The last few weeks seem to have screamed by in a whirl of muddy roads, border crossings and spectacular African destinations, but it has left me far behind in filling in the little details. As I sit here, looking out over Lake Kivu, I have to fight the urge to jump ahead and tell you about Rwanda, a country we have so far found truly remarkable – but I will get to this soon enough. I have our time in Zambia to recount, as long ago as it feels now, and a fleeting trip through Tanzania to get us to this point.
Getting into Zambia from Zimbabwe was our first unpleasant border crossing, and I think it didn’t set a good president for our time in the country. It was long, and hot, and filled with officers looking for a ‘quick solution’ to something they decided was an issue, despite all the paper work and verified copies of documents we had. It also didn’t help that after we crossed the border we got stuck in a traffic jam many many kilometres long because an oversized truck had broken down on a bridge, on the only road leading to Lusaka. This meant our first night in Zambia was spent camped in a building site on the side of a highway because we couldn’t get anywhere else.
It gave us time to decide where in Lusaka we actually wanted to be, but we still didn’t have that sorted out as we drive into the city the next day. We found ourselves parked on a pavement pouring over a map when a super friendly guy offered to give us the run down of the city over a cup of tea at his house. The South African in us was screaming “organ harvesting alert”, but we quelled this thought and decided this was exactly the kind of advice we needed. Lusaka is big and sprawling and dotted with ‘compounds’ and we didn’t know where we should be. So we sent a pin of our location to the friend we had been travelling with, with instructions for him to ‘check in’ with us later, and off we went. It turned out to be a very fortuitous meeting and we ended up staying with the family for 3 days, while Lola and Lincoln had an absolute ball with their 2 girls of a similar age. Good things must end though, and we needed time to get our heads around the next leg of our trip, so we said our good byes and headed to a backpackers in the middle of town so we could apply our minds to what felt like ‘stage 2’ of our journey.
When we left South Africa we knew the route we were heading on until we hit Zambia. We didn’t know all the places we were going to, but we knew in what direction we were driving. We were now at the point where we didn’t even know if we were going North, East or West! We both found ourselves in a bit of a slump, but boy were we in the right place at the right time. We ended up with a really fun, mixed bag of travellers at the backpackers, and took it in turns creating traditional meals from our home countries. We ate nshima, dim sum, Indian curry and lemon meringue pie (not all together), and felt bolstered by the travel stories we heard. Being on the road for such a long time takes its toll, and we needed the base for a good few days to get our minds back in the game. On the day we were going to leave, a South African number plate rolled into the yard; a beautiful, shiny, champagne coloured land cruiser, with an equally sparkly character inside. It was perfect timing, and just what we needed. We ended up staying an extra 2 nights, and spent those with Dakin (of the champagne land cruiser), who got our engines revving with tales of East African countries. With his help we chartered a course that would lead us to where we are now; such a fabulous and fateful encounter.
After our week in Lusaka getting our fill of good grocery stores, good coffee, and even taking the kids to a movie, we set out to conquer the rest of Zambia. We had cut it down by quite a bit so we could fit in the new destinations on our map, but we weren’t sad we did.
The first port of call was South Luangwa National Park. It had been praised so highly by so many people – I think, sadly, I was expecting too much. It’s that, bad luck with sightings, or we really had just been spoilt rotten with everything we had seen so far, and to be honest, we were all getting tired of sitting in a car – we were longing for more activity. Lola and Shaun did a night drive in a game vehicle and absolutely loved it. Lola is completely enamoured by the bush and rated this experience as one of her best things – ever! We were all ready to leave the game parks behind us and head somewhere a little different, so set off through the park heading North. You climb up a mountain pass so treacherous it is not attempted by many; let alone those towing a van! It is impassable in the wet season, but with only 1 minor shower behind us, we felt ballsy. I think it might have been naivety though, because once on the pass there was no way back. It was up or nothing, and it was scary! We passed a man on our way to the climb who stopped, made sure we knew where we were heading, and then told us not to drive on the grassy verges. Apparently they are less verge, and more cliff face, having delivered a man over the edge just the week prior. We felt adequately warned, and went on our way. Our trusty steed could not have worked any harder, and got us, and the van, safely to the top, with only minor damage. The seemingly meagre 220 km’s took a solid day’s drive, but we made it to the Montinondo Wilderness in central Zambia.
Being up on the escarpment was an entirely different biome, and we were all rather giddy. After what felt like a really long time cooped up in a vehicle, we were now somewhere we could stretch our legs without worrying about animals coming to eat us. It took a while for the kids to get used to not having to ask us to take them to the bathroom again, finally they were free to run around on their own. We could play on the granite boulders, hike in the forest, and swim in the rock pools. It was therapeutic, and soul nourishing, and the freedom to play on the mountain felt a bit like home. We spent the evenings playing ‘stalk the lantern’ with the kids and had an absolute blast, it was some good wind down time. Being on ‘full alert’ in the game parks for so long had us hard wired for stress, much like you have to be on full alert while in a city.
After 3 days playing in the wilderness, it was off to the much raved about Kapishya Hot Springs. A natural inflow of water that bubbles up from underground, at an astounding 40 degrees; it is clean and clear and beautiful. Unfortunately when the day temperature is also reaching 40 degrees it makes it rather unpleasant to be in such warm water, so you can only really enjoy it first thing in the morning and in the evenings. Although being a beautiful feature in itself, we found the campsite over priced and really quite drab otherwise, and decided to leave after only a night. Rather unexpectedly, we found Zambia on the whole to be very expensive, over promising and under delivering. We have a number of theories on this; ranging from us being in a disillusioned period, to us having being ‘spoiled’ by the incredible things we had seen up until that point. Shaun thinks we didn’t give it a fair go, and thinks we should head back there for a more thoroughly go. It’s hard to drum up the desire at this point, and given the cost of things in the country I can’t say it’s top of my list, but I will leave it on the back burner as a maybe in the future. We did, without a doubt, meet some wonderful people, and as that is always a highlight, I can quite meaningfully say: I am happy with the time we spent in this fast growing, African hub.