A Travellerspoint blog

Day 26. Lusaka, Mundawanga, and drive to Livingston

sunny 33 °C

We enjoyed our drive the night before but decided that at this time of year our time was better spent in drier Namibia. I’d like to revisit Zambia in the future, maybe canoe the lower Zambezi, visit South Luangwe, Zambia’s most famous park, and visit Malawi and Mozambique. There is so much to see in Southern Africa one, or even two trips are not enough. We got in a quick game drive, which is always enjoyable but came to the end of a road that was obviously in need of repair. At this point we called it a day and headed out of the park. We passed by small villages and towns, many of which had road side markets.
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We went through Lusaka because the roads were in better condition. There were more direct tertiary and secondary routes but I pushed for the tar roads because I thought they’d be faster. In the end I think they’re probably the same time wise. You need to decide whether you’d rather play avoid the potholes or drive more km. I was also interested in seeing Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. Now, having passed through briefly I wouldn’t suggest you put it high on your list as an African tourist destination. It is a sprawling mass of road-side stalls, smog, and people everywhere. The city has no real downtown core and is jam packed with 18 wheelers. The industry in Zambia is based around farming and copper mining and the big copper trucks are coming from North of Lusaka from the Copper belt on their way out of the country. Now, I'll just end this section by saying that we didn't gave Lusaka a thorough investigation, but had other places we wanted to spend our time.
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We did visit Mundawanga Environmental Park, about 10km south of Lusaka on our way out of the city. This is a really interesting place (it doesn’t justify a visit to Lusaka but if you find yourself in the city it is definitely worth stopping by). They have some animals as permanent residents for education of the local population. They also had a breeding program to boost numbers in the wild and housed animals rescued from the illegal animal trade or that encroached too closely on farmland. These animals were being rehabilitated for re-release into the wild. I suspect the park is largely supported by Embassies, which have plaques mounted on the various facilities they have donated, but is also supplemented by the ~30 Kwacha/5USD entry fee and restaurant. I was really hoping they’d have a pangolin but we were not in luck. The pangolin is my mystical African animal that I hope and hope to see. For now I’ll need to be satisfied by u tube videos. The park did have wild dogs. The parents were the basis for this successful breeding program and pups are released into the wild once they have reached a certain age. Wild dog populations are sparse and declining in Africa so this is a really nice program to see. We got to get up close and personal (well actually you do want to keep a bit of distance) with ostrich, wild pig, warthogs, porcupines, including two albino porcupines, a variety of monkeys and birds and a few other animals. It is a bit like a zoo but the animals seem well cared for and have large, forested pens. We were there for feeding time and delightedly watched the park staff launch fruits and veggies over the fences to the eagerly awaiting animals.
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Near the restaurant there were botanical gardens with lots of benches and a beautiful lush river. We saw quite a few local couples spending the afternoon walking leisurely through the park. Definitely worth a visit. This is likely the only exposure that most people living in Lusaka get to some of the more exotic animals that populate their country and seemed a popular destination for school groups. Educating the next generation about these animals is one of the best long term solutions to reduce poaching.
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The drive to Livingstone was as you might imagine a long one but definitely not boring. We saw all kinds of things- trucks from Idaho, unusual cargo, the wreckage from a huge number of traffic accidents, and then a really pretty sunset.
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Lots of construction outside Lusaka and then the pothole filled roads West of Choma. I am beginning to suspect no matter which route you choose you don’t ever get a pothole free drive.. Hopefully by the time you visit they’ll have made significant progress on their roads, which at least seemed to be underway. We arrived at Livingston in the pitch dark at 10:30 at night. We stayed again at the backpackers lodge and fell asleep to the now familiar bar music across the street.

Posted by Jmclellan 05:16 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

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)

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