Thursday, July 21, 2022

POTHOLED ROADS & BACK TRACKS IN ZAMBIA

 

As we head further north from Lusaka the road gets worse. It looks as if it has melted and there are grooves to drive in. Not to mention huge rolly ripples and random potholes. Then there are countless trucks making it slow going. Thank goodness they drive on our side of the road and I don’t have to “do” the overtaking for John! Later that day the road splits in two – one road heads to the Copperbelt (a massive mining area) and the other north towards Tanzania. Traffic is finally reduced a bit and the roads improve marginally. We head to Tembusha Forest Camp about 10km off the main road. There are 3 secluded sites near Don’s home. It is cold, so it’s great to use the firepit and some of the firewood provided. The next day we head to Dons house to return the key and have coffee. We admire their magnificent garden and then chat. Again, fabulous people who have retained their optimism despite being evicted from their farm in Zimbabwe.

Back to the main road, and Don has warned us that after 80km it will deteriorate… my goodness and it does. The potholes are deep and stretch right across the road. All the seal is only just wide enough for 2 vehicles and often sections are broken off the sides making it interesting meeting the hundreds of oncoming trucks, and of course passing the slow overloaded ones. There are plenty of rolled trucks and many many more broken-down ones.

We detour 10km out to the Kundalila Falls on a rough track (at least it is a break from the trucks!). We reluctantly pay our hefty foreigner entry fee US$15 each and head to the top and then the bottom of the surprisingly attractive falls. We could camp here, but it’s a bit early, so we return to the main road and tackle a few more miles of potholes before we pullover for the night at the incredibly neglected Escarpment Camping.

Then back to the bad road bright and early as we head further north. At the big town of Mpika we are stunned to see a double lane highway entering and exiting town. What an overkill after miles of terrible road. We stop to fill with fuel and John spies a National Park vehicle so goes to ask the driver about the roads through the North Luangwa National Park. We are hoping to go that way, but discover it won’t be possible as we are too heavy for the pontoon over the river. He shows John an alternative route. By midday we turn onto a back track to Shiwa Ng’anda – our next destination. It is a huge English manor some crazy guy-built in the 1930s with a huge associated estate. Opening hours are long over and its not open tomorrow, so we make do with a good look from the outside before continuing on to Kapishya Hot Springs and the associated camping area beside the lodge. The hot pools are perfect – just the right temperature for a good long soak that evening and the next morning. Amazingly here we meet an Australian couple who are staying in the lodge.

After our morning soak we hit the road. Back along the track and onto the potholed road. Fortunately, it’s not long before we turn off to head east on the minor road we have been told to take. We are overjoyed to see a lovely tarseal road, but it only lasts for about 30km when it shrinks into a goat track! Then it is a crawling pace for miles. Lots of it is through sandy river valleys that are fortunately dry. At the big river there IS a bridge as promised (I had wondered!) and then again, as if by magic, tarseal for the last 10km to Chama. We will need to find somewhere to stay as it will soon be dark and Chama is a scruffy little town. We luck out and find a secure carpark at the Bwesele Lodge where the boss insists that we stay free! Amazing with the “I want more” attitude we come across in this continent.

We head off feeling very relaxed with lovely tarseal. But after 30km the seal ends and we are back to a track. We cannot fathom a reason for a stretch of good road in the middle of nowhere, maybe a Politian wanted votes.  It is incredibly slow going and we meet no other vehicles for over 100km. Watching village life as we pass by is fascinating. The maize and ground nuts/peanuts are being harvested. The maize is cut by hand, husked and stored in big cane stands or bagged for market. Ground nuts are husked and bagged also (that must take hours) and we stop to buy a huge bag for a few kwatcha. Later in the day we head off the main road and into the town of Lundazi and head down the busy market street to find an English castle built here many years ago.  It has been converted into a hotel. The receptionist is more than happy to show us around this quirky place. We could camp here, but decide to press on. It is a long slow drive and dusk comes fast. We want to reach the next camp spot in the town of Chipata. Finally, we crawl down the driveway to Muma Rulas Camping in the dark. Something we try to avoid!

In the morning we head in to South Luangwa National Park. A couple we met last night recommended Croc Valley Camping (they even told us what site number to ask for!), so we head straight there. The site is full so we camp a bit back from the river and tomorrow we can move to the riverfront. The local monkeys give us a huge welcome by climbing all over the truck, so we close all the windows and roof vents before we head off on a night drive in an open sided Ute. Fingers crossed for a leopard sighting. And YAY after spotting baboons, zebras, giraffes we finally spot a leopard snoozing on a branch. Three safari vehicles sit and watch and jostle for position when the leopard leaps out of the tree and prowls away. He is oblivious to the vehicles moving around him. Amazing how these National Pak trucks can drive off the tracks! After dark the assistant gets out the spotlight and the night hunt starts.  We get to spot a few genets and mongoose that we haven’t seen before and by 8pm we are deposited back at the Lodge and our dinner awaits at the restaurant. In the morning we move beside the river and watch the hippos and crocs and chat to Adam & Hope who are camped beside us in a roof tent. Adam helps his father run a huge farm in northern Zambia not far from DRC. They have 300 employees as they need at least 200 to turn up at harvest time.  Later that morning we decide to “do” our own safari and drive into the park, pay our fees and set off on the bigger tracks. The small tracks have too many low overhanging branches. We see lots hippos and quite a few elephants who raise their trunks and roar at us. Finally, we exit the park (we have to be out by 6pm) and head back to our lovely spot beside the river.

In the morning we are wakened by a loud thump as a big baboon jumps out of the tree and lands on our roof. I go out to yell at him and spy an elephant walking across the river. Awesome. But time to pack up and head off as we have a long drive to tackle today and are concerned the potholes will make it slow going. We stop at the busy town of Chipata for food and fuel. The road is surprisingly good with not too many trucks so we reach the bridge over the huge Luangwa River (only one truck at a time can cross) well before dark and head down the side road to the Bridge River Camp.

We had planned to continue on to Lusaka today, but the owner of the camp tells us the road following the river is pretty good, so we decide to explore.  And what a cultural experience we have. There are poor villages most of the way, and we stop at a few. First beside a family who are busy firing bricks for their new home. They are as proud as punch to show us the whole process – digging up the mud, mixing it with straw, shaping it in a mould & them baking them.  Then next at a large village where they are making bamboo mats.  People appear from all directions and we are surrounded. Of course, they enjoy John’s silly antics! We pull ourselves out of the throng and head to the village of Luangwa at the mouth of the river where it pours into the Zambesi River. Over the water we can see Mozambique and Zimbabwe. There is a massive fish market at the end of the road and we stop to explore. Most of the fish is smoked or salted and huge baskets are packed to send to Lusaka. Before we leave town, we also explore the street market and buy a huge bag of meal for our village. John is practically mobbed when he drops it off to them. Finally, back to the Bridge River Camp, but this time it is nearly full of more campers, giving John the chance to chat to lots more people.

Off again bright and early on our way to Lusaka. Again, the road isn’t too bad and we make good time. John has located, on google, a car upholsterer in town so we head there. City traffic is OK until we reach a huge overpass with markets stretched for miles beneath it – all over the train track. It would be hilarious watching them all move if a train roared by! Anyway, once through the traffic we head into the John Laing  area to find the shop, and oh my! It is definitely a slum area with narrow rough tracks and scruffy homes. Freak out Lynda time, especially when the track gets smaller and John is following the GPS! We ask for help…. “Go back”. Thank goodness we do!

We admit defeat and head to the Eureka Campground again.  John’s plan is to move south, but tomorrow is Sunday and the Craft Market is on. With a bit of arm twisting, we head to the markets followed by Church in the nearby suburb of Roma. Sadly, not one filled with African singing as we hoped because it is in an affluent area and is mainly white. Oh well. Time to head south to the massive dam on the mighty Zambezi at Kariba. Hopefully our last potholed road as we will exit Zambia tomorrow. We find Eagles Rest Camp on the huge Lake Kariba for the night.

We use our last kwachas to fill up with diesel and head to the border. A very easy exit. They even waive the fees to cross the dam wall because we have no kwachas left! We stop to look at the huge dam before driving over to the Zimbabwe border post. Goodbye Zambia, we have enjoyed our stay. 

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