Zimbabwe and Zambia are separated by the Zambezi, and the powers at be have built a dam which is shared by the two countries. This formed Lake Kariba, and this was our next destination. The dam itself was very impressive, however, after a little googling and reading it seems it is not quite as good as it looks, as it is riddled with cracks. But this did not deter us from the adorable border crossing that you have to drive across the top of the dam.
In markets in Africa, fruits and vegetables are sold in piles which correlates to the lowest denomination of local currency. In Burkina this equated to 20p, in Cameroon 30p but in Zimbabwe this is $1. As I’m sure you can appreciate, $1 equates to A LOT of peppers, or tomatoes or nuts. Before leaving, we wanted to use all our filthy $1 notes, as they would never pass for legal currency in any other country, and so the car was packed to the gunnels with fruit and veg, and Zambezi, the excellent local beer. We felt the smug feeling that comes with finishing all your foreign currency – until we hit the border and needed to pay $1 for the toll for crossing the dam. So ensued half an hour piecing together $1 out of every other currency we had not been so fastidious at getting rid of. I think they had never seen a “mazungo”, (white man who travels aimlessly for no reason) make such a fuss out of a dollar.
And then it was on to Zambia! We had visited on holiday a few years before and we were both keen to see some more of this giant country. We stayed at Lake Kariba but there is something less that satisfying about camping next to a lake you can’t swim in, due to the abundance of hippos and crocs. We made the most and did our washing, caught up on the latest from the olympics and cleaned the car in a stunningly beautiful campsite, with zebras that needed to be chased out of the bar (apparently not for hygiene, but they kept forgetting the floor was too slippy for their hooves and falling over like Bambi).
One of our aims when we decided to travel around Africa was to avoid African elections, which are notoriously troublesome. Despite this, this would be the third country we have traversed with elections in full swing. In Zambia, the same president had been voted back in a few days ago but there had been protests in Lusaka and the opposition was claiming an unfair election. We were not too keen on spending more time than totally necessary in the capital and so stayed on the outskirts, and spent the evening talking to some of the locals in the bar, getting a better grip at what was going on in the city.
By now, after a few months in Southern Africa we were beginning to become a little elephanted out. So when we heard about a little park in the north of Zambia, near to the DRC border which specialised in a rare type of antelope, this seemed just up our street. Sitatungas are tiny, shy, water dwelling antelope that are specialised for their habitat with long, special hooves. We camped right next to the swamp in the wetlands, and fell asleep to the sounds of the forest. At six the next morning all we needed to do was fall out of bed, and set up our chairs overlooking the water, and were rewarded with sitatungas and black lechwes, another swamp dwelling antelope, grazing in front of us, with the mist hanging low over the wetlands. It was so peaceful. Or is was until the Tetzes flies arrived.
We discovered that down the road, only 60km, there was the place that David Livingstone died, and his heart was buried beneath a tree, so his heart would always be in Africa. Having driven all this way in a car named after his fellow explorer, it seemed only good manners to pop in and say Hello. Driving along the dusty, bumpy road at 30km/hr, it didn’t seem that there had been that much had change since Livingstone and his men had passed through. The area was still strewn with mud huts with people living in abject poverty. It could have been 100 years ago. Well, except for the addition of the occasional solar panel or satellite dish.
The memorial site itself was quite impression, with a giant cross on top of a stone block, and a tree lined driveway and gate leading towards it. We paid our respects and as we went to leave got cornered by the most pathetic attempt at a sting. The local children, who could speak no word of English, demanded $15 from us for visiting the memorial. They shut the gate and stood by, laughing derisively. James got out and opened the gate and I drove through, the kids staring in astonishment at how we had managed to avoid their “fee”.
We decided to drive across the Zambezi escarpement, in order to enter Luagwe National Park from the north, and had been warned that the road was hard going. Over 8km, we dropped about 1000m in altitude, and Stanleys now quite bald tyres slid down the escarpement beautifully. The views over the surrounding countryside were breathtaking. The only campsite en route was shut, and as we pulled up some antelopes rushed off after being disturbed. The Tetze flies were out in full force, and they were clinging to the car for dear life. There were 16 on the snorkel alone and neither of us wanted to get out, and risk their viscious bites and set up camp, so we decided to keep driving and bush camp further down the road, near the entrance to the park.
We arrived just before sunset at the gate the park, and one of the rangers was happy for us to camp in his tiny village. With us being so close to the park, it made sense to stay close the men with guns! As we made popcorn (our latest camping discovery) we watched the sunset over the park, and as we sat looking at the stars after dinner we were visited by an elephant browsing in the bushes. We heard gunshots off in the distance at around three in the morning, and the next morning the ranges all heading off it that direction on the search for poachers.
The next day we drove through the park, traversing the much less travelled north, fording rivers and crossing causeways. We were rewarded with herds of elephants, hippos, puku and warthogs to name a few, and planned for a night drive that evening. No one, except organised groups, are allowed to drive in the parks at night, as it would make it too difficult to spot poachers and the chances of hitting animals would be too high, so this was the first time I had even had a chance at spotting nocturnal creatures. It was a very strange experience. We saw things that we would never have seen alone, including a pride of lions, two leopards and a handful of genets and the guide was getting so much closer than we would ever. It was great to see so many hard to find animals, however, after spending months looking for hours to get a glimpse of different animals, it felt so staged and almost zoo like. We were surrounded by other game cars, and hundreds of cameras. It was just very different to our previous game drives and I think we’ll both appreciate our time with Stanley that little bit more.
We camped outside the park, oddly surrounded by British cars, and spent the next few days at war with the local baboons, who were atrocious, and won the war by stealing one of our corn on the cobs. The camp had many nocturnal visitors, and one night we woke to a large bull elephant walking through the camp and quietly grazing. It was so great watching him in the moonlight out of the tent window, until the night watchman decided it was time for him to move on. He threw stones and sticks at the giant pachyderm and when he still wouldn’t leave his dinner, he picked up a stick from the fire and hurled it towards the elephant, and us… The elephant, scared by the site of fire flying through the air at him, ran off in a random direction, which happened to be directly towards our tent. He changed direction at the last moment and run off towards the river, but it was a long time til we started breathing again and even longer til I fell off to sleep.
Liz Jarman & James Nunan
Our trip from Essex to Cape Town & back again
Km travelled : 50818km
Countries visited: 30