So, we’re back after a bit of a break from everything during the holidays. A break from driving, blogging, cooking from the back of a car, sleeping in a tent. The past few weeks have been spent with family and friends in Zimbabwe and it’s been absolutely awesome. I’ve tried staying online for more updates but wherever we’ve stayed the internet access has been a bit unreliable and with precious family time you don’t want to sit alone in a corner too much.
We made the decision earlier on the trip not to go to Uganda and Rwanda, as was planned originally, and it was a very hard decision to make. I spent quite some time thinking about it afterwards, wondering if we would regret it, wondering if we will ever get to see those countries now or if we blew our chance. But as we got to northern Zimbabwe and were waiting excitedly for the rest of the family to arrive, I got a message from overlander friends we had met earlier, saying “We wish we were with our families now.” And then I just knew we had made the right decision, to push on and get to Zim for Christmas.
We have now said goodbye (and “See you in Mocambique in a few months!”) to the family and are visiting friends, still in southeastern Zimbabwe. Here’s our update from Malawi and Zambia.
How nice it is down here, going from one country to the other – nobody even comes out to look at the car at the border, just papers on the desk, stamps, done.
Our first night in Malawi we wanted to get all the way up on the Livingstonia mountain range and despite the road being a crazy zick zack rough gravel road winding up the mountain side, we made it just before dark. We had heard about both camps up on the mountain, Lukwe and Mushroom farm, and as we couldn’t choose we decided to do one night at each. We started off by going to Lukwe and were blown away by the awesome views. Feeling a bit lazy we decided to spoil ourselves with a chalet that night and we had a good dinner with delicious fresh veggies from the garden, sitting overlooking the valley and lake Malawi far below. We were accompanied by two German backpackers, a French guy visiting his brother in Malawi and Hauk, the owner, and we had a good chat with them long after the sun had set.
We really did spoil ourselves and slept in properly the next morning, only stepping out on our little verandah to admire the view around 10 o’clock. We got ready and went for a walk, wanting to check out the nearby waterfalls. Hauk’s two dogs came with us and clearly knew the way (one of the dogs apparently used to take tourists to the waterfalls, until the locals complained it was doing their job). Arriving at the entry gate to the falls we paid the 300 kwacha per person to go in and three young boys volunteered as our guides. That was lucky because there is no way we would have been able to find our way through the bush to the different sites where you can see the falls and a big cave behind one of them. We did some serious hiking through the thick bush with steep climbs, knee bending passages and non existent paths to get there. I was just waiting for the moment when I grabbed a vine for support and it would turn out to be a snake… But luckily that never happened and we made it to all the sites and back, with a refreshing splash bath in the fresh water pool on the mountain side in the end.
The drive to Mushroom farm was long and hard. About a kilometer or so. It felt like a good day’s drive that day as we were already spoiling ourselves. Parking at our spot at the Mushroom farm’s campsite required a bit of planning – the road down was steep and the spot was right on the edge with a marvellous view that I just didn’t seem to get enough of. If it wasn’t for the patience testing road to get there, I could have seen myself spending quite a bit of time on that mountain.
Mushroom farm was run by Dutch couple Hannes and Claudia and the place was quite similiar to Lukwe. Here we met three British girls working at a hospital in Blantyre and a British couple working with conservation in east Africa.
It was time to leave the mountain and go and explore the lake. We had been recommended a place called Makuzi so we decided to go there, although there’s an abundance of lodges and camps along the shore. We were happy we did because Makuzi turned out to be really nice and had apparently been rated one of the top 5 places to stay in Malawi. That might sound like it is a posh, pricy place and sure, you have to pay a bit to stay in the sweet little chalets with ensuite bathrooms, but camping wasn’t more expensive than anywhere else and we had a good spot on the lawn with a nice view of the lake. We got there in the late afternoon and I just couldn’t wait to get into the lake for a swim. We set up camp, I jumped into my bikini and tried to convince Brian to come with me and eventually I managed to get him into the water just as it was getting dark. (I don’t know when the diver turned into such a landcrab?! He never wants to swim!) I was just in awe with this lake – I haven’t experienced anything like it before. It looks like the sea with its size and waves (except you see Tanzania or Mocambique at a far distance), it’s got the white sand beach like the sea – but it’s fresh water. Clear, warm fresh water! Nothing like the cold, dark, murky lakes back home. It was SO nice.
Sadly it was now Brian’s turn to get sick from something he had eaten, but opposite to me he got really sick really quickly and then it was over. He was just feeling quite weak the next day. I desperately wanted to enjoy the beach for a while that day and Brian sat sleeping in a chair in the shade while I went for a swim, read my book, went for a swim, read my book, went for a swim again. I really liked lake Malawi and especially what I saw of it from Makuzi. I think it had something special to it for me, having grown up with the dark, murky, cold lakes in Sweden. It was like a paradise version of the lakes I would go swimming in every summer as a child. It would have been really nice doing some acitivites by the lake, going fishing and going horseback riding, but since Brian got sick we never got around to doing anything.
Splitting up the stretch down to Lilongwe into two days we found a place called Sani on the gps and decided to camp there. Sani couldn’t have been more of a contrast to Makuzi. It was an abandoned lodge that looked like it hadn’t had seen any guests in many years and the main building had burnt down. The beach was far from the calm, child friendly bay at Makuzi, here it was a steep drop off right into the water with fierce waves splashing ashore, seeming even more dramatic with the heavy winds that day. We were showed to the beach by a woman who hardly spoke English and was busy chasing away a dozen kids that were of course very curious of us. As the weather was really bad, Brian was still feeling a bit rough and there wasn’t much else to do we went for a walk having a look around, I practiced a bit with the sling shot Brian had made (for monkeys at campsites) and then we climbed up into the tent and spent the rest of the day there watching series on the computer. To our surprise a man turned up in the evening, introduced himself as Samuel and explained that he had been in town when we arrived and was now wondering whether we wanted to have dinner at the restaurant. “Restaurant?!” we thought, not having seen anything that seemed to be up and running at the abandoned and deserted looking lodge. We declined his offer with pictures flashing by our eyes of a shabby little place that would just make us sick again. But who knows, maybe there was a proper restaurant with really good food! We just didn’t want to risk it. In the morning Samuel came back and said they had now prepared hot showers for us. We walked over to the bathroom where the showers didn’t work and found two big buckets full of water, one with cold and one with steaming hot water, for us both. We then really felt that these guys were trying their best with what they had to keep the place running and we really appreciated it.
In Lilongwe by lunch time we stopped to do some grocery shopping and coming into the shop it was clear we were now close to Brian’s home – he just walked up and down the aisles smiling as he found products he always used to eat or drink but haven’t been able to find in Sweden. The shopping took two hours but not because of the time we spent in the shop. The card payment network was down so Brian walked to the nearest ATM, which didn’t work, so he walked to the next one which turned out to be like 2 kilometers away, while I waited by the shop.
The whole money thing is always a bit confusing and comical – just as we have gotten used to the currency in one country, how much it is compared to USD, SEK etc, how much things usually cost, what the bank notes look like and what not – we leave and have completely new money to get used to all over again. It’s always very confusing the first couple of days, then we start getting the hang of it and then we leave… And in these countries you’re talking in numbers that would give you completely different stuff back home. The groceries that day cost about 40 000… Malawi kwacha that is!
A bit delayed we decided not only to push on to the border but see if we could even make it into Zambia before the end of the day. The drive there was pretty quick and the border crossing was smooth. We now had the option of camping somewhere around Chipata, the first town on the other side of the border, or push on towards South Luangwa national park where we wanted to go. We decided to push on and thought we might arrive there around 7 pm. But we didn’t know the road there was under construction and we had to go on a winding diversion road at low speed through thick bush most of the way. Along the way we stopped and pulled a big truck out of the ditch and finally arrived at Croc Valley camp just before 10 pm… The guards came walking through the camp and we were shown to a place where we could put up camp, just by the river. (The river bed was almost dry due to the lack of rains so far.) The three men were really sweet nodding their heads and each one repeating every thing we said. ”We sleep on top of the car” we said. ”On top! On top! On top! No problem. No problem. No problem” the three men replied. And they said that the elephants had been in the camp the previous night so we must make sure to lock up all fruits and fresh food well, but not to worry. ”The elephants come here sometimes, but that’s why we’re here” they said with a big smile, sling shots dangling around one wrist and a torch around the other. In the dark we could just see that we were close to the river bed, but not what was in it. As we went to bed we heard the hippos grunt nearby and some hyenas call at a distance, but the elephants didn’t come to visit that night.
Brian spent pretty much a full day doing some maintenance on the cruiser together with the lodge’s mechanics while I did computer work. Looking out over the river bed we kept an eye on hippos and crocs. Suddenly there was some noises and rumbles in the bush on the other side. The elephants were here! Amazing how such huge animals can hide in the bush. We watched them, a big group, walking along the river and eventually a few of them ventured down the banks and spent hours in the riverbed feeding and having mud baths. As we were once again a bit stunned by the prices to enter the national park (South Luangwa, which we were right on the border to) we decided to be happy with the encounters we got at camp and decided to leave the next day.
There was apparently a road, called ”the detour”, from the Croc valley area down to Lusaka but it was known to take much longer than it normally should and by now we also heard it was a big mud puddle so we had no choice but to go the same way back, to Chipata. But there we found a nice place, Dean’s Hills View just outside of town where we camped one night. On tv, there was a relief concert for Sandy in New York and Brian and I sat glued to our chairs enjoying it. I couldn’t remember when we last watched tv.
There was still some work to be done on the cruiser so we planned to go to the mechanic in Chipata first thing in the morning. The plan was to spend maybe an hour or two there, go do some grocery shopping and then start heading south. But the hours passed and the mechanics had to go get the spares needed. When I got hungry I cooked us some lunch at the back of the car – over the grease pit. We ended up spending the entire day, from 8.30 to 17.30, at the mechanics before the cruiser was finally ready to go… I was sooo bored by then but it was good, we got new bushes for the rear shocks and the tension bar bushes replaced.
So, it was 18.00 and we drove around in Chipata, discussing our options. We really didn’t feel like staying another night in the town, but it would be stupid to drive south that late in the evening, having to drive in the dark and all. We still went for the stupid option. It was only about two hours to the place where we were planning on camping that night. It was a really weird feeling leaving Chipata – the routine of waking up early in the morning, packing up camp and head out on the roads for a days drive had obviously set in by now and leaving in the evening felt really strange. But the drive went very well and we got to the next campsite without any hassles.
That night was one of the less exciting campsites. We found a place on the gps that was called Zulu Kraal Camp – but it wasn’t a campsite anymore, if it had ever been. We camped in a garden with toilets where the water didn’t work and looked like they hadn’t been used for 10 years. As we we woke up in the morning a donkey was acting guard, standing two metres away from the car watching us.
From there on we reached Lusaka and found a much nicer campsite; Eureka Camping Park, with some zebras casually strolling aroun. As we went for a walk around the place we also found some horses in stables – and some more zebras. They went in and out of the pastures as they were small enough to walk under the wooden fence and had come to scoff on some of the horses mealie stalks. It was weird seeing a wild animal in a pasture, next to a horse… We met a guy there and started talking and it turned out he was Swedish, working in Zambia. He told us a group of overlanders with The Pink Caravan (Rosa Bussarna) was arriving that evening and he was there to say hi since he used to work for them and knew some of the people. It was quite fun and interesting to see these two giant pink buses pitch up and park in the middle of the campsite and out came loads of people – speaking Swedish! – starting to set up camp and cook dinner in a very organized way. We just stared at them, a bit amazed by the whole thing, but still so happy to just be the two of us and the way we can just do whatever we feel like everyday without a whole bunch of people to adjust to. We went over to chat to them and had some beers before heading for an early night in our own little tent.