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Published: December 25th 2017
Geo: -15.3982, 28.2937
In Livingston we had time to visit the David Livingstone museum. Despite the very basic style of presentation and lack of air conditioning it was so interesting we stayed well over 2 hours. It covers everything, the geology, land formation, prehistoric times, migration of peoples, fauna and flora of the region, the hunter gatherer lifestyle, village life through the ages into modern times including the role of traditional healers, witchcraft and rituals, the development of towns and the modern history of Zambia.
They certainly did not pull their punches on topics like slavery, (I had forgotten that Arab traders were the first and largest slave traders who almost depopulated parts of Eastern Africa), colonialization and recent conflict with their neighbours. It is always fascinating to get non Euro-centric views of events.
Our new group is the maximum size of 12 which makes it cozy in our new red bus but on the positive side means more people to help wash up. Seven are German, two Swedish ladies and a Swiss together with us make up the number. So far it is working well.
Our new guide, Shandle, needed to go shopping the first evening so he dropped us off at the Royal
Livingstone Hotel (advertised as the best hotel in Africa) for a drink and to await for his return. I was surprised they let us in as we were covered in camping dust but they were charming and a beer/cocktail helped us overcome any discomfort. They have a huge riverside terrace from which the mist above the Falls is visible. The 'ablutions block' as Shandle described the facilities was superb. Black and white marble with a seating area full of antique furniture and Molten Brown hand wash and moisturisers. After 2 weeks rough camping I almost refused to come out.
All Sunway trips are meant to have 2 guides. Our second guide should have been Nkhosi but for some reason he never arrived which means that Shandle has to do everything, with a little help from us.
We liked it so much at the Royal Livingstone that we went back the next evening. The Swedish ladies were going for a boat ride by the hotel so Shandle took the four of us in the big red bus and we shared a taxi to come home. It was a different experience from the night before as a dramatic thunderstorm started just as we arrived
so we sat on the hotel terrace which protected us from the rain but still allowed a lovely view of the river.
The boat cruise was late leaving because of the storm so after a couple of drinks we decided to have a snack. We were there nearly four hours and it was a welcome touch of luxury before we set off travelling again.
The next day we had a very long drive to a camp on the Kafue river, which joins the Zambezi 5 kilometres downstream. It turned out to be quite an exciting place. The first evening Shandle was barbecuing chicken on a fire pit built up on a circular stone wall a couple of feet high. He spotted a snake disappearing into the stones so after that he asked me to check around the wall with my torch each time he went to turn the meat. The highly poisonous snake reappeared, along with a number of others. There was a nest in the stones. Eventually Shandle decided it was too dangerous to have them so close so they were killed, 5 in total. We think the heat from the fire brought them out.
Then Jim and I walked up
the sandy track to the bar and spotted a large scorpion on the road. One that large is dangerous. It stayed around the rest of the evening.
The next morning we arose early to go canoeing down the Zambezi. We received a briefing which included the information that if we were going to capsize do it before we joined the Zambezi as there were no crocs or hippos in the Kafue. If we ended up in the water in the Zambezi get out as quickly as possible without making splashes or noise!
We set off and despite the river looking like a mirror at sunrise by the time we were in the canoes a very strong wind had blown up. The canoeing was horrendous, like trying to paddle uphill! Plus the wind kept blowing us off course and the waves became so high it was like being in a very choppy sea with white horses. Only a kilometre or so downriver we heard a shout. The Swedish ladies had capsized. The wind had blown them into the bank where a viciously prickly thorn bush was overhanging the water. To try and avoid the thorns they both leant out and the next
second were in the water. They were quickly rescued by the accompanying boat but to them it seemed like a lifetime especially Anna who had not understood the briefing about there being no crocs in the water. They were both badly scratched and Anna's camera had disappeared into the river but thankfully nothing too serious, however Anna decided to retire to the safety boat.
Then we realised that we were taking on a lot of water. When our guide saw it he took everyone in to the bank, bailed out our canoe and then swapped canoes with us as ours seemed to have a crack in it. He gave us the option of going in the boat but Jim wanted to continue paddling. So off we set again.
It was very difficult. Even Jim came to regret his decision to carry on. Eventually, after we had completed a couple of kilometres down the Zambezi the guide called us together and said it was too windy to continue. What a relief, I could have kissed him! We had taken 2 1/2 hours for 7 kilometres and we were meant to travel 30 kilometres in 5 hours. At least we had not given up
and some people had had more difficulty than us. The guide kept shouting at them to stay together and paddle faster. We had stayed at the front with him the whole time of which I was very proud.
So we all sat crammed together on the deck of the boat on our camping chairs (all camping gear, food etc was aboard as we were going to wild camp that night) and enjoyed watching the numerous hippos and elephants in relative comfort.
The post script to the capsizing incident was that the next day back at the Kafue camp we were told that in fact there were lots of very big crocs in the Kafue where the capsize had taken place and we saw them ourselves later so Anna and Pia felt they had been lucky to escape with scratches and the loss of the camera. Pia's iPhone died but did come back to life the next day after spending some time in a box of rice.
The wild camp on the island was one of the most beautiful places I have been. It was a large sandy area right by the river with views of the mountains in the background. We had to
camp close together in a semi circle facing the water as elephants and hippos were wandering around us and hopefully they perceive the camp as one large entity so don't attack. Of course we could not go far at night. If needs must it was as far as the back of your tent.
Back at the Kafue camp we had a lovely day relaxing, swimming in the pool and catching up with laundry. The Zambian President was being buried and a couple of ex-pats came to stay in case things became too lively in their home town of Lusaka. It was interesting talking to them as the guy came to Zambia on holiday 23 years ago from England, was offered a one year contract job and is still here. Now he owns 2 abattoirs and a cattle farm.
Next we have two long days travelling through Lusaka and on to Malawi where we shall stay by the lake. Not sure yet if we will snorkel. It is meant to be very clear with lots to see however online it says there is Bilharzia present and we really don't want that even if it is treatable.
We have completed the 2 long days,
today taking 11 hours as there are road works almost the whole way. We set off before 6.30 and Shandle took us to visit the local primary school. We arrived before school starts at 7am and had chance to look around and chat to teachers and pupils. The young head teacher was very smart in suit and tie. There are 2 classrooms for 198 pupils who attend in 2 shifts, morning or afternoon/evening. The only materials appeared to be books on 3 small bookshelves donated by a US charity. The floor of the main classroom had huge holes in it. Approximately 20% of the pupils are considered to be "vulnerable" as either one or both parents have died, usually of HIV/AIDS. Everyone was welcoming and cheerful but the problems they have to deal with are huge.
After that we rattled and bounced our way to the border and crossed into Malawi, where the contrast with Zambia was immediately visible. There is very little rubbish to be seen in Malawi whereas many of the villages in Zambia look as if they have been built on landfill sites and the land is ploughed and tilled everywhere in Malawi. In Zambia the land use
seemed more patchy and unorganised.
Looking forward to a rest by the side of the lake when we arrived at Senga Bay we were surprised to find our camping field by the beach looking and sounding like a music festival with numerous sound systems blaring away and hundreds of people. The hotel/camp site make extra money at the weekend by charging partygoers an entrance fee. Unfortunately the facilities were not designed to cope with large numbers. Some of us camped in the next door field where the music was slightly reduced, others decided they would stay and enjoy the 'life' It was good to watch the dancing but it felt very insecure as far as our possessions were concerned as the bus was left open and the tents unattended. It did quieten down at night but livened up again the next day. We spent much of our time in the pool and showers of the adjacent hotel. Daniel had his cable and rechargeable battery stolen.
A snorkeling trip was included but Jim and I stayed by the pool as Lake Malawi has a problem with Bilharzia and the recommendation is not to swim in it or eat fish caught in
it. After reading up about it we decided it wasn't worth the risk.
In the afternoon we were taken for a walk round the village. It was much larger than we expected having 3,500 inhabitants in different ' neighbourhoods'. Our guide was a member of the village and took us through the residential areas, past the craftsmen at work, through the tiny shops, via the village bread oven, through the fishing village and finishing up at the village distillery and bar.
I discovered why so many homes are in disrepair. The thatching has to be replaced EVERY year and many of the houses are built of sun dried bricks which start to wash away in the rain so they all have to be replaced every 4
or 5 years. The poverty was evident in clothing, lack of utensils and the way goods are sold in very small amounts so for example everyone can afford a finger sized plastic bag of cooking oil when few could afford to pay the cost of a whole bottle at one time.
But the real surprise was the size of the fishing village. We expected a few boats and houses. In fact it is a full scale industry
involving hundreds of people gathering huge amounts of tiny fish which are dried and then transported to towns like Lilongwe and Chibata. This is controlled by the Department of Fisheries to try and protect fish stocks. A number of boat owners (mainly Chiefs ) own all the equipment and they have a team of fishermen using this who then receive a share of the fish price. The drying tables are also owned and then rented out. Women are paid to move the fish from the boat to the drying tables. In this way money is fed down through the village but the richer boat owners keep the greater proportion.
On the plus side the village does provide facilities such as the bread oven, a video room, new water pump, distillery etc but our guide said it is a constant struggle for poorer villagers to be able to buy what they need.
At the end of the walk we were tired but our guide said that we would have transport back from the taxi rank. We thought he was joking but when we reached the road our "taxis" awaited us, bikes with pillion seats. My cyclist/driver overtook everyone so we were in front.
All was quiet and calm as dusk descended until we crested the hill and suddenly built up speed. I was terrified and instinctively screamed. My taxi man must have thought it was a sign of exhilaration as he joined in. So we careered down the hill screaming in tandem until we reached the safety of the camp at the bottom.
We packed up and left Senga Bay. If we had known what sort of day it would prove to be we might all have voted to stay in bed! We crossed the border back into Zambia in reasonable time and reached Chibata to shop. Everything fell apart when Shandle did not give clear instructions when he jumped out of the bus and went off. Some people went shopping, others stayed in the bus thinking he was coming back immediately as he wanted to go to the other shop (Shoprite) for supplies. It took an hour to gather everyone together again to drive to the other shop. Then after another hour there it was discovered they did not have water so back to Spar. By the time shopping was complete and we were back in the bus it was nearly
3pm and more than time for lunch.
So Shandle pulled in to a shaded space where there were lots of people around and we quickly put up the table and set out some food to make sandwiches. Within seconds crowds gathered and there was nearly a riot. Someone had claimed that Shandle had hit a child. It was total nonsense of course as he had been within 2 metres of the 12 of us the whole time, but some were demanding money (prime motivator we think), others were threatening to call the police and others seemed set on attacking poor Shandle! He had already had such a bad day he started to get angry himself.
No-one spoke English in the crowd but then a smartly dressed young woman appeared (from a nearby office where she had seen what was happening) and asked what was going on. She made a point of listening to both sides to understand what had happened. Not easy as people who had not even been there were giving their version of Shandle's offence. She explained that she was trying to demonstrate impartiality but made it clear to them that it was not a reason to ask for
money if S had hit the child but that other action might be necessary. A colleague of hers arrived and the 2 women calmed things down a little. It was clear they understand exactly what had NOT happened but were better able to talk to the crowd in the local language. Then Marcus, trying to build bridges, took a balloon to the little boy at the centre of the conflict, (he was about 12--14 months old) and started to blow it up near him. The child screamed in sheer terror and ran to his grandmother. Everyone laughed and the tension evaporated but we decided to make our escape quickly. Luckily the others had cleared the table and food ready for a quick getaway.
After a really long day we reached The Wild Camp in the South Luangwa valley. It is a great place, basic facilities but perfect location on the banks of the almost dry river with lots of wildlife wandering around. The hippos walked between the tents at night but unfortunately I did not see them or hear them chomping the grass as the others did because I slept soundly from the time my head hit the pillow until the
alarm rang. We always had the alarm set as game drives meant getting up at 5am and the day we packed up it was 4.30.
The first day we did morning and evening drives. The 4-8 pm drive is my favourite as not only do you have 2 hours in the dark using a spotlight but you have a 'Sundowner' drink. The first evening drive was eventful for the wrong reasons. The spotlight failed so we had to wait for another jeep to reach us with their spare. Because we were late starting we missed the sighting of the leopard that others saw. Our guide was so determined that we would see one he hurtled through the bush wildly getting very close to the edge of the raised river bank where we could see the eyes of literally thousands of crocodiles shining like stars, then crashing down sandy hills just missing trees and bushes. Jim was not impressed (in other words terrified). Finally we spotted the leopard about 50 metres away and started chasing him. Suddenly there was a subdued explosive sound and a hiss of air - a tyre had blown.
Guide and spotter jumped out to change the wheel while
we pondered the thought that the leopard was not far away in the dark but we didn't know where. The spotlight was left switched on in the front seat. I am not sure if that was deliberate to deter animals or it was just forgotten. Eventually we had a new wheel and were ready to leave but the spotlight had drained the battery. We had to climb out to give the vehicle a push start. Then it started to rain heavily so we all had to get our ponchos on for the ride back to camp.
I felt that despite having fun it had not been a fair viewing of South Luangwa at night so decided to do another night drive the next evening. Jim declined as the driving made him very uncomfortable. Daniel and Andreas joined me and we had an amazing time. It started with watching a leopard in the daylight for more than 20 minutes while elephants walked within feet of us. Then as darkness descended we had a parade of creatures appear including the Giant Eagle Owl with a juvenile hidden in foliage shouting for food, Genets, Hyenas, Civets and Nightjars, Genets and Civets were thought to
be members of the cat family but DNA suggests they are in a category of their own.
Then a group of 4 wild dogs appeared. The guide has not seen any for 5 years and he was truly wild with delight. He raced after them for ages, not wanting to let them out of his sight. Eventually we tactfully suggested we let them go and look for something else which he reluctantly did.
Within a couple of minutes we spotted a Hyena and then saw him hunt and catch a young Impala which he dragged into a bush to feast on.
Our spotter performed a miracle by noticing a small Chameleon in some foliage. He was a beautiful creature and so different from the desert Chameleon we saw in Namibia.
Finally we found another Hyena scavenging on a dead elephant. We went back to camp absolutely euphoric!
21st November - Lusaka
Another early morning, rising at 4.30am, meant that we reached Lusaka by 9 and were dropped off at Pioneer Camp.It was time to say goodbye to the group and it felt quite sad. Despite being a large group on the whole it worked well with everybody joining in and helping with jobs. We hope
they enjoy the rest of their trip down to Johannesburg via Kruger Park. We had decided originally to fly down to Johannesburg from Lusaka to avoid a few long days of bus travel, and have a rest before travelling on with Albert and Ruth. We are glad we made that decision as the last 2 days have been long journeys so it is good to have a break.
The 3 groups we have travelled with have been very different and also the journeys themselves, we will see if our next trip from Jo'burg to Cape Town will be as interesting - will let you know in the next blog.
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