happen again we delayed buying meat until we had reached the panhandle.

We spent the night at an NWR (Namibia Wildlife Resorts) Camp at Popa Falls.
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We made it much farther than we had anticipated and were just outside a town called Divundu at the start of the panhandle. Popa Falls and rapids are not as impressive as Epupa falls- in fact we were there for such a short period we only saw the class 1 rapids at the camp Jetty bar. This was a lovely and new NWR camp. It opened just under a year ago and was still undergoing some construction. We arrived at sunset and grabbed a Savannah cider (the drink of the trip) and watched the end of the sunset on the Jetty. It felt like no one else was around and we found a quiet campsite up the hill from the river.
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The next morning I had a leisurely hot shower (something of a luxury on the trip), washed my hair with real shampoo (I lost our bottle and we had been using one of those 2 in 1 from the hotel in Terrace Bay that didn’t even make suds and just tangled my hair). All this to say I felt very clean and refreshed and spent from 7 to 8am on the deck over looking the water outside the restaurant working on this blog and drinking coffee.
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We headed out around 8:30 and had a long day of driving. We made it the entire length of the panhandle, passing through Bwabwata National Park and into the Caprivi region. Others we have met on this trip saw elephants in this section and there were certainly signs warning you of such but all we saw were people, cattle and farmland. If you are wondering why Namibia includes the panhandle, a 280mile strip connecting Namibia to the Zambezi river consider reading this funny tongue in cheek article on the subject. I got totally side tracked writing this blog post reading more about the Namibian panhandle and other panhandle regions in the world. http://geocurrents.info/geopolitics/problems-in-the-panhandle-namibia’s-caprivi-strip (this link had a title too long to hyperlink..)
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We passed through Katima Mulilo, The Namibia/Zambia border town, early afternoon and were finally able to acquire a map of Zambia. You’d think maps would be available at gas stations but that is not the case in what we’ve seen in Africa. The border crossing took ages. We easily exited Namibia but then spent about 2hrs in the entry office for Zambia. It was completely unclear what you needed to enter the country. There were desks to purchase or pay for the vehicle emission fee, the vehicle import permit, the foreign registered vehicles insurance, and the immigration desk. Two of the four desks had cryptic labels and it was unclear who (ie. which type of visitors) needed to visit which desks. Locals were coming in with a piece of paper that I assume takes the place of a passport, having it stamped by the immigration office, and in about 3 seconds total were on their way. We, as foreigners, with a non-Zambian registered vehicle, had to make stops at all four desks. The car rental company had actually asked Don if he would video tape our border crossing so they could tell or show others what it was like. To this Don responded “absolutely not” and left out the question ‘are you crazy?’. That would definitely cause us trouble at the border. We will email them to tell them about our experience, because a bit of advance knowledge about what you are supposed to do, considering there is very little in the way of helpful personnel, would be useful. On the way out you additionally pay another fee (it only later became clear this was to the local area) to exit the customs area. In total we paid 5 different fees in 3 different currencies, and not because we wanted to pay in different currencies. Have available USD, Namibian dollars and Zambian Kwacha. If you don’t have Kwacha a bumpster outside will exchange your money for a horrendous rate.

We crossed the border, immediately turned the wrong direction because at the border exit point there were no signs (see the photo below..). IMG_3519.jpgOnce we figured this out and got ourselves turned around we crossed the Zambezi river, about 200km upstream of Vic Falls. This is also a cow crossing.. IMG_4490.jpg4ECB8CF22219AC681787987BDDCF423D.jpgThe road between the Namibian border crossing and Livingston is riddled with potholes. Big ones. A couple we had met in Halali, when asked if there was anything we should know about traveling in Zambia, had immediately replied that the potholes were enormous, and often marked by branches placed inside. On this section of road you get clear sections but you don’t dare push it beyond 60km/hr because the potholes come up quickly and more often than not span the entire road, so that there is almost a secondary dirt road the entire length of this stretch of highway just to the sides of the paved section.

We arrived in Livingston just after dark. The policeman at the checkpoint outside the city (Zambia has a lot of checkpoints) had directed us to ‘Jolly Boys’ camp site when we asked for camping options. A white guy we saw on the street suggested Livingstone Backpackers, which we opted for on his recommendation. This was a great little place. There was, however, a bar across the street so if you set your car tent up in the parking lot at the front gate as we did you can expect to fall asleep to bar music. For dinner we unexpectedly found a wonderful little pasta place, Olga's Italian Corner, just down the street from the hostel. Olga’s is a community training centre for at risk youths in the Livingstone area supported in part by this restaurant. We stopped by because it was close, we were exhausted and starving, and they advertised that their pizzas were ready in 10 minutes. I was very impressed by Olga's project, their efforts to train youths and give back to the community.

Posted by Jmclellan 14:49 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

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