12.04.2014 - 20.05.2014 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.