This final phase of our memorable trip started almost directly under a Zambian flag.
It was the morning of 29th May, 2019, and we awoke between the buildings of the Southern Headquarters of the Kafue National Park. Due to our mammoth trip the day before, we’d arrived too late to get into the Park itself and into a campsite. So we’d been allowed to park the vehicle in the quadrangle, between the offices and highly polished red stoep floors.
After paying the park’s daily entry fees and the camping fees for the coming two nights, we had a quick coffee and headed off into the Park itself. What a relief to be driving on actual roads!
The campsite at Hippo Bay on the shores of Lake Itezhi-Tezhi was an excellent place to stop for breakfast. The new ablution blocks were still being completed and we could see that this would be a lovely camping site in future, with a grand view over the lake.
After leaving Hippo Bay, we took a winding route onto the so-called Spinal Road that would take us northwards, towards the next overnight stop. During this drive, we started hearing a knocking sound from the back of the vehicle, as if there was a spanner lying loose in a box. So we stopped a few times to check whether all was well with the vehicle itself, with the suspension, etc. We also checked whether there was something lying loose in the rooftop tent, perhaps the folding table knocking against the roof? Or an animal politely asking to be released? We found no problems with the vehicle and no captured animal, so we continued on.
The road was generally good, but there were some stretches with serious corrugations (‘sinkplaatpad’ for those who understand Afrikaans) and then you need to choose a speed that is not too fast (the vehicle might just drift off the road) or too slow (your teeth might rattle out of your mouth). We eventually discovered that if we reached the right speed, the mysterious knocking from the back of the vehicle would also disappear.
Along the Spinal Road we saw little wildlife (this part of the KNP is sparsely populated, poaching is still a problem here, apparently) but met with two entirely different species of wildlife. Perhaps not what you would think of first, when travelling through an African park.
The first of these species that I have to mention is Glossina, the tsetse fly. Not only do they carry parasites that induce sleeping sickness, but they also have a very painful bite. And unlike the common or garden flies that we might be used to, tsetse flies feed on blood and can clearly recognise a human (animal with a thin skin) when they see one. Surprisingly, they would hover around the car, even keeping up with us while we were driving. Either they cannot resist the colour of white paint, or (more likely) they could see us through the windows and were very desperate to suck some blood from Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Important, therefore, to keep the windows closed.
To spot another type of wildlife, we relied on the services of our professional horticulturist who also happens to be an expert on orchids, which he cultivates in his spare time when he’s not cultivating cut flowers for South African or European vases (or when he’s not travelling to interesting places). He spotted a few of these plants growing in various trees and I’ll show a picture of one specimen.
At one point we found the road obstructed by a young tree that must have been pushed there by some animal. Probably a careless elephant, we were not expecting it to be a well-laid lion ambush. Turned out, however, that it must have been a tsetse fly ambush. W and I had to don our full anti-tsetse-fly gear (long sleeves and hats) and rushed outside to (quickly!) pull the tree out of the way while flapping our arms like crazy windmills to deter the host of thirsty flies that descended on us. This did result in some hilarious video footage taken by A (safely behind glass…) and lots of laughter on her part, too. Anyway, we forgive her, we got the tree removed without being bitten too much and continued on our way.
Eventually, we drove into one of my most favourite camping spots in Zambia: Kasabushi. (Please click the link to read more about it.) Fantastically located on a wide bend in the Kafue River, it is one of the most peaceful and scenic places to camp at. It is operated by Andy and Lib Wilson, who make us feel at home every time we visit. There are only a few campsites, all very close to the river bank. They also have a lodge (two safari tents actually perched over the water) but we haven’t stayed there yet.
You might find this difficult to believe, but the tsetse flies that pester the area so much, appear to not like the riverine forest areas, and so they are just about absent from the campsite. Just before entering, you drive past a very rustic ‘tsetse fly control station’ where you spray your car with insecticide to knock off the few stragglers and then you don’t see another fly until the day you leave again. I once asked Andy why there were no flies beyond the ‘control station’ and he answered that “They can read as well as you can, Ron.”
Anyway, the campsite at Kasabushi provides a quiet place to put up your tent, with very nice ablution facilities (including unique outdoor showers!) and the opportunity to sit around your own campfire at night, listening to the sounds of the bush in the background. So that is what we did.
There’s no electricity, which means no electrical lighting, and no radios or similar sounds. Just the grunting of hippos in the river and sometimes a jackal or hyena in the background. And good fireside conversation with friends in the foreground.
After the long drive the day before, we took it easy during our stay in Kasabushi, just going for a leisurely game-viewing (self-)drive, during which we spotted various antelopes and a troop of baboons.
After a pretty hectic series of days, it was good to just sit in the shade provided by the campsite, just being there, with nowhere else to be, nothing urgent to do. Just considering how privileged we are to be able to travel like this.
The highlight of any visit to Kasabushi just has to be a trip on the Kafue River. Slowly drifting downstream between the various islands, with Andy pointing out different species of birds and managing to avoid the hippos who just looked at us and snorted.
After going downstream far enough, we turned around and motored slowly back upstream, with Captain Andy carefully guiding us up a couple of rapids. By then the sun was setting, casting a golden glow over the river until it was time for the last sunset on this trip.
We spent one last night out in the Park and the next morning we hit the road towards Lusaka.
We’d been on good roads and bad roads, had been stopped by traffic cops, dodged elephants and hyenas, experienced one of the world’s most beautiful waterfalls, got stuck in the sand once and got lost in the bush on another day, and saw numerous fantastic African sunsets. Truly, the trip of a lifetime. And made even better by doing it with very good friends.
I hope you’ve enjoyed sharing this experience with us, even if only digitally. Marina and I (and any crazy friends or family who are keen to join us?) plan to do a lot more travelling in the region and I hope to report on those too. But if you really want to share in the magic of this fantastic continent, you have to come and visit it yourself!