On to Botswana

We met up again with the Dutch couple Charis and Jarijn who we had met in Bulawayo and they decided to come with us to Chobe just across the border into Botswana. Did you know that Botswana has only 1.9m people that’s the same as Portsmouth whilst London has nearly 8 million!….and its the same size as Texas which has 24m! We stopped for a couple of nights at Kasane at the Chobe Safari Lodge which was a beautiful campsite with amazing facilities. We did a wonderful fishing trip on the Zambezi where Charis caught a tiger fish…..

but it wasn’t enough for the BBQ that night and we had to resort to the local supermarket! We travelled on together towards Maun and stopped overnight at a quirky campsite at Gweta called Planet Baobab before making our way to Nxai Pan National Park the next day. We saw a lot of ostrich

and some rare hunting dogs as well as the famous group of 7 trees called the Baines Baobabs,

and of course, the Nxai Pans.

In the middle of bloody nowhere the leaf springs at the front of the vehicle went again. So we limped back at about 5km an hour out of the park and on to Maun.

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Bulawayo and Victoria Falls

Stopped off in Bulawayo to see the famous colonial club full of mementos from past British royal visits with a huge portrait of Cecil Rhodes in the main sitting room. But at $250 per night for non members we thought we would stay in the van….
Victoria Falls was fantastic, the town a bit of a disappointment with constant tout hassle, but the campsite and the Falls themselves were wonderful. We walked to the Falls for the full ‘in your face’ wet weather experience and were grateful we had our macs.

The Falls are 108m deep and 1.7km wide…dropping one million litres of water a second over the edge so we got very wet from the spray! We went to the truly colonial Victoria Falls Hotel for ‘sundowners’. The following day we spoilt ourselves with a helicopter trip over the falls to get the full perspective. Mind blowing!

We saw some elephants crossing the river just up from the Falls and a host of smaller game in the savannah as we flew over.

The day ended with another ‘sundowner’ watching the game gathering at the waterhole below Victoria Falls Lodge. A tough life!

Waterhole at Victoria Falls Lodge

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Great Zimbabwe

The word Zimbabwe is derived from the Shona words dzimba dza mabwe meaning house of stone…..named of course after Great Zimbabwe! It was originally thought to be a Phoenician city or maybe part of the empire of Sheba or King Solomon…..the basis for this was no more scientific than a belief that Africans couldn’t possibly have built anything so sophisticated.

Well they could and they did, and at its height in the 15th century it housed over 25,000 people. The great enclosure alone has over one million stone bricks and the walls are over 6m thick at the base and 4m thick at the top the whole site is split into 3 parts but defenses to all are a series of concentric paths and narrow passages.

Amazing to think there are hundreds of sites like this in southern Africa.

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Nomatter Macaroni and Bad White*

Beautiful drive south from Kariba to Harare to stay with James and Wendy. When we arrived in Harare the rain started (unknown at this time of year) and we even had a hailstorm, which confused us all. We went to Doon Estate to see some of the best art and artefacts we have seen on the entire trip …with predictable results… We now have two sculptures in the loo and more carvings in our roof box as well as a collection of spears taped to the back door! We went to the central post office to buy stamps and came away with a wedge of inflation era notes.
We then went to Ruwa to see April and Ian who live in the most beautiful house with a “pet” Zebra instead of a lawn mower

and a Jack Russell. James and Wendy then took us north again to stay on their fantastic tobacco farm in Centenary

tobacco seed beds

where we had the most beautiful couple of days exploring the farm on foot and on motorbikes.

They gave us a fascinating insight into farming in Zimbabwe over the last few years and a spectacular evening eating fillet under a full moon. We then spent a wonderful weekend with April and Ian enjoying roaring log fires a hot bath a long walk and a delicious Sunday lunch.
* two of the farm workers names!

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Lusaka and on to Zimbabwe

We spent a few days at Bridge camp on the Luangwa river where we had a fabulous trip down the river on a canoe looking at crocodiles and hippos and of course wonderful bird life

then on to Lusaka where we had the van serviced ( thank you Mercedes Lusaka who didn’t attach the fuel filter properly …..AWA ) not a lot of tourist stuff to do but we went to Kilimanjaro a restaurant selling interesting local curios and a wonderful batik and pottery workshop before heading south to Kariba. Just outside Lusaka we picked up a white Zimbabwean hitchhiker who had come to Lusaka for a job interview and was heading back to Harare sign of the times……We spent a couple of days at Eagles Rest Camp before crossing into Zimbabwe. Despite our GB plates and obvious “Englishness” we couldn’t have had an easier crossing. How nice and what a surprise!
We went to Warthogs Bush Camp again right on the lake shore, whilst we were relaxing a group of 8 elephant decided to walk through the camp and say hello.

They sampled the rubbish in the bins,

tested out the kitchens

and then had a drink from the swimming pool.

“Hey, this is Africa” as the man in the bar said!

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Flatdogs camp

We spent a wonderful 5 days in South Luangwa at Flatdogscamp The camp is on the banks of the Luangwa river and you can watch hippos and crocodiles in the water from the riverside tents. Elephants, and hippo wander through the camp night and day so campers, not in the purpose built and protected tents are advised to use the tree top platforms to camp….

We were very pleased to be in our van where we slept soundly but Lewis in his eyrie hearing elephants in the night looked out to see an elephant trunk pulling leaves off the tree at eye level….he had tied his guy ropes on to some branches so spent the rest of the night worrying what would happen if an elephant pulled the branch off… would the guy rope snap or would the tent come off…..
We did a night drive with Edward and then using the rest of our 24hr entrance pass drove around in the van we saw one other vehicle in the entire day, not helpful when we had our first puncture in the whole trip and had to change the wheel with Lucy on lion watch. Thank you Lewis!
We saw the most wonderful variety of wildlife, fish eagles, Pels fish owl (huge) leopard up a tree with a kill

and on the riverbank as well as elephant,zebra, giraffe countless deer, wharthog, crocs (flatdogs in local parlance) and of course the hippo and thousands of monkeys and baboons. Brilliant.

A bloat of hippos (yes thats the collective noun for the next pub quiz!)

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No diesel in Malawi so on to Zambia

After a lovely few days at Chitimba we decided to press on south keeping to the lake shore, but the first leg was up into the hills reaching Mzuzu before heading back to the coast. No sign of diesel ( which had been in short supply for several weeks) so we turned back to the coast passing through miles of rubber plantations.

The drive was spectacular but long…..and no fuel, so we were pleased to have 50 litres spare on the roof.
We spent the night in Senga bay and then headed for Lilongwe the capital… made the decision as there was still no fuel to go for the border after a couple of days at Mabuya camp with intermittent power caused by the fuel shortage. Tom and Jane who run the camp were wonderful as was the campsite.
The poverty statistics are quite simply horrific even by african measures 40% of the population live on less than US$1 a day and nearly 50% of the population are under 15. Life expectancy is 43.

I am told that cane mice(?) are delicious…
We met Lewis at the bar who was looking for a lift to South Luangwa National Park in Zambia, our next stop, so we gave him a ride to Flatdogs where Edward who had been to school with our sons was based. Bit of a drama just outside Chipata when the gear stick came off in me ‘and……

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A fine road to Malawi!

Bit of an unsettling last few days in Tanzania…4 French cyclists who we met were robbed at gun point, passports money the lot, just outside Dar. They were helped out by Lucio at Mikadi beach, the police didn’t understand that they had been robbed and couldn’t pay the 1000 shilling fee to report the crime or pay transport back to the campsite until they could get more money(!)… the next day another couple at the same campsite were robbed at knife point on the beach all rather disappointing because Tanzania had been terrific until then.
Our trip to Malawi was rather marred by 4 motoring offenses, overtaking a slow moving truck on a straight road with a dotted white centre line ( fine 20,000) doing 63kph in a 50 ( actual speed 40, fine 20,000) doing 53kph in a 50 (believable, fine 43,000 two offenses, speeding and disobeying the road sign ….) and lastly not having reflective tips on the van……( a must have accessory in this part of the world!) Anyway 14,000 miles three revolutions and only 4 “tickets” not too bad.
Apart from that, the drive through southern Tanzania was beautiful

tea plantations, pine forests, miles of Hydrangeas a wonderful night and dinner at
Kisolanza old farm house

the farm has a huge vegetable garden and farm shop so we bought fresh lettuce, sugar snap peas, radishes, free range farm eggs bread and a whole fillet. Could have been at home!
We are now on Lake Malawi

at Chitimba Camp a beautiful beach side haven on the coast of the lake which is the southern most lake in the great rift valley and huge at nearly 30,000 square kilometers ….apparently it holds more species of fish than any other body of fresh water on earth…earlier we drove up the escarpment road to the Mushroom farm, another well recommended local camp site but totally unsuitable for overland vehicles larger than a short wheel base landrover with a roof top tent…. It was without doubt the worst road we have encountered with vertical drops from the mud and rock track plunging thousands of feet to the valley below and no real chance of turning back once you had committed. The views were spectacular but not for those with vertigo.

The ongoing diplomatic spat between Britain and Malawi over comments made by the British High Commissioner who said that Bingu wa Mutharika the President, was becoming “ever more autocratic and intolerant of criticism” after spending £8m on a new presidential jet ……and then advising that we cut our aid budget ( we are Malawi’s largest aid donor). It doesn’t seem to bother the police or border officials thank goodness and we are keeping the union jack on the van for the moment. Anyway, our man was expelled and the Malawi ambassador in London expelled in retaliation… a classic tit for tat.

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Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar

We had a wonderful few days on the coast near Pangani and had a bit of a treat in the Capricorn guest house. We barbecued every night on the beach.

Prawn, crab and steaks. We went out on a dhow for a day with Bruce and Madeleine and did some snorkeling on the reef.

Water was a bit cloudy but a great day in the sunshine.
We then headed south to Dar es Salaam stopping off to see the Livingstone church in Bagamoyo and saw some of the very poignant signs of the slave trade, sadly the woman’s craft center was a bit of a disappointment unless of course you are a fan of assorted concrete heads!
Bruce and Madaleine left us after two very exciting weeks spending the last night in the 5* Movenpick hotel whilst we scuttled off to Mikadie beach campsite!

We arranged a few days without the van in Zanzibar ( leaving it with Lucio at Mikadie Beach along with several large overland trucks) and visited Stonetown we stayed in a backpacker hotel and splurged on Lobster and wine on the beach…. bliss! We had a fascinating full day looking at Spice plantations. clove, vanilla, pepper ( did you know that black, red, white and green pepper all come from the same vine?) turmeric, cardamon, cinnamon ( did you know that the root of cinnamon is the source of camphor?)

Harvesting the cinnamon bark

We saw the site of the old slave market now the Anglican Cathedral Church of Christ with its red flecked marble floor where the whipping post was sighted… its memorial statues

and the “slave pens” and spent hours walking the atmospheric streets.

and markets.

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Lake Natron to the coast

We decided to drive out of the national park at Kleins gate and head off to Lake Natron, the lake itself has no exit so is very alkaline and the whole region is extremely remote.
The first part of the route was through lush tropical forest to the village of Wasso, the “road” was full of people making their way to the village market most of them dressed in their full tribal gear.

After Wasso the road got steadily worse and at one stage we had to wait whist they made it!

We spent a night in a lovely camp site below the perfect cone of Ol Doinyo Lengai which last erupted in 2007.

The waterfall campsite which we were aiming for had long closed but the new one “World View” was spectacular and run by a local Masai family in full tribal attire.

From Lake Natron we were stung for extortionate fees for “local taxes” the Lonely Planet says the area used to be full of bandits robbing travelers, well they are still there but without their Kalashnikovs and now disguised as tax collectors….we soon cut off road and through the desert following our GPS ( note to self, fuel consumption in low ratio in thick sand is very poor!) certainly the most extreme driving of the whole trip and I am truly amazed at what the van can do in “Tonka Toy” mode with all three diffs locked….
Once out of the national park area we took the road south through the Usambara mountains to Lushoto a beautiful hill top town full of German colonial influence the old farmsteads were straight out of Bavaria and the whole experience surreal. We stayed at Irente view campsite, Bruce and Madeleine in the marble floored modern hotel and us in our van. We ate marinated goat, prepared to a secret french recipe by Madelaine and enjoyed the stunning views down the valley from the lookout which had been built for the anticipated rush of tourists by Louis and his Rastafarian brother Emanuel.

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