Hello Zambia – Water falls, white rhinos and fried worms

After much reading up on what we needed to cross the border, we headed for it. It was pleasantly easy to leave Namibia and then we had a short drive to the Zambia buildings. Almost immediately we came into the cross hairs of the money sharks near the border. We knew that we needed local Zambian Kwacha (ZKW) to pay some of the taxes and there are no ATMs at the border, so we had to start somewhere and decided to ask them what their rate was. All transactions with the border sharks are done through the car window as we can make our escape should we need to. After a brief bit of haggling, the price they offered was ok, so we agreed a deal. We checked the money they gave us and, surprisingly, it was 100 ZKW short. After they’d given over the agreed amount, we gave them some dollars and headed on our way.

The immigration and customs with the carnet were easy, if slightly longer than they should take – but hey it’s Africa. Then there was a carbon tax to pay in ZKW and 3rd party insurance to buy. There was an insurance desk at the border and we got hit for 552 ZKW for a month which at the time we knew to be expensive, but as they were the only ones there we had no option. We later expanded our 3rd party with a COMESA certificate and extended the date, so it is now also valid in Malawi, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Swaziland for only a few hundred more ZKW. The guy we bought this from (in Livingstone town) said very emotionally ‘those guys were robbers – it’s a fake charge’. He was furious that they’d ripped us off and would make visitors think Zambia was expensive. As he worked for the same company he took a photocopy of the border docs and was going to follow up. It should have cost us 278 KWA for 6 months cover. Live and learn and it’s not a staggering amount of money.

All that done, there was one more check point to pay the local council tax – what for I don’t know other than they can, so we did – again only a small amount. Right we’re off.

From our honeymoon drive, when we were heading in the opposite direction, we remember the last 70km of road to the border was grim, but in the intervening months the road has taken a huge turn for the worse. The potholes were horrendous and sometimes it was better driving off the road where we could. Occasionally we’d get a good bit of tar and, lulled into a false sense of security, we’d pick up speed, only to find a huge pothole in our path. It was appalling.

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These pictures don’t do any justice to the state of the road

We had arranged to pop into Waterberry Lodge where we got married and say hello to Michael, the Manager, have a spot of lunch and hopefully see our witnesses again. What should have taken 2.5 hours, took us 4.5 due to the state of the road. Apparently the EU and France in particular are looking at laying new tarmac down. It’s not before time.

The Lodge was closed for renovations (new thatch roofs amongst other tweaks) during the low season, so we’d been invited to the farmhouse next door. We thought this was just their offices, but it turned out to be a very exclusive rental with no-one there (the owner was arriving the next day to spend some time) and a fantastic view over the ‘Mighty’ Zambezi. Lunch was a fantastic club sandwich, exquisitely prepared salad, jenga chips and a glass of wine, all of which Michael gave us on the house. Not what we had planned, but it was a fantastic gesture especially after all the effort they had gone to with African bureaucracy to get us married there in 2015. One of our witnesses had moved on but Webster was still there and still had the same massive smile when we saw him again.

We then made our way to Livingstone to stay in slightly less expensive digs – the Jolly Boys Campsite, a backpackers haunt 10 minutes walk from the town. We spent 5 nights there, chilling, exploring the town and seeing the very interesting Livingstone museum. We were also adopted by the camp’s cat, Jezma, who made himself very at home and gave us slight pangs about our own cats who are now living it up in lovely new homes. Hello Rose and LJ. Smile

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Jezma preparing for his first driving lesson…

The town is the hub for Victoria Falls, probably Zambia’s biggest tourist draw. Known locally as Mosi-Oa-Tunya – “the smoke that thunders” – the falls are a stunning natural feature, caused by fault lines across the route of the Zambezi on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The river plunges 100 metres down the sheer face of the current fault line, squeezes through a narrow gap in the rocks below and then roars along a deep gorge which zig-zags its way downstream along a series of old fault lines. Each of the zig-zags were themselves once the site of the falls before the river cut its way back into the next fault line. The same process continues today as a new fault line is opening up at the Devil’s Cataract on the Zimbabwean side of the river.

There are a couple of pools – Angel’s and Devil’s pools – right on the top edge of the falls and in which you can swim; possibly the most extreme example of an infinity pool that you can imagine. We’d hoped to swim in one but Zambia was experiencing more rainfall that normal and the water levels were up so the Devil’s Pool was already closed. They wanted more than $100 dollars each for a visit to Angel’s Pool so we gave it a miss. Instead we just decided to visit the falls and walk around the viewpoints, as most sane people do. There are several good view across the falls, some of which look along the top to see the water thundering over the edge. There is also a bridge, called the Knife Edge, built across the downstream channel which, in theory, gives you a superb face-on view of the falls. We’d experienced this 2 years ago when the water levels were lower and it was stunning. But the spray formed by the plunging water rises up the opposite face of the gorge and, when the waters are high, pretty much obscures the view. The mist then literally rains back down over the bridge.

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You can just about see the bridge behind the spray in the background

We needed waterproofs 2 years ago and even then got pretty wet so, as we wouldn’t be able to see the falls anyway, decided to give the bridge a miss and avoid an unnecessary soaking. The wet weather had settled into a pattern of dry mornings with heavy rain in the late afternoon / early evening so we headed off at about 10am for our trip, deciding to leave our waterproofs behind. Big mistake. Huge…

We got to the site, paid the entry fee and headed for the upper view point, passing the various stall holders renting out waterproof ponchos on the way, smiling and telling them “thanks but we’re not going to the bridge so we don’t need them”. Oh the irony. Even up there the spray obscured much of the falls but what we could see was still impressive. Then we heard the first rumble of thunder and saw the dark clouds approaching. The rain started slowly at first and in the warm, humid air it was really quite peasant. It got a bit heavier so we took refuge under a small tree, but as the thunderstorm took hold that soon proved futile. We got wetter and wetter until we were absolutely and utterly drenched. We couldn’t get any wetter and didn’t really want to be on top of the falls in a thunderstorm so decided to leave the viewpoint, sharing a grin and a shoulder shrug with the poncho salesmen on our way. We headed for the ‘Boiling Pot’, a huge whirlpool near the base of the falls where the river hits the facing wall of the previous fault line. The path runs down over a series of well-made but steep steps though a jungle-like valley to bring you right out by the great swirl of water. As more rain fell the water found its way down the easiest route in the valley – the steps we were using. They became a waterfall themselves and at times we were up to our ankles in running water. All we could do was laugh and keep going. We felt like proper adventurers!

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One very wet Gareth. Anyone got a towel?

A taxi driver was mad enough to take us home. We obviously weren’t the first wet tourists he’d picked up at the falls – he had a plastic sheet to protect his seats all ready in the back of the car.

We got dried up and changed (although our clothes took days to dry out in the damp humidity) and popped into town for lunch. We found a nice cafe, Cafe Zambezi, that served local food including a Zambian platter, which we ordered. This turned out to be a huge plate of food with beef stew, chicken stew, a really nice goat stew, rice, nshima (maize flour ‘porridge’ same as mealie pap in Namibia) a couple of local veg dishes and a local favourite – caterpillars. These fried Mopane worms are a high source of protein and nutrients and highly valued by the local Africans. They tasted a bit like well-fried chicken skin – those slightly puffed-up crispy bits on your Sunday roast. We gave them a go and they were actually ok if a bit grainy, although I think it’s fair to say we enjoyed the goat stew more… On the walk back from town we got asked for a job by a lady with a young baby! Must look like locals now we’ve eaten Mopane worms.

While in Livingstone we took the car to Foleys Africa, a Land Rover specialist linked to a garage in the UK, and had a good chat with Nick the owner about a few niggles. His advice was “I’d leave them and live with it, if I were you”. This is what we’d been doing for many miles, so are still doing. We did get him to grease the UJ’s and tweak up the wheel bearings – much easier on a ramp than scrabbling around on the ground.

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Here she is being fettled

We needed our exhaust welding as well, as we had a hole in the flexi part of the pipe. For this we went around the corner to Ferdie’s place. We met Ferdie on our honeymoon as he was the off–road instructor for Safari-Drive (the company who’d organised that trip) and we had a good chat with him and his wife Kate who also works for Safari Drive and, back then, had briefed us on the car and the route.

Ferdie is a fabricator by trade (I think the off-road training was a side-line) and an expert welder amongst many other things. A new flexi pipe was sourced by one of Ferdie’s boys, (who knew where to find all the small traders on the local markets and back streets) and they did a great job of welding that on and welding a new rear step for us as we’d rather trashed the old one on some rocks back at Van Zyl’s Pass.

After the car was finished we headed into the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park. We saw a selection of animals but we’d also heard that they had white rhinos there. We approached a guide with a Kalashnikov to ask about it. For a small understanding he climbed into the passenger seat, with Angela sat behind, wedged between the fridge and the roof, and took us to a couple of his colleagues, who led us in a single line – a guide in front and at the rear – to see 4 out of the 12 rhinos they have left in Zambia, 9 of them at this park. They are protected by these armed wardens night and day and we managed to get within 10m of them on foot – a bit of an unforgettable experience. They were so mellow and didn’t seem to mind us being there at all.

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Awesome bush walk

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The Etosha anti-poaching squad finally catch up with Angela…

As Zambia is having more rains than usual and the majority of the parks are inaccessible, we decided to head for Malawi, stopping at South Luangwa NP as it has some all weather roads, on the way. We’ll be back through Zambia later in the trip.

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