The story so far as regards my bit of a road trip is that it has rained. Hardly surprising considering it is the rainy season. The first day and night was a wash out and even though I managed to drive a couple of hundred kilometres down a road I wasn't sure about, I had planned to camp that night. I managed to find a reasonable place to stay, a motel type place that was clean, tidy and good value for money. The next day I drove a few hours into Livingstone and had a wander round the Railway Museum. The accommodation I had chosen was quite good and also value for money. There was the camping option had I required it but as expected, the rain put me off.
The next leg saw me travelling close to the Botswana and Namibia border as I headed west, and then not too far away from the border with Angola. I should have really called this the Zambezi Tour as I have followed it upstream all the way from just south of Lusaka and near Lake Kariba. The plan was to continue to do so, eventually crossing over it but still following it north until I had to turn right and head east back to the capital. About an hour or so out of Livingstone the road turned to crap. What was smooth tarmac became increasingly potholed and with places of no tarmac at all. Mind you, I was prepared for this as when I drove the same stretch of road the last time, sometime in 1999 or 2000, it was exactly the same. In fact I think I recognised the same potholes. There has been no maintenance on the road at all.
This makes for slow going as the holes can be axle breakers and picking a route through them is tiring and time consuming. Speed up, slow down, swerve side to side, bump up and down, speed up, slow down and repeat continually. There were times I'd reach a hundred metres of good tarmac and not speed up, just to relax for a minute or so. Eventually the road and I turned north-west to continue at the side of the river. I had been told this next section was brand new road but I was dubious. My fears were unfounded and it was smooth going. After taking five hours to do a journey normally of an hour and a half, there or there abouts, it was a relief. Another hour or so took me to the turn, off the road, to a fisherman's camp on the banks of the Zambezi.
It had stopped raining but the problem can be that the rain is localised and with travelling many kilometres you can never be sure what the situation is. All I can say is that when I came to the turn, it wasn't raining. But it was threatening. I could have camped here as well but had decided to take one of their small chalets for the night anyway. I had had instructions that when I reached the turn, to contact a certain number. I didn't really know why but suspected it was just to let them know I was close as I hadn't given an arrival time.
In Zambia there are numerous mobile operators. The government owned one is Zamtel. There is also Vodafone, MTN and Airtel and others. Mrs M advised me as she had arrived in country before me to get a Zamtel SIM card. It gave the most coverage. The day I bought it and loaded it up she asked me if I'd bought that Airtel card she'd recommended. Nope, I told her, I bought the Zamtel one like you'd said. She realised she'd made a mistake but I stuck with the one I'd bought anyway. This was also a mistake. At the start of the track there was no coverage. Apparently there are vast swathes of the country that Zamtel doesn't cover but MTN and Airtel do. Hence I couldn't make contact. I thought I'd drive down anyway as I had to in order to get there.
I drove down and the track soon forked, and then forked again and again. I tried to head in the right general direction and even at one point drove across a landing strip. It became wetter and wetter and I understood now why I needed to contact someone. It was to show me the best and driest way. Even though there was in total only three to four kilometres of track, a hundred metres is too far if you are stuck. I picked up at times a set of tyre tracks to follow but they seemed somewhat strange and disappeared occasionally. It took me a little while to understand they weren't car tracks, but that of a quad bike. That was no good for me as he could easily go places and fit through obstacles I couldn't. But I persevered. Somewhere just after halfway it was shit or bust.
I did get there, needless to say. I always seem to do so, but I one thing I regret not getting, and I've actually not seen any here for sale in any case, is a set of what I know as sand mats/mud mats. I had them in Egypt plus a high lift jack. It does seem if you have something you'll never need it, but I did rue not getting any somehow. It was touch and go at times with the wheels scrabbling for grip. Bear also in mind I just have normal road tyres, not specialist mud/sand/rock or whatever tyres, nor do I have a specialist four wheel drive to alleviate the situation. Normal car, normal tyres, that's all. More on the track later. Time for a photo or two.
Upon arrival I was the only one staying the night. They said they were virtually closed because of the wet season. Had I known I might have demurred staying there anyway. There were a number of chalets ranging from two to four berth on the banks. None had more than a solar light but did have a toilet and shower. This was mine –
I had a nice little balcony with a view of the river –
Inside were twin beds with a shower and toilet area -
Hot water was provided by the usual system. This time not an old 45 gallon drum but an old (and empty!) gas bottle -
The place was completely self-catering. There was a small bar but when you stay, you have to bring all your food and supplies with you. There are communal kitchens you are free to use and they were well stocked with equipment in order for you to prepare your food. They also have gas powered refrigerators and freezers should you so require. I didn't as I was only there for the night and my big food plan was to just make coffee and have a few bacon sandwiches. Which I did. They were lovely. Especially with tomato ketchup -
I decided that even though I'd made my way here I ought to plan ahead a little and scope out the track for the return journey in the morning. I knew a poor decision on the spur of the moment could make me come a cropper. I hoped there would be no more rain but I also expected differently. Parts of the track would be reasonable now but after a downpour or two could well be impassable with water covering it all. So a walk back a few kilometres (and I could do with the exercise anyway) would be the thing to do. Plus I could still see my tracks and get a view of the obstacle from the opposite direction. Some of this seems ok, but imagine in the morning, if the water is collecting now, what will it be like tomorrow. That was my thought. One problem also is the lack of space to just drive round the flooded bits -
These were the two worst bits and I had to really power through them on the way in –
There was also another problem. When I got to the camp I couldn't get the car out of low ratio four wheel drive with the centre differential locked up. This may mean little to many but suffice to say, because of a condition called 'wind up', you can't drive very far along a grippy tarmac road until your transmission seizes up or kaputs. If the next day, if I made it to the road, and I couldn't get it back to normal drive I only had one trick to rely on to get it out again. I decided, rather than try at the camp and then not be able to engage 4wd again for the return, I'd be better leaving it and waiting until I was on the road.
It then rained a real lashing thunderstorm as I ate but stopped after half an hour or so. So I knew I was in for it. Overnight it continued unabated and I even had to wake up at 3m to shift my bed from under a seriously leaking roof. However, I did manage to sit on my balcony until it got dark and catch the Zambezi rush hour –
In the time of a bit of sun, for half an hour or so, I dropped down to the river (sod the hippos and crocs, if the kids can do it in a little wooden canoe, I can stand there for a minute) to grab a few shots –
After sleeping better than I thought, apart from the wet bed, I overslept my alarm as I'd arranged to meet the quad bike man at 7am so he could show me the best way back. I was grateful of this because I knew the track would be in a right old state, and it was. With some trepidation I had to forego my usual coffee and 'morning toilet', chuck my stuff back in the car and set off. He set off like a madman but soon slowed when he realised I wasn't keeping up. I followed him on completely different tracks to those I'd come in on. I realised at virtually every fork, if I turned left I should have gone right and vice versa.
There was some water but he'd promised me, and delivered, that there would be no mud sections, just water with a hard track bed. It did involve cutting twice through the back yard of a hut and at one point squeezing between two though. Once I reached the tarmac I stopped, said a little prayer, and bugger me, but slipped the controls straight back into 2wd with no problem at all. I think then when I'd reached the camp I did have some wind up which stopped the controls from moving out of four wheel drive.
I then drove off happily, north. I had to make a decision. Do I go for my original next stop, a campsite at Kafue National Park but a different one than before and without cheap rooms so it would have to be camping – this will take me most of the day to get to. The disadvantage of this would be I would have to go off road some distance again. Plan B was to stop three hours up the road at a town called Mongu where I knew I could get a guesthouse/b and b but that meant I'd be hanging around a town for virtually all the day. Or, and knowing there is really little normal accommodation in any of the towns I would pass and they were the only choices, I could go for plan C and do a long drive all the way home.
I was still mulling over this when I was prompted to make up my mind. I think it will rain again –
So I went for the drive home option. I had set off at 7am and got home at 8pm. I stopped at a supermarket in Mongu to grab some fruit and had a strange conversation. In the car park was a South African registered pick up all set up for camping. I happened to park at the side of it. When I returned to my car I noticed the driver was sitting there. A little later his wife and two small, less than ten years old, kids joined him. Whilst he was by himself and obviously waiting I had the following conversation with him.
Me, "Have you come far this morning? Where did you spend the night?" (I'm looking basically for information about camping spots/good accommodation etc, as you do and people are willing to share) Him, "Lusaka" Me, expressing surprise, "Lusaka?" Him, "Yes" "And tonight? Do you know where yet?" "We'll be in South Africa tonight" I turned and walked away without a word. Why?
Because it was 11am. I drove back to Lusaka and arrived at 8pm. That is nine hours and even though he may well have gone faster than me I couldn't see him making fewer stops. So what time did he set off? I didn't believe him, and then when he said he'd be in South Africa that night, that put the cap on it. Not only would he have to negotiate two borders he would have to drive a minimum of 1300km through Botswana or Zimbabwe to even touch SA soil. If he was going through Namibia it would be way over 2000km. My arse, mate. Yeah right. But I have no idea at all why he would say such things. No idea at all.
More maybe another time. Don't hold your breath though.
You are intrepid, Mark. I would not have taken that road at all (but am married to someone who would). Looking at those puddles you can have no idea how deep they go.
I really like the photo of rush hour on the river. The size of the river came as a surprise to me, but then I know zilch about it. I guess I should take it as read that if I've heard of a river in Africa, it's probably a big one.
You've landed in some fascinating places in your life.
If you can just say that another three or four times, at least, that'd be good. As many times as you want actually.
No, there were no other travellers on site. They did say they were just closing anyway for the wet season. I think I must have been about the last. Every other place I went was also fairly devoid of travellers/campers/people. It's the off season, which does mean prices are lower and offers/discounts appear. My solo travelling skills make it easier for me to swear at myself for doing something dumb but I suspect the reports may make it all seem a bit more dramatic than it is.
Breeze, I did stop the car at particularly suspicious places and had a good look to see how deep the water was or if I could see any obstacles. The next step, which I felt I didn't need to do but have done innumerable times in the past, is walk through where the tyres would go. Just to check. The river is pretty damn big. And wide. And long. About 2500km, though in world terms it doesn't even come in the top thirty.
I've had some really good luck to have been where I have been. I do appreciate it. Yet up to my mid-thirties I'd not really been out of Europe. It's never too late.