So ‘Z’oe finally makes to ‘Z’ambia!
It is sad that I have made such a big deal out of it - did ‘P’aul get this excited when he went to ‘P’ortugal? Probably not, but when your name begins with a ‘Z’ you have special relationship with all things Z, so I was really happy to be in Zambia!
In our last instalment, we had been camping in the freezing cold highlands of Malawi and so it was literally ‘warming’ to see the vast African plains stretching out into infinity as we came down from the plateau.
Our plan for the next phase of the trip was to cross into Zambia at the nearest border post and travel south through the Luangwa Valley to South Luangwa National Park. The Luangwa Valley is just that, a valley and so the journey would be through the riverbed for hundreds of km’s until you reach the National Park. Unfortunately, Paul’s tyre (which we cable-tied and super-glued in Malawi) was disintegrating by the hour and so we had to change our plans and stick to roads going south and head for the Zambian town, Lundazi in search of tyres.
We arrived at the border town, Katumbi, around lunchtime, bought some food – had a chat with the local mad man (who always seek me out) and tried to find out if there would be any policemen at the border post, which is out of town. It was silly to try and locate any officials at lunchtime and so we rode off to the border post in the vain hope someone would be stationed there. It is a tiny, little used border and no vehicles had been through there in the last 2 months. In fact the Zambians have closed down their entry post completely, but lucky for us the Malawians had retained a skeleton staff, who was sadly at a funeral when we arrived. The helpful watchman set off on his bicycle to locate the official and we settled down on the grass for a long wait with some peanut butter sandwiches! After a while an unfeasibly young boy returned with a very important looking hat, but without office keys, so we sat around for a bit longer before the keys were located and we could be stamped out of Malawi.
Once over the border, we rode down a narrow dirt track for a couple of kms, but because there was no Zambian post it felt like no-mans land and it wasn’t until Paul stopped to ask a young boy which way Zambia was…and he replied ’This is Zambia’ that we realised we were in!
It is great feeling changing country, not knowing what to expect from the people or the landscape and Zambia didn’t disappoint on either count. The scenery was typical African bush…Sunday night wildlife TV scenery, where you expect to see giraffe’s heads above the trees and wait for elephants to walk out in front of you across the dirt track – in fact we only saw warthogs, but they are my favourite so I was chuffed! Our plan was to bush camp overnight before hitting the main road to Lundazi, but when we stopped for a drink of water we were attacked by Tsetse flies and decided to keep on moving to a town. In all our travels around Africa, this was the first time we had encountered the infamous Tsetse fly and it is awful….huge big crunchy things that swarm you and bite and it really hurts! So it was helmets on and back on the move asap!
As it was getting to dusk we finally hit a main road and tired and hungry we wound our way through the mountains towards a town called Chama. Of course I am setting something up here…tired and hungry….the light was fading…blah blah…the long and the short of it is – I wiped out! Coming around a sweeping right hand corner I hit the gravel at the side of the road and decided I couldn’t turn sharp enough to make it without losing my front wheel, so I opted to try my luck in the 3ft ditch running along side the road! I controlled the bike for about 10m in the ditch and thought I was going to make it back onto the road with a fantastic story of bike control to tell – no such luck – the ditch was too steep and I ended up plastered against the wall with an upside down bike!! Luckily, I didn’t have a scratch, but had to wait for Paul to notice I wasn’t following him before we could right the bike and stop all the precious petrol pouring out of the tank!!!
Brave smile after wipe out
Chama, was only 5km away, so after all the excitement we were glad to find the Women’s Rest House – not for women, but run by them. A local male teacher explained that the rest house was intended to keep women busy – as they have a tendency to be idle….. Anyone who has visited any part of Africa will understand how amusing this comment is – I guess these women needed something to do once they had collected water, tended to the farm, organised the kids, cleaned the house, cooked the meals and done their day job…..
So we stayed the night in Chama and were shown around town by a lovely local businessman Tobias, who even showed up at ‘7am sharp’ to see us off despite the fact we couldn’t help him buy a Mercedes truck from London! We had an easy ride to Lundazi ahead of us, only a few hundred km away and on a well-graded gravel road. Unfortunately, the hard packed, sharp stones made short work of what was left of Paul’s dodgy tyre and about 20km from town he heard a strange noise that turned out to be his inner tube bursting out! The walls of the tyre were falling away and the bike was riding on bare inner tube.
Quality Chinese product – Golden Boy tyres
I had no intention of spending the rest of the day sitting at the side of the road waiting for Paul to return with a tyre and 20km is a long way to walk especially when there was no guarantee Lundazi would have a tyre we could use, so the only option was to fix it. Amazingly, we managed to build up the tyre with cable ties (very useful things – leave the travellers cheques behind and take extra cable ties instead) and I was nominated to ride the injured bike as I am lighter and we limped into town! The obligatory police roadblock felt sure we could fix it (a Zambian would have got another year out of it!), but we were in the market for a 3rd rubbish Chinese tyre and luckily we found the only one in Lundazi and had it fitted before finding a bed for the night in a ‘Lodge’ nestled between 3 night clubs! You can imagine the next bit, so I won’t moan, but really, don’t go to Africa for peace and quiet…it doesn’t exit…where there is people there is noise and there is almost always people!
OK, so we went to one of the night-clubs (if you can’t beat them join them) and spent an evening with the owner of ZoZo’s car wash. The name doesn’t just begin with Z, it has one in the middle as well, so we were the best of friends!
After a terrible night sleep and with another low quality tyre fitted to the bike, we had abandoned all hope of seeing the Luangwa Valley – by our calculations, if the new tyre lasted as long as its ‘Good Fortune’ predecessor, we would need to stick to the major routes and buy a new tyre in each town until we reached the capital Lusaka! So we stuck to main roads and headed out to the tourist haven – South Luangwa National Park, which was recommended to us by almost everyone we had met. Half way there in a town called Chipata we stopped for fuel and I spied sausage rolls and pizza slices for sale inside…..we had hit civilisation! We ate sausage rolls until we felt sick and washed them down with a bright green yoghurt drink (no more bread, banana and water for us!) and carried on to South Luangwa.
The road was OK for cars, but really bad for bikes and we had a couple of hours of terrible corrugations that caused the bikes to slip-slide around and made our kidneys feel like they had been in a blender! It was all worth it though because when we arrived at the camp site – Flat Dogs (a nickname for crocodiles apparently) we were greeted by a family of elephants crossing the entrance road to the camp. Paul had missed the first baby one who was standing 2m from the road (ever the observant rider!) and carried on until Mum blocked his path!!! All I could see were the whites of his eyes in his helmet as he wondered what on earth he was going to do as our ‘elephant strategy’ went straight out of the window, but luckily the family were on there way somewhere and we sped through into the relative safety of the campsite!
The campsite was huge and in a beautiful setting in the trees on the banks of the Luangwa river. All around were platforms built high in the trees for camping, but we found a prime spot on the ground, in a clearing by the river. South Luangwa is just teaming with wildlife and you don’t need to enter the National Park to see game – it comes to you. On our first night a family of 6 elephants who were sniffing around the tent and investigating all our things woke us up and suddenly we realised why everyone else had opted for a tree platform!! We had only pitched the mosquito net and so felt extremely vulnerable surrounded by such huge animals, whose wrinkly feet were inches from our faces! We tried not to make a sound in the hope that they wouldn’t realise we were there, but then again we didn’t want them to step on us by accident! Paul was shielding is eyes because he thought they wouldn’t realise he was a human if they didn’t see his eyes (that made me laugh and make noise, so it was a bit counter productive in the end)!! Eventually, the family moved on, but one of the bulls decided to have a nap right next to the tent…..it is impossible to relax and go to sleep when a 20 tonne elephant is snoring next door, but he finally stirred after an hour and left us in peace just before dawn. It was an absolutely amazing night and it is hard to describe how magical it feels to be so close and alone with such beautiful animals, wondering if they will pick up your tent and tip you out because of your orange scented hand cream or just accidentally trample over you! Every night was the same…. the elephants would come through the camp and wake us up, Paul would shield his eyes, I would laugh and eventually we’d get some sleep!
View from tent
Flat Dogs camp was real luxury and the small town nearby was stocked up for European tourists, so we stayed a few days and continued on the path that had started with the sausage rolls and it ended with T-bone steaks!! We went driving in the park with an English/SouthAfrican couple from Putney – JP and Helen, in their bright red Land Rover and saw Zebra (yep, I love ‘Z’ebra), giraffe and all the usual suspects…but unfortunately no cats. It didn’t matter though because on our last night we had no sleep thanks to the hippos munching grass around the tent and the elephants who had taken a shine to the seeds in the tree we had camped under! A resourceful matriarch was head butting the tree truck causing branches to come hurtling down onto the tent which the rest of the elephants grabbed to pick off the seeds. Paul’s eyes were too wide to hide from anything and I was too scared to laugh and just held onto the door zip, planning my escape to a tree platform when a branch finally squashed the tent flat!
In fact, they were very considerate and the tree stayed standing, as did the tent, but the bikes weren’t so lucky!!! The next morning the elephants were still around as we tried to pack up and leave – a huge female trapped me in the toilets and when I finally escaped I found Paul’s bike knocked over and Paul hiding up a tree nearby!!!! The elephants just couldn’t get enough of the seeds in the tree over our tent and one of them had pushed past Paul’s bike to get a better eating position and Paul had escaped up a tree! So much for an early start!!
Paul took this pic from up a tree
Unfortunate mummified lizard Paul found in his air filter box
Eventually the elephants moved on and we headed out towards Lusaka. We had decided to take a dirt road through the valley and although we were worried about the tyres it paid off because it was the most amazing road I have ever ridden. The scenery was spectacular and it felt like we were riding though a wildlife documentary with giraffe, elephant, impala and zebra everywhere. The road was challenging too, with anything from wide sandy river beds to steep rocky climbs and by lunchtime we didn’t want to the day to end…well we got our wish because it took us 10hrs to make the next town, by which time we were definitely ready for a rest!
Crossing dry river bed
Another village where we can find out just how lost we are
Lusaka was a still a day of boring tar away and since my speedo display stopped working in Mozambique, Paul had been using hand signals to show me how far we had travelled to keep me sane…it’s worth a try!
Once in Lusaka we camped on a farm just outside the city (where Paul was very excited to see 2 Eland grazing on a motorX track– apparently they are the largest buck IN THE WORLD!) and we finally managed to change the useless, useless travellers cheques we’d been lugging around with us….never again…everywhere has ATM machines…no-one changes travellers cheques and if they do they rip you off!
Eland on MX track
In fact, in general Zambia was far too expensive for us, with its upmarket game parks and European prices. We had doubled our daily budget from Malawi and Mozambique and were still struggling to stick to it (could have been the T-bones!), which when you are travelling for a long time means halving the time you spend in a place, so our plan was to do a big push to Livingstone and Victoria Falls and then cross into Botswana.
Another classy peanut butter lunch at the side of the road
We had ~500km to travel from Lusaka to Livingstone and on our little bikes that is a long day of riding, so we set off before sunrise, got our heads down and rode like the wind (well a 60km/h breeze maybe!). It was after about 100km that we noticed something wasn’t right. The road suddenly got very busy with people and it turned into more of a market than a main road, but we kept on going, weaving our way through thousands of people carrying their worldly goods on their heads…I did spy an immigration post, but was in denial and kept on moving until the 10ft metal gate saying ‘Welcome to Zimbabwe’ literally stopped us in our tracks. If you’re not familiar with the geography of this region, just trust me…we were way off course! One of the quirks of maps is that no matter where you are, you are always travelling along a fold…you can never quite see where you are now and where you want to go, on the same page! On this day we opted to view where we were going and missed the vital turn off just outside Lusaka! So, after 4hrs of riding (2hrs of backtracking) we were still only 50km from Lusaka! So much for the big push…. it lost its steam, but we got to Livingstone eventually and visited the amazing Victoria Falls.
Livingstone is nice little town, but the only thing to do is visit Vic Falls and we spent a whole day watching the magnificent waterfalls from the top, as the unassuming river tips over the edge into a huge gash in the earth, and from the bottom, in the Boiling Pot where the Zambezi continues on and takes the white-water rafters for a ride! Paul ignored the ‘no swimming’ signs and had a dip (…again Seymour’s are gasping with horror at the flouted rules!) and we watched the crazy bungee jumpers overhead!
It is an awesome place, which takes your breath away and really deserves its place as one of the Natural Wonders of the World. After Paul had dried off and taken about 5000 pictures (literally!) and failed to convince me that bungee jumping was a ‘great experience’ (I can still remember my friend KK’s account of her bungee at Vic Falls – no thanks!), it was time for us to leave Zambia behind and see Botswana!
One of the wonders of the world – and you can also see the falls in the background
Zoe’s head and the falls
The falls again
The falls rainbow
The crossing to Botswana was by ferry, but this part of Africa is so well travelled it was no trouble at all and before we knew it we were watching hippos in the Zambezi, 6 months after we had done the same thing, crossing the mouth of the river in Mozambique!
Botswana, is all about the game parks and the animals (there were elephants hanging around immigration as we got our passports stamped!), but on a motorbike you are stuffed. The game parks in this part of the world have rules about letting idiots on bikes into their parks – it isn’t good publicity if one of them gets munched….and no-one wants to be splashed across the Holme Valley Express as the one who got a puncture and couldn’t find a tree to climb!
Some overlanders we cooked popcorn and marshmallows with
So, in Botswana we only had one thing we wanted to see, which is very bike friendly…the Salt Pans.
Salt Pans are one of those strange natural phenomena, which make everything lose perspective. When you are riding along, you have no points of reference and so you find yourself going ridiculously high speeds without realising (not when your speedo doesn’t work though...then you just never know how fast you are going!), but most importantly you can take pictures like the ones below of giant toilet rolls and huge helmets! We had a ball taking all the pics, but what the pictures don’t tell you (and actually neither does the name)…all that white stuff…its not salt…its bird poo. Thick, slimy, smelly bird poo left by the thousands of flamingos, which ‘allegedly’ live there! We were urged not to ride onto the ‘Poo Pans’ because we would disturb the birds and the pictures which go along with this message show thousands of pink flamingos….well, not one bird was there… not one…just poo and a Black-backed Jackal (which is pretty cool)!
No toilet paper shortage on the salt pans
During the day, it was quite windy and so the shrimp-poo stench was bearable. We spent hours messing about with the camera and planned to return for a sunset supper…big mistake. In the evening the wind had dropped and we were sitting in the midst of the poo eating our tea feeling really nauseous…not one of my best ideas!
Sunset on the pans
Unbelievably, the Salt Pans marked the end of our African Adventure and our next stop was South Africa and the reality of working for a living!
Riding the pans
So to mark the end we splashed out and enjoyed a fantastic barbeque dinner at a luxury lodge (still camped though…baby steps back into civilisation!) and the next day rode back into South Africa.
So that’s it folks, we are in Cape Town now…still jobless, but not for long and so there won’t be anymore updates on our adventure because it is boring old ordinary life from now on…. until next time maybe!
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