Travel Journal: Wildlife This Way in Zambia and Popping Across to Victoria Falls

Rainbow Over Victoria Falls

Livingstone and a Trek Across to Victoria Falls 

As a South African there are three certainties in life: death, taxes and a depreciating rand/dollar exchange rate. While there are plenty of activities in and around the Livingstone area including white river rafting, game viewing, interacting with elephants and cheetahs at various sanctuaries, going for a dip in the Devil’s Pool situated above the falls and braving the big bridge bungee jump, none of these activities come in under US$100.00 which when converted to rands is exorbitant. Relaxing at Livingstone Backpackers we could overhear groups of European and American travellers discussing which activities they had lined up for the day and decided that instead of feeling disheartened we would do what any South African would do in these circumstances… we drove to the Royal Livingstone and spent the rest of the day lounging poolside while passing ourselves off as residents where rooms were going for $888.00 a night.

One activity that is certainly not to be missed though is viewing Victoria Falls. With our tent successfully strapped onto a backpack we headed out as foot soldiers and made our way across the bridge, through the border post and into Zimbabwe for the night. The falls are traditionally known as Mosi-oa-Tunya which translated means “smoke that thunders” a name that appropriately describes the rising mists and overwhelming noise emanating from the tumbling water. Given that it was the dry season, we could only imagine what the falls look like after the rains. The viewpoints were often crowded with tourists but much to our amusement many of them (especially the Chinese seemingly intent on proving the stereotype correct) rushed around and glanced briefly at the falls through the lens of their camera before moving on. This left us with ample time to sit quietly and take in our surroundings which were truly spectacular.

Another iconic landmark not to be missed is the Victoria Falls Hotel. Strolling through this beautiful colonial building one is transported back in time and hours can be spent looking at the old photographs of the British Royal family and reading up on the history of the area.

The Long Drive Ahead

Continuing on our travel sabbatical, our next destination in Zambia would be South Luangwa. Unfortunately in order to get there we had two days of driving ahead of us and would have to overnight in Lusaka and the armpit of Zambia, a town called Chipata. Lusaka was in many ways the African city that we had expected it to be but with a few unexpected hidden gems. Walking into a decent looking shopping centre we were hoping to come across a Shoprite but were thrilled to find ourselves gazing up at the entrance to Food Lovers Market. Overcome by the selection of nuts and cheese, perfectly presented fruit and veg and a butchery that blessedly lacked chicken feet and beaks, Gary glanced over at me to find a tear rolling down my cheek. I suppose four months after leaving Cape Town I was homesick and also acutely aware of all the daily comforts and conveniences that we so often take for granted without a second thought which, as silly as it may sound, was represented in this instance by the air conditioned haven of Food Lovers Market. Needless to say, Gary also had to rush me passed Nine West, reminding me that two inch heels had no practical use on an Africa overland trip.

If you are driving this route, we can recommend Pioneer Camp just outside Lusaka. The camp grounds were great and aside from a swimming pool, they also have an outdoor lounge area with satellite TV, allowing Gary and I the chance to get our fix of Supersport blitz and The Great British Bakeoff respectively. Our next night was spent at Mama Rula’s Camp in Chipata. Whether filling the water tanker, refueling, restocking supplies or drawing money, you can expect to have no fewer than ten aggressive hustlers bothering you at any given time. Surrounded by the smell of rubbish and waste, the sight of slaughtered pigs, goats and chickens strapped to the back of bicycles ready for transportation was enough to turn anyone vegetarian for a few days. Despite the fact that Chipata and Mfuwi, a small village located near the park gate are only separated by 130 kilometers, they couldn’t be more different. Residents and private park owners are working together to create social upliftment and development in the South Luangwa area. Education in particular is being targeted and numerous vegetable gardens have been planted and maintained, ensuring that the market is overflowing with delicious produce. Vibrant colours are everywhere in this village, from the the fruit and vegetable stalls to the patterned chitengas worn by the women. Walking around we were greeted warmly by the locals and picked up on a general sense of contentment amongst the community.

South Luangwa National Park and Wildlife Camp

Unless you enjoy parting with large amounts of money, there really is no need to stay at a camp located inside the South Luangwa National Park. Numerous camps are located on the river bank that marks the park boundary and as there are no fences, game are free to roam and are abundant in this area. We had read rave reviews about Wildlife Camp and were not disappointed. If you had told us a few years ago that one day we would be experts on the amenities that a great campsite should offer we would have thought that you were having a laugh, but Wildlife Camp certainly ticked all the boxes for us. We saw more game sitting under the boma at our campsite or cooling off in the pool near the bar than we did when we splashed out and spent a day in the South Luangwa Park. In the early evening a large herd of elephant would come along the river bed and make their way through the camp to a waterhole which also housed a resident hippo. Sitting around the camp fire at night we could hear both lion and leopard in the area but unfortunately (or fortunately) never came across them. We were so content at the camp that we stayed for a week and would end our days lying in our tent and listening to the hippos grunt across the river to each other. While being in such close proximity to game isn’t for everyone, we found it strangely comforting, although we did have a few more thrilling moments. One night we woke up to the sound of breaking bark and munching leaves. Very quietly we sat up, unzipped the tent and found ourselves looking up at the rather voluptuous rump of an elephant. Luckily for us the ellie didn’t maneuver backwards or let loose and the night guard who, out of fear for the Mzungus, had been frantically waving around his torch could relax when the herd moved on.

One of the highlights of our time in South Luangwa actually occurred shortly after arriving at the camp. Checking in at reception we were left somewhat puzzled when we were told by the manager that “some people are looking for you!”. Trying our best to remember if we had done anything to annoy local law enforcement on our drive through the village, we were thrilled to discover that our good friends were staying at the camp. A couple from Joburg who we had last seen at our wedding before embarking on our travel sabbatical. Travelling for a month up to Tanzania in search of the illusive shoebill stork, we were aware that their path may cross with ours but had no way of knowing when exactly due to lost comms in the mix of a stolen cellphone and switched SIM cards. A coincidence such as this deserved a hearty celebration and after a few bottles of Zambia’s finest cheap whisky had been sunk we soon become the inconsiderate and rowdy campers that kept everyone awake and that we had so often complained about. Needless to say, we awoke severely hungover the next morning and were thrilled to find the cure at a restaurant in the village serving the local version of Kentucky Fried Chicken. This lovely couple have travelled extensively through Southern Africa and inspired us to plan our Africa travel sabbatical. You can view their blog at passthemap.com.

The night before leaving South Luangwa and Wildlife Camp we were still unsure of where our next destination would be. Eager to see the northern parts of Zambia, we were faced with the challenge of either having to head a day’s drive back south in order to connect with the main road north bound or attempt the more direct but much feared “05 route”. While we knew that our Jimny would be up to the challenge, the reports covering the conditions of this track did little to calm our nerves as most drivers who had attempted it said that they would not do it again. Another obstacle would be having to pay the park fees again in order to gain access to this route. The other option was to venture into Malawi, a stone’s throw away. With Jimny all packed and ready to go, our fate would be decided for us when on the morning of our departure we could not find our road map of Zambia anywhere. We could have used Tracks4Africa to navigate to the legendary 05 route but decided instead to take this as a sign and made our way to the Malawi border.