A Travellerspoint blog

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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.

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.
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.

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).
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.

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.
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.
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.
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.
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..)
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)

Day 19. Namibia. Etosha- Okakuejo

sunny 37 °C

Today we decided to check out the area around Okakeujo, the oldest park accomodation site. Okakuejo is north of the Anderson gate and at about midway between the Eastern and Western boundaries of the park. On our way over, which we decided to do quickly so that we could get close to Okakuejo and it still be early morning, we saw two Tawny eagles. These birds are quite variable in their colors and can range from a darker brown to a pale sandy colour. The photo below shows the lighter of the two birds.
We headed down a side road, thinking as on previous drives that we would have better luck off the main road. We did indeed see a rhino. He moved slowly across the road and eventually made his way into the bushes.
We had by this early point in the morning already decided that, at least during this time of year, Okakuejo was a better viewing spot than Hilali, the latter having a lot of wide open grasslands and no shade cover. We spent some time at a watering hole watching zebra, springbok and a jackal. Just like near Namutoni there are zebra everywhere. We even saw a few zebra scurfuffles, which was something new. I have ever only seen them walking along, eating, and staring at the car, so new behaviour is always nice. On the topic of jackals we read a notice at the camp to be aware of rabies and warning that the park has a problem with rabies particularly in the black backed jackals. There was another notice explaining a research project where they were attempting to collar some of the larger predators in Etosha to understand their impact on the other animals. The notice explained the researchers were currently trying to collar a lioness in the area.

As we were getting ready to head back to Hilali we saw a bunch of parked cars and more than two cars here usually meant either a cat or a rhino, and was always worth checking out. I joked on the way over that with this many cars it had to be five cats. Well, we thought three was pretty good. Three young lioness sitting in the long grass overlooking a watering hole. We weighed up our options- those being to wait and watch or head back to the campsite to spend mid-day where it was pretty hard to find shade. We opted to sit and watch. We watched in anticipation as zebra, springbok, oryx, wildebeest and an ostrich wandered down to the watering hole unaware of the lions. Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for the grazers they were on the opposite side of the water from the lions.
We arrived around 9am and around 11:30 the cats made a half hearted attempt at a springbok with his back to the predators.
I think the attempt was more just out of frustration and overheating from sitting in the sun. The big movement of the early part of the day was a relocation to a nearby tree to sleep in the shade. We decided to hang around for as long as it took, or as long as we could. We certainly had no pressing plans. We ate bits and pieces of food we had in the car, napped, and read our books. I’ll mention that watching lions for hours on end in the hot sun and drinking water means you eventually need to use the washroom and you certainly can’t get out of the car near the lions. I’ll leave the rest of the details out.
At 5pm we couldn’t wait any longer because sunset was approaching and so headed back to Halali. We spent 8 hours with the lions, and some would say that is a lot of effort to put into seeing a kill, especially when it ends with no action but we didn’t feel that way. Not a bad afternoon sitting in the middle of a National Park with a few lioness… We headed to bed early this evening after packing up the car for an early start and a long drive the next day.

Posted by Jmclellan 01:45 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

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