Friday, 29 April 2016

Zambia 1

Arriving to the Zambian border control we were again pleasantly surprised to see things were fairly organised still - all customs, immigration and insurance were in the same building with signs! We had been told that the visa was in dollars only, but I had presumed you would be able to pay in local currency.. Well you could pay in local currency but not on a Sunday because the banks were shut and their card machine didn't work, and sadly it was a Sunday! Luckily Rob subbed us the money and 100$ later we were through. Well almost.. This was after paying road tax, environmental tax, insurance and council tax! They do know how to rip the tourists off.. It is the most we have ever paid on a border, and it was all legal with receipts to prove it!

We got through by 2pm and headed to Jolly Boys campsite and hotel in the centre of Livingstone. The site was another quirky place with lots of back packers staying there. The pool was inviting, and the restaurant served fantastic food! It was a good start to Zambia! We met lots of people there, and spent the evening chatting to medical students, local travellers and tourists from further afield, it was nice to get different perspectives of the places we had seen - overriding theme being why did we go to Angola as it is a dangerous country? This to me was strange as it was the one place we have felt safe and saw very few people when wild camping - different stories and histories all had a part to play in other people's perceptions I think!

Mandy's birthday was Monday and we had a lazy start to the day, we bought a cooked breakfast, swam and enjoying the sun and facilities. I had tried to FaceTime my family to wish my Dad a happy birthday with no luck - they were in Northumberland with no wifi! We packed up and moved onto the Livingstone water front lodge and camping where we were to meet Gill and Roger once they had crossed the border. We pulled into the car park, minding our own business, and realised we recognised two faces, Charles was about to say 'I recognise that car my Dad has one the same' and the penny dropped! It turned out to be Charles and Mandy's dad, Nev, and his partner Jenny. What an amazing surprise! They had driven up from South Africa to be there for Mandy's birthday and to see everyone! We were all very overwhelmed, Charles and Mandy especially. Sitting on the veranda with a drink we all caught up, we hadn't seen them since August 2014 so there was a lot to talk about! 

We went to set up camp and swam in the pool waiting for the others to arrive, we thought they would be there just after lunch but it wasn't until 4pm they arrived. Gill and Roger's Toyota turned into the camp with two roof tents and a double cab, something we definitely were not expecting - they brushed it off saying they had hired it after the chance of Rob and Mandy heading back to SA with them if their car had been unfixable in Angola. It was great to see them, hugs all around. Suddenly out of the bushes we heard some voices and as I turned around I realised it was my parents with British explorer hats on. It was a little bit like the BBC3 programme 'sun, sex and suspicious parents' (a British program where unruley teenagers go on holiday, do horribly stupid things whilst their parents watch on in secret.. At the end the surprise them!), luckily I wasn't doing anything embarrassing at the time! I was slightly taken aback and a little emotional but wow what a surprise, 'that's my mum' I apparently squealed and ran over for a hug. They had sneakily booked to come with Gill and Roger about 6 weeks ago, flown to SA with them and driven up! My Mum in a roof tent.. Camping!!! Something I never thought I would see and the reason I couldn't face time them! Feeling very lucky, we all cracked open a drink, lit the cake and sang happy birthday to Mandy and my Dad who share the same day! Braai, booze and catching up was on the menu.. What an evening! 

(Quick selfie of my mum and me!) 

Monday was spent going to see the Victoria falls, we had seen the spray from the campsite so it was exciting to be going to see it. We caught a bus in and because we wanted to go to the bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe we went to immigration to get stamped out (you could upgrade your visa to a double entry to allow to go out and in again). Walking along the bridge you saw part of the falls and the torrent of water churning down the river! It was awesom and the noise wonderful. Arriving across the the bridge on the Zimbabwean side we went to immigration to find out if we could cross.. They wanted $55 per person to enter, as well as an entry fee for the falls, at that point we decided that was too much. Such a stupid system and they lost out on our tourism! Walking back over the bridge Charles decided he wanted to do the bungee jump, something he had turned down the last time he had been there and regretted it ever since. He tried to get me to do it which I was adamant I wasn't going to, it wasn't until Nev persuaded me to do it I changed my mind, hey you only live once! Feeling rather sick I signed the papers and the disclaimer, got weighed and had my number written on me. During this Mandy also got persuaded to do it so all three of us trooped over to the jump station. 

I had volunteered to go first knowing if I waited I would chicken out. I was starting to feel fine about jumping off a booth into a ravine as they put on my life jacket (worst case scenario) and harness, then ushered me out onto the platform. As they bound my legs together with the rope harness photos and video were being taken, and a safety briefing being reeled off.. I didn't hear a word just nodded and agreed..   Basically just jump. Before I knew it I was on the edge of the ledge and before I could say no they were shouting a countdown and off I jumped, well more like fell trying to fly at the same! Fifty thousand things went through my head all at once, mainly swear words but within 4 seconds I had come out of free fall and could just about open my eyes. They let me do a few bounces and then hang, the scenery was stunnig, even if it was upside down! Before I knew it a man had winched down to harness me the right way an off we went up to the struts of the bridge. Despite my shaking legs I managed to walk along enough to see Charles do his. He was far more up for it than me, doing a swan dive off the platform with a loud whooo at the bottom. Watching him bouncing there showed me how far you do bounce - when you are hanging there yourself you don't realise! I managed to get all the way across the other side of the bridge to watch Mandy, who despite shrieking rather loudly, looked very graceful! We were all very hyped after, adrenaline not yet worn off and I think we were all glad we did it! Going back to our parents was great because they had filmed it all, still cannot believe I did it! 

A celebratory beer and it was off to the falls on the Zambian side, walking back along the bridge Dad haggled for his first African souvenir.. A hippo (which has now been called Catherine.. Apparently not because of the likeness but of my new love for them!) and a photo with the man selling it - getting into the spirit nicely! We walked back through immigration, who didn't charge us as we hadn't got to the Zimbabwean side, and through to the falls. Walking down the steep slope towards it the noise slowly got louder and more pounding, we managed to catch glimpses of it through the trees and spray coming off it. Getting to the bottom the spray rain began, lightly to begin with on the first view point. Words cannot describe what we were seeing, the volume of water coming down, at the speed, with the noise and the rain, but in the heat of the day! Just phenomenal! We walked across the bridge and it was like a torrential down pour, everyone laughing at how wet we were getting, soaked through to the skin but with the stunning scenery and heat it was bizaar. We managed to walk along the falls catching glimpses of its magnitude every so often through the mist, and finally doubled back on our selves to see the top before the water hurtles down. Despite the fact we were dripping it didn't take long to dry off in the sun, and only left a slightly soggy patch on the taxi driver's seats on the way back. 

It was a quick change around before we had to be on the boat for a sundowners cruise, a largish boat with room for the 30 guests, a free bar and food. Grabbing a gin and tonic we headed off all marvelling at how lucky we were to be here with family on the Zambezi river, whilst the sun was going down. The food was lovely, as was the free bar, but most of all the wild life was fantastic! Lots of birds, pointed out to us by Gill, Nev and a young lad Alistair who knew everything about the wildlife (he was telling me they go on safari with the school!), and also hippos and crocodiles. By the time we got off the boat we were all rather merry, and decided an early evening dip in the pool was needed, it was and there was a lot of wrestling from the boys! Typical!

Wednesday we were up early again, not only because we were canoeing but to say bye to Jenny and Nev - at least this time it won't be as long till the next meet up! It was great seeing them, and spending time relaxing with them too. The rest of us were packed off into a bus for a 50 minute ride to the launch site. We were doing a whole days canoeing along the Zambezi with lunch in the middle! We had blow up, two man canoes which were rather yellow but roomy! Luckily we were with three guides, and also the current so it wasn't too strenuous and we could watch the wildlife. In the morning we saw lots of birds, some hippos and crocodiles and by lunch (cold meats and sandwiches), we were all buzzing about what we had seen eager to get off again. The afternoon session was also fantastic, canoeing past beautiful luxury waterfront lodges and smaller island dwellings, we managed to see more birds and some elephants having a bath! What a way to see the wildlife and surrounding area, a really great day! Evening came and we were all fairly shattered, it was shower, braai and a beer!

We were leaving Thursday morning for Kafue national park but before we went Dad and Rob went up in a microlite over the Victoria Falls. They were extatic when they came back having seen it, and also some of the Zambezi national park on the Zimbabwean side. We all wished we had done it, but looking at the video later on was fantastic! They both enjoyed it, saying you could see so much and the geography of the land made so much more sense! Definitely something to do if you go! Cars all packed and breakfast eaten (luckily not but the monkeys)  we headed off, not before a trip to shoprite to get supplies.. Buying for 8 people for three days is hard and time consuming, however we were soon on the road travelling up north. Arriving at the National Park we were too late to go in but were told we could camp there for free and head on in early in the morning. This was Mum's first less luxurious camping experience however she handled it well, I think the rising full moon, stars and well cooked food helped! Dad had great fun chatting to the locals and ended up giving half of his 18 pairs of pound land socks, and a pair of very old trainers he was going to chuck as well as a solar panel charger, away! He had seriously over packed so had found a good cause for things to go to!

The alarm went off very early and we were ready to leave by the opening time 6am however in true African style the gate keepers did not arrive till 7am even though he knew we wanted to be in early. All paid up (a mission in itself - it is good Dad and Gill can add up) we got into the park. It was a short drive through the village and into the wild. We travelled all day but saw very little, some birds, but that was about it, it was a shame but we thought would cut our losses and head to camp, Nazinga plains lodge. They had just reopened and were slightly rusty with everything, but the main camp building was stunning and the camping facilities ok. We had a sundowner on the veranda overlooking a grassy watering hole praying for lions however non came, but again lots of birds. Another braai in the evening, with a few beers was appreciated and the plan talked about for the next day. We woke up to lion growls but they we too far away to see so we packed up, and headed to the main lodge to have breakfast on the veranda (seeing lion tracks 10m from where were camped). The sunrise, birdwatching and bacon provita (a cracker like biscuit.. They are amazing) was great fun and it was not long before we were back on the road again.

Day two in the park was only vaguely more successful, Impala, puku, zebra and again many birds - it was so hard to see with such long grass everywhere. The grass also making it hard to see the tracks of the roads meaning Roger got to do some off roading every so often. We stopped for lunch within the park - provita, cheese and chutney - but drove most of the day, which included a dash for the campsite as the gates were beginning to close. We arrived at hippopotamus bay campsite and met the  manager, Ruth, she got all the paperwork done and we drove out to the campsite which was situated behind the reeds next to the lake. A fire had already been lit for our dinner and also the hot water so all we had to do was put the tent up, cook and relax, Charles spent some time on top of the Landrover trying to see hippos but we could only hear them - they have a low, laugh like call which makes me chuckle every time I hear them. Dinner was chicken, bean salad and curried potato, another successful meal! The early mornings and late evenings had caught up with most of us so it was bed by 10! 

Waking up the next morning we packed up and drove back to the main bush camp for another breakfast overlooking the wildlife. We headed back out into the park to try and spot more animals, and hopefully have a more successful day than the previous ones. Within an hour we saw lots of one species of animal, just not the one we wanted.. Tetzi flies! There were so many - it was unbelievable and they liked to bite us.. It got so bad we had to close the windows, something we haven't done this whole trip. The car was sweltering and we spent more of the day swatting and killing them than spotting animals.. Rob counted 127 dead ones, I think ours matched that. It made watching out for wildlife tricky but it was just hilarious. Walking along the road was a wild dog, something you do not see very often, as it walked back into the undergrowth 4 more were spotted - they are very beautiful with dappled coats, and huge ears! After this sighting we were all hot, bothered and bitten to death.. And wanting a beer. Since clearing out most of our car the top is now free so I could army crawl towards the back to get a cold beer and boiled egg without getting out the car (in fear of being eaten alive due to the swarms of tetzi flies surrounding our car). Mandy had the same idea and it was very amusing watching their car and the parents car pull up alongside each other and quickly exchange the goods! Sadly I had been bursting for the toilet for a while and realised I had to brave it.. I will leave the rest to the imagination but it wasn't a pleasent experience. 

We arrived at Kasabushi camp hoping there would be a relief from the tetzi flies. Luckily they don't like the water so as we arrived they filtered off. We were met by Libby and Andy who showed us about their bush camp which will be open in July. They are the first owners we have met to offer a tour of the place to campers, which is something we often want to do, and they were obviously proud of what they had done. Rightly so, the main camp area was stunning - a circular building with a roof made out of canvas sails - a real modern twist to the norm. The two lodges were in stunning locations on the river, next to a pod of hippos and again were finished to such a high standard. We were looking forward to the campsite! The campsite had been open about a year but it was immaculate - clean and modern toilet block, with pitches by the lake. Little touches such as candles as it got dark and fire wood just were the icing on the cake. The highlight was the shower- the best in Africa I recon - which was almost like a waterfall! Mum quickly decided she was going to stay here for ever, and we were in agreement. Dinner was a mish mash - something we are very used to now.. In my mind I always have a vague idea what we have food wise so when there is no obvious choice I rack my brains and come up with a random dinner! The parents were still impressed.. jacket potatoes, braaied onions, egg mayo, salad and couscous but it was fab! Amazing what you can do with a bit of imagination! The stars that night were so clear, the moon took a while to rise and it was the parents first proper African sky of the trip - you could see all the constellations as well as the Milky Way. We were up at the crack of dawn again for a breakfast boat ride which was three hours of a guided tour up the river. Again another fantastic outing - Andy know so much about wildlife and we saw loads of birds as well as hippos which are fast becoming my favourite animal! We saw up and down stream, and moored alongside a tree to eat our cereal! It was three hours well spent at a fantastic price too! I would thoroughly recommend going to Kasabushi camp, in hindsight I would have spend the three nights there instead of the three different campsites! Getting back we packed up and headed to Lusaka to head towards Livingstone. It was a long day of driving and we arrived at the campsite late..I think everyone was tired but a few beers later and some amazing steaks - well done Charles (alongside an accidentally roasted cucumber), we were all able to relax and enjoy the evening.

For our last day together we wanted to do the last 500km to get back to Livingstone so our parents could cross the border on the Wednesday. Things were going swimmingly until Rob went to pull away and his foot went all the way to the floor.. His clutch slave cylinder had gone (much like ours in Mali and Angola). This was not a problem he said, he could drive all the way without one. So off we went.. About 100km in and Rob had more problems. There was a noise and what we thought was the transfer box, he carried on until more damage was being done so we stopped and it was decided we would tow him.. All the way! Sadly (or luckily depending on how you read the rest of the paragraph), we were stopped at a checkpoint and told it was illegal to tow using rope (luckily because we were tourists they let us off). Whilst we were towing Rob, Roger, who was driving behind, said over the radio that his back left wheel was wobbling (which could have been the noise) .. We pulled over into a lay by with Rob deciding if he could change the wheel baring he would just driving it to Livingstone, a job which would take an hour max. We all had lunch whilst Rob was doing this, however 3 hours, 3 locals and a mechanic later and the cover was unable to be shifted, apparently the wheel bearing had swollen in the heat and affected the rubber seal (or something along those lines). By this time it was 2pm and we knew we would be unable to make Livingstone before dark with everyone sane! It was decided to head to the mechanics, with the boys staying there, and the rest of us go to the camp site. As I said earlier it worked in our favour, the camp site was lovely, we still had some light, our parents could repack their bags and we could eat there. It was a great evening and a lovely end to our time together, despite it not playing out we all adapted and we all were happy, Dad had even written a poem for the week which was very funny and evoked a lot of good memories - he has also written a diary about the week which with some persuasion he may post on here! 

The morning was hard, knowing there was a goodbye looming. We were staying at the campsite but our parents had to get to Livingstone, cross the border and get to Chobe in Botswana before dark! A long drive! We had bacon and provita with lots of coffee and tea for breakfast and before we knew it, It was time for them to leave. Granted it wasn't as hard as when we left the UK but it wasn't easy, there were a few tears, but lots of happiness with the week or so we had spent with them! All of us saying what a great time it had been! Fingers crossed we will see them all in South Africa when we get there. With it being back to the four us, normal service resumed. We had such a fantastic week with them all, we were thoroughly spoilt and being with them felt like a holiday in itself.. We did so much we would normally do and it was great to see this country through fresh eyes! I am so proud of my Mum for coming, she is a reluctant camper but I think we have converted her.. Camping and Caravan club watch out!

The next two days was spend Washing, cleaning the cars and doing the odd jobs that needed to be done.. Charles managed to wire in the electric cable for the fridge Mum and Dad had brought over and we managed to get rid of most of the dust and dead tetzi flies floating about the car! It felt like we had a productive couple of days and touched ground. We have been driving pretty crazily for the last few months so I think we are all looking forward to taking it slow from now on. We all have some pretty big decisions to make. The four of us are splitting up, Charles and myself are heading north to get to Uganda to meet Fred Mutebi, an artist there, and Rob and Mandy are undecided! 

We returned back to Livingstone without any problems, went back to the Waterfront Logde not before heading to Foleys Landrover dealer. We spent a pretty penny all of us.. We needed vaccume pump, air filter, wheel taker offer (that is the correct term I am sure), and Rob needed a few bits! It was odd turning up at the Waterfront again without the family but it felt like it was full circle! I leave this now in happy hour at the bar over looking the Zambezi and the spray of the falls! Zambia you have only impressed so far, and it has been a couple of weeks I will not forget! 

#africa #overlanding #travelling #thisisafrica #zambia