African Willy Wonka…

It was disappointing to leave S Luangwa, even in the rain…  
…but we set out 380km to Bridge Camp further down the Luangwa River for a quick overnight stop before heading the remaining 300km to Lusaka. 

There has been tremendous progress with building the new tar road from Chipata and all but approximately 50km of dirt track diversions onto are now in excellent condition. We got to Bridge Camp in pretty quick time and spent the afternoon chatting to owners Will & Lindsey whilst they griped and bickered between themselves (Basil & Sybil Fawlty without doubt). When Lindsey is not about, Will reverts to ‘Plan B’. 
Leaving early the following morning, our intention was to stay at Eureka Camp in Lusaka but, having completed our shopping on the outskirts of town by lunchtime, we continued south to The Moorings at Monze. Here we met Colin again, the middle-aged Scot who’s been doing pseudo-voluntary work in the region for the last few years. We shared a couple of drinks and left him with half a dozen packets of cigarette rolling papers (rare as rocking-horse manure out here). He doesn’t smoke cigarettes, but I have a feeling he’ll probably be very chilled and have a big smile on his face for the next couple of months.

The following day we drove to Livingstone and arrived at Maramba River Lodge. We’ve been here so often it’s starting to feel like our 2nd (or 3rd / 4th?) home in Africa. 
Our luck was in and, since there’s no one else here, we got our favourite pitch (camp H) next to the river. We’ve had this pitch every time we’ve been at Maramba and anywhere else just wouldn’t seem the same. Some of the staff have changed – Mary and Barbara have unfortunately left, but Titani (‘What Are We Going To Do Now‘), Kelvin, Precious, Dawa, Richard and Bonaventure are still here. We got a hearty ‘Welcome back Mr Scott & Mrs Scott‘ from everyone.
It’s very hot still. 35 Centigrade during the day and 20-25 overnight. Humidity is very high so it’s difficult to sleep at night and every morning I wake with pillow and T-shirt soaked. It’s so hot that when I left my iPhone in the car to charge one day it warped so badly the screen came apart.
The place is much greener than we left it… 
… and the Maramba River is higher than our last visit but, although there are some pools of clear water, the rafts of Water Hyacinth and knotted grasses are now up to 1 metre thick. What little rain there has been, has brought mud and sand into the river, turning it into a surreal African Willy Wonka’s river of hot chocolate. 

At sunset, next to our tent, the African Willy Wonka’s river turns into golden caramel…

View From The Penthouse: 
Despite the heat, it’s great to once again sleep at night with the shrill, deafening chirp of tree frogs, bugs and beetles piercing the dusk like an assault of wooden wind-chimes in a gale. 

Much of the day, and particularly at night, we hear Victoria Falls rumbling in the background. There’s more water in the Zambezi than the last time we were in Livingstone and, although it looks like the Malawi Lake Flies have arrived, it’s actually the rising plumes of spray from The Falls that can be seen clearly from 6-8km away.  

Even with the current relatively low water levels these plumes have been carried up after a 100m drop from the river, back to the level of the top of the falls, then risen a further 150m into the air. It’s no wonder they call it Mosi Oa Tonya – The Smoke That Thunders.

This time round there are no elephants terrorising (thrilling) the camp at night. The whole place is just too lush and there are easier pickings elsewhere. But we’ve still got hippos belly-laughing and farting next to our pitch and the occasional huge croc gliding along through the muddy water. 
In camp we sit and watch the beautiful Jacana birds picking their way across the water Hyacinth and mud flats with their amazing tripod feet… 

…and the Monitor lizards roaming through the undergrowth looking for bugs and juicy morsels.  

The lack of rain is going to cause real problems. ‘The Rains’ should have come about 2 months ago. On average they expect 20-30mm per day, up to 80mm some days, for a period of 2-3 months. Having had only a few showers and a couple of recent storms since Christmas, there are serious discussions about potential famine within the next 6-8 months. 

The maize crops planted by subsistence farmers will almost certainly fail since no one has any form of irrigation and boreholes / water sources are only available to the wealthiest farmers. Even those that have them are finding the water table so low that it is barely useable. Prices in the markets have risen substantially and the government doesn’t have the funds to be able to import the goods needed to maintain people’s staple diets. It’s a real worry, and a disaster waiting to happen.
In anticipation of the regular (failed) wet-season, there seems to be no one travelling. For the last 6 weeks we’ve only had other travellers with us for about 4 nights in any of the camps we’ve been to. 
There are a few people staying at Maramba River Lodge in the Safari Tents and Chalets – I guess Victoria Falls will always be a draw for tourists. It’s funny how perceptions vary: we’ve come here for a bit of relative ‘luxury and civilisation’ after travelling for so long, yet talking to some of the Americans in the lodge the other day they’ve come to the same place for the simple ‘roughing-it‘ atmosphere and to experience ‘Bush Life’ in Africa.
Having left home 3 years ago this week, we’ve got some serious thinking to do about whether we ship the car home when our current RAC Carnet runs out at the beginning of April, or whether we renew it, leave the car here and fly home for a short time, returning then to either continue travelling or (if we’re staying) look for some sort of work. 
We can’t keep doing this much longer without bringing in some money and it’s time to think about the future a bit. If we leave the car, we get to come back: if we ship it home it’s unlikely we’d go to the expense of bringing it back.
The Carnet for the car is a bit of an issue. The RAC in the UK have finally decided that they’ve pulled out of the Carnet business – after years of formally preventing anyone going to any of the other European Auto Organisations to get a Carnet for a British registered car! 

That means we’ve got to get the car transferred onto another Carnet or get it back to the UK asap in order to get our deposits / Bonds back. 
We’ve been emailing the ADAC in Germany about the possibility of them issuing a Carnet to us and, so far, everything looks positive. Very friendly staff, helpful, clear documentation and, although the deposit (or bank guarantee) that must be put up with the ADAC is considerably more than the RAC required, the cost of the Carnet itself is about 30% of what the RAC hit us for!
We’ve also got some big decisions to make about the car itself. Mechanically it’s good (unsurprising really, since there’s been so much work done over the last 3 years & 70,000km travelling!) but the bodywork it’s pretty shot. There’s little doubt that it’s had a hard life on this trip, but that’s really just exposed what a ‘pup’ we were originally sold by Nene Overland when we first bought it. 
I guess I was pretty green at the time – even greener than the metallic paint Nene used to cover up the filler and rust that they glossed over! Normal wear & tear we would expect and there’s no doubt that the 70,000km we’ve travelled have been hard on the vehicle.
Regular replacement of shocks, bushes, seals, belts, filters, bearings, etc we would expect and the bodywork has taken a bit of a battering from bush driving and the scorching effects of the sun… 
However, in addition to the many issues we had when we first collected the car after it was kitted out, the chassis was clearly rotten (subsequently replaced in Uganda)… 

…and over the last couple of years the doors have all but fallen apart… 

…the rust in the panel frames has been exposed… 

…the bulkhead has ‘blown’ round the door hinges & windscreen and has pretty much completely disintegrated in the foot wells… 

The ‘B-posts’ have rotted (and subsequently twisted) so that the back of the car has dropped slightly at the rear cross-member, and every time a door is closed the rust dropping off the inner skin is like metal cornflakes collecting in the bottom of a cereal bag.  

Kevin Mackman and the Overland guys at Nene who originally kitted the car out for our trip did a great job. They sold us what we needed, discouraged us from buying ‘toys’ and gimmicks, talked through how best to arrange the equipment and which brands best suited our type of trip. But I can only assume that the Nene sales guys who actually sold us the car – a car that had most of the rust and rot painted over – must have been laughing their rocks off. 

What to do???

Take it home and sell it? 

Just drive it to death, either in Africa or the UK? 

Take it home and restore it? 

Leave it here and have it rebuilt? 

I hate the idea of getting rid of it – other than the money we’ve ‘invested‘ in it it’s got a sentimental pull on us.