Escape to the bush – preparations and first days

While the whole world is watching and reading about Covid-19, while more and more people are having to spend more time at home, I thought it would be nice to share some stories and especially images from a fantastic trip to Botswana and through parts of Zambia, last May. Yes, I know it’s a long time ago. However, irrespective of where you are on the spectrum between “No problem, more people die from the flu” and “OMG, we’re all going to die, let’s make sure we have enough toilet paper“, I’m sure you will enjoy our exploits from last year as an escape from everyday reality. These posts should be a welcome break from Netflix and Amazon Prime and reading disturbing stats on Twitter and fake news on Facebook, anyway.

So, we have very good friends from South Africa (let’s call them W and A, to preserve their privacy, and to save me time typing their actual names) who have for a few years threatened to do a road trip with us. This finally came to fruition during last year May. We first had to get a vehicle to replace the Prado that was stolen in South Africa earlier in the year, but that’s a different story. And we’d ordered a rooftop tent from a firm in South Africa. This was shipped up to Zambia using a pretty reliable bus service (though the commercial arrangements were … unpredictable). The bus delivered the tent (in a formidable cardboard box) to a bus terminal in central Lusaka, where we needed some 7 “helpers” to remove it from the bus and get it onto the Prado. During this process, I had to avoid the “assistance” of one intoxicated individual, who kept on providing advice while stumbling about on the fringes of the traffic, and finally wanted to act as the official paymaster for my unofficial helpers. Anyway, after I’d sorted out payments to the helpers, and a final part of the “fee” to the bus driver, I could tie the box onto the Prado roof and drive home slowly. This is the type of experience that one would struggle to get outside of Africa, I think.

So by mid-May we had the tent at our home in Lusaka, and W and A had also arrived, fired up for the trip of a lifetime. A had even had the very Zambian experience of being fined 300 kwacha for being in the back seat of our car without wearing a seat belt, within 3 minutes from the airport.

Now, on the issue of the accommodation for our trip: Marina and I planned to use our new rooftop tent, while W and A were going to use the ground tent. I must note that the rooftop tent is a relatively luxurious version, it opens easily, using gas-filled pistons, and has a hard top. It is therefore relatively heavy (around 90kg) and required load bars to be fitted to our Prado. We’d ordered the load bars from South Africa and they arrived with the same bus as the tent. W and I are both relatively strong and agile (*cough*), but we nevertheless used the services of a nearby mechanic to help install everything on the vehicle. I had estimated that we’d need about an hour or two to bolt everything together, but the job turned out to be quite a bit more complicated than that…

Attaching the load bars to the Prado, parked in the shade

First, we had to fit longitudinal steel channels on top of the load bars, since the tent’s cross-bars didn’t match the locations of the load bars. And then we had to drill holes through the floor of the rooftop tent. Then we could finally bolt everything together.

We were very fortunate with the services of our local mechanic, whose (mostly outdoor) workshop is one of those places where you can find anything from an antiquated, noisy, smoking mobile crane (see image below) to a set of brand-new 80mm M10 bolts and nuts. This is why he can repair just about anything!

Anyway, the whole job took most of the day, a very enjoyable experience. W and I helped wherever possible, but the mechanic (another W) obviously knew where things are in his domain, so he took charge of the process. The mobile crane had definitely seen better days, but was very effective, the star of the show!

No, our Prado is not being attacked by a yellow praying mantis monster, the rooftop tent is being lowered onto the load bars.

The next day saw us departing from Lusaka towards Livingstone, with a very enjoyable breakfast at Coffeeberry along the way.

Obligatory stop on the way to Livingstone: Breakfast is great, the service is fantastic and friendly!

And then we arrived at our first star attraction for the trip: Livingstone. Or more correctly, the Victoria Falls. Since we were planning a quick getaway the next morning, we didn’t camp, but stayed in Gloria’s Bed and Breakfast in Livingstone. It was our second time there, we can highly recommend it. It may be one of the cheapest options in town, but very comfortable and the service is extremely friendly. We decided to postpone our visit to the actual falls for our return trip, but did enjoy the view of sunset, accompanied by dinner and drinks, from the deck at the Victoria Falls Waterfront.

Sunset over the Zambezi River, from the Victoria Falls Waterfront. If you’ve never experienced this, it belongs on your bucket list!

My next instalment will start with our trip across the mighty Zambezi, and into Botswana, towards our first campsite! I can promise pictures of the real African bush, of lovely (and sometimes very rustic) campsites, of nature in all its glory, as well as stories of close wildlife encounters and other “interesting” events. Watch this space…

Please feel free to comment on any content, perhaps you’ve done a similar trip or had similar experiences? I’d love to hear from you, please comment in the space provided.

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