Lake Flies. Land Rover Doesn’t…

It’s still very dry in Malawi. The rains are at least 6 weeks late and people who have planted the maize and cassava that they will live on this year are becoming quite worried. Most of the population here still live on a ‘subsistence’ basis. If the weather doesn’t break soon, it could be a disaster.

The dry weather still means that grass for the camp roofs can be harvested and timber poles cut from the forest to repair the camp fences after the strong winds we’ve had from the lake. 

Although the weather has been beautiful, two things that the humidity and winds bring are fantastic, crashingly loud, toe-curling electrical storms (like the wonderful display we had on New Year’ Eve… 

…and the phenomenon of Malawi Lake Flies. Often they precede a storm and, mistaken for fires in the distance, billions upon billions of them appear like tendrils of smoke bursting out of the water’s surface.  

One or two times a year, they spend their entire 4-6 day life cycle mating over the lake. Their eggs drop to the surface of the water and then sink. There they can lie dormant for up to a year and, when environmental conditions are just right, they rise to the surface, hatch and begin the whole cycle again. Amazing to watch in the distance. The photo below shows them being blown by the breeze and about to engulf a couple of local fishing boats. Fortunately they don’t bite!  

The clouds are beautiful to watch, but ominous to see. If the wind is in the wrong direction, they can be blown towards the camp. That doesn’t happen often during the day, but at night the lights in the camp can act like a magnet and we have to turn everything off as fast as possible.  

Still, most of our customers have learned how to drink beer in the dark when absolutely necessary. As the flies swarm through, the villagers rush about with wet bowls and pans, swatting them out of the air as they stick to the wet surfaces and collecting them in bags. They make a relish out of them for nsima or meatball-style patties and fry them as Lake Burgers. 

At Chitimba, we just send the boys up into the roof to sweep them away. This is usually a job for Wanangwa as Zenyango is almost as scared of heights as he is of hard work. 
Nothing goes to waste though and they are collected up in bags so that the staff can take them home. 

Ruth is one of Chitimba’s chambermaids. She’s a wonderful, funny, friendly woman (although not perhaps every man’s fantasy chambermaid) and she just can’t wait to get them home and cook them up. She prefers hers fresh. 

Elsewhere, the flies have to be swept up from the rest of the camp buildings. Newton, one of the chefs, got to work immediately in the outside kitchen. We had the woodcarvers outside the camp make up ‘A Round Tuit’ that we intended to present to Zenyango at the end of the week – he’s always taking his brush, rake or duster for a walk, never actually using any of them, and we thought he would be a deserving first recipient. 

Newton found the ‘TUIT’ and, thinking it some sort of wonderful medallion, spent the morning dancing round his kitchen like Zorba The Greek. We hadn’t the heart to tell him what it meant. 
It’s encouraging how quickly we’ve felt like we had got into the swing of things managing the camp. It’s certainly tiring, but we’re not as out of our depth with most issues as we felt we would be. 

The variety of guests keeps us on our toes. Most realise that this is the fourth poorest and one of the least sophisticated countries in the world. It’s also one of the most charming, scenic, uncommercialised areas of Eastern Africa. 
The views of the Nyika Plateau, the wonderful panoramas and huge skies across the lake & mountains, the unpretentious friendliness of the locals, that’s what most people come for.  
But it’s amazing what some people find to whine about: “the lake is over 100m from the bar and the sand is too hot”; “there’s no air conditioning in the rooms“; “I can’t Skype my friends on the slow internet“; “can you make a Singapore Sling?” 

Some people need their heads banging together.
Generally our last few weeks running Chitimba Camp were busy but uneventful. We watched some wonderful (dry) storms building over the lake… 
…the Genet escaped one night and we had to coax her down from the roof outside. 

…we found a beautiful Pygmy Kingfisher outside our door after it had knocked itself out flying into our window… 

…Ziggy (one of 2 camp dogs) got stung by a scorpion. That was pretty worrying for a while and he was obviously in great pain. No vets for many miles, so we put some paraffin on the bite and managed to force antihistamine down him. Thankfully 36 hours later he was as right as rain. I doubt it would have enamoured us to Ed & Carmen if we’d managed to kill their dog while they were away!

All too soon, Ed and Carmen were back. They seemed pleased with the way the place had been run and in the time we spent together before they left, and since they returned, they have become good friends. Since they’ve been back, Ed has been working on my musical education (he has a collection of over 80,000 songs on hard drives and I’ve selected my favourite 3,000) and he’s been preparing to print some new postcards of the village children so that he can sell them at the camp and draft a photo book that he hopes to publish. He’s a tremendous photographer and kindly said I could put up a couple of his pictures on this blog just to demonstrate the atmosphere he manages to capture around the camp… 



We’ll miss Ed & Carmen, miss the characters who work at the camp, miss the people from the village and certainly miss the wonderful, challenging, beautiful environment in which they live. 

If we could buy the place, we would. But we have to leave, at least for now.

A couple of days later, we had stopped at Mzuzu for some basic supplies, spent the night about 300km South at Kande Beach (ok, but nothing to write home about) and headed down to Salima at the southern end of Lake Malawi.
There’s very little to the town of Salima other than a road out to Cape Maclear and a few cash machines. None of the ATMs were working so, we headed west towards Lilongwe, about 130km away. “No problem”, we thought. “We’ll just pick up some cash in Lilongwe and then either head back to Cape Maclear or go south, down to the wonderful Zomba Plateau and Southern Highlands area of Malawi.”
That wasn’t to be.
Only 20km outside Salima, flying down the road in the middle of nowhere, the engine lost all power, we came to a shuddering stop and couldn’t get the thing restarted.
I guess we’d been a bit pampered for the last few months at Chitimba Camp and had forgotten what life on the road in a Land Rover is like. 
We broke down at 1pm and attracted a crowd by about 1.03pm. 
By 3pm we had Joseph, a local ‘mechanic’, draining the fuel system, convinced it was a blockage in either the filter or the tank sender.

By 4pm, we had the pipes from the fuel tank rigged up to a jerry can of fuel and were hoping to be able to limp the car at least part of the way to Lilongwe. We got about 300metres. 
We bought all the phone credit we could get in the local village of grass roofs and mud huts (about $1) and managed to get a message to Ed & Carmen 500km away. They found the number of a guy who could possibly tow us and, after calling him, we sat and waited (our phone & data credit exhausted).

A pretty uncomfortable experience, in the middle of nowhere, only the occasional truck thundering past (no one even thought about stopping), pitch black and a car loaded with valuables. We were resigned to A sweaty, tense night having to sleep in the car (no way we were going to put up the tent in this location) and re-address the problem the following morning when, at around 11pm a ropey old pickup turned up, with a tow bar and winch on the back. He hooked us up, towed us 120km to Lilongwe (not a fun journey) and dropped the car right in front of the main entrance doors to Woodlands Lodge at the Wildlife Sanctuary at 2 o’clock in the morning.
That’s where we still are, 7 days later.

Feast or Famine in Malawi…

Our days running the Chitimba Camp vary between those where there are only 2 guests and those where we can have 3 tour trucks with 10-24 people on board each, plus 2-3 groups of independent overlanders, and people coming in to drink or for lunch.   
Days are long. Up at 5.30am to organise the early shift and housekeeping; finish anytime between 9pm and 11.30pm once the bar has been closed up, restocked, cashed up, secured, etc. Then, fall into bed after a shower to wash off the sand – or the Lake Flies that come occasionally and stick like Lycra to skin made clammy by the humidity. 

Often it’s too hot and humid to sleep at nights (36 Centigrade during the day, 24 overnight). We’ve had very little rain so far, 3 hours total at most, so overnight temperatures are kept high by the lake and the sand. When the power goes out (which it does at least 4-5 hours a day), there’s not even a fan to stir the hot air around the room. 
Our days so far have been ‘feast or famine’. Mostly very busy and tiring but occasionally just lazing around, a bit bored (we can’t really get on with any of the building projects Ed has started as they need his input). 
Quiet days have been spent with the chefs (Remnant & Newton), experimenting with different dishes to use uses whatever local produce grows in abundance at certain times of the year.  
Mango Chutney seems to have been a real hit (guests especially like the spicy one). 

The Tomato Chutney we made was not so successful. After 2 weeks of maturing we checked the bucket in which the jars had been stored to find that 6 of the 10 jars had exploded. Back to the drawing board for that recipe.

The chefs’ Samosas have also been a hit. We’ve made up a simple frame to protect them and sell them as bar snacks before dinner. The guys here make very good shortcrust, samosa and tortilla pastry, in a very simple kitchen. No oven, just a couple of heavy pots on an open fire, with hot coals above and below.  

Other days have been spent crushing up the excess handmade bricks (used in building the new shower blocks) then loading them into the trailer… 

…and taking them along the track to the main road where they’re used to fill in potholes & ruts before the rains come, so that tour trucks and cars can get down to the camp gates. 

Occasional showers have brought out some scorpions & snakes around the camp: a small spitting cobra, brown-snakes and the occasional Black Mamba. That keeps everyone on their toes when they’re working round piles of stones, bricks and grasses! 

In any spare time, the staff are combing piles of cut grasses / reeds then sorting them into hundreds of bundles that will be used for re-thatching the bar. 

Helene has also been hounding the roofers who are replacing some of the thatch on the restaurant before the rains come, making sure they don’t leave it untidy, crooked or unfinished.  

As usual she always does it with a smile and a joke but she doesn’t let them get away with anything and has had them back many times to fix or tidy something she’s not happy with. She also chased the staff around the bar for days… 

 …to get the whole place thoroughly cleaned before she would let them put the Christmas trees up. 

Despite forcing them into ‘hard labour’ the staff think Bwana Helene is great. She gets local language lessons from them (I don’t think they’re swearing at her) and the day always starts and ends with a laugh and a handshake from each of the 22 of them.

We’ve had a real variety of guests over the first month: 
Generally 6-10 overland tour trucks (meat wagons) come in every week, each with between 8-24 people (couples and single 20-something’s) looking for cold beer, playing volleyball on the beach, whining that the Internet is so poor they can’t get on Skype / download movies. Most of these vehicles are large, rugged, 4-6 wheel drive converted trucks kitted out for full off-road overlanding. Occasionally though, we see something a bit unusual… 
We also had 25 middle-aged, overland motorcyclists touring with a film crew, getting their bikes stuck on the beach, followed by the ex-Lord Mayor of London and his Lady wife travelling with one of her ex-modelling girlfriends from the 70’s And her gold-mine owning husband. It’s amazing what you find out about some people – even when you don’t bother to ask!

The remainder of guests vary between backpackers dropped at the main road, looking for a bit of an oasis after braving the Malawi & Tanzanian bus system; a few overlanders like us in 4x4s with rooftents (not many at this time of year as the rains have come to Zambia & Tanzania); and occasional Peace Corp youngsters who walk up the beach from one of the local villages, looking for a cold beer and something familiar for lunch.
Interwoven with maintaining the camp and looking after guests, our time is spent with the normal issues of keeping the stores supplied. Tomatoes, eggs, milk, bread and cabbage are bought daily from the local village. Excellent fresh fish is brought to us by the fishermen on the lake. Everything else means driving to Mzuzu 150km away: from laundry supplies to light bulbs, toilet paper to toothpaste, bacon to baking powder, carrots to cheese. All of this can be made more complicated by anything from having to fill in behind the bar, to cooking breakfast for 20 overlanders on motorbikes when staff go off sick at short notice. 
Otherwise, it’s relatively relaxing: constantly topping up the water tanks from the bore-hole pump, dealing with staff issues, keeping attendance records, paying salaries, managing bookings, ensuring freezers are filled with home-made chapattis, samosas, tortillas, nachos, burgers, bread, vegetables, etc, dealing with PAYE taxes / pension payments, cashing up & dealing with 2 shift changes a day, getting the chef to hospital when he tried to cut his finger off sharpening a knife, attending meetings with the regional Police Chiefs to discuss what they are going to do (or more likely fail to do) about crime or community issues, ensuring the goat, cat, dogs, bushbuck and genet are fed, etc.  

That’s what makes it a 16-18 hours a day job, 7 days a week. 

Still, when we do get a chance to relax, in the ‘famine’ periods, what a great environment to do it in.
View from The Penthouse:  

 Often tiring, regularly frustrating and sometimes made irritating by the heat / humidity and occasional visiting swarms of Lake Flies that can arrive when the wind is in the wrong direction. Nevertheless, a wonderful place to be holed-up for a few months and, despite not having family around for Christmas, we managed to get our own little tree up. 


Now here’s a familiar sight…  
Having dropped Muriel, Philip & Caroline at Livingstone airport for their flight back to Scotland, we just had time to get the car in to Nick Selby at Foleys Africa for the brakes to be looked at. The pipes and callipers have been ‘Bush-repaired’ so many times now that they basically fell apart. There was little alternative other than to replace the pipes and fit 2 new rear callipers. Not a cheap exercise, but noticeably better once done.

Then we were off again. Heading 1,800km north, up to Lake Malawi, about 2 hours south of the Tanzanian border. 
Four months ago, on our way south, when we had stopped in at Chitimba Camp on the lake shore for a catch up with the Dutch owners Ed & Carmen. All we did was enquire how they were: just being polite really. Somehow, 24 hours later we had agreed to run the place for a couple of months after our Zambia trip, while they went back to Europe for a holiday!
Now we had to stand up and back up our offer. Their flight was booked and, with the delays getting the car fixed, we had 7 days to get there and learn the ropes before they left. 
The 2-day drive to the Malawi border at Chipata was pretty gruelling. So much of the Great Eastern Road From Lusaka is being replaced at the moment that at least 70% of it consists of rough, dusty diversions alongside the roadworks. Slow going, but when it’s finished it will be a tremendous improvement for travel between Lilongwe and Lusaka.
One of our biggest concerns was getting a 3-month Visa for Malawi. We were given the normal 30 days at the border (Visas for Brits used to be free, but in October 2015 they imposed a new $75 fee) and then went straight to the Immigration Office in Lilongwe to see if they could help. 
We were expecting a bit of a fight and a lot of begging. Actually, they couldn’t have been more helpful. All we had to do was fill in a short form, pay the $20 uplift and we were granted 90 days on the spot. 

Of course, ‘on the spot’ means one thing in Europe and another in Africa. It did involve going to 3 different offices to get receipts, pay fees and get numerous rubber stamps pounded onto our paperwork. The actual process took about 7 minutes. The waiting in line took about 3 hours.
We stopped overnight at Ngala lodge. A lovely camping spot on the lakeshore, about 200km south of Mzuzu.
View from The Penthouse…  

 A peaceful spot with little to do, other than watch the fishermen in their ramshackle small boats with Afro-Mondrian sails…  

 In a country as poor as Malawi, the lake is obviously a major, versatile resource for villagers along its 352 mile length. Washing, watering, fishing, laundry, irrigation, it all happens along the shoreline.  

With a body of water as big as Lake Malawi, it’s definitely worth getting up at 5am to watch the sunrise over the lake. It started as a bruise in the sky… 

…and then burst out of the water like a bubble of oil in some 1960’s hippy Lava Lamp… 

…about 30 minutes later, as the overnight fishermen returned to shore hoping to be first to the market with their catch, the rising sun looked like a fake, cheesy backdrop from a badly staged Disney show… 

It must be a pretty hard life out on the lake, fishing all night. But what a reward to come home to a sunrise like that in the mornings.

In Mzuzu we had an unscheduled overnight stop at Mzoozoozoo (a pretty tatty, cheap backpackers, well past its prime) and wandered round the excellent hardware market to find some small bits and pieces to make some repairs to the rooftent. The market is a fascinating rabbit-warren of alleyways and stalls, with everything from new European-style bathroom fittings, to piles of used nuts & bolts sorted by size and heaped up like mountains of cumin or paprika in a Moroccan spice market.
We arrived at Chitimba Camp a little behind schedule, but Ed & Carmen assured us that the 4 days we had for a handover would be plenty of time to pick up the reigns. Chitimba Camp is simple, friendly and welcoming, with a great bar and a no-frills / fresh food restaurant. It has a sandy campsite for up to 100 people and a variety of rooms for 40 people, in the shadow of the Nyika Plateau with its own scaled-down version of Table Mountain as a backdrop, overlooking the lake.  
What a great place to be holed up for a couple of months.

Ed & Carmen have owned Chitimba Camp for about 9 years and, as their home, have built the place up from a scrappy little overlanders beach camp to a comfortable, stylish, unpretentious place to stop for any travellers between Tanzania and Zambia, Mozambique or Zimbabwe. Our job would be to manage the 25 or so staff, deal with the cash, salaries, stock, taxes, wages etc oversee housekeeping, maintenance, the bar & restaurant and act as hosts to variety of guests who either have long-standing bookings, or can just turn up any time day or night.
Four days later, training completed (?), Ed & Carmen headed off for the 500km drive to the nearest airport and we were suddenly ‘Bwana Scott’ and ‘Bwana Helene’ for the next couple of months.

The New African Big Five…

All too soon we had to leave Ivory Lodge and Hwange National Park for (relative) civilisation back at the town of Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe border. 
We stayed at Victoria Falls Rest Camp in the centre of town. Camping is pretty expensive but chalets are reasonably priced (although basic). The camp has a good bar though, and craft shops, cafes and all activity booking offices are within a 5 minute walk. They also have a restaurant that gave Philip Caroline & Muriel the opportunity to try Warthog steaks, Kudu stew and Crocodile pasta. Despite the heat, Muriel decided to finish her meal with a hot chocolate. During dinner an African dance / singing troupe turned up and, once they’d finished, she declared that the hot chocolate was in fact ‘very hot‘. 

 After an evening of suffering, as we watched Scotland play Australia (knocked out of the Rugby World Cup by 1 point, in the last minute!) everyone was up early the next day. Philip was collected by the tour operator at 7am for his White Water Rafting trip and the rest of us headed up to The Lookout Cafe on the Zambezi Gorge where we were going to watch the rafters set off and I had planned to do the Gorge Drop / Pendulum Swing. 

I really wasn’t convinced that the 160m free-fall drop was a good idea but, after a couple of strong coffees to get the adrenaline pumping, I went to sign up. Imagine how upset I was when I was told that the weight limit was 100kg and I was too heavy. My lunch normally weighs more than that. 
I think I managed to hide my disappointment pretty well and had no option other than to return to the bar.
In the meantime, Philip was about an hour into his rafting trip. Excellent value, discounted from $160 to $120 for a 5-hour trip (a steep, strenuous walk into and out of the gorge, plus 3 hours on the water and a barbecue lunch). The rafting covered 18 separate Rapids over approximately 25km of raging water. At this time of year the water level is at its lowest (although the water can still be over 100m deep) and the rapids are at their wildest. 
Each of the individual Rapids has a suitably scary name: The Terminator; The Devil’s Toilet Bowl; The Washing Machine; etc. We assumed this was to impress the daredevil tourists. 
As the rafting began, this was probably a reasonable assumption to make. Everything started out fairly sedately.   

 What nobody told the rafters though was that this stretch is classed as so tame that they don’t even bother to give these rapids either names or numbers. 

All too soon though the real fun starts… 


…you realise that this is not all going to be plain sailing… 

…and you understand why they advise you to bring a change of clothing. In the picture below, there are 8 people – including Philip- in this boat… 

For the first Rapid or two it’s tempting to think ‘Oh well, at least that’s out of the way‘ but each time you think that way, collect your breath and unclench your knuckles from either your paddle or the safety rope on the side of the raft, it’s time to go again… 

…and again… 

…and again…  

 After the first half dozen Rapids, some people just can’t bear to look any more… 

 Other times, the only way you can recognise who’s on the boat (or, actually, in the process of leaving the boat via the Emergency Exit) is by the pattern on their shoes…

And that’s just 6 of the 18 Rapids, over the 3 hour ‘pleasure cruise’. 

By half distance, for some people the novelty of being in The Washing Machine at the same time as their laundry was beginning to wear off.  Others were learning what it’s like to drink from The Devil’s Toilet Bowl…

Top Tip: try not to drink from The Devil’s Toilet Bowl.

Since they’ve been in Africa, Philip, Caroline & Muriel have seen 4 of the Big Five: Rhino, Lion, Buffalo and Elephant. Unfortunately, no Leopard (also be one of the Big 5). 
So, a vacancy exists. 
Philip could fill it. 
Perhaps we could amend the Big Five to be Lion, Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo and Red-Crested Celtic Drowned Rat… 


Hair Raising Game Viewing…

After a 2-night hop from Lower Zambezi back to Maramba in Livingstone, we were ready to cross into Zimbabwe, heading for Ivory Lodge at Hwange National Park. We had an early night, planning to get an early start as we weren’t sure how much hassle we’d have getting over the border with the 2 cars. We all got up well rested, except for Muriel. Once again the big Bull Elephants visited the camp and spent the evening outside the window of her chalet, pulling branches off trees. Although she’s getting a bit more acclimatised, I think she still spent much of the night sitting on the edge of her bed.

As it turned out, the Zimbabwe border was pretty easy. The only confusion arose when we assumed that Philip’s hire car was previously approved and paid up to cross. As it turned out we still had to buy a TIP (Temporary Import Permit), road tax, Carbon Tax and Council Levy. All in all though, still only about 80 minutes to get across.

We got a warm welcome-back arriving at Ivory Lodge, just outside Hwange and spent a lazy afternoon testing Joel’s gin & tonic making skills and watching a group of Fruit Bats roosting in a tree in the camp. 

For months we’ve listened every evening to the loud pinging noises they make – like a WW11 submarine sonar – but never before actually seen them. 

A ‘Tower‘ of 7 giraffe came to the camp. Apparently (?) that’s the collective noun for them when they hang around, whereas as they’re known as a ‘Journey‘ when they’re on a march. Of course, that could just be Joel pulling our legs. 
One young couple in particular were clearly courting and we watched as, for at least 15 minutes, they went through an elaborate dance, each mimicking the other’s movements. 





As always at Ivory Lodge, the evening was spent with a good dinner and a few hours at the hide, only meters away from a salt-lick and waterhole that attracts elephants by the score. 

Muriel was staying within the Lodge grounds in a lovely stilted chalet / safari tent that overlooked the waterhole. A great place to sit and watch the sun set (or rise). Caroline & Philip were camped with us outside the Lodge in an unfenced campground. Just remote enough to be bush-camping with the elephants, Cape Buffalo, Impala, etc that come into camp: but also just close enough for a chilled Gin & Tonic when the need arises.  

The following night we were booked to stay at Sinamatella, about 120km into Hwange National Park. We left Ivory Lodge just after dawn as the 120km drive was likely to take 6 hours or so. Park entry was a breeze and great value at only $20 per day per person and $20 single entry for each car. 
We had heard about a lion kill of a baby elephant the previous day and headed to Caterpillar Dam (waterhole) to see if the lions were still about. In the cool of dawn, they were lazing around at the back of the waterhole, fattened by their feast the previous evening.  
 The males of course pay little attention to what’s going on around them. Their main activity is sitting around wondering where the next meal is coming from.
Despite the kill of one of their calves, the elephants still need to drink. The mothers have no choice other than to stand watch over the pride of lions as the rest of the group satisfy their thirst. 

As one of the females went and helped herself to another chunk of elephant meat…

…a Roan Antelope approached the waterhole from the opposite direction. 

Upwind of the lions, he had no idea they were there. As he crouched to drink, 80 metres away, the lionesses amongst the pride were instantly alert. 

One of them set off to hunt.  

Using the undulations of the ground, she disappeared from sight as she approached within about 30 metres of the Roan. She crested one of the hollows and he caught either a glimpse or a sniff of her. In a split second he bolted, scaring the vultures that were also hanging around the elephant carcass.  

Maybe the lioness was careless, maybe just complacent because of her kill the previous day. Either way, she nonchalantly returned to the elephant carcass as if to say “I wasn’t really in the mood for Antelope any way.” 

Having watched the lions for a couple of hours, we headed deeper into the park. 

The whole park is parched, with the exception of a couple of muddy waterholes and one dammed lake. Naturally these attract a lot of game. 

 For mile after mile around the north of the park the trees have been stripped of anything edible by elephants. Chopped off at about 1.5m high, they look as if a hurricane has been through and levelled them all. There’s not a lot of grazing around for the Zebra, Buffalo, Kudu, Wildebeest or the beautiful Sable Antelopes. 
It took us around 7 hours to reach the Sinamatella camp. Sometimes the going was slow because of the track conditions. Sometimes more temporary obstacles slowed us down!

  There’s not much high ground in Hwange National Park so it was easy to pick out the ridge that the Sinamatella Camp is situated on. 

When we got up there, the camp itself was a typical African Government run facility. A bit like Butlin’s chalets built in the 1960’s and, although clean, no real upgrades / refurbishments since. The view though was outstanding. Dried river beds, parched flood plains, teak and ebony woodland stripped by elephants, herds of 100’s of buffalo, zebra and elephant wandering across the landscape.

View From The Penthouse: 
What a spot. Surely there’s few better places to watch the sun go down in this part of Africa. If this place had been run by an entrepreneur rather than the Government it could be one of the most spectacular lodge locations in Eastern Africa.

We stayed 2 nights, simply for the views and the early morning local game drives. Well worth the journey, even if our guests found some of the tracks a bit of a challenge. 
The advantage of self catering of course is that if you find a good hide at a waterhole, you just pull out the camping gear and have breakfast with the wildlife. 

Over a 2-day period, this carcass went from recognisably a young elephant to just a pile of shabby bones. 

An action packed way to spend the morning and not bad views to accompany Cornflakes, yoghurt and fresh-brewed coffee. 

If you arrive really early, often you can catch the big guys trying to decide what to have for lunch… 

Occasionally, their lunch is already laid out for them, presumably prepared by the girls the previous day. 

No point rushing about in all that stifling heat though, when lunch is ready any time you want it… 

After a fairly tough couple of days in the park, we headed back to Ivory Lodge for a bit of pampering. Philip decided that included a haircut and the viewing platform at the campsite was to be the salon. 

He was brave enough to let Helene do the honours (I guess she’s been practicing on me for the last 3 years travelling). 

You may get a cup of tea and a biscuit back in Aberdeen, but I don’t suppose many barbers can provide the same views.   


Tigers in Africa…

Nanzhila seemed to be a hit with Philip, Caroline & Muriel, but the fairly gruelling trip to get there, the remote wilderness environment, the principle of being ‘far from help’ and the game wandering around the camp at all hours have been a bit of a culture shock for our guests.   
I guess we take these things for granted now and perhaps forget how long it took us to get comfortable with wild game wandering around our camps when we first arrived.  

 We decided that rather than go much deeper into the park, we would head up to Lake Itezhi Tezhi for a couple of days to redress the ‘wilderness / civilisation’ balance. Water levels are still exceptionally low, due to the poor rains last Christmas. The lake here is a major Hydro-Electric scheme and the last time we were here, the water level covered most of the rocks surrounding the bar. 

The Plains Road out of the park was pretty rough for 70km (2-3 hours) with a lot of deep sand, confusingly alternate tracks (Top Tip: ALWAYS take the higher of any two alternates) and some real axel-twisting sections.  

After a couple of nights at Musungwa Lodge on the lake, and a pretty poor track 100km up to Hook Bridge, the axel-twisting, bouncing, sand & gravel took its toll on the Land Rover. It’s axel twisted – or rather the rear A-Frame did. It’s likely that one of the 3 main bolts dropped out and the lack of tension in the frame sheared 2 other bolts clean off the chassis.  

By this time we had also lost one of the front spotlights (presumably crushed into the deep sand somewhere as Philip’s air-conditioned, dust-free, hermetically sealed rental Toyota followed us) and the speedometer had rattled itself to a complete standstill. It took us 7 hours to limp the car to Lusaka (through the insane rush-hour traffic) and checked into Eureka camp about 20km south of the City. 

Helene managed to get some help from John, the chef / kitchen manager at Eureka and he offered to take me to a workshop the following day where we might be able to get some welding done. 

Fortunately Caroline and Muriel loved Eureka. There can’t be many places in Scotland where you can watch Giraffes while you wash up the breakfast dishes. It may even make up for the lack of a dishwasher. 
From being a bit spooked by elephants, buck & hippos in the camp only a few days earlier, Muriel seems to be getting bolder by the day. 

While the rest of the guys went off to the David Shepherd Elephant Sanctuary and then a very civilised lunch at Lilayi Lodge, Chef John & I went off into the backstreets of Lusaka looking for a welding workshop. Even that was made more difficult than necessary as the constant power-shortages around each district in the city make finding anyone who can work very difficult.

The workshop we finally found had come up with a pretty basic transformer / power distribution board hooked up to a diesel generator, and set to work. 
Needless to say, none of the guys had any tools to speak of, and Health & Safety obviously wasn’t going to be an issue. They burnt off the old bolts using the welding rods… 

… made a new plate out a bit of scrap steel lying around the yard… 

… and burnt holes in it for the bolts to go through (I’m reliably informed there are no power drills within 10km and that an oval hole made by a welding rod is just as good as anything done with machine-precision!). 

Once the plate was welded into place, I managed to find 8 nuts and bolts in my tool bag (very fortunate, since there were none available in the workshop) and they stripped 5 of the bolts before finally getting 3 into place. Three hours later I was back on the road. Total bill $30 and a free education regarding what a flexible tool a welding rod actually is. 

I guess I must have looked pretty stressed and heat-fatigued by the time I got back to Eureka because Philip decided that dinner that evening would be on him at Lilaye (a beautiful, contemporary, local lodge) that evening. Result!

The following day we had a pretty easy 200km drive to Kiambi Lodge at Lower Zambezi National Park. Two thirds of it was on tar behind slow trucks climbing the constant uphill gradient and struggling with the hairpin bends. 
The remainder was poor gravel – with the exception of one 500 meter stretch of wonderful tar on a brand spanking new bridge across the Kafue River, built with European Union money. Surreal, out here in the bush. The tar lasted as long as the bridge and then reverted back to a rutted marram track. The trip was worth it though. At Kiambi we had a private cottage on the banks of the Lower Zambezi and a private sunset show.

View from The Penthouse…  

Just what the doctor ordered: 3 days of sunset boat cruises, lazing around the lodge and a spot of world-class Tiger Fishing. Great value too – a half day’s fishing at Livingstone is $150 a head, on a boat with up to 8 people (most of whom we would have upset with our incompetence). At Lower Zambezi we had a private boat (with driver / guide) for 5 hours at $140 for 4 people including rod hire, bait, etc. 

The fishing is on a catch and release basis. We took the principle to a new level by managing to release each fish that we had on the line, before we landed it on the boat. Caroline got closest and had a great fish on the line but none of us could master the technique of the 2nd ‘Power Strike’ that’s required to fully engage the hook when they jump out of the water.  

Quite a sight when a 6kg Tiger Fish jumps clear of the water and those babies really know how to fight. Great fun. Certainly something to try and do more regularly. 

In this part of the world a good day needs celebrating with an evening boat ride… 

…another cold G&T and a beautiful African Sunset.   

Deboys in at the Deep End

Jack & Irene (our pals up in Scotland) will be livid with me for not writing a blog for the last couple of weeks. Helene’s brother Philip, his wife Caroline and her aunt Muriel have arrived from Scotland to travel with us for a month and I haven’t even put a note up to say they’ve arrive safely.

So, in a (probably vain) attempt to stop Jack grumbling about what a bloody inconsiderate and lazy Englishman I am, here’s a quick update for Jack & Irene.

The week before the family arrived was spent finalising accommodation and travel plans. Pretty calm really, other than one brief encounter with the local Female Stormtrooper manning the police roadblock up the road from Maramba Lodge in Livingstone. She confiscated my Road Tax (that we eventually bought coming in from Zimbabwe) saying that it is only valid for a month and had expired. What a mirthless, aggressive, woman. A scowl on her face like a wave on a slop bucket.To cut a long story short, for 45 minutes we had words. 
Not very polite words actually (that really is out of character for me) but she and the other 3 cops she was with were pretty aggressive and I was certain were looking to do no more that ‘fine’ the naive Mzungu (me) $50 and pocket the money to buy some lunch. 
I refused to pay and they threatened to take me to Court. She took my driving licence details and wrote out a ‘Confession & Fine Statement’ on a sheet of pLain paper which she demanded I sign. I wrote on it that I objected, that I declined to pay, and signed it. I explained that even if the tax had expired the previous day (as she claimed) then I was entitled to go and buy new tax today. After a few more heated exchanges, Helene and I drove back to the Zimbabwe border and bought a new Road Tax / Toll Certificate.
I then drove back to the police roadblock and demanded that ‘Atilla’ give me back my original certificate as I was taking it to check it out with the RTSA Highways Office. Somehow she managed to become even more unhappy, but eventually handed it over. It probably didn’t help her mood that by this time I was writing down everything she and her gang said. She certainly wasn’t in a good enough mood to give me her name and her badge number.
We then went into the Road Tax HQ in Livingstone and the (very helpful) Director there told me that I was right and the Police Officer was wrong. The Road Tax / Toll last for the duration of your stay in Zambia, not just 1 month. Every time I pass the road block now, Cruella DeVille seems to be looking the other way.
Anyway, a couple of days later, Helene’s family arrived for their first African Safari experience. It started with a couple of days of relative luxury at Maramba to get over the stress of flying all the way to Africa in Club Class on BA. The bar and the restaurant took a bit of a pounding, but that was possibly justified by the fact that we had elephants in the camp again and they were not behaving well (the elephants that is, not the family). 
Muriel was in a Safari Tent (a large, comfortable, heavy duty tent on a platform, with formal bed and an en-suite shower room) but I think she was still pretty spooked.

The following day Philip & Caroline picked up their hire car and the two of them transferred to their rooftent. Again, a bit of a culture shock but I think they found it pretty comfortable. 
It does take a bit of practice to get out and down the ladder though… 

To familiarise them with the car we took a drive into Mosi Oa Tunya National Park for the afternoon, not expecting to see much on their first day. Couldn’t have been more wrong. Within 30 minutes of driving along the track on the bank of the Zambezi River, we were halted by a group of about 30 elephants that blocked the path. 

We waited for them to move on, but after another 40 minutes there was still no way through, so we had to backtrack and go through one of the inland trails. Even that was bristling with wildlife. Over the next couple of hours, amongst others, they saw warthog, wildebeest, bushbuck, zebra, fish eagle, Impala, kudu and giraffe. 

Not bad for a first safari drive.

The following day was a little more relaxed. A walk around the Victoria Falls Gorge on the Zambian side. Blistering hot and (although hugely powerful in the central & western section) amazingly dried up on the Eastern Cataract due to the lack of rainfall this year. 
Still beautiful though, despite the low water levels. 

Even the water level under the Livingstone Bridge was low. 

After that, there’s few better ways to round off a day that a sundowner at the Royal Livingstone Hotel at the top of The Falls.  

Very fancy. 

They make a pretty good Mohito, and know how to lay on a good sunset as well. 

Right, fun over for a while, it was time to bring Philip, Caroline & Muriel back to earth and get them on the road. We headed out for a 240km drive up to Kafue National Park. Although half of that distance is on tar, the state of the gravel and sand roads leading to the park at the Dundumwedzi Gate would mean that it would take 6-7 hours to get to our camp. 

The further into the park area we drove, the more remote the environment got. People here live simply and have to be self sufficient. There’s little water around and villagers will often walk 4-6 km each way to collect it in a Jerry Can on their head. A pretty remote area and even more of a culture shock for our guests. 

Fortunately, once in the park The Plains road was open. This meant we would avoid the Cordon Road where we had snapped our axle a month earlier with Judith & Tamsin. It’s still not an easy track (Tsetse Flies, plains scorched by bush fires, rutted gravel, cotton-soil and deep sandy patches) but it would cut an hour off our journey to Nanzhila Lodge. 

Nanzhila Lodge is really lovely. The safari tents (where Muriel was staying) are beautifully set up with great ensuite accommodation and overlooking a Water-Lilly strewn waterhole.

The campsite where we would be with Philip & Caroline was equally beautiful, peaceful and had the same wonderful views. The facilities are a little more rustic though.  

Let’s see how they cope without a bit of room-service for a while.

Everything’s Normal Here…

All too soon we had to leave Hwange and head back to Victoria Falls. Just time for 1 last sundowner at the Ivory Lodge elephant hide.  
It’s pretty easy to lose a whole day there, watching the elephants, occasional giraffe, jackals, duiker, kudu etc. 

Victoria Falls is the main town on the Zimbabwe side of the Falls. It’s quite a sophisticated (although expensive) little place, certainly by Zimbabwe standards and, unlike most, is set up for tourists. 

I guess most people fly in and stay in lodges / hotels for their holidays as there’s little camping available. One place looked friendly and shabby chic, but there was no space for roof tents, another was clearly ‘party central’ with the overland tour busses, so that was also out.

That left us with Vic Falls Rest Camp, a big setup, conveniently located in the centre of town. Loads of space, even though there were a lot of people there, but no atmosphere or style unfortunately. I guess they know they’re the main show in town since they are able to charge $16 per person to camp, PLUS $9 per day to take your car to your camping pitch. That’s extortionate.

On the upside, it is a 2 minute walk to the town centre and the restaurant in camp serves some unusual local food. For around $10 a head we treated ourselves to kudu burgers, kudu steaks, crocodile tagliatelle and warthog schnitzel. All good.

We were keen to see The Falls from the Zimbabwe side, but that will have to wait. At $30 a head to get through the gate, we left Tamsin & Judith to take the walk along the promontory (we’ll being going back in about a month and will see it then). Instead Helene & I spent a couple of hours at The Lookout cafe the other side of the railway.  

Good coffee, a pleasant place to sit in the shade and great views of the white-water rafters, bungee-jumpers, zip-wire riders and gorge-swing lunatics. 

Crossing back to Zambia the following day was as easy as coming into Zimbabwe a week earlier. Until, that is, we tried to get out of the Customs gate. The guard wouldn’t let us out until we’d paid for our road tax. I showed him the note from the road Tax HQ at Chipata that we got when we came in from Malawi saying that they believed we didn’t need it, but he’d have none of that nonsense. Thirty minutes later we were still in the Customs Office, with the RTSA representative insisting that we definitely needed to pay Road Tax (in addition to the Carbon Tax we already had, and the Council Tax we’d paid for previously). They were pretty grumpy that we’d previously been in Zambia for a month and hadn’t paid when we entered but, eventually we managed to talk them out of fining us for that transgression. One way or the other though, they weren’t going to let us out of the ‘No-Man’s-Land’ between the Zim and Zambian borders until we had paid the tax. 

Given how serious they were about it, I guess it must be legitimate (?). They informed us that the tax will need to be paid every month, if we plan to stay. That would be $360 a year for Road Tax! That’s surely nuts.

They certainly weren’t concerned about us going to Livingstone HQ and complaining that we’d been told we were exempt, and we weren’t going to be going anywhere until we paid. So, we handed over our $20 for 1 month’s tax and were let out – with a smile and a wave.

Back in Livingstone we settled in to a lazy last couple of days with Judith & Tamsin at Maramba River Lodge and then finally dropped them back at the airport for their long flight home via Johannesburg.
Since then, everything has returned to normal.
Normal being…….
We’re used to being wakened by the Dawn Chorus – a cacophony of different bird calls. On day one, at 5.30am the dawn chorus was of splintering wood. Elephants in the camp. 
During the day, it’s not so much of a problem – they can be seen and avoided pretty easily. View from The Penthouse… 
Like silent assassins though, sometimes they can take you by surprise (this picture is a bit shaky – it was taken on the phone and I was walking backwards pretty rapidly)… 

Unfortunately, since Judith & Tamsin had left, we were still in the ground tent (taking the opportunity to clean the car & kit). That meant that on day 2, when the elephants came in overnight, we were a bit more vulnerable than normal and it’s pretty difficult to keep track of them in the dark. It was the same 3 bulls that came in and bull elephants can be a bit touchy. Although it’s unlikely they’d step on the tent, given its size and shape, it’s possible they’d try to hump it! 

Overnight they were tearing trees down around the tent. I’m pretty happy in a ground tent when they’re wandering around peacefully, but when they’re hungry, they just snap small trees like toothpicks… 

Worse, trees like this one (that came down next to us) would make a bit of a mess of a tent, or a head sleeping in it… 

That night, when this tree came down, we stood outside the tent for an hour at 1am trying to keep an eye on where the elephants were. They had us cornered, with each of the 3 bulls within 20 yards on 3 sides of us, and the river 20 yards behind us. That was fun.

By 2am we spotted a blind spot they’d left and managed to escape towards the lodge reception. We were happy enough to just sit there and wait till daylight, but the staff found us some keys and kindly gave us a chalet for us to get some sleep. They were happy to escort us to the chalet, but none of them would go near the campsite to try and scare off the elephants. 
ZAWA (Zambian Wildlife Authority) were called for to try and get them away from the lodge (elephants will quickly make a mess of planting, paving, swimming pools, etc) but they didn’t bother to show up until about 11am.
Once it was daylight, we were up and about again to survey any damage, and try to keep a careful eye on which way they were heading at any time… 
ZAWA scared them off with flash-bangs and a few rifle volleys into the air, confidently proclaiming that they’d be out of our hair for a week or so at least. We weren’t taking any chances, so we put away the ground tent and put up the rooftent – much less chance of that being hit by falling branches.

On day 3, overnight, the same 3 bad-boy bulls were back again. This time we didn’t bother getting up, but they certainly kept Helene awake all night, pulling branches down around us, even nudging the car at one point. When she woke and looked out the rooftent window she said it was like a scene from Jurassic Park – eye to eye with the beast standing only a foot or two away. 
The Lodge security guards had been issued with flash-bangs to scare away any more raiding parties. During the day they’re cautious, but prepared to try and chase them off. At night, the only sign we saw of the guards was them running in the opposite direction. They really are terrified of them.
So everything’s back to normal. Of course, ‘normal’ in our case means a mechanical issue. We went up to Lusaka for a week’s change of scenery. After 5 hours driving, as we entered Kafue, we suddenly had no brakes (a fairly familiar feeling I’m afraid to say). One pothole or stoney road too many had once again severed our brake pipes at the rear. We limped into the village and found a small workshop behind a fuel station run by a young guy called Anton, and his even younger apprentice. 
Within two hours they’d braised the pipe, connected a new nipple, bled the system and the brakes worked better than they had in years. Great job: $15 plus a large tip!

Back to normal…Camping at Eureka, just outside Lusaka, we were too late to bother cooking and decided to eat at the bar. There was a birthday brai (BBQ) going on for a local family, catered by the birthday girls’ sister and aunts. Within 20 minutes we had huge plates of chicken and beef forced on us (they wouldn’t take no for an answer) and the 9-inch wide slabs of birthday cake. Caroline, one of the chefs, spent ages trying to find out how many single nephews we had – she’s 25 and looking for a man: she doesn’t want to live anywhere but Zambia but she wants a British man “They’re the BEST. They’re so kind, loving, generous, polite and faithful”.
Normally, Helene just does any washing up or laundry at the car, in a bucket. She broke with tradition the following day and used the camp sinks. Or at least she tried to. She spotted a cute frog hopping around the sink, then spotted the not-so-cute snake that was chasing it: presumably to invite it to lunch. She shouted for some help as it chased her away from the sinks and the poor old cleaning lady who came had nothing to throw at it other than her mop and bucket. It was a Black Mamba, so unfortunately couldn’t just be left to wander. Eventually a couple of labourers came and dealt with it using a (long handled) garden hoe.
The following day we picked up 2 new tyres we had ordered following our puncture. I specifically wanted BFGoodrich as the ones we’ve had so far since leaving the UK have been superb. Here though, most of the tyres are Chinese rubbish. The ‘normal’ price for BFGoodrich would be $470 each in Zambia / Zimbabwe, but I managed to find Kal-Tire(a mining-supply company) who would fit them for $390 each. About double the normal UK price. Still they’re worth it.
Back at camp, once again everything was normal…The baboons had been in. There was no fresh stuff left out, but they found our box of dried goods.  
I can confirm that baboons won’t touch dried spaghetti, don’t like dried pasta much, but love dried noodles. They don’t like garlic, but like tomato and onion sauce. They can’t open tins yet, but have no problem with screw-top jars of mayonnaise. They like mayonnaise but, judging by the amount of baboon crap around, it goes straight through them!

Since then we’ve had Dassies, the occasional hippo and a beautiful Genet in camp overnight. 
I’m starting to get a little concerned about what I regard as ‘normal‘ these days.

Sometimes The Urge to Sing…

The unfenced campsite at Ivory Lodge, Hwange is outside the lodge itself. We were on our own the first two nights we were there and, with leopard and lion supposedly around (plus elephants very much in evidence) Judith and Tamsin said they’d prefer to pitch the ground-tent wedged between the car, the cooking shelter and the shower block – in case a rapid exit was needed to safety in the middle of the night.

There certainly were plenty of elephants around the camp. View from The Penthouse the evening we arrived:  
But the lion and leopard didn’t materialise. 

What did materialise, eventually, was other campers. And that meant that a stream of visitors to the ablutions. This produced a constant squeaking from the doors throughout the night every time someone headed to the bathroom. 

Squeeeeeak, as they went in the entrance door.

Squeaaak, as they closed the door behind them. 

Squeeeeeal, as they went into the shower or the loo itself.

Squeaaal, as they came out. 

Squeaaak, as they opened the ablutions door to leave. 

Squeeeeeak, as they closed it behind them.

That was particularly un-funny at 5am one morning when a party of 8 Japanese were leaving – it’s hard for them to do anything quietly. Still, at least they weren’t singing, they got that out of their system before they went to bed.
For heavens sake! As someone once said (maybe it was me?) “The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it’s still on the list.”
Thankfully, we were also getting up early that morning to take a dawn drive into Hwange. Up at 5.30 and gone by 6am. The Japanese were still doing the tour bus aerobics: waving their crockery and plates in the air to dry them (dishcloths are frightfully unhygienic, don’t you know).
Fortunately, being a Land Rover driver, I carry copious amounts of WD40 and used up at lease a month’s supply on all the doors to the ladies ablutions. There’d be no repeat performance that night.
We arrived at Hwange National Park gates just after dawn and only took about 10 minutes to pay the $20 car entry and $20 per head. Very good value compared to some of the parks we’ve been to.
Hwange is a beautiful, huge park with areas of thick bush, low rocky outcrops and sandy pans… 
During the 2 day drives and 1 evening drive we did, we covered only a fraction of it. I can’t wait to go back.

Within only an hour of entering, as the sun started to rise, we were on our way to a viewing platform at one of the bigger waterholes when we spotted a couple of shapeless lumps at the foot of a termite mound.
To borrow a line from my pal Martyn Amey: sometimes the urge to sing ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight‘ is just a whim away…

…a whim away…

…a whim away, a whim away… 

We sat and watched these guys for almost 3 hours in the end, as the sun crept into the sky, around the termite mound and robbed them of their shade until they finally headed a couple of hundred yards further into the bush to find a cooler spot. They were keeping an eye on us as much as we were on them, but a lion is slightly too big to get through the gaps in a Land Rover’s doors. 

I think Judith and Tamsin were starting to understand how our days can sometimes just fly by. Each of our drives was around 9 hours and, although it was pretty cold first thing in the morning, and stifling hot during the day (no A/C in the Landy), it was still a disappointment each time we left the park.

It was so hot that the few waterholes were jealously guarded… 
However, size and numbers go a long way to making a waterhole your own private territory. Some of the streams of elephant that come down to drink can hardly contain their excitement and end up bowling in at a very brisk trot. 

Once you’ve staked out your turf, it’s important that everyone knows it’s yours. Anything else that wants to disturb your drinking fun (like these beautiful male Kudu) need to be reminded who’s boss and will just have to wait their turn… 

Perhaps the safest course of action is just to find a little shade, and be patient… 

Actually, perhaps the most aggressive action we saw at the waterholes came from a small group of beautiful Grebe. 

They look like harmless little balls of fluff – more like balls of steel. I don’t suppose they’d take on an elephant or a croc, however any time another bird (particularly another Grebe) encroaches on their patch of the pond, they instantly dive underwater and, racing like a torpedo under the surface to bob up alongside the intruder a split second later and start a major brawl. Hardly ‘Big Game’, but one of the most fascinating turf-wars in town.

Other animals are much more understated. Sheltering in the shade of a fallen tree, blending in beautifully with its colour scheme, we almost passed by this absolutely beautiful Black Backed Jackal. 
I’d been a little concerned as we originally headed for Hwange. We’d met people a few months earlier who said they saw little game on their way through. 

Maybe we were just lucky: each evening we jotted down the new species of animal or bird we’d seen (those that we could actually put a name to anyway) and came up with a list of almost 50. That seems pretty good to me.
But it’s the elephants that steal the show at Hwange and the viewing at Ivory Lodge is almost as good as that in the park itself.  
No matter how many elephants we’ve seen, it’s still easy to let hours slip away watching them interact as family groups; posture as young, practicing, dominant males; protect their calves;  

…and chase off other herds who invade their space; 

Their demeanour and manners are fascinating, but when you get to see them really close up, it’s the details and colours that are so beautiful. 

They may look like a great big grey blob, but even the texture of their skin is fascinatingly developed for the most flexible of movement. It’s easy to imagine that there really are 4,000 muscles in an elephant’s trunk… 

Even their feet are amazing. They may look huge and clumsy, but they never make a sound when they walk. Their skin is so tough, yet so supple, sensitive and flexible that they are able to walk through dried leaves without you knowing they’re around. This girl could do with a pedicure though… 

They can put on a huge burst of speed, but most of the time are content not to. They just potter about, day after day. Constantly eating, constantly moving (they don’t sleep, but nap standing up for 10 minutes at a time), doing everything at their own steady, continuous pace.

They say a rolling stone gathers no moss. Well a rolling elephant can…

What a Cop Out…

After a fairly intense start to Tamsin & Judith’s trip with us, we decided to make it a little less of a whistle-stop tour and make the rest of the stay a little more relaxing.

We started with a bit of a road-test of the car in Mosi ao Tunya National Park. It’s not exactly a wilderness drive, but for such a small, easily driven park it’s quite lovely. At $80 for 4 people and the car, it’s good value too. There are no big cats but there are rhino and plenty of other game.

The drive along the river route is very picturesque. Although we saw only one other vehicle and no pedestrians, someone (from the Road Safety Council I guess) seems to have installed a zebra-crossing.  
The inland area of the park is shady and a cool place for the game to seek shelter from the fierce afternoon sun. I guess the taller you are, the closer to the sun you feel and nothing beats a quick afternoon nap. 

After a couple of days in Livingstone, watching the hippos and crocs at Maramba… 

… we headed into Zimbabwe. When bought at the airport or the Zim / Zam border, the new KAZA Visa allows double entry into both Zambia & Zimbabwe for only $50 (the same price as single entry into each country previously). In an unusually bright move, the authorities are so pleased with the system that they plan to include Botswana in the KAZA visa very soon. Is common sense breaking out amongst African bureaucrats?

Unfortunately it’s not available at other land borders with Zambia (eg Chipata where we entered from Malawi) so Helene & I had to pay full whack, while Judith & Tamsin fortunately benefited from the new initiative.
The border itself was a breeze (what is happening to this place?). We got stamped out of Zambia in 15 minutes and checked into Zimbabwe in 25 minutes ($70 dual-entry visa, $15 Carbon Tax and $10 ‘Vehicle Levy’ – whatever that is?).
We headed out to Hwange (pronounced ‘wankie’) National Park, only 180km ie 3 hours away on what was an unexpectedly good tar road. 
What was expected were the police roadblocks – notorious in Zimbabwe. The first 3 were polite enough and just inspected our papers, sending us on our way in a friendly manner once everything checked out. Only one of the police said he wanted money, but when we asked “what for?” He couldn’t think of an answer, so we said no!
The final roadblock was a little more aggressive. The senior officer inspected my driving licence and found it expired 2 years ago. He’s only the second guy in over 60 roadblocks to notice! I keep the new one in a secure place, but I hand out the old one in case we need to leave in a hurry, leaving it behind if required. 
While he inspected my current licence, two of his buddies checked out all the lights on the car – everything: indicators, fog lights (in Zimbabwe!), reversing light, number-plate light, etc. 
Well, this is a Land Rover: at no point in time do ALL the lights work simultaneously. As the 2 goons went around thumping the lights, Helene shouted at them ” what are you doing to my car“. Not like her to lose her cool, but they were giving the fittings a bit of a pounding.
The number-plate light wasn’t working (it hasn’t done for 2 years). That, and handing over the wrong licence was going to cost me $80 the senior cop said. As I started ‘a reasoned, calm, discussion’ with him and he explained that he was only fining me for my own security (!), a minibus pulled up, going the other way. 
There were 6 Rasta-looking guys in it and they looked like they’d been having a great time somewhere (a bit early in the day for that). The police waved them down and went over for a chat – leaving us with our doors open in mid-bribe negotiation. Well, I don’t know who it was in the minibus but, 5 minutes later all the cops were laughing along and each of them was taking ‘selfies’ on their phones with the guys as they hung out the bus windows.
After another few minutes I was getting bored. I shouted across the road to the senior officer, asking when he was coming back. Fortunately, it was his turn for the selfies and, obviously enjoying some joke with the celebs in the bus, he waved us off and told us to go. I didn’t need telling twice.
I was a bit concerned about going to Hwange. We’d heard from people we’d met on the way down that they’d seen little as they came through. However, as soon as we arrived at Ivory Lodge, I was pretty certain this was going to turn out to be one of my top 10 favourites in Africa. A simple, but beautiful, setting. Overlooking a waterhole which attracted elephants at least once every day. 
These guys lined up like Russian Matryoshka Dolls (a bit big to display on the coffee table though)… 
Even the bird life here is worth the visit. Within our first 48 hours we’d seen over a dozen species including Vultures, Martial Eagle, Bataleur, Tawny Eagles, Giant Ground Hornbill, etc. 

The Martial Eagles are beautiful and amazingly graceful in flight. Their chicks are another matter – surrounded in flies, unable to leave the nest, surely this is a face only a mother could love… 
Other birds, though smaller, are effortlessly beautiful. The Lilac Breated Roller may not be rare, but they’re stunning to look at. 

Once again, we even saw more Crested Cranes than we saw throughout Uganda (where they are the national symbol)… 

…and a lonely looking Secretary Bird. It’s difficult to do their size justice in a photo: they stand around 1 metre off the ground when walking and often have a wingspan greater than 2 metres. 

There are also plenty of zebra in Hwange National Park. Probably more than you think at first. Their camouflage can be excellent. If you’re hiding from predators, it needs to be. 

Like some sort of optical illusion, there are 4 in this picture (count the ears and eyes).