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  • Day20

    When I think about the highlights of my time here in Africa I would need a pretty big piece of paper to write them all down, but there is one constant that hasn't changed from the first time I was here in 1997 to now, and that is the game. Not the game as in football or politics but of the animal variety. And simply, my love of it.

    Only ten minutes ago I was laying in a hammock overlooking a river when a deep guttural sound came from down below me. I glanced up to see a hippo and a zebra on the bank and dropped back to my restful state. We are camped among the animals at the moment and while you need to remain vigilant, so far the only injury I have sustained was self induced (refer nasal rearrangement in the photos). The humans and the animals are living in harmony with one another.

    There are lions, elephants, zebra, antelope, monkeys etc in each of the game parks but somehow the setting makes it feel different. For example the lions of the Serengeti were mostly females protecting their cubs and had them hidden away in the bushes, they were incredible to spot because they were so well camouflaged, but today I saw a mother lion proudly displaying her baby while she cleaned it after the evening meal and the cub then feeling comfortable enough to explore the area on its own before giving Dad a playful nudge. The family were no more than 3 metres from me in the safari truck.

    Giraffes look totally different when grazing from the tall trees to how they look wandering across the grassy plain. When they are eating they look like big tall symmetrical animals but walking along they are out of shape and almost vulnerable looking. But on the backdrop of grass you can see their beautiful markings so much clearer.

    Zebra in the Ngorongoro Crater appear to be brown and white strips but the same Zebra a few countries further south seem to be black and white. On this plain they seem to run more than their northern brothers who stood in packs hugging each other.

    Tonight we are doing a night game drive. It will be my first one and I am told we will get to see the animals in another light again. They will be hungry and perhaps on the hunt. The hyenas will be circling for scraps and the bird life should be abundant on sunset.

    And the monkeys.. naughty here, naughty there and just plain naughty everywhere. I love them too.
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  • Day68

    We drove via Chipata to South Luangwa, only making a quick stop to get some supplies and refill our diesel.
    Chipata is completely changed from our previous visit with several gas stations, banks and supermarkets. The roads improved enormously from our previous visit and is now paved all the way to the park. The nearby villages seem to be thriving with most homes now built from brick vs. grass, lots of bikes and cars, and wells and schools in nearly every village.
    We stayed at a camp on the banks of the Luangwa River, just a kilometer from the park gate. We had a great view of the river teeming with hippos and crocs. Unfortunately the camp had a big monkey management issue and was over-run with baboons and vervet monkeys. We bought a few slingshots from the market in the nearby town of Mafue and this seems to be the best monkey deterrent we’ve tried. Just a glimpse of the slingshot sends the monkeys running.
    South Luangwa is our current favorite park of the trip. It’s just as beautiful as we remember and while it’s much busier than on our last trip, it doesn’t feel over-run (yet). The rangers are extremely friendly, the landscape varied, the roads good and poaching seems to be under control. And we saw lion and leopard every day (as well as lots of elephant, hyena and other game). Unfortunately the rhino is extinct in Zambia and cheetah are not in this park, but it has everything else.
    A few highlights were:
    • Learning that an innovative farming program called Comaco is largely responsible for bringing more stable farming practices and wealth to the community and helped convert >1300 poachers to farmers
    • Leopard in a tree with a kill (impala) that we watched for ~30 minutes before it climbed down and disappeared into the bush. We came back in the afternoon and saw an older cub sleeping on the ground. John heard purring and we then realized the mom was in the tree having a nap. We enjoyed watching this for over an hour with only a few other self-drivers briefly stopping by to have a look.
    • Lion resting after a kill. The ranger told us about a pride of lions that had been sighted so we went to try to find them. A local taxi driver had tried to take his girlfriend to see the lions and managed to get stuck in a very steep wash that you needed to cross. We had to pull them out, but then we went together in the Landrover and found 9 over-stuffed lions trying to sleep off their huge meal. We watched them for over half an hour before any other vehicles came.
    • Leopard evading hyena. On a night drive we saw 2 hyenas harassing a young leopard (they apparently like to follow leopard then steal their kills, those lazy/clever creatures).
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  • Day65

    Luckily the drive out didn’t seem nearly as terrible as on the way in – I guess after 8+ hours of driving you get a little tired/frayed so things seem even worse than they might be. It was still a very BAD road, but we were in much better spirits after a few days break from driving.
    We ended up having to spend 2 days in Lusaka as we weren’t able to get the fuel tank leak fixed in a single day. We found Lusaka to be a large, bustling and diverse city. The traffic rivaled the worst we’ve seen anywhere, but the drivers were much more polite with hardly a honking horn to be heard. As we had to leave the vehicle overnight at the shop, we had to get a number of taxis and really enjoyed talking to the drivers and getting their perspective on life in Zambia. We were so impressed with how aware and vested the people we met are in their country – we saw fuel station attendants listening to parliamentary debates and taxi drivers commenting on the “almost” state of emergency and the Chinese introducing growth hormones into the chicken industry as very bad for the people of Zambia.Read more

  • Day58

    We now know why Chobe is so crowded. While crossing the border from Botswana to Zambia at Kazungala, just outside of Kasane, we observed boatloads of day-trippers coming from Livingstone in Zambia and dozens of safari trucks waiting to take them all into the park.
    We had done this crossing a few years ago, in the opposite direction. Long story short is that it’s easier getting out of Zambia, than in, at this particular border.
    The crossing requires taking your car on a ferry and then going through Zambian immigration and customs. The whole process took about 2 hours with the help of a ‘fixer’ (a local Zambian to help us through the process). It cost us about $6 to use the fixer, but entering Zambia was expensive at ~$250 for both of us. Immigration was easy with no forms to fill out and the stamps were promptly issued as soon as we paid our $50. After immigration, there were many steps that needed to be done in order and yet the shed/offices were in non-sequential locations with very poor signage. The steps included filling out forms and paying: road tax, carbon tax, local council tax, permission to import a vehicle, and third party insurance. Some fees needed to be paid in US dollars and others in Zambian Kwacha. The trick was you can’t get Kwacha before you enter Zambia and are therefore forced to buy the currency at ridiculously bad exchange rates (especially on a Sunday that was also a holiday). We could have gone through the entire process ourselves (and have done so before), but the ‘fixer’ definitely halved the amount of time it took. Though we have nothing to complain about. Miles of trucks are lined up on both sides of the border and sometimes wait a week or more to get a spot on the ferry and cross.
    Once we cleared the border, we headed up to Mongu where we planned to spend the night before heading into Kafue National Park. The first 80 km took us >2 hours because it was the WORST road we’ve ever driven – even worse than the famously awful roads of Mozambique back in 2007. We will try and attach a video so you can see what we mean. Once we cleared the bad stretch, it was a perfectly maintained road and an interesting drive up to Mongu. We passed multiple small villages, often with sweeping views of the Zambezi river, and noticed many more people walking on the road than we’d seen in Botswana or Namibia. There were also more bicycles than we’ve seen elsewhere. We suspect there was some sort of development project to provide bikes to villages as the distances are long and public transport and taxis would be too expensive and are virtually non-existent.
    We had a bit of a weird experience when at one of the many police checkpoints that are between each district, a man in a military uniform with a big gun, mirrored sunglasses and very shiny handcuffs that he was twirling around his fingers, decided he wanted us to give him and his friend a lift to the next town so he could arrest someone. John bravely and firmly explained that it was impossible as our insurance didn’t allow us to take passengers and that we couldn’t possibly help them – they’d have to wait for another car. He was not happy, but luckily did not insist so we drove off as quickly as we could as he gave us the creeps and we weren’t entirely certain of his intentions.
    Got into Mongu late and found a brand new, clean and modern hotel to stay. We seemed to be the only guests, but since it was a holiday weekend, there were many (wealthy) locals taking advantage of the resort’s bar, restaurant and kid’s playground. A very festive scene.
    It’s common to see (mostly) women and girls carrying water over what appears to be very long distances between villages and water sources (we read that this chore is the main reason for girls not attending or completing school in rural Africa). On the morning we left Mongu, John was taking a hot shower and looked out the window to see a family carrying buckets of water along the path outside the property line fence--- reminding him and us of how ridiculously unevenly wealth and access to water is distributed, and how easy it is for us to take for granted the big and small luxuries we enjoy daily.
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  • Day59

    Arrived at our campsite at Kasabushi in Kafue in the late afternoon. Because it was the end of a holiday weekend, the campsite was full and unfortunately they had double booked us on the first night. That said, the sites were really nice as they were located right next to a languid, boulder-filled, serpentine river, typical of what you expect a river in Africa to look like with dark, deep, slow-flowing water, ample vegetation coming down to the water’s edge, and countless birds and hippos everywhere. The showers here were the best we’ve had in Africa (maybe top 10 of our lives?) – outdoors, spacious, beautifully designed, hot and great pressure. They also light a campfire for you each night, which was another great luxury. We are going to call this valet camping and we really like it!
    We took things pretty easy here, going out driving only a few times and taking a boat trip with the owner of the camp. Compared to other parks we’ve been in recently, the amount of wildlife we saw was a lot less. However, we did see 2 beautiful, young male lions, 3 elephants and some species of antelope we had not seen before. The birds were fantastic here – we saw skimmers for the first time, which are a very graceful flying birds that reminded us a small albatross. The behavior of the animals was also very different than in other parks – they were far more timid and likely to run when they saw us coming. We were told this is probably because the animals still have very distinct, recent memories or experience with poachers and/or they are not habituated to cars and humans as you find in other parks with a higher volume of visitors. To put a point on this, we heard 2 gunshots the morning of our departure. It was very likely from poachers and the camp owner reported it to the authorities immediately. Ugh!
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  • Day62

    Leaving Kafue we headed towards Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, bypassing the city center and turning off just before the Zimbabwe border to get to Mvuu camp close to Lower Zambezi National Park. We thought we had left the worst of the roads behind us, and 60km does not seem far, but OMG, this one was a classic. What made it bearable was the amazing, picturesque villages and the waves and smiles from children as we passed by.
    The very sad story we were told when we arrived at the camp, which is situated on the banks of the very impressive Zambezi river, looking across to Zimbabwe, is that the day before we arrived a camper from Germany had been killed by an elephant just a few yards from his campsite, in front of his girlfriend. John met the owner and talked about the incident, and it seems unclear exactly what happened, but more than likely the victim approached too close to the elephant without being fully aware of the danger, trying to get a ‘perfect’ picture, and by the time he realized the elephant was charging him in real life, it was too late. Regardless, a very sad story and to make it even sadder, we just learned that a local villager was also killed by an elephant on the same day.
    Given the bad roads here and the stunning beauty of the river, we opted to see this park and critters by boat. Some great views of both the Zimbabwe and Zambia sides of the river with plenty of hippo, elephants, birds of all kinds and even some buffalo on one of the islands. Sadly, poaching is a major issue in this park (and apparently all of Zambia) and you can see it in the way the elephants run away in fear when you approach, with their ears curled and the fear clear in their eyes.
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  • Day31

    This campsite is beautiful, it is set next to a river which can be seen from the campsite as well as the bar. When we arrived we could see hippos, elephants and crocodiles in the river. Our guide told us that at night the hippos would walk around the campsite eating the grass and we were warned not to go to the toilet at night without a torch.

    It was probably about 12:00am when I was woken by the sound of monkeys in the trees, then I heard the hippos walking around eating the grass I couldn't believe it - one was directly behind our tent.Read more

  • Day32

    We started the morning early but luckily we didn't have to pack up our tents until we got back from the game drive. A big truck turned up and we all piled on, there were no windows or barriers (kind of like a cattle truck with seats) and it was freezing.

    As we entered the park we saw five hippopotamus' by a water hole which appeared to be frozen in time, not moving at all. We looked closer to see that there were three lions walking behind them. I think they were going with 'if I don't move, you can't see me' approach. We continued driving around the park, we saw several water buffalos, thomson gazelles, baboons, elephants, crocodiles and several other common animals.

    We stopped for a cup of team and all of a sudden our guide got very excited pointing to across the other side of the lake where we had been looking at another hippopotamus popping it's head in and out of the water. I couple see another group standing around something, everyone rushed over and then I saw that it was a pangolin. A pangolin is very rare, that rare that our guide had never seen one and had been a guide for thirty-one years. The guide was so excited and wanted to tell everyone, we listened as he would tell other guides as we drove past them and none of them believed him, they wanted to see a photo.

    Interesting facts about pangolins:
    • african people believe that seeing a pangolin will bring them good fortune.
    • the pangolin is one of the most hunted animals in the world accounting for almost twenty percent of the wildlife black market, around 100,000 every year are captured with majority being shipped to china.
    • they are the only mammal to have scales.
    • they emit a noxious acid like skunks.
    • some climb trees, others dig holes.
    •their name means 'something that rolls up'.
    • their tongue can be longer than its body.

    Once we had finished our game drive we headed back to the campsite where we had to pack up our tents, we were a little bit late leaving because there was a problem with the truck's gearbox and Aloise was trying to fix it.
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  • Day10

    From Kesane to Livingstone.
    After another hearty breakfast of omelette, toast and fruit we were off in the Commuter. Kesane to the border of Botswana/Zambia is only a short drive. We passed a different section of the trucks awaiting the border crossing. It really does go for many kilometers. Cars and tourist vehicles don't need to do the wait, thank goodness.
    Passport control was again a convoluted and drawn out process. First up we had to line up to get stamped out of Botswana. Then we lined up for the ferry across (more about this later) the no-mans-land of the Zambezi River before the passport processing for Zambia. The passport offices in Africa appear to be chaotic places in general. There are often signs announcing things that are not adhered to, which is sort of confusing for people who have come from countries where signs are to be respected. A couple of examples from today were: 'visit the health check counter before we process your passport'. There was no one at the health check I figured that was not in operation and probably a left over sign from the Ebola outbreak. The other example was the 'exit' sign was really the entrance for the tourist visa. So we entered the exit, tried to look healthy and proceeded to hand over $50US each and our passports. I had collected all the passports and the cash as Stephan said this was the best way to do it. The woman behind the counter processed each one without checking the actual people were there, which confirms my belief that it is mostly about raising revenue.
    Back to no-mans-land between Botswana and Zambia. After we had just been stamped out of Botswana, Stephan's phone rang. It was the hotel to say we had to return because Karen Parker (not sure why Geoff Parker was not included in this) had not paid her bill. I had not even thought of paying the fact I hadn't even remembered really putting anything on it but may have. I overheard Stephan saying we wouldn't be returning as we didn't have time and we would call in when we crossed back over in a couple of days. I gathered that was not ok for the hotel by the interaction that was happening and quickly got on the phone and paid the bill via credit card. It was all of $8.50 (probably a drink) but for the hotel worker the fact I hadn't paid my bill may have had serious consequences. He may have had this amount deducted from his next pay and also had to answer serious questions from his boss about why a guest had left without paying.
    The river crossing on the ferry was interesting. There are a couple of them running at a time and each one can only take one truck each, a few cars and some walk on passengers. No wonder it takes so long to process the hundreds of trucks! We walked on while Stefan waited with the van. He warned against taking photos around border crossings because official type people will take your camera/phone off you. Our ferry took a truck with things in it for the new bridge that is being built to cross the Zambezi. This meant we did a detour to a different part of the river. There were people there doing very traditional fishing using the canoes cut from the trees and fishing nets. They looked very interesting in the morning light. At this point I was unsure of the rules re photography...but decided it was not worth losing my camera over.
    Once we'd been through Zambia passport control (as outlined before) we then had to wait for Stephan. Once he was across he had a myriad of paperwork to process. Permits for the van, third party insurance, tourist visa stuff, etc. We contemplated how tricky all this would be without some local knowledge. In fact a group of local opportunists had tapped into this market by greeting arrivals and offering to help people through the process for a fee; the "runners" as they are known. I noticed them running up to cars and there would be a cash exchange. Until Stephan explained it, I was not sure what was going on. They were very pushy and for someone like Stephan, who knows what he is doing, they are unnecessary and bits of incessant pests.
    All the business of crossing the river and the passport control took about 3 hours. We waited for Stephan just inside the gates (where no one even checked we had a visa) for a couple of hours and a fascinating couple of hours it was. There were the usual hustlers wanting to sell us stuff but they quickly went away once you said you weren't interested. We stood on the edge of the road waiting and watching the goings on of the border people. Stall holders had set up selling clothes and food. The clothes for sale looked used and were in piles on plastic on the dusty ground. I didn't see any sales of the clothes but I am guessing the truck drivers do buy some. At one point a couple of squawking chooks were extracted from a car boot and a smiling lady carried them away by the wings. The way they were carried suggested they were heading to the pot. We were standing beside a woman selling drinks from an esky but business was very very slow and I don't think I saw her make a single sale. Geoff, Tony and Kevin had wandered down to the river front to check out things. Geoff returned with a few brass bracelets he bought from a hawker and somehow he also brought a few people selling things with him. Myf decided she would like a few brass bracelets so there was a bit of bartering. Joseph, our vendor used all his bag of tricks describing himself as our "brother from a different mother" and pleaded that his children could eat tonight if we bought them. My year 12's could have done an interesting analysis of his persuasive techniques!
    After all that we checked into the lovely David Livingstone Hotel, on the banks of the Zambezi. We can see the spray from the falls in the distance and we finished the day with a relaxing cruise up and down the river.
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  • Day11

    This morning Kate and I went on a village tour of Makuni Village. A driver picked us up at the front of our hotel and drove us the twenty minutes to get there. When we got there a young man called Brave greeted us and gave us a small tour. He explained the layout of the village starting with the village chief's palaces. The social order consists of a matriarch line of succession and a patriarchal line of succession and they each have separate palaces. These were behind thatched fences and from the outside appeared to be huts in the traditional style with a thatched roof and mud sides (I say "appeared" for a reason...more re this later). We did not go into this area.
    Brave then guided us to a place where some women were preparing food. There were lots of kids around as it is Saturday, so of course they have the day off. There are 1000 kids at the local school, and as a consequence school runs in 2 shifts - 7am to 12:30 and then 1pm - 5pm. A teacher usually teaches for one shift and does preparation for the other. Teaching jobs are sought after and the pay has improved over recent years. He also told us about the local customs surrounding marriage. Most brides and grooms choose their own partner but the tradition was that the grandparents or Uncle would negotiate a bride for their son. The dowry involved paying a price ($500 - $1000 US or equivalent in cows/goats/donkeys,etc) for the bride. This dowry is still paid. Interestingly if the bride has had more money invested in her education then she is worth more and her dowry will be higher. Nice to know that educating girls has value as in so many countries it is not valued. An old lady showed us the cracking and grinding of Marula nuts that are used for eating and for their oil. She had a couple of children with her who were very interested in us and when I took a photo they were delighted to see the outcome. The people and children were very gentle and friendly and we felt welcomed even though we were obviously tourists with a camera. Our guide encouraged us to take photos but I felt quite weird about doing though I was intruding into their world. I guess the whole traveling in country less affluent than your own, always involves some sort of internal conflict re this sort of thing. Brave also told us the kids would say "there are mazunga's" - mazunga being a word for white people. It is a word widely used throughout Africa.
    Brave told us the word for thank you -twaloomba. So we gave out lots of twaloomba's to everyone we came across.
    There were funny little stalls - literally a hole in the wall - where the locals could buy things e.g. eggs, superglue for your craft (there is a lot of craft created here), batteries and millet/maize. We were also taken to see a couple of men doing wood carvings. They were making the wooden hippos I see everywhere. I really like them but I doubt whether I could get it back into Australia.
    Brave took us to the craft market at the end. There was a vast contrast between the gentle people in the village and the sales folk of the market. Brave carefully explained that he had to deliver us to a particular stall first, and that he had to always deliver the client to particular stall holders in turn. There was concern written all over his face. After experiencing the market I can imagine the fighting that might occur if he appeared to be favoring anyone. Kate bought 3 stone bowls and I bought a wooden bowl. Who knows if I will get it back through customs, though he assured me I could. I didn't have much cash on me so I couldn't buy much anyway. All the stall holders were quite pushy and insistent. After visiting their homes I can understand why they were keen to sell us stuff though. I would be the same.
    The most interesting part of the whole trip occurred on the way home. As we drove along the road we came across a very shiny new Black Mercedes driven by a well dressed young man. He was accompanied by a car load of other well dressed young people. On the front of the car was some sort of insignia from one of the river boat cruises - the tacky looking "Lion King" cruise boat. They were a sharp contrast to the poor villagers we had just seen but it turns out these were the children of the chief. I asked our driver if the chief distributes any of his wealth to his people because in my eyes the villagers were literally dirt poor. He said this is a major problem for the people in the area and they are growing in their unhappiness. The chief is mega wealthy. He owns all the land in the area and does not share anything. His children are given very expensive educations abroad. I am seriously doubting the chief and his family are spending much time in the grass hut in Makuni village. From my studies in history I predict that as the people become more educated they will revolt - some sort of revolution will occur. This chief also runs an experiential game park of sorts that has elephant rides and walking with lions. Apparently the elephants and lions are not treated well. In addition, it is highly probable that the $50US that Kate and I paid to go to the village, goes to him as well. He's the ultimate exploitative capitalist.
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Republic of Zambia, Sambia, Zambia, Zambië, ዛምቢያ, زامبيا, Zambiya, Замбія, Замбия, Zanbi, জাম্বিয়া, ཛམ་བི་ཡ།, Zambija, Zàmbia, Zambie, ཛམ་བི་ཡ, Zambia nutome, Ζάμπια, Zambio, زامبیا, Sammbi, An tSaimbia, ઝામ્બિયા, זמביה, ज़ाम्बिया, Զամբիա, Norður-Ródesía, ザンビア共和国, ზამბია, ហ្សាំប៊ី, ಝಾಂಬಿಯಾ, 잠비아, Zambya, Zambi, ແຊມເບຍ, Замбија, സാംബിയ, झाम्बिया, Żambja, ဇမ်ဘီယာ, जाम्बिया, ଜାମ୍ବିଆ, Zâmbia, Zambïi, සැම්බියාව, Saambiya, சாம்பியா, జాంబియా, แซมเบีย, Semipia, Dăm-bi-a (Zambia), Orílẹ́ède ṣamibia, 赞比亚, i-Zambia

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