In February and March 2020, I drove 8,800km from Cape Town to the Kruger Park, through Zimbabwe and Zambia to Tanzania.
When I quote prices, I use the original currency. At the beginning of my trip the exchange rates to the GB pound were: South African Rand 19.50, Zimbabwe $ 470, Zambian Kwacha 19, Tanzanian Shilling 3,000, and US$ 1.29. I have used these rates throughout this report, irrespective if rates changed or the actual conversion rates differed.
I was travelling alone in my Toyota Fortuner with my trailer (more details at end of article). It is important to note that if I say a road was good, I mean that it was good for a 4×4 high clearance vehicle and may not be good for a sedan car.
This trip took place against an escalation of the Coronavirus outbreak. When I left Cape Town on 19th February 2020 there were 74,000 confirmed cases of the virus, in the world, all in China. By the end of the trip, on 20th March 2020, there were 234,000 confirmed cases in 176 countries. I was in Tanzania for the last eight days of my trip. When I left Tanzania on 20th March there were six confirmed cases. So, the actual incidence of the virus, in the countries that I travelled through, was low at the time I was there. Life for the local people in Tanzania appeared to be relatively unchanged as I left, except that people were no longer shaking hands. However, borders were being closed, flights were being cancelled and tourists were scrambling to get home. My trip was not really affected by the virus, except at the end, I did not go through Serengeti as planned, but rather went directly to Arusha in a failed attempt to get home early. As I write this on 21st March 2020, I fear for the continent of Africa, because they will be far more vulnerable to the virus than western countries with better health facilities and less crowded living.
Day 1 – Cape Town to Beaufort West 418kms
On 19th February 2020 I left Cape Town at 14h00 with my Aunt Rose as a passenger for the next two days. The scenery on the N1 from Worcester to the Hex River Valley was lovely. From there to Beaufort West it rained most of the time producing beautiful rainbows. Over 80% of the traffic were trucks. We had a lamb curry dinner at 4 Sheep.
Day 2 – Beaufort West to Funnystone Farm on the Lesotho Border near Tiffindell Ski Resort 708km
This was a long but relatively easy drive on good roads through the Karoo via Aberdeen, Graaf Reinet, Cradock and Queenstown. The route is mountainous and that combined with green grass made this a very attractive day. This whole area has received a lot of rain and there was a lot of standing water and all farmers’ dams, visible from the road, were full. My Aunt Rose was going to spend the following two weeks at Funnystone Farm with her lifelong friend, Jessamy, and her husband, Robert.
In a discussion with Robert he said that his farm of 3,400ha carried 2,000 sheep and 110 cattle. The farm is half at an high altitude in the mountains, often covered with snow in the winter, with the remainder in the valley. His livestock use the high pastures during the summer and the low pastures during the winter. His sheep are Merino, and he farms them for their wool. A sheep gives wool for about ten years. His 800 ewes produce about 500 lambs each year. He maintains the herd size at about 2,000 as he believes that he needs one hectare for each sheep. (Farmers in the Karoo need between two and five hectares per sheep.) About eighty calves are born to cows at the beginning of summer and at the end of summer are sold to feed lots that feed them up and increase their weight before slaughter for meat. By selling them at the end of summer he saved having to feed them through the winter.
Day 3 – Funnystone Farm to Ladysmith, KwaZulu Nata 685km
Another day of fast driving on good roads as I skirted around the western side of Lesotho. It struck me that the days of mud huts in rural South Africa was generally past. Almost all houses that I saw were built of brick with tin roofs. Many were houses which had several rooms. I realised that the worst housing in the country was now on the outskirts of the major cities.
Day 4 – Tour of Spioenkop 102km
In the morning I drove from Ladysmith about 40km to Three Tree Lodge where the military guide, Ron Gold, had arranged for me to join that lodge’s tour of the Battle of Spioenkop.
The story of the battle is interesting. After several political upheavals, the Boers declared war on the British on 11th October 1899. Aware that 10,000 British troops had been despatched from India, the Boers moved quickly and laid siege to three towns in the British colonies of the Cape and Natal. The three towns and the length of the sieges were:
Mafeking 13th October 1899 to 17th May 1900
Kimberley 14th October 1899 to 15th February 1900
Ladysmith 2nd November 1899 to 28th February 1900
As intended by the Boers, this action caused the British to split their forces into three, thus diluting their strength. Five battles were fought to relieve Ladysmith, of which Spioenkop was one. The approach to Ladysmith, from the south west, over the Tugela River, twenty miles from the town, was blocked by six linked hills of which Spioenkop was marginally the highest.
The Boers were well aware of the advance of the British but were caught by surprise, on the night of 23rd January 1899, by a night-time silent ascent, along a spur, of Spioenkop, by 700 British soldiers, causing the dozen Boers on the summit to flee. Although the British had captured their objective, they were demoralised by the light rain and mist which soaked their woollen khaki uniforms, could not dig trenches deep enough because of the rocky ground, could not build the trenches higher with sand bags because the empty bags had been left behind, oriented their trenches in the wrong direction because the high iron content of the rocks caused their compasses to misread and were thus exposed when the mist rose on the morning. Spioenkop has a relatively large flat top and the British chose to dig in, in the middle and this resulted in them not being able to see Boers climbing the hill. The British were surprised by the fact that the Boers, contrary to their practice to date, counterattacked during the day, resulting in close contact fighting where the British used bayonets, causing terrible injuries. The Boers had seven modern artillery guns which pounded the exposed British position all day. The artillery fire and covering fire from Boers on the adjacent Aloe Knoll allowed other Boers to creep around the flank of the British and fire on them from behind. British battlefield communications were poor, first because of the mist and secondly because of poor lines of sight. This resulted in messages taking hours to get to their intended recipient and being wrong by the time they were received. Several of the British commanders on the hill were killed causing confusion as to who was in command as the day progressed. The British soldiers weakened from lack of hydration in the summer sun, because their water supplies had been left at base. By the end of the day other British units had secured the summits of three adjacent hills. The British had effectively won the battle when a confusion in communications resulted in the order being given to withdraw from the newly conquered hills. When the troops on Spioenkop saw their comrades withdrawing they followed suit. The Boers were amazed in the morning, to find the hills abandoned and quickly reoccupied them. Victory was theirs.
Besides the errors of leaving the empty sand bags and water behind and suffering from poor battlefield communications and a high incidence of death of their battlefield leaders the British were also at a disadvantage because they (a) Overestimated the Boer strength by a factor of ten, thinking that they were facing a large army and (b) Had no detailed maps of the area and believed that Spioenkop was the edge of an escarpment rather than the reality of being a mountain on all sides. The latter fact meant that they established their trenches on the summit about thirty metres from edge of the mountain that they had ascended fearful that the Boers would come charging at them on horses. If they had known that the back edge of the mountain was a further fifty metres away, they would have probably set up their trenches on the edge of the mountain, being able to see the Boers climbing up. The battle had high casualty figures of 243 British and 68 Boers killed with five times as many wounded. The men were buried where they fell with the British concentrated in a small area on the peak and the Boers spread around. Memorials to both armies have been erected.
The British went on to achieve their objective of relieving Ladysmith four weeks later. Contrary to the initial expectation on both sides, the war dragged on, through great hardship, until 31st May 1902.
Winston Churchill, acting as a war correspondent was captured by the Boers, three weeks after war was declared, on 15th November 1899 and escaped a month later, on 12th December 1899. Having made his way to Delagoa Bay (today Maputo) he joined the British Army as a lieutenant and at Spioenkop, principally carried messages between the battlefield and the British commanders. Mohandas Gandhi lived in South Africa for 21 years from 1893 and was at Spioenkop as a volunteer stretcher bearer on the British side. The Boers were commanded by Louis Botha who went on to become the first prime minister of the Union of South Africa from its creation on 31st May 1910.
The Lancashire Fusiliers and the Royal Lancasters suffered many casualties at Spioenkop. They were later remembered in 1906 by the naming of an open terrace at Anfield Football Stadium, as Spion Kop. Other football stands also use the name. The name has also been affixed to villages, hills, holes on golf courses and a ship in many countries of the world.
At my B&B in Ladysmith Dominic, a newly qualified UK trained equine vet, told me that he was working for two years, caring for horses, midway between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. I was fascinated when he told me that a difference between practicing in the UK and South Africa, in the areas he practiced, is that when horses must be put down, they are injected in the UK, but shot in South Africa. Apparently, the dead horses in South Africa are fed to lions at the Lion Park and cannot contain the chemicals that kill the horses with injections.
Day 5 Ladysmith to Mbombela (previously called Nelspruit) 611km
A day of easy driving on good roads with intermittent rain. Two things that were notable during the day (a) for a lot of the journey the mountains forming the Highveld Escarpment were visible on my left (west) and (b) the landscape was dotted with coal mines for the 210km from Newcastle to Carolina. Despite it being a Sunday, trucks carrying coal were on the move.
In the evening I drove an hour to Malelane to meet Ina and Erik Kuhn. I had ‘met’ them online on Facebook Overlanding groups. They travelled up to Tanzania last year and are planning to go to Angola this year. I had been in Angola last year and was now on my way to Tanzania, so we could both advise the other. They are retired accountants and their house is on the banks of the Crocodile River, with the Kruger Park over the river. The view from their deck is amazing. As dusk fell the hippos left the river and headed into the Park for dinner. We talked for five hours. Their blog is at:
Day 6 Mbombela to Senalala 182km
I chatted with Andrew, the host at Torburnlea Guesthouse for almost an hour over breakfast. Besides running the marvellous guesthouse with his wife, Kim, he also guides people in the Kruger Park and neighbouring game farms. He is an interesting person.
I spent an hour running around town buying items that I had forgotten and then left in the direction of Hoedspruit. There have been a spate of demonstrations and tyre burning that has often closed the R40, so I had wondered if I needed to take the longer route through Graskop. Andrew called various contacts who advised that the road was safe today, and so it proved.
Senalala is a game farm in the Klaserie Conservancy near Hoedspruit. The Klaserie is a collection of a hundred game farms who have dropped their fences with each other and with the Kruger and have communally provided services to the community including gate control, main roads and anti-poaching. Senalala is managed by James Steyn and his wife Corlia. James is an incredibly well experienced game guide. I had visited Senalala three times previously. The owner of Senalala, Hilton Sessel, is a South African who has lived most of his adult life in the USA. I had met him in November, and he had invited me to stay a night at Senalala on my way to Tanzania. I was delighted to be back.
Late afternoon we went out on a game drive and as the light was falling, we were led, by radio messages from other guides, to a pack of thirteen wild dogs (or painted wolves). There were parents and eleven juveniles. They had finished off a kill and were gnawing on bones. They went to the water to drink but held back because a crocodile was waiting in the water. Three hyenas arrived and started foraging among the bones. The wild dogs attacked them, but the hyenas fought back. The wild dogs then decided that the bones were not worth fighting, and possibly getting injured, for. One of the most amazing sightings of my fifty-year period of game viewing.
Day 7 and 8 Senalala to Phalaborwa 313km
During the morning drive at Senalala we got very close to two white rhino which was special.
I then entered the Kruger Park at Orpen, took a back road to Letaba Camp and exited at Phalaborwa. I saw lots of elephants, impala and zebra and saw two ground hornbills and a few water buck.
The next day I had my car serviced, bought food, gas and wood and prepared for four days in the wilderness.
Day 9- 12 Letaba Ranch and Makuya Nature Reserve
Letaba Ranch for two days 84km
Relocation through Kruger NP 351km
Makuya Nature Reserve 42km
I had booked a tour with Johan du Plooy of Bonsai Tours for a four-day trip through Letaba Ranch and non-public areas of the Kruger National Park. Because rain had closed the relevant roads in Kruger, Johan recommended and I agreed, that we would go to Makuya Nature Reserve instead. Johan had not been successful in finding other participants, so this was a one-man trip. Johan has recently retired as a logistics engineer, with special expertise in the procedures to use and maintain military equipment. He has been a 4×4 trainer for many years and is increasing his involvement in off-road tours.
Letaba Ranch is just north of Phalaborwa and is a 42,000-hectare reserve, which has dropped its fences with Kruger Park, and is owned by Limpopo Province. Makuya Nature Reserve is a 25,000-hectare reserve, located adjacent to Kruger, between Punda Maria and Pafuri. It is owned by the local community and managed for them by Limpopo Province. Transfrontier Parks Destinations (TFPD) have concessions in both reserves to run camps on behalf of the community and run 4×4 tours. Johan uses their concession to run his tours.
In the big picture this tour was disappointing. The change of venue resulted in us spending one of our four days relocating from the one reserve to the other. I had not appreciated how few animals are in these reserves, even though they are adjacent to Kruger and have dropped their fences with Kruger. Johan is an excellent 4×4 trainer and we went through a few interesting 4×4 challenges. The scenery in Letaba was pleasant but not that special. The scenery in Makuya was more striking. Johan runs a five-day 4×4 tour along the Luvuhu River in Makuya which will probably suit me better.
We camped in Letaba for the first two nights and stayed at Mutale Camp in Makuya. The coordinates are:
Oosthuizen’s Camp, Letaba Ranch S23.45.2095 E031.08.4858
Letaba Bend, Letaba Ranch S23.40.1435 E031.05.3682
Mutale Camp, Makuya Nature Reserve S22.25.6013 E031.03.2328
Day 13 Makuya Reserve to Musina, South Africa 160km
It was an hour to the gate and another two hours to Musina on good roads. I had forgotten my phone at Senalala, and it was now waiting for me at PostNet. I bought cable for my solar panel and did some other maintenance items and then admin at the guesthouse.
Day 14 Musina through Beit Bridge Border to Chilo Gorge Lodge, Gonerezhou, Zimbabwe 403km
I was dreading the border crossing and arranged with Solomon of the Facebook page ‘Crossing Beitbridge’ to help me through the Zimbabwe border for a fee of R200. I exited South Africa in ten minutes and then met Solomon on the bridge and drove into the Zimbabwe border area. He had prefilled my immigration form and my customs form. The process was as follows:
1. Pay the R125 bridge toll and collect a gate pass
2. Present your passport and immigration form at the immigration counter and get your passport and gate pass stamped
3. Go to the Customs hut in the middle of the canopy outside and get a custom official to verify what you have declared on your customs form is correct as well as the correct engine size of your car for carbon tax. He will then sign or stamp the document. The officials checked nothing and signed the form and stamped the gate pass.
4. Go back inside and queue at the Tax and Customs pay point to pay the carbon tax of US$10 and road access fee of US$10. Normally one would also pay for the issue of a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) for the vehicle. I had paid for the AA of SA to issue a Carnet de Passage where they will pay the import tax if I do not remove the car and trailer from a country within the one-year validity of the document. I had done this to allow me to leave the vehicle in Tanzania while I return to the UK for several months. It also means that I do not need a TIP and normally means a quicker processing at the border. The official made the required entries in my carnets (one for the Fortuner and one for the trailer) and removed the tear off slip (which is later matched with the second slip when I leave the country). Then confusingly he created a TIP for me. I am sure this is the wrong procedure, but I wasn’t going to argue. He then stamped the gate pass.
5. Exit the building and cross the road and climb the bank on the other side and go to the police station which is a small building. Do not go to the front counter but go to the back of the building and enter the door and knock on the first door on the left. This is where your vehicle papers are verified. Give them your passport, vehicle papers and get them to stamp your gate pass. I was also asked for my driving licence
6. Go back to your vehicle and move into the search area. Take your TIP and gate pass to the customs hut and request that they search your vehicle. They did not search my vehicle and stamped the gate pass.
7. Show your completed gate pass to the official near your car and he will move the barrier allowing you to move forward.
8. There is a stop halfway to the exit gate. Look out for it as it is just a sign on the side of the road. Stop and give them the gate pass. They will tear off the pass and return the stub to you.
9. Hand in the stub at the boom at the border exit and you are now in Zimbabwe
To my amazement the process took only 45 minutes. There are horror stories of people taking hours to get through the process. There is no doubt that Solomon’s knowledge of the process meant that I moved quickly from one step to the next. He was selective as to which counters, he accompanied me. He accompanied me to the bridge toll, TIP and customs desks. I do not know if it was his presence that caused the officials to skip the inspection of my vehicle. As advised by Solomon I started the process at 08h45 which meant that there were almost no queues. By the time I left there were queues at all the counters. The queue that takes the longest is the TIP queue because the official takes ten minutes for each vehicle, to enter the details into his computer. Solomon told me that one can complete the form online which means that you are processed more quickly but does not impact the speed of the queue in front of you.
I then had a relatively easy drive to Chilo Gorge Lodge except that over a period of four hours I was stopped at seven police check points. At three of them I was asked for my TIP and my driving licence, while at the others I was asked my destination and wished good travelling. This is a dramatic improvement on 2015 when I was also stopped seven times, but I was fined for minor issues at two. These police checks are one of the curses of Africa. From my perspective they tie up huge amounts of police for little real value.
The last 100km of tar was, from time to time, very badly potholed with some potholes being two metres across. I would be travelling at speed and suddenly be faced with potholes. A few too many jolts from hitting potholes at speed resulted in my driver side bonnet hinge breaking. This is my personal curse since I overloaded my Fortuner in 2017 with a huge roof box that somehow stressed the bonnet area. Toyota service managers tell me that they have never seen a broken Fortuner bonnet hinge. I often break three a trip. I now carry a greater stock of hinges than any Toyota dealer. The lodge maintenance man replaced the hinge the next day.
I passed through the town of Triangle. When I was an accountancy articled clerk in Durban, I audited many sugar mills and, in my final year, led the audit of the sugar company, Huletts. That was the first time I heard about Triangle. As I approached the town, familiar sugar cane fields appeared and then a big sugar mill. There was a suburb of staff houses with street names drawn from the Natal sugar aristocracy like Guy Hulett Road and Vernon Crookes Drive. There was also a sign pointing to the country club. This could have been Mount Edgecombe, near Umhlanga, Natal in the 1970s (before they were replaced by a shopping centre).
Chilo Lodge is a luxury safari lodge across the Save River (pronounced ‘saavay’) from Gonerezhou National Park. I have previously stayed in the self-catering units at the lodge which come at a lower rate. I had booked a self-catering unit but on my arrival I was told that (a) The lodge had only opened two days previously after their wet season break (b) I was the sole guest for the two nights that I was there (c) they were doing maintenance work on the self-catering units (d) I could stay in the normal lodge rooms at no extra cost. That was a delight.
As I relaxed on a cliff overlooking the Save River seven elephants came down to the river on the far bank. After drinking for a while, they started swimming across the river. A few got out on my side, but the others stayed in the water. Over the next hour, four more elephants joined them. And then for yet another hour they played in the water. Submerging themselves. Rolling about. Ducking each other. Blowing water. They were in heaven. And I was in heaven watching them.
Day 15 Gonerezhou National Park, Zimbabwe
In 1973 I first visited Gonerezhou (The Place of the Elephants) with my father when it was a wild place with masses of elephants. I visited again in 2015 and again today. It is still a wild place with masses of elephants. The Park has been devastated by poaching but has recovered since the Frankfurt Zoological Society got involved in 2007. Today the FGS jointly manages the park with Zimbabwe Wildlife. The Park is only accessible by 4×4 vehicles with most roads little more than tracks. The Runde River bisects the north of the Park and visiting that area is best done by criss crossing the river. That is a challenge because there are no bridges so one must enter the water with your vehicle to get across. To exit the Park in the north east requires one to cross the Save River, in the same way. At this time of the year, the end of the wet season, the rivers are too high to cross with vehicles. The lodge transported me across the Save River in a boat to their game drive vehicle which they had parked on that side of the river. We spent six hours in the Park and saw masses of elephants, five wild dogs, nyala, lots of birds and dwarf mongooses.
The head ranger at the Lodge told me that Park was planning to introduce rhinos so that they could be described as a Big 5 park. I was surprised that they thought it worthwhile, given the additional anti-poaching needs that come with rhinos. The response was that poaching is no longer a problem in the area as anyone found carrying a gun in a reserve in the area is immediately shot dead by the rangers!
Day 16 Eastern Highlands to Juliasdale 424km
Soon after turning back onto the tar I stopped at a small filling station with all its pumps covered up. Zimbabwe is suffering a huge shortage of fuel and most filling stations only receive a supply every fortnight, which is then bought within four hours. However, I asked for Johnson and told him that Thomas from Chilo Lodge had sent me to buy diesel for dollars. The cover was lifted from one of the pumps and my tank was filled at US$1 per litre, which proved to be the cheapest price of the trip.
A short while later I passed a fuel tanker parked beside the road next to a pickup truck. I could not be sure, but it looked like fuel was being offloaded. I wonder if the fuel owner knew this was happening?
For the next six hours I travelled along most of the 300km length of the Eastern Highlands in Zimbabwe. They are a range of mountains that form the border with Mozambique. Forming a link in the off-centre spine of Africa, the Eastern Highlands Mountain Range effectively begins all the way down in the Western Cape of South Africa, continues up along the Drakensburg Mountains and onwards along the Great Rift to the Ethiopian Highlands. They comprise the Chimanimani Mountains in the south, the Bvumba Mountains in the centre and the Nyanga Highlands in the north. They are very different from the rest of the country as they are forested, very green and far cooler than elsewhere. I deviated off the main road to go deeper into the mountains.
Day 17 Nyanga Highlands 146km
Today I explored the 33,000-hectare Nyanga National Park which was once the private estate of Cecil Rhodes. Its main feature is Mount Nyangani, the highest peak in the country, which has a height of 2,600 metres and is about 15km into the park on a 4×4 track. I drove to the parking area but did not hike up the final 400 metres. The Park rules require summit hikers to leave the Park Office before midday if they plan to hike to the summit.
Having enjoyed the mountains, I then visited the surrounding villages. Troutbeck and Juliasdale are very small villages, each containing a poor-quality large hotel. Nyanga Town is more substantial but of little interest for a tourist.
I saw queues start forming at the Total filling station in Nyanga in anticipation of a fuel delivery. Four hours later the fuel had not arrived, but the queue had multiplied. Thirty minutes later I saw two Total tankers pass me on the road. The filling station attendant at Juliasdale directed me to a filling station in Sanyatwe, 15km away, where my tank was filled with diesel at $1.20 per litre.
Day 18 Juliasdale to Harare 250km
I had an easy and pleasant drive descending from the mountains, listening to my podcasts, arriving in Harare at 13h00. Harare is a big sprawl of an African low-rise city. I needed my last top up of diesel so asked the Total attendant where I could find diesel for dollars. To my amazement he directed me to Abraham at another Total filling station. I negotiated the asking price down from $1.15 to $1.10 and was then filled up from one of their pumps. The auditor in me wondered if the owners of the filling station are complicit in this trade?
I then checked into York Lodge, one of my more expensive nights, but a wonderful, comfortable guesthouse. I needed to do work on our property portfolio so spent nine hours catching up on admin.
I interrupted my work to spend two hours over dinner with the only other guest, Malcolm. He is the CFO of J&J, a haulage company based in Beira in Mozambique. I was fascinated to hear that they were big enough to be owned by the private equity firm, Carlisle, had 1,700 trucks operating principally in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and south-eastern DRC, transporting principally mining and agricultural products. He told me that the difficulties of operating in the region, particularly crossing borders, was worked into the prices they charged. Drivers carry huge amounts of US dollars to pay for duties, fuel and tolls and have pick up points on regular routes to collect more cash. Despite the very real fuel shortages in Zimbabwe they have organised supplies wherever needed. He emphasised that with a US owner they were conscious of their responsibilities to the working conditions of drivers and ensured that driving hours were monitored and controlled. He said that the vehicles never drove at night because the risks were too high. The vehicles are all fitted with trackers. I could have spent hours more asking questions about this fascinating business operating in a difficult environment.
Day 19 Harare to Lusaka 500km
I had an early departure from a quiet Harare on a Sunday morning. The 350km drive to the Chirundu border post with Zambia was uneventful. I was concerned about how this border crossing was going to be. My concerns deepened when I passed three kilometres of trucks queuing to cross the border. I then discovered that trucks are processed separately from cars and pedestrians. The Zimbabweans and Zambians have created one stop buildings at this border with all traffic from Zambia being processed in one building on the Zimbabwean side of the Zambezi and all traffic from Zimbabwe being processed in one building on the Zambian side. I crossed the bridge, parked and told the clamouring touts that I did not need them. The process then was as follows:
1. Zambian port health authorities required me to complete a health questionnaire and checked my temperature with a type of heat seeking camera. This was clearly because of concerns about Coronavirus.
2. Zimbabwean immigration stamped my passport
3. Zimbabwean customs stamped my carnets
4. Zambian immigration stamped my passport
5. At the Zambian Customs General Office (in a corridor behind the Carbon Tax office) they stamped my carnets. I think this is the place where one would, without a carnet, get a TIP. I did not get a TIP which caused some confusion at the Carbon Tax counter and at the final exit gate.
6. I exited the main building and went to the adjacent building to Zimbabwean Interpol who wanted to see my Zimbabwean TIP and was confused by my carnet. He took me to the next-door office of the Zambian Interpol who told his colleague to stamp the back of the Zimbabwean page in my carnet, which he did.
7. The Zambian Interpol then stamped the back of the Zambian page in my carnet. I think that this is the office where they normally want to see a police clearance certificate from the South African police, confirming that the vehicle is not stolen. I think, but am not certain, that they consider the carnet confirms the same thing.
8. I returned to the main building. The customs official who had stamped my carnet told the Carbon Tax official that because I had a carnet, I did not have to pay Carbon Tax. He was surprised and I was concerned that a policeman on the road would also be surprised, so I insisted on paying the ZKW 480 (£25) carbon tax. (As it happened no one asked for my carbon tax receipt while I was in Zambia.)
9. I returned to the adjacent building and at a desk near the Road Tax office, paid ZKW50 (£3) Community Levy Tax.
10. In the same office, at a counter, I advised the official that I was travelling across the country to Mbala and presented my carnet and passport and paid US$20 Road Tax. The official told me that the Road Tax certificate that he gave me exempted me from paying tolls. At the six tolls that I encountered I presented the certificate, which was stamped by the toll man and saved me ZKW20 each time. This was the only document which police checks asked to see.
11. Somewhat to my surprise I was not asked for proof of third-party insurance. I had purchased the insurance online, in advance, from Phoenix of Zambia Assurance at https://www.phoenixassurancegroup.com/zambia/online-payments/foreign-3rd-party-motor-insurance/ at a cost of ZKW138 (£7) for a month. I understand that there is a place to buy the insurance at the border (but did not see it) and that the cost is higher.
12. I presented myself at the exit gate with my vehicle. The attendant was confused that I did not have a TIP and took me to the Zambian Customs General Office, who confirmed that I could exit, which I was allowed to do once I had completed and signed their exit register.
The whole process took about eighty minutes. The border post was very quiet with a few pedestrians. It may have helped that I was there early afternoon on a Sunday. I was faced with no queues at any of the vehicle processing counters. All the officials were very helpful in explaining what was happening and telling me where to go next. It also helped that I had a guide that I had downloaded from the Files section of the DriveZam Facebook page.
The road then climbed out of the Zambezi Valley with an easy 150km run to Lusaka. As I entered the city it was very clear that this was a more prosperous place then Harare with shopping centres and several South African store chains. The Wild Dogs Lodge, that I had booked at, was out of town, with a rural address not on my Satnav. I also did not have a Zambian sim card, so I wasted an hour finding the place.
Day 20 Lusaka to Kasanka National Park 515km
As I prepared to leave in the morning, I realised that one of the spare wheel holders, at the back of my vehicle, was missing. I had to conclude that the catch had been jolted loose when I hit a pothole at speed and once loose had torn off. I had been completely unaware of it. This was an expensive loss of a necessary spare wheel which also included my rear number plate. There was nothing I could do about it.
I was on the road by 07h00, skirted Lusaka and headed north on a reasonably good road. There were a lot of trucks on the road which was heading to Ndola and the Copper Belt. That traffic reduced significantly when I turned off at Kapir Mposhi. A while later I passed the point where the DRC has a peninsula pushing into Zambia. I crossed under a railway bridge and wondered if this is the railway line, my wife and I will be travelling on next year with Rovos Rail from Lobito in Angola to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
I had felt exposed the night before without a Zambian sim, so I stopped at a roadside Airtel vendor who registered me with Airtel by scanning my passport with his phone and getting me to sign a contract on his phone. I bought airtime and data.
I arrived at Kasanka National Park. The Park is principally known for the gathering of several million straw-coloured fruit bats every November and December. They also host sitatunga or marsh buck, a swamp-dwelling antelope, which are not seen in the wet season. The park is forested and was very overgrown and green. I was not expecting to see very much, and so it proved when I walked for ninety minutes around the lake with a guide.
I had booked at Luwombwa Lodge but was accommodated at the far more expensive Wasa Lodge, because the road to the former was under water.
The only other guests that night were two authors. Tsitsi Dangarembga (61) from Harare, and Nadine Jassat (32) from Edinburgh, are part of the Outriders project of the Edinburgh International Book Festival which has dispatched ten writers (in pairs) to Africa to return and present a work at the 2020 Festival. They are following the route taken by James Chuma and Abdullah Susi with Livingstone’s body from Ilala, Zambia to Bagamoyo, Tanzania. Their works do not need to focus on that journey but can be drawn from anything they come across while following it. I look forward to reading the works they produce. (The 2020 Edinburgh International Book Festival was later cancelled because of the Coronavirus so they will presumably present in 2021.)
Day 21 Kasanka National Park to Kapiysha Springs 452km
Having been inspired by the authors the previous night I visited the memorial to the Scottish physician, missionary and explorer, David Livingstone, located at the place that he died. Livingstone was a missionary in three locations in Botswana for eleven years from 1840 and was then an explorer for 22 years from 1851. He was the first white man to see the falls we now know as Victoria Falls and he mapped the length of the Zambezi. He was determined to find the source of the Nile but never did. He felt that if he found the source of the Nile, his fame would give him the influence to end the East African Arab-Swahili slave trade. Livingstone died on 1 May 1873 at the age of 60 in Chief Chitambo’s village at Ilala, southeast of Lake Bangweulu, in present-day Zambia, from malaria and internal bleeding due to dysentery. His loyal attendants Chuma and Susi removed his heart and other organs and buried them under a tree near the spot where he died. They then salted the body, embalmed it in his sheets, created a stretcher and carried the body together with his journal, over 1,000 miles, a journey that took 63 days, to the coastal town of Bagamoyo, (in modern day Tanzania) where they were returned by ship to Britain. In London, his body lay in repose at No.1 Savile Row, then the headquarters of the Royal Geographical Society, prior to interment at Westminster Abbey.
The current Chief Chitambo is the great grandchild of the Chief who supported the return of the body to England. He did that by sending villagers to guide Chuma and Susi as far as they knew the route, with instructions that, people of the village that they then reached, should accompany the body further.
On the gravel track on the way to the memorial, a few kilometres from the memorial I stopped to allow an approaching pickup to pass. The vehicle stopped and the driver got out and approached me. She said ‘You are going to the David Livingstone memorial. I am Barbara and I am the guide at the memorial. I will go with you to the site and afterwards you will take me back to the tar road where my friends will wait for me’. I could not refuse such a direct offer. On the way there she told me that she was 33 and a widow with three children. She had married a man 18 years her senior because she felt that he was more responsible than her peer group. He became a magistrate and they lived in a good house near the memorial. He had died two years previously of a stroke. She has no intention of marrying again. Life is understandably difficult for her especially as the Heritage Department of the Government had advised their employees that the payment of their February salaries would be delayed until funds were received from the government. The pickup that she had been driving, had been loaned to her by her cousin, Chief Chitambo, so that she could use it to earn money until her salary was paid. She was transporting goods and their owners when she met me.
The memorial site has a relatively large memorial, with several plaques, and a replica of the hut which Livingstone was living in, as well as models of Livingstone and his attendants. The Heritage Department of the Government had started building, but not finished, a large ticket office and an interpretation centre. This seemed to be a waste of money to me. The number of visitors to the site is very small.
I explained to Barbara that the authors from Edinburgh were currently visiting the Chief and would be arriving at the site soon. She said that she would travel with me on the gravel track until we met the vehicle bringing the authors. That happened and she transferred to their vehicle. I gave her a generous tip.
Before I met Barbara, I came across a piggery, so I stopped and engaged in conversation with Kunda Kazimbaya, the chairman of the co-operative that owns the piggery and the adjacent mill. He explained that his co-operative of 110 members is part of the Zambia Co-operative Federation (ZCF) which provided the solar mini grinding mill, borehole and solar equipment free of charge. The 21 solar panels charge batteries that provide the power for the grinding mill. Members of the co-operative bring dried kernels of corn (also known as maize or mealies) which have been separated from the cob. These are then ground three times to produce mealie meal, which is a type of cereal, eaten as a staple in much of Southern Africa. The users pay a small amount which is used to maintain the equipment. This is a vital and transformative facility for the village. I later saw ten more of these mills as I drove north through Zambia. Research on the internet reveals that ZCF, in 2015, intended to install 2,000 such units. There is no indication how many have been installed.
Kunda’s co-operative then extended the facility by building a piggery funded by The World Bank through the Livestock Development and Animal Health Project, within the Livestock and Fisheries Government Department. The piggery holds one boar, two sows and eleven pigs up to the age of 18 months. (I am no expert on piggeries but the condition which the pigs lived in was incredibly basic, being bare concrete pens.) They are fed entirely from the waste product from the mill. As the pigs approach the age of 18 months, they are sold to a member of the co-operative who then slaughters the pig and, not owning a fridge, immediately sells portions to neighbours.
The installation and use of these two facilities have made a big difference to people living very difficult lives.
The ability of the villagers, or more realistically, their children, to escape their predicament is compounded by the difficulties of schooling. I asked Kunda why the children near us were not at school. He explained that their session at school was at 14h00. The local community Chititima Primary School has seven grades, 293 pupils, two classrooms, two teachers and operates three teaching sessions a day. The headmaster later told me that, the government would fund up to eight teachers at the school, but he could not recruit teachers because they cannot provide housing. He was convinced that if had housing he could recruit teachers. (The guide at the Livingstone Memorial, Barbara, confirmed that the school nearby also had a shortage of teachers, but it was her view that teachers were in short supply and would not want to live in such a remote place, even if housing was available.) The pupils at the school were in a simple uniform. Their parents at Chititima pay an annual school fee of the equivalent of £6 per pupil and at the school near the memorial, £24. Many people struggle to pay these fees and the cost of the uniform. A wildlife ranger explained to me that he had limited the number of children he had because of the cost of education. There is no doubt that these children are only receiving a bare minimum of education and that they will have huge difficulty escaping the poverty trap that they are caught in.
In further discussion with Kunda it transpired that he was a retired road worker, was born one month after me and married seven weeks before me. He assured me that his marriage was very happy, particularly as all the children had left home. He has eight children aged between 23 and 40 and twenty-one grandchildren aged between 6 months and 15 years. He explained to me that he was the headman of the village because his father had also been a headman. His brothers are headmen of other villages. They all owe allegiance to Chief Chitambo. I found Kunda to be a man of dignity, resilience and initiative who is working hard to improve the conditions of the people in his village. I made a small contribution to the co-operative and wished them well for their lives.
When I met the vehicle carrying the two Edinburgh Book Festival authors I told them that they did not need to follow the 1,000 mile journey of Livingstone’s body to the coast, to find inspiration for their work, because there is a wonderful story to be told about the lives and history and future of the people living along the road that they were on. I wonder if that will happen.
I had had an inspiring morning and had dallied far longer than I planned. As I left the area, I knew that it was going to be a challenge to get to my overnight destination at Kapiysha Springs. And so, it proved. The Springs are located on a gravel road midway between two main roads, in a Y shape, heading north and about 50km from each road. My satnav took me to the worse of the access routes. I turned on to the gravel road at about 17h30, forty-five minutes before it would be dark. The heavens opened and rain poured down. Visibility was poor, there were pedestrians and animals on the road, the road was in a terrible condition and was getting worse with the rain. I arrived in the pitch dark at Kapiysha Springs in a bad state.
The property at the Springs was acquired and built in 1914 by the grandfather of the current owner. It is apparently well known for its unusual design in the African bush. I could not appreciate it in the dark and the rain, especially as I had no hot water in my chalet. The owner was absent, and the two caretakers welcomed me, charged me for Wi-Fi and served me a horrible dinner. They then moved me to a chalet with hot water. I think they felt that they were upgrading me to a larger chalet, but it felt like a dormitory because it had so many beds. It had dark wood pillars and poor lighting. The bed linen and the towels appeared to me to have been in place since 1914. I was not happy and was delighted to depart early the next morning, with a quick glance at an apparently warm and bubbling spring.
Day 22 Kapiysha Springs to Sumbawanga 456km
I retraced my steps on the bad gravel road which was somewhat better in the light but still slow going. I picked up speed on good tar roads with occasional potholes. At 11h00 I called Lake Shore Lodge to make a booking for that night, and Louise, the host told me that it would take five hours from the border post to the lodge. That was the first inclination that I was trying to achieve too much because I was still a distance from the Zombe Border Post. The road from Mbala to the border is about 30km of the worst public gravel road I have experienced in my life, and I have experienced bad roads. It was made worse by that fact that rain had turned the road to mud with potholes filled with water.
I was driving too fast for the road conditions and bucked and swerved and as I went through a large water filled pothole, I heard that I was dragging something. I had pulled one end of the cover of my fuel tank from its bolts and it was now bent double under my vehicle. I had also torn the connection, from the car to the trailer for lights, from its holder. I looked for a place where I could lift the front of the car so that it would be easier to access the dragging fuel cover. I turned into a group of smarter looking buildings, which had grass running up a bank. The manager appeared and told me that this was a veterinary checkpoint and that he was the vet charged with checking animals brought from Tanzania. He quickly crawled under my vehicle and recovered the fuel tank cover which I strapped to the trailer. We checked and confirmed that I now had no indicator, brake or night lights working on the trailer. He wished me well, I thanked him and drove the short distance to the border post.
Because the road is so bad there are only about 25 vehicle crossings each month. The Zambian officials were having their lunch at 14h15 but started arriving fifteen minutes later. Immigration stamped my passport and customs stamped my carnets and inspected my vehicle to confirm that I was not exporting anything that I should not.
The Tanzanians were waiting for me. I was required to wash my hands and then interrogated by the newly created health unit about where I had been and the state of my health. They took my temperature and, to my surprise, inspected my yellow fever certificate. As far as I was concerned a yellow fever certificate is not required for Tanzania, but they said that I would have been refused entry without it. Immigration stamped my passport.
I moved to Customs for a frustrating hour. I planned to leave my vehicle and trailer in Tanzania for five months, while I returned to the UK. Most African countries have high import taxes on vehicles and are fearful that vehicles will be sold in their country without the payment of import taxes. The presentation of a carnet should, and normally does, provide the authorities with comfort that the vehicle will be removed from the country within the validity of the carnet. The owner of the storage facility in Moshi, where I plan to leave my vehicle, recommended trying to pay for Road Tax for the duration of the vehicle stay in the country and being open with the authorities about the intention to leave the vehicle in the country for a period of less than the remaining period on the carnet (period from issue to expiry is normally a year). Well that was a mistake! The official told me that he believed that he should not allow me to enter the country and quoted an example, at another border post, where the driver had planned to do the same thing and was obliged to proceed by public transport and leave his vehicle at the border, until he returned and took it back to Zambia. After a period of arguing about the issues he called his superior who eventually arrived and decreed that I should be allowed to buy three month’s Road Tax, enter the country and when I fly out of Tanzania I should park my vehicle at a Revenue Office until my return. I paid US$90 for three months, had my carnet stamped and was free to depart. The clocks changed by an hour on crossing the border, so it was now 17h00 with night expected at 19h15.
I called Louise at Lake Shore Lodge (using my UK phone) who advised that I should stay at Holland Hotel in Sumbawanga, 100km away.
As I headed away from the border, on a far better gravel road, the heavens opened, visibility was dramatically reduced, and the road condition deteriorated. The roadside was busy with people and animals and cyclists. I crawled along and eventually arrived at about 20h00 in Sumbawanga. I searched for the hotel in my satnav and chose it as my destination. It was dark, rain was pouring down, I was conscious that my trailer did not have lights and the area I was entering was looking dubious. I had apparently arrived at my destination but could not see any obvious hotel. I asked one of the many people on the pavement and one led me around the corner to a building with the name of Holland Lodge clearly displayed. Everything looked very basic. The room rate was rock bottom at the equivalent of £10. I asked to see the room and it was clean but very basic. The receptionist could see my discomfort and then suggested that I was not looking for Holland Lodge but looking for Holland Hotel! I agreed with him, so he called them and then advised that they were full. I had little choice but to stay where I was. The security guard expressed concern about his ability to properly protect the car. I was issued with a covering sheet, pillowcase and towel and took my bag, water bottle and toilet paper to the room. I was not going out in this neighbourhood for dinner, so I settled in, to sleep. The tap in the basin had snapped off and there was no hot water in the trickle that emerged from the shower. There was constant noise outside all night. At one point there were loud bangs and I accepted that my car was being broken into.
Day 23 Sumbawanga to Lake Shore Lodge, Kipili 149km
I emerged in the morning to find my car completely intact and to realise that the hotel was inside a large enclosure that was the city bus station with busses arriving and departing all night. I had no Tanzanian shillings so had to persuade the receptionist to accept US dollars instead.
I drew money at an ATM. The main Vodacom shop refused to sell me a sim because I needed to match my fingerprint with a print taken at the border, although he acknowledged that the border I crossed, did not have that facility.
I then headed to Lake Shore Lodge 150km away. The first 90km was on a good tar road but I now discovered that there was a village every few kilometres, where the speed limit reduced to 50kph, for, sometimes, a few kilometres, and the road then had serious rumble strips and large speed bumps. Progress was slow. The gravel road was slow going, but pretty, as it wound down to the valley of Lake Tanganyika. My driver side bonnet hinge gave up the ghost after the jolting of the last few days.
As I drove down this gravel road which had little traffic, I came across a team of fifteen people cutting the grass at the side of the road. In South Africa I had seen teams of fifteen people cutting the grass next to roads with strimmers. I had thought then how inefficient that was. I now saw people cutting the grass with a type of slasher, almost like a golf club with an extended head. I wondered what injuries these people must incur swinging this instrument for eight hours a day, day after day. Over the next few days I saw many more teams like this one. This was even more inefficient than strimmers. I had to accept that labour was cheaper than a mower that could negotiate the uneven road sides, and this was also providing work for many people.
I arrived at Lake Shore Lodge near the village of Kipili on Lake Tanganyika and met the South African owners, Louise and Chris. They have created a paradise. There is a large living, dining building opening on to the beach they created. They have magnificent chalets on the beach (at $185 per night), what they call Bandas ($60), which are semi-detached rooms, with lovely rooms but ablutions shared with four rooms and they have camping sites. Without my wife present I could not justify the price of the chalets so settled on a Banda.
Belgium and Lesotho are about the same size as each other. Both are slightly smaller than the surface area of Lake Tanganyika. Nearby Lake Victoria is 80% bigger in surface area. Lake Tanganyika is the second-largest lake by volume in the world (holding 16% of the fresh water of the world) and the second deepest, in both cases after Lake Baikal in Siberia. It is the world’s longest freshwater lake at 670km. The lake is shared between four countries – Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burundi, and Zambia, with Tanzania (46%) and DRC (40%) possessing most of the lake. Human activity is concentrated in the north in the largest city in Burundi, Bujumbura (1.5 million urban population) and Kigoma, Tanzania (about 200,000 urban population). There are only five other roads to the lake in Tanzania, to relatively small villages, so the Tanzanian side of the lake has relatively little human activity. That has allowed Mahale Mountains National Park to be maintained as a protected area for chimpanzees. The ferry MV Liemba (built 1913), used to be the life blood of the lake, sailing weekly from Kigoma in the north to Mpulungu, Zambia in the south. It has been in dock for three years and the government is under pressure to repair it. Twenty-six rivers (some quite short) flow into the lake and only one flows out. Given its proximity to the equator (3⁰S – 9⁰S) it has high evaporation with 90% of water loss arising that way. Chris at Lake Shore Lodge says that the lake used to rise about 500mm in the wet season and lose that in the dry season. In the last two wet seasons, however, with increased rainfall, the water has risen 1,500mm, flooding some of their facilities but causing real devastation to other resorts and buildings closer to the water.
I had hoped to do a sunset cruise, but a wind came up making the lake choppy. The same happened the next day so I never got onto the lake.
Day 24 Lake Shore Lodge, Kipili
This was a day of relaxation for me as I sorted out my photos and wrote this record. The people of Lake Shore Lodge worked very hard for me:
1. My laundry was done
2. A staff member bought a sim card in her name with my money which I inserted in my phone.
3. Louise organised with her broker in Arusha for me to buy third party insurance in Tanzania and COMESA third party insurance for Kenya and Malawi.
4. Louise photographed my front number plate and laminated it and Chris enclosed it in a hard plastic with corner holes, which allowed me to fix it to my remaining spare wheel with cable ties. This will not comply with South African number plate regulations but will do until I get there.
5. Chris rewired the connection to the trailer reinstating the lights.
6. Frankie, the maintenance man, did an amazing job of straightening the fuel tank cover, repairing and refitting it.
7. He also replaced my bonnet hinge using a hinge from my onboard stock.
8. Louise called to arrange that Katavi National Park authorities would be available to sell me an entrance ticket when I entered the park from the south.
9. Louise also called Mr Juma at Riverside Camp in Sitalike to book a room the next night, warning me that the accommodation was very basic.
A feature of both Zambia and Tanzania is that the mobile phone network is comprehensive in both countries. As a traveller it makes sense to buy a sim and a data package on entering the country, so that routes and features en route can be checked online.
Two guests had arrived late the previous evening. The American told me, in the morning, that he was a retired economics professor from Lexington, Kentucky. He told me that the city has the third largest group of Congolese in the US and that he and his Congolese professor colleague, own and operate both a retail and wholesale business, selling products to that group. He was looking into the possibility of setting up a business to buy Migebuka fish (like sardines) from local fishermen, freeze them at the lakeside and ship them to the US. I wished him well for his project. Louise later told me that a friend of theirs had built a fish processing plant further south on the lake and had been bankrupted by the failure of the venture. According to her, the volumes of fish catches are declining every year and the local manager for the venture diverted fish to his own operation.
Day 25 Lake Shore Lodge, Kipili to Katavi National Park 231km
I drove up from the lake in the morning on gravel, then tar and then back to gravel, arriving at the New Ikuu Ranger Post in the Katavi National Park at about 11h00. The ranger with his rifle took me to the close by New Ikuu Airstrip where I was met by an official who had driven an hour from the northern gate to meet me. Their normal guide at this entrance was on leave. There are four luxury safari camps in the Park and their guests normally fly into the air strip. I was told that the charge would be US$30 for me, $40 for the vehicle and $12 VAT – a daily cost of $82! (locals pay 10% of that charge). The Tanzanian Government now requires all park fees, traffic fines and some other fees to be paid by credit card. This cuts down on corruption and the handling of cash. The credit card machine could not connect to the network, so I was given a temporary pass and told to pay at the northern gate when I exited.
I ambled along the nearby river seeing about twenty elephant and a similar number of buffalo in singles and pairs, plenty of hippos in and out of the water, beautiful giraffe and water buck.
I crossed the river and took a track on the other side carrying on in an easterly direction. The track deteriorated and it was clear that it had very little traffic. My satnav told me that if I continued on this track I would eventually get to the northern gate. I crossed some soft sand and mounted a ridge about 300mm high with my front tyres, but the rear wheels resisted. My wheels spun in the sand. I reversed a short way, but my trailer started to jack-knife, so I tried again, only to get completely stuck. It was 14h00 so I had plenty of time to get myself out. I deflated my tyres to 0.8 bar and tried to clear the sand in front of the rear tyres. I tried to move again and spun in deeper. My satnav gave me my coordinates and told me that I was twelve kilometres from the main road through the park. I was carrying a satellite phone for this very occurrence, but my sim had expired, and I had not been able to get a replacement in time before I left London. I noticed that I had a signal on my phone so sent messages to the park ranger I had met a few hours previously, to all three numbers of Lake Shore Lodge on the pamphlet they gave me as I left and to my wife, asking her to call the same three numbers, for them to call the park office. The signal was intermittent, so it was a good while before all messages went off but at least I had the comfort that people knew of my predicament. I was wilting in the hot sun. The trees in the vicinity were mainly palms so their branches provided no support. I went further afield looking for logs or stones that I could put under my rear wheel, carrying my spade in case I was attacked by an animal. I found a log, dragged it back to the car and broke it into useful size pieces, to the extent that I could. I carry a saw for these purposes, but I could not get to it in the back of my car because the trailer was standing at an angle to the car. I disengaged the trailer from the car and reminded myself on how to use my high-lift jack. I used the jack to lift the passenger rear side of the car as high as I dared. (high-lift jacks are very efficient, but inherently unstable.) I dug out the area in front of the tyre, placed logs under the tyre and a sand track for the route out and a sand track to spread the weight of the car over the logs. I dug out the route out for the driver side rear wheel.
I kept imagining that I could hear the distant sound of a rescue vehicle. It was now 18h30 so if I did not get out, I would have to pitch my tent and stay overnight. I engaged low range and locked my diff. I had done all I could. The car hesitated and then lifted and moved forward. I was delighted. I packed up my tools lying about, left my trailer and headed 56km to Sitalike, the village at the north end of the park. This was the third time this trip that I was breaking my rule of not driving at night. The gravel road through the park is potholed and slow going. I arrived at 20h00 at Riverside Camp to be greeted by Mr Juma, the owner, who installed me in my basic but clean room. There was no hot water in the shower, but I was desperate to be clean and used cold water. I consoled myself that the lack of dinner was a blessing for my waistline.
I later discovered that my messages to the ranger and Lake Shore Lodge never got through. Louise explained that all their numbers had been cancelled by the mobile phone operator when they did not use them on their recent long trip to South Africa. I should have used the number I had used to speak to her before I arrived at her lodge. My wife was at a matinee theatre performance and was distraught to read my message when she turned on her phone five hours later. But she also would not have got through to Lake Shore Lodge. No rescue vehicles were dispatched to save me!
Day 25 Sitalike to recover my trailer and then to Kigoma 433km
In the morning my waistline improved with a lack of breakfast. I went to the Park office to pay my entry fees which took a long time. By the time I returned to Riverside Camp, Mr Juma had recruited four villagers who squeezed themselves into my car. It took 80 minutes to get back to the trailer, five minutes to turn the trailer 180⁰ and ninety minutes to return to Sitalike.
Somewhere en route, as I hit potholes with speed in a loaded car, both my bonnet hinges broke. Mr Juma negotiated a price with the villagers for their three hours of time, which I gladly paid.
Mr Juma told me that the shorter route (415km) to Tabora, via Inyonga and Ipole, was impassable because floods had taken a bridge down. I needed to go the longer route (540km) via Uvinza and he felt that it was unlikely that I could get to Tabora tonight, leaving as I was at 11h00. How right he was! There was a tar road for the short distance to Mpanda where I filled up with diesel and inflated my tyres but thereafter the road was gravel which quickly deteriorated as the regular afternoon rains descended. I waited while construction trucks, working on a Sunday, dumped sand on the road.
I waited for thirty minutes while two trucks passing each other, both got stuck in mud and struggled to clear themselves.
I travelled slowly for fear of losing control and my trailer jack-knifing. After 230km in five hours I arrived at Uvinza at 16h00. I checked the IOverlander app for accommodation, which offered nothing acceptable. I called Louise at Lake Shore who told me, without hesitation, that I should not consider finding a place in Uvinza but should take the tar road, 107km, to Kigoma. I would find a good hotel on the lake waterfront.
Thirty kilometres towards Kigoma, on a good tar road, my driver side front tyre shredded. I had to assume that the tyre was not damaged on the tar but had been damaged when deflated on the road from my breakdown to Sitalike. I jacked the car up, but it did not go high enough. Twice more I jacked it up on different jacking points, adding what I could underneath the jack. Still no success.
I stopped a minibus and asked if they had a bigger jack, but they didn’t. I then revolted against my 4×4 training, which said that a high lift jack was too unstable to use to change a tyre. The tar road was flat and a firm base for the jack. The car lifted effortlessly to a high height. I was now an expert on using the jack! I gingerly replaced the wheel ensuring that I would not be hurt if the jack fell. The job was done. It had taken two hours. Night was falling.
Where did all these people come from and why did they congregate alongside the road on a Sunday night? The huge number of people was frightening, especially as they did not carry lights and wore dark clothes. My fourth time of night driving this trip. The going was very slow, and I eventually checked into Lake Tanganyika Hotel at 20h30. I luxuriated in a hot shower and tucked into chicken rice and a beer.
Day 26 Kigoma to Tabora 471km
I tried to find to find a replacement tyre without success and refused to take a 15” tyre for my 17” rims. I found a workshop to replace my two bonnet hinges from my stock and do a bit of welding to strengthen failing parts holding the bonnet on the car.
I drove to nearby Ujiji to the memorial of the place where Stanley met Livingstone under the mango tree. In August 1865, Livingstone departed from England on what was supposed to be his last and greatest expedition: a quest to locate the fabled source of the Nile River. The mission was supposed to last two years, yet by 1871, nearly four years had passed with only a few unclear updates on Livingstone’s whereabouts. Many Europeans had given him up for dead.
James Gordon Bennett Jr., the editor of the New York Herald, wished to get a scoop for his newspaper and he ordered Henry Morton Stanley (28), a newcomer to the Herald, to lead an expedition into the African wilderness to find the explorer, or “bring back all possible proofs of his being dead.” Stanley departed from the coastal port of Bagamoyo on 21st March 1871 with a large expedition and reached Tabora in July 1871. Tabora was an Arab enclave with large houses and lavish gardens occupied by wealthy Arab residents. Stanley had heard reports of a white man in Ujiji on the shore of Lake Tanganyika, so he headed in that direction. The caravan travelled hundreds of miles out of its way, through uncharted terrain, to avoid the tribal fighting taking place between Tabora and Ujiji. Over the next three months Stanley suffered from cerebral malaria and smallpox. Eventually, on 10th November 1871, he arrived in Ujiji. A mile from town, Stanley ordered the American colours raised. “The flags are fluttered, the banner of America is in front waving joyfully,” Stanley wrote. The sound of muskets firing and horns blowing filled the air. “Never were the Stars and Stripes so beautiful in my mind.” As Stanley entered Ujiji, thousands of people pressed around the caravan. And so, the two men met with Stanley apparently saying “Dr Livingstone, I presume”
Despite his failing health, Livingstone refused an offer to return home. After being resupplied by Stanley, he parted ways with his rescuers in March 1872 and made his way south to Lake Bangweulu in modern day Zambia. His illnesses later caught up with him, however, and he died from malaria and dysentery on 1st May, 1873.
There was an entry fee of TZS22,000 (£7) to the memorial and museum. I was shown the memorial and told that the adjacent mango tree was a descendant of the original tree. The rudimentary displays in the museum depicted the meeting but also focused on the slave trade.
Slavery was abolished in Portugal in 1761, in France in 1826, in Britain and the British Empire in 1834, in French colonies in 1848, in the USA in 1865 and in African Portuguese colonies in 1869. It is therefore not surprising that Livingstone found the fact that slavery still existed in East Africa in 1870 as abhorrent. The slave trade in that area had existed for a thousand years, with slaves taken to Arabic countries and to the East. The trade accelerated in the 18th and 19th centuries. At the time that Livingstone was in the area, slaves were being transported from the full length of Lake Tanganyika through Tabora and Bagamoyo to Zanzibar. Zanzibar became the main slave trading centre along the east coast of Africa. Increasingly slaves were kept in Zanzibar to work on clove plantations. In 1873, the year that Livingstone died, Sultan Seyyid Barghash of Zanzibar, under pressure from Great Britain, signed a treaty that made the slave trade in his territories illegal. That decree was not enforced effectively. It was not until 1909 that slavery was finally abolished in East Africa.
The descriptions above of the meeting of Livingstone and Stanley and the of the slave trade, bring home that although Livingstone was unusual to be a white man exploring the area, the local people have been there for thousands of years and the slave traders, including many Arabs, had been actively trading in the area for a thousand years.
I left Kigoma at 11h00 heading first to Uvinza. My satnav had not been updated for a new tar road that had been built (and which I had used the previous evening) and so I wasted an hour doing the longer route on a gravel road. After Uvinza the road alternated between tar, gravel and construction with about 100km being not tar. More rain made the gravel worse. I arrived in Tabora, a relatively large city, in the rain and checked into the Orion Tabora Hotel which was a blast from the past.
Day 27 Tabora to Arusha 642km
I was surprised that I had to pay the hotel bill in cash, so running short of cash, I sought out an ATM. Generally, it has not been too difficult to find ATMs. Some did not like my card. Visa has been preferred over Mastercard in Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. I resented the 3% charge to withdraw money. The biggest denomination in ATMs appears to be TZS10,000 ($5) which means that one carries big wads of notes, especially as many filling stations only take cash. Many ATMs are watched over by armed guards. I then filled up with diesel – another cash transaction.
As I drove around town, I noticed that, even in poor neighbourhoods, the women particularly, going to work, were very smartly dressed. That has been a feature throughout the country. Police are impeccably turned out in white uniforms. School children are all in simple but smart uniforms, with Muslim girls wearing head coverings.
The road to Arusha was good tar for most of the way with little traffic. I listened to podcasts and travelled as fast as one can with 50kph village segments. I arrived in Arusha at about 16h00 to find the most modern town yet. There was even a Woolworths! The main road was busy with traffic and it took almost an hour to cross the town. After enquiring at four tyre shops I found my replacement tyre at the fifth at a similar price to South Africa. But I had to pay cash!
In the evening I called Kenyan Airways and changed my flight from Kilimanjaro to Nairobi from Friday 20th March to 18th March. I was promised an email confirmation, which never arrived, which should have been a warning to me. I spent £150 calling British Airways in the UK and later in the US to similarly change my flight to London but was told that it would cost an additional $1,300 to change flights. I decided to fly to Nairobi and if I could not get a flight from there at a reasonable rate, I would stay at an airport hotel until my BA flight on Friday night.
Day 28 Arusha to Moshi and back to Arusha 100km to car storage
I bought pretty stamps from the Post Office for my daughter, Juls, and collected the originals of my third-party insurance and COMESA Insurance from the broker. On the road out of Arusha I found a car wash and sat and watched for ninety minutes while my car and trailer were hand washed for TZS15,000 (£5).
The 100km between Arusha and Moshi takes two hours because of the volume of traffic, people and speed bumps. There must have been 100 police on that route, none of whom stopped me. This must be a huge waste of manpower. I drove past Moshi and turned down a small track and bumped around for a kilometre until I reached Kilimanjaro House surrounded by a high wall. I was expected and shown where I should park my car and trailer for the next few months. (I plan to travel in Tanzania and Kenya in August.) About twenty vehicles were parked there. The German owner had fled to Germany before the virus arrived in Tanzania. His local manager helped me disconnect all three batteries and took payment to purchase tarpaulins to cover my vehicles.
My taxi arrived and an hour later I was at Kilimanjaro Airport. To cut a long and sad story short I was refused boarding because I did not have a booked connecting flight out of Nairobi within twelve hours of arrival. I would also not be allowed to leave the terminal and would be returned to Kilimanjaro on the next flight at the airline’s expense. Another hour-long taxi ride returned me to my Arusha hotel where I spent the next two days sorting through my photos and writing this report.
Day 29 Arusha
I was guided by the hotel to a shoeshine man over the road and waited while my shoes were cleaned for TZS1,000 (33 pence). A man sitting on the bench with me, waiting for his shoes, told me that he was an accountant but ran and owned a private boarding school for seventy pupils. The government had closed all schools two days previously and he had just dropped the last pupils off at the bus station to return home. While we talked, I watched a woman wash and rinse a few flasks and several glasses and cups in two bowls of water on the pavement. I asked my companion what she was doing. He told me that she sold a type of hot gruel which people would buy from her as a type of breakfast. I asked if she was finished for the day and whether she could earn enough this way. He replied that she probably earned about TZS10,000 ($5) a day which would be enough for to provide for a small family! I walked for about two kilometres along the main road and bought more stamps for Juls.
Day 30 Arusha to Kilimanjaro Airport
I started the day by messaging on WhatsApp with our son, David. He is in the British Army and was returning home from Freetown, Sierra Leone to the UK, early because of the Coronavirus. His group could not fly from Freetown to the UK so had flown overnight, via Liberia and Ghana, to Nairobi, from where they flew to the UK, on Kenya Airways, shortly afterwards.
At 14h15, Steven, the taxi driver who had brought me from the airport two days previously, fetched me and delivered me an hour later to the airport. It is no surprise that airports are places of transmission of the virus as trolleys, passports and security trays are handled by multiple people. I had already checked in online with British Airways and produced my boarding pass to prove that I had a connecting flight out of Nairobi within twelve hours. To my surprise my luggage was checked through to London despite me flying on unconnected airlines. The Kenyans really wanted to keep us in transit. The flights to Nairobi and London were comfortable and uneventful and I arrived in London, in lock down status, on the morning of Day 31, 21st March 2020.
My thoughts at the end of the trip
This trip was too long and at the wrong time of the year. There were too many long driving days and not enough time to enjoy what was available. The 8,800km distance that I travelled was the longest of any of my African trips. On the way back I must split the trip and leave the car halfway back to Cape Town.
I experienced rain, sometimes torrential, on 70% of the days. The rain happened normally in the afternoon or night and did not necessarily prevent me from doing anything on the day, but it made the driving difficult, especially on wet gravel roads. My planned trip to non-public roads in the Kruger Park was changed because the roads were impassable. Zambia has a lot of rivers and they flood almost all the national parks in the summer which cause the parks to close, so they were not available to me on my way through. A combination of being out of season and the Coronavirus meant that I was the only guest in the place I stayed, on twelve nights, and otherwise stayed in relatively empty establishments.
The temperatures were milder than I expected, seldom getting above 30⁰C. The nights were generally comfortable to sleep in without air conditioning, when available.
Everywhere I travelled had had good rains and thus the vegetation was very green and overgrown. I was surprised at how forested Tanzania is.
The roads deteriorated as I moved north. The Zimbabwean and Zambian roads were generally good with occasional bad patches. The Tanzanian roads were slow going on the tar because of the frequency of 50kph sections near villages. A lot of the roads between major towns were gravel with many being very poor gravel.
The three border crossings that I did were better than I expected. My expectations were low, and I had read up on each border so knew reasonably what to expect. In general, the officials were polite and helpful. No one on the borders or police on the route asked me for a bribe.
I might be naïve, but I felt safe during the day, wherever I travelled in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania. They certainly all feel safer than South Africa.
In all countries people were welcoming and helpful. In Tanzania many people only speak Swahili, but one could normally find someone nearby, who could speak English.
Looking at my photos I see that I do not have enough of the everyday scenes of people living their lives. I regret that.
Descriptions of Accommodation
I was travelling alone so in some cases have paid a single supplement. Hotels recognise that if a bed has not been sold it is better to get something at the last minute rather than nothing. Some of my last-minute rates were substantial discounts to rack rates. The assumption is that decent Wi-Fi was available in the bedrooms at no cost unless mentioned.
Cape Karoo Guesthouse, Beaufort West, South Africa. R650 (£33) per night per room only. Comfortable stop for a quick stay.
Funnystone Farm, near Barklay East, South Africa. Friends of my Aunt Rose.
Buller’s Rest Lodge, Ladysmith, South Africa. R870 (£45) per night per room including breakfast. Comfortable.
Torburnlea Luxury B&B, Mbombela, South Africa. R1,260 (£65) per night per room including breakfast. This is a favourite of mine and is luxuriously comfortable.
Senalala Safari Lodge, Klaserie Conservancy, near Hoedspruit, South Africa. R7,450 (£380) single occupancy per room including full board and two game drives a day. This is a favourite of mine and this was my fourth visit. I had a complimentary night given to me by the owner.
Bushveld Terrace Hotel, Phalaborwa, South Africa R1,950 (£100) per night per room including breakfast. I had to upgrade my room to get a room close enough to the reception to get Wi-Fi, which was then free. This was poor value for money.
Bonsai 4×4 Tours led by Johan du Plooy for four days. R12,750 (£653) including guide and entrance fees. Participants provide their own vehicle, camping equipment and meals. The fee would have been lower if there had been other participants.
The Old Mine Guesthouse, Musina, South Africa R805 (£41) per night per room only. This is a functional place which I used so that I could get to the border early next day
Chilo Gorge Lodge self-catering, Gonerezhou, Zimbabwe US$110 (£85) per night per room only in a self-catering cottage. A wonderful lodge with beautiful views over the Save River.
Montclair Hotel, Juliasdale, Zimbabwe. US$140 (£109) per night including breakfast. A horrible hotel that has had little maintenance for many years. Poorly trained staff and terrible food. Only good thing was the strong Wi-Fi everywhere. The worst value for money on my whole trip. Avoid.
York Lodge, Harare, Zimbabwe. US$150 (£119) per night including breakfast. This is a magnificent lodge and an absolute delight to be at.
Wild Dogs Lodge, 11km outside Lusaka, Zambia. US$100 (£78) per night including breakfast. Wi-Fi only in communal area. Out of the way. Will not use again.
Wasa Lodge, Kasanka National Park, Zambia. US$60 (£47) green season rate with single premium waived for Luwombwa Lodge, but which was flooded, so accommodated at more the expensive Wasa Lodge at same rate. Great location but rooms basic. They are replacing the rooms. Wi-Fi only at the office.
Kapiysha Springs Lodge, Zambia. US$80 (£62) per night per room only. I arrived in the dark after a hard drive and hated this place. The linen and bed linen felt one hundred years old. Had to pay extra for Wi-Fi, available in communal area only.
Holland House Guesthouse, Sumbawanga, Tanzania. TZS 30,000 (£10). Clean but very basic hotel in the confines of the city bus station. Claimed to offer Wi-Fi but not available. No hot water.
Lake Shore Lodge, Kipili on Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania. US$60 (£47) per night for room with communal ablutions. Meals extra at $20, $20 and $25 respectively for three courses for each of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Wi-Fi weak and only in communal area. My Tanzanian mobile phone signal had a good signal because of a nearby tower so I used that mainly for my internet connection. A wonderful place with amazing hosts, Chris and Louise.
Riverside Camp, Sitalike, Tanzania. TZS 40,000 (£13) per night, room only. Clean but incredibly basic and a dribble of a shower. Definitely no Wi-Fi.
Lake Tanganyika Hotel, Kigoma, Tanzania. US$75 (£58) per night including breakfast. Comfortable.
Orion Tabora Hotel, Tabora, Tanzania. TZS 95,000 (£32) per night including breakfast (but an extra charge for bacon). Had its heyday eighty years ago. Even has a Princess Margaret room. Big room but ancient. Could not get Wi-Fi to work. Woken by caged parakeets singing in the morning.
Four Points by Sheraton, Arusha, Tanzania. US$152 (£118) per night including breakfast. Very modern, comfortable with a central location.
Description of my vehicle and equipment
I drive a three litre, diesel 2010 Toyota Fortuner which I bought in 2014 with 76,000 km on the clock. At the beginning of this trip it had done 175,000 km. I have added the following: ARB front bull bars, Fortuner bash plate, Safari snorkel, enhanced coils, springs and shock absorbers, secondary battery system, 72 litre built in extra diesel tank, Rockshockerz purpose built rear bumper and carriers for two spare wheels (reduced now to one wheel carrier), Front Runner roof rack, a pull out awning fixed to the roof rack, Front Runner stainless steel/aluminium camp table, two diesel jerry cans and a 60 litre Engel Combi fridge/freezer.
For when I get stuck, I carry a box of towing and snatch ropes, a high lift jack, two other jacks, an ARB portable compressor, two Desert escape sand tracks, a 9000-winch fixed to the front bumper, a spade and an Iridium 9575 Satellite Phone. I also have a C-Track tracker on the vehicle with the ability to send a mayday message (although did not know how to do it, when I needed it).
The vehicle carried me comfortably all the way with no breakdowns en route except for one puncture. I serviced the car in Phalaborwa, and it must be serviced again before my next trip. I spent time in Kigoma having the bonnet hinges replaced and searched for tyres in Kigoma and Arusha, but otherwise did not lose time because of the car. Damage to the car included:
• Lost the bracket containing my spare wheel and number plate
• Driver side front tyre punctured and ruptured and replaced
• Replaced three driver side bonnet hinges and one passenger side bonnet hinge
• Had the cover under the fuel tank ripped off which was repaired and refitted
• Had the trailer electrical light cable ripped from the vehicle and need to replace the fitting
The Echo Trailer was bought in 2018 and did a return trip to Livingstone via Botswana in that year. I did not use it in 2019. The reason to use the trailer is so that I can accommodate more than two people on the trip. There is not enough space in the Fortuner to carry four people, all their luggage and all the camping equipment that is needed. The trailer has two cubic metres of general storage, a kitchen compartment containing crockery, food and a two plate gas stove, two gas containers, a 120 litre water tank, two diesel jerry cans and a bed on the roof with a tent that opens up over the bed and extends to the side of the trailer. I took the trailer to Tanzania so that it would be available when I travelled with four people in the area on subsequent trips
Whenever I can, I stay in hotels or self-catering units, but if these are not available, I am ready to camp in relative luxury with an Oztent RV5 tent, camp bed, one sleeping bag for temperatures down to 7⁰C and another for temperatures below that, Oztent Goanna chairs, a selection of pots, pans and cutlery, braai grid and a sixty litre tank of fresh water.
|Accommodation for the 28 nights on the trip and the two nights in Arusha waiting for my flights, including the two nights when I did not pay for accommodation, and the total cost of my guided trip with Bonsai 4×4 Tours||£2,150|
|Diesel. I travelled 8,828km, consuming 1,291 litres, with an average consumption of 6.8 kms per litre. The average cost per litre, in £pence, of diesel, in the countries I travelled in, was: South Africa 84p, Zimbabwe 86p, Zambia 82p and Tanzania 78p||£1,064|
|Carnets de Passage at R4,800 each x 2||£657|
|Fees at borders||£135|
|Fees to enter national parks and museums||£143|
|Total of above||£4,149|
|Excludes: meals not included in hotel cost, tips, vehicle servicing, repairs, insurance and storage|
|If I had been travelling with my wife, the above costs would have been not much more|