We clunked into Zambia for the second time, crossing through at Chirundu, the most hectic border yet. Trucks were backed up to 4km down the road and we had to aggressively drive our way through the complete chaos until we could get to the front of the line. The actual immigration process were thankfully all very straightforward, apart from the fact Zambia was on a lunch break when we arrived, so we had to wait over an hour for them all to return and stamp us through. By the time we got through, we were also feeling pretty tired after such an intense morning and unlike Zambia we hadn’t had a lunch break! We drove on, but it wasn’t long before we hit heavy traffic and road works – the Chinese seem to be building roads everywhere in Africa, but at the moment none of them seem ready and so we spent hours crawling alongside the lovely smooth tarmac on the dirt tracks alongside them. As we slowed to walking pace we could hear gurgling coming from the fuel tank so pulled over to investigate. As Rich opened up the fuel cap, petrol came spurting out all over the place and the tank sounded like it was boiling! The auxiliary tank was over-pressurising and forcing fuel through the overflow to the injectors and recalculating back to the tank. During this process the fuel was actually being heated up! Carrying 220 litres of boiling unleaded is a frightening position to be in and we were both convinced the car was about to blow up at any moment. What we now realise is that at the last fuel stop before the border, the attendant had overfilled both tanks right to the top. However, at that moment in time in the 43°C heat, on the side of a manically busy and dusty road in Zambia we were sh*tting ourselves. We waited for the car to cool before heading off – me sitting with all our valuables on my lap in case we needed to make an emergency exit! It was turning out to be ‘one of those days’, we were only travelling 180km, but had already been on the road for 5hours. We continued our slow crawl in the heavy traffic, tormented by the clunking suspension and the boiling fuel situation! As we rounded the corner we could see about 10 BMW 1200GS motorbikes parked on the side of the road, all kitted out to the hilt and to our astonishment, there standing next to them was Charley Boorman! We pulled over, fear levels still high from expecting the car to blow up, we welcomed a chance to take our mind off things so stopped to say hi. It turns out that Charlie is now running guided bike tours through Africa so was able to give us some great tips for the journey ahead. It was a lovely interlude to our crappy day, to meet not only someone we truly admire and who’s journey was one of the first that really got us into the idea of travelling Africa ourselves, but he’s also genuinely lovely bloke!
After 9 hours we finally arrived at Eureka Camp, just south of Lusaka, having only driven 180km! Exhausted beyond belief we were so relieved to reached camp – the excess fuel now burnt, the tank seemed to have settled down and we would be able to get the shock looked at in the morning. As we began to put the tent up Rich looked at me and said he wasn’t feeling too good, so was going to head straight to bed. When the big guy doesn’t eat, there’s something wrong. Within an hour he was feverish, so I picked up our medical book and started to look up symptoms of Malaria. ‘High temperature’- check. ‘Flu-like achey symptoms’ – check. ‘Sweats’ – check. I was beginning to get worried. But if there’s one thing we’ve learnt on this trip it’s to ‘always go for the easy fixes first’, so 2 paracetamol , a bottle of water and a bucket of reassurance I hoped that would be enough to get through to the morning and assess it from there. Fortunately the next morning, Rich although feeling crappy had managed to sleep off whatever it was that had ambushed him the night before, so with him fixed, it was time to focus back on Kylie. Unbelievably, having totally replaced the shock absorbers and rubber mounting bushes in Kasane 2,000 klm previous the bush on the new rear right shock had completely worn through! Totally baffled by this we couldn’t believe that the 300klms of full-on corrugations to Mana Pools had killed the bush completely. So with a recommendation from the campsite, we ventured off on a crazy drive into downtown Lusaka to get it repaired. Thankfully we had kept the old set of shocks and bushes so the old bush with 35,000 hard klms were reinstalled.
Lusaka was our first real big, crazy African city. Street vendors lining the streets, people walking up down traffic queues selling the oddest assortment of things from inner tubes, to belts, hats, fruit, some chap was even walking up down holding out puppies. It was crowded and frenetic but it wasn’t intimidating like we’d found Durban – but maybe we just a little more hardened to things now? We spent the morning with our mechanic, giving Kylie an oil change while we were there before heading off to a nearby shopping centre. I never thought I’d be excited to go a shopping centre, usually the most hellish places on earth, but having spent the last few months shopping in very basic places, with limited choices we were actually pretty excited to back in civilisation – heading straight for a burger restaurant and gorging on western food before hitting the biggest supermarket we’ve seen since Australia. It was a blissful air-conditioned afternoon!
We then began to make our way up to Chipata and South Luangwa National Park. A quick stop at another overlander favourite, Mama Rulas and onto Croc Valley camp just outside the park. South Luangwa has one of the highest densities of cats, so we were hopeful that we’d finally get to see some kitty-kat action! Croc Valley camp is set right on the banks of the Luangwa River, so we could still could sit and watch the hippos and elephants and the playful Vervet monkeys, which I could watch for hours. They’re so cheeky, but hilarious to watch. Unfortunately the elephants weren’t so pleasant, having discovered that cars=food, they’ve had a number of instances lately where the elephants have smashed cars trying to get to food inside the car. As a consequence we had to make sure we’d handed in all our food for it to be locked inside big concrete lockers in the main building, but it still didn’t make for a restful evening as the family of 4 came careering through the camp on the nightly 6pm raid! We all had to scarper, watching nervously from a distance as the elephants began to investigate Kylie, hoping that they weren’t going to smell any food remnants Fortunately they moved off without causing any damage, but when they returned during the night they still came sniffing round the tent again, and when you’re lying in your PJs with a 5tonne beast sniffing next to you it doesn’t half get your heart rate up!
The next day we were up at dawn and into the park and wasn’t long before we saw the line of cars stopped around a pride of lions. The lions being lions slept through the commotion of cars coming and going, but were so in awe that we just stopped and watched for over an hour. A pride of 21! We watched as the lionesses began to stalk a couple of lone zebras, before deciding the day had got to hot and retiring back to the shade. That evening we went on our first night safari which we really recommend as they know where to find the leopards. Our guide and tracker were amazing and by dusk he’d already found us a leopard, high up in the trees, fast asleep. As the sun set we stopped for beers on the river bank before heading back into the darkness of the park. Travelling in the open top landcruiser, the warm breeze in your hair, surrounded by the darkness of the African bush, your eyes become redundant so your hearing intensifies to the noises around you, it’s an amazing experience. The beam from the spotlight sweeps across the road ahead, and our tracker found us plenty of leopards, hippos, lions, Jannats (small leopard-like cats) and eerily the carcass of a newly caught Impala in the tree, which the leopard must have abandoned only moments earlier. South Luangwa is a beautiful park, with well laid out tracks and now the road leading up to it has been tarred we’re sure it will become very popular. It’s possibly our best park of the trip so far.
We’ve only travelled through the bottom of Zambia, but what a fantastic place. Once again, we have been blown away by the warm welcome we have received and everywhere we drive children come running out to wave. It seems to be a very peaceful and stable country and it shows on the peoples happy faces – they don’t show the strain that we saw on those of the people of Zimbabwe. The other lovely thing about Zambia is that most people seem to have a bicycle, in Botswana it was donkeys, but in Zambia it’s bikes. It’s incredible to see how much they can load onto their bikes, whether it’s sacks of coal, wood, goats or even the lovely wife sitting side saddle on the back, whatever it is, it offers them freedom. Smiles and bicycles is certainly how I’ll remember Zambia.