We had our Toyota Hilux bush camper for 45 days and in that time logged a total of 7,848 kms, burned 853 +/- litres of diesel and camped 29 days. The roads varied from excellent tar (asphalt) to deep sand to gravel to incredibly pot-holed. Toll roads are common in South Africa and Zambia although it often seemed in Zambia that if a toll was coming up then after the toll the roads would go to shit. It was was quite consistent this way in Zambia and in some towns where the roads all of a sudden became good you had to wonder why. They would only be good for a short distance before and after the town. We often commented that “this town obviously voted for the government in power” and this could very well be the case. The worst pot-holed roads were in Zambia. Calling them roads is probably an insult to all the other roads out there including gravel. They were bad, very bad! Another irritant (there are several that I’ll mention here) was the use of speed bumps combined with the lack of warning signs about the upcoming speed bumps. They came out of nowhere and in many cases there didn’t seem to be a reason for them. We would be travelling at 100km/hr and then bam! A speed bump or several rows of bumps. Often they weren’t too big but you just never knew because sometimes they were big enough to rip off the bottom of your car if you didn’t have at least 6 feet of clearance. A slight exaggeration but not by much. Speed limit signs in Zambia were few and far between so you really didn’t know most of the time what the limit was. And when they were posted it was quite comical because you would hit a speed bump then see a sign to slow to 60 km/hr then proceed over several more bumps then see a sign that would say 100 km/hr and then just as you hit 100 another sign would say 40 and then another speed bump. They love their speed bumps in Zambia. They also love their Police road blocks. We encountered countless road blocks. We were never sure what they were looking for and we would generally say hello, how are you, the Police would say hello, where are you going or where did you come from and we would be on our way. We (I) smashed our passenger side view mirror and at one stop we were asked why is the mirror pushed into it’s closed position? Because it’s broken. He paused and then waved us on. Now, in Zambia if you have any encounter with a tree or whatever and you damage your vehicle you’re supposed to stop at the next Police station and report it. Of course we didn’t know this and the Policeman who asked us about our mirror didn’t tell us so how the heck are you supposed to know I wondered other than studying the countries road rules-and-regulations handbook if one actually exists. When we departed Mana Pools NP in Zimbabwe, where the small sampling of the roads we did indicated to us they were probably on par with Zambian roads, we re-entered Zambia and within kms we hit a road block.
“What’s with the side view mirror” we were asked. It’s broken I replied. Just broke it in Mana Pools. A small white lie. “Did you report it to the Police?” No, I didn’t know I had to report this to the Police and besides, we just came out of the wilds and now we’re heading back to Botswana where they probably don’t give a crap. “Well, there was a Police station in Chirundu where you crossed the border, you should have reported there”. Yes, but I didn’t know I needed to report it. Where I come from you don’t need to report every scratch and dent to the police. It’s none of their god damned business! “Pull over there please and follow me” so I park the truck, cross the road and am led to a police car. A women cop is in the passenger side. She looks at her colleague, he says”broken mirror”, she says did you report it to the police blah, blah, blah. She was the main cop, judge and jury and I was fined 300 Kwacha, the equivalent of about $30 CAD and was told I now have a free pass to use for any further road blocks where they may actually give a damn about our mirror. We didn’t hit another road block for the rest of our journey through and out of Zambia but I have a great souvenir.
Self driving, in our opinion is the best way to see the real Africa, or any country for that matter. Tour groups or overlander trucks don’t take the side roads and stick primarily to the more crowded and popular camp sites, the ones with a pool and communal cooking and washing facilities. They do see some great places but they don’t require a 4×4 so they don’t see some of the many little villages scattered along a sand or grave road. Thatched huts, children and women carrying water or firewood on the heads, goat and cattle herders and the wonderful site of people getting by in their environment with very little. Some of these villages have probably been this way forever. Others were more developed and we were happy to see many primary schools dotted throughout. Not many secondary schools though so education for many is probably to a grade 6 level. Education isn’t free so this creates a challenge for many.
We spent most of our time in Zambia so I’ll continue with the narrative as Zambia was the highlight of our trip.
Tomatoes and potatoes seem to be the crop that is sold along the roads in the villages this time of year. Everyone sells tomatoes or potatoes with a sprinkling of onions and corn/maize. Outside of the towns and villages the sides of the roads are dotted with large bundled and wrapped charcoal fire wood. This has been outlawed in Zimbabwe but is still legal in Zambia which unfortunately is adding to the destruction of their forests. This is the primary source of heat and cooking fuel and we honestly don’t know what the people would use otherwise. The country has a long way to go in solving this dilemma.
The cost of living is low in Zambia, expensive in Botswana and quite reasonable in South Africa and the wages reflect this although we found a disconnect in Botswana. The minimum wage in Zambia is 1,500 kwacha/month, about $150 CAD. Food is cheap as is beer and other sinful indulgences which we’re sure someone on minimum wage does not enjoy. A meal at a restaurant in a small town is about about $4 CAD and can easily be shared by two people. A 340 ml beer is $1, a 750 ml bottle $1.50. The most I paid for a beer was about $3 CAD and this was at the Royal Zambezi Lodge. We’re not sure what the minimum wage is in Botswana which was also the most expensive country on our journey but the security guard at Nata Camp worked 12 hour shifts for 24 days with 4 days off and was paid the equivalent of about $8.40 for a 12 hour shift. He took home after 24 days about $200 CAD!
We met many young people who had dreams of being a doctor or teacher or just wanted the ability to continue their education but the roadblocks (no pun intended) seem insurmountable. The human potential in this small part of a great 55 country strong continent is incredible but, the government corruption to this day is alive and well and has a stranglehold on the people who want and DESERVE a brighter future. The land is blessed with fertile soils, minerals and desire. Technology is making it’s way into the daily lives of the people. Cell phone rates are cheap and there is a whole new cell phone cash transaction industry developing to allow small business and entrepreneurs to sidetrack the bureaucratic red tape that is so embedded into their daily lives. Enough said.
Our truck was fantastic. It handled the deep sand roads/trails beautifully. While in Botswana we met a couple from Britain who lived in Zambia and we told them we were going to Liuwa Plain NP and then on to Kafue NP. First he rightly explained the hassle we would encounter entering Zambia from Botswana via the Kazungula border crossing. He was 100% correct and he then continued to tell us about the horrors we would encounter in what I thought was Kafue NP. Be prepared for your truck to overheat driving in low gear in the sand. The “deep” sand, Have a contingency plan”. We actually thought he was talking about Kafue NP because I mentioned the two places in one sentence so we were extremely apprehensive and after leaving the deep sand of Liuwa we arrived in Kafue. It was a walk in the park. I really don’t understand where people get off giving you horror stories about a place. A simple ” the sand is deep, be prepared” should be all he said. Inside of me I had a deep anxiety about what to expect in Kafue and then it dawned on me he was talking about Liuwa. What a dick!
GPS versus good old maps….
When we last drove through South Africa, Namibia and Botswana we used maps. Actually Google Maps for SA and real live paper maps for Namibia and Botswana. I think we only got lost once in SA. We were told not to rely on GPS as it would probably get you lost and I can attest here and now that “they” were 100% correct. When you use a map you can see the broader picture, where you are in relation to towns, roads, villages etc. A GPS shows you your spot in time with no relationship to your broader perspective. You trust the GPS and you don’t really know if it is giving you a short-cut, a best road option or what. It doesn’t know how you want to get to your destination, only what roads it has in it’s map memory and whether there is a fence or not or whatever. There is a road so therefore it must be traversable.
In cities GPS is generally good but the first day we picked up the truck in Joburg we entered our lodge name and followed the GPS directions. As we neared the general vicinity of our lodge it kept telling us to turn left and we would be at our destination. It wasn’t our destination so finally we used Google Maps and we found our place immediately. These little instances leave a very huge doubt about their accuracy in the back of your mind. We were never 100% confident in our GPS directions so our advice is to carry maps at all times and be prepared for the inevitable. Leave plenty of time to reach your next destination because you really don’t want to be driving at night.
Self driving independently through Africa is a great experience. We promised our granddaughter we would bring her to Africa when she turns 16. Thats 5 years from now but we have a feeling we’ll be back sooner.