Week 7 (plus 1 day): Zambia: From Kapisha Hot Springs to Chipata
Updated: Sep 27, 2019
Our 7th week (plus 1 day) covered a fairly short distance of only 852km, but don’t be fooled…we averaged most of the days a heady 30km/h and spent long hours driving! As an example, the route from North to South Luangwa took us over 9hours, for less than 300km (granted we got lost twice due to the lack of any signposts, and our GPS lady being a little “special”)!! But it was again a very diverse 8 days, filled with a bit of R&R at the Kapisha Hot Springs where we really felt as if we were on holiday at a spa, to walking safaris with a pack of 14 lions roaring, to waking up at 3am with 7 elephants grazing around Aardvark, to fixing our first slow puncture in Chipata in preparation of the road into Malawi that we will travel on tomorrow!
As always, first our normal stats:
• Total days travelled: 50
• Total distance travelled from Cape Town: 8,943km
• Total borders crossed: 4
And then the Aardvark stats for Week 7:
• Best drink: A Cederberg Cab Sav (one of only 3 remaining bottles out of our original empty-the-wine-fridge-at-home-stash) for our 5month wedding anniversary – oh how we miss good red wine!
• Best food: The beef curry that Irene made on a Malawian stove at Kapisha Hot Springs... beef marinated overnight in coconut milk and curry. The next afternoon, the spices were sweated in a hot pan before the onions and peppers were added. Then the meat was browned till it was sealed…and then everything into the black pot including a can of whole cherry tomatoes…slowly simmering and cooking down over the brick stove till perfection!
• Best view: The steam rising from the Kapisha Hot Springs at night…sipping a dark rum on ice as nightcap to ensure one can really simmer away in style in the 40° water whilst looking at the stars in between the trees 😊 Oh and the pack of wild dogs in South Luangwa was also quite a special view!
Day 43 saw us leaving the swamps of the Bangweulu Wetlands to head to Kapisha Hot Springs, an easy 280km drive north to the most northern part of Zambia that we will pass through for now (the plan is to bounce back down south into the top of Zambia from Tanzania when we hit Lake Tanganyika, so that we can visit a couple of the waterfalls up north). And as we were slowly winding through the massive Shiwa Ngandu Estate enroute to the Hot Springs, we really thought that we arrived in paradise…green grass, trees and almost a tropical feeling around, a full river (no sign of drought here!) running through the campsite, swimming pool overlooking the small rapids in the river, and then obviously the crystal clear 40° hot springs themselves…we immediately decided to stay for at least 3 nights!
And the next couple of days saw us doing nothing more strenuous than going for early morning “spa” sessions with coffee in the spring pool, a lazy brunch, more floating in the hot springs, a hike, an afternoon nap, more floating this time with a cold mozi in the hand…and then at night amazing camp food next to the river – pure bliss!! Not only did we manage to remove all the Bangweulu mud from our toes, but also to give Aardvark a thorough cleaning…all in vain ☹ (the Aardvark cleaning that is, the mud is still gone as I’m writing this!). We also tried their Asian infused African ramen for lunch one day…one of our not so great food calls…can you say 2minute noodles? And they forgot the egg and some other key ingredients as well? Oh well, you win some you loose some food calls I suppose 😊
After a lot of conversing with Mark Harvey, the owner of both Kapisha Hot Springs and Buffalo Camp in North Luangwa, we decided upon our plan and route for the next couple of days. It takes a bit of planning, cause there are only 3 ways to get from North to South Luangwa, all with various pros and cons. Option 1, which we decided to take, was to drive south from Kapisha, through North Luangwa, sleep in Buffalo Camp for a night, traverse the rest of the park the next day and exit at the southern gate, and drive further south to South Luangwa’s Croc Valley Camp following the eastern border of the parks…a beautiful but SLOW route through the parks and neighboring villages (with SLOW read on average 30km/h…). Option 2 was to follow the same route as above, but from Buffalo Camp retrace our steps to the western exit of the park, follow the Great Northern road further south, and then go through the South Luangwa park following the O5 route down the escarpment – apparently a very very bad plan as the route was partly washed away and now super hairy as have to very slowly go down massive inclines with parts of the road no longer there – no thank you! And option 3 was to drive back all the way to Lusaka, and then get back onto the Great Eastern Route there – also not an option as we don’t like backtracking that much for no apparent reason. So as you can gather, the above summary of the options belies the detailed discussions underlying them…suffice to say that planning ad nauseum, and using the locals’ expert advice, is a massive part of this journey. And even then plans go awry… but we’ll get to that!
Day 46 thus saw us heading for Buffalo Camp in North Luangwa, for a rustic camp experience on the riverbed, followed by a walking safari the next day. Without wanting to sound too negative, we did feel a bit done in by the attitude towards campers at the Buffalo Camp, with the feeling of being 2nd rate citizens being taken for an expensive ride / camping fee cost leaving a bit of a sour taste in the mouth. Quite interesting, this was only the 2nd time in Zambia that we felt at all done in – and both times it was by “expats”! The Zambians that we met along the way were the most friendly, helpful and industrious people that we have encountered throughout our trip so far – with an attitude that they are in charge of their own destiny and not dependent on anyone’s handouts and that their country is open for business…a very refreshing outlook!
Anyway, an early 5am start on day 47 lead to a short game drive to find a pack of 14 lions, roaring at each other with the little cubs trying to climb trees and chase birds out of the undergrowth – spectacular to see, even though it was a bit nerve wrecking to listen to throughout the night, as they were roaming around less than 50m outside the unfenced camp! From there the game vehicles dropped us off on the banks of the river, for a gentle 15km walk back to camp, crossing the river twice after watching a herd of elephants cross first (they obviously know where the crocodiles are), and seeing a bit more of this secluded piece of nature…beautiful! Afterwards we then took off (around 10am), thinking that the c.250km drive to our next destination will take us only around 6hours…but not to be! The exit out of North Luangwa was changed to be via the Pontoon (this time we think based on bad advice that we received), and on a number of occasions the narrow “twee-spoor” track were obstructed by the aftermath of elephant feeding frenzies…with broken trees and branches blocking the road, forcing Aardvark to look for alternative routes, or in some occasions, just soldier through with a bit of bush-rash (read scratches) to show for its bravery 😊 The pontoon experience (our first one in Aardvark) was also quite special, leading to a bit of bated breath, potentially a swore word or two, and a couple of prayers from the point where Aardvark left the riverbed, to where it came over the very very shaky pontoon, back onto dry land! Irene came out of the experience with the title as undisputed best 4x4 driver amongst the 2 of us, and Aardvark came out with a fat nail in its right left rear tire, our first slow puncture due to the dodgy pontoon ☹ As slow punctures go, we only realized it the next day, which in hindsight was great, cause if we had to first fix it before we could continue, nobody knows what time we would’ve got to our next camp! As things stood, we ended up driving into the Zikomo Camp at 6h45pm, an hour after sunset, and in serious breach of our plan to never ever drive at night (if we could help it). For further fun, our GPS lady decided to take us on a “short-cut” to the camp site, resulting in an impromptu game viewing night drive through herds of elephants, zebra and bucks…beautiful, but definitely not something that sat comfortably with either of us! So yes, the last bit we drove around 15km/h around the bendy sandy road, crossing a couple of (luckily empty) rivers, and feeling ecstatically happy when we eventually got to camp! We were exhausted, but still got woken up around 3pm to the sounds of 7 elephants grazing around our camping site…beautiful but also a bit scary, especially if someone wants to go to the toilet (#notcallinganynames)!!
After our interrupted beauty sleep (and Irene jumping up every 5minutes to look outside to ensure the sounds aren’t coming from hyenas sniffing at our feet), we decided it is again time for a bit of “rest” (ie very little driving for a couple of days)…and quickly drove the remaining 30km further south to Croc Valley Camp. It is a bit of a hippy hangout in season, but we were one of only 2 sets of campers and had the entire camp almost to ourselves…including the massive swimmingpool – ideal for swimming laps in the heat! And the resident hippo grazing through the camp sites at sunset also looked for greener pastures, and a bit of water, after it’s pre-dinner snack…leading to a way more peaceful 2 nights’ sleep!
The next day was again happily faffing away around camp and town, as we tried to sort out Aardvark’s slow puncture (no joy, as it was Monday and the local tire experts were a bit under the weather) and then rather resigned ourselves to getting it fixed in Chipata, and drink good coffee at Tribe coffee shop whilst doing admin…a bit of normality for an hour or two! Also, just because it would’ve been sacrilege to be at the gate and not go into the SL Park, I then went on an official night drive with most of the other residents at the camp and lodge, whilst Irene was swapping fish stories with a NatGeo photographer who camped next to us…we are still not sure who had the best time! The highlight of our drive was a pack of wild dogs, lazying away in a riverbed…and then as soon as the sun set was chasing each other playfully up the road…at that point I really wished that Irene and her photographic skills were there, as mine was woefully inadequate to capture the beauty of the scene! The highlight of Irene’s was a bit more difficult to pinpoint, but suffice to say that we both had massive smiles afterwards (ask her about Kitty the 16year old cat that Irene again wanted to adopt and take with!)
Waking up on the morning of our 50th day with a view over the river (and loads and loads of lazy hippos), really was amazingly peaceful…until it was shattered by emails with remnants of our pre-trip home renovation / building exercise…incredible how the destressing that we did over the past 50days could evaporate so quickly in the light of building worries back at home! We took it as a sign that we need to do a LOT more destressing before we can even consider going back home…and with that in mind, drove through to Chipata for our last day in Zambia. It is incredible how there are constantly small little things that we have to fix / change / repair on Aardvark, but then if one thinks about the daily use (and sometimes abuse!) that Aardvark is going through, it is actually remarkable that after 50days with pretty hectic roads, all we had to fix in Chipata was the slow leaked puncture, find new o-rings for the tire pressure monitors and reposition 2 locks on a side compartment that has shifted down on the bumpy roads! Golph’s Toyota Garage in Chipata is definitely the place to go to for ANY problems 😊 And Aardvark is a CHAMP!
I’m writing this under a tree in MamaRula’s campsite just outside of Chipata, whilst Irene is packing away our supplies for the next couple of weeks. The grass is definitely greener on this side of the country (no pun intended 😊), and we are looking forward to a bit more tropical vibes for the next while!
Tomorrow we are saying goodbye to an amazing Zambia, and are off to Cape Maclear in Malawi to start our journey up the lake…further north and always forward!
Till next week.