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Zambia “Livingstone 4x4 Hire I Presume?”

12th September to 15th October 2005

With Portuguese speaking Mozambique now behind us we are in more familiar territory with English speaking Zambia. But as some people say here Zambia is a country where they read, write and speak English but don’t understand it! Hence drinking and driving is taken literally and we know of drivers being stopped by the police asked to get out of the vehicle and finish their beer before continuing…..!

Here they also have radar traps were you can be caught speeding or if you are going very fast, “Bwana you were over speeding!”

Zambia is another country were the currency is beleaguered by too many zeros were 1,000,000 kwacha is about £140, and should you buy some bread there is never any change. And boy the money disappears quickly here with European prices.

Anyway I digress, at the border we Brits get hammered for $60 for a month visa for some inexplicable reason, where as the rest of Europe get away with just $25. Blanca almost got in for free, because as we all know the “Spanish don’t travel,” Spain did not feature in the tariff list, but the chief of immigration had seen something written somewhere so we were collared just as we were leaving…..damn!

The road from the border deteriorated rapidly in true African style still it could have been a lot worse.

At Katete the first town after the border we were back to the usual bread crisis but first we had to solve the local currency crisis. Blanca disappeared off with a couple of local taxi drivers to change some dollars. With money now in hand we could call our friends John and Kirsten in Lusaka to check if they were still expecting us, luckily they were and very excited at prospect. In fact they had been expecting us since April so we were only slightly late!  John and Kirsten had sold up in London last November and moved to Lusaka and bought a 4x4 hire company.

The border, the various crises and phone call had taken their toll on time so we headed off in search of somewhere to spend the night. In contrast to the Mozambican side of the border, the Zambian side is well populated, at least along the main road. But true to form I managed to find an earth works site just off the road, nice and peaceful, surrounded by cotton plants. The following morning some passing locals seemed surprised and peeved that, a we were there, and b that we weren’t up to meet and greet, I’m sorry but 5.30 in the morning and before two mugs of coffee I’m really not up to “meeting and greeting anyone!”

The road improved and we were making good time but it’s a long way to Lusaka so we decided to break the journey half way just after the Luangwa River Bridge, at the appropriately named Luangwa River Bridge Camp at a beautiful spot by the river. The campsite was small and it was lucky we arrived early, as it wasn’t long before the whole place was packed with other travellers also breaking their journey. We took the opportunity to cool off in the pool that overlooks the river and enjoy a little “G&T Sun Downer” Oh, the tough life of the overlander! We are suffering, I can tell you! We had dinner in the open air restaurant with four builders from East London who had abandoned their wives and gone on “safari”. After dinner we returned to Grommet and spent a very pleasant evening in the company of two couples from Holland who were also on “safari” and were very keen to learn all about our Mozambique experience, in particular with the whale sharks. In the morning we were up bright and early and on the road.

The landscape changed from the flat plains of scrub and small farms to hilly with scrub and low forest, charcoal burners and very dry! Oh, and just because its hilly doesn’t mean there are crash barriers so hence the valleys are littered with the burnt out wrecks of trucks and cars who didn’t quite make it, despite what is actually a good road. We were to hear later that a German tourist was held up at gunpoint and robbed along this same road.

The road to Lusaka had the usual police check points, where they seem very keen to check on insurance, but the best was a “Tsetse Fly check point” which consisted of a man with a home made fly net and a can of fly spray…… “No flies on us!” and “Thank you but we don’t need spraying today!”

Once in Lusaka we found ourselves automatically drawn to the mall to get more local currency from the ATM and some supplies from the Spar. This place even had book shops if you can afford the price, a multiplex cinema, bowling, bars, places to eat, in fact, all you could wish for.

We found John and Kirsten’s place with surprising ease and they were very pleased to see us. John was very keen to check out the 101 as he and Kirsten had toured Australia in a 101 radio body and was happy to have a 101 in amongst their collection of 110’s, 130’s for hire and their ex-Camel Trophy 110. The guys set to work on Grommet, with the pressure washer, and gave him a thoroughly good clean and polish.

As we have been travelling for almost a year now all our paperwork was due to expire and must be renewed, so more e-mails to the RAC for a new carnet, a new health insurance from the UK and try and arrange new motor vehicle insurance. We had hoped to get the “yellow card” which should have covered Grommet for most of East Africa but as most things African, it turned out to be to complicated and costly. We made a quick call to Allessi in Holland and we arranged cover all the way back to Spain for not much more than the local price of just East Africa. Unfortunately, all this extra expense is putting a lot of strain on our already over stretched budget, maybe I’ll have to sell a kidney or something!

With Grommet in John’s yard I took the opportunity to give him a quick service, change the rocker cover that I’d swapped the break shoes for in Jo’Burg to improve his breathing. I also swapped over the front tyres with the help of Oscar an experienced tyre fitter, it’s sometimes nice to have a little expert help especially when the temperatures are in the 40’s!

Our stay with John and Kirsten also turned out to be quite a sociable one as we met a Dutch couple in a V8 SIII Land Rover travelling overland back to Holland from South Africa, we also spent an evening with Brittany and Ben, the Americans we had met in Mozambique, and who should turn up one evening but Koen and Heidi, the Belgians.

Before we left for Livingstone and Victoria Falls, John had received the awful news that some friends of theirs had been shot at the Lower Zambezi National Park, by a renegade scout, which had left the wife dead and the husband badly injured but recovering in hospital in South Africa. Not good news and this is supposed to be the civilised side of Africa!  

With Grommet ready and all the paper work organised we left Lusaka and headed off for Livingstone. The road was very good as far as Zimba some 80km short of Livingstone when apparently the foreign aid ran out, still we managed to make it all the way but not without incident. Before we left Lusaka we had filled up with 310 litres of cheap fuel, petrol is very expensive here at almost £1 a litre, we were almost half way when Grommet coughed and stopped. No fuel, all the filters were clogged so nothing was getting through but after a clean we could carry on.

In Livingstone we checked out Waterfront Lodge but it was full of overland trucks and Maramba River lodge was a little beyond our budget and the camping wasn’t the best, a small strip of grass in the middle of the car park, so we gave the Livingstone Safari Lodge a try, it was dark and we were running out of options. We were the only people there but it was within our budget and had a pool, perfect!

We took a day out to chill by the pool and even gave some locals swimming lessons and boy oh boy was it HOT! Well enough of chilling we had some falls to see so the next morning we packed up and headed just down the road to Victoria Falls as we didn’t want to pay the $20 return by mini bus. Despite the falls being “dry” as it is now late in the dry season it is still an incredible sight to see what little water there is crashing down to the bottom of the gorge. It must be a really impressive site to see when the Zambezi is at full flood. After our wander around the falls we walked down to the bridge and up to the border with Zimbabwe were you can do a bunji jump but neither of us were feeling crazy enough to give it a go. So we made our way back to Livingstone stopping along the way to take a look at the Railway Museum and its collection of assorted steam trains in various states of disrepair. It was quite a strange mix of English and American rolling stock with a real colonial feel. After the museum we were both parched so we headed for the main street stopping in front of Shamba’s for a drink and a take away. The pasty was delicious and the drinks cold, we sat by the tree in the front, one of the few shady spots where some local guys plied their trade in mobile phone “repairs” – any phone can be repaired, re-chipped and unblocked. Apparently Shamba’s is quite famous throughout Southern Africa and the tree isn’t the only shady thing going on!

We left Livingstone and headed for the bush finding a nice place down a little side track the only problem was the Maparny flies, a tiny black fly that goes for the eyes, ears and any where else exposed and sweaty. They were so bothersome we eventually took refuge in Grommet behind the fly screen, but they are so small they find their way through the fine mesh of the screen, but at least you can take pleasure in killing them as they squeeze through. At sunset the assault dissipated and we were left to have our “sun downer” and cook in peace, well that is apart from the mosquitoes and beetles. Oh the fun of bush camping!

We left the main asphalt road at Kolomo and headed north along the dirt road for the southern entrance to Kafue National Park. The road wasn’t bad so it didn’t take us long to arrive near the entrance, but as we didn’t want to pay entry for part of a day and there is no camping in the park, we stopped in the bush 3k away. Again we were besieged by the Maparny flies but we this time we had a solution, using the mosquito screen from the bed, hung from the side of Grommet covering us, the table and chairs, it was perfect for keeping the flies and other insects at bay. After a little visit from some game scouts, who advised us not to camp at that spot because of hyenas and poachers, we had a peaceful sleep and no bother.

The southern sector of the park is more remote than the north, so the animals are a lot more wary of strange vehicles, taking flight as soon as you approach. This doesn’t help if you want to take a photo, the other problem is the abundance of tsetse flies which just love the Grommet, apparently it’s a colour thing. While on the subject of Grommet’s paint scheme in addition to the tsetse fly problem, we are constantly being waved down by locals who mistake us for one of the local mini buses which are blue and white! Maybe we should add some extra seats and generate some revenue to help with the cash crisis!

Due to the lack of visitors/investment to the southern sector some of the tracks are in an appalling state and degenerate quickly to a sandy “off road course,” making any form of game spotting almost impossible due to the amount of concentration required just to drive! This is a great pity as improved access would lead to increased visitors, just take Etosha in Namibia for example which is fully accessible in a normal two wheel drive car! We left the park and checked out the local camp sites, none of them gave us a view of the Itezhi-Tezhi reservoir that we were after so we just parked by the lake. What a spot and what a view….. Blanca was a little worried as we had found some fresh hippo tracks by the waters edge and was expecting a hippo to join us at any minute! So just to keep her mind at rest I light a fire for a barbeque. Having just settled down with a “sun downer,” a small furry animal caught my eye peering from the high lift jack cover, it was a woodland dormouse and was completely unperturbed by our presence and continued to climb all over the wheel carrier. We had our dinner and went to bed, choosing to sleep inside because it was quite windy, but no sooner had we turned out the light when the rustling started. On with the light, nothing, light off – the rustling would start again, this continued for a while until I spotted the little furry perpetrator, the dormouse on a search for food. Eventually we managed to get some sleep but only after we had packed away everything that rustled.

The next morning with no more signs of our furry intruder we set off for the Northern sector and Lufupa Lodge, set at the confluence of the Lufupa and Kafue Rivers. The road to the lodge was a lot easier, still requiring 4x4, but allowed for far better game viewing. The game was also a lot less timid but the tsetse flies were still ever present taking every opportunity to invade Grommet whenever I lowered a fly screen to take a photo. The camp site was perfect, right by the river with its own covered seating area and barbeque with the sounds of hippo snorting nearby, what a spot! The showers were spotless with lashings of hot water, so soon we were clean and relaxing in the bar overlooking the river with ice cold gin and tonics, “for medicinal purposes”, all that quinine for additional malaria prevention. I had hopped to take a night safari to try and see some leopard or their famous tree climbing lions, but these were all fully booked.

That night we retired to bed in the roof tent to the sound of hippo snorting and a distant lion when who should join us, but our little fury intruder who I then had to catch and evict.

The following morning bright and early we headed of for the Busanga Flood Plain in the most northwest section of the park. This area is usually flooded and is only accessible during the dry season. The flood plain is supposed to be the best place to see lion, leopard, buffalo, none of which we saw, but we did see plenty of antelope including red lechwe and puku, warthog and elephant. We were in fact charged by two lone bull elephants on two separate occasions, on the second occasion the bull, which had been prevented from reaching the water hole by another vehicle, turned its attention on us. As it charged with its ears flapping, trumpeting loudly and breaking branches off the trees, in a blink of an eye Blanca, ever brave, jumped in to the back of Grommet leaving me to face the charging bull alone! Just at the last minute it veered off to the right leaving the road clear so we could get past…… wow, that was close!

The Lufupa Lodge doesn’t sell fuel so we could only spare a day’s game drive, so the leopards and lions will have to wait until another time.

Blanca had made an arrangement with the park official that if we were at the gate by 10 o’clock Sunday morning we wouldn’t have to pay for the day. So once again up bright and early and then a mad 60km dash for the gate and we made it just in time but I still managed to squeeze in a few photos on the way.

The road back to Lusaka is being upgraded and is silky smooth and would be just the place to take your pumped up American muscle car drag racing……. Now Grommet may have a V8 but he is no drag racer and a couple of small things were causing concern. It was still a long way back to Lusaka, we were a little low on fuel and the central diff lock had locked and would not release. This is fine on rough bush roads but on beautiful smooth asphalt the wind up in the transmission could very quickly destroy the gearbox or transmission. We were also unaware that Zambia was now locked in the middle of a self-generated fuel crisis. Grommet was running on empty, the one petrol station on route was closed for obvious reasons and we still had over 60km to go………! John had phoned to say that they were having their own fuel crisis and were going to see some friends to get some fuel for some of their clients and wanted us to mind the place while they were away.

Entering Lusaka we became immediately aware of the extent of the problem, huge queues at the pumps, cars, trucks, vans abandoned whereever they stopped, absolute chaos! Absolute Africa! We limped into John’s yard on just petrol fumes but we had made it, 1,650km on 310L of fuel and just in time before they left.

Blanca checked the e-mail, the vehicle insurance and health insurance had been received and were ready to be sent on by my parents but still no sign of the carnet, more e-mails and calls to the RAC, it had been promised for the Friday, only three months after we made our initial enquiry! And we complain about African inefficiency, I suppose we did teach them!

While Blanca was interrogating the e-mail and put the clothes through the washing machine, I stripped out the diff-lock actuator and found that an o-ring had failed allowing the vacuum actuator to fill with oil, fortunately the diaphragm was still ok, so a quick clean and a new o-ring and the status quo was restored. Since I had time to spare, the space and tools I got on with changing the universal joints on the front prop shaft a common week point on the 101 and gave the fuel lines, filters etc a thorough clean and blow through with John’s compressor and made up and replaced a broken bracket.

John’s place is a bit like Land Rover heaven apart from the hire fleet, the constant stream of visitors with Land Rovers, his collection of Land Rover magazines and books he has also got in the yard three 110s in various states of disrepair. Two 110s were bought for spares and one that had been rolled by some clients, so when his team of mechanics Ruben and Oscar weren’t busy cleaning, servicing and general maintenance, I have been supervising them with the stripping and rebuild of the rolled 110, “during my quiet moments!” John has also got a GS 550 motorbike in need of repair. It’s a good thing Land Rovers are like one big “meccano” set so even here in Africa anything is possible. With a little bit of work and time the 110 should soon be back on the road to re-join the hire fleet.                   

While John is kept busy with all things Land Rover, Kirsten looks after the business and her menagerie, two dogs, one cat, a puppy and a kitten.

Because the RAC have taken so long with the carnet we had to go and see immigration and extend our visa. While in town I managed to find a replacement for the shirt stolen in Mozambique and Blanca bought some material at the market for some new outfits. We had caught a local mini bus in to town but opted to walk back and check out the fuel situation on the way, as we did not want to pay the £2L black market price. It still didn’t look good, but we passed a garage as they took a petrol delivery so we rushed back for the jerry cans. Back at the filling station we placed our cans in the orderly queue and waited for something to happen. While queuing we were asked “don’t you have servants to queue for you?”….”No!”……”Would you like some?”…..We explained our situation and about our trip, etc, etc. After three hours in the blazing sun it became apparent that the management were not going to allow the filling of any of the canisters or jerry cans and had called in armed reinforcements to keep the peace. Blanca and I, the only whites in the queue, were requested to go and mediate on behalf of the queue and we managed to convince the management to give us all fuel. The whole thing was quite well organised with a line to the pump and not very “African” at all, I did suggest that any queue jumpers should be shot but was told, “Bwana, we can’t do that” to which I replied that the problem with Africa just too damn civilised! Four hours after we began queuing we had in our hands 40L of petrol, with just another 110L left to find. At least we could move Grommet out of the yard and go and join one of the many queues. The quest was on, early the next morning we went in search of petrol finding a filling station with fuel but not much, so we joined the long queue in the shade of the jacaranda trees, their lilac blossom falling like rain, and waited. The petrol ran out just as we were ten cars from the pump. Shit! So we went to another filling station which was expecting fuel at 2pm and asked them to set aside 80L, which should be enough to get us out of Lusaka. Retuning at 3pm we discovered that they only had diesel so it was off to the next, eventually we managed to get 80L. The carnet and the rest of the paperwork had arrived courtesy of DHL, “What would we do without DHL?” so we could now move on. All that was left now was to say goodbye to our hosts John and Kirsten and collect Blanca’s new outfits from Theresa and Jane at shop 104 in Northmead Market. The ladies had done a wonderful job and Blanca was thrilled.

We had had a fabulous time in Lusaka but it was time to move on, we were now out of time and money and with the rains pending we would have to miss out on Luangwa National Park most of Lake Malawi and our planned return to Mozambique.

We made good time on the road from Lusaka, finding plenty of fuel in Petauke and not a queue in site. As it was getting late we stopped for the night in a pine forest, which was more reminiscent of Switzerland than dry Zambia. After Katete the road degenerates back to typical African asphalt, badly potholed and slow going but we managed to reach the border with Malawi just after Lundazi, at Lusuntha where the formalities were quick and efficient, once we had managed to track the officials down. Still it was late and on a Saturday!

We had had a great time in Zambia and found the Zambians to be very, very friendly but due to the inefficiency of the RAC with our new carnet, compounded by the fuel crisis, we were only able to get a fleeting glimpse of what the country had to offer. We were very fortunate that our friends John and Kirsten could put us up (or was it put up with us?) for over a month. Otherwise things might have been very difficult for us and we are very grateful for their help.

We are now in Malawi in search of the French family we met in Mozambique and somewhere to spend Blanca’s birthday.



Luangwa River Bridge


Relaxing by the pool


Relaxing by the pool


Luangwa River


Livingstone 4x4 Hire I presume!


Changing tyres


Koen and Heidi


John and Kirsten


Vic Falls


Livingstone and Stanley


Vic Falls


What no crocs?


Railway Museum


Casey Jones


More trains


Even more trains


Um!


Grommet


No flies on me!


Itezhi-Tezhi reservoir


At Lufupa lodge


Hippos


A close call


A hippo snack


Where’s my gin and tonic!