Week 6: Zambia: From Kafue NP to Bangweulu Wetlands
Updated: Sep 27, 2019
Our 6th week on the road felt like a fairly slow, uneventful one compared to week 5. But as I’m slowly backtracking the past 7 days to write this blog, I can only marvel at yet again the diversity and experiences of the 1,455km that we traversed…and the sights of the elusive shoebill stork, black lechwe herds, and our first lioness…
But first our normal stats:
• Total days travelled: 42
• Total distance travelled from Cape Town: 8,091km
o Aardvark’s current petrol consumption is around 5.7km/l…a thirsty beast (but performing much better than the 4.5km/l that we expected!)
• Total borders crossed: 4
And then the Aardvark stats for Week 6:
• Best drink: The ice-cold Mosi Beer (or 2 or 4) after our 5hour trek through the wetlands and the swamps to find the elusive shoebill!
• Best food: The droewors from Fringilla Farm’s butchery, as well as the “Irene-cant-control-herself-when-she-sees-fresh-produce” homemade aubergine / tomato / carrot / greenbean / smoked chipotle relish that she made on Aardvark’s gas stove.
• Best view: Blood-red full moon rising over Lake Bangweulu – where the water meets the sky!
Day 36 saw us leaving the Kafue NP, not yet sure whether we wanted to go directly to Lusaka, or spend another night next to the river – all we knew was that we didn’t want to spend it at Kasabushi, due to the owners’ deceitful attitude the previous night. So we went for a game drive on the eastern side of the Kafue river, with the plan to hit another lodge/campsite 30km south as per the GPS…well, our GPS has led us astray a number of times, and this was one of them! After a very rough 15km that took us close to an hour, we thought that one of the tires might have a slow puncture. So as one does, we stopped Aardvark, got out, checked the tyre (all good), etc etc…and thought nothing of it. However, as we got around the next bend, there was a massive lioness standing in the road (not even 100m from where we were blissfully ignorant faffing about the tires), staring us down…Well, she won the staring competition, and after watching this beauty gracefully sauntering away, decided that it might be better to turn around and look for a road more travelled (the massive donga in the road also aided the decision!) Back on the main road again, we decided to rather go for the known unknown and head straight through to Lusaka…where our timing was impeccable – we hit the afternoon rush hour as we drove through to Pioneer Camp on the Great Eastern Road, and got reminded of the traffic and taxi joys back home…we are definitely not missing it!
After being woken up around 3am by the neighboring village’s howling dogs, we thought it better for our sanity to stock up Aardvark, check in with our friend Sepo’s brother, and then head out of the city as soon as possible. On paper a good plan, but unfortunately we couldn’t reach Sepo’s brother in time… but just to give you an idea of Zambian hospitality (and their attitude of “Zambia is open for business”), he sent us a message after we missed each other in Lusaka, inviting us for a complimentary dental checkup at his clinic, to stay over at their home whenever we are again in Lusaka, and to contact him whenever we feel unsafe or need any assistance with anything, including setting up a new business in Zambia – truly an amazing man and amazing hospitality! We also learned that our wheel hub caps are purely for decorative purposes, and that our clever plan of replacing the lost hub cab with ductape was utterly useless and redundant…we live and we learn! And Aardvark will now go through the rest of Afrika without back hub caps…looking more and more bush ready by the day 😊 Leaving Lusaka behind, we head out for the Fringilla Farm (with a butchery and campsite as well – apparently the ONLY place to buy boerewors and droewors in Zambia, and a bit of an institution). Fringilla definitely didn’t disappoint, and we stocked up with enough meat for a while…which combined with our fresh produce meant that we are ready for the next couple of weeks of bushcamping! We also shared the campsite with 30 kids from the International American School in Lusaka – and was bribed with a bottle of wine to take them through a tour of Aardvark and all it’s hidden joys…the natural teacher in Irene came out, and she mesmerized the kids with all the Aardvark intricacies!
We contemplated staying another night, BUT…it is a working farm, and the campsite is right next to the piggery, and every morning at 4am they start to slaughter up to 20 pigs…who all screamed like, well, pigs! We didn’t realise this beforehand (Irene’s small heart couldn’t stand it), so we were out of there fairly early on our way to another institution on the Great Northern Road, called the Fig Tree Café for a lovely breakfast and really good coffee (hint hint if anyone is ever going in this direction)! Next stop was the Forrest Inn campsite near Mkushi – where we eventually got the quietness that we were craving! We were the only people in the campsite, and Irene got time to cook her “I-cant-control-myself-when-I-see-fresh-produce” homemade aubergine / tomato / carrot / greenbean / smoked chipotle relish on Aardvark’s gas stove – and now we were truly sorted for the next couple of weeks (even though we’ve already worked our way through more than 1/3rd of it already 😊)
Day 39 got off to a much needed sloooooow start…and even though our original plan was to have a “short driving day”, enroute to Lake WakaWaka we decided that we really wanted to see the white beaches of Lake Bangweulu as recommended by Bell & James (that we met in the Caprivi with the Jamesons in crystal glasses!), and promptly changed the plans for the next couple of days (see, we are trying to learn from last week’s go-with-the-flow lessons 😊) Another 3 hours of dodging both potholes and trucks that aren’t dodging potholes / oncoming cars later, and we arrived at the shores of Lake Bangweulu – the largest water mass in Zambia, about 25km wide and 50km long, with white beaches at Samfya. We were the only non-locals in town and stumbled upon the Chita Lodge by accident – it was obviously THE place to be in Samfya! After we were mesmerized by the seemingly unending water (the name Bangweulu means “where the water meets the sky”), and then watching the full blood red moon rising over it, we were convinced to stay 2 nights and just rest a bit from the continuous driving, which is surprisingly tiresome! Irene was super excited to buy some freshly caught fish the next morning, but much to her dismay the lake suffers from the same fate as many others up in Africa – overfishing with little to no regard for replenishing or maintenance of the fishing stock, coupled with the unintended consequence of using donated mosquito nets to catch even the smallest little baby fish, rather than prevent malaria ☹ That said, we are very aware of the fact that it’s easy for us as outsiders to say what is wrong and what should be done to fix it, but however the daily struggle for sustenance is real and one can understand why there seems to be a very shortsighted attitude towards fishing. Anyway…after the disappointment of the fish buying exercise, and a long walk along the shores of the lake, we decided that the best way to spend the rest of the afternoon was to indulge in the luxury of tv, and watch 3 braindead movies in a row!!
On Day 41 we were craving the quiet and open spaces again and left early to dodge the potholes (the same ones again) back to the entrance of the Bangweulu Wetlands. We were determined to go and visit the Livingstone Memorial, where his heart and organs were buried after he died from malaria. And just for a feel-good story, his two closest companions then salted and dried his body, disguised it in a tree trunk, and carried it over 1,000km to the Tanzanian coast from where it was shipped back to England…now that is dedication! So we thought it will just make sense to pay homage to someone that can be seen as the father of African adventures…and a very bad 29km and hour driving later, we got to the memorial site that is still under construction. And a very “important” gatekeeper, who insisted that we pay him an exorbitant amount to walk the 50meters through the trees to stand next to the memorial, all the time wringing his hands in anticipation...At that point, our sense of humor had bounced out of us along the very, very bad road, and we were not in a mood to indulge him. So we took our picture through the partly constructed wooden entrance, and said goodbye to the gatekeeper who at that point had already dropped “his” fee by about 90%! We still had a good 5hours on very worn out roads (read that this equates to only 140km) ahead of us to reach the Nsobe Community Camp on the edge of the plains, and were amazed by the people cycling the same roads with large bags of maizemeal and other stuff on the back of their bicycles! We got to the camp just before sunset and were treated to true Zambian hospitality again…with the community camp team cycling to us with containers of water to treat us to a hot shower in the middle of nowhere – true bliss!
Day 42 was our day to become “birdies”…and go find a Shoebill stork! There are less than 8,000 shoebills left in the world, and the Wetlands is one of only a small handful of places in central Africa to see them. These very shy birds live between the papyrus in the swamps and can only be reached via canoes in the rainy season, or on foot trekking through the wetlands and swamps in the dry season. We set off at 7am with our guide Godfrey, and the very misleading information that we’re going to drive a bit, then walk 45min to a fishing camp, and then the local fishermen who knew exactly where these birds are, will point us towards them…what could be easier?! And also, what could be further from the truth! We drove about 30min through the plains, over grass “walls” that are used to trap fish in the rainy season, and past herds and herds of black lechwes feeding on the green plain grass (incidentally, this is one of only 3 places in the world to see black lechwes, and they are here enmasse, with no natural enemies!). And then the adventure began…firstly a solid 2hours walk through the dry wetlands, with dry referring to either dry mud, wet mud, very muddy mud, through-your-toes-curling mud, followed by more black lechwes, followed by more mud….till we got to the second set of fishing huts. At this point, we discovered that the local fishing tribe (also called swamp people by our guide) were busy harvesting the papyrus to make sleeping mats…and in the process the shoebills have moved to the other side of the swamp! So instead of an easy viewing, we then went on a 45min swamp mission!! Through the swamps, over fishing traps, jumping between grassy spots…at one point they even had to bring a makoro around, and use it as a make-shift bridge! At stages we were up to our knees in mud and swamp water, and unfortunately Irene’s shorter legs resulted in her sliding in one particular muddy jump and ending up in the swamp water to her midriff! We were slowly losing our sense of humor (again), as it seemed to us as if we were just stumbling blindly along in circles, when one of the fisherman suddenly stopped us and pointed at an opening in the papyrus…and there the shoebill was in all its glory!! I’m sure if we were true birdies, we would have been in birdie heaven…but alas, we realized that we were not….cause as soon as we had a couple of pictures, and stared at it for the obligatory 5minutes, we were ready for the 2h30 journey through the mud back to Aardvark 😊 Oh and did I mention that I picked up a leech as lazy passenger somewhere in the swamp? Hopefully its dirty little teeth didn’t do any real damage, as I’m not sure how long it was hitchhiking on my heel before we noticed… Anyway, the ice-cold beer back at Aardvark had never tasted that good before (cause yes, we only took enough water for a 2h walk as per guidance, not for the 5h excursion!) The camp staff afterwards told us that we were very lucky to have seen the shoebill, as sometimes people come for a whole week and never spot one, and other people become despondent with the muddy journey and turn around before they even hit the swamps!
So I’m currently lying in Aardvark typing this blog…feet up in the air with birdie bragging rights for a long time to come 😊 Tomorrow we are off to Kapisha Hot Springs for a couple of days, to soak in the 40degree water and get the last mud from underneath our toenails! And then it is off to North Luangwa, South Luangwa and lastly Chipata, our final stop in Zambia before we’re heading to the beachy shores of Lake Malawi!
Till next week.