Leaving luxury, Zimbabwe border hassles, a little bribing, and then into amazing Mana Pools National Park

What can you say.

We left luxury and an amazing staff and stay at the Royal Zambezi Lodge to be faced with yet another boondoggle of red tape, white ledgers, “agents” purporting to represent our truck rental company and a lack of a “police clearance letter” for our vehicle.

When we crossed into Zambia at the Kazungula crossing we were, we thought, prepared for the what was to come for the Zimbabwe crossing. Kazungula was nuts, what could be worse.

We had spoken to several locals in Zambia and were told crossing into Zimbabwe was a snap. To get to the Zimbabwe border you cross at the Chirundu Bridge crossing which crosses the Zambezi River. We were not really surprised at what was to come.

It was the same unorganized chaos. We don’t understand why there isn’t a coherent system. It would be so simple. First, get the departing country customs stamp, in this case Zambia. Second, Zimbabwe customs and visa payment. Then there should be a simple number system. #1, carbon tax forms and payment. #2, Temporary Import Permit. #3, INTERPOL vehicle clearance. #4, I don’t know if there was a number 4, there definitely was entering Zambia but at the end of the process you need your gate exit card. This gets you into the country so it is very important and if you haven’t filled out all of the forms and paid all of the fees you have to figure out what part of the puzzle is missing before you can get your sacred card.

Entering Zimbabwe we didn’t have a police clearance letter. We didn’t have this for Zambia either but it didn’t seem to be a problem however we did have an actual Bushlore rep who hung around the border crossing and did charge for his services but helped us cross into Zambia so maybe he was able to pull some strings with the clearance letter BS.

According to our Zimbabwe “agent” the lack of a police clearance letter was a problem but it wouldn’t be a problem if we paid a 400 kwacha ($40.00 CAD) bribe. So we did. Someone made money, probably our agent but regardless, we got the clearance. I think we got ripped off but it is what it is.

We couldn’t get a dual entry visa for Zimbabwe, single-entry cost $150 US for two. “Reciprocal rules” we were told. Zimbabweans can’t get a dual entry into Canada so why should Canadians get one for Zimbabwe, fair enough.

Road tax, this tax, that tax all added up to $383.00 USD! Jesus!

We eventually made it through and counted our money and had little US dollars left so decided there and then that we would not proceed with our other Zimbabwe plans because (a) it cost too much to re-enter again and especially (b), it was way too much hassle.

Our plan was to leave Mana Pools in Zimbabwe, head back to Zambia and then re-enter Zimbabwe later from Botswana. We were only going to spend two more nights in Zimbabwe, this time in Hwange NP but the logistics, cost and hassle involved made us decide it probably wasn’t worth it.

If you want tourists to come to your country with hard-to-come-by foreign currency, GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER!

We expect hassle and red tape and really enjoy these challenges so maybe this is what makes Africa and many other places unique. Maybe if it was easy and hassle free to cross borders some of the adventure would be lost. Maybe it shouldn’t change. Food for thought.

Walking across the border is simple and hassle free. Driving a vehicle across the border is a whole different story.

Mana pools was fantastic aside from a big mix-up with our campsite reservations care of Bushlore truck rentals and the side company they use to make accommodation and camping reservations. We were supposed have secured sites at Mucheni Camp for 2 nights and Chitake Camp for 2 nights

If you have followed our blog you will know of a previous hassle we encountered on our pit-stop in Mongu before heading to Kafue NP care of the same company who made our Mana reservations so we were a little disappointed once again.

We departed the Royal Zambezi on the 22nd for what turned out to be a much longer than expected journey. The road from the RZL ends up at the junction in Chirundu where you either head south to cross into Zimbabwe or continue to stay Zambia.

Before crossing into Zimbabwe we stopped in Chirundu, Zambia and loaded up on food and beer and wine at the newly opened Shoprite. Loaded up we went back to our truck and organized all of the stuff in order of importance.

Two bags of ice on top the 36 beer in the cooler, two bags of ice that we can fit into the top of the 40 litre fridge, and all of the food we’ll need refrigerated. It all fit perfectly.

With the expensive help and lots of confusion from our “Bushlore agent” we cleared Zimbabwe customs and drove 40 km to the Nyakasikana Gate into Mana Pools NP where we were stopped at the entry gate and asked for our park entry form.

What park entry form we asked? The form that you fill out at the park office just as you leave the customs area at the border she replied. What park office at the border I asked? Maybe that was step #4.

So now we think we have to drive all the way back to the border so I ask if we can fill out the form here, at the park gate like any other park gate in the world?

No you can’t but you can drive another 7 km over the escarpment on the world’s most shitty pot-holed road and get a permit at the park office located just after the cratered, pot-holed road that created a crashed-semi truck cemetery along the road. I kid you not. It was an amazing site and reminded us of the road from Lusaka south to Chirundu where crashed trucks of all sizes littered the steep corners on the hills leading down to Chirundu.

Off we go, driving 5 km/hr behind a tanker truck labeled “ACID”. Great. I could use some acid by this time but we got our form, headed back to the gate and proceeded to drive 35 km on what can only be described as a battlefield excuse for a graded gravel road. An hour plus later we reached the second gate. Once I collected all of my teeth I presented our park permit and then proceeded another 40 kms on what was actually a nice semi-sandy/gravel and generally smooth road.


Time was ticking and we finally reached the main wardens office where we have to check in and get directions to our “new” and unknown site named “New Ndungu Camp #1”.

We were told it was about 8 or 9 kms and then we would see a sign that says “private, no entry”. Ignore the sign and proceed we were told. This will take us to our camp.

It didn’t. It took us to a lodge, quite a nice lodge actually and I proceeded to park and look for someone to give us directions.

There wasn’t a soul around. No one, nobody, no signs of habitation, abandoned. Hmmmm. I walked back to the truck and Joyce says there is someone walking over. Thank gawd.

I speak english, he doesn’t. I show him the park map. Blank stare but lo and behold there was another fellow who showed up and he spoke english. He explained to drive back to the main road and after you pass the hanger (a makeshift building on the right) you will cross a bridge. After ony 50 meters, turn right and you will be at New Ngundu Camp #1, our new and unknown site that we just found out about this morning.

Great, we had already passed the “hanger” and the bridge once in our search. We were close and it was 5:45 pm and the sun was going down. We head back to the main road, turn right, pass the hanger, cross the bridge and drive. 50m, 150m, 500m, no road to turn onto. Now what.

We are getting a little antsy by now to say the least. The sun is going down fast and we have no idea where to go so I suggest committing hari-kari on the spot but Joyce’s calm and relaxed attitude quiets me down.

After wiping the blood off of my scratched arms from Joyce grabbing me and yelling “what are we going to do?”, off in the distance we see a safari truck heading our way. We flag them down and are told we are almost there, just follow them and they will direct us to the road to our site. The sun has set, the beer is cold in the fridge and we made it. To Hell!

It was totally dark when we set up camp. Our headlamps helped and there was firewood stocked beside the brai so I proceeded to light a fire.

Dinner was easy, we were prepared. At the Shoprite in Chirundu we picked up some barbecue chicken so dinner was ready to go. We would heat it up on the brai, maybe open a can of beans or corn and settle in for a nice relaxing evening.

Well, the firewood wasn’t grown for making fires. I wasted several pieces of “Bic” fire starter. All I could get was a smoulder which happened to come in handy because when we looked over at our outside truck lights, set to red light to prevent bug congregations there were 10 billion bugs swarming the lights. Maybe there were only 10,000 but they were incessant. High pitched buzzing surrounded our ears. There was no way to stop them. I used a smouldering branch to try to smoke them out but it seemed like catnip to a high-craving cat!

We could not put any lights on.

Our site was in the bush with only a small view of the river overlooking a a deep embankment. The bugs were driving us nuts so we ate cold chicken, seriously thought of our next moves and went to bed.

We like camping in the wild but we couldn’t find the drop toilet that was supposed to be on site so I tried to dig a pit but the ground was as hard as rock and from what we could tell there was no toilet. We did find the toilet when the sun came up.

We were not happy campers but we did have a good nights sleep although amongst a thousand little bugs that infiltrated our sleeping area.

We awoke the next morning determined to leave this god forsaken place no matter what. The camp site looked nice in the pictures on the park office walls but three pictures does not a true story make!

In the morning we drove back to the warden’s office.

What was supposed to be, as we were told, an 8 or 9 km drive was in fact 20kms. No wonder we couldn’t find our site. After driving about 10 kms the night before we figured we had gone too far so thus the major confusion in finding the site in the first place.

On our way back we saw a sign and pulled into “Old Ndungu Camp #1” to have a look. It was an amazing spot. On our first meeting with the wardens office they mistook us for staying at “New Ndungu #1”. Opps they said and yes we could stay at Old #1 for the whole time. Perfect. Let’s hope that stays the case.

Anyhow, to make a very long story a little shorter we were able to stay at “Old Ndungu Camp #1” for our remaining three nights. It was an amazing site. We felt like we were sitting in a zoo full of animals with daily unannounced elephant visits, hippos grazing nearby in the evenings and lion roars in the distance.

We did a few self drives in the park, primarily to and from the warden’s office, once for a shower and once to confirm we could stay at our site. We saw more animals all day long at our site than on the drives. There was no need to drive. It was all there, right in front of us. Magical!

Every day we had elephants popping in to our camp unannounced. They are incredibly quiet when they walk so they can come up behind you within feet and you wouldn’t know it.

This happened several times. Joyce and I would be gazing over the flats, her or I would look over or behind us and, “elephants”!. We would get up from our seats and watch them as they approached. They would watch us, slowly swaying their trunks, deciding if we were friend or foe. They would get close. Very close. We would walk over to the truck, slowly keeping our eyes on these beautiful pachyderms and ultimately they would decide we weren’t a threat and they would make their merry way down the embankment onto the flats to graze.

We did have one encounter where it was a little more anxious. Six elephants strolled into our camp the second afternoon of our stay. There were a couple of large females, a young calf and three juveniles. We watched them, they watched us when out of the corner of our eyes we spotted two very large males making their way through the bush behind us. Six infront of us, two big ones behind us. Joyce walked to the truck and hopped in. The bulls were at the rear of the truck on the drivers side. My side! I slowly walked towards my door keeping eye contact with the biggest tusker. I opened my door and they slowly turned and continued behind the truck and down onto the flats. Very, very cool!

One other surprise came while I was just finishing up shaving. Checking for any missed whiskers Joyce announces “elephants”. Not more than 10 feet away five of the eight visitors from the day before wandered in. I think they recognized us and they wandered a little closer and then again, made their way down to the flats.

This is what camping in Africa is all about.


I really enjoy cooking on the open fire. Really!

Final sunset at Mana pools.