It has not been easy to post anything whilst in Northern Zambia due to poor or non-existent cell coverage, so apologies for the silence!
We left South Luangwa not really knowing if we were going to be able to cross the rivers that lay ahead. We had met up with some conservation trainers at South Luangwa, Annalise and Malcolm who also wanted to cut across to the great North Road. They had inside information so after discussing it we decided to go for it. The alternative was a 4 or 5 day detour via Lusaka. The area we were heading into is wild and although there’s a road marked at times it is little more than a track. It was hard driving but beautiful and meant that we crossed the Luambe National park as well as passing through numerous villages. Whenever we took a wrong turning the friendly villagers were there to point us in the right direction. We discovered cotton fields along the way planted between mealie fields and the penny dropped. In Zambia the women wear a colorful sarong called a chitembe- which is made out of 100% cotton. The common mode of transport in this area is bicycles! After the first 20 kms or so we didn’t see another car until we reached Chifunda community campsite. The bush is beautiful and on the way we passed through a mature Mopani wood forest- so peaceful! Once again we were camping along a different part of the Luangwa River. We got there at around 5 pm after 240kms which took us about 9 hours! The people who look after the campsite built us a fire and then ran off to get “the fire” which turned out to be two smoldering pieces of wood- who needs fire lighter after that! Annalise and Malcolm arrived at the same camp site sometime after 7pm and presented us with our rear number plate which had literally been torn off during one of the dry river bed crossings. Some villagers retrieved it and Malcom recognized it as they passed through. At some point we also discovered that we had lost our fire extinguisher. It was mounted in a clip-on bracket under the roof rack and it must have been dislodged by one of the countless dongas (ditches) that paved our way. We remember when it happened as at one point we heard a loud bang followed by hordes of village kids shouting and running after us. We should have stopped!
Next morning there were park fees to be paid and we crossed the river on a pontoon into North Luangwa. It’s a wild park and at this time of the year the bush is very dense. Very different from the South. The drive through took us around 3 hours (100km’s) and it was superb. You can stay in the park but there is no camping allowed. The escarpment road had just been graded after the rains and was good. Eventually we came to the tar road – the Great North Road – …Alan jumped out the car and kissed the tarmac. We’d been on gravel roads and tracks for a week, it was lovely to be on tar again!
Another 35km’s of gravel brought us to Kapishya Hot Springs, a haven of tranquility! We were once again the only people in the camp site which was separated from the lodge by the hot spring. Its natural beauty surrounded by dense vegetation has been maintained and it results in a sandy and rocky pool that varies in depth from a few cm’s to about half a meter, all the while the warm water bubbles up randomly from the bottom. It is estimated that the water source is some 17km below ground. Needless to say we spent time both morning and evening wallowing like the hippo’s we have seen so many of! We treated ourselves to supper at the lodge for the 3 nights we were there as we met some lovely people and shared many interesting and varied conversations. We found ourselves ‘drawn’ into the water on our way back to our tent each evening with the steam rising around us in the starlight, crawling into bed thoroughly warmed through.
On the road to Kapishya we discovered that we had broken our front right shock absorber mounting – the mounting bracket had parted company from the bottom suspension wishbone. Fortunately there was a handy mechanic at the lodge who welded up a new bracket, re-attached our number plate and strengthened one of the running boards on the side of the vehicle which was on its way to being our next casualty!
Armed with various bits of information about the road and accommodation options ahead, we left for Mbala, a ‘border town’ in the far north very near Lake Tanganyika. We were told to enquire about accommodation options at a town called Kasama on our way through. It seemed that all lake side options were only accessible by boat, requiring us to unpack our gear and leave the vehicle for a couple of days – not very practical. We ended up at Lake Chila in Mbala, a very simple and cheap lodge. There we met a Dutch family who were booked to camp at Isanga Bay on the Lake and who had just seen the manager who had confirmed that the road to the lodge was ‘passible’. We got the phone number and Lynne confirmed we could go through and camp. The next morning after taking 2 hours to complete the 35km’s we arrived on the shores of Lake Tanganyika – how amazing is that?! What a privilege! The scene could have been from the Maldives! Lake Tanganyika is the world’s longest (675 km’s) the second deepest (at 1435m) fresh water lake. Lynne and Grant who are ‘caretaking’ the lodge on a part time basis while the real managers are in Cape Town are Baptist Missionaries out of a small church in Simonstown in the Cape. Sam and Hannah, an expat family with small children had been camping there for a few days already and for the next 24 hours we were the only people around! Lynne and Grant and their family arrived the next day as did the Dutch family. We have had some lovely long chats with Lynne and Grant who have been here for 17 years running what is essentially a roving Bible College. Many churches have been planted in this area around the lake but there has been nothing to nurture and grow them. Grant has a discipleship program that takes him around all these areas on a regular basis with people travelling distances to attend each session. They are almost self-sufficient in that they manage a farm on which they produce almost everything they eat whilst Lynne home schools their 5 kids. We had a baked sweet potato from their garden done in our Cobb (charcoal oven) and savory mince the other night – a meal Therina and Kim would approve of! The sweet potatoes were an unusual deep orange and amazingly creamy and sweet. We joined them for lunch today (Sunday) and shared Nshima (the Zambian equivalent of pap/ sadza/ mealie meal) and home grown pork. Denise has had some amazing DMC’s (deep meaningful conversations) with everyone in the camp site (as is to be expected) but many of them have been lovely faith conversations as well which has been special. It turns out that two kids and an adult amongst our number have been talking about wanting to be baptized. Grant (who is a Pastor) offered to perform the sacrament for them and so at Sunset yesterday we were privileged to be invited to be a part of the ‘great crowd of witnesses’ as the three were baptized in the lake. Amazingly (and eerily) as this started a boat load (30+) of local church people just floated into the bay singing hymns and just bobbed around very close to us whilst the baptism took place. It was like being on the Sea of Galilee! Very moving indeed.
One of the reasons we chose to come this route was to see the Kalambo Falls – the second highest water fall in Africa, next to the Tugela. The falls drop over the escarpment into the East African Rift Valley of which the Lake is a part – a drop of over 200m. The lodge arranged a guide and after a 20min boat ride plus a strenuous 2 and a bit hour walk/ climb (about 800m) through villages, cassava fields and rocky grassland, we arrived at the top of the falls – magnificent. The Kalambo River marks the Border between Zambia and Tanzania and as we looked across the river we found ourselves wondering whether we should find a way across and say we’d been there. Also we discovered that we could have driven to the falls and camped nearby however we were glad that we hadn’t! Once back in the village the children were fascinated by us and gathered around us as we waited for the boat. They laughed, mimicked us and my case held my hands, some of them hesitant to touch white skin! Then they waved us goodbye- a good day in Africa.
The time came to leave this beautiful place (Tuesday). Grant offered to fill our tank with filtered water and we in turn used our winch to help them erect a large solar panel pedestal following which we left to head for a little border post into Tanzania from Mbala. After 2 hours driving 35kms, it was only an hour for the next 35kms, we were speeding. It was such an easy border crossing as we were the only ones there, and the border officials were very welcoming however it still took an hour as everything has to be painstakingly written by hand. Electricity not being very reliable. Once through we were again on remote dirt roads, this time taking us to the Tanzanian town of Sumbawanga. We were 7kms of out the town when our GPS told us that we still had over an hour to go. This was very confusing until we realized that there is a time difference of an hour here.
Nothing prepared us for this little town, with its bright vibrace, full of tuk-tuks called “dala-dala” and full of noise and people with a distinctly eastern flavor. We stayed overnight at the Monrovian Church Conference center- where we bumped into a New Zealand lady we had met in South Luangwa. She has been traveling on her own by public transport and had been offered a lift by Erik- a Frenchman travelling on his own. We were also joined by some South Africans and a little Portuguese/dutch lady who came through Namibia and Angola. So super that night was quite festive as we ate together. We have spent the last few days travelling together loosely as there are few camping options along this route. We met up with them at Katavi National park and again here in Kigomo where we are at the moment. We found Olivier in ‘town’ this morning having a leaf spring replaced on his vehicle. He broke a blade and holed his aluminum fuel tank on the drive from Katavi yesterday. (So it is not just our bad driving!). (The fuel tank is leaking again by the way!). Tomorrow (27 June) one of the group has organized a boat to Gombe National Park to see the chimpanzees so we will all go together and share costs.
The last few days travel has been challenging on the dirt roads and after being on the road for over a month Al and I checked into a hotel for some R&R once we reached Kigoma. It turns out the manager here used to own Sani Top Chalets and we recognized him when we met him! A small world. You can get most things in town and at the markets but it’s a very different type of shopping. The shops are small, dark and filled to the brim, and crammed together. The markets have just grown up from ground so the floors vary from dirt, stones, wooden planks to cover ditches and the odd piece of concrete. In some places you have to pass through the passages sideways, they are so narrow… and the food market is very different from Pick n Pay! The butcher uses a panga (machete) to ‘carve’ the meat and lays it out on a concrete retaining wall in one of the passages. It has been interesting.
The one thing that has struck us is that we have met interesting and varied people along the way so far and because we are all travelling so far from home most are only too willing to help where they can. It is a far cry from being self-reliant and self-sufficient that living in a big city creates.