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Sunday, 24 March 2013

Zambia, Zimbabwe & Botswana - again


Day 1 – 7/3/13
The crossing into Zambia was straight forward. We purchased a dual entry visa to allow us to go into Zimbabwe at Victoria Falls and had to pay 200 new Kwacha (divide old Kwacha by 1,000) in CO2 tax. In addition there was a Council tax or such – all receipted.
The drive to Chipata was easy, on a good road through maize fields.
Chipata was a nice surprise, lots of veg, a little fruit and a couple of good supermarkets.
We went quickly to Mama Rulas campsite ~ 8 km from town.
Unfortunately there was an overland bus there and a second arrived after dark. The later bus carried elderly Dutch tourists and they proceeded to make a lot of noise until very late. After this experience, we prefer the younger group!

Avril  driving; 200 km; (inc airport run); S 130 34’ 57.7’’ E 0320 36’ 34.9’’

Day 2 – 8/3/13
We went into Chipata to do some shopping. In addition to the supermarket we needed to buy some drugs - malaria & statins. In Australia these would have needed a prescription, but in Zambia we got them OTC.
Ray asked the (Indian) Pharmacist if he knew where he could get a haircut. He got into his car and took us to where he got his hair cut – a friend’s house in a 2nd class shopping area. In this case Ray got very good value for money. He will not need another cut for a long time!
We then met Bob & Brigid who had driven from Luangwa Bridge that day. After a quick lunch, we went to the camp site and chatted the rest of the day away.
Another group of elderly Dutch tourists showed up, with a similar result to the night before. We should mention that these buses set off very early in the morning (05:00) and so the noise starts very early.
Since leaving Tanzania, we are well and truly on the Cape to Nairobi overland bus route.

Day 3 – 9/3/13
With Bob & Brigid, we set off at a reasonable time for Mfuwe and the South Luangwa National Park. Large sections of the road are being upgraded and so the trip had a lot of diversions and poor road conditions. On the way to the camp we spotted some elephants.
We set up camp at the Wildlife camp (note: Flatdogs no longer allows camping). The Wildlife camp has separate sections for buses and small vehicles.
We camped high on the bank of the Luangwa river and spotted some buffalo and impala going to the water to drink. The noisy hippos made sure they were also noticed.
Park entry is on a daily basis, not 24 hour, so we elected not to have a game drive in the afternoon.

Avril  driving; 145 km; 3 hrs; S 130 06’ 35.2’’ E 0310 45’ 13.5’’

 Day 4 – 10/3/13
We all got up early to get into the park soon after opening, 06:00. Unfortunately the paperwork at the entry took ~ 20 min. Normally in the wet season the game scatters, however we had a great game drive. Not too much unusual; elephants, giraffe, zebra, warthogs, bushbuck, puku, impala, water buck, reed buck, buffalo etc.
After lunch Ray & Bob went back to the game park and purchased entry for the following day  & beer. Then Bob & Brigid went and fetched Steve & Ing from the Mfuwe airport.
As you can imagine, there was a lot of chatter in the evening. To explain – the 3 boys (??!!) worked together on the Copperbelt in Zambia from 1976 till 1978 – so this was to be a trip down memory lane!

Day 5 – 11/3/13
Bob’s birthday! But, he still had to get up early. It was raining hard, however we decided to proceed with a game drive. Again, we did not see too much unusual but it was very different spotting game in the pelting rain.
We had a hearty brunch & some champagne after returning from the game drive. Then a relaxing afternoon. At 16:00 we started a night game drive, arranged by the folks at the Wildlife camp. This included some sundowners – which we supplemented with our own drinks. On the way to the sundowners, Avril excelled by spotting a dead hyena in a ditch beside a culvert.
The night drive turned out to be fantastic. We were fortunate to see a full leopard kill, from the initial spotting of the prey (herd of impala) by the leopard, through the stalking which took ~ 40 min, the final leap and then the kill. It took some time for the leopard to choke the impala and due to all the attention and the potential for a hyena to take the prey, the leopard dragged the kill into a dense bush. A once in a lifetime experience. Then on the way out of the park we were lucky enough to see 2 porcupines. Due to their actions at the side of the road, Bob speculated that they may have been mating. We also saw a huge crocodile crossing the road on the way back to the river.

Day 6 – 12/3/13
We managed to have a reasonably relaxed start to the day. Then we drove back over the awful road to Chipata – which had further deteriorated with the rain. After a small shop in the town we drove through to Luawanga Bridge and the camp site there.
The road was in pretty good condition, but the countryside not all that interesting. There were a lot less people than in most other countries, which meant less speed bumps and greater speed.

Avril driving; ~ 500 km; 8.5 hrs; S 130 06’ 18.2’’ E 0300 12’ 54.8’’

Day 7 – 13/3/13
We sat around and chatted a bit in the morning, then drove through to Lusaka on a reasonable tar road. The shopping mall we stopped at was a culture shock – it could have been in any 1st world country -  clothes shops (Avril managed to buy some shorts) and food outlets.
After lunch we drove to Fringilla farm, 50 km north of Lusaka.
Ing cooked up a superb Chinese meal.

Ray driving; 281 km; 7 hrs (inc shopping time!); S 150 00’ 15.6’’ E 0280 09’ 31.7’’

Day 8 – 14/3/13
After a very gentle start to the day, including one of the Fringilla’s famous pies for breakfast (boys only) our little convey started out for Chingola. The Great North Road as far as the Ndola turn off was in good condition, but after that deteriorated with sections of serious potholes. We stopped for a picnic at the side of the road and watched a truck deliver fresh maize beer to some of the local folks. This is delivered in bulk and poured from a large tank into 20 litre containers. Apparently 20 litres costs about K 20 ~ $ 4! If one can wait for about 3 days the alcoholic content rises to 9%!
It took some time to get through Kitwe. The road from Kitwe to Chingola was very congested, not like the “old days” when normally one did not see any vehicles on this stretch.
We booked into the Protea hotel when we got to Chingola and then the boys wandered off to see if they could recognise any of the buildings from the 1970s. They found their old accommodation flats and the various clubs. They went into the Arts Theatre, chatted to the members and had a quiet ale.
We were impressed with the level of agriculture and the availability of fresh produce on the drive up. In the “old days” there was very little food available. However, the roads in Chingola have deteriorated badly – a lot of them are just a series of potholes.

Avril  driving; 359 km; 6 hrs; S 030 24’ 35.2’’ E 0290 20’ 53.1’’

Day 9 – 15/3/13
After breakfast, we drove around town for some photo opportunities. Then we drove back to Fringilla farm. On the way we managed to get caught twice in speed traps. The first of the traps only caught the OTHER car and the driver payed a little less and did not get a receipt! So, no more lecturers on ethics from them in the future. In the second trap both cars were caught and payed the full price with receipt – 73 and 81 kph in a 50 zone! Luckily we were not in Aus as we would have lost our licenses! Avril was very upset as it was her first speeding fine in 40 years of driving! Although Ray reckons she is a “lead foot” and has been Very lucky not to have fined many times!! The road signs were a little difficult to see.

Avril  driving; 361 km; 6.5 hrs

Day 10 – 16/3/13
We headed down through Lusaka (shopping) and onto the Zambezi river, ~ 40 km before the Lower Zambezi National Park. The road down was, generally in good condition to the turn off just before Zimbabwe border. The country side was generally flat until the turn off to Chilumba and then the decent into the Zambezi valley provided some rolling hills. There was a dirt road to Kiambia  lodge which was variable in condition.
We had to cross the Kafue River on a pontoon. As we were foreigners in a foreign vehicle, we paid 3 times as much as the locals. I wonder how that would go down in western countries – if we started to charge Africans 3 times as much for services etc??
The folks at Kiambia looked after us royally. We had power for our batteries, cold beers, they made and lit the BBQ fire for us etc. As they had just painted the camping ablutions, Bob & Brigid+ Steve & Ing were given a chalet for the 2 nights. We elected to “stay at home” in our accommodation module.

Avril  driving; 222 km; S 0150 56’ 11.5’’ E 0280 55’ 32.3’’

Day 11 – 17/3/13
We went on a game watching cruise along the Zambezi. The weather was ideal – though most of us managed to get a little burnt. We stopped on an island in the river for a picnic lunch. As it was the rainy season, most of the game had dispersed into the bush, so we did not see a great deal: impala, elephants, crocodiles, hippos, kudu and a couple of monitor lizards. We also took the opportunity to become bird watchers – for the day.
It was wonderful to go slowly along one of the world’s great rivers.

Day 12 – 18/3/13
We drove down to Moorings Camp ~ 10 km north of Monze. This time no one was fined by the police.
We arrived early for what was planned to be Bob & Brigid’s last night of camping.

Avril  driving; 221 km; 5.5 hrs; S 0160 11’ 38.1’’ E 0270 32’ 36.9’’

Day 13 – 19/3/13
Onwards to Livingstone & Victoria Falls. We had a quick look at the Zambezi River above the Falls and then checked out accommodation options. We quickly discovered that Vic Falls is not a low cost area. We eventually settled on the Bushfront, with Ray & Avril opting for camping and the rest for chalets.
We went on the sunset cruise on the Zambezi Rover – commonly known as the “booze cruise”. The price included drinks, snacks and dinner. We were more restrained than the overland bus folks.

Avril  driving; 359 km; 6 hrs; S 030 24’ 35.2’’ E 0290 20’ 53.1’’

Day 14 – 20/3/13
First off, we visited the Falls on the Zambia side. As it was nearing the end of the wet season, the river was quite high and the Falls lived up to their reputation as “the smoke that thunders”. The huge volume of water ensured that we all got completely drenched. We all went down to the “Boiling Pot”, the narrow gorge where the river gushes through. Then we walked over the bridge to the Zimbabwe side – one third of the Falls is in Zambia and the rest is in Zimbabwe. Ray & Avril purchased a dual entry visa for $ 45 each.
We enjoyed a steak lunch at the famous Victoria Falls Hotel, overlooking the 2nd & 3rd gorges and the bridge. On the way to back, Ray decided to take the plunge and went on a flying fox high above the junction of the 2nd & 3rd gorges. A bit of an adrenalin rush and over too quickly to enjoy the view.
We then visited the extensive Zimbabwe side of the falls, not everyone went the full distance as it involved yet another full drenching.
We then returned to the Zambia side and decided to dine at the restaurant in the resort – too exhausted from the day’s exertion to cook ourselves.

Day 15 – 21/3/13
We were up early to pack and get through the border formalities. After breakfast we said our (sad) good-byes to Bob & Brigid/Steve & Ing and headed for the border.
The formalities were completed very quickly.

Zambia Summary
Zambia was a pleasant surprise. The roads were generally in good condition: Ndola – Chingola the major exception. The road from Chipata to Sth Luangwa is being worked on.
Most towns had usable ATMs and generally there were decent supermarkets.
It was fantastic to travel with friends. The camping accommodation was generally of a high standard.
In general we found the Zambians were hospitable without being overly friendly.
We did not use any guide books or maps, but relied on memory (34 years!) and the advice of folks along the way.

Day 1 – 21/3/13
We had a very quick and efficient entry into Zim. We had to pay CO2 tax and road tax of $ 40. In Vic Falls we collected the video of Ray’s flying fox exploit of the previous day. Then we headed to Hwange National Park. We went through 3 road blocks on the way. We had heard that in Zim these were onerous, but we found the police officers to be polite, cheerful and quick at the task.
The road to Hwange town was very good and we saw our 1st wayside/picnic stops in a long time. The country side was flat with the vegetation right up to the road side.
We entered Hwange National Park at Sinamatela and were delighted to find that a $ 20/person entry lasted 7 days. Camping was $ 30/site/night. All very reasonable.
Then we drove around the park and visited a few dams/pans. We did not see a lot of game and decided to go through to Robins Camp and spend the night there. The facilities, though dated, were in good working order and very clean. Hot water for the showers and cold beer!

Avril  driving; 241 km; S 180 37’ 47.5’’ E 0250 59’ 17.5’’

Day 2 – 22/3/13
Like good game viewers, we were on the road early. We drove through to Main Camp via a number of loops and dams/pans. The game was very sparse in the areas (including water points) around Sinamatela and Robins camps and almost non-existent between water points. This made the days quite long. Nearer to Main Camp there was more game and we sat in a couple of hides for some time. One of the hides had a small snake ensconced in it, so we only spent a short time there! All in all we saw: giraffe, elephant, water buck, wildebeest, kudu, yellow mongoose, warthog, meerkat, impala, zebra, hippo, jackal and crocodile. Not a bad selection, but the lack of numbers was disappointing.
Main Camp was well set up with aged, but clean ablutions and a well stocked shop. We decided to try a night drive. This lasted 2 hours and was quite disappointing as we only saw a few impala and a couple of elephants.
Apparently the lack of game sightings was due to the time of year- the game scatters during the wet. However, we covered over 350 km in the time we were in the park and would have expected even with scattered game to see a bit more.

Avril  driving; 167 km; S 180 43’ 57.4’’ E 0260 57’ 06.5’’

Day 3 – 23/3/13
We decided that the game viewing in Hwange did not warrant any further time, so we made an early start to Botswana. Along the way we stopped off at Bulawayo for some refreshments. Avril & Ray disagreed on the state of the city: Ray thought it looked clean and prosperous but Avril thought it was run down, compared to our last visit in 1994-thanks Robert Mugabe.
Again the police at the road blocks were polite and wanted to chat. With excellent roads and a 120 km/hr speed limit we made very good time. The scenery was generally uninteresting and the route was, in the main, scrubby forest.
The border formalities were completed very efficiently and quickly.

Zimbabwe Summary
It is hard to make meaningful comment after 3 days of which the majority was in National parks. However we had a positive impression of Zim. Other Overlanders had found it expensive and the road blocks onerous. We thought the prices were very reasonable, the road blocks no more numerous than other countries and the police officers polite. We were not held up at any of the road blocks – except for a chat.
The roads were in excellent condition (except for the main routes in Hwange National Park).
We found it rather sad to see the small number of tourists wherever we went – the venues are all ready to receive guests, the staff are keen and eager, but spend most of the day with nothing to do. Once again, thank you, Robert Mugabe.

Botswana, again

Day 1 – 23/3/13
We were greeted with that special rudeness the Tswana have cultivated in Botswana.
The border formalities took longer than expected as the staff had more important matters to attend to i.e. idle chat. We had to pay Pula 270 road tax.
Again, with excellent roads and a 120 km/hr speed limit we made good time. The countryside was well and truly semi arid with low acacia trees and little grass.
We stopped at the Oasis Lodge (camping) at Mahalapye

Avril  driving; 714 km; 9 hrs; S 230 04’ 58.2’’ E 0260 49’ 26.1’’

Day 2 – 24/3/13
We were up super early to get some kms on the clock. Again the road was of a high standard and with no speed bumps and not too much traffic we made good time. The country side continued to be flat and semi desert.
We stopped off in Gaborone to buy a few provisions and set off for the border.
The formalities took a little time, but we got through without any hassle.

 Botswana observation
Infrastructure is very good through out the areas we travelled. The government has put the HQ of key Departments e.g. railways, geological survey etc in provincial towns.
The Shopping centers and general outlook of the streets was very modern.

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