In September and October 2021, I travelled 7,000 kms through Tanzania and Zambia in 40 days. I started my trip in Arusha in Tanzania, headed down the eastern side of Tanzania as far as Nyerere National Park and then travelled west across the width of the country to Lake Tanganyika. I crossed into Zambia at the Zombe Border Post, travelled down the eastern side of the country through North and South Luangwa National Parks and then headed west through Lusaka to Kafue National Park and finally headed south to Livingstone, where my trip ended.
COVID-19 has been a dominating factor in all our lives for the last eighteen months. I had driven my 4×4 vehicle from Cape Town to Arusha and left Tanzania as the world closed down in March 2020. The intention had been that I would have since done a few trips in my vehicle with family members in Tanzania and Kenya. In the end no one travelled with me in Tanzania, entirely because of travel restrictions and health fears arising from COVID. I managed a five day trip through Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Natron in October 2020. I planned and cancelled several other trips, one of them because I caught COVID myself in the UK. Fortunately, that illness did not last long, and I was subsequently twice vaccinated against COVID. I was due to fly to Arusha on Monday 20th September and woke with a very sore throat. We had attended an eleven-hour wedding celebration, three days previously, which could be a super spreader event. The downside of arriving in Tanzania with COVID and without travel insurance (none was available from UK insurers) was so high that I cancelled my flight. Over the next four days I tested myself using lateral flow tests four times, had an NHS PCR test and paid for a private PCR test, all of which were negative. I did have a common cold which made me miserable for a while and was gone in a week. I then flew to Amsterdam on Thursday 23rd September and flew on to Arusha, the next day. Our plane arrived at 20h00 in Arusha. We each had been required to complete a health declaration before arrival and then had our temperature taken. My £179 private PCR fit to fly test, which I had been told was required, was ignored. I was selected, at random, to have a lateral flow test (which I know should take at least fifteen minutes) and was given a negative certificate three minutes later. Once away from government officials and my international Arusha hotel, no one else in Tanzania was wearing masks and it was as if COVID did not exist.
My vehicle is a Toyota Fortuner (more details at the end of the article) which has all the 4×4 controls, but which Toyota classifies as a SUV rather than in their 4×4 range. I understand I have pushed the vehicle further than Toyota had intended, which has led to a high number of repairs, although I have never been stranded by a mechanical breakdown. By absolute luck, I found Zee Suleman of Pitstop Service Centre in Arusha, who did the following work for me on my Fortuner:
- Conventional service
- Welded the core body of the vehicle, below the windscreen, which had come apart
- Refitted the windscreen which was sitting loosely in the frame
- Fitted two bonnet hinges
- Built and fitted a wheel carrier, which had ripped off the vehicle, and been lost
- Replaced the air conditioning condenser
- Collected a new wheel rim from Toyota and fitted my second spare tyre to it
- Replaced the two power connectors to the trailer
- Replaced the auxiliary vehicle battery and the trailer battery
- Replaced front and rear cross bearings
- Bought two fire extinguishers
- Cleaned and aired the trailer tent and both fridges and prepared the vehicle and trailer for my arrival
He also dealt with the Tanzanian officials when I overstayed my Temporary Import Permit and travelled to the border with Kenya three times to extend the validity of the Temporary Import Permit. This exercise proved to be expensive but without Zee I would have been in a lot more trouble. Zee’s parting words to me were ‘When you can afford it, buy a Toyota Land Cruiser!’.
Calculated on a daily cost this was my most expensive trip when travelling by myself. I justified this to myself in a few ways. I had not done two trips that I would normally have done and had thus saved some money. Many of the places I stayed at, had initially been chosen, because I was going to travel there with my wife, when we would normally stay at better places. I decided to spend more than I have ever spent when travelling alone, on visiting the Busanga Plains, as that was the only way I could see them. Of the 43 nights on the road, only ten were camping and most of the rest, were in comfortable lodges or hotels.
I am using new technology on this trip. (Skip this whole long paragraph if you have no interest in technology.) Travelling alone in remote areas might be risky. I have historically carried a satellite phone to call for help if needed. The one time I needed it, the battery was flat! I recently learnt about the Garmin inReach system. Garmin has several hundred devices intended to help a wide range of sportsmen, including hikers, runners, boaters and overlanders, to monitor different aspects of their activity, often including the route that they follow. Many of these devices use the GPS satellites, just like the Garmin in your car, to track your route. Garmin developed the inReach system which allows one to communicate with those at home, using text messaging, using the Iridium Satellite network. The most important feature is a SOS function which sends a message to a Garmin operated emergency centre in the USA, which then tries to exchange messages with the sender of the SOS and begin coordinating a rescue. They also have details of your emergency contacts who are advised that you have initiated a SOS signal. The inReach facility is integrated into some devices, particularly those used for hiking and marine activities. They also have a device called an inReach Mini which has minimum functionality (besides the satellite communication) and is cumbersome to use alone. It can, however, be Bluetooth paired to other devices, which makes it very powerful. I purchased both the inReach Mini and the Garmin Overlander. The latter is a very fancy GPS device providing all the normal Garmin vehicle routing and guiding facilities but also providing other information useful when off road. I have set my inReach Mini to send my location (when on) every five minutes to my Garmin MapShare page and internally log my position every 30 seconds. The MapShare page is a website page which others can see, and which includes my current location (when my Mini was last on and out of a building) and my track using the locations sent every five minutes. In an emergency this will be enough for rescuers to find me. When I have access to the internet, I can sync my Mini with my MapShare page allowing the 30 second logs to fill out the track of where I have been, thus providing a full record of my trip. In my opinion a lot of the Garmin technology is not intuitive and is very clunky. They have a huge website providing information of how their products and devices work. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to find the answer in this mass of data, and when one does, it is often not informative enough, or assumes other knowledge. There is, as a result, a huge Garmin Forum website and countless YouTube videos on how to use the technology. One can spend days down this rabbit hole and still not understand it all. Fortunately, the technology seems to be working as I had hoped for me. To use the inReach facility one needs to subscribe to a Garmin satellite communication package which has three different levels from emergency use only to unlimited messages. (On all the plans there are unlimited SOS messages.) One must then choose between an annual plan, paid monthly, or a plan which is only activated for the months when needed. The cheapest emergency use monthly plan is £12.50 per month and the most expensive unlimited messages, occasional use plan is £65 per month. I used the latter plan for the two months covering the period of my trip.
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 20.20, Zambian Kwacha 22.50, Tanzanian Shilling 3,188 and US$ 1.37. I have used these rates throughout this report, irrespective if rates changed or the actual conversion rates differed.
Day 1 – Arusha to Lushoto 334 kms
After some last minute adjustments to the vehicle and the late purchase of third party insurance for the trailer (I had thought that third party insurance was only needed for the Fortuner) I left Arusha, later than I wanted, at 11h30 on Saturday 25th September 2021. As I left town I stopped at an ATM. Although all government departments only accept credit cards most other places, including many purchases of diesel, are paid in cash. The biggest denomination in ATMs is TZS10,000 (£3) which means that one carries big wads of notes. I drew TZS1.6 million (£500) and promptly spent TZS 270,000 (£85) on diesel.
As I left town in an easterly direction, I knew that Mount Kilimanjaro was just to the north of the road I was driving on. As is normal the mountain was not visible because it was covered with cloud.
Because I had lost four days of my original plan, I was no longer visiting Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Park. I was now taking the shorter route south, on the direct road to Dar Es Salaam. But first I had to travel east, the 85kms from Arusha, through Moshi. This road has people and houses along the full length, and it took me over two hours to cover the distance. Police were present at fourteen places along the route and although they were bothering many others, they left me alone.
As I turned south, hills appeared on my left which built into a mountain range along the Kenyan border for the next 300kms. This is one of the best roads that I have travelled on in Tanzania. It is in good condition and flat. Trucks, buses and motorcycles amounted to about 60%, 20% and 10% respectively of the traffic. The absolute number of vehicles on the road was not high so it was easy to pass slower traffic. However, the curse of Tanzanian roads, is that a 50km zone is created wherever houses are close to the road. Huge traffic humps within those zones required me to slow to first gear to avoid having the trailer bounce uncontrollably. These zones vary from 300 metres to 3km long and one seldom travels more than 5km before coming upon the next zone. I knew that the traffic police were constantly speed trapping at the 50km signs so one had to reduce speed below that before passing the sign.
I passed through the town called Same which is the junction for the Mkomazi National Park. My Bradt guide describes the reserve as an extension of the Tsavo National Park in Kenya. I would have liked to have visited the Park, but my schedule was now too tight.
The countryside I was travelling through was very dry, almost arid. I assumed that the clouds from the sea dropped their rain on the mountains and did not get this far.
At Mombo I turned off the main T2 road into the Usambara Mountains and climbed for 34km into the mountains to Lushoto. What a delight! The road is reminiscent (but shorter) of the road to Shimla in India. The road curves and cuts back presenting different, but amazing views. Small clumps of house would appear. A tailor was cutting cloth at a table by the road. Two women were hanging their laundry on a line by the road. Trees had been planted at the edge of the road where it falls away, thus providing a corridor to drive through. Every tenth tree is a Jacaranda with beautiful purple flowers. This is a glorious drive.
I arrived in Lushoto at sunset and went directly to my hotel. As I settled in, I heard the call to prayer from the mosque.
Day 2 – Lushoto to Bagamayo 303 kms
I was woken at 06h00 by the ringing of church bells. By 07h30 I had checked out of my hotel and found that a service was being held at the large church in the town. The church was overflowing with people as lovely hymn music rose in the air.
I then discovered that the church was the best maintained building in the town. The rest of the town was run down. The journey to Lushoto was more exciting than the destination. The town appeared to spread over the valley, and I could see houses on the hillside that appeared to be modern and well maintained.
The road beyond Lushoto continues for a further 65km on a circular route through Gologolo, Viti and Mabweni which I would like to do. The road is, however, a cul-de-sac, and I now retraced my route along the lovely road, back to the T2 national road.
About two hours later I was pulled over by a policewoman who showed me a photo of me doing 89kph in a 50km zone. I was frustrated as I had been trying to keep to the speed limit and must have missed the 50km sign. I jollied her along and she was entertained by my wife’s views that she did not want to travel as much as me in Africa, did not want to prevent me from travelling, was content for me to travel without her but would not be happy for me to take a lady companion with me. With a laugh I was warned to watch my speed and sent on my way.
Half an hour later the policeman, who showed me doing 81kph as I passed the 50km limit sign, was not going to be charmed and fined me TZS 30,000 (just less than £10). He also refused my request to photograph the picture of my vehicle exceeding the limit and was certainly not agreeable to me taking a photo of him!
The vegetation was now lusher with palms appearing.
After five hours of driving, I arrived in Bagamoyo. There have been important settlements in and close to Bagamoyo for 1,400 years. For many years it was the main port for access to the interior of Tanzania. I have previously written about the slave trade in East Africa. It went on for a thousand years, accelerating in the 18th and 19th centuries and was only abolished fully in 1909. Most of those slaves passed through Bagamoyo, some only going as far as nearby Zanzibar. Adventurers like David Livingstone and Henry Stanley arrived via Bagamoyo. David Livingstone’s body was carried 1,000 miles from Ilala, southeast of Lake Bangweulu, in present-day Zambia to Bagamoyo from where it was shipped to London for internment in Westminster Abbey. Bagamoyo was the capital of German East Africa. I expected to see an historical city. There is certainly a conservation area, but nothing is being conserved. Ancient buildings are in ruins. There was clearly a plan to revitalise a German fort but the notice boards announcing the work flap in the wind, as funds must have run out or been diverted. It is clearly a big fishing centre with many fishing boats visible and an active fish market. Two small car ferries waited. It was Sunday afternoon so perhaps not surprising that the rest of the town was quiet. I left disappointed.
I headed along the coastal road for a few kilometres south to the Mbegani Fisheries site where I parked my car and boarded a small boat, sent to fetch me, from Foxes Lazy Lagoon Island Lodge. This twelve bedroom lodge is based on the Ras Lwale Island, which is accessible from the mainland at low tide, although there is no road there.
Day 3 – Foxes Lazy Lagoon Island Lodge
I spent the day catching up on admin both for my trip and for unfinished business back in the UK. I swam in the pool, walked a kilometre along the beach and exchanged messages on my inReach system with my daughter, Juls, as I familiarised myself with my new equipment.
A jockey wheel is a wheel on a pole that is used to hold up a trailer when separated from the host vehicle. Yesterday I realised that my jockey wheel had been dented and the struts holding the wheel had been twisted. It would not support the trailer, when needed. I surprised the staff of Lazy Lagoon by arriving with my jockey wheel. I asked them to try and fix it. Earlier in the day the boatman had taken the jockey wheel to the local village on the mainland and when that did not work to Bagamayo. He returned with a battered but serviceable jockey wheel. I was delighted. The cost of the repair was the equivalent of £14.
In the evening I spoke to the only other guests, a group of five Germans. They were finishing a three week tour of the southern national parks and had visited many that I was planning to see. They mentioned that they had stayed outside many of the parks and gone in as day visitors. I suspect that they did this to reduce the length of time they were in the parks and thus reduce the high level of park fees.
Day 4 – Lazy Lagoon to Nyerere National Park 234 kms
I caught the 10h00 boat to the mainland and as I landed, I was assisted by a guide from the Dar Es Salaam office of Foxes Safari Camps, who was waiting to transport the five Germans back to Dar Es Salaam. He warned me about the traffic in Dar and then gave me advice which made perfect sense to him but left me more confused. ‘Three kilometres past the first airport sign, cross the sea bridge, ignore the first exit but take the second.’ He was clear that I had to cross the city because I needed to pick up the B2 road to Kibiti.
As I reached the main road my SatNav told me to turn north towards Bagamoyo rather than south towards Dar Es Salaam. I checked the route and it appeared to be taking me on a route via secondary roads which would avoid Dar Es Salaam. I hesitated and concluded that if such a route was sensible the guide would have mentioned it. I turned south and quickly joined the slow moving traffic on the outskirts of the city.
I turned into a modern looking shopping mall and tried to buy a local SIM card for my mobile phone. The assistant at the Airtel shop advised that foreigners could not legally buy a SIM because they did not have an identity number. She suggested (completely illegally) that I persuade a local to buy a SIM for me. I asked her to do me that favour, but she said that she had already purchased the maximum of five. The person next to me seemed interested in helping me but it then transpired that he had no ID number. I was directed to Vodacom. They told me (as I expected) that I could buy a SIM if my fingerprints matched those taken at the border when I arrived. My problem was solved! Except that the fingerprint system had been down since yesterday. It was suggested that I return later. I asked if the system might still be down tomorrow and was told that was entirely possible. I was not going to get a SIM today.
I popped into the modern looking supermarket and bought basic provisions and was shocked at the high price of cheddar cheese, butter and muesli mix. These products all seemed to be imported.
I was now ready to speed off, except that it took me 90 minutes to travel 8km along Nelson Mandela Road. There was no obstruction causing the delay. Just a lot of traffic was using this main road which had several junctions and where the change of signals took a long time. Vendors had built businesses based on this never ending traffic jam. They moved up and down the stationary vehicles offering their wares. Some of their products were logical and included water, cookies, potato crisps, nuts, samosas, car phone chargers, sunglasses and steering wheel covers. Other vendors had concluded that this was a good time to buy sun hats and tarpaulins. I must assume that they sold those products in sufficient quantities to continue offering them.
Every time the traffic inched forward a vehicle would appear from left or right and want to push in. One motor cyclist decided to travel in the opposite direction between the stationary vehicles.
Desperate to escape this never ending traffic jam I was seduced by my SatNav which offered me an alternative route on secondary roads if I turned onto Julius Nyerere Drive. The traffic immediately eased, and I was soon making good progress. I was slightly worried that the late anticipated arrival time shown on my SatNav was not consistent with the speed I was doing. And then it became clear why that was. 150km from my objective the road turned into a gravel road. It was a lovely road, running along a ridge for 75km. However, I was now lucky to maintain 60kph. Villages sprung up. Children were returning from school. Overloaded motorbikes carrying three large bags of charcoal approached me on the road every minute.
Charcoal is another curse of Africa. It is made by heating hard wood in a controlled environment getting rid of water and other volatile constituents leaving carbon. This is lightweight, can be burned to high temperatures and a small amount can go a long way in communities where fire is the principal way of cooking. Locals make charcoal which is sold in towns. I had previously seen large bags of charcoal being sold in Angola and in Zambia near the Kariba Dam. Of course, it is another source of deforestation.
I was not sure what time the gate of the Nyerere National Park would close but I expected it would be close to 18h00 which was my likely arrival time. When I arrived at the gate, I was told that they remained open 24/7 to accommodate the never ending trucks that were supplying the construction of the new dam in the Park. My happiness was soon overturned when I was charged $424 for myself and my car for two days in the Park! The daily charge was made up as follows:
|Description – all amounts in USD||Charge||VAT||Total|
|Concession fee for staying in the park at an hotel||60||11||71|
|GBP equivalent of total||£155|
I checked into Foxes Rufiji River Lodge. At dinner, the only other guests, a German couple, who were finishing a tour of Tanzanian Parks, told me that their best Park experience was Tarangire. This was the park I had eliminated from my schedule when I had started four days later than planned.
Day 5 – Nyerere National Park 187 kms
I was woken by the grunting of hippos in the Rufiji River, below the camp.
Selous National Park is described as the largest game reserve in the world. That does not mean a lot when about 85% of the Park is a hunting reserve. The northern 15% has been recently renamed as the Nyerere National Park and is available to clients who prefer to use a camera than a rifle. Unfortunately, the government is now building a dam on the Rufiji River, principally for hydroelectric generating purposes. Construction has been going on for two years and the forecast is that a further three years are needed. A ninety km long, fifteen metre wide gravel road now cuts through the Nyerere National Park with five huge trucks an hour traversing it 24/7. This has undoubtedly pushed game south away from Nyerere National Park towards the hunting area.
My first objective for the day was to view game. I spent a few hours along the banks of the Rufiji River and saw a huge number of hippos (as much as one ever sees hippos), two herds of buffalo, two sightings of ground hornbills, a pair of colobus monkeys (never seen these before), at a distance in the bushes, two sleeping lions and plenty of impala, giraffe, zebras, water buck, kudu and baboons. There were lots of young animals which is always endearing. The game viewing area is now confined by the river in the south and the road in the north. The riverine area is, however, delightful to be in. I saw no other private vehicles doing game viewing. I probably saw thirty game viewing trucks from lodges. I suspect that most of them were from lodges based outside the gate who were doing day drives. I was in my air conditioned car but most of the guests on these game drive vehicles looked unhappy as the 34 degree Celsius temperature wilted their enthusiasm and their forays onto the main road resulted in them being covered in dust by the construction traffic.
My second objective was to get close to the dam wall. Tracks4Africa is a community contributed mapping company whose maps on our Garmin Satnavs are essential for off road travel in Africa. When they heard of my trip, they asked me to travel to the dam wall and pinpoint its location for their map. I failed in this objective. Twenty kms from the likely place of the dam wall I was stopped by a security gate and no use of my charm was going to get me through.
On my way back I returned to the riverine area which really is delightful. It struck me that I had seen no elephants. I was later told that the area used to be full of elephants but the traffic from the dam had caused them to move away, probably into the hunting area!
On my return to the camp, I was pleased that management agreed to sell me 60 litres of diesel. I felt that I needed a full tank for tomorrow’s drive and my unexpected route yesterday had no filling stations once I hit the gravel.
During the day there had been a conference at the lodge of about twelve people focused on the management of Nyerere National Park. Four of them were not from the Park and stayed over and I chatted to them in the dining room. One individual had been employed by Tanzanian National Parks (TANAPA) for much of his life, and more recently as a consultant. A second individual was from a game reserve management organisation, I think African Wildlife Foundation (AFC). They said that they were exploring how AFC could help TANAPA make Nyerere National Park more successful. They were not very open about their plans. I suggested that they not bother doing anything until the dam was completed and that they look to reducing the entrance fees.
Day 6 – Nyerere National Park to Morogoro 302 kms
I woke to a beautiful view over the Rufiji River.
I was on the road by 08h00 and in the next hour I passed ten lumbering trucks fully laden generating huge dust clouds. I pitied a game drive vehicle that came the other way as their passengers must have been coated with dust.
I passed through the Matembwe Gate
I reached Kisaki at 10h15. As I approached the village, I crossed the main rail line from Lusaka to Dar Es Salaam. I was intrigued to see that the line, on my Michelin map of Tanzania, was annotated with the words, Rovos Rail. Rovos is a South African luxury rail holiday company. They do an annual return trip to Dar Es Salaam, which doesn’t seem sufficient to give them special status on the line. More mundane things were happening near the Kisaki station. A very long freight train carrying steel bars, was stationary. People were loading bags of charcoal on top of the steel. I wondered how this transaction worked. Presumably someone related to the train, possibly the driver, was facilitating this loading. Would the owners of the charcoal now travel on the train, for a carriage fee, or had they sold their charcoal to the train intermediary? I did not stay to find out.
In the village a roadside vendor was selling warm doughnut like cakes which cost GBP 3 pence each. They were greasy and wonderful.
I was ready for my next adventure. The Bradt Guidebook to Tanzania mentioned that the management at Hondo Hondo Tented Camp, near the Udzungwa Mountains National Park, had said that a road existed directly between Hondo Hondo and Kisaki. Such a route would be five or six hours shorter than going the longer route through Morogoro. I had asked 99 people about this road, and all said that it was not possible to proceed along it – but none of them had ever tried! This morning I spoke to the guide/driver of the German couple, and he said that, before COVID he had travelled on that road about twice a year. He warned that the road was in poor condition but quite possible to do the 100 odd kilometres in four hours. I arrived at the main (and only) junction in Kisaki and there was a huge sign pointing due west and saying that the Mahondo Ranger Post of the Mikumi National Park was 105 kms away. My SatNav told me that there was a road for 113kms to Hondo Hondo that I could do in four hours. Why should I hesitate? All the signs were clear that a road existed.
Just out of town I came across a sign saying that the Tanzanian Road Fund had awarded a contract for the Tanroads Engineering Consulting Unit to maintain, from November 2020, the next 50kms of road and do major repairs to the Mgetakafa Bridge. I drew comfort from this that the first 50kms of the road would be in good condition. (A few days later I identified the location of the Mgetakafa Bridge, which is on the road to Morogoro. This sign was erected on the wrong road!)
Five kms later I had a rude awakening as I approached a riverbed with a very difficult exit on the other side up a high bank. I walked up the bank and worked out the best approach. This was going to need all my technical knowledge and a good performance from my vehicle, all complicated by the fact that I was pulling a trailer. I deflated all my six tyres. I engaged low 4×4 range and approached in first gear. Everything worked to plan, and I emerged at the top of the bank. This was a worrying start because if further challenges were more technical than this, I doubted that I could be successful. I now had three choices. My SatNav said to turn immediately right and follow the river, except that there was no track there and only thick bush. There was a track going straight ahead and a track going left. I took the track going straight ahead which arrived at a hut in 300 metres and then faded out. My SatNav was still showing the route as running at right angles to my right, so I did a cross country drive across some harvested fields and found no track. I returned to the river crossing and took the track going to the left which I followed for about a kilometre, but it resolutely continued in the wrong direction. I became very concerned that I might travel for hours in the wrong direction and have to backtrack. So, I abandoned my plan to go directly to Hondo Hondo and instead returned to Kisaki to pick up the road to Morogoro.
The road north from Kisaki towards Morogoro was relatively busy but was an interesting road. It curved through mountains and interesting villages. It was difficult to average more than 30 kph but I was relaxed.
I lost concentration on the road as I pushed my fat fingers into the lunchbox that the lodge had given me that morning. Suddenly I noticed that my arrival time at Morogoro had moved on an hour on my SatNav. My route seemed to be doing a big loop which I didn’t understand. Instead of stopping and working out what had happened I chomped on a delicious piece of chicken. Eventually I realised that I had taken a wrong turn but as I was approaching the apex of the loop, I took the view that I might as well finish the loop. Immediately thereafter the road deteriorated to a small track which was clearly mainly used by motor bikes. There were many villages and many people on the route. They looked with fascination at my trailer on these small tracks. I came to a place where water had washed away part of the track. I engaged low range and easily passed the obstacle. Similar damage to the road caused me to engage low range several times. This route was getting more challenging. Suddenly my SatNav told me that I had missed an important turn and that I should retrace my route for a short distance. However, I was on the side of a mountain with no turning space for my trailer. The road widened and I thought to attempt a turn. A local man on a motorcycle stopped and guided me as I reversed my trailer towards the cliff edge. It was soon apparent that I could not turn here. My new acquaintance led me another two kilometres to a village where I was able to turn around. I now took very careful note of my SatNav to ensure that I did not miss the turning. I stopped at the point when it said to turn. There was no track there, just a cliff edge. I resolved that the safest solution was to backtrack on my route.
I arrived back at the ‘main’ road three hours after I left it. I could see why I made a mistake. At a junction I had gone straight on, but the correct road was at a 70 degree angle. Both roads looked the same size. If I wasn’t digging in my lunch box as I approached this junction, I would probably have recognised that I needed to take the road off at an angle.
It was now 16h00 and any hope of getting to Hondo Hondo by nightfall was lost. I consulted my Bradt guidebook which told me that the New Acropol Hotel was on the road into Morogoro. I drew up to an hotel that was closed and looked in urgent need of repairs. I next chose the Simbamwenni Lodge across town where I was welcomed by Annie and installed in a lovely comfortable chalet.
Mike McEnery arrived in Tanzania, from Ireland, forty years ago to do volunteer work and soon thereafter met Annie, from the UK, also doing volunteer work. Their work took them to different parts of the country, but they did long train journeys to meet up. They married and took on paying jobs as an infrastructure consultant (Mike) and a maths teacher (Annie). They have five children whom Annie home schooled until the need for good secondary schooling forced them to move to Ireland for a decade. As soon as they could, first Mike, and then Annie, returned to Tanzania, the country that they loved. They particularly liked Morogoro and bought a 99 year lease on a five acre plot, well out of town, from the local university. The plot stood empty for a decade and then they started adding buildings, to eventually include two chalets, four covered tents and a camping area. They have now retired and Simbamwenni Lodge & Camping that they have built, is their pension. Unsurprisingly they were closed for a year during COVID and are struggling back to life. I was the only guest.
They asked their local mechanic, Ethan, to come by and fix my trailer connector which had broken during one of my low range experiences yesterday. Ethan did that and then pointed out that my new wheel carrier was coming apart. He took my vehicle and trailer to his workshop to fix it. As I watched my vehicle leave the gate, with a person I had met 30 minutes before, I wondered if I was being sensible to let my vehicle, trailer, British passport and over USD1,000 be driven off. In the end my trust was well placed, and my vehicle was returned eventually with everything intact.
Mike, Annie and I chatted for a while and they then took me to the Vodacom shop where a 45 minute session, including the checking of my fingerprints and comparing my passport photo with the real person, resulted in me emerging with a local sim card.
Mike and Annie dropped me at Ethan’s yard, and we wished each other well, knowing that we would never see each again.
To my dismay the welding job on my wheel carrier had made little progress and was to proceed very slowly for the next three hours. I looked around me at this yard filled with vehicles that would never move again. In a country where new car parts take weeks to arrive many repairs are done by taking parts from vehicle that have been taken off the road. There were piles of discarded parts everywhere. The yard had once been the pride and joy of Ethan’s father with interesting wall decorations and a mounted buffalo head. Ethan had five employees and used sub-contractors to do jobs like painting. Everyone, including Ethan, worked hard and got dirty. However, every time a tool was needed or a mat to lie on under the car, a junior was sent to fetch the item. And when the lifting was particularly heavy or the job was particularly awkward or dirty, the junior was given the job. He may have been junior in status, but he looked to me that he was about 35. He did all that was asked without hesitation, but I wondered what went through his mind. I will never know. I made a point of thanking him.
The job was finished, and I was content to pay TZS 150,000 (£47).
I emerged from the workshop at 15h00 and realised that it was foolhardy to drive three hours to Hondo Hondo only to leave first thing in the morning. I filled up with diesel and drew TZS 400,000 to cover the cash I had outlaid during the day for my accommodation, SIM card (and airtime and mobile data), Ethan and diesel. At traffic lights I was intrigued to see ten sheep, without an obvious shepherd, walk along the main road and cross a street with determination. I have no idea where they were heading.
I then presented myself back at Simbamwenni Lodge. I was invited to join Mike and Annie for dinner, and we talked about travels, careers and children.
Mike told me that the Selous hunting area is divided into about twenty concessions which are auctioned annually. The successful bidders then work out how many 21 day slots they can use for their clients and then offer the remaining slots to others. In addition to the right to hunt in an area, hunters must pay the government in advance for the smaller animals they plan to hunt. Larger animals are only paid for if shot. Mike said that only large (presumably older) elephants can be hunted and that all smaller elephants may not be hunted. Mike thought (but confirmed that he was not up to date in these matters) that a hunter would probably have to pay USD 30,000 to the government for shooting an elephant. Mike said that there were once 100,000 elephants in the Selous and that the current number is probably in the few thousands. The hunters are principally Americans, Russians and people from the Middle East. Mike said that as the government received income for every hunted animal, officials require anyone with animal trophies or horns to have a certificate of origin. I always have difficulty with the hunting of animals, although I have developed a real admiration for the art of taxidermy.
As the evening progressed Mike broke into his Irish Whiskey collection and a few drams were drunk.
I was on the road by 08h30 for the two hour drive to Mikumi National Park.
A village that I passed through had roadside displays of basketwork for sale. Towering stands displayed baskets of every kind. There were probably twenty basketware stalls. The same happened in the next two villages. I had not seen basketware offered for sale anywhere else in the country and here were three villages devoted to the craft. Presumably one person arrived with the skill, which was then copied by all his neighbours. I did not buy any baskets.
I was travelling on the Tanzam Highway. The Tanzam Highway leads from Lusaka in Zambia to Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania. After Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) from the UK, in November 1965, the roads to South Africa were not available to Zambia. The 2,400 km Tanzam highway was built from 1968 to 1973 in several stages and was intended to provide seaport access for Zambia and to expand the transport options for Zambia, Malawi and the then Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo). The main rail line between Lusaka and Dar Es Salaam was also built at that time. Not surprisingly the Tanzam highway was busy, mainly with trucks. The route to South Africa is now also open. Today there are hundreds of trucks on the road, at one time from South Africa to Zambia.
The road passes through the middle of the Mikumi National Park for about 50km. The speed limit is reduced to 70 kph and signs warn of heavy fines if animals are killed by vehicles, ranging from $75 for a hare to $1,900 for a buffalo. On two occasions, when I was travelling very slowly, impala darted between the cars from one side of the Park to the other.
|Description – all amounts in USD||Charge||VAT||Total|
|Concession fee for staying in the park at an hotel||25||5||30|
|GBP equivalent of total||£82|
As always printed copies of maps had run out. I was invited to photograph the wall map.
I looked at the register that I was asked to sign and counted an average of fifteen new arrivals in each of the past three days. People who bought multiple day permits did not have to sign the register again. Nonetheless these are low numbers for a major park. I think that the numbers may be higher today because it is a Saturday.
As I waited for my permit, four buses arrived with ninety singing primary school pupils from fifty kilometres away. Excitement was high. The female teachers had put on their party frocks.
I drove into the Park and immediately noticed that it was a flat plain, with little vegetation and very dry. (The annual rains commence in six weeks’ time.) I saw very few animals until I came across the large dams called Hippo Pools. 200 buffalo were drinking water. Small herds of elephant were immersing themselves. Lots of other animals were there as well. One was able to leave one’s vehicle at a safe edge of the dams and I discovered that most of the visitors there were on day trips from Mikumi Town, 20km away. (These people did not have to pay the concession fee for an overnight stay.) I noticed that the elephants were small. I could not work out if they were different from the elephants in Southern Africa or that they were all younger?
A few hundred metres away two lions were mating a distance from the road. (Lions mate very ten minutes for several days.) Another two lions were sleeping under a baobab tree.
This was certainly a wonderful baptism.
On my way back to the gate I noticed a small passenger plane on the airfield advertising the carrier as ‘Coastal’.
Two hours after entering the park I crossed the main road and travelled 7km into the Park to Foxes Vuma Hills Lodge where I arrived in time for lunch.
The dining terrace was busy with seven groups of people. This lodge was the busiest I had seen yet on my trip. I noticed two pilots having lunch and introduced myself. They told me that they were from Coastal and had left Zanzibar at 07h30 and delivered their passengers to waiting game drive vehicles at 08h30. They would depart again at 15h30 so their passengers would have seven hours in the Park, as an excursion from their beach holiday. They do this flight twice a week. On other days they do day trips to Nyerere and Ruaha National Parks. They also drop passengers off for multi day trips to Serengeti.
At 16h00 I went out again. Workmen were erecting a telcom tower in the Park. It looked like precarious work.
As I entered at the main gate the four busloads of pupils exited. I hope they had a good day. I was game driving for 2.5 hours saw no animals at Hippo Pools, saw the lions still busy and came across a large herd of buffalo.
At dinner I met Patrick von Kaenel, a 26 year old Swiss who described himself as paraglider test pilot. He believes that there are only three such pilots in Switzerland and very limited numbers in France and Germany. The company he works for, Advance Paragliders, only sells paragliders and keeps a factory with 500 people in Vietnam fully occupied. I expressed the fear that being a test pilot is a risky occupation. Patrick said that he participated in the computer design of the gliders, which were conceptually tested by the computer. He said that the moment he picked a paraglider he could feel if it was properly balanced. He acknowledged that the oldest professional paraglider that he knew, was a young 40 and that he may not be able to be a sixty year old test pilot. He supplemented his income by sponsorship deals (in his view not a material amount) and motivational talks. He and his Swiss Air cabin crew partner, Nicla, were spending two days in the Park before spending ten days each on Mafia Island and Zanzibar where they will Kite Surf, on their equipment, which they had brought from Switzerland. They expressed interest in going to Cape Town where kite surfers sometimes jump 30 metres in the air with the high waves and strong winds. I remember seeing such boarders near Misty Cliffs on the Atlantic road to Cape Point. There is more information about Patrick at https://www.patrickvonkaenel.ch/
After dinner I worked on my laptop. Everyone had left the open sided dining area when I looked up to find a bush baby looking at me:
I woke before 06h00 to the sound of the lodge staff having a discussion some distance apart from each other in Swahili. They were happy. I was less so.
While the lodge is in the Park and the Park extends for a further 30km south it appears that in this dry season there are very few animals on the lodge side of the main road. I turned northeast when inside the main gate and travelled for about 35kms. The flat plain changed to rolling hills with bushes and trees. This was a far more interesting environment. I saw elephants a distance from the road. I stopped the car and opened my windows, and twenty tsetse flew into my car and attacked me. I fought back but was left with bites on my body in my defeat. Every time I slowed or stopped for the next few kilometres an army of more flies hammered on the windows wanting to join the party. It must be terrible to be in an open game truck in such an environment.
Wikipedia says: ‘Tsetse are large biting flies that inhabit much of tropical Africa and live by feeding on the blood of vertebrate animals. The word tsetse means “fly” in Tswana, a Bantu language of southern Africa. There is therefore no need to add fly after the word tsetse . They have a prominent economic impact in sub-Saharan Africa as they cause human sleeping sickness. Tsetse are long-lived, typically producing about four broods per year, and up to 31 broods over their lifespans. The areas occupied by the tsetse are largely barred to animal husbandry. Sleeping sickness has been dubbed “the best game warden in Africa” by conservationists.’ It was easy for the government of the South African Republic to first protect areas of the Kruger National Park in 1898 because farmers did not want to farmland infested with tsetse, as those areas were.
Most game reserves in South Africa have eradicated the tsetse but they remain a real issue for tourists in Tanzania and Zambia. It is uncomfortable to be bitten by a tsetse and even worse when several are attacking you at the same time.
I arrived at the Mwanambogo Dam and was pleased to see that the tsetse had been left behind. There was water both sides of the dam wall, so I parked on the wall and sat for 2.5 hours. The dam was busy with buffalo, eland, zebra, impala, baboons and many types of birds. It is always interesting to watch giraffe drink. They are always very cautious before they drink. Three approached the water. One drank but the other two were fearful and took two hours to find the courage to drink.
I became aware of a reed buck, largely hidden in the grass thirty metres away, who was watching me. She would duck out of sight and then emerge again. It took her a long time to conclude that I was not a danger. She eventually emerged from the grass with three members of her family and drank from the dam.
Part of the reason I sat there for so long was that I could see five elephants approaching the dam. I have never seen elephant approach water so carefully. They stood for almost an hour, about three hundred metres from the water. They stood on the edge of the dam but did not drink. Most elephants at this stage are running into the water. Eventually they entered the water, slowly and one by one. They drank their fill, cooled down by spraying water over themselves and one rolled in the water. They turned to leave. Accepting that the show was over I turned my car on to leave. The elephants bolted as fast as they could run. They must associate the sound of a car engine with a traumatic event.
I took a side road that would quickly deliver me to the main road. I came across the mothballed Foxes Stanley Kopje Lodge which was looking bedraggled. The tsetse were drumming on my windows. I wondered whether the flies had caused the camp to be closed. (The manager at Vuma Hills, later told me that the tsetse at Stanley Kopje Lodge are normally kept at bay by blue tsetse mats that the park officials hang out. The flies are attracted by the blue colour and when they touch the chemically treated mats, they die instantly. He was lobbying the park officials to rehang mats at Stanley Kopje Lodge.)
At lunch I met a sixty six year old German, his younger wife and his forty year old son. They live about 100km from Munich near the Austrian border. After the fall of the wall in 1989 he managed a newspaper business that quickly extended the publication of newspapers into Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. To mitigate his high taxes, he invested into a VW car dealership. When the owners later advised that the business was failing, he took it over and developed it to a business that today sells 10,000 vehicles a year from sixteen branches. Two thirds of the sales are used cars although about 1,500 of those are less than a year old and are from VW staff who are entitled to buy a new car at a discount each year. Most sales are on a lease basis which he thinks makes a lot of sense with electric cars, where the technology is bound to be very different in three years’ time. His son and two daughters have been running the business for five years and he has just given his shares to them. They visit Tanzania every year to oversee the development of a private monastery school located 100 km south of Dar Es Salaam. They have introduced management processes and have organised a foundation in Germany that provides funding of agreed objectives. Their objective is to make the school profitable so that it can offer scholarships to local children who could not afford to attend the school.
In the afternoon nothing was happening at the Hippo Pools, so I continued driving for another 15km on a road that became wooded. Even though there were few animals the drive was poor joy.
When I returned to the Hippo Pools, I was told that the mating lions were nearby. I was able to park 10 metres from the sleeping lions, who then woke, mated and went back to sleep.
As the sun was setting, I returned to the Hippo Pools to find it a hive of activity. Elephants were in three places in the pools. There was a kerfuffle as a hippo suddenly exited the water disturbing the equilibrium of elephants in his way. A very small baby elephant was delighted to be able to roll and play in the mud. A buffalo tried to get to the water’s edge to be chased away by an elephant. And so, my experience of Mikumi National Park ended on a very positive note.
Day 10 – Mikumi National Park to Ruaha National Park 350 kms
As I passed through Mikumi town a phalanx of police stopped vehicles and approached them with card payment machines in their hand. This was an out and out revenue raising exercise. I assume that the truck drivers are fastidious about the 50kph limit so they must be fined for something else. This must make trucking a far more expensive business that it needs to be.
The Tanzam Highway was busy, In the four hours it took me to reach Iringa I must have passed 200 trucks. Single and double continuous white lines in the middle of the road are probably created assuming that traffic in both directions is travelling at 100 kph. The relevance of the lines changes completely when most traffic is moving at less than 30kph. Official looking vehicles completely ignored the continuous white lines in the middle of the road and raced past me when I was complying with 50 kph speed restrictions.
My compliance with the 50 kph speed restrictions was not absolute and the moment I did 60 kph when entering a 50 kph zone, I was pulled over by the police. The corporal in a sparkling white uniform told me, in answer to my questions, that she had worked in the police force for fifteen years since she was 18, accepted that her job was to maximise income for the government, had three children and hoped one day to escape the police force and become a businesswoman. I diverted her sufficiently for her to let me go without the threatened fine.
Almost the complete route was through attractive mountains.
My comfort was compromised because my front passenger window had stuck halfway open. On arrival in Iringa, I took myself to the Toyota dealer. After my problem was considered by the receptionist and two service advisors the mechanic fundi was called. He undid six screws, removed the internal door padding and disappeared into his workshop with my window. He returned 30 minutes later and put everything together. I was told that he had glued the underside support clip to the window so I should not activate the window for three hours to allow the glue to dry. I wondered whether the promised bad roads to Ruaha would be a risk. I was delighted that all this work resulted in a low bill of TZS30,000 (less than £10).
The road to Ruaha was not as bad as reputed and I arrived at the gate in two hours. I was told that this was the only gate into Ruaha National Park, that while only two cars a day seemed to enter, most visitors arrived by plane. I was allowed to photograph a dog eared map as no copies were available. I was charged USD 236 for two days. The daily charge was made up as follows:
|Description – all amounts in USD||Charge||VAT||Total|
|Concession fee for staying in the park at an hotel||30||6||36|
|GBP equivalent of total||£86|
I arrived at Foxes Ruaha River Camp to find it spread along the river with a beautiful outlook from both the dining/lounge area and the individual rooms.
Day 11 – Ruaha National Park 138 kms
I woke early to the sound of three lions roaring. They were not together and different distances from the camp but wanted everyone to know that they were around.
Six weeks before the rains are due the rivers in the Park are not flowing and the Ruaha River only has stagnant pools of water. One of the guides, Mereso, advised that the best place to see animals would be near the confluence of the Ruaha and the Mwagusi Rivers. I spent five hours on a game drive and saw plenty of (small again) elephants, a herd of buffalo and small numbers of various antelope. I was frustrated that it was impossible to stay driving by the river as the road was mainly away from the river, coming close from time to time. The bush was tinder dry. I enjoyed the driving despite the relative lack of animals.
At lunch the only other guests were Rita and Jeff Rayman from Toronto, who have been married for 37 years. They made their money in film finance and, on a holiday to Rwanda, began charitable work assisting people living near game reserves to live better lives. Their work has extended to include Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Because of their regular travels to East Africa, they became familiar with interesting lodges and Rita now also has a business designing holidays for people in the region.
In the afternoon I took a road in a southwest direction following the course of the river. Mereso had warned that there were few animals in this direction, and with a 37 degree C heat, my expectations of seeing animals were low. My expectations were met, but there was a lovely sunset.
I later discovered that three days before I arrived at Ruaha River Camp, a game drive from the lodge, with four Germans, had been attacked by bees, resulting in the death of one of the party. While we all understand that our risk profile increases in game reserves, one never thinks of bees as one of the dangers.
In the morning, Stephanie, the acting camp manager, showed me around chalets that were being renovated. It was interesting to see how they were improving the buildings.
I returned to Iringa, travelled down the Tanzam Highway to Ufinga and then turned to the highlands. I had not been given directions to the Mufindi Highland Lodge and my SatNav did not have it listed. I kept stopping and asking for directions with most people not speaking English. I called the Lodge and from my description the receptionist thought I was at a different junction than I was. I headed off in the wrong direction for 17kms down the escarpment, out of phone range. Realising that I had gone wrong I retraced my route, called again and finally found the right road. I was irritated because if I had had directions, I would have saved two hours.
You might have noticed that this is the fifth lodge of Foxes Safari Camps that I have stayed at. I had found them in the Bradt Guide to Tanzania, realised that they were at many of my planned destinations, found that they had a UK booking office and discovered that their rates in a COVID world were quite reasonable. As I travelled stories began to accumulate about the Fox Family. I bought and read a book by Evelyn Voigt called ‘Flying Snakes and Green Turtles’ which told the story of Geoff and Vicky Fox. I had now arrived at their home.
Geoff Fox arrived in the Mufindi area of Tanganyika in 1959, aged 21, as an employee of the British firm, Brooke Bond, to help manage their tea plantations. Three years later he married his childhood sweetheart from near Middlemoor in Devon in England, Vicky, who returned with him to Mufindi. Geoff worked for Brooke Bond for 28 years and managed a cattle farm on the Tanzanian coast for a further eight years. They both became fluent in Swahili. They embraced the wild and different things that the country offered them. That included twelve annual two week walking and hunting safaris where they slept without tents. The last such walking holiday was in 1976 when they were joined by their three sons, the youngest only being six, and walked an average of 17 miles a day. I was an adult in South Africa in 1976 and been to many game reserves, some very remote. I would never have considered doing a walking safari. In 1981 Vicky negotiated with the Tanzanian National Parks Board to be allowed to build a lodge on the Ruaha River in the Ruaha National Park. She, friends and her sons built a lodge which was the kernel from which the current seven lodges, the six plane bush airline and several thousand hectare farm in Mufindi developed. Geoff says that the motivation for establishing the lodge company was to give his sons the ability to live in Tanzania. Although the oldest three were all born in Tanzania, they have no long term right of residence unless they are working in their own business. The sons have all contributed in different ways to the success of the company. Geoff and Vicky have largely retired although their farm produces a lot of the food eaten in the lodges. The company is run by son, Peter, in Tanzania and by son, Bruce and his wife Jane, from their booking office in England.
I was welcomed by Geoff and Vicky, who had no reason to treat me as a special guest but certainly made me very welcome. From the next morning I was the only guest at the Lodge. I delighted in hearing about their experiences and questioning them about their decision processes.
Day 13 – Foxes Mufindi Highland Lodge
After breakfast Geoff arranged for his maintenance man to fix the cover of the electrical connector between my car and trailer. I was shown several of the twelve UK Army, ex Afghanistan campaign, low mileage, armoured Land Rovers that they had bought for just over £4,000 each in an Army surplus stock auction. The vehicles had been shipped to Tanzania (100% duty paid on arrival), stripped of their armour, had their wheelbase extended and were in the process of having game viewing seats added, before being sent to their lodges.
I was invited for morning coffee to the home of Geoff and Vicky which Geoff had built as a copy of a 1925 house in Middlemoor. They talked about the schooling, health facilities and orphanage which they sponsor on their farms and in the surrounding communities. They showed me the home that is being built by their son, Chris, who manages his own lodge in Ruaha National Park, in the most amazing location overlooking a lake and forest. I was delighted to have been made so welcome by people who have lived an incredibly interesting life.
Geoff is of the opinion that the relatively low elephant numbers, especially in Nyerere and Ruaha, and the lack of large elephants generally, has very little to do with commercial hunting, and everything to do with decades of poaching. Even today, all types of ‘bush’ meat are available for sale in Mikumi Town, without any sanction from the authorities.
Day 14 – Mufindi Highland Lodge to Sumbawanga 588 kms
Soon after leaving Mufindi Lodge I came across a tea plantation with the tea being picked.
A long day. A hard day. I knew this was going to be a long driving day. It took me seven hours to get to the border town of Tunduma and I then travelled on for a further four hours to Sumbawanga.
Initially the tar road was in poor condition with lots of potholes in the tar. I did not want to create a puncture by hitting a pothole too hard at speed and had to be careful not to swing away from a hole, into the face of incoming traffic.
Trucks and trucks and more trucks. Repeated 50kph zones. I was stopped for doing 56kph on entering a 50kph zone. I diverted the policeman by asking him to WhatsApp me the images of my transgression, which he did. He then let me go. He later thought better of it and deleted the images from the message.
It took me 45 minutes to get through 15kms of the town of Mbeya with roadside stores on either side of the road and traffic approaching from every direction. I wondered why they did not create a bypass until I noticed a sign to the city centre 2.7km away. This crawling, heaving road was the bypass!
I reached Tunduma at 16h00 and was not attracted by spending the rest of the day in a poor quality hotel (which is all that is on offer in Tunduma). I saw that I could get to Sumbawanga by 20h00 and decided that the small amount of night driving was worth it. This was the best road I have been on in Tanzania and there were hardly any trucks. Daylight disappeared and the night enclosed me, later than I expected, at 19h00. Just before, in the twilight, I was reminded why night driving in Africa is dangerous, when I rounded a bend at speed, to find three donkeys in the road. One might not see them quick enough in the dark. I drove the last 50km at a slower pace and had to quickly brake a few times in the outskirts of Sumbawanga, as people crossed the road with almost no regard to the traffic.
Last February I had stayed at Holland Lodge (which was miserable) in Sumbawanga when I had been advised to stay at Holland Hotel. I made sure that my SatNav took me to Holland Hotel. It started well with a secure, guarded car park. I walked into the hotel, and it felt identical to Holland Lodge. There was a power outage, so people were moving round with torches. I was quoted TZS 50,000 (£17) for the night which lowered my expectations. I asked to see the room and going up the stairs and the room was identical to Holland Lodge. I accepted my lot and took the room. I finished off my lunch box and was asleep by 21h00 convinced that I had returned to Holland Lodge, by mistake.
Day 15 – Sumbawanga to Katavi National Park 246 kms
Music thumped until 04h00, at which point the revellers returned to their rooms on my floor in a very noisy manner.
I paid my bill and circled the area and quickly confirmed that I had stayed in Holland Hotel and that Holland Lodge was two blocks away in the bus station.
I drove to Katavi Wildlife Camp in three hours. I had visited the Park last year February and had got stuck in the sand. I now left my trailer at the camp and drove along the ten kilometre stretch along the Katuma River where, I was told, all the animals were to be found. I saw several hundred hippos, many clustered in pools, where the water was low. There was also a selection of elephant, giraffe and antelope. Three times I was directed to lion, which I did not find.
At the camp I met Peter Fox, the son of Geoff and Vicky, who is running the lodge group on the ground. I enjoyed our chat. I have now stayed at all six of the camps of Foxes Safari Camps, which are open. The group was started by Vicky Fox and with help from husband, Geoff, and her three sons and their wives, was built piece by piece, over thirty years, whenever money was available. When times were good, they were able to acquire six planes to help ferry guests between the camps. This is a considerable achievement. However, it is clear, that this hodge podge development, by people without hotel training, has resulted in lodges that are in spectacular locations but are not good enough. The company must have taken a huge hit in COVID times. I hope that they recover and get help to make their lodges, truly spectacular.
Day 16 – Katavi to Lake Shore Lodge on Lake Tangynika 162 kms
I woke to the sound of hippos grunting and a distant lion roaring.
I drove back along the Katuma River to the airstrip where I had arranged to meet the ranger to pay my park fees. I paid the following for the night:
|Description – all amounts in USD||Charge||VAT||Total|
|Concession fee for staying in the park at an hotel||30||6||36|
|GBP equivalent of total||£86|
I drove slowly out of the Park without seeing anything new.
I reflected on my game viewing experience on this trip in the four National Parks that I visited in Tanzania. On balance I was disappointed. Despite their reputations, none of the parks had offered the variety of game and extent of true game viewing that is offered in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. At this time of the year all the animals were concentrated on the river areas which were themselves short. Katavi effectively only has a 30km road along the river. Ruaha has a road along the river, but it keeps moving away from the river. Nyerere has a wonderful patchwork of tracks near the river, but the length is no more than about 15 kms and the area is hemmed in by the dam construction road which has also chased all the elephants away. Mikumi has Hippo Pools which attracts thousands of animals every day but is also packed with vehicles. Except for Ruaha the other three do not have networks of roads of any substance. Despite these shortcomings these parks are also far more expensive than any parks in Southern Africa.
At Lyazumbi village I was stopped by an immigration officer who inspected my passport. I asked him why he was stopping me. (I understand that people may cross Lake Tangynika illegally from the Congo but are unlikely to do that with a South African car and trailer). He told me that I would be surprised how many illegal immigrants there are. He asked to see my yellow vaccination book which he glanced at and returned. I was intrigued. As far as I know there are no requirements for arrivals in Tanzania to have any vaccinations. I asked him which vaccination he was seeking in my book. He mumbled that I needed to have the yellow book without identifying which vaccination he was seeking. He released me to continue my journey.
I turned off the main road and drove at a comfortable speed down to Kipili Village on the shore of Lake Tangynika, and specifically to Lake Shore Lodge. Two South Africans, Chris and Louise, have created a wonderful lodge in paradise. I have previously written about both their lodge and Lake Tangynika in my blog posting when I first arrived in Tanzania. See Days 23 and 24 at: https://bobview.com/2020/04/cape-town-to-tanzania-feb-mar-2020/
I sat on the terrace, five metres from the lapping waves, drinking a cold Kilimanjaro beer, and delighted in the wonderful setting and excellent WIFI. I spoke to other travellers. This was certainly the lodge with the greatest cross section of travellers. Chris had just returned from a two week trip on their 50ft lake cruiser with four guests who were scuba diving and birding. They had three staff members with them and camped each night on shore. They also visited the chimpanzees in Mahale National Park. There was a couple who were in the campsite, who have been travelling for a year and were waiting for a replacement shock absorber to be delivered to Mbeya. Another South African couple are working on a project in the town of Tanga but were planning their route overland back to South Africa. A British couple who had taught in international schools in Uganda and Tanzania for 18 years, were approaching retirement, and working out how best to structure their forthcoming freedom. A British couple, where he worked for the UK Government Department for International Development in Tanzania, have done similar work in other places in Africa, for the last twenty years.
An issue for all communities around the lake is the increasing water level. Only one river drains from the lake, and it has limited capacity. Evaporation is the main way rainfall is dissipated. In the last two years the rains have been higher than normal, and the water level rose to a record 2.5 metres above the normal high water mark. That has been disastrous for the lake side communities with many houses, shops and community buildings being flooded. In many cases the buildings are not solid enough and with their foundations and lower walls wet, they have collapsed. The water levels have now dropped but are still 1.5 metres above the norm, and with the wet season about a month away, there is a fear that last year’s record high may be matched this year.
Day 17 – Lake Shore Lodge 19 kms by boat
At 07h30 I was sitting on the terrace reading my downloaded copy of the London Times. The lake was completely still. I was at peace.
I learnt about the MV Liemba, formerly Graf von Goetzen, a passenger and cargo ferry that used to run along the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika. Graf von Goetzen was built in 1913 in Germany and was one of three vessels the German Empire used to control Lake Tanganyika during the early part of the First World War. Her captain had her scuttled on 26 July 1916 in Katabe Bay during the German retreat from Kigoma. In 1924, a British Royal Navy salvage team raised her and in 1927 she returned to service as Liemba. The ferry has been a crucial cog in the travel and transport infrastructure on the Lake and a welcome addition for tourists. Unfortunately, the ferry has been out of service for three years with confusion as to what is needed to make it operational again.
I spent a few hours in the afternoon reorganising my trailer. I also erected my tent to make sure that it was still in good order for the forthcoming ten nights of camping. I noticed that my table, which was mounted under my roof carrier was no longer there. That is a nuisance.
Chris showed me his recently acquired Unimog which had been acquired in a whisky fuelled evening when a barter deal was struck with the owner of the Unimog gaining the right to use Chris’s 50ft lake cruiser for one week each year in perpetuity. Chris is still working out how he is going to use the vehicle but is delighted to own something so unique.
At 17h00 five of us guests went out on 19km two hour sunset cruise. We cruised along the coast and saw how the high water levels were impinging on lake side buildings in villages. We stopped for me to have a swim. The depth of the lake under me was 100 metres but a few kilometres away the depth is 1,500 metres.
At the communal dinner table, Pam Chin, one of the participants in the two week boat trip to Mahale, told us about her fish collection. She lives near Sacramento, California and has a building at her home, dedicated as a private aquarium. She has 80 species of fish in 150 tanks using 27,000 litres of water. She can travel because her husband, in her words, is a hermit, who seldom leaves the property for long. He has another reason to stay at home because he has a collection of several hundred homing pigeons.
Day 18 – Lake Shore Lodge
At 08h00 I joined a couple from the lodge and walked twenty minutes up the hill to the Jiweni-Kamba church that was part of the Kipili Mission. The Mission and Church were built by the White Fathers and Congolese slaves between 1890 and 1895. The Missionaries of Africa, commonly known as the White Fathers is a Roman Catholic society of apostolic life. During the 1940s the mission was a busy place of religion, education and health but was then abandoned and each year deteriorates further.
There was excitement in the camp because the London Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards, the previous evening, had announced that Angel Fitor was the Winner, in the portfolio award category. His photo was of two male cichlid fish fighting over a snail shell in Lake Tanganyika. Inside the half-buried shell is a female ready to lay eggs. For three weeks, Fitor monitored the lakebed looking for such disputes. The biting and pushing lasts until the weaker fish gives way. Lake Tanganyika is home to more than 240 species of cichlid fishes. Fitor has often stayed at Lake Shore Lodge when photographing underwater in Lake Tanganyika.
The day was spent relaxing, catching up with admin and writing this record.
The guests clubbed together to pay the TZS100,000 (£31) needed for the Kilili Choir to perform for us before dinner. Nine singers, two drummers and a baby on a singer’s back kept us entertained for 30 minutes. They sang hymns in Swahili, which we did not need to understand, to appreciate the beauty.
Day 19 Kipili in Tanzania to Mbala in Zambia
I was on the road by 08h30. I had been keen to cross the border into Zambia at Zombe rather than Tunduma which was several hundred kilometres further and a far busier and more complicated border crossing. Zombe had been closed to foreign cars for most of the COVID period. Chris at Lake Shore Lodge sent a WhatsApp to the head of the Zambian station at Zombe enquiring if I could cross. I was told to come.
So, at Sumbawanga, instead of retracing my steps to Tunduma, I turned off to Zombe. I turned at the wrong junction and travelled 20kms on a deteriorating road and then track before joining the correct tarred road. The tar road did not last for long and the road became a gravel road. I had travelled this road last year in the other direction in the rain and dark and it had been a nightmare. However bad this road was it was a dramatic improvement on my last trip.
I waited twenty minutes for the Tanzanian Customs official to come from his house. He stamped my carnets and kept my Temporary Import Permits. I asked if foreign cars could now cross into Tanzania at this border post and he told me that it was no problem. The immigration officer was surprised that the customs officer had said that but made clear that the decision to allow foreign vehicles was down to customs. I was required to meet with a health officer who wanted to see my yellow fever vaccination certificate and my certificate of double COVID vaccination. The former is very confusing because government websites say that Yellow Fever vaccinations are not needed to enter (never mind leave) Tanzania and I was not asked for the certificate both times I had flown in. When I said that my COVID certificate was in the car, he said not to worry.
I then passed through the gate to the small office of the Zambian border officials. Immigration was cleared in a flash. I waited an hour for the customs official to take his time from his home in Mbala, about 20kms away. When he arrived, he had the grace to be embarrassed because he had forgotten the keys for his cupboards. A youth was sent on a motorcycle to fetch the keys. With keys in hand the stamps were brought out and my carnets were stamped. I was charged ZKW 660 (£29) for carbon tax. The official said he wanted to inspect my vehicle and contents but then did not bother. And I was free to go. There was no mention of COVID, no concern if I had third party insurance and council and toll taxes were not levied (although they were collected on the road the next day). The crossing of both borders had taken three hours.
The road to Mbala had been transformed since last February and was now a good quality gravel road. The origin of the change became clear when I passed a Chinese road construction camp. I assume these works are part of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative where loans are advanced to poor countries for infrastructure projects which Chinese companies then fulfil. Often these are white elephant projects, but this road work was certainly worthwhile.
In Mbala town I drew Kwachas from one of two ATMs in town, bought diesel and presented my passport at an Airtel shop to buy a sim and load data. I was confused why the Airtel shop was staying open later than their advertised closing time, until it struck me that Zambian time is an hour behind Tanzania. I was now on the same time zone as South Africa.
I took a room at Chila Lake Lodge for ZKW300 (£13) which only had one cockroach. I asked for a towel and was given a damp towel direct from the laundry. I booked a dinner of chicken and chips. This was no chicken. More likely an aged cockerel who was not going to let me separate meat from bone without hard work. The chips were delicious.
Day 20 Mbala to Kapishya Springs 295 kms
I was on the road by 06h00 and was surprised by the number of teenagers walking to school at that early hour.
The tar road was badly potholed in sections. I would drive at speed for five kilometres and then be faced with bad potholes, not always slowing down enough before hitting them. I heard a pop and in my rear view mirror saw one of my wheel carriers somersaulting in the air. The force of hitting a pothole had cause the supporting pole to snap. Someone helped me carry the wheel and carrier back to my car and pack it into the trailer. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
In the next 100 kms there were two roadblocks where I was required to pay ZKW50 (£2.22) for council tax and US$20 for road tolls – both valid for as long as my vehicle remained in the country.
Kasama was the only significant town on my route today. Knowing that I will see no filling stations for the next 700kms I topped up my diesel again, bought provisions for breakfast and lunch for the next ten days at Shoprite and bought third party insurance (ZKW278 (£12) for six months) from a shop advertising themselves as an insurance broker.
I was about to join a group which I will travel with for ten days through North and South Luangwa National Parks. The group is led by Simon and Des Steadman of Ultimate Adventures. They will lead the group, pay park fees and provide dinner each night. Including me, there were seven guest vehicles. The others had met at Nata in Botswana and had been travelling in convoy for five days. (Some guests from Cape Town and Knysna had been travelling for several more days.) There is limited road access into these parks. North Luangwa is a lot less developed than South and there is some uncertainty about routes and campsites. These factors plus the company and dinner and the perfect timing and destination of this trip for me, had caused me to sign up.
I turned off the tar on to the D53 44km gravel road to Kapishya Springs. This was another road that I had done in February in the dark and rain and which I had hated. It was still a bad road but with no time pressure I enjoyed the drive.
I arrived at Kapishya Springs at 14h00 to be told by Simon that the group had voted to stay an additional day at the Springs (and give up a day in North Luangwa). I spent the next three hours repacking my trailer, laying the wheel on the trailer floor above the trailer axle and packing everything else around the wheel in the trailer or in the back of my Fortuner.
We gathered for pre-dinner drinks around the fire. I was introduced to all the other guests and promptly forgot their names. After too many whiskies and dinner I was ready for bed and headed for my tent for my first camping night of the trip.
I woke to the sound of the fast running Mansa River just 5 metres from my tent.
I was up at 06h00 and at 08h00 I joined Garth Collins, from Cape Town, in his vehicle for the 20km drive to Shiwa Ngandu Estate and Shiwa House. The land for the house had been bought from the local chief in 1914 by a British surveyor, Stewart Gore-Browne. The building of the house was interrupted by the First World War and commenced in 1920 and was added to from time to time. The house and farm are today owned by the grandchild, Charles Harvey. The property extends to 10,000 hectares, includes a large lake, has 1,000 employees, principally farms animals (although they will soon start growing coffee) and has a large collection of antelope including rare sitatunga and blue duiker. An important source of income is hunting parties (mainly from Germany and the USA) who want to add sitatunga antelope and blue duiker trophies to their collections. The hunting parties stay at the house. We were guided round the house by Jo, the wife of Charles. As far as possible the décor has been left untouched and is in the style of the early 1900s with many family photographs, citations and animal trophies. The thick walls make the house very cold in the winter and, even today when the temperature outside was already over 20 degrees C, there were fires in the hearths of the main rooms. The heavy roof tiles and regular earth movement from earth tremors raise challenges in the maintenance of the property. The maintenance battle is being lost. The two children of the current owner, both live in Lusaka, and have no interest in running the farm. The future of this big farm must be in doubt.
When Stewart Gore-Browne came across the hot springs at Kapishya he arranged to buy the surrounding land from the local chief. He used the springs as a weekend retreat. The property is today owned by Mark Harvey, the brother of Charles at Shiwa House. There is a hot pool, a rustic restaurant and pub, six chalets and camping. I arrived here in February last year, after dark and in the rain and stayed overnight in a chalet. I left early in the morning, without trying out the hot pool. While many people love the place, I hated it then. Now that I have spent more time here, I am still unimpressed. In my view the bare minimum has been spent on developing and maintaining the buildings.
As Garth and I drove back from Shiwa House he told me that his career had been in hotels and gaming with Sun International. I subsequently discovered that he was with the company for 46 years and, just before his retirement in 2013, was the acting CEO for eighteen months. He is now the non-executive chairman of the Vineyard Group of hotels in the Western Cape. I told him about my disappointment in Foxes Safari Camps. He confirmed that many people with a passion for hotel hospitality, but without the relevant training, start hotels and either do them badly or fail. He quoted the Red Carnation Group (Oyster Box, Twelve Apostles Hotel and Bushmanskloof in South Africa) and The Royal Portfolio (Silo Hotel, Royal Malewane, Birkenhead House and La Residence) as successful family hotel groups with strong South African links.
After I wrote the above paragraph about Kapishya Springs I took a dip in the hot spring. Crystal clear pool with hot water continually bubbling up. Absolutely delightful. Pity that the lodge is not at the same standard.
Day 22 Kapishya Springs through North Luangwa 205 kms
The convoy of eight vehicles and three trailers left at 09h00 heading east on a bad gravel road to the Tanzam Highway. We stopped when we got to the Highway as my fellow travellers sought out beer, whisky and water at the village. Thirty kilometres down the Highway we turned off it in an easterly direction. An hour later we came to the entrance of the North Luangwa National Park. Excitement was high as this was one of our prime objectives and we know very few people who have travelled there. We soon discovered why. Just a few weeks before the rains are due, the park was tinder dry with no greenery at all. There was nothing for animals to eat and thus they were not there. Periodically a blue tsetse mat was hanging in a tree along the road. Twenty kilometres in we came to a barrier where there was a signboard with a strong warning that we should proceed through the park without delay. We were told that this was a high security area which contained both white and black rhino. Our cars were sprayed against tsetse. We were in this enclosure for forty kilometres and saw nothing – no green leaves, no impala, no warthogs, no birds and certainly no rhinos. We came to a Y junction where the right fork seemed to run past a, now defunct, tourist camp. We continued on the left fork, passed out of the secure area and after 66kms in the park reached the other side of the park at the Luangwa River at 15h00, six hours after leaving Kapishya Springs. All we had to do was cross on the pontoon and the camp at Chifunda Lodge was only 3kms away.
Little did we know what lay ahead. It took us six hours to get eight vehicles and two trailers across. The first problem was soft riverbed sand for about 150 metres. Garth’s wife Sue, pulling the largest trailer got stuck in the sand. It took twenty minutes to dig the car and trailer out.
The river crossing itself was about 40 metres. The approach to the water was another 40 metres of long logs for when the water was higher. This was a very crude approach area which we had to use low range to move along. The pontoon was about 6 metres long made up of five 44 gallon drum diameter metal tubes, with two tracks running the length of the vessel. The pontoon was moved from bank to bank by the operators pulling on a cable that was fixed to either bank. A vehicle crossing took about five to ten minutes with heart stopping moments as the weight of the vehicle first hit the pontoon, as the operators winced when one did not turn your wheels fast enough and risked falling off the track and then the bounce of the pontoon behind the vehicle as the front wheels touched the far bank. Getting vehicles across the pontoon felt risky but happened. The essential problem was that the pontoon was only big enough for one vehicle at a time, which meant that a car had to be separated from the trailer. Simon and Des, the expedition leaders, were first in the vehicle queue and their trailer contained all the food and cooking equipment needed for the full trip. The challenge was to get the trailer onto the pontoon. The trailer could be unhooked from the host car on the edge of the log ‘dock’. To move the heavy trailer from the dock onto the pontoon became the challenge. Even eight men pushing could not move the trailer on to the pontoon. Eventually Simon strung his winch rope and a towing rope across the river and pulled the trailer on to the pontoon from across the river, using his winch. The team around the trailer had to lay a metal rail over the drums so that the jockey wheel of the trailer could run on this rail, rather than drop between the drums. This process resulted in the trailer eventually being pulled onto the pontoon. This was the theory. The practice proved to be more challenging. Simon was coordinating everything on the short wave radio, although there were moments of great frustration. After three hours of slow progress night fell making the job even more difficult. The last four vehicles in the convoy, including me, could not fit on the approach dock, so we waited on the far bank listening to the progress on the radio.
While we waited, we became aware of a pack of twenty wild dogs drinking at the river, about three hundred metres from us. The dogs left the river and the group behind me saw them kill an impala and devour it in moments.
Fifteen minutes after we arrived at the river, another couple drove up behind our group, and were faced with the frustration of waiting six hours for us to cross. About an hour after we arrived at the river, the manager of the lodge where we were due to camp, Robinson, arrived at the back of the queue, rolled up his sleeves and plunged into helping with our work.
My offer to leave my trailer overnight on the wrong side of the river was accepted with joy by the group. I eventually drove on to the pontoon in the dark. I was very scared of driving off the tracks on the pontoon, especially as I seemed to be getting contradictory signals from the pontoon staff. I was delighted to be over the river and was quickly followed by the last three vehicles of our group.
Master P, the chef, had been sent on to the camp, when the first trailer had crossed. And so, at 22h00 we sat around a fire, ate our dinner and bonded over our experience.
Day 23 Chifunda Lodge to Kumokonzo Camp 121 kms
At 08h00 Simon, Master P and I returned to the pontoon and met Robinson and a team he had pulled together. I accepted Simon’s offer for him to take his vehicle over the river to fetch my trailer, thus saving me the challenge of doing a double crossing on the pontoon in my vehicle. My trailer was the lightest of the three which made things easier. After an hour my trailer was over the river.
I had been surprised yesterday when I discovered that Simon and Des had never driven through North Luangwa. One normally signs up to a guided trip because the guides have done the trip and are experts. Occasionally a convoy tour company will advertise a trip as an ‘exploratory trip’ which means the organisers have not done the trip before and participants accept the risks that implies. This trip had not been so advertised, although Simon and Des had clearly done a lot of desk research. Even at the entrance gate of North Luangwa the park officials had told us that we could cross the pontoon with trailers. I signed up for experts, who knew the way, to guide me in an area where I was unsure. That was a sensible thing for me to do because if I had arrived at the pontoon alone, I would not have been able to cross and would have had to retrace my steps. Given the physical location of North and South Luangwa such a reversal would have cost me many days to get back on route. In the event, the fact that I was with the group meant that I eventually got my trailer over the river. Simon’s 4×4 expertise and experience, meant that I could proceed with the holiday as planned.
One of the pontoon staff, while waiting for things to happen, threw a line into the water and caught a Tiger Fish
The group left the camp at 11h30 and spent five hours doing a long loop away from the Luangwa River and back to it. We initially drove through the game management area but still didn’t see any animals. We passed through villages. These people are living in abject poverty. They live in mud huts with grass roofs. There are no facilities or electricity. A little girl came to my window and when I opened the window the first thing, she said to me was ‘I am hungry’. I gave her an apple and was immediately surrounded by twenty other children all wanting food. One wonders whether the situation will be any different in 100 years.
There was an election two months ago. I was intrigued that many people were wearing T shirts and skirts with political slogans and the face of the new president.
We arrived at Kumokonzo Camp to find that a mobile safari (eight clients and eight support staff in two vehicles) had arrived before us and taken the prime camping spots along the Luangwa River. Two other vehicles arrived later making this a very crowded camp site, with only one toilet and one shower.
We did the best we could and had sunset drinks outside of the camp on the riverbank.
Day 24 Kumokonzo Camp to Zikomo Safari Camp 97 kms
I had finally got to the stage of remembering the names of my fellow travellers. They are all South African or related to South Africans. They are (in order in which we drove in the convoy):
Simon and Des Steadman from Modimolle, Limpopo. Driving a petrol series 200 Land Cruiser and pulling and Echo 2 trailer. Sleep in a roof top tent on the trailer.
Master P from Bushbuckridge. The chef and camp assistant who travels with Simon and Des and sleeps in a ground dome tent.
Michelle from Knysna. Driving a diesel series 200 diesel Land Cruiser and sleeping in a roof top tent on the vehicle.
Garth and Sue from Cape Town. Driving a petrol Land Rover Discovery 4 and pulling a trailer. Sleeping in the trailer.
Peter and Tish from Johannesburg. Driving a diesel Toyota Hilux and sleeping in a roof top tent on the vehicle.
Me, driving a diesel Toyota Fortuner and pulling an Echo 2 trailer. Sleeping in a OzTent on the ground.
Renee and Romy (Austrian) from Kitzbuhel, Austria and with a holiday home in Knysna. Driving a diesel 79 series Land Cruiser with all the possible additions and gadgets added. Sleeping in a roof tent.
Mark (Renee’s brother) from Johannesburg driving a diesel short wheelbase Land Rover. Sleeping in a ground tent.
Mike from Johannesburg driving a diesel Defender Land Rover – the only vehicle without air conditioning. Sleeping in an OzTent on the ground. Mike had previously done ten trips with Simon and Des, but his health had deteriorated. The extreme heat of close to 40⁰C most days also took a toll. He was not fit enough to participate in many of the game drives, had arranged with Simon for Master P to erect and dismantle his tent and needed assistance to get from his tent to dinner. He spent hours sitting next to his tent doing nothing. This trip must have been misery for him.
The age of the guests ranged from 45 to 74 with most being retired.
Despite the poor consumption performance of petrol compared to diesel, both Simon and Garth had elected to buy petrol vehicles because of fears of poor quality diesel in countries outside South Africa. The same quality issue apparently does not arise with petrol.
Soon after leaving camp, we entered the Luambe National Park for about 30 kilometres. We took a diversion along the Luangwa River and saw our first game. There was a herd of elephant on the far side of the river and a pod of hippo immediately below us in the river. This was a joy after the disappointment of North Luangwa.
We passed through another area with villages and then entered the Nsefu Game Management Section of South Luangwa National Park, where we stayed for the next three days at the Zikomo Safari Lodge Campsite.
By 05h45 we were on our four hour game drive following the course of the Luangwa River. Fairly quickly we came across the amazing sight of 100 pelicans swimming together and feeding off fish in the water beneath them. There was a hive of activity around the water. Giraffe, zebra, impala, hippos were all busy.
An hour later we stopped at a place where thousands of Carmine Bee-Eaters were nesting in the riverbank. As we approached the bank they flew out and circled above us showing us flashes of carmine (deep-red and very slightly purplish) and blue colours. Some of the birds settled on a tree allowing us to see several of them together. This was another lovely sighting.
Because the lodge had no guests in their chalets, they allowed us to use their pool which was a delight. Most of us ordered lunch and got to know each other better.
Earlier in the day I had noticed that the top part of my remaining wheel carrier was cracked. I visited the lodge workshop where the crack was welded, and a plate added. It is easy to find welders in this part of Africa because so much gets fixed that way.
At 15h00 we went out for a 3.5 hour drive. The area where the pelicans had been, was quiet. We saw plenty of hippos and many elephants. The highlight was pelicans roosting in trees.
Another 05h45 start to a six hour game drive with only five of the vehicles participating. The area where the pelicans had been, was quiet except for a dead hippo in the water. Nearby was a tower of giraffe. There were several small giraffes and one very young one. They were fun to watch. Two hippos grazed grass in the distance.
We stopped to look at the Carmine Bee-Eaters but were quickly distracted by Michelle who made Bloody Mary’s for all of us, from the back of her car.
We pushed further along the river. There were many sightings of elephants. The ground below us was often dried mud. It is impossible to drive in this area in the wet season because most of the area will be mud.
Again and again, we came across pods of hippo. There must be thousands of hippos in the Luangwa River. No wonder there is so little grass near the river.
Peter was attracted by a particular part of the river, brought out his fishing rod and went to the riverbank to fish. Seven crocodiles within 200 metres of us, on the riverbank, dived into the water. We were concerned that the crocodiles were making their way to Peter. He cast a few more times without success, and to our relief, returned to us.
There was no enthusiasm for an afternoon game drive so Simon, Peter and I did an abbreviated drive to check if a dead hippo, that we had seen earlier, was yet of interest to other animals. It was not so we returned to camp seeing a few large kudus en route.
The ladies of the group had started talking and drinking at 13h00. I was working at a nearby table and could hear that the subject was the problems with ex-wives of their husbands. All the white wine bottles in the bar were soon emptied. The barman, Sergeant, offered them the remainder of a box of white wine, which had lost its’ box (how old was that box?). His offer was accepted, and Sergeant decanted the contents of the box into empty wine bottles. The subject had moved on to the difficulty of bringing up and maintaining the discipline of the children of the husband from the previous marriage, when the biological mother was so unreasonable. Next the sparkling rose bottles were attacked. I went on my game drive so did not see or hear what followed. The ladies returned to camp at 19h00 and Romy found a supply of Jägermeister bottles. The ladies slept well.
Day 27 Zikomo Safari Camp to Mfuwe 91 kms
An easy hour long drive brought us to Mfuwe Town where we all filled our fuel tanks and miscellaneous supplies were purchased.
We checked into the campsite at Wildlife Camp which overlooked the river and had a small pool which invigorated us all. Camping is not permitted in South Luangwa National Park so were based about 7kms from the Park gate.
We left at 15h00 and entered South Luangwa National Park. This is a pretty park. The river is the most important element, made more interesting by the way it has oxbow curves. There are several other pools of water, left over from the wet season. There are plains and forests and lots of byways. This is the most interesting park I have seen on this trip.
We saw a dead hippo floating in a pool which was being eaten from below by crocodiles, which surfaced with full mouths. Game drive vehicles passed us at speed and with intent, so we followed them and came across three lionesses resting in the setting sun.
Day 28 South Luangwa National Park 82 kms
We entered the Park as a group soon after 06h00. Yesterday’s drive had been dusty and frustrating for the vehicles at the back of the convoy, so we quickly split apart and went our own ways. I returned to the site of the lion sighting yesterday but they were no longer there. I continued northwards opposite Zikomo Safari Camp and came across a lovely, wooded area which I enjoyed. I left the park at 09h00, not having seen any animals of significance except for two hyenas at a distance.
I relaxed on the veranda of the Tribal Textile Café and enjoyed a salmon and cream cheese bagel and filtered coffee. As I sat on the veranda of the café cars passed and some waved, being members of our group or others I had met in the campsite. I like this Mfuwe town. Most vehicles are 4×4 and people are continually moving between the wild of the National Park and the comfort of places like the Tribal Textile Café.
As I pondered my good fortune, I was brought down to earth by four women walking along the road each with eight, 2.5 m long and 80mm thick, logs on their head. They had clearly collected the wood from the bush this morning and were taking it to use in their nearby homes. They live a hard life.
I drove through town photographing the interesting shops.
I returned to camp and spent the next few hours in and around the pool. Lots of interesting people wash up in a campsite like this one. A Mexican and his Dutch wife were travelling as long as they could afford it with their two children aged six and four. Two families were travelling together, the one couple with a five month old baby.
Simon and Des had organised a game drive vehicle, for ZKW2,000 (£89) which is permitted to stay in the park until 20h00. Eight of us signed up and left at 15h30. We saw some pleasant sights, but nothing significant, and then we received a message of a lion sighting. The driver knew the approximate location but not precisely. We went down a few dead ends. Darkness was approaching. It didn’t seem worth it to find lions after dark. I was advocating that we stop the search for lions and rather enjoy the last of the daylight having a sundowner drink. I was ignored. As dark fell we came across two male lions sharing a meal under a bush. They were lit by the spotlights from the game drive vehicles, but our view was partially blocked by a bush. We decided to move off the sighting and return later after having a drink close to the river. As we were about to leap off the truck and open the cooler box we got a message, from one of the other game drive vehicles, that there were also lions near the river. We turned the spotlight on to the river and there were two lionesses, in the water, eating a hippo. What a sighting! The lionesses were tugging and tearing. We were on a small cliff above them and had an excellent view with the spotlights. Mike got out of our vehicle to relieve himself behind it. One of the lionesses instantly left the hippo and the river and came up a gully to our level, albeit about fifty metres away. She stayed there. The remaining lionesses was determined to get her fill of the hippo. About ten crocodiles, mainly small ones, were also keen to share. We could see them shimmering in the water, getting closer. One got too close and was snapped at by the lioness. The lioness near us called and called. One of the lions came over to her. The spotlights allowed us to see what was happening but as it was full moon, the night was not very dark. We were ready to stay for hours more at this unique siting, but our driver started worrying about meeting his 20h00 park exit deadline. Eventually at 19h00 we left the siting and headed back to the gate, very happy. Our joy was compounded when a genet and later, an African civet, crossed the road in front of us.
I woke at 04h30. Having heard that the gate officials were allowing entry before the 06h00 official gate opening time, I left at 05h20 and entered the Park at 05h40 as the sun was rising. A hippo was still grazing. A fisherman was in his boat. A vulture waited.
I now had a challenge to find my way back to the lions. Homing pigeon Bob did well and an hour later I arrived back on site. What a sight! All four lions were now eating the hippo. I was there by myself. I could position my vehicle to suit myself. I was amazed that the lions were still eating. They were all trying to get the best piece.
A lioness got in the way of the lion and there was a moment of fury. The other lioness came round and consoled her sister by rubbing necks.
With such a special experience there was little point in looking for other game experiences this morning. I wandered slowly back, taking side roads, and exited the park three hours after entering.
An enterprising greengrocer with his stock in a box on a bike had taken my order yesterday and returned with two mangoes which I enjoyed for lunch.
I had a discussion with Master P and learnt that he was 28, unmarried without a girlfriend but saving for his bride price or lobola. He believes that he will have to pay four cows to a future father in law which will cost him R8,000 (£396) per cow. (He should get cows from Tanzania as they seem to cost the equivalent of £100 each there).
There had been reports of wild dog sightings, so we went in search of them in the afternoon. We eventually found a pack of about fifteen lying on the bank of the river below us. They had no intention of moving for us. They nearly moved for a herd of elephants, but the elephants were focused on getting to the water, so the dogs stayed where they were.
Day 30 South Luangwa National Park 112 kms
Last night was unbearably hot. The daytime temperature in South Luangwa has normally been 40⁰C dropping to about 25⁰C during the night. Last night the temperature did not drop, and I had a restless night.
I did two game drives today which, on balance, were a disappointment. The wild dogs had moved on. Perhaps I need a break from game viewing because I am not even stopping to look at a herd of twenty elephant, having seen so many. My highlight of the day, game wise, was watching ten elephants approach the river on the other side of the river, walk across the river and exit right in front of me. (Simon and a few others found the wild dogs again in the afternoon, but they were too far away for me to pick up their radio calls.)
As I was driving around, I saw signs to the ’05 Road’. This is a notorious road that runs through the middle of South Luangwa National Park and then climbs the escarpment on a road that most describe as exciting. It is not possible to take a trailer on this road. I had considered making a day long drive of driving up the escarpment and back and I was now disappointed that I had not done that.
While my final few game drives were disappointing, I am impressed by South Luangwa National Park. It is the best of the seven parks I have seen on this trip. The river provides endless viewing opportunities. There are many other areas of water. There is a huge network of roads and tracks. The scenery changes from plains to forests. There are thousands of elephants and hippos, several prides of lion and a few packs of wild dogs.
I went for breakfast at Flat Dogs Lodge which has a lovely setting on the river.
I did some maintenance work on my trailer tent and then, with the help of the local camp attendant, packed the trailer tent away. It is a job to pack away all the flaps of canvas under the cover and so is normally only worth using if two people are staying in the tent.
Almost the whole group met at Track and Trail River Camp for lunch. Another beautiful setting on the river. There was an air of nostalgia as people are starting to head home tomorrow.
Elke, the wife of Mike, arrived by scheduled flights from Johannesburg via Lusaka. Simon, knew her from previous trips and had told her that Mike was incapable of driving himself back to Johannesburg, including the border crossings. Her luggage included a camp bed. Mike had worked as hard as he could to tidy the tent and his vehicle. (I subsequently learnt that an important element of the steering of Mike’s vehicle failed as they left the camp next morning. Mike’s condition had also weakened overnight. Mike and Elke were flown to Johannesburg by their insurers the following morning, where Mike spent three weeks in hospital. The insurers also recovered his vehicle to Johannesburg.)
We had a final dinner together and I bade my new friends farewell as I was leaving before them in the morning.
Day 31 Mfuwe to Lusaka 687 kms
I had arranged with the lodge, that instead of camping on my final night, I would stay in one of their chalets at the discounted price of US$40. When I got into the chalet, I wasn’t sure that it was worth $40. I had set my alarm for 05h00 but woke at 04h00. I tried unsuccessfully to go back to sleep and eventually got going. As I stepped out of my chalet the way to my car was blocked by a hippo grazing fifteen metres from me. I circled round two other chalets to stay out of her way. By 05h00 I was on the road, seeing a beautiful big red sun rise. It took me ten hours of driving to get to Lusaka. The road was good with some bad sections and 30kms of potholes. At Chipata I joined the Great East Road which runs from Lusaka to Lilongwe in Malawi. For about 150 kms the road curved through beautiful mountains. The road had done a 470 kms loop away from and back to the Luangwa River. I stopped for lunch at Bridge Camp on the Luangwa River. The river there is the border with Mozambique, and it flows into the Zambezi River about 80 kms further south near the start of the Cahora Bassa Dam. The Zambian side of the Luangwa River is close to the Lower Zambezi National Park that also runs along the Zambezi for about 130 kms.
About 25kms from the centre of Lusaka I came across The Orchard Farm Shop and Café which was the perfect place to catch up on my emails and messages.
I checked into Pioneer Lodge, about 25kms from Lusaka. (Their slogan ‘Out of Lusaka. In Africa’). It is well known amongst overlanders as it is a big property offering camping, tent rooms and chalets and also offers long term parking.
I sat in Lusaka rush hour traffic for an hour. At the Toyota dealer on the Cairo Road, I bought a new air filter and changed it on their forecourt. I have travelled in such extreme dusty conditions over the last few weeks that I felt it best to change the filter. The old one did not look as dust filled as I had feared.
As I drove brick built signs, 1500mm high, would appear on the side of the road, advising that a primary school was down the side road. I had seen these signs since arriving in Zambia. Besides advertising the name of the school the motto of the school was also present. I suspect that schools were not free to use any motto but probably have to choose from a list. Here are a selection that I saw.
Four hours later I arrived at Mukambi Lodge on the Kafue River in the Kafue National Park. Tomorrow I will travel north for about 150kms to their sister lodge, Busanga Plains Lodge, on Busanga Plains, still in the Kafue National Park. That camp and the Busanga Plains are only accessible for four months of the year, as the rest of the time the roads are under water. No camping is permitted on the Busanga Plains and thus the only way to see them is to stay in one of the few lodges there. I had decided to spoil myself and splash out for these four nights. The normal price is $700 per person per night including all meals and game drives. I had managed to negotiate a reduction to a rate, still expensive for me, of $350 per night. They had agreed to that rate because they are desperate for guests. I will be the only person in the respective camps on the nights that I am resident. (I later heard that the low rates are attracting guests who live in Lusaka, four hours away. Both the previous weekends had been long weekends, because of public holidays, and the lodge had been full both weekends.)
At 16h30 I went out for a two and half hour, 12 kilometre boat cruise with Malcolm, the guide. He told me that there are 73 tribes and 73 languages in Zambia, although many of the languages are similar. The eight presidents since independence have come from six different tribes, so there is no dominant tribe governing the country. His father was a soldier on a UN peace keeping mission, when Malcolm was born in 1976, and named him after a friend from the British Army. He was previously a guide in South Luangwa, near his home in Chipata. He lost his job during COVID, did not want to be employed in South Luangwa as the lodges are all about to close for the wet season so had applied for, and recently been employed by Mukambi Lodge.
The Kafue River is about 300 metres wide near the lodge. We saw a solitary puku and a solitary crocodile, a few birds and some hippo eyes. The one side of the river is a Game Management Area (GMA) which is a buffer area between residential areas and the Park. A low number of people are permitted to live in the GMA. We passed by a fishing village.
Malcolm told me that at the Creation, God had allocated environments to all animals when he finally came to the hippos. He told them that they would be land animals. The hippos protested that their skins were so sensitive to the sun that they needed to stay in water. God said that if that happened the hippos would eat all the fish. And so, a compromise was reached whereby the hippos would live in water but would need to leave the water to eat on land. And that is why hippos seek out grazing on land every night.
We drifted on the river and watched a pretty sun set. As we headed back to the lodge, the sound of our propellors changed and Malcolm pulled them out of the water. They had become entangled in nets set out by the fisherman. Malcolm began cutting the nets from the propellors. Two fisherman rowed over to us. A discussion ensued, in a combination of languages, where Malcolm argued that the fisherman had seen us go upriver so should have waited for our return to set out their nets and the fisherman arguing that their nets had floats and were visible and thus Malcolm should have avoided them. They were seeking compensation. I suspect that they will arrive at the lodge tomorrow to make a claim.
Malcolm and the fisherman had been focused on cutting the nets from the propellors, when I warned them, too late, that we were about to get entangled in the overhanging branches of trees on the bank. We did get lodged between trees. Other villagers appeared and together, pushed us away from the bank.
In the dark Malcolm now headed back to base at a speed. I queried whether we might hit a hippo as we were passing over the area where we had previously seen them. Malcolm was certain that when they hear the boat they get out of its way. We arrived safely, if late, back at the lodge.
Part of the excitement of wildlife lodges is that they are built without fences and so wild animals can roam between buildings. It is, therefore, normal practice, for the night watchman to accompany guests back to their room at the end of an evening. My tent was a good 300 metres from the lounge area and so I was accompanied to my tent. His torch lit up a hippo grazing at my tent door. Instead of moving to the far side of the tent, the hippo moved to the nearside of the tent, getting closer to us. She then turned and faced us about ten metres from us. It was not clear if she was inquisitive or angry. My protector was not taking any risks. He stamped his foot and threw gravel from the pathway at Mrs Hippo. She exited stage left.
Day 33 Mukambi Safari Lodge to Busanga Plains Lodge in Kafue National Park 150 kms
Also travelled 50kms in four hours on game drive
I was woken before dawn by baboons alarming in the trees around my room. I went out on the balcony, but it was too dark for me to identify the source of their concern.
I left the lodge at 06h00 and after crossing the Kafue River bridge turned north to the gate to that section of the Park. I had been told that the park officials would want to see my receipt for my park fees. No park officials were present. Isaac, a guide from, Chisa, another lodge up north, was waiting for his guests to arrive. He collected the gate key from under a rock near the small Park office and opened the gate for me. I wonder how long I would have had to wait if he had not been there. In future such situations I will be sure to check under the nearby rocks.
The track north was in a good condition. I saw elephants (very skittish), hippos, puku, red hartebeest and ground hornbills. I arrived at Busanga Plains Lodge at 11h00 to be met by Edjan and Robyn van der Heide, the owners of this lodge, Mukambi and Fig Tree Lodge. The lodge has only four rooms and sits on a small hill that becomes an island in the wet season. (I later discovered that there are six other similar sized lodges on Busanga Plains.) As I sit, writing this, in the open sided lounge area I can see several hundred antelope out on the plain. This is truly wild Africa.
I had lunch with Edjan and Robyn. They have owned Mukambi since 2002 and developed the other two lodges since. They have suffered in COVID times. They are both Dutch although Robyn grew up in Zimbabwe. Their children grew up in the bush and are now all at university in the Netherlands. They have a passion and a flair for maximising the lodge experience for guests.
Robyn mentioned that they have a policy of not having children at the lodge for a good reason. A diplomat recently stayed at Busanga Plains Lodge and asked if he could bring his children. Because of his status they agreed. Ten lions arrived at the lodge and stayed all day. Robyn is convinced that they were there because they had heard the children’s’ voices and thought that they might be easy prey.
Africa Parks came up in the discussion. African Parks is a non-profit conservation organisation that takes on the complete responsibility for the rehabilitation and long-term management of national parks in partnership with governments and local communities. They currently manage 19 national parks and protected areas in 11 countries covering over 14.7 million hectares in: Angola, Benin, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. They currently have a one year interim contract to manage Kafue National Park.
Edjan and Robyn returned to Mukambi after lunch as they were hosting a meeting of Park officials and Africa Parks this evening as those parties try to determine what is crucial if Africa Park’s short term project of managing the Park, is to be extended to a twenty year contract. Anti-poaching is high on their agenda. Africa Parks has a helicopter to deliver anti-poaching teams to identified poaching events. (My drive up today was also made easier by Africa Parks who have recently done maintenance on the road.)
At 15h30 it rained for five minutes cooling the day down. This is the first rain that I have experienced since commencing this trip in Tanzania. It is a harbinger of what is due in the next few weeks. Edjan and Robyn have scheduled the seasonal closure of the camp after their last booked guest leaves on 11th November. They need to protect all the buildings with extra tarpaulins and transport all linen and soft furnishings to Mukambi before the roads are too muddy to drive. The camp will be surrounded by water for several months after that.
From 16h00 we did a four hour 50kms game drive. My guide, Boyd, was assisted by a trainee spotter, Meshach (whose real job was as the lodge waiter). We saw antelope that I do not see often elsewhere including lechwe, puku, roan and reed buck. The plains were teeming with antelope. The ride was very bumpy because all the tracks we drove on have previously been under water. As darkness was falling Boyd turned off the track and we came across a pack of eight lions not doing much. Afterwards I asked him how he had known to turn off the track at that point. He said that the lion researchers had tyres with a distinctive tread, and he saw that their vehicle had recently turned off at that spot. I find that amazing. On the way home, in the dark, a genet and an African civet crossed the road ahead of us (just like our night drive in South Luangwa) as well as two scrub hares.
After dinner I was told that my bucket shower was ready with warm water. I am used to bucket showers in the wild camp sites in Botswana, but this was a luxury version with three times as much water as a normal bucket and filled by someone else. It did the job well.
I fell asleep to the sound of lion roaring.
Travelled in their game drive truck in the morning (8kms 3 hours) and evening (15km 3Hours)
At 05h45 Boyd and I went looking for last night’s roaring lion. They were well hidden in the brown grass of the plain, but Boyd found them. The pride was nine strong with two large males and four juvenile males. The main lion has been named Scarface by the guides. They had killed two puku and the seniors of the pride had full bellies. The youngsters were trying to get every last piece of meat from the few remaining bones. Forty vultures were scrapping for scraps. This was a great sighting. I reflected on the fact that, even though I knew that the lions were in the area last night, I would not have found them this morning. The difference of being with an experienced guide like Boyd must not be underestimated. He found the lions when I would not have.
I have seen almost no jackals in East Africa, but we now saw two side striped jackals. In theory they stay in woodland and scrub areas but here they were in the middle of the plain.
We stopped for coffee on a shaded and raised ‘island’ and had a beautiful view over the plain, with hundreds of lechwe and puka and birds around nearby water.
We came across a hippo midden which is a place where a male hippo has sprayed his dung to mark his territory. Boyd told me that there was a second reason why the hippo sprayed his dung. Boyd told me that, after Creation, when the hippo arrived in the river the crocodile complained that the hippo would eat all the fish. Hippo retorted that he was a vegetarian but agreed that he would spray his dung so that anyone could check if fish bones were present.
On the way back to the lodge we came across Isaac, the guide who had opened the park gate yesterday, a colleague of his, a parks guide (with his rifle) and two guests – all on bicycles, just a few hundred metres from where we had earlier seen the lions. I understand that people do walking safaris but the situation on cycles is far more difficult to manage, especially given the poor condition of the tracks. This is a very foolish and dangerous activity.
I spent the next seven hours catching up with admin and writing this record. Periodically I looked up and marvelled at the sight of the plains stretching away, packed with antelope. What a wonderful office. Lunch was served with a view of the pool and the plain.
The task for the afternoon drive was to find the elusive sitatunga antelope. I was pleased that I was in the hands of an expert. Boyd told me that we would find them in the papyrus forest which is several kilometres square. As the papyrus plant grows in water it is difficult to get into the forest. Boyd said that they would not emerge if our engine was running or if were clearly visible. So, we parked behind tall grass and turned off the engine. A short while later he said we should move to a better vantage point which we did. He then moved us again. As we waited and chatted, he revealed that in all his years of guiding he had never seen a sitatunga! He did not improve his record because we did not see a sitatunga!
Wikipedia: Cyperus papyrus, papyrus, papyrus sedge, paper reed, Indian matting plant or Nile grass, is a species of aquatic flowering plant belonging to the sedge family Cyperaceae. It is a tender herbaceous perennial, native to Africa, and forms tall stands of reed-like swamp vegetation in shallow water. Papyrus sedge (and its close relatives) has a very long history of use by humans, notably by the Ancient Egyptians—it is the source of papyrus paper, one of the first types of paper ever made. Parts of the plant can be eaten, and the highly buoyant stems can be made into boats. It is now often cultivated as an ornamental plant. In nature, it grows in full sun, in flooded swamps, and on lake margins throughout Africa, Madagascar, and the Mediterranean countries.
On the way back to camp we saw lechwe jumping over water and sixty vultures finishing off a kill.
I slept the night in the lodge’s star bed which is a bed on a six metre high platform, open to the skies. It is about 300 metres from the camp. I snuggled down, watched the stars and fell asleep. A distant lion, roaring, woke me at 03h00. There was a bright, waning half-moon which crowded the stars out of the sky.
Day 35 Busanga Plains Lodge in Kafue National Park
Travelled in the lodge’s game drive truck in the morning (15kms 3 hours) and evening (25kms 3 hours)
Boyd and I found the Scarface lions about three kilometres from where they were yesterday. They had eaten and were settling down for the day. I was surprised by the number of hippo still grazing out of the water. Boyd (he is good) spotted a leopard crossing the plain followed by two cubs. She changed course as we approached and hid in the bushes on a small island. Her cubs scampered up a tree hunting a bird which flew off. Mother and cubs then did a runner for the next island with more substantial bushes, so we stopped bothering them. We had a coffee break overlooking the plains and I marvelled again at what a wonderful place this is for game viewing. The open plains are constantly filled with antelope. There are pools and small streams of water at regular intervals. The islands of slightly higher land are covered with large, beautiful trees. And the animals are used to vehicles and ignore them completely, which is ideal for game viewing. We came across a large water monitor just before getting back to camp.
Goh (pronounced Jo) originally from Malaysia and now from Seattle arrived at 12h00. (Her arrival surprised me because I had been told that I would be the only guest.) She has just spent six days in South Luangwa, three days in Lower Zambezi and is now spending six days in Kafue. She is taking a break from her research career in pharmaceuticals. This is her third safari holiday this year. She has a huge knowledge of Southern Africa parks and when we went out for a game drive, demonstrated a huge knowledge of the animals. I feel that I am missing some information about how she as accumulated all this knowledge from Seattle, but I am moving on in the morning so will never know.
In the afternoon we found the Scarface pride hidden in trees on an island. We had previously not seen elephants on the plain, but now had a lovely view of a herd at a distance. We found two other lionesses several kilometres away who were boringly lying asleep until one of them rolled on to her back like a domestic cat.
We went looking for wild dogs and failed but had four roan antelope cross the road in front of us. Heading back to camp in the dark we came across a game drive truck pointing their spotlight into a tree. The mother leopard from this morning was lying fast asleep on a horizontal branch three metres from the ground. As we watched she woke, stretched, yawned, looked at us with disdain and disappeared further into the tree canopy. What a lovely sighting.
Scarface roared at 03h00 waking everyone in the camp.
We found the pride in the morning, but they were content to sleep on the plain. We returned to the reported location of the wild dogs and heard them in the thicket, but they were not tempted out. The leopard was not to be seen. And so, I finished my viewing on the Busanga Plains delighting in the lovely scenery and views of hundreds of antelope.
I had been told that a faster way back to the main road was to take the western perimeter road. Boyd had not travelled that road but had heard that a game truck driver had been caught in the soft sand, which was not a good omen. By email, Ntanga, from Mukambi, assured me that the road was acceptable but that I should ensure that I took any detour offered on the road from the camp to the perimeter. Boyd led me the 9kms to the edge of the plain to the road that I travelled up on. Instead of turning east and south, I now turned west for the 28km run to the ranger post on the Park perimeter. I concentrated exclusively on how I was driving on the road, for fear of grinding to a halt in soft sand. If a leopard and a cheetah had been standing on either side of the road, I would not have seen them. There was a detour around a dead tree and the another, for no apparent reason, because the road seemed perfectly fine. I remembered Ntanga’ s advice and took the detour path which ran parallel and close to the main track for a kilometre. Sure enough, there was a lot of soft sand on the main track which I avoided. I was pleased to get to the rangers’ post, who told me that their principal responsibility was anti-poaching. They also told me that the road I was about to take would have the unfenced Park on my left and the game management area on my right, which was filled with hunting concessions. I saw several of the farm entrances as I progressed southwards. The road itself was a delight, as it was wide and either graded or partly graded. I passed the grader at work and made good progress. (Robyn later confirmed that all the grading work to the perimeter road was being financed by Africa Parks.)
I reflected on my visit to Busanga Plains. It is a magnificent game environment and an absolute joy to visit. However, it is only a place for the rich. Accommodation is restricted to the seven very expensive lodges on the plain or on the edge of it. The nearest camping is two hours from the plain which means that a marathon day of driving will leave one game viewing in the heat of the day. It is a pity that the joy of the plain is so restricted. On the other hand, if the plain was easily accessible it will quickly be overwhelmed by game drive trucks and become a Disneyland.
I arrived at Mukambi after 3.5 hours, had separate chats with Robyn and Edjan, collected my trailer and headed 40 kms further south into the Park from the main tar road, to Kasabushi. At the Park gate I paid $15 for myself and $15 for my vehicle for each day I was going to be in the Park. A further $30 was payable for every night that I stayed in a lodge in the Park which was either collected by the lodge separately or was included in the rate I paid.
I first visited Kasabushi in August 2017. Andy and Libby, both close to 60, have created a wonderful camp on a beautiful part of the Kafue River. Andy grew up in Zimbabwe, moved with his parents to the UK when he was fifteen, attended agricultural college and had stints working on farms in Zimbabwe and Venezuela. Libby grew up in the UK and grew to love Zambia from trips with friends who knew the country. They met in the UK, have been married for fifteen years and established Kasabushi. They studied Google Earth to determine a good place for a camp on the Kafue River and backed it up by physically exploring the bush and river. Upstream from them, including at Mukambi, the river is 300 metres wide. It splits near them into three channels filled with granite rocks. Further downstream the river splits into more channels which are too shallow to be navigable. Their core activity is a campsite on the bank of the river with the best campsite ablutions in Africa. They have also built two tent chalets on wooden platforms at the water’s edge plus a large, very attractive dining, living area overlooking the river. They have fashioned a swimming pool in the rocks.
I was greeted by Libby, and we chatted for a while before I had a swim. The three of us had dinner and chatted into the night about events that had happened in the camp, the Park generally and their hopes that Africa Parks will stop the poaching and corruption that is undermining the Park. As we chatted, we heard a snuffling just outside the open fronted dining area. A torch revealed a hippo, ten metres from us, determined to keep the lawn short, despite our presence.
Day 37 Kasabushi Camp in Kafue National Park 254 kms
I was woken by thunder and at 06h30 it rained softly for thirty minutes.
Andy took me out in his flat bottomed aluminium boat. He had to navigate carefully because the navigable channels are not deep this late in the dry season. The river was delightful early in the morning. Our objective was the carcass of a hippo, lodged on rocks about a kilometre from the camp. As we approached two other hippos seemed to be guarding the dead hippo. We tied up to nearby rocks. There were hippo teeth punctures on his head and neck indicating that he had died in a fight. His stomach was deflated but we could not ascertain whether his body had been punctured by crocodiles under the water. There were a few crocodiles nearby but none of them were feeding on the hippo. After about 30 minutes we headed back to camp.
After breakfast, I walked with Andy, the 500 metres, through the bush, to their office in the campsite to access the internet. Andy showed me their very basic bedroom. I marvelled at the dedication of Andy and Libby who applied all their resources into improving their camp while keeping their own living environment, extremely minimalist. I had seen the same at Lake Shore Lodge, where Chris and Louise did not have their own room for most of their time since building the lodge. They lived in chalets or bandas when clients were not in them and at times, even slept in the dive centre. They are now building a small house.
The hot water in my chalet was produced by a donkey boiler. Designs of these boilers differ slightly but fundamentally a small fire heats the water, which is then held in a tank, that is hopefully insulated, until used. There is normally one boiler for each chalet or safari tent as well as one, in this case, for the campsite. The water in the tank cools over time and so the fire must be made and lit again. Across Africa thousands of attendants rise in the dark to light the fires in safari camp donkey boilers so that hot water is available before people go out on game drives. The process is repeated in the late afternoon. The fires are efficient and so a minimum of wood is needed. However, the process in general, is hugely wasteful of wood and manpower. I asked Andy why he did not use solar heating instead. He said that it was principally aesthetics in creating a safari experience, but also because their camp is wooded, it is difficult to find a place close to each chalet which will receive enough sunlight for solar heating. Having said that, the kitchen was deliberately situated in the sun and solar panels on the kitchen roof provide all the electricity used by the camp.
At 15h30 Andy, Libby and I went in the boat back to the dead hippo. The largest crocodile in the area was at the body. The skin of the hippo above the water was still intact but there was clearly access from below. We watched as the crocodile dropped under the carcass, entered the body and pushed the whole upper side of the hippo into the air, as he took his next mouthful. Lots of smaller crocodiles waited in the wings hoping that there would be something left for them. We headed downstream and had drinks on an island as the sun set. We returned to camp after a 9 kms 3 hour boat ride.
Travelled in the lodge’s game drive truck in the evening (41kms 3 hours)
I bade farewell to Libby and Andy and drove at a relaxed pace down the main road, called the Spinal Road.
There was a game viewing loop soon after departing but Andy had advised that there are two places where the road twisted between rocks and it was doubtful that I would get my trailer through, so I skipped it. There were no other side roads, except to camps, which is a downside of viewing in this part of the Park.
An important feature of the southern Park is the Itezhi-Tezhi Dam. The Park was established in the 1950s. The Itezhi-Tezhi Dam was completed in 1977 as a reservoir for the Kafue Gorge Upper Power Station 260 kilometres down river. A separate hydro electric power station was built at the dam in 2015. The dam forms a reservoir of 390 square kilometres when full – which it is most years.
I stayed at Nanzhila Plains Camp in 2018 and had met the owners, Steve and Cindy. Since then, they have built a new camp on the Itezhi-Tezhi Dam. I was met at Nanzhila Lake Camp by Sean and Lauren, the children of Steve and Cindy. The family is still building the camp although the guest dining/lounge area and three chalets are finished. The camp is situated at the southwest corner of the dam where the Musa and Lwanganduz rivers discharge into the dam. Water levels are low now so the view from the camp is of shallow water and sand banks which has attracted hundreds of birds, making it a birder’s paradise.
The other guest in camp was Mike from Frankfurt. We went out with Caesar, the guide, unfortunately driving for 45 minutes on the Spinal Road before turning off to the lake side. There, to my horror, the eight buffalo were outnumbered by twenty fisherman and litter every 100 metres. People emerged from the tree line carrying firewood. Sean later told me that both the government and the Parks officials have been reluctant to expel the fisherman, who were all voters in the recent election. This situation is clearly a nightmare for the nearby Konkamoya Camp. We returned to the tree line and came across a herd of eighty buffalo who were attractively framed by a tree and a dark cloudy sky. We returned to the lakeside further along, had a sundowner drink and as we left, something frightened the buffalo who charged onto the open area about 300 metres from us – quite a sight.
The skies by now were heavy with rain and lightning lit the horizon. We felt a few raindrops. Close to the camp, in the dark, we came across a very small elephant and her mother. The mother immediately prepared to charge us so we accelerated and left them alone. We got back to camp to find that they had a heavy rainstorm with puddles of water on the pathways. Sean was distracted from dinner by a herd of elephants between the kitchen and the staff quarters.
During dinner a lion roared nearby, and Lauren responded with a fear that I did not expect from someone who has spent so much time in the bush. It then transpired that she had had an experience with an elephant that had left her traumatised. (Her father, Steve, later told me that the elephants have got used to the fact that the fisherman keep mielie meal in their dome tents, which the elephants like. During construction of the Lake Camp the family were camped on site and Lauren was on her own in a dome tent. The elephant lifted the tent with Lauren in it and carried it a few metres and then stood on the tent while he tried to tear it open with his trunk. He was distracted by Steve, Cindy and Sean and chased after them, but then returned to the tent. This process was repeated four times by which time he had carried the tent thirty metres. The fifth time that he was distracted Lauren looked through a hole that the elephant had made in the tent, and when she saw that he was distracted tore the tent sufficiently to escape from it and ran away, before the elephant returned to find no mealie meal.)
The lion had a lot to say until 03h00
Travelled in the lodge’s game drive truck in the evening (35kms 3 hours)
I took it slowly to Nanzhila Plains Camp. Most of the distance covered was on the new Eastern Boundary Road which is an excellent road. There was, however, a veneer of mud on the road surface so I had to be careful that I did not skid, particularly because I was pulling the trailer. A sign indicated that I should turn west towards Nanzhila Plains Camp on a small track. Immediately the odds were raised. I kept coming across pools of water on the track, some as long as twenty metres, which were intimidating to drive through, especially pulling the trailer. Once mud grabs your wheels it is difficult to escape. I drew comfort from the fact that these pools had been created overnight and that the underlying road would not yet be clawing mud. A few pools were too long for me to be brave enough to tackle so I went off the road for the length of the pool.
At Nanzhila I was greeted by Cindy, and we spent an hour talking about the weather, the Park, the development of the Lakes Camp and the hopes and expectations of Park management being improved by African Parks.
Steve warned me that the rains had meant that the animals could now find water all over the bush so they would be difficult to see on our afternoon game drive. And so, it proved to be with our main sightings being two lions and a tortoise.
Day 40 Nanzhila Plains Camp in Kafue National Park to Livingstone 257 kms
Just after 06h00 Steve led me on the track south for about fifteen kilometres to make sure that the road was not waterlogged. In fact, all the water had soaked away. I had an easy run on a good gravel track to Dundumwezi Park Gate, on a good gravel road to Kalomo and a good tar road to Livingstone. And so, I arrived in Livingstone just before 11h00 on Wednesday 3rd November 2021 having driven 7,000 kilometres in 40 days.
Immediately on arrival in Livingstone I had a COVID PCR test done at the Medprof clinic (US$100) and received a negative result, by email, at 09h00 the next day. I organised and cleaned my car and trailer and then left them with Nick Selby at Foleys Africa. He will service the vehicle and trailer and fix the items that have gone wrong and will have the car and trailer ready for me when I return in April. I am carrying a Carnet de Passage, issued by the AA of SA, for both the car and trailer which guarantees to the Zambian authorities that if I do not remove the vehicles from the country by 6th September 2022, they will pay the import taxes. Nick required me to have the carnet so that he can show it to the authorities if he is inspected. I then flew to Johannesburg to meet Tibby, before we both went on to stay in our Cape Town holiday house.
I am pleased to have done this trip but am unlikely to repeat it. I have already explained why I was disappointed with the four Tanzanian parks that I visited. In Zambia, North Luangwa was devoid of life. Kafue, south of the Busanga Plains, was disappointing. Busanga Plains was certainly a highlight but, in non-COVID times is too expensive for me to visit. The highlight of the trip is definitely South Luangwa with its abundance of game, variety of scenery, established network of game viewing roads and overall size available to tourists.
The best game lodge that I visited was Mukambi’ s Busanga Plains Lodge (it was also, by far, the most expensive). In terms of hospitality, design and location the prize is won jointly by Lake Shore Lodge on Lake Tanganyika and Kasabushi on the Kafue River.
Descriptions of Accommodation
I was travelling at a time when COVID was inhibiting many people from travelling. Lodges were heavily discounting their rates and waiving single premiums. This expensive trip would have been significantly more expensive pre-COVID. The assumption is that decent Wi-Fi was available in the lounge/ dining area at no cost unless mentioned.
A concession fee or bed levy was charged by all the parks when I stayed in a lodge in the Park. These were sometimes collected at the gate, sometimes collected by the lodge and sometimes included in the rate of the hotel. To be consistent I have included these all as park fees and not as accommodation.
Four Points by Sheraton, Arusha, Tanzania. US$150 (£109) per night including breakfast. Good WIFI in the bedrooms. Very modern, comfortable with a central location.
Lawns Hotel, Lushoto US$70 (£50) per night including breakfast. Weak WIFI in communal areas. Long standing well regarded local hotel now mainly used by budget tour groups.
Foxes Lazy Lagoon Island Lodge, near Bagamoyo. US$110 (£80) per night full board including laundry and boat from mainland. Easy going relaxed and comfortable, if dated, in stunning location.
Foxes Rufiji River Camp, in Nyerere National Park. US$200 (£146) per night full board including laundry. Somewhat dated, dark room and lounge area and unexciting food.
Simbamwenni Lodge & Camping, Morogoro. US$50 (£36) per night bed and breakfast. A delightful oasis.
Foxes Vuma Hills Lodge, in Mikumi National Park. US$170 (£124) per night full board including laundry. Lovely accommodation and food.
Foxes Ruaha River Lodge, in Ruaha National Park. US$150 (£109) per night full board including laundry.
Foxes Mufindi Highland Lodge. US$100 (£72) per night full board including laundry. No WIFI. Not worth going out of the way to get here unless one wants to meet Geoff and Vicky Fox.
Holland Hotel, Sumbawanga. TZS50,000 (£16). Basic but clean. No WIFI and for a while, no power.
Foxes Katavi Wildlife Camp, Katavi National Park. US$175 (£128) per night full board including laundry.
Lake Shore Lodge, Kipili. US$85 (£62) on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis for a banda, with communal ablutions, per night. The best WIFI so far on this trip but only in the dining area. Magnificent setting and communal area and top notch hosts. This is a favourite of mine.
Lake Chila Lodge, Mbala, Zambia. ZKW300 (£13) bed only. No WIFI. Free cockroach
I stayed at the following five campsites with the group. My holiday price included the cost of these campsites:
Kapishya Springs Campsite. Shaded sites besides the river. Horrible ablutions.
Chifunda Lodge Campsite. Because the ‘toilet’ (only one) at the campsite was broken we were allowed to camp near two of the chalets of the lodge and use the bathrooms of the chalets. So, I do not know what the campsite is like.
Kumokonzo Community Campsite. Small camp with even smaller grassed river frontage. Very dusty. One toilet and one shower.
Zikomo Safari Campsite. Small camp with small river frontage. Three open air showers and three toilets with head height thatch. Nicely done. The boon for us was that, because of the lack of lodge clients, we were allowed to use the pool and bar area, which made a huge difference and which included WIFI.
Wildlife Campsite. Large, shaded campsite with large, grassed area but vehicles not allowed on the grass. Good number of functional toilets and showers. The real winner was having a pool and bar in the campsite.
Wildlife Camp Lodge. US$40 (£29) bed only. Very basic room. No idea if WIFI was available.
Pioneer Lodge and Camp, Lusaka. US$80 (£58) for a chalet and breakfast. Last minute walk in discounted rate.
Mukambi Busanga Plains Lodge, Kafue National Park. US$350 (£255) per night full board, game drives, local drinks and laundry. COVID discounted rate. Good satellite WIFI in the dining area. Beautiful room.
Kasabushi Camp, Kafue National Park. US$165 (£120) per night full board, boat ride, local drinks and laundry. Good satellite WIFI at the office in the campsite, 500m away. Beautifully crafted room, magnificent setting and communal area and top notch hosts. This is a favourite of mine.
Nanzhila Plains Camp, Kafue National Park. US$170 (£124) per night full board, game drive and local drinks. No WIFI. Attractive setting.
Protea Hotel, Livingstone. US$139 (£101) per night including breakfast. Comfortable with large parking area allowing repacking of vehicle and trailer. Good WIFI in bedroom.
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. It has now done 190,000 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 a Garmin inReach Mini.
The vehicle carried me comfortably all the way with no breakdowns en route. Unusually I had no punctures. The work that I had done to the body of the car, under the windscreen, seems to have solved the problem of my bonnet hinges breaking. None broke on this trip. I serviced the car in Arusha, and it must be serviced again before my next trip. I spent time in Morogoro having the wheel carrier welded, but otherwise did not lose time because of the car. Damage to the car included:
- The bracket containing my spare wheel fell off and needs to be refixed to the back bumper
- The other bracket containing my spare wheel was welded twice
- The front passenger window was glued back to its fitting
- The front of the sump cover was ripped from its bolts but remained on under the car and needs to be refixed
- The trailer electrical light cable connector was ripped from the vehicle and needs to be replaced.
- The jockey wheel of the trailer was bent back into shape but needs to be replaced.
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. In 2020 I took it from Cape Town to Arusha. 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 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 but that never happened. I pulled this trailer for 15,000 kms without it being used (except that I used it for three nights to air it and check its condition,)
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 32 nights on the trip and the two nights in Livingstone waiting for my flight, but excluding the cost of my guided trip with Ultimate Adventures for 10 days||£3,444|
|Cost of my guided trip with Ultimate Adventures for 10 days including park fees – in retrospect this was too expensive for the benefit received of a guide, help across the pontoon in North Luangwa (important), dinners for 11 nights, camp site fees of about $220 for 11 nights and game park fees of about $210 for seven days||£1,663|
|Fees to enter and stay in national parks excluding those included in Ultimate Adventures fee||£1,023|
|Diesel. I travelled 6,826km, consuming 1,026 litres, with an average consumption of 6.65 kms per litre. The average cost per litre, in £pence, of diesel, in the countries I travelled in, was Tanzania 73p and Zambia 69p||£729|
|Carnet de Passages at R4,800 each x 2||£475|
|Fees at borders||£46|
|Total of above||£7,380|
|Excludes: meals not included in hotel cost, tips, vehicle servicing, repairs, insurance and storage|