Week 5: Trip report: Namibia/Botswana/Zimbabwe/Zambia: From Chobe River to Kafue NP
Updated: Sep 27, 2019
We are celebrating our 5th week on the road with a decent red wine (even though it is coming out of a box), roosterkoek and porkchops from Otjivirongo on the fire, sitting on the banks of the Kafue river and listening to the hippos in the background…And even though this end product today might sound idyllic (and yes it is!), it is just one more example of the exact same lesson that we are slowly learning this week – that things will not always work out according to our plans, and we need to learn to just flow with it…cause every single time it has worked out perfectly in the end, regardless of my “vloermoer” that preceded it (and Irene’s zen-like abilities that calmed me/the situation down again)! It has been a full week of 4 different countries and so many wide-ranging experiences, that I’m worried this might be a looooong blogpost.
So let’s start with our normal stats: • Total days travelled: 35
• Total distance travelled from Cape Town: 6,636km
• Total borders crossed: 4 (yes this was the-4-countries-in-one-week week)
And then the Aardvark stats for Week 5:
• Best drink: Coffee at the Munali Café in Livingstone, made by “Zambia’s National Barista Champion from 2016-2019, Brian Mubanga”. Followed very closely by the Jameson and Captain Morgan Rum for a nightcap overlooking the green plains next to lake Itezhi Tezhi in the Kafue National Park – what made it special was not only the setting, but also the shop…we bought it behind the local bus stop in Livingstone, kind of a drive-through alternative liquor store – you don’t get out of your car, just place your order and the bottles appear at a marked discount to SA rates!
• Best food: Irene now loves Chiwawa – a local Zambian favorite made of pumpkin leaves, onions, tomatoes and crushed walnuts. She made it with ingredients that we bought in Livingstone’s Green Market, and it was super creamy and jummy (even for me, who don’t like vegetables 😊). The crocodile burger was a bit rich…and would thus not make the top of the best food list!
• Best view: Even though there were a couple of very strong contenders, the view of Victoria Falls from the Devil’s Pool’s rim won!
We started our 29th day driving from the Namibian side of the Chobe river, over the Ngoma border crossing into Botswana’s Chobe National Park. The border crossing was as uneventful as you can get, apart from the vet check who told us not to bring monkey-oranges (that Irene bought next to the road in the Caprivi, cause she goes chatting to the local smouse whenever we stop for fuel) over the border again. Luckily we basically used up all of our supplies before we crossed the border, and apart from the reprimand was free to leave. Chobe National Park is as dry as the Caprivi and Northern Namibia, and as we were getting a bit bored with the drive through the thick sand (we took the river route to get a better feel for the park), we came upon a baby elephant carcass, with vultures and storks (not entirely the same type that delivers babies, but then again, we are not birdies!) picking away at the leftovers. It was a bit of a macabre sight, yet still awe-inspiring to see the cyclicality of nature.
In Kasane we quickly went to check into the Chobe Safari Lodge’s campsite, as it was recommended by all and sundry. But much to our dismay, our allocated campsite was a dusty 5x5 spot in the back squeezed between two electric fences – not the authentic notion that we had of camping on the river! So we decided to go scouting for a better spot (like any good AARDVARK would do – they apparently can walk over 16km per night, searching for the perfect ant or termite nest to feast upon!). And eventually, as it was getting close to sunset, we stumbled upon the 5th campsite, and felt as if we struck gold! The Sanyati Safari Lodge is about 10km south of the border post, and has its own elephant drinking hole hide…where in the span of a couple of hours, we must have seen over 200 elephants, in various herd sizes, come to drink, bath and play in the mud…including the tiniest babies! And we were observing this live show from at times less than 5meters away, tucked into the photographer’s viewing dungeon…a truly spectacular sight! This continued till deep into the night (with the occasional herd of buffalo in between), and the odd elephant wandering through the camp. And in hindsight, it was the week’s first lesson to just go with the flow, and if our plans don’t work out, it is usually because there is a bigger plan in play…
The next morning we were up early, ready for the ferry crossing into Zambia and the start of the next leg of our journey…but again our plan was not to be…We were stopped at the border on the Botswana side, and told that the border was closed to us as South Africans!! We really thought that somewhere on our travels we might have to skip a country or city due to local unrest, but never imagined that we would be denied entry into a country due to the xenophobic attacks back home in Joburg! The immigration official explained to us that they couldn’t guarantee our safety, as a South African registered truck was set alight just across the border earlier the morning, and all the other African truck drivers were standing in solidarity with their brothers in South Africa who are under attack, and not too friendly to South African registered vehicles. So rather than taking stupid risks (oh and the border official wouldn’t allow us to cross anyway), we decided to let the tensions die down, spend another night in Kasane, and then cross into Zambia via the non-commercial route of Zimbabwe and the Victoria Falls. And lo and behold, the universe’s plan was so much better than our original version (same lesson, #2)…not only did we go back to Chobe Safari Lodge and got a campsite on the river (all the reviews and recommendations were again justified), we had time to do laundry (a much needed exercise),and we also ended up experiencing a small bit of Zimbabwe the next day - specifically the Vic Falls from the Zim side, and it was spectacular!
Even though the effects of the drought can be seen here as well (the Zambezi river is at the lowest level of the past 89 years), the falls were still beautiful. And due to the lower water passthrough rate, it actually gave us the change to see the extent of the gorge, and the various subfalls all within the larger structure – magnificent. We also managed to spot the people going in and out of the Devil’s Pool (a small rock pool on the edge of the falls on Zambia’s side)….we were on our way to experience it in a couple of days’ time, but just the sight of it already made Irene’s heart race a bit faster! After all our troubles of the previous day, the border crossing from Zim into Zambia was very uneventful, and they had no idea that South Africans weren’t allowed to even cross the previous day!
We spent the next 3 nights at the Zambezi Waterfront Campsite, a couple of kilometers outside Livingstone, and again with a sundowner deck and pool overlooking the river, and those typical bloodred sunsets – beautiful! The Friday was spent with Aardvark going for a preventative checkup / oil-and-filter-change service, and it passed with flying colours! It also gave us a bit of time to sort out admin in town, find the famous coffee and watch the Springboks play on the Jollyboys backpackers’ big screen…squeezed inbetween Zambia’s version of loadshedding! The day was ended off by a river safari on the Zambezi, a gift from Daan and Karlien who are local Livingstoners and friends of our brother-in-law WJ – and what an experience!! Hippos, crocodiles, fisheagles, and then a herd of elephant all shoulder deep playing in the river, before they crossed swimmingly over to the next piece of landmass in front of them – a real show!
On day 33, Saturday, we were off to explore the 2 local Livingstone markets, in order to get all Irene’s ingredients for the Chiwawa in the local food market, stock up on some black market whiskey behind the bus station, and explore their main “general” market outside town…and all along we were struck by the smiles, the friendliness and helpfulness of all the locals – Zambia is definitely our favorite country so far! Saturday was also the day to brave the Devil’s Pool…but first we had to taste a crocodile burger... Unfortunately the combination of the curried crocodile patty, bacon, egg, cheese and loads of sauce on the burger, made it not only very rich, but also hid the real taste of the meat…so we still don’t know what it really taste like…so for now we’ll go with the popular view of “tastes like chicken” 😊 Before our swim we had a bit of time to kill, so opted to go for a nap on our picnic blanket under the trees of the Royal Livingstone Hotel…very very classy 😊 Irene has a bit of a fear for heights – so the Devil’s Pool swim, with its heady rim view over the Vic Falls, really worked on her nerves beforehand. But once she hit the water of the Zambezi, she was back in her element, and what a beautiful experience it was sitting on the rim, watching the spray and feeling the water rushing past – definitely one of our top moments of the trip so far!
Day 34 and 35 was spent driving through the Kafue National Park’s southern side, first staying over at Hippo Bay on the southern shores of lake Itezhi Tezhi, and next a bit further north at KasaBushi. Kafue is also very dry at the moment – they only expect rain again in November…so all the animals are congregated around the waterholes as well as the shores of the lake…which obviously made for a beautiful campsite view from Hippo Bay! We parked Aardvark under a big tree, made a massive fire, and watched the show…loads of elephant and different types of antelope, zebras, warthogs and again a couple of fisheagles…all enjoying the green green grass on the part of the lake that recedes during the dry season, with the sunset playing through the darkness of the dead trees (reminiscent of what the Dead Valley in Sossusvlei would’ve looked like if there was water in it!). We again had to marvel in the outcome of lesson #3, as we originally didn’t plan to stay over at Hippo Bay…but after one look at the dilapidated state of the New Kalala Campsite, we were just too happy to drive the further 30km to Hippo Bay in hope of something better…and nature did not disappoint! Today we were supposed to drive along the shores of the lake, and through numerous river crossings…but the first time we actually caught sight of a river was when we turned into the campsites at KasaBushi. Lesson #4 for the week was in the making, as their admin is horrendous, and they overbooked the campsite completely! So even though this was one of the few placed that we booked a couple of nights in advance, due to their attitude of “skep terwyl dit pap reen”, there were no longer any campsites available, apart from what seemed to be a parking area, surrounded by small thorn bushes (the next camping spot was another couple of hours drive away). Well, after throwing my toys, being calmed down, and swinging an axe quite liberally at the thornbushes, we now have an enviable spot right on the river…and we were already asked by a couple of other campers if they could move there after we’ve vacated it tomorrow!
And as I’m sitting and typing this blog, a small fire is going, the hippo and insect noises are going, and all feels well with the world again…hopefully we’ve learnt lesson 1&2&3&4 and can just go with the flow going forward…as it will all work out, as it should, in the end!
Tomorrow we are off to Lusaka for a couple of days to meet up with Irene’s friend’s brother, a captain in the Zambian Army – for what will most probably be a very insightful kuier!
And then further upwards and onwards!
Till next week.