Saturday 1st October – The Last Hurrah!
I have been staying with friends in South Africa these last couple of weeks. This week was the turn of Helen & Carlo. Carlo has been foolish enough to volunteer to make the journey with me all the way to Maasai Mara in Kenya. He’s normally quite a switched on chap but I guess we all have our moments! Together we have planned every inch of the route meticulously but we’re both long enough in the tooth to understand that Moma Africa is gonna launch a few surprises along the way! What is it they say………..”The best laid plans of mice and men”?
Saturday arrives and Carlo & Helen have arranged a last Hurrah – a fish & chip lunch, at their home, with 20 of our closest friends. It was a lovely gesture and quite a poignant one for me. Although we’ll be keeping in touch; they won’t exactly be around the corner. I’m gonna miss them.
Sunday 2nd October – Up, Up & Away
Crack of dawn, the sun has not peeped over the horizon yet as we start the engine and begin our “Safari Njema” across Africa. What lies in store is anyone’s guess!
We make the Parr’s Holt border with Botswana in good time. The border is tiny and such a breeze, we are through within 20 minutes.
Next stop is Nata Lodge. It’s a good 10 hour journey getting there. We’ve hit South Africa school half term holidays – the place is packed with screaming kids! We ordered dinner; after one hour waiting, we’re informed it’ll be another hour! We’ve both had SFA to eat all day so I politely ask they hurry things up a bit. They did, but Carlo ended up with the most ghastly pizza I’ve ever seen; whilst I ended up with cold pork ribs!
3rd October – Kasane and the Chobe River
We booked Tlou Lodge in Kasane. Not recommended – a soulless, sterile place that would be more at home just off the M4 motorway, in Bracknell! However, our good friends Terry & Helen Noble invited us to an afternoon boat safari on the Chobe River with their friends Craig & Cheryl, followed by dinner at their waterfront lodge on the Chobe. The boat ride was a blast, the Chobe is such a beautiful river; even if it is a little over populated these days.
4th October – Kazungula Border and Zambia
The next morning we’re away before light and first in the queue at the border post. This has the deserved reputation as the border post from hell so we have arranged with Craig to use a Clearing Agent he knows to get us through sharpish. The border is much improved with its state of the art flyover bridge across the Chobe river. It’s now a One Stop with all the formalities taking place on the Zambian side. We are through within two hours – not bad when you consider all the nuances and the number of taxes that need to be paid.
We’re on our way to Lusaka via Livingstone. As we approach Livingstone a herd of elephants decide to cross the main road. All the traffic stops to give them right of was and you can see from the photo of Carlo in the car how close they were.
I was in two minds about where to stay in Lusaka. On previous trips we had always stayed at Eureka Lodge – it was a popular place with overlanders and travellers. However, the reviews on the forums were pretty bad. Many complaining of poor service and noise from locals partying until the early hours. We arrived with nobody at reception – in fact nobody there at all, no guests, no campers; not a good sign. Eventually the manager, Rob, showed up after having had his shower. I shared with him the reputation the place had earned amongst travellers but he was insistent it was not the case. Mmmm………the music started outside at the pool when we arrived and went on in to the early hours. It seems like Rob has commandeered the place as his own personal rave cave. We wake up at 5.30 am the following morning to see a police car arrive at the chalet next door to us. They were there to arrest one of Rob’s workers (who had been partying the night before) for alleged rape! I assume there must have been screams but we didn’t hear anything above the noise of the broken fan in the bedroom. Goodbye Eureka – never again!
We are now making tracks to South Luangwa National park. The Great East road out of Lusake turns to rubble. There are potholes everywhere; it’s a nightmare for Carlo who is driving. It goes on for approx 100 kms. We make the bridge over the Luangwa river and suddenly on the other side is the most perfect tarmac road that takes us all the way to Chipata – go figure! It’s another very long day’s driving – 12 hours. We eventually reach Zikomo Lodge in the Nsefu Sector of South Luangwa just as it’s getting dark. We want a chalet for 2-3 nights. We are shown a very basic room. I ask how much – 394 per person is the answer. I think OK, that’s not bad, 394 kwatcha is about $40.00. Not quite – they wanted USD $394! What?! We opted to camp for $20 p/p instead. Nice campI site, good facilities.
5th October – South Luangwa
I wake up early doors and peek out of the tent. One of the rear tyres on the Land Rover looks a little flat. Carlo finds a 3 inch nail embedded in it! Bang goes the game drive; it took us two hours to get it fixed. Nevertheless we decided to explore the Nsefu area. We stopped at Nsefu Camp; an upmarket Robin Pope camp with stunning views over the Luangwa river and pods and pods of hippos grunting and bellowing below. There is a BBC film crew staying at the camp to film the wonderful wildlife in South Luangwa.
As we head back we both smell fuel – oh no! I had recently had the whole fuel hose system replaced with original Land Rover parts. We are losing only a small amount of fuel, so decide to head back chop chop before it gets worse. Now the GPS starts playing games and takes us to washed out roads on the river; we’re going around in circles! Next up, Carlo (who is driving) says “it’s pissing out now, we’ve just lost 1/4 tank”. We had not seen a singe vehicle all day; the chances of anybody finding us in this remote place are pretty slim. Anyway, we stop and examine the problem. Carlo finds it; the hose that fits to the front of the engine has come loose. What? How the hell can that happen? My conclusion is that it was not secured when it was fitted; a forgetful moment that could have cost us dearly. Carlo says “ have you got a Jubilee clip?” Yes I have, in fact I’ve got a shit load of them. He braved the heat of the engine and got burned in the process but we’re back on the road – catastrophe avoided.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention; we saw virtually no game but nevertheless, the is a true wilderness area and is a very special and unique part of Africa.
7th October – Malawi
Neither of us had the appetite to stay longer at Zikomo so we decided to continue our journey to the Zambia / Malawi border at Chipata. We are making good time, we have covered a lot of ground and are looking forward to reaching our next destination, Ngala Beach Lodge on Lake Malawi in good time. Not so fast! Although we waltz through the Zambian customs, we hit trouble on the Malawi side. First off, I’m hauled over the coals ‘cos I haven’t got a Malawi VISA (that you can only acquire online). I later learn it’s virtually impossible to register online as their systems don’t work and payments are not accepted. T.I.A – This Is Africa! Keep cool, smile, keep a SoH – always the best plan. Later I learned that many people heading for Ngala Lodge had given up, after trying for days on end to get a VISA. I just ate humble pie, licked ass, shared some food with officials, parted with $50 for the VISA and $5 as “tip” and I was the proud owner of a Malawi VISA. Carlo was OK; he has a South African passport.
Now for Customs and Immigration and the paperwork for the vehicle. There is nobody manning the desks at Customs. I’m informed there is a meeting that began at 08:00 and will only end at 12:00 – please wait patiently! You gotta laugh, no point complaining. It’s 09:30, eventually we leave around 1pm – delayed by 3 hours. The road to the lodge is horrendous, we go through a forest reserve where the road is washed away with huge crevices on either side. When we get to the “coast” road, adjacent to Lake Malawi, it’s starting to get dark. Things get a little fraught; it’s Friday night (market night) every man and his dog is on the street. There are bicycles everywhere , meandering all over the road; not one has a light or even a reflector. The road has disintegrated on either side so that it is only wide enough for one car and there are drops on the side that would tear a tyre to shreds. Oncoming vehicles have either one headlight or in most cases – none! The Golden Rule – “Don’t drive at night” has been broken. It’s very very dangerous. I am doing this stretch of the driving and we both arrive just a little stressed and exhausted.
8th October – Ngala Beach Lodge
What a delightful place! The staff are so friendly and hospitable; they can’t do enough for you. Trish and Dan that own the lodge are amazing. They give us rooms with lake views that are lovely. I can’t quite believe they’re only charging us $45.00 p/p/p/n – exceptional value. Dan and Trish help us fill up the vehicle (there have been fuel shortages) and they even buy me two bottles of Malawi Gin at shop prices! There is nothing that is too much trouble here, it really is a special place and the people that own and run it, even more so.
Myself and Carlo head out along the beach for a stroll, it’s not long before we have throngs of children following us, giggling and laughing. We make our way to a local bar where we sit down with the locals. Everyone is so friendly and we exchange stories about our very different lives. There is an old boy sitting with us who offers to buy us both a drink. We are both touched by this very generous offer and of course ensured it was us that did the buying of drinks. The people here don’t have a pot to piss in, yet their generosity and joyful nature is something to behold. Malawi is a very safe place; visually no crime or violence, quite something when you consider that it is one of the poorest nations on the planet. Later we met several South Africans that live here that said they would not return to SA as they feel free and safe here. Free to walk the streets anytime of day or night and no need for electric fences, guard dogs or security where they live. Food for thought?