Elephant Antics & Monkey Business – Zambia

Facebook has all the photos for this part of the trip – click here to have a look.

Chipata, Zambia

9th – 10th December 2013

Tea Farms between Malawi and Zambia
Tea Farms between Malawi and Zambia

Having left Lilongwe that morning, I had crossed the border without any hassle. Passing acres of neat tea rows, the tar was smooth and the drive was easy going. I arrived in Chipata on the Zambian side and was greeted with a plethora of western shops and take aways (Debonaires in the middle of nowhere!). I hadn’t been grocery shopping since leaving Arusha in Tanzania and dashed into Spar to restock on basics, a few luxuries and some ice! I also took the opportunity to grab a Zambian sim and airtime – my first priority in any country.

My stop for the night was a small camp just outside of Chipata on the road to South Luangwa Game Reserve. Mama Rulas (nice play on the name – clearly owned by South Africans…) is a favourite stop for all travellers who find themselves in Eastern Zambia, and the night I arrived, it was absolutely teeming with a German biking enduro crowd who were on their way up to Malawi from Cape Town. After finding a nice quiet spot and doing the usual routine of setting up camp, a lovely young girl bounded over to me to have a chat. It was Estelle from Germany. She was travelling with her husband Chris and their friend Ryan from American, from Cape Town back up to Stuttgart, in a converted 1970’s German army ambulance called “Hano”- top speed 80km/hour… on the downhills! They were also headed for South Luangwa, and we made a plan to meet at one of the camps the following day.

South Luangwa, Zambia

10th – 12th December 2013

Road between Chipata and South Luangwa - decent!
Road between Chipata and South Luangwa – contrary to reports, it was quite decent!

My batteries have been giving me trouble and I can only assume that the deep cycle battery which runs the fridge/freezer is draining the main batteries. The fridge isn’t working now (which is an indication that the batteries are low) and Chris and Ryan took a quick voltage reading and it’s low at 6v, which is why the fridge isn’t working as it needs a minimum of 11.8v to run. Not wanting a repeat of the flat battery incident in Chintheche in Malawi, I took a quick drive back to Chipata as I’d seen a Kwik Fit (yes, this town has everything!) on my way in. They would need at least 3 hours to charge the battery. I didn’t have 3 hours to wait and took the decision just to disconnect the fridge, pack it with ice, head for South Luangwa and hope for the best.

The road up to South Luangwa has a bad reputation for being torn up but I was pleasantly surprised to see fresh tar under the wheels for most of the way. The final 30-40kms was still under construction which meant taking sand tracks through a few villages to get to the park camps. I had been in contact with the German Army Ambulance brigade and we met at Croc Valley Camp, found two shady trees overlooking the river and set up camp before hitting the swimming pool for a much needed dip!

As South Luangwa issues day passes, it was pointless us trying to get into the park that afternoon. The river forms a natural boundary between the park and the rest of the bush so animals are free to roam south of the river and we decided to take a drive in the immediate area and have our own little sunset game drive. I bundled everyone into the Beast and off we set, with some Savannas in hand. We didn’t have to go very far before driving into the most incredible herd of elephants grazing under a tree in an open expanse. It could have been someone’s garden. The sun was setting, and I couldn’t have imagined a place I’d rather have been at that point in time…

Back at camp, we had been warned by the park wardens that the local elephants were a bit cheeky and that 15 vehicles had been damaged over the past few months by elephants trying to get at food left in the vehicles. We moved all of our food stores over to the bar/lapa area where everything was under lock and key. Lugging all my food across the lawn was a bit tedious and I must admit to thinking “what are the chances, surely the elephants don’t come every night, I’m sure we’ll be fine, this all seems a tad overboard.”

Well well well, did we have an interesting night… taking the advice about nocturnally roaming beasts to heed, I hadn’t pegged in my guy lines for fear of some hefty animal charging through, getting caught and ripping my tent from the roof (a bit over the top I know, but I wanted to avoid collateral damage as much as possible). Shortly after going to sleep, I was lured from slumber by the repetitive sounds of munching and peering through my mesh window found the most enormous hippo grazing next to the Beast. Now fully awake for over half an hour and not able to sleep with the disturbance down below, I started needing the toilet. If the damn hippo didn’t move on soon, I was going to have to swing my naked butt over the side of the tent and taking a leak on top of it if necessary!

Elephants by the dozen – South Luangwa, Zambia

I must have fallen asleep eventually and was woken again by the clap of thunder in the distance. Africa doesn’t know how to do drizzle and I knew that there was a strong chance we could be in for a storm, which meant, I needed to get down and do the guy ropes as the waterproof fly sheet needed to stay taught to do it’s job of protecting the inner canvas lining. With my bladder near bursting point, I checked to see if I could find the hippo, got down and had a quick wee next to the Beast before finding the mallet. In complete darkness, I brought in my washing and set about hammering the guy lines in to secure the tent in record speed, whilst on constant lookout for the hippo.

Tucked back up in the safety of my tent, I was just about to fall asleep safe in the knowledge that the hippo was going, my washing was in the Beast and with the guy lines secure, I would withstand the approaching storm. Not 10 minutes later and an entire herd of elephants made it’s way into the camp, picking branches off trees, grazing on the leaves and generally snooping around. Ryan, the American friend who had been travelling with Estelle and Chris, had chosen to sleep outside. He had hooked his mosquito tent up to the roof of the small open aired lapa and was asleep on top of a table when the elephants arrived. Watching from my window, I saw one of the elephants start trunking his leg through the mozzie net. I shouted a whisper down to him to tell him not to move. He was completely aware of what was going on and had made the smart decision of pretending to be asleep. The elephant lost interest in him after a short while and moved on. Estelle and Chris had also had a visitor… Lying asleep in the back of their cab, they had woken to find two ivory tusks and a trunk emerge through the open door. It was sweltering that night and they had left the door open for ventilation. Slightly panicked, they watched as the trunk explored the inside of the cab, probing at the pots and pans, rummaging through packets and bags and giving a really good long grope of their leather walking boots. Thank the African gods we had put all our food away, we had side stepped a potentially destructive situation.

The night guard came and shone his torch and banged on a pan to move them off. The troop left eventually but not before completely destroying the bar area near where we had horded our food supplies, breaking plates and throwing stuff on the ground. I can’t help but imagine that they know where the food is and are frustrated at not being able to reach it.

None of us got much sleep, but as always in Africa, we rise with the sun (and the heat), so at 6:30am we all had breakfast. I packed up my tent and we all bundled into the Beast for a big day of game viewing. We were not disappointed!

One might be mistaken for assuming I was back in Richmond Park…

With it’s short grass plains, South Luangwa looks like it could be the back of someone’s large garden or a tree lined golf course at times. We weren’t short on elephant sightings and alerted, by another safari vehicle, to a leopard lying in the dappled light of a tree next to the side of the road. The the ranger pointed her out to us and she stayed there for a while, in the cool of the shade before climbing down and heading off into the bush. We were incredibly fortunate to see a second leopard hiding in the shade of another safari truck, ready to pounce on a herd of impala. In the heat of the day, it was a half-hearted attempt and she came back to lie down in the shade of a tree near us. She got up and moved down the road and we followed her for a while before she disappeared into thick bush. After heading back to camp for a midday swim, lunch and a nap, we set out for an afternoon game drive as we’d heard whispers of a pride of lions in a particular area. The afternoon game drive was quiet on the animal sighting front but the sheer beauty of the landscape has us all spell bound! Heading out of South Luangwa, with a storm on the one horizon and the setting sun on the other, I vowed to tell the world about this gem of a game park!

We’d had such trouble with the blady vervet monkeys in camp too. They were everywhere and would take every opportunity to get into your supplies and help themselves. You literally had them waiting in the trees just out of reach and with every step you took away from your vehicle, they would advance one towards it. Start walking towards them and they’d just retreat – like a game of tug of war. It became a huge problem as you had to keep all the car doors closed at all times – which, when living out of a vehicle is near impossible. At one point I was carrying the gas burner and some food out to make breakfast and before I knew it, they were in the Beast grabbing whatever they could find. I watched as my precious tortilla chips were being handed out in tree tops… My tolerance levels had maxed out and I resorted to running straight at them flapping my arms and screaming like a banshee. Only to find that, having left my post, a second battalion was being sent in from behind me to raid the food I was preparing. It was a futile situation and I wasn’t going to win, so I packed up and made do with some dry crackers instead.

Chris, Estelle and Ryan in
Chris, Estelle and Ryan in “Hano” the 1970s German army truck.

[Chris and Estelle’s journey back to Germany is now complete – read all about their adventures here.]

After saying farewell to the Hano crew, I drove back to Chipata through one hell of a storm and took my deep-cycle battery to Kwik Fit in town and left it with them to charge through the night. Everything was soaked and the last thing I felt like doing was unpacking a tent in the driving rain, and so I treated myself to a small room at Mama Rulas – it has to be done every now and then!

The next day, I collected my battery which they had kindly charged for free (incredible generosity all the way through Africa – amazing!) and I set off in the direction of Lusaka. I knew it would probably be a really long day if I chose to drive the entire way. According to a few sources, Bridge Camp seemed to be the only half way stop and there is nothing in between. A 4 hour drive saw me pull into Bridge Camp and I immediately regretted not leaving earlier and trying to make the 7-8 hour journey in one go, but it was too late in the day to push on. Bridge Camp was a huge disappointment. The “camping area” was a barren earth car park, guests who were staying in rooms found their beds occupied with an army of ants. The owner’s wife sat with me for over 2 hours and complained miserably about how awful her life was, how their marriage was on the rocks and how she hated being there – a little awkward. Anyway, I would make the journey all the way if you can, it’s not worth staying there…

View at Bridge Camp is easy on the eye, shame about the actual camp.
View at Bridge Camp is easy on the eye, shame about the actual camp.

Lusaka, Zambia

14th – 15th December 2013

It’s easy cruising in Zambia. The main road from Chitimba to Lusaka is a breeze and I found myself in the capital in no time. I was to stay with some South African friends who, having met through mutual friends in London, now lived in Zambia. Sarah and Rich live just out of town on a bushveld plot in the most gorgeous house complete with pool. In true African style, I arrived on a night with no electricity and no water but as we all know, having lived in Africa with these minor inconveniences, you just have to make a plan. There’s something so comforting about seeing old friends again. I felt close to home and was grateful to have had the opportunity of catching up over a braai and a Savanna or two. My stay was short though and I was off in the morning, bound for one of my favourite places in Africa, one that holds memories right the way though from childhood – Lake Kariba.

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