Zambia & Botswana 03.08_16.08.13
Arrived safely in Jo’burg after our day flight. We were collected from the airport and taken to Aero Guest Lodge which is a great place to stay. The staff were very friendly, the food was good and the beds very comfortable. We stayed two nights at Aero and met up with Sue who flew into Jo’burg from Charlottetown Canada. She had a long flight but was excited to be with us all.
We collected the vehicles from Bushlore. I have to admit we all thought their customer service was pretty poor. No friendly greeting, no chit chat, just “business”. Odd as John had been emailing them for a year. You would think that they would wish us a good trip at least! Anyway we headed towards Limpopo in Botswana. But as the hand over took awhile we didn’t quite make it that far. We just managed to get to Blouberg Nature Reserve at 5:15 (gates close at 5:30). It was a strange experience as the whole area was completely deserted except for 4 friendly (albeit behind a fence) dogs.
Found a campsite and set up camp. John got a great fire going, which was very welcome as it is rather chilly (aka cold) here. Had tuna pasta and too much wine for supper! All good. We tried out the roof top tents which we had never slept in before. They were quite comfy!
I popped my head out of the tent and was greeted by a family of giraffe in the camp. We all got up and walked towards them hoping that they would get curious and come over. They didn’t take the bait but it was lovely to see them. We packed up and drove north towards Zanzibar border post. This is closed in the wet season as you drive over the Limpopo River. We intended to make it into Zimbabwe but we didn’t quite get there. We did have fun driving on sandy, backcountry roads though.
Camped at Tati Lodge in Francistown where the people were all so very friendly. Ate boerewors and potatoes cooked on the open fire. Also stir fried some spinach, onions and peppers with garlic and oyster sauce- YUM!! Slept in our new tent- John tried out the Exped Syn Mat 7. He found it very comfy. Hopefully he will let me have a go one night (in seven weeks!)
After a breakfast of muesli, yoghurt and banana we headed to the Plumtree border with Zimbabwe. Did a big shop at Francistown. We are now driving towards Hwange National Park. Hopefully we will make it in time but getting into Zim took longer than we thought it would. So we may have to camp somewhere en route (won’t be the last time that happens:0) I will add pictures once we have a few days at a single place.
Phew – made it into Hwange by the skin of our teeth! Gates close at 6pm in winter, so we didn’t have time to go for a game drive, or to go onto one of the picnic campsites as I’d really wanted to do. Instead, Nancy cooked Thai chicken in the Main Camp camping area, while I took the front wheel off and finally sorted the annoying squeak we’d had sporadically for most of the journey. Used the new Red LED torch and spotted a solitary spring hare.
Nice early start – 5.45 alarm – and within minutes of leaving the gate there is a herd of elephant grazing by the roadside (sometimes a little skittish). They were beautifully lit in the rising sun with a touch of early morning mist. A fairly fresh breeze seemed to be keeping the animals under cover, so we saw little game as we made our way to Sinamatella camp.
I wanted to suss out the current state of the picnic camps, and as soon as we turned into Masuma Dam, we knew it was the place to book for the night. Beautiful setting with plentiful animals and reports of a resident pride of lions. Unfortunately, we discovered the the site wasn’t available for that day but we could reserve it for Sunday when all 8 of us will be here. Result! After a slow afternoon sorting out the logistics of the trucks at Sinamatella Camp we went for an afternoon game drive. Not much to be seen, dwarf mongoose excepted, until Sue spotted a lioness padding through the woodland beside us. After greeting 2 more concealed lionesses, she went for a nap on a nearby tree in typical fashion. We had a surprise visitor in the nighttime in the form of a lone bull elephant who could be heard breaking off tree branches in his search for the tastiest leaves. The poor French lady in the site beside us was terrified. I needed to get up for a pee, and this coincided with the elephant approaching our campsite. When he saw me (in only my underwear) he sped off in the opposite direction. I was considerably more relieved (no pun intended) than he was.
Gentle(r) start as we take the long way to Vic Falls through Robins Camp. It really does seem that mornings are quiet for the game as it is so cold, so we ambled steadily through the park with only a break for brunch at Deteema Dam. Last time I was in Hwange was 20 years ago, and while it is delightful to be back, it’s sad to see how dilapidated some places are – though Deteema obviously has a careful guardian. Got into Vic Falls at 2pm, and Nancy’s sister Sharon very generously paid for a room at the A’Zambezi Hotel where the other people who will join us are staying. Just bumped into them in the car park while I was doing some final packing and repairing, so I’m writing this quickly as we’re all just about to have a celebratory glass of champagne in readiness for the next part of the trip….
After a great sleep in the A’ Zambezi (John says too good for me as he is sensing that I am getting ‘soft’) and a lovely breakfast over-looking the Zambezi we headed back towards Hwange National Park. Drove past an open cast coal mine just before the park entrance and then just after we saw a pack of 8 wild dogs! A very healthy looking pack – what a way to start the trip.
Lunch at Sinamatella – tuna salad with cannellini beans, Greek salad, ham and cheese and mango or cranberry and kiwi juice. Yum. Everyone got their initial views of animals looking down onto the plains. We were also treated to sunbathing dwarf mongooses. Went on a game drive and saw a large herd of buffalo, giraffes, and caused upset looking at birds instead of the single elephant crossing the road! It was hilarious as I was very excited by a sand grouse and David was desperate to see the elephant. (I knew we would see much better elephants but of course David didn’t!!) Drove onto our camp site at Musuma Dam and we were welcomed by soooo many elephant coming into drink from the hot bush. Over the course of the evening there must have been over two hundred elephant. A stunning place.
John and I slept out in the hide as did Sharon and Sue. We didn’t really get much sleep because of the night sounds but we loved every minute. Lots of hippos, crocodiles, birds and elephants. Magical. Had potatoes, baked yam, stir fried veg and steak for supper. We had really hoped the supper was going to be great but sadly we burnt the potatoes (still getting used to the potje) and the meat was very, very tough. (Everyone agrees that this was a ploy by John & I to cook very badly on the first night so that they would all quickly take over…!)
The following morning the pride of lions that had been there the morning before (over 17 of them!) didn’t make it. (We have heard since that they came the next day). Oh well. Enjoyed watching the birds – Meyer’s Parrots, Cordon Bleu, Red winged long tailed starlings, White browed sparrow weavers and lots of Doves. Had yoghurt and muesli for breakfast.
Went out through Robin’s camp and onto the Pandamatenga border to Botswana. Told we wouldn’t be able to take our fruit and vegetables over the border so had a quick lunch of ‘everything’ and ate as much as we could. Love the Botswanan border guard. She was very friendly and too short to even see into the cooler, and she was only looking for meat products. So we didn’t need to gorge ourselves at all! Had a quick shop in Kasane and then drove onto Senyati into Chobe National Park for an afternoon drive. We saw Kudu, Sable, Impala, Elephants, Fish Eagles etc on the Chobe River front. Chobe is one of the world’s best game parks and still lives up to its name. It is frustrating that they have changed into a one way system so you can’t drive back and forth along the river and get the wonderful light. No idea why they have done that! Dug out a safari truck that got stuck in the deep sand. Amazingly the passengers didn’t offer to help nor did the driver say ‘thank you’. Had excellent Chilli & Rice for supper. Lots of veggies and spices.
Full day in Chobe National Park. We called the day a ‘giraffe safari’ as we saw an incredible number. We really love Chobe as the animals are so visible and the water is sparkling like a jewel. Lunch at Chobe Safari Lodge. The setting is spectacular but the buffet is just ok. Excellent salads but not great fish, lamb or stews. Still enjoyed our peaceful afternoon. David and Paul tried driving in the deep sand and really enjoyed themselves. Throughout the day we swapped drivers back and forth and we all managed to get stuck. Lots of laughter, digging, frustration for the driver (we all got over that!), spinning wheels and group pushing.
Saw a bunch of vultures sitting in a tree and figured there must be a kill somewhere. Didn’t see anything but followed the grouping of the vehicles and saw a leopard in a tree. He was very obliging and photogenic. Had planned on spending time there but there were too many vehicles and I also saw some elephants coming back across the river. I love watching eles in the river! Sadly I got stuck (was going the wrong way along the river road and the tour bus had the right of way and ‘pushed’ me off the track into deep sand. Lots of swearing and eventually laughing! John saw the elephants and then came back to help me get out of the sand! Saw two shy Roan Antelope on our way back.
Camped at Senyati for the second night and since we had booked for Pangolin Photographic Safari for the next day we were allowed access into the hide. After our supper of bacon and egg we heard the elephants calling at the water hole. So we rushed over and had the most magical time. There were various groups of ten or so coming down. It was fascinating watching the hierarchy of who drinks when, who gets what space. I would’ve thought the babies get priority but that wasn’t the case at all. Lots of trumpeting and chasing impalas (?? Why). As Aly says ‘that was tops!’ We were all so excited we didn’t bring our cameras. The noise from the elephants was just amazing.
Happy birthday to Sharon, Sue and Nancy! Amazing isn’t it- I was born on Sharon’s birthday (msister) and Sue (our long-time family friend) was born on the same day. Our lovely friends bought me earrings and a necklace, Sharon a necklace and a bracelet and Sue a necklace and bracelet. All chosen with love. Amazing people! We started the birthday celebration with a game drive into Chobe where we saw lovely birds along the river bank. Plus the all the usual giraffe, impala etc.
We decided to deviate from the river road and headed into the bush. Whilst we were stopped at a water hole deciding if we were going to go to the lodge for an early lunch a few elephants came to have a drink. I then looked in my wing mirror and saw a huge herd trotting towards the water. Must have been 30- 35 elephants. We saw the same hierarchial behaviour we witnessed the night before. Although they were healthy they didn’t look quite as fat & shiny as the ones we had seen previously. Once I work out how to load a video I can show you these beautiful elephants. John & I dropped the guys all off at the Cresta Hotel so that they could have a leisurely lunch before our afternoon Sundowner with Pangolin Photographic Safaris. We headed into town to buy a jerry can, a funnel, some glue and other bits and pieces. We ended up buying a garden hose to try and use that to fill the water tank with – this turned out to be unwieldy and ‘old’ so not much use at all! Had a terrible lunch at KFC and then met up with the guys at the hotel. Managed to have a five minute cat nap before we went on the boat trip. The trip was amazing and highly recommended. They provide you with Nikon D7000 cameras with a 500mm lens. Lots of people on the other boats took pictures of us. Am sure they thought we were professionals! Shah, the captain of the ship was excellent as he was very respectful of the animals and kept as much distance as possible from the other boats. We all really enjoyed the afternoon. When the sun was dipping we opened the champagne in order to toast the birthday girls and the sun
. ….(no the birthday hasn’t quite finished!) Had a buffet supper at the Chobe Safari Lodge. The waiting staff were very friendly and the food was pretty good. I just don’t really like buffets as one tends to overindulge. Just as we asked for the bill all the staff came over and sang us three a capella songs. The girls were in tears because it was so very beautiful. What an amazing birthday day.
Got up early and packed up camp. This took us a while as everyone was taking advantage of the HOT water. Drove into Kasane along the Hunter’s Road. Did a very efficient, big shop in Kasane as Botswana will be much cheaper than Livingstone (Zambia). Stocked up with tins, meat, veggies and wine. The veggies are not as good quality as I remember and the shelves don’t get re-stocked until mid morning so we got what we could. Paid for our Photographic safari and enjoyed catching up with Guts the owner. We enjoyed the trip so much we booked a trip for Karen & Anne on our return journey. Guts is an 11th generation Botswanan and a really, really nice guy. Headed to the Kazungula Ferry which none of us have ever taken. Didn’t have any idea how easy or difficult it would be. In fact, we got on the ferry straight away and were across into Zambia within minutes. At the Zambian border we had to jump through several hoops. First you go, immigration and get your visa, then the 2 drivers go and get a temporary import permit, pay carbon tax, a council tax, then road tax and finally buy insurance. It took us 2 hours including the ferry. Not bad really when you see the long, long queues of trucks waiting to get on the ferry. Guts said that one of his clients waited for 23 days before he finally got across. Easy for a tourist not easy for the truckers.
Once through the immigration we had a quick picnic stop under some trees and then headed into Livingstone where we managed to get some money from Barclay’s bank. Livingstone itself has definitely expanded but it is still very poor. Drove 14k out of Livingstone to our campsite at Taita Falcon Lodge which overlooks the Zambezi Gorge. Had a few beers whilst looking at the view and chatted to the owners who moved there from S Africa 20 years ago. Nice, friendly people who answered our list of questions! Enjoyed the bush camp that had a paraffin shower which neither John nor I had ever used. It was remarkably effective.
Had bolognaise for supper. I crashed and the guys stayed up singing songs around the fire. Sadly I have a leak in my Therm-a-rest but we haven’t been able to find the hole. I still managed to sleep the whole night. Hopefully we will have more time today to sort it. It is definitely getting warmer. When we first started out it was very cold in S Africa and in Botswana. I slept in everything I brought with me. Now the nights are balmy and very comfortable.
As I write this, with my computer on my lap, we are heading toward Namwala Pontoon. We collected the solar lights in Choma and I spent too much money buying veggies and fruit from the locals. I am hopeless at bartering! (I have since been fired!). The road from Choma to Namwala is wonderful. We have driven through lots of well-kept villages. Choma is a huge farming area- I suspect this is where we get our green beans from in the UK. Today is the last day of school so there are a lot of families and kids around.We will be camping at KaingU for two nights. Tomorrow we will be giving the lights to the village. Am very excited about that!
Aug 9th part two: Well the ferry worked very well. Really quick and efficient, though the access road was across a flood plain and was pretty bumpy. At Itezhi Tezhi we turned north on the road and the GPS directed us along the river road to KaingU. This turned out to be a very challenging road. Not many people have come that way recently. So we had hoped to be at KaingU by 3 at the latest but didn’t get there until around 5:30. A long, long day of travel. Luckily the guys at KaingU offered us a small house that we could all use. It was so welcome to those who needed to sleep in a bed and to have some comfort. We left the guys drinking G&;T’s at the bar and John and I went to set up and to cook supper. We rustled up a pretty delicious Thai chicken curry and really enjoyed the evening.
As part of the tour everyone contributed generously to buy some solar lights to install in the local school. We had arranged this in advance with Tom Heinecken at KaingU Lodge. He is a great guy who is very knowledgeable and friendly. He organised for us to meet the local Chief and to present the lights at the school. Although we really did not want to drive back down the road again we all piled in and headed off. It was a great experience and the Chief and Head Teacher were genuinely pleased with the donation. We look forward to getting the pictures showing the completed installation.
We managed to get back to the lodge for about 3 pm and enjoyed some down time. John worked on the trucks and we all napped and read. Bliss! We ate at the lodge, nice meal in a gorgeous setting. Paul had bought some maize at the local mill and the cooks prepared it for us. The maize itself was quite bland but they served it with a spicy relish.
We had decided to spend an extra day at KaingU as people were still tired from the rough journey to the Lodge, so we had a gentle start in the morning. Before it got too hot though, we went for a walk along to the rapids. It’s a beautiful area with good birdlife, and everyone enjoyed their encounter with hyrax and bushbuck. Nancy stayed back and attempted to make bread. It was a big disaster.
Rick and Linda, Gil and Julia, the management team, were very helpful and informative and we learned much about the local area. For instance, this year the hunting concessions have not been issued and as a result no-one is managing the roads, which makes travelling a lot bumpier. The local community also loses out because they receive income from the hunting, and in addition 2 of the teachers’ salaries were lost.
In the afternoon, we had arranged a boat trip on the Kafue river. The area around KaingU has to be the most beautiful stretch of river that I know – even more lovely than the Nile at Aswan. The light was superb, and we saw hippos and waterbirds as we cruised gently through the channels. For our sundowner, we stopped on one of the islands, and were unsure whether to watch the beautiful sunset on one side, or the pod of hippos on the other. Life is tough!
We had been told it was a journey of 6 -7 hours to McBride’s Camp, our next stop. The poor state of the roads seemed to hinder us though, and it wasn’t until 12.15 that we arrived to shop in Mumbwa, the only town en route. There were hard goods in the shops, but only the stallholders sold fresh produce and it was a slow process getting re-stocked. After a quick lunch outside town, we started off along a bumpy road towards Kafue National Park. Fortunately, the road improved as the area became more rural, and after 3 hours we drove onto the open plains around McBrides.
After some initial confusion as the campsite appeared to be full (we had booked 1 year before), things were sorted out and we enjoyed a tuna pasta courtesy of Marco. McBrides is a rambling area which rather reminds me of Khwai Community in Moremi, though with simple facilities and some extremely knowledgeable hosts.
What a night! Lions hadn’t been sighted or heard for 3 days, so we were all excitedto hear them roaring upstream in the late evening. Throughout the night, they gradually got closer until it reached a point where I could hear footsteps just outside the tent. I was about to tell Nancy when a large male started roaring about 10m away! The sound and intensity is incredible – one of those experiences that does not often come along.
We were supposed to be going for a walk in the morning with Chris McBride, eccentric Camp owner and lion expert, but he had gone off in a vehicle during the night to track the lions and locate them for guests. Charlotte McBride managed to get everyone except me and Nancy in a vehicle to meet up with Chris, so the others went off in a cramped 4×4 while we waited. They had superb views of the two pride males marking territory and displaying, and we’re really looking forward to the photos. Unfortunately, by the time Nancy and I arrived the lions had flopped down in normal lion repose, but we could still see how impressive the pair were – dominant males in their prime.
After all that excitement, we had a restful day before doing an evening night drive in a Lodge vehicle (too much hassle taking the roof tents down to do it on our own). There were few big animals visible except for the hippos, puku and impala, but we had really good views of a genet as well as seeing civet, bushbaby, and scrub hare. Back at our camp, a cup of hot chocolate with rum capped off a fantastic day.
Chris had warned us that if the lions roared again he would not be available for a walk, but fortunately he took us out for a morning stroll. His knowledge of the bush is first class, so we learned all about the local ecology, trees, wildlife, all delivered with a quirky sense of humour. Very interesting to hear about his local environmental management strategy. At one point on the walk Chris said ‘SILENCE’ and ‘STAND STILL’. To be honest I had no idea what he saw until he pointed out the bush pigs in the distance. We watched beautiful shy bush pigs foraging for bush plums.
(Nancy here) – around mid-afternoon I went back to the camp to collect something and as I was coming back to the dining room I heard a loud sound to my left and was very surprised to see a big bull elephant come through the bush! He was surprised by me as well and flapped his ears and waved his trunk around. I thought ‘oh shit’ and backed up slowly and calmly whilst he came towards me. He kept coming and I kept going backwards until he stopped, flapped and waved at me again and went off towards the river. He was only about 15m away from me. I wasn’t worried about me but I knew that the others would be coming to the camp to make lunch and I didn’t want them behind the elephant!
After a lazy afternoon we went back on the river in a fabulous thatched boat. It was wonderful. We drifted down the river accompanied by the sounds of pied wagtails, swallows, cape turtle doves and hippos. We also saw crocodiles and monitor lizards. A magical ending to our safari.
Retraced our steps back to Mumbwa. The journey back seemed easier than going out. We all decided to get going as quickly as possible so that we would have time in Lusaka. Lusaka itself is pretty hectic and poor. The lovely people at KaingU lodge sorted out some accommodation for us at Kilimanjaro Country Lodge. The rooms were lovely as were the staff. The lodge hasn’t quite been finished yet and the common areas were a bit tired and disorganised. Whilst the others went to look for gifts and souvenirs John & I washed the trucks out. A big job but they did look more presentable when we finished.
Our groups treated us to dinner and we had a wonderful evening reminiscing about favourite bits.