Zambia revisited

We were told that the road to Chitipa, the border town in the far north-west of Malawi, was bad and they were partially right. The road in the National Park was very rutted and rocky in places, but no traumas. It was a nice leisurely drive to the town. Angela was driving and when we stopped at another police post we raised our sunglasses and put on our customary smiles. They always talk to the driver but not this time. The officer only spoke to Gareth. “Who are you sir?”. Then, pointing to Angela, “And who is this?” He was obviously not going to talk to a woman at the wheel. Comical if a little sad. Papers duly produced and with a wave of the hand (to Gareth) we were on our way again.

There were limited options for camping, so we stayed in a very cheap hotel which was about $5 for both of us for the night. It didn’t have a restaurant so we cooked in the car park. The room was fairly grotty and hadn’t seen much cleaning recently. We spread our towels over the rather grim pillows. Sadly, we didn’t get to see the rugby but had a plan for the final, super Saturday weekend!

The immigration officers to leave Zambia couldn’t have been more miserable and off-hand; it didn’t seem like they wanted anyone to leave. Eventually we got through that and the customs official was very helpful, though inexperienced with the carnet, so we led him through it. They obviously don’t get that many overlanders crossing here; most people go further north and cross into Tanzania. 

At the smaller Zambian border post we managed to convince them that we didn’t need to pay the carbon tax and road fund as our ones from before hadn’t expired. They still stung us for the ‘Council tax’ though – 100Kw this time, rather than the 30 we’d paid coming in from Namibia. They couldn’t stamp the carnet though, so we had to go to the main Zambia/Tanzania border up the road. Well, we say up the road. Along some track that wasn’t on our gps device or google but it was in the right direction, so we went for it. It was rough as hell, with deep ruts and wash-outs. The only other vehicles using it were motorbikes ridden by locals, who could get through on the ridges between the ruts. But for most of the journey it was dry and so passable. We finally joined our gps road and continued to the border again.

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On the final stretch there was a bit of rain and some large puddles were a little deep, but ok, but one section of the baked mud track going up a hill had returned to gloopy mud. We waited near the bottom as a local motorcyclist with a big load had come off. No one was helping, so Gareth got out to help move the load from the track. He slithered back to the car and we took a run up at the slope. We slid a little bit, but made it up past another motorcyclist waiting at the top who didn’t seem phased by nearly 3 tonnes of Landy sliding about in his general direction.

When we were nearing the border, we came across another road block for council tax. We showed him the one we’d paid for not 3 hours earlier, but he said that’s a different council and ‘you still have to pay’ – another 100Kw. His army mate with a gun was looking on, so begrudgingly we did. If we’d gone on the much longer route via the tar road,  we would have missed this point and wouldn’t have had to pay. Nice one minister for tourism – really trying to encourage people to come. Anyway, after a 4 hour drive we finally got to the second border post. We waded through the usual sharks who were a little confused that we didn’t want to buy Tanzanian shillings and any other of their services. Carnet stamped, let’s get out of Dodge.

We headed for a campsite about 40 minutes from the border. It was a nice little one, but not really set up for rooftents, so we pitched in a lane. An American couple called Margrit and Russ had pitched their Landy in the car park. We had a great discussion with them. They run a fund called Nikela, that helps people over the south of Africa that are looking after the wildlife. Take a peek on

There were also a team of 3 British entomologists supported by 4 locals who were on an insect-collecting jaunt. This meant they ran a generator all night to power the light traps for the moths, as the camp is solar powered which wouldn’t run the lights all night. Both the Americans and us decided that one night of genny was enough and decided to travel to the Kapisha hot springs campsite near to Shiwa N’gandu, a big Manor House built by (Sir) Stewart Gore-Browne in the 1920’s.

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Rather English looking avenue on Shiwa N’gandu estate

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Huge caterpillar (or guinea pig?) on the estate road

The hot springs were fantastic and we took an early morning dip in the clear, bath-warm pool. The camp was a bit expensive, so we bid farewell to Margrit and Russ, who were also heading off, and did a 500km drive to a site north of Lusaka.

On the way we stopped to buy some potatoes from a stall at the side of the road. I think she thought we were born yesterday and asked the equivalent of £4 for one potato. Mzungu prices. She came down to £3. We moved swiftly on and found another seller who gave us a much more sensible price (although still slightly inflated). As Angela was paying her friend, who had the stall next door, came over. The stalls were stacked with spuds, sweet potatoes and squashes. She put her hand out and said “give me some food”. Ange pointed at the huge stacks of veg and said “but you’ve got food!”.

At our next camp we met a British guy cycling from Cape to Cap – Cape of Good Hope in South Africa to Cap du Nord in Norway! Mad fool. His wife’s one stipulation was ‘don’t die’. We had a good chat in the evening and morning and said our farewell and headed south to get through Lusaka before the evening rush hour. It wasn’t that bad for an African capital, and we made our way to a place shown on a website called I-Overlander just south of the city.

On the way we got pulled over by the police after a level crossing which we had checked for trains but not fully stopped at. The police were sat some way after it up the hill, so we couldn’t go back and easily check for the stop sign they said was there but we were pretty sure wasn’t. None of the locals had stopped at the crossing and, funnily enough, none of them had been stopped by the police. A £30 fine and a spurious receipt later and we were ranting for miles afterwards and finally resigned ourselves to the fact this is Zambia and they ‘mostly’ stop for all level crossings (although no one had for this one – don’t get me started).

It turned out the information about the camp site was wrong and it was just a bar and restaurant by the side of the road that were in the process of building a conference facility. But it was 6.30pm and the next camp site was 2 hours drive away. The owner was great and let us camp round then back. We ate at the restaurant. The food was simple but really good but we got overcharged by the waitress who made up some ridiculous reason for the extra charge.

By now we were getting pretty fed up with people asking for stuff and inflating prices all the time. It was almost like a reflex when a white foreigner went past. Sure, we are incredibly privileged in comparison with most of the people we meet but the truth is that we have become more and more jaded by it all and are reconsidering the amount of time we spend out here and visit somewhere else instead. Watch this space.

Still, back to the trip in hand. In the morning we watched a beautiful Lilac-breasted roller preening and sunning himself near the car. We have seen hundreds of these stunning birds on our trip but they are usually too quick or far away for a good photo. This one was just taking its time getting ready for the day and we snapped at leisure.

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Lilac-breasted roller

The final leg and we made a dash for Livingstone again. We went back to Jollyboys campsite again and got talked into staying in one of the dorms as they were reseeding the camping area. It was only a dollar each extra per night and as we were the only ones there we had the 4-bed dorm to ourselves. The camp had DSTV and let us watch the Super Saturday of the 6 Nations rugby – Wales v France and England v Ireland. Boo on both counts – what was going on in France?! Congrats to England, who won the championship despite losing their final game. It was a great 5 days (apart from the rugby), just chilling, getting the car serviced and generally not doing much.

After the police ‘fine’ and more discussions, we decided against visiting Zimbabwe as they are notorious for huge numbers of police checkpoints (e.g. every 15km on some roads) and multiple opportunities to ‘fine’ tourists. It felt like it would be more of the same and take the edge of things. Botswana here we come then, even though we’d heard they’d had a lot of rain….

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