This time, we had no interaction with the fiscal road warriors of the Zambian Police Service on the way out of Lusaka, thank goodness. No, that only happened much later, somewhere between Kafue and Chirundu, when an officer informed Marina that the top speed limit for that entire part of the country had been reduced to 80km/h. There were no road signs to announce this, but it had apparently been announced over the radio, the night before. Yeah, right… Anyway, this resulted in a pleasant discussion where an offer was made to “split the difference”. Marina declined, went to fetch money from the car, (where I was waiting as a completely innocent passenger…) but then, after the senior (female) officer heard that she was a midwife, Marina was let off with a warning. We left without having to part with any money.
Shortly afterwards, we heard about a potential situation at the hospital where Marina works, and turned back to Lusaka, deciding to postpone the trip to another weekend. After passing the speed trap again (without incident), we heard that the situation at the hospital was resolved, and turned back again. As we approached the same speed trap for the third time, crawling along well below the new speed limit (!), we were stopped once again by the same officer. Marina got out of the car very ready for fierce debate, but the cop just wondered why we were passing him yet again, but politely noted that he was not going to fine us, since we were driving below the speed limit :).
All of this was a week ago and we were working our way towards Mvuu Lodge, located on the banks of the mighty Zambezi. We were looking forward to a lazy camping weekend in the bush, but first we had to get there… The road southwards from Lusaka, towards the border post at Chirundu, is generally OK, although parts of it form the permanent battleground between potholes and tar patches. This time around, most of the holes had been filled again, but we did see a lot of the heavy traffic that is causing most of the damage.
Such loads of copper, on the roads towards Chirundu or Livingstone (Zimbabwe borders), Kazungula (ferry to Boswana and eventually Namibia) or Nakonde (Border with Tanzania) are very common sights. For those of you who don’t know, copper is Zambia’s main export product and the cornerstone of the economy. It is very common to see trucks bearing 30 tonnes of copper products on the way out, while returning trucks bring fuel, mine supplies and equipment and other general imports.
What is not so typical, is to see a truck standing by the roadside, in the mountains before Chirundu, with a load of copper scattered across the road!
Quite a few people were already hovering about, admiring the situation, and one or two chaps were laboriously lifting the heavy sheets of copper onto a truck, one by one. The smoke in the air, and the blackened road surface, indicated that there had recently been some sort of incident. As expected, there was not a single policeman in sight, they were probably too busy collecting fines elsewhere.
After passing through the mountains and past the numerous broken-down trucks, we were into Chirundu and into, believe it or not, a traffic jam! One articulated truck was attempting to reverse into a little side street, while another was exiting from it. Drivers in the main road, meanwhile, did their best to ignore the situation by trying to squeeze through on their own mission. Eventually, as usual in Zambia, the situation just somehow resolved itself without anybody losing their temper. Fantastic.
We had a comfort stop in the local shopping mall – 2 kwacha to use the toilets, they were clean and fresh and paper was provided. We then left the tarred road, continuing on the dirt roads towards the Lower Zambezi National Park. The 60 kilometres or so from Chirundu to Mvuu took about 90 minutes, passing through dry woodland, past a huge banana plantation, and then into the Chiawa Game Management Area. Very large parts of Zambia are covered by these GMAs, which surround or border on the National Parks and serve as buffer zones between human and wildlife populations.
We finally eventually arrived at Mvuu Lodge and parked the Prado on the campsite, overlooking the Zambezi River, looking across the water towards the Mana Pools world heritage area in Zimbabwe.
We’d gone to Mvuu in the hope to see quite a bit of wildlife, and indeed, we saw a range of animals. The hippos that gave name to the place congregated in the river some hundreds of metres away. We could hear their grunts and bellows very well, but needed binoculars to see them properly. Much nearer, perching on a branch overhanging the river, we saw a Giant kingfisher, which I’d never seen before. There wasn’t enough time to photograph it, it spotted its prey in the water, dove down and disappeared in a splash.
We also saw some smaller wildlife:
We took a walk towards the far end of the lodge, passed a troop of baboons that scampered out of the way, and then, unexpectedly, came across some browsing elephants. I should add that the lodge is not fenced and is located inside the Chiawa GMA, which means that all animals can come and go as they please. It was obvious from the many elephant droppings on the lawns that they do that quite often. This group included a couple of youngsters, which usually means that the adults are more edgy and protective. So we kept largely out of sight behind a tent and remained alert and ready to beat a hasty retreat, if necessary! That’s why my pictures, taken from about 10 to 20 metres away, were not ideal, but here is one just to prove my story:
We drove back to Lusaka around mid-day on Sunday and had to wait for a few minutes while a couple of elephants stood in the track, in no particular hurry to go anywhere. When they finally ambled off, we could pass behind them and continued the drive home. We attempted another comfort stop at the same shopping mall in Chirundu but this was not successful. The town may be sited on the banks of one of the largest rivers in the world, but it did not have any water to operate the bathrooms, so they just close them. Even more surprisingly, the people who work in the centre do not think that this is remarkable! Fortunately, the friendly staff at the Hungry Lion took pity on Marina and she could use the facilities, using our own bottled water.
The rest of the drive home featured no further excitement due to broken trucks or speed traps and we reached home safely and keen to start planning the next adventure!