We headed east from Livingstone with the aim of visiting South Luangwa NP and it’s all-weather roads before we pop over the border to Malawi. This involved driving through the centre of Lusaka, the capital, and we were told it was best to do this on a weekend as traffic there is horrendous. As the road conditions were unpredictable we’d decided to stay over in Monze to break up the journey. The campsite was nice enough and we had a morning wake up of 4 really well-kept horses running around the campsite. No damage done, apart from the night before the internet coverage there was very intermittent which meant we had to look at a slow-to-update website to get the first match of the six nations.
This left us the Sunday to make it through Lusaka which was a bit of a breeze, though it was a bit weird to have that many cars around us and it was the first roundabout for 2 countries! We popped out the other end and headed on the Great East Road towards the border town of Chipata. This was a very long journey and we stayed at a campsite called The Bridge, near a bridge over the Luangwa River. It was a bit run down and could do with a bit of freshening up and some re-thatching and the price of the beer could do with dropping by 66%. It was also the first time we’d really felt the change in humidity from the drier west, as despite the temperature being lower we were dripping.
We crossed said bridge in the morning and were stopped by an Army guard. He was asking about us helping him out with water. Gareth pretended to mishear and thought he said he needed help with a matter. We said all of our matters are in order and pulled out our documentation pack and preceded to show him tax, insurance, etc, at which point he got a bit bored and sent us on our way. We’re sure that ‘water’ was the first in a long line of things he’d need help with…. This had been our first incident of an official wanting ‘help’ when they stopped us.
The scenery in this part of Zambia was very nice and very green. A bit like the Welsh Valleys, they’re green for a reason and that’s why we’re heading out of the country for a while until the rain calms down. We got to Chipata and ran the gauntlet with the money sharks again, this time trying to sell us Malawian Kwacha (MKW). As we weren’t crossing the border yet we palmed them off and stocked up for some days in the national park. We did stay in Chipata that night as it was getting late and the road to the park was described on the website of the lodge we were heading to as ‘an adventure’ so we thought we’d start it in the morning. We asked our hosts at the campsite about the border proceedings (and were told that we didn’t need MKW, so we could wait to get it from an ATM in country).
The road to South Luangwa turned out to be good tarmac and an easy trip. The side road to the lodge was a bit more exciting due to the heavy rains, with a couple of big pools of water, but we saw the relatively fresh wheel marks going in and out, so took a breath and went for it – no problems there either. The lodge and campsite were on a large bend in the Luangwa, and we were right on the water’s edge, but 10 foot up from it which was useful as there are crocs and hippos all over the place
Look left from the tent
Look right from the tent
We decided to stay for a few nights to sort ourselves out before crossing the border and to enjoy the park. The campsite does have many furry visitors (and not so furry ones as hippos and elephants have been known there). There was a family of about 30 banded mongooses, that had a den with young babies not more than 15m away. They were always running through camp in the morning and evening.
Cue little critters aren’t they
We had a troop of vervet monkeys one day and they were making a hell of a racket and breaking branches off in the trees as they ran through. We also had baboons in camp, but these were remarkably mellow compared to others we’ve encountered and spent most of the time just using the furniture much like us.
Relaxed baboon taking in the view
Perhaps there was a reason they were a bit relaxed!
We did a night drive with a couple of guides from the lodge and saw the hippos grazing up fairly close and one elephant really close towards the end of the drive – as it was dark we didn’t see it round the corner and almost ran into it with their Landy. Needless to say he wasn’t very happy and told us so, and the guide sitting on the bonnet with the spotlight wasn’t that much happier either! We also watched a couple of male elephants (about 20 years old) sizing each other up and wrestling in a mock fight. You could hear the clash of ivory from about 70m away.
Boy elephants practicing for the big fight one day
We drove ourselves around the next day and once again the maps of the park were shocking considering how much it was costing to get in, so Tracks4Africa GPS came into it’s own again. We were in pretty early again for us, leaving the campsite by 6:20!! hoping to see the elusive African Wild Dog or lion or leopard. We saw one lioness from a distance, but none of the others on our wish list.
One rather ill member of the big 5
We have always thought of ourselves as sympathetic drivers around game, stopping some distance away, switching the engine off, etc. This day proved you can do all that and still offend some. The some were most of the elephants we came across today. If you make sure they see you (not easy as they don’t have the best eye sight in the world) and then move slowly if you plan to pass than all is usually fine. If you come round the corner and surprise them, they let you know. This happened with a juvenile bull and he flapped his ears and shook his head, all in silence, until we had passed, then gave out a big trumpet as if he’d chased us off – boys eh?
On one of the tracks we’d taken the night before, we went a little further down it and came across this chap fairly well hidden in a stream, all 4m or so of him.
He did look much more camouflaged in reality
Getting towards the end of the day when we had to exit the park, we thought we’d do one last loop looking for anything. We met a mother elephant with a small calf and gave them space and they were fine and relaxed and carried on walking as normal. We spotted another elephant behind them and moved slowly to it. Sadly we startled it a bit and heard another trumpet as we continued. The track got very greasy and we eventually got to a place where we had to turn back. Back towards the elephant herd then… While we were turning around we saw a spotted hyena walking as casually as you like. It didn’t seem to mind our presence one bit. It laid down for a bit, we got a bit closer and took this:
One casual hyena
Time was ticking on and we had to get back through the elephants yet, so we started our way back. As we pulled away from the hyena, one patch of the track was a bit sticky and we drove with our wheels either side of some deep, wet ruts, but we got a bit close to the edge and the front wheels went in one set and the rears in another – shit – floor it. Thankfully this (and quickly putting diff-lock on) got us through. Didn’t really fancy trying to dig ourselves out of the mud again with a hyena and some surly elephants around!
We came across the herd again and it was bigger now with the mother and calf on the right hand side and the one we offended on the left of the track. We stopped and waited to see if they would disperse, but they didn’t and with exit time getting ever closer, we crept forward. Most of them were mellow as before, but the older male hadn’t forgotten and feathered up once more, so we had to move ‘slightly quicker’ to pass him and this spooked another big female that was behind him. Just as we were passing her we hit more sticky ruts and with slightly irate eles next to us we had to apply some beans to get through. Not ideal. We left the clearing with what sounded like a full brass section behind us. Finally, as we got to the main exit track a huge bull elephant walked into the middle of the path. He was also starting to get a bit offended by our presence and we really thought we’d pushed our luck too far this time, but slowly, slowly we crept past and got out of the park ok. Phew.
Dusk at the camp gave us some spectacular lightning and thunder shows:
Fortunately this one didn’t come our way
We really enjoyed our time in the park and the campsite, but now on to another border, different money and new mobile phone numbers – Malawi here we come.