We are entering Zambia in a remote corner of the country. So we had one last check on the internet before leaving Sumbawanga, where we find that the nearest ATM is probably eight or nine days away. Also two sites confirm that the Zambian kwacha is eight thousand three hundred and twenty three, to the pound. Another site claims that the kwacha was rebased as of the first of Jan. this year making it worth about eight point three two three kwacha to the pound.
We have a drive of over ninety kilometres to the border, where we hope there are some honest money changers who will help us over this confusion, we live in hope, but no money changers means we will have to come back and go another way.
The last ten k or so to the border is not looking hopeful there are no people, no traffic and not a lot of hope of money changers. The border post is deserted apart form one man in the office, we explained our financial predicament and he phoned a friend, who also phoned a friend after a while we had a few friends all chipping in a handful of kwachas and eventually we had enough to swap with our million shillings, with that sorted we completed our immigration formalities and the carnet for the car, this place was so remote they had no idea of our previous escapade. So we were out.
As we drove up to the Zambian border it was locked, I checked and yes the closed gate had a padlock on it, thirty metres away with it’s back to the gate was brick shed, it turns out this was the immigration office, the man inside who also had his back to his domain, and was unaware that foreigners were getting through the fence to see him, he took a look at our passports and had a look at the carnet, and said, the man that does the passports is off sick, and we need to go to Mbala, 40k away, also he cannot do the carnet, so we would have to go Mpulungu, another 36k in a different direction. At Mpulungu we got the carnet done and we would need to pay a carbon tax, but the man with the receipt book for the carbon tax is not there so we would have to go elsewhere. How far do we have travel to get two pieces of paper sorted out. But at least we are in.
In Mbala we took the opportunity to go and see the nearby Kalambo falls, nearby in this context is a seventy two kilometre/45mile round trip, or to put it another way three and a half hours of hard work driving. But at least the falls were good, as the river drops two hundred and thirty metres and the winds it`s way through spectacular scenery to lake Tanganyika. These falls are second in height to Tugela falls in South Africa and third to Angel falls in Venezuela.
Our guide book claims that entering from the North Zambia is a wild country, not the homogenous and neatly packaged tourist Africa. We must have missed that bit, but from Mbala we have tarmac roads and if that is un-homogenised, bring it on.
The other thing, leaving Mbala we are leaving the African rift for the last time. I know I have said that before, but what I did not know is that the rift has a tributary (maybe more than one) it starts in the North of Uganda in (or under) lake Albert, runs down the Semliki valley, along lake Kivu in Rwuanda, and along lake Tanganyika and on to lake Malawi where it joins the main rift. I think…don’t ask me. I sometimes wonder, if I know so little about where I am or what we are doing perhaps I should not be let loose on the world.
We have a little problem booking into hotels or lodges, filling in the registration requires information like, name, date of arrival, where from, where to, and what tribe. Strictly speaking I do not know what tribe Helen is from, and anyway there is not enough room to put in both of our tribes.
Pointless road barriers, we drive down the road and there is a barrier, the usual African affair, some sort of gate made out of scaffold poles, a pole across a couple of oil drums, or a rope with some tatty bits of rag attached, as we approach someone opens the barrier and we go straight through, sometimes there is a group of three, four or five people who sit there all day doing this. Come the end or their shift they leave it all open and go home. WHY?
After four days of tarmac we/I got fed up so we turned right to head for the Bangweulu swamp, this turned out to be real wilderness country, it is also the very last outpost of the Shoebill, dirt roads, six foot high grass, remote villages, vast open plains and driving through tens of thousands Black Lechwe, Zebra and Wattled Cranes, and Tsessebes. . This is Africa.
The day of the Shoebill hunt we had a guide, first was a long drive, off across the grassland through the antelope herds, our guide saying “this way,” “that way,” it all looked the same to me, then we came to some long grass, some two to three feet high, luckily here were some wheel tracks to follow, in this area were a lot of termite mounds and as they are as hard as concrete it was best to stick to these wheel tracks and not risk wrecking the front of the car on an ant hill.
After our drive we parked the car and then walked for forty five minutes through mud, mire and water up to knee deep, the last leg was by boat, two boatmen poled us through narrow channels for the best part of an hour, and eventually we came upon our Shoebill. It is a magnificent bird unfortunately our camera was not up to taking a magnificent photo. But, what a fantastic day out. All this effort just to look at one bird, I think some people need their head’s seeing to.
On our way back driving through the long grass a ranger flagged us down, there were three of them in all, two were scruffy urchins in tatty tee shirts, but they had caught a poacher, they were hoping that we could take the three of them and their AK47’s and the poacher and the dead antelope back to somewhere, oh and the poacher’s rifle, fortunately there was no way we could squeeze them all in.
After five days in this piece of wilderness we are back on the tarmac. Heading for Lusaka we have plans to do some things that only seem possible to do in cities.
Yet again after a day in the city we gave up and left. We are off to South Luangwa national park. As we drive down to the campsite, which is outside the park we encountered two herds of elephants, and several antelope, but our main aim is leopards. We have been to a number of parks that claim they have leopards, but we have yet to see one, I am pinning all our hopes on Luangwa rectifying this situation. I know they are secretive and very hard to see but we are very hopeful.
We have been to this camp before and this park before, and thought both of them fantastic, not only did we see elephants on the way in but they wander through our camp day and night. Before we did not have the car for the job, or really the knowledge to know what the job was, this time we are better equipped and better educated. And it has paid off as we have seen leopards, and yet more leopards, in two days we have had six sightings of leopards and that should be enough for anybody.
That is on top of the herds of various antelopes, giraffes, zebra, buffalo, hippos, crocs, and more.
A brilliant time, but now back to Lusaka and tomorrow, or maybe the day after we go to Zimbabwe
There are some photos on http://picasaweb.google.com/mickhelen99 (sorry about the leopards)
Map details on http://www.zeemaps.com/map?group=468852.