More pot-holed pot-holed roads on the way Kafue National Park. But very much worth it!

It’s hard to describe the pot holes on the many roads we’ve encountered so far. It’s not one or two, here and there. It is giant craters scattered across so it is impossible to weave your way around them. You drive one side on the road, the other on the gravel shoulder. You drive a whole new path along the shoulder, sometimes a new makeshift road. You drive no faster than 10 km/hr. IT DRIVES YOU NUTS!

We arrived in Kafue on August 8th to an amazing campsite in a magical location. Our camp site was located on the banks of the Kafue River with a panoramic view across and around the winding river. We spent most of our days sitting and watching. Hippos would congregate on the opposite shore to bathe in the warm sun. Crocodiles would be nearby doing the same and the occasional single or group of elephants would wander down to the river bank for a drink or a snack.

Large and small crocs would drift by in the current and the occasional Bushbuck and of course the pesky monkeys would wander by within feet of our location.

We had originally planned on spending two days at our first stop, Mayukuyuku Bush Camp, and then move on to another camp, McBrides but when we found out how far and long the drive would be to McBrides and even more so how much we loved where we were, we decided to stay four days and stay put. Fortunately our site was available. We were very happy campers. The Camp Attendant, Pizon, was amazing.  He would come by every morning and do our dishes. Yes, do our dishes and in the late afternoon would show up with a wheelbarrow full of wood and start our fire. Every day he offered to do our laundry and on the third day we acquiesced and he returned a few hours later with fresh clean laundry. This was certainly something we have never experienced before and probably never will again. He was always happy and if we said ” thank you”, he said thank you in return. What a guy!

On our arrival we were told of a dead hippo that was stuck in some rocks upstream from the camp. The next day we did a short hike and in the distance we could see, and smell the bloated body of this has been hippo. The next day it broke loose from the rocks and drifted down towards our site and presented us with the most amazing crocodile feeding frenzy you could ever expect to see. True National Geographic stuff.

I’m the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer and loved every minute of burning my fingers and daintily slicing vegies etc. with our serrated knife.

We were told by a couple of South African campers that an elephant had swam across the river and walked straight into their campsite. We were hoping this would happen when we were there and on the 3rd morning at about 5:45am I heard a loud crunch in the bushes beside our truck. I looked out through the screen and saw two large tusks and then a beautiful large elephant pass right beside us. Joyce pulled out her iPhone and caught these two pics before it ambled off into the next camp site and into the bushes. This is what makes memories in Africa!

The hippos in the area were abundant and we happened to look over a grassy area on the banks of the river. Every evening just after dusk the Hippos would become very vocal and slowly make their way to land to feed. We just happened to be overlooking one of the areas where they would pop in for a bite and on our second evening we were treated to several that came ashore and grazed within 20 metres of where we sat watching. On our 3rd night we watched under the almost full moon close to a dozen wander up onto the land but they were just a bit to the side of our viewpoint but watching the dark figures snort and splash as they made landfall under the moonlight was spectacular.

We reluctantly departed Kafue on the August 12th and made our way to a small lodge/campsite just out side of Lusaka. Below is a typical bathroom break scene.

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A “Pit Stop” in Mongu then on to Kafue National Park

The drive from Kalabo to Mongu is about 52 km, if we don’t follow Garmin GPS and Google Maps! We departed Kalabo around 12:30 and arrived in Mongu about one hour later. When we arrived into town we confirmed the name of the lodge we were staying at and then proceeded to try to find directions. We could not find the name of the lodge on any of our electronic guidance systems! We pulled the truck over and checked and re-checked our GPS, Google Maps and Maps.me. The name of the place that was supposedly in Mongu was the Makapayela Lodge.Written beside the name on our itinerary was Ithteke Lodge. I recalled when we picked up our truck we were told the lodge recently changed their name so we searched for Ithteke. Still nothing. We had a phone number on the bottom of our hotel voucher so we called it and spoke with “Max”. Max was and intermediary for Bushlore who we rented our truck from and they had made the accommodation arrangements for us. Max said he would email us directions. We waited and waited so in the mean time we started asking people around us if they knew of the hotel. They all knew the old name, Makapayela and gave us many different directions but all of the directions were not in the town of Mongu where we expected the lodge to be. Long story short, the lodge was 27 km out of town driving on pot holed hell and gravel into the absolute middle of nowhere. When we finally arrived, 2 hours after arriving in Mongu the sign on the entrance said Ithteke Lodge. The sign looked liked it was a hundred years old. Not sure how “recently” they changed their name but certainly not in the last decade! We were the only guests, there was no hot water, they couldn’t fulfill our dinner order and they shut all the power off at 8:00 pm sharp. What a disaster considering our intention and belief was we were to stay in Mongu. We were going to fuel up and get groceries so we could have an early departure to Kafue the next morning. It was not going to happen and it was a very big drag and we won’t speak of the place ever again.

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School girls dancing at a village on the way

Liuwa Plain National Park

“Because Liuwa Plain National Park is so isolated, it remains one of the most pristine safari experiences available in Zambia. It mainly attracts the 4×4 community who come to explore this unspoiled territory and stay at one of the community campsites within the park. Although African Parks assists with bookings and management, the campgrounds are owned and run by the community“.

Above is a quote from Zambia Tourism.

We spent 3 nights in the middle of nowhere at Katoyana Camp in a pristine and way off the beaten track 3,600 sq.km park. There are four community campsites, ours had five camping spots and upon our arrival, any other tourists who had been in the park had departed. We were the only people in the whole park save for a few small villages scattered around the periphery of the park boundary. It was surreal. The very best time to visit the park is in November after the rainy season when the whole area explodes into flowers and green pastures which supports the second largest Wildebeest migration in the world and a massive array of bird life.

We came to Africa of course to see the wildlife but more importantly this time to experience all of the many other wonders on offer and at Liuwa Plain it was the silence and vast open spaces dotted with Zebra and Wildebeest, with Fish Eagles and Crowned Cranes hanging around watery areas and the occasional Secretary Bird bobbing along through the tall plain grasses. In the evenings as the sunset large flocks of Crowned Cranes flew overhead flying back to to their resting places. You could hear the whoosh of their wings and if there wasn’t a breeze it seemed you could feel the wind from their wings. At sunrise the same happened except this time they were flying to their feeding areas, squawking to each other as if to say turn this way, or that way . It was very hot during the day, at one point registering +40 C and the warm wind barely turned to cool in the evening.

There are many Cheetah in the area but unfortunately we didn’t see any but there are also Brown and Spotted Hyena which we had the pleasure of their visits each evening after we went to bed except for our second night when we had a pleasant encounter at around 6:00 pm, just near sunset. Now to be honest, the night before we had we had pork chops cooked on the brai over our open fire. Having a couple of bones left we figured we would throw them into the bush near our site. That night/early morning we heard the visitor and could hear it crunch the bones and rustle around looking for more scraps so we figured it came back earlier the next evening so not to miss out on more goodies. We were sitting near our fire, I was prepping the foil wrapped squash and carrots and beef sausages and out of nowhere, a very large Spotted Hyena appeared at the periphery of our site. He looked us, we at him, Joyce ran to the truck for her camera and my video camera and we proceeded to watch it circle near by with a look of further food scrap anticipation. It eventually wandered into the tall grass near by and waited patiently for us to go to bed. At this point we did what you really shouldn’t do. We had some raw chicken drumsticks that we weren’t confident in eating so we threw them into the bush near by. Sure enough, Scotty the Spotty came over and probably had his/her first feast in quite a while considering there isn’t whole lot of food around at this point in the season. We were happy to hear satisfaction howls after it finished but then I heard beer bottles clanking. I had squashed some beer cans and put them in a bag with a couple of beer bottles and tied up the bag. Never has this been a problem in the past but Scotty must have liked the barley smell so he/she carted it off to the bushes. We heard a little clinking and clanking and had visions of having to pick up the mess scattered throughout the bush but fortunately when we got up at sunrise the bag was intact and just nearby.

When we initially arrived at our camp we met the Camp Attendant, Agray. He and his family and his families before him grew up in the area and he has been working for Zambia Parks at Katoyana Camp for the last 14 years. He is a wonderful intelligent man and must have a certain inner strength and peace as he is stationed at the camp for weeks on end and for many weeks may not have any human contact. The park is very busy in late October and November but otherwise relatively empty so he spends his time in solitude with only a two way radio for communication and a small radio to listen to news and what have you. He has no refrigeration and his only exercise aside from walking around and maintaining the camp site is to use a “stair-climber” type of water pump to maintain the water levels in the solar water tanks and water supply for the toilet and shower in the camp. We had great conversations and we exchanged contact info. We will definitely keep in touch with Agray.

Our departure back to the pontoon ferry to Kalabo was similar to our departure from Kalabo to our campsite. We sort of got lost but after 2 1/2 hours and a bit of backtracking we made it. But the best (or worst) was yet to come.

 

Next stop, Liuwa Plains National Park

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We had a 6-7 hour journey ahead of us so we planned on departing early morning August 4th and eventually hit the road at 8:10 am. Our first stop was the town of Mongu which was pretty well straight north on the M10. Piece of cake. We came to a Y intersection with one sign pointing to the Town of Sioma to the left or the Town of Senanga to the right. I had been looking at a map the night before and seemed to think we needed to head towards Sioma so we took the left route and continued on. Our GPS started to show us alternate routes to Mongu. Having little confidence thus far in our GPS we assumed it was wrong and besides, I didn’t remember having to cross the Zambezi River while on the M10. So after abot 15 minutes we hit a gravel road, end of the tar road. Hmmm, the M10 is supposed to be paved all the way to Mongu. Both Google maps (we had 3G on our phone at this point) and our GPS were telling us to turn left or right on different gravel roads and our maps.me map on my iPhone showed us driving north but on the wrong side of the river. Time to ask for directions and fortunately a short distance ahead of us was a man on a bike. We pulled up beside him and he informed us that we should have taken the right turn at the Y so back we headed. You have to understand here that the highways have very little markings and nowhere does it say M10 or R 319 or whatever so we are not entirely to blame (mostly but not entirely)! Finally after about a 30+ minute delay we were on the M10 to Mongu.

We made good time and arrived in Mongu at about noon. Travel time was supposed to take around 2.5 to 3 hours so we lost about 45 minutes. In Mongu we stopped at the Shoprite and picked up some beer, wine, bananas and ice and while loading the cooler in the parking lot we chatted with the parking lot security guy. Our next stop was Kalabo which is beside Liuwa Plains and he told us to turn left at the roundabout and head straight on the R319 to Kalabo, about a 1 hour drive. Well, our Garmin GPS and Google maps had a totally different suggestion but we continued to drive a short distance but hesitant to go further. Our GPS and Google told us we had a 6 hour drive ahead of us, first in the opposite direction (south) and then a U and then head north and we wouldn’t make the park before closing. How can this be. We asked several people for directions and all concurred we were on the right route. I had read earlier that the road to Kalabo had been recently paved (probably at least a year ago) so off we went and made Kalabo in under an hour. The only reason we think Google and Garmin were so out of whack is they haven’t been updated. If we followed them we wouldn’t have made to the park before closing and would have driven 100’s of unnecessary km’s. Very frustrating and definitely not confidence inducing.

In Kalabo along the Luanginga River we checked into the park office, lowered our tire pressure to about 1.6 Kpa(BAR) approximately 20 p.s.i. and proceed down the sandy banks to load onto the “ferry”. It was actually some wood slats on pontoons and was pulled across the river by ropes. As we approached the other side I saw the sand. Deep sand. Scary sand. As I was picking my route through the sandy abyss a Toyota Landcruiser pulled into my intended path, blocking our escape. When we made land I asked one of the guys on the boat to ask the Landcruiser to maybe back up a bit to let me pass through the route of least resistance but they weren’t going to budge. Joyce was going to video me attacking the sand and then meet me at the top of the bank. No way was I going to stop in the middle of a mini sand dune so she hopped in, I put the truck into 4WDLo and we blasted our way through without a hitch. We were told to keep left so I of course wandered right and after several minutes it was time for directions. There was no phone service so Google Maps had no idea where we were and our GPS couldn’t find our campsite and entering in the camp coordinates was a non starter because our coordinates somehow didn’t match the format on our GPS so, ask for directions. We were told it was a 2.5-3 hour drive to camp about 50 km away, it was just after 2:00 so we figured arrival time no later than 4:45. The roads were very heavy sand but with the reduced tire pressure and driving in 4WDLo the truck and me handled the conditions without too much anxiety until a little further in we still had no idea which route to follow. The park office told us there would be many signs directing us to our destination. Maybe that’s true but on our chosen route there were none, well there were three signs. One said 40 km, one said 25.5 and the last sign was our arrival at camp. There are a myriad of sand paths and rutted sandy roads going off in all directions. There was dense bush and then vast open plains with more forested area many km’s in the distance. After consulting with a friendly old man, a farmer and then several non-English speaking farmer women we were pointed into the direction we needed to go. Following the suggested directions we came across another vast grassy plain. It was 10 km’s wide and we figured we must have travelled 25.5 km’s since the last sign so there was no way our camp was across that plain and in the forested area in the distance. The sun was getting low so we backtracked and confirmed that our camp was indeed across the plain. Highly unlikely in our opinion so we both decided that if the sun went down and we still hadn’t found our camp we would stop in our tracks situated amongst roaming Wildebeast, set up came and continue our search in the morning. As it turned out, we crossed the plain at the curve in the road was a sign, our sign, we made it. We set up camp, cracked a beer and proceeded to get invaded by flying biting annoying little bug bastards until the sun set.

It must be said that Maps.me, an open source free map service that uses the GPS chip in your phone showed us exactly the direction to our camp and while we crossed the last plain, it pointed to exactly where we needed to go. This map was suggested to me by the truck rental company we’ll be using in Madagascar. It seems to be the only trustworthy GPS guidance we’ve used so far.

A pot-holed journey to Sioma Ngwezi National Park

We arrived at Sioma Campsite on August 2nd after about 420 km of travel of which 100+ km was described as a “not a very good road” in our research. It was not a “not very good road” but a “very not very good road”! It was a bit of an adventure and the video clop below gives a good example of what we endured for probably close to two hours of driving. We passed through many rural villages but all had Ministry if education schools and health clinics so positive development is obviously happening in Zambia. The road eventually became a nice paved surface and the remainder of our drive was pleasant but surreal as the road was newly paved with bright centre and shoulder lines freshly painted and yet the villages we passed were still traditional grass thatched huts with reed bunch windbreakers and cattle corrals. We stopped into the town of Sesheke on route and picked up some ice for our cooler and noticed several Halal meat signs on the meat shops. There were also some shop names with the word “Israel” so we assume this village may has a Jewish and Muslin influence. More research needs to be done to confirm this. Once we picked up our ice we proceeded a little further down the road and I thought one of my tires might be a little low so we stopped into “Busy Auto Repair” to check it out. I got out of the truck and met a nice young man and I asked if he could check my tire pressure and he pointed to his sign and said “can’t you read, I’m busy”! Ha ha, I had to throw that in there. Our tires were fine. Bad joke.

Our campsite at Sioma was actually quite beautiful. We overlooked the Zambezi River and would occasionally see fisherman paddling out into the lazy current. Although the road signs on the highway near us warned of elephant crossings unfortunately there were no elephants and worse, no hippos in the waters we overlooked. To add to the slight disappointment, the actual park was several km away and there really wasn’t much to see. Sioma camp has a great website but I think it might be several years old. They advertise first and foremost “cold beer”. They had 6 beers in a freezer. They advertise fishing expeditions. When I asked the Manager or whoever he was about fishing he said his hooks were all ruined. What about the boat I asked? No boat. Maybe this place was happening years ago but as I write this we are the only people staying here and I couldn’t even find anyone around to pay for our firewood. Kinda sad and now we know this is a place to either avoid or at best use for a one night pit stop on the way to Luiwa Plains NP or Mongu enroute to Kafue National Park.

It is 10:00 pm as I write this and rather than listening to the sounds of nature we are surrounded by barking dogs in the distance and far off highway noise. Our next destination, Luiwa Plains is pristine so we are really looking forward to 3 nights of a true untouched non commercialized bush camping experience.

Thirteen days since our last and first post from Johannesburg

We’re in Zambia now and in hindsight knowing that cell coverage and WiFi availability would be sketchy we should have provided a little route information in our first post but when you are sitting outside in Johannesburg and the wind is howling and its close to freezing and the internet is slow we tend to keep things short so we’ll start at the beginning…

After a total of 29 hours of travel, 23 hours flying, we arrived in Johannesburg and were met by a nice fellow named Resistance who proceeded to take us to our accommodation. We spent our first three nights at a great lodge, Safari Club SA located near OR Tambo airport. We were warmly greeted by the hotel owners, Jose(sp?) and Alastair MacDougall. The lodge is set in a beautifully manicured setting with a nice welcoming sitting area and restaurant and a separate indoor-outdoor bar. Our room was cozy with a comfortable bed and spacious bathroom. Over the next three days we enjoyed excellent breakfasts and dinners but more importantly we shared great conversation with Jose and Alastair. They are a lovely couple who put their hearts and souls into their business. We highly recommend Safari Club SA and we are looking forward to stopping in for a visit when we return to Joberg in early September.

To date we’ve covered just under 2,000 km and have so far camped in the bush for 6 nights in 3 locations, stayed at a nice little lodge just outside of Francistown for one night, camped 2 nights in a so-so campsite in the North Eastern District of Botswana near the Nata Bird Sanctuary and Sowa Pan and spent 2 nights in a beautiful bungalow at Wildtrack Safaris-Eco Lodge situated in the centre of the the newly formed Kavango-Zambezi Trans frontier Conservation Area (the largest of its kind in the world). Departing Wildtrack on the 31st we made our way to the Kazangula border crossing where after 2 hours of the most bizarre red tape infested customs process we crossed the Zambezi river from Botswana to Zambia and made our way to Livingstone for 2 nights where we regrouped, picked up a SIM card and loaded up on groceries for our next leg through the wilds of Zambia.

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July 20 to 22, Blouberg Nature Reserve

We started off heading north east towards the borders of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana driving approximately 430 km and stayed at Blouberg Nature Reserve in the lowveld of Limpopo Province where we had a nice campsite located in a very dry and dusty bushveld. Blouberg Nature Reserve harbours the biggest breeding colony of Cape Vultures in the world and hosts more than 1000 breeding pairs. Getting to the reserve was a little bit of a challenge as our GPS told us upon turning right to leave our vehicle and walk to our destination. Walk?  We’re in the middle of nowhere. This was nothing new for us and we have had a very hard time feeling confident using the GPS. In Joberg we had to resort to Google maps to find our hotel after picking up our truck, we were told to turn left when we left Mapungubwe when we new for a fact we had to turn right, we were told to turn left into a farmers field when we were looking for Woodlands and were told to turn left or right or straight or some other bloody thing several other times. When we last visited Africa we used maps. We were told GPS can get you lost. Well whoever told us that was right so now we travel praying to the powers that be that we are in fact going in the right direction and not towards Antarctica or Bolivia or some other place that is not remotely close to where we want to go.

July 22 to 24, Mapungubwe National Park, Mazhou Campsite

Continuing about 150 km north our next stop was Mapungubwe National Park. The park is in South Africa and is located near and on the Limpopo River and the borders of Botswana and Zimbabwe. The park is split in half, the Eastern and Western sections separated by farm lands. The campsite is partially fenced primarily to keep out elephants but monkeys, baboons and enyala roam freely around the site. The enyala are small to mid-sized and are very similar to a white-tailed deer. They are habituated and would literally walk up to you and sniff and lick your hands with the expectation of food. This is great but unfortunately they have become this way because without a doubt, people feed them. Not a good thing. Every evening at sunset two Bush Babies would leap effortlessly through the trees surrounding our site. Quite amazing the distance they can leap and they do so without any sound what so ever. We didn’t get any pictures of them but we did a little further along in our travels. Before we arrived at our camp we picked up groceries at a Choppies grocery store. Near the check out they had a CFC stand, Choppies Fried Chicken. It looked great so we figured we would be lazy our first night at the campsite and we were very happy we did this as the 4 bundles of firewood we purchased at the park gate might as well have been wet noodles. It was impossible to start a fire, more like a smudge so our CFC chicken came in very handy that evening.

July 24 to 26, Tuli Wilderness, Tuli Block Botswana, Molema Campsite

About 65 km from Mapungubwe we passed through the Pont Drift Border crossing to the Tuli block in Botswana where Molema Camp offered an unfenced wild experience although to our surprise and delight, all 5 sites had a little toilet, open air shower and dish washing station complete with hot water. Rustic but a luxury for sure because elephant, lion and leopard can frequently stop by for a visit so walking to the ablution block (toilets) in the pitch black with only a headlamp or flashlight can can kind of raise the hair on the back of your neck a little. Camping near us were two German couples who we shared a morning game drive with but it was the evening before that the excitement  really kicked in. It was dark and I was in the process of searing/charring our Peri Peri chicken. The evening was quiet and relaxed when all of a sudden, four bright headlamps were pointing our way and quickly making their way towards us.  Through the darkness the Germans were running towards us, pots full of rice and chili con carne in hand. Elephants! Elephants have invaded our campsite! We had no choice but to run! The minutes turned into about an hour so we offered them some bowls and utensils and we  proceeded to chow down all the while keeping our lights and my super duper 1000 lumen flashlight pointed towards their camp. As the ruckus at their campsite settled down all of a sudden we heard noises behind and to the side of our site. Oh oh, more elephants! We all stood and watched and shone our lights waiting in anticipation for the next invasion. Fortunately or not (it all depends if you like this kind of action or not, we do) they beasts dispersed and we were able to wish our visitors a good night. Joyce and I sat looking at the incredible night sky listening for any further visitors but none arrived so off to bed we went hoping we would have another encounter tomorrow but alas, it was not to be.

July 26 to 27, Francistown, Woodlands Stopover Lodge

Located just outside of Francistown and about 170 km from the Tuli the Woodlands was a bit of a surprise. We were expecting a lodge complete with a little restaurant and maybe a bar with good WiFi so we could upload some pics and and get the blog updated. Well, this wasn’t really a “lodge”, just a reception office that sold some frozen lasagne and soups and bread and stuff and beer(yes!) and red wine or sparkling white. Our lodging was surprisingly beautiful with a comfortable bed, a microwave for heating our frozen lasagna and a nice bathroom with rain shower and lots of hot water. Joyce was in heaven as she could wash and dry her hair and rid her body of the dust and grime that had accumulated. There were two rooms side by side and as we were unwinding with a cool drink and doing some tech catch-up, our neighbours arrived.

Christian and Nishi (sp?) are a wonderful couple from Norway who have taken a year off to travel. We immediately hit it off and spent the remaining afternoon and evening chatting about whatever subject came to mind. Nishi suggested we share dinner with them so while she cooked up a dish of rice and eggplant spiced with chilies we nuked our lasagna and we sat down and shared our dinners, sipped our drinks into the wee hours of the night. Well, actually until around 9:00 pm which seems to be bedtime for most of us older travellers.

July 27 to 29, Nata Lodge Campsite

Located just off the main A3 highway approximately 170 km north west of Francistown, the lodge offers bungalows, permanent tent sites and a very sandy and confusing campsite. There are too many lights around the sites so we had to keep most of our screens zipped up and we were located near a dish washing station which also acted as a security guard station. It was a little bothersome having a guy sitting at the station constantly looking over at us. To add to that his buddies would show up in the evening and they would chat and shoot the breeze while we were hoping for a little privacy.

We spent 2 nights here but this would have been a better place to just break up the journey and spend one night. The site is located near the Nata Bird Sanctuary which sits on the edge of Sowa Pan. In the wet season thousands of Flamingo gather and a very large variety of bird life can be viewed. Being we’re in the dry season now there is really nothing much to see so we spent the day dealing with slow internet and low on supplies we had a nice chicken schnitzel dinner at the lodge.

 

July 29 to 31, Wildtrack Safaris-Eco Lodge

Continuing a further 220 km north we spent 2 nights at Wildtrack Safaris-Eco Lodge. As mentioned, the lodge is centred in the newly formed Kavango-Zambezi Trans frontier Conservation Area. This area forms a continuous corridor connecting Chobe National park and the Sibuyu Forest area of Botswana with Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe allowing the free movement of wildlife throughout the areas. The main lodge is spectacular and incorporates a large beamed thatched roof and hosts an amazing collection of African art. Our bungalow was thatched roofed with a huge bed, a giant soaker tub in the bathroom and an outdoor shower open to the incredible nighttime Botswana sky. The staff were exceptional and the food (much of it traditional Botswanian fare) was delicious. The lodge offers morning and late afternoon game drives of which we did one afternoon drive. There were some recent brush fires in the area so the wildlife was limited but we did see plenty of elephant, giraffe, Sable, Kudu and other game. All in all a very nice stop if you are heading south or north. Kudos to Johnathon and Jacques for the obvious effort they have put into managing the lodge with guest comfort and enjoyment top of mind.

July 31 to August 2, Kazangula border crossing, Livingstone, Zambia

After being treated at our departure to several local African songs sung by the staff of Wildtrack we continued a further 170 km to Livingstone, Zambia. It is about a 70 km drive to the Kazangula border crossing where you cross the Zambezi River to either Zambia or Zimbabwe. The customs process at this crossing has got to be the most inefficient, time consuming process in the world. Clearing Botswana immigration was a snap. A simple departure form, a stamp and you are on your way to the car ferry (one truck, two pickups capacity). You drive on to the ferry, pay 200 Pula and you cross the river and you drive off to the point of no return, the Zambian side of the river and the awaiting quagmire of trucks, dust, fumes and “Agents” swarming to offer their services for the customs chaos that awaits! After 2 hours of filling in ledgers asking for engine serial numbers, chassis serial numbers, make, model, colour, engine size, registration information, police clearance papers (we didn’t have these), passport info, for the toll fee then repeating the same process for Interpol, and then the same process for the road tax you then proceed to pay the associated fees at several different offices. Total insanity. When we last crossed this border it was by foot so the process was simple.

Below is the first step of many more!

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Next time wear gloves!

Sayulita, No voy alli! ( not going there)

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So I was sitting at a little bar in old town Vallarta and overheard an older couple (probably our age) talking about how 5 of their friends became violently ill after swimming at the main beach in Sayulita. Apparently the sewage treatment plant for the area is overwhelmed and frequently overflows into the river that cuts through the middle of main beach and flows into the sea. Upon further research and hearing another similar story it seems Sayulita is in essence a bit of a cess pool. The area smells like poop, is overcrowded and apparently there is a lot of garbage left un-picked-up all over the place. We dug further and found a blog post from a month ago and although it tried to paint some lipstick on the town, the writer still could not deny the sad state of sanitary affairs that currently exists. Sadly for now sewage flows freely down the river and into the heart of Sayulita.

Our travel motto has always been to go with the flow however to this kind of flow we say no so decided it was back to Yelapa we go!

We booked another 7 nights at Hotel Lagunita and this time we were able to snag bungalow #6. It’s on the beach right in the corner of the beach and the bay and has a great little patio.

April 5th we bid the gals farewell after a great 12 days and hopped a very bumpy water taxi ride under high winds and cloudy skies to Yelapa, checked into our bungalow and immediately began to regret our choice. Without going into detail the deal breaker was the washroom/ shower area. The size of a coat closet, no place to put even a cup by the sink (the cup holder was either for a cup or for a bar of soap for the shower) and the slatted walls were missing a lot of slats making it less than private.

It never hurts to ask so we went back to the office, explained the situation and asked if bungalow #29 was available, the last one we stayed in a few weeks back. It was and was less money per night. Bonus! But the good luck was soon to wear off.

After a nap and a shower I headed over to the bar and soon learned there could be up 100 people arriving the next day (Saturday) for a two day music fest called “The night of the iguana”. Great, another bonus.

As it turns out, about 48 people trickled in on Saturday and Sunday. The music started several hours behind schedule and the first two acts were essentially karaoke. As Joyce and I sat sipping Pacifico cerveza we were approached by a tall lanky flunky with a clipboard and were told if we wanted to continue to listen to the quality entertainment in store for us for the rest of the weekend we would need to pay 500 pesos each. We said no, we’re not paying anything, we’re guests at the hotel and besides we didn’t even know about this until yesterday. Well, you should have been informed by management that this is a private ticket holder only function and you would need to pay if you want to stay on the hotel grounds for the rest of the weekend. Nope, we’ll make a couple hundred peso donation if we like what we hear, otherwise forget it. Off he huffed.

Apparently the 500 peso ticket also included a fajita dinner which the kitchen prepared during the day. As the large crowd of about 20 people slowly served themselves fajitas we decided we were hungry so decided to order chicken enchiladas from the kitchen because we didn’t want fajitas and we didn’t buy tickets etc. etc. so we ask to order our food to which the reply was, the kitchen is closed. Closed? So what do we eat? It’s pitch black outside the perimeter of the restaurant and nothing else is open. I don’t know but the kitchen can’t make anything.

Tee-up the “time to get upset and demand to see the manager” routine. The manager we dealt with,”Lucas”, was an inebriated idiot and through some mis-communication which was quite rampant at that point, we learned the next evening, which was also full of fun and surprises, he was actually the hotel owner. He proceeded to tell us he had blocked off all of the bungalows for this weekend 1 1/2 months earlier and somehow we got a room and somehow this is all our fault but, for 200 pesos each you can imbibe in this delectable spread of fajitas! We don’t want fajitas, we want to split a chicken enchilada dinner, enough for two and only 120 pesos you blathering SOB! I have nothing else to say to you. Everyone who worked there watched with distant care or amusement until the head waiter snuck over and made things right. Almost. I guess the kitchen has previously prepared enchiladas in the fridge. Pop them on a plate, cover in sauce and cheese, add some black beans and rice also stored in the fridge, put in oven for one minute, just long enough to make the plate hot and presto. Once the plate came the second time, the waiter made a point of showing us how how his fingers were blistering from the holding the plate for 15 seconds so now we know it is hot! Nope. I don’t mind lukewarm, Joyce, not so much.

As mentioned above, as all of this was going on the first two acts were solo “artists” singing along to canned music. It was surreal and we felt badly treated so we headed back to our bungalow with a bucket of Tecate cerveza on ice, sat outside looking out over the darkness, water and village lights and discussed whether or not to blow this popsicle stand tomorrow and go somewhere else.

We stayed and in the late afternoon we sat at the farthest end of the bar away from the action and then headed of to Manquidos, a great restaurant about 1km up the path along the river. It was Sunday and they would normally be open for dinner but not tonight. They were out of most of their menu offerings. Damn but no problem, surely our restaurant will be open to us tonight. Come on! What do you mean not open? Okay, that’s it, where is the Manager, blah, blah, Lucas, blah. We ordered two hamburgers, had two beer each and and to our surprise the bill was on the house. A good first step.

There was no good second step even though we saw the owner creeping around every now and then but Anna, Angel and unfortunately two other forgotten names tended to look after us a little more attentively for the rest of our stay.

We departed Yelapa on April 12th and spent 3 more nights in PV before heading home on the 15th, nicely tanned, relaxed and looking forward to some of our favourite non-Mexican foods.  We’re home for exactly 3 months and then head out July 15th for another African adventure. Stay tuned.

Bucerias and PV

We arrived in Bucerias on the 24th after a very quick ride courtesy of a kamikaze taxi driver who ultimately overcharged us. A nice term for ripped us off. We never seem to learn. We could write a book on the “dos and don’ts” when travelling but god forbid we would follow our own advice!

We then met up with Kristina and Lucy at the Royal Decameron Resort which we had booked for 7 nights. The days have really flew by.

The days were like vacation days are supposed to be. Breakfast, lather up the SPF then hit the beach by 10:00 am, lunch at around 1:30, a little R&R and technology time, shower, meet at the beach bar around 5:00 pm, drink, head to the next beach bar at 6:00 (the first one closed at 6:00), drink a little more and then head out for dinner. We did actually walk into town one day and it was stifling hot away from the beach and semi-hurricane force wind at the beach but refreshing save for the intermittent sandblast.

When Joyce and I first arrived we were early and our rooms weren’t ready but we were assigned rooms in the furthest building from the water, There was a nice pool but no sea breeze and it was hot. So asking nicely to change our rooms were treated nicely and rewarded with rooms Steps from the beach on the 2nd floor in Bock #4 with a pool and ocean view and what we thought was probably the best location out of the whole complex.

The food was good, the sun was hot, the beach was nice and the waves kept Lucy (and me) busy.

Next stop was Puerto Vallarta for 5 days where we went back to the San Marino Hotel where Joyce and I stayed a couple of weeks earlier. It’s a 3ish star affordable all inclusive popular with Mexicans right on the beach right at Los Muertos Pier and in the heart of Old Vallarta, Zona Romantica. We snagged two ocean front renovated rooms on the 7th and 8th floors and proceeded to do what you do at the beach. The food was not bad. Less selection than a popular resort but fresh and varied. Kristina said she would definitely go back and we would also but don’t go with a 5 star expectation. It’s relatively small but nice and you mix in with the locals, especially on a Sunday at the beach and it is close to everything.

We looked into booking a snorkelling trip in Bucerias but didn’t trust the huckster trying to sell us time share BS on the side so we waited until PV to organize it and we ended up with a private boat for the four of us and headed out to Las Arcos for some so-so visibility amongst a fairly large group of tortilla fish feeding foreigners floating amongst several boats all jockeying for position around the buoyed-off snorkelling area but this is what you have to expect in a heavily touristed area. It was still great and we saw fish and travelled the shoreline on our way there and were able to get a really good perspective of the beaches and small resort areas lining the coast.

All good things must come to an end and so we bade the ladies farewell April 5th and headed to our next destination…..