We decided to travel to Zambia as part of a 7 week tour around Ethiopia, Malawi and finally Zambia. Ethiopia was Mike’s choice destination, Malawi was mine, and we didn’t know much about Zambia other than it was easy to get to from Malawi and we could visit the Victoria Falls! However, the 2 weeks that we spent here were incredible and we had an amazing time driving around this beautiful country.
We flew from Lilongwe, Malawi on a teeny tiny plane to Lusaka, Zambia and picked up our 4x4 that we would spend the next 2 weeks living out of. It had a tent on the roof and all the necessary camping equipment. For the first couple of nights, we stayed in Lusaka to get used to setting the tent up. We thought it wise to stay in the grounds of hostels to practise so that if any problems arose, we wouldn’t be totally alone. We had heard some crazy stories about people breaking down in the middle of nowhere and terrible things happening to them! Needless to say, we were a bit nervous about setting off alone without sat-nav as well!
Our first destination was to the Kafue river. We knew of a couple of safari lodges there and we figured we would just rock up at one of them- whichever was closest. Driving a fairly large vehicle through the crowded markets in Lusaka was quite the experience! I had never driven anything quite as big before and there were a few tense moments! Still, once we were out of the city, the roads turned quiet and and long. There’s no other way of describing it! It wasn’t like we needed sat-nav- there seemed to be only one road that connected everything! It made for tense driving to be honest. You couldn’t relax, as such, because there would always be something to test you at any given point. Either an enormous pot-hole that came out of nowhere that I would hit at 60-70 mph and we’d worry that the tent had just fallen off, or occasionally, a herd of cows or goats, or even worse, children, would run out in to the road and the breaks would have to be slammed on.
We had some safari lodges at the Kafue river in mind to stay at and we were aiming to reach them before the sun went down. We were told never to drive at night. Zambia doesn’t have a ‘park’, as such, for the animals to stay in. They can roam anywhere they please, including on the roads. So, of course, at night driving becomes pretty dangerous. However, one wrong turning and we missed the first safari lodge we were aiming for. Still, we saw a sign for another one, so we figured it wouldn’t be too far to get to that one. How wrong we were! Mileage wise, it probably wasn’t actually that far, but in order to get there, we had to go off road. This meant driving through bushland, taking the car over fragile, rickety hand-made bridges, bumping in to wild bull elephants- ears flapping, and worst of all tsetse flies! When the first one entered the car, we assumed this was just a regular fly so opened the window to let it out. But then another flew in. And another. And, of course, we stupidly opened ALL the windows and they all flew in and began biting us! Now at this point, the sun was rapidly disappearing and we had no idea if we were close or not. By this point, we had been driving down this dirt track for about 2 hours and were beginning to get a bit worried! We couldn’t work out what these flies were; I was trying to concentrate on getting us to the lodge as fast as possible without killing us, and Mike had called war on the flies and was beating everything up with a magazine. It was a pretty funny sight. Eventually, we got to a sign just before entering the lodge that announced it was a ‘tsetse fly free zone’ and instructed us to get out of the vehicle and stand completely still for 2 minutes. Of course all the flies disappeared. Typical. At least we now know what to do when attacked by tsetse flies in the future.
We arrived at Kaingu lodge with minutes to spare before the red African sun disappeared behind a herd of hippos wallowing in the Kafue river. The owners were very surprised that we had turned up alone this late on. They explained to us that most guests got picked up and transferred on a nice boat along the river. So, of course, we felt a bit smug and totally downplayed our efforts in our arrival! We set up in the camping area whereby we were the only ones there. We were told that unless it really was an emergency, we shouldn’t walk about at night as the hippos often wandered about, even the occasional lion. So we made a fire, had some dinner and went to bed feeling really quite proud of our day’s accomplishments!
The thing about Zambia in July was that during the day, it was beautifully warm, but at night, the temperatures dropped and we would often be wearing all of our layers including thermal leggings and our coats with the hoods pulled right up over our heads. One chilly morning whilst eating breakfast, we were interrupted by noisy monkeys who were very intrigued by us. Mike had gone to get the butter from the car when two of the monkeys began having quite vigorous sex right in front of me. Of course, this display of animalistic tendency made me shout to Mike ‘MONKEY SEX, MONKEY SEX...QUIIIIIIICK!’ for fear that he might miss the show. And so Mike, butter in hand, ran back to the wooden pagoda under which we were sat with the up-most haste, but unfortunately, due to the large hood that covered his eyes, he ran straight in to a wooden pole that was holding up the pagoda. This caused the monkeys to refrain from finishing their act and run away and Mike had quite the large bruise on his forehead for the next few days. Not to mention that in his suffering, he dropped the butter, which was very quickly claimed by the monkeys.
As well as staying at Kaingu safari lodge, we also camped at Konkamoya lodge, where we ditched the car for a couple of nights and stayed in a rather luxurious tent. Konkamoya is run by an Italian family and they provided us with an incredible feast of gorgeous Italian food (a nice break since we had simply been gorging on bread and chilli-con-carne or whatever I could put together over the fire) every night. We were even treated to a private dining experience outside our tent- particularly spectacular with zebras, hippos, giraffes and other African wildlife all grazing right in front of us. We went on a safari, which was unlike any other we had experienced. I had been on one safari before in Kruger Park, South Africa, and, whilst it was still excellent, we were in the park with a gazillion other tourists all hanging out of their windows snapping away. Here, however, we were to share moments with the animals with no one else around. We witnessed a gazelle give birth metres away; we were chased by an angry elephant; we had a glass of wine on a rock whilst two hippos played around us; and whilst we didn’t necessarily see ‘the Big 5’, we experienced a much more natural environment, I felt anyway.
Our final destination in Zambia, and one to end our African trip, was the legendary Victoria Falls. Leaving the Kafue river was hard enough, though, and the ‘road’ to get out was rocky, bumpy and fairly treacherous. We were able to drive at a painstaking 5 mph for at least the first 2 hours. It also included a rickety pontoon ride. However, we arrived at Livingstone and stayed for a few nights at the Livingstone Waterfront. This accomodation was absolutely perfect. The camping area was lucious, spacious and quiet considering there were more people staying there than we had seen in the last 10 days! There was a pool and even a pizza oven with a well-stocked bar. They provided all the activities and entertainment you could think of. As well as spending a day at the falls, viewing them from both the Zambian and the Zimbabwean side, we decided to take a trip to the Devil’s Pool on the very edge of the Victoria Falls. It was such a special trip! Whilst the water was literally freezing, we sucked it up and lay right on the edge of the 100m drop whilst our guide got snappy happy. It had to be one of my most favourite experiences.
We had planned to take a sunset cruise one evening and had gone down to the boat a bit earlier so to get a good seat and have a drink before hand. Whilst we were waiting for the boat departure, one of the guys who worked at the Waterfront was walking around the boat carrying some fuel. We heard a loud splash and looked up to see the man thrashing about in the shallow water. There were a couple of people down at the water’s edge who threw him a life-ring, but tragically, he was taken by a croc and it all happened within seconds. It was absolutely devastating and we had nightmares about this for quite some time after. Obviously the boat trip didn’t run and the police and search and rescue team arrived but unfortunately he was never found. This tragedy changed the atmosphere at the place and we felt awkward staying there as his friends and family obviously wanted to be left to mourn without silly tourists asking for their pizza and beer.
Still, the time had come to drop back our car, which was very sad. We spent our last 2 nights at Munga Eco-lodge and had a wonderful dinner at the Royal Livingstone hotel. This place was insane. If you’re looking to splurge, this is your hotel. Very colonial, the grounds are stunning and very well looked after. We enjoyed a gin and tonic looking out onto the Zambezi river, elephants drinking right in front of us. At dinner, we were joined by zebras wandering the gardens. If we were to return, I wouldn’t hesitate to stay here.
All in all, whilst Zambia wasn’t originally on our ‘must-visit’ list, the time we spent there was incredible. We absolutely loved it. The people were kind and friendly and would always help us when we were lost (which was often), the scenery and wildlife was amazing, and for us, the camping was fantastic. We really did have the best time in this awesome country.