Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Zambia - Summer 2016

The Great African Safari
Tuesday, 5 July
An opportunity like this only comes up once in a life time and I grabbed hold of it with both hands almost two years ago when the idea was first mentioned.  James worked in South Africa as a safari guide in a previous life and had been planning a group trip since I met him!  25 days driving through Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana in roof tented jeeps followed by 5 days of chilling in the wine regions of South Africa.  Everything booked and organised down to a tee whilst I contributed nothing but suggestions of some foods that I wanted to eat.  Welcome to Zambia!

So first, our jeeps that we booked from South Africa.  Two 4 by 4 Toyota Land Cruisers through that came with two tents on the roof and everything you could possibly need as a happy camper.  From sleeping bags to poiki pots, it had it all.  Though our trip started in Lusaka it was still cheaper (at 19 rand to the pound!) for us to have our cars booked and driven from Johannesburg than to use a local company.  We aim to drop them off in Johannesburg before jumping on a plane to Cape Town anyway.  They dropped them off to us at Lusaka Backpackers early morning and gave us all a talk on the ins and outs of these beautiful machines before we hit the road to begin our adventure.

First stop, Pick 'n' Pay; their equivalent to a Tesco/Walmart Supermarket.  We packed our trollies with $500 worth of food and alcohol and piled them into the back of our trucks.  One fridge for beer the other for meat.  One giant draw for fruit and veg the other for dried goods.  Everything had its place... for the first day at least.  We arrived at Mvuu Lodge in Lower Zambezi National Park by sunset and were buzzing from sitings of Elephant and Impala just getting to camp.  Perched on the banks of the Zambezi we set up camp and cooked by head torch whilst Hippo snorted and bellowed in the background.  I could get use to camp life!
Though we are self driving we decided to ease ourselves into safariing by paying a guide to sit in our passenger seat for the day.  We tried to leave for sunrise in the park but our morning routine wasn't as fine tuned as it is now.  For our first safari drive of the holiday we did amazingly well.  The animals known as "background" to James excited us first timers to no end.  Impala, Kudu, Baboons and Vervet Monkeys were all sited within the first hour and we insisted on stopping at the siting of each and every one.  Warthog and Nyala got the same treatment until we had our first Lion siting at which point all other animals turned beige.  "Lions famously don't do anything" said James.  But we saw them humping.  All 3 seconds of it!  We found a spot by the river for lunch where we fried up some sausages and felt blessed that this was our life for the next 25 days.  Lion sex and sausages; strong first day!
Early nights followed by dark and cold mornings with "al dente" porridge is our way of life now.  We can be packed up and on the road within the hour of waking.  We spent our second day on a boat safari where we fished for Tigers and looked our for Lions.  Catching a Tiger Fish has long been on my list of things to do but I never thought I'd do it with staring hippo in the waters, sun bathing Crocodile on the banks and the most beautiful birds flying over head.  Our lunch stop was hurried by a great big bull elephant that gave us a real show of strength by pulling a tree out of the ground right from our picnic spot viewed from the safety of our boats.  The following days safari brought us Zebra, Black Backed Jackal and the very rare Wild Dog; a whole pack of them just relaxing in the shade! Extremely lucky.  Of the African big 5 we have already seen lion, elephant and Buffalo.  Our time in the Lower Zambezi National Park was perfect for our first stop and I can't wait to see what the next 20 days has in store for us. 
The great thing about having two cars is...
Monday, 11 July

One can help the other if it gets stuck!  The land cruisers have 4 levels of getting unstuck when necessary.  Level 1 is simply putting the car into 4 by 4 mode.  If that fails, then level 2 is putting it into "low range" or "tank mode" as we liked to call it.  In most sandy situations tank mode did the job.  Failing that you have "differential lock" which forces all wheels to turn at the same speed and then if worse comes to worse (touches African hard wood) we have the winch.

We left the Lower Zambezi via the scenic route over the mountains which as the crow flies saved us some mileage.  As the crow flies... These were some fierce rocky, sandy hills on "roads" that sees a car every couple of weeks.  Successfully navigating charging angry elephants, pot(black)holes and cliffs in which required everyone to lean to one side we were doing pretty well.  Then came one particularly steep, gravely track in which in first gear 4 by 4 got three quarters of the way up and chugged to a stop before a foot of sliding back again.  Stuck! Having radioed the other car we got the response "yeah we're stuck too".  ?#&*@!  Turns out that there is a level 5 - a spade.  The journey was a fantastic experience in a half glass full kind of way.  I wasn't joking when I said elephants charged us - plural! The first day we drove without a guide and all the elephants in the park had turned against us.  And then once we finally hit tarmac we almost ran out of petrol and the first petrol station we found didn't sell diesel.  18 hours and 2 jerry cans later we arrived at South Luangwa National Park.  Worth it?

100% totally worth it. We were literally woken up by an elephant outside our tent.  Just bumbling about, insisting that the leaves were best from the tree branch that canopied our tent.  Croc Valley was our slightly busier, slightly more up market campsite for 3 days of which one was dedicated to Dolce Far Niente - the art of doing nothing.  Cooked breakfast overlooking the soon to be dried up Luangwa River followed by reading on the hammocks and blog writing by the pool was pure chilled out bliss.  The only irritant, but more entertainment, were the mischievous monkeys after a quick snack... or an entire block of just opened cheese in our case.  We watched it eat the entire thing and instantly regret it.  Even our cutlery with bits of food left over on them were up for grabs.  We finished our lazy day with a night drive where I learnt that it is easier to spot animals in the dark than in light!  Simply shine a spot light around and all animal eyes will reflect back like two LED's.  We spotted a couple of Hyena(pun intended), a Genet and a Civet as our new species and found that different animals reflect different colours making it easy to determine what's what.  If you walk into a set of red eyes at night run and never look back.  I used this eye reflecting method back at camp to find all sorts! Hippos and Crocs in the water, Bats in trees and even enormous spiders in the grass.  Yep, bugs reflect back too... thousands of them in one bush.  Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

We've had some practice at game driving on our own now and have learnt that the best method in finding animals is to look out for other game drivers, the professional ones.  The second we learnt this we went from seeing nothing all morning to seeing a pride of lions and our first Leopard.  During our time in South Luangwa, including our second camp site Zikomo Lodge in the Nsefu sector, we've had some great siting’s.  We had an afternoon drive in the Nsefu sector and saw 17 different lions including some cute little cubs and a white lion called ginger.  We were also treated to another Wild Dog siting too, this time on a kill and fighting with a Hyena! Our luck continued even after we returned to camp for the night as we had a pride of 7 lions just sitting on the plains overlooked by our camp and a nervous herd of Puku whilst we cooked.

There's something amazing about cooking on a camp fire.  We have gas burners but have mainly saved those for our egg and sausage brunches.  We pick up fresh fruit and veg from street markets between safari parks for next to no money and seem to always entertain the locals with our presence.  African hard wood burnt down to coals is the best thing to cook on ever.  Every campsite supplies us with firewood that is so dense it sinks in water and burns well into the next morning.  We've wrapped all sorts in foil and just thrown them straight into the coals for great side dishes of corn on the cob, sweet potato, eggplant and squash.  We've flame grilled 9 rump steaks, 4 meter long boerewors', 3 whole chickens and they have all turned out perfectly smoky, juicy and cooked through completely.  And then there's the poiki pot that just sits on the coals for hours slow cooking a bolognaise or a casserole.  We may be missing out on some African delights but I have thoroughly loved cooking here!

Marking your territory
Sunday, 17 July

I am yet to be of the age where a midnight pee is necessary but there's something about the utter inconvenience, biting cold and potential mauling by a lion that has changed my bladders function when camping.  There's nothing worse than leaving your warm sleeping bag and entering the darkness with your head torch reflecting eyes at you whilst you mark your territory.

A 14 hour drive took us from South Luangwa back to Lusaka where we arrived at Pioneers Camp and ordered seven T-bone steaks.  Our first meal not cooked by us on an open fire was an absolute treat and we carried this forward with a hearty breakfast at Mugg & Bean before another big shop and hitting the road again for a further 5 days safari.  Our first campsite was Mayukuyuku Camp which sits on the banks of the Kafue river and had a resident bull elephant when we arrived.  We are in Kafue National Park, the 2nd largest national park in Africa (the size of Wales!) and our first campsite situated inside the park.  It definitely feels different being inside as we are having a lot more visitors.  A massive hippo hiding in the dark outside our toilets made a nerve wracking situation for the girls going for the routine pre-bedtime wee!  A few hours game driving took us to our next camp, still in Kafue, called Kasabushi where our scary visitors continued.  A beautiful lioness walked straight past our camp and into the bushes alongside our trucks.  We all stood with one hand on the door handle and heard it roar at us from no more than 10 meters away.  Life at camp goes from total relaxation to palm sweating exhilaration in seconds.

Visitors to camp are only encouraged when you leave the left overs of your roast chickens outside your tent.  A bowl of two entire chickens worth of  bones was licked clean within two hours of going to sleep and I didn't hear or see a thing!  We're at the stage of our trip now where anything new is extremely exciting.  A new species of antelope has become far more thrilling than another lion.  We're on the Nanzhilla Plains at the moment, still in Kafue, and we have seen Side Striped Jackal, Eland, Roan, Duiker, Reedbuck and Oribi but nothing was more impressive than the immense horns of the very rare male Sable.  Though the Black Mamba in the middle of the road on the way here did make my my spine tingle from behind the steering wheel.  Keeping with the theme of scary visitors Nanzhilla's resident pest is the famously ferocious Honey Badger that kept us company whilst we grilled giant Texan steaks and pushed over our bins when we slept.  Tomorrow I get to sleep in an actual bed and use a toilet that doesn't involve being stalked by lions or freezing your gonads off.  After 16 days in a tent, a few days in JollyBoys hostel is going to feel like a 5 star spa resort.

Zip-lining between countries
Tuesday. 19 July

I haven't really talked much on food as we have pretty much cooked for ourselves every single day.  After 15 days we've gotten pretty good at it; our last camp meal was roasted pepper and butternut squash risotto!  So now back in some civilization the opportunity to get my lips around some National Dish is finally available.  The dish that represents Zambia is called Nshima: a massively underwhelming brick of bland starch.  Worth the wait.  Another example of food born out of necessity over desirability.  Typically served with two side "relishes" one protein based and one veggie based.  I had it with a grilled quail and two vegetable dishes plus some soupy sauce that came for the Nshima.  The waitress was giggly with my order and enthusiastically asked "you like Nshima?!".  My honest response would have been "meh...".  It's a heavy, stodgy means to an end that is non-offensive and non-exciting.  The definition of food envy - eating Nshima whilst everyone else ordered chips.

We are in Livingston and have been living it up in real life beds and actual restaurants.  We even went out for an Indian purely because we could.  JollyBoys Hostel advertised the top 3 things to do in Livingston as the Victoria Falls, Safari and The Gorge Swing with a little video showing each one.  Though the video of the gorge swing made your chest fall into your stomach I couldn't help but think if you had to do it once this was the one place in the world to do it.  I had to convince myself before I encouraged the others and our walk around Vic Falls gave us all a live view of the bungee.  Victoria Falls is an immense show of natures power giving you the constant feeling of being one footstep away from an imminent death.  The only question was what would it look like whilst hanging upside down from a bridge?

Making the most of non-camp life I booked myself into a traditional Zambian "Ukuchina" massage where they use hot towels to scrub, scold and knead you at the same time.  Nothing special but worked 3 weeks of camping out of my stiff back.  Though we were staying in a cheap hostel we spent the afternoon pretending we were staying at The Royal Livingstone Hotel where we had lunch and wine by the Zambezi.  We also booked ourselves onto a surprisingly impressive boat safari come booze cruise which advertised all you can eat and drink.  Our best sunset of the holiday was probably from this boat and we got some decent Elephant and Giraffe sightings too.  All this relaxing to take our minds off the fact that we were now booked onto the "3 jump special" from the Victoria Bridge.  

The 3 jumps included a Zip-line from Zambia to Zimbabwe (one which we actually needed our passports for!), a bungee from the bridge and the gorge swing - all of which have the backdrop of the beautiful falls.  It was just us 3 boys that decided to do it and paid $210 each for the experience.  They took our shoe size and measured our weight on arrival and we instantly felt a little more at ease at how professionally it was all run.  As we put on our harnesses and life jackets (as the guy told us it was for "just in case") I kept secret that I had read a news article about a woman's bungee chord snapping at this very same place a few years ago.  We drew straws to decide on the order in which we went and hoped that we would do them all in order of scariness.  Zip-line first, pretty relaxed and almost dull considering the overflowing levels of adrenaline running through our bodies in anticipation for the Bungee.  The build up to the bungee was excruciating whilst we queued and watched others throw themselves over the edge and hurtle down towards the Zambezi.  It's 111m of falling which gives you enough time in your head to wonder when, if ever, the chord is actually going to catch you and trail back in your mind at the moment you were attached by the ankles to reassure that you are in fact connected to the rope.  Yes the bungee was scary but it was the swing that was absolutely terrifying.  There's something about jumping off feet first and seeing the world scream by the right way round that makes it all the more unnerving.  Again you fall for enough time for you to question when you will stop falling before the swing catches you and spits you out away from the bridge.  Would I do it again? No.  Am I glad I did it? Hell yes!

An impressive finish to our time in Zambia.  Tomorrow we cross the boarder into Zimbabwe once again but this time by car.  Zambia has been an absolute delight with its beautiful people and truly stunning safari parks.  Lets see what Zimbabwe has to offer.


  1. Cool, thanks. Road tripping Zambia now

    1. Have a great time! I'm jelous i'd love to be back there!

  2. Hi,
    i came across your post and was truly amazed. I have been thinking of a trip to Botswana & Zambia combined (15 days each)and plan to schedule sometime this year. Since I am traveling solo, I would prefer to join a group through this forum or through a tour operator.
    I will be traveling from MUMBAI to LUSAKA and will also take the return flight from LUSAKA booking round trip tickets which are economical.
    I would be happy for any and all inputs from your end.