As the first month of this year rushes towards an end, it’s time to write a few words about the end of 2020 and the start of 2021. Our travel adventure started the day after Christmas and if you haven’t read that episode yet, please do so here.
Before departing from the Mutinondo Wilderness, I had to change a wheel, since one of our front tyres had developed a slow puncture. It should have been easy to replace this wheel with the spare wheel, but whoever had tightened the wheel nuts the last time, had done this so well, that we almost destroyed the wheel spanner in the process of loosening them again. Also, after jacking the vehicle as high as I could with the little standard jack provided by Toyota, I realised that it didn’t extend far enough to free the wheel from the ground. So I had to lower the car again and repeat the process with a thick piece of timber under the jack. This is how you learn stuff, even when you’re in your sixties. My father would probably just have chuckled and shaken his head. Anyway, after an hour of sweating, with the friendly help of one of the Mutinondo employees, the wheels were swapped and we were on our way towards Mpika.
In Mpika we had the damaged tyre repaired quickly. It had picked up a massive rivet somewhere. This was located, removed and replaced with a plug, within about 30 minutes. I’d asked one of the filling stations to assist, but they pointed me in the direction of a group of chaps who were sitting under a nearby tree, waiting for something (maybe for jobs like this?) and they did the necessary. In town, we also tried to buy some ice cubes for our coolbox, and some other supplies. However, we just found shops where the importance of wearing masks in a pandemic had not really sunk in.
The hot springs could be reached in two ways from Mpika. Google Maps had suggested that we take the M1 out of town and then turn right onto the D53, towards Kapishya Lodge. This was supposed to be some 10 minutes faster than continuing on the T2 and turning left onto the D53, approaching the springs from the other direction. Initially the Google Maps advice looked good. The M1 had a good tarmac surface and there was much less traffic than on the T2 which was carrying all the heavy traffic to and from Tanzania.
After leaving the hard surface of the M1, the D53 initially provided a pretty good surface, with almost no traffic at all. Good laterite top on the road, and very recently cut grass verges. In fact we saw men with slashers cutting the verges in a few places.
However, as we slowly approached a range of low hills, and as the road surface got steadily worse, we started to worry that the road would actually lead us to Kapishya before the end of the day… The fact that Google maps sometimes lost the plot, informing us that we were driving on an “unnamed road” or that we should “turn around when possible” wasn’t helping. We had to negotiate a few places where the road surface had been badly damaged or washed away, but we still saw tyre tracks on the road ahead. Wherever we were going, it looked like we would not be alone there. (Of course, with a rooftop tent, you can in theory sleep anywhere, but we were quite keen to do that near to the hot springs!)
Finally, we did reach Kapishya Hot Springs, checked in at the lodge and chose a camping spot very close to the strongly flowing Mansha River. The ground was pretty soggy after recent rains. And it remained that way due to the rains that returned every afternoon. However, we enjoyed being at the water’s edge and away from other people, even though only a few other campers used the camping ground.
We certainly had rain every day during our stay at Kapishya, but we gladly accepted that, since, in return, we could just walk a short distance around (or through) the bit of forest behind our tent, to arrive at the hot spring itself. This is truly an unique spot in Zambia, where it is possible to relax in a natural pool with clear, hot water, surrounded by green forest.
Kapishya sits to the West of the Luangwa valley, which is the expression of the westernmost arm of the East African Rift system. The spring and its hot water is however is not related to any deep-seated magma or any volcanic system. Chemical studies of the water (isotope studies on the CO2, etc.) indicate that there has been very little interaction between the water and any rocks, and that the water appears to be meteoric in origin (rainwater) that has been heated by passing deep through the earth (down to 5 km or so), which is made possible by fracture systems in the earth’s crust. As a result, the water is hot, very clear, and does not smell of sulphur or anything else.
There’s also a spa at the lodge, and during one afternoon we treated ourselves to a very nice foot, back and neck massage. Sounds a bit decadent but our excuse was that a hard massage is also good for you… You really don’t know how knotted together your muscles are until someone starts to undo these by pushing on them!
Our camping site was literally a few minutes walk from the actual hot spring, and you could walk on the road, or take the winding “bird trail” through a bit of rainforest, somewhat reminiscent of some places in Ghana. We could hear lots of different birds, but most were pretty good at keeping themselves out of sight. Or perhaps we were just too impatient, on our way to the spring?
Mark and Mel and their team at Kapishya did an excellent job, making everybody very welcome, whether staying in the lodge chalets or whether on the campsite (as we were). They also hosted a very nice dinner on the last evening of the year. Really enjoyable, and we managed the social distancing thing by keeping more distance between us than would have been the case in earlier years.
After dinner, some people withdrew to their rooms but we got into our swimming kit, grabbed a bottle of champagne, and got into the hot spring. And so we really splashed into 2021!
After a relatively short night, we packed up, had a last soak in the spring, and left lovely Kapishya, drove through the Shiwa Ng’andu estate (hosting the Africa House, a place to visit next time!) and onto the main road to Mpika and beyond. As on the way in, we saw lots of fuel trucks, had to negotiate lots of serious road damage. At one point, we had to wait about 30 minutes before a bridge where the road surface was so badly damaged that the various trucks had to negotiate the bridge very carefully. On truck was stuck, drivers from both sides were offering advice and everybody was wondering whether a massive detour (back through Shiwa Ng’andu, Kapishya and the M1 for us) would be required. But somehow the truck got its many wheels out of the deep and muddy holes, there was a bit of jostling for priority and then we were also through.
We had reserved a chalet at Forest Inn in Mkushi, what a lovely place! We could have camped there, they do have lovely sites between the trees. But we chose for a last night of some luxury, had dinner at the restaurant and stayed in a chalet. It rained heavily (yet again) so it was good not to have to erect the tent (and to fold up a wet tent the next morning).
Breakfast the next morning was also great, and we hit the road for the last stretch home.
The only bit of excitement happened at a police roadblock. The impeccably-dressed officer looked at the disks in the windscreen and announced that our insurance had lapsed. The disk indicated that the insurance was valid until the 31st of December, 2020 and the officer asked us if we were aware that we were now in 2021… I was a bit stunned, since I remember buying the new insurance. But then (and this is the second time I have done this!) I had somehow neglected to cut out the disk and stick it on the windscreen. The disk was at home in Lusaka. Fortunately we could demonstrate to the officer that we had actually purchased the new insurance (thank goodness for having emails on my phone!) and Marina apologised (on behalf of her obviously senile husband) for not having the insurance displayed. So we avoided the standard 300 kwacha fine and could continue to Lusaka with a warning.
Stay tuned for another adventure in due course!