Leaving Livingstone today and on our way to Sioma Ngwezi National Park
Adventure travel with a little pampering in between
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 and all had Ministry of 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 have 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 on pressure 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. 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.
The actual park was several km away from our site and the main attraction in the park is waterfalls that were supposed to be second in size to Victoria Falls. We knew from previous experience the low water levels this time of year are very low so we decided to skip the park.
Sioma camp has a great website but I think it might be several years old. They advertised first and foremost “cold beer”. The sign on the entrance from the highway even advertised this. It made you thirsty and looking forward to a cold one once you set up camp.
They had 6 beers in a freezer and the bar area was decrepit.
They advertised 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 he replied.
Maybe this place was happening years ago. It looked liked it could have been a cool place, 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.
There is a communal bathroom and showers and they are nice. There is also a small kitchen spot on the grounds with gas to do some cooking but overall, still kind of sad.
We think this is a place to 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.
“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”. Zambia Tourism.
We spent 3 nights in the middle of nowhere in a pristine and way off the beaten track 3,600 sq.km park.
There are four community campsites in the park.
Our camp, Kotayana Camp, had five camping spots with a clean ablution block with hot and cold running water and rustic but clean showers.
By the time we arrived at the park 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 along with 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 over our campsite flying back to to their resting places. As they approached 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.
It was very hot during the day, at one point registering +40 C and the warm wind barely turned to cool in the evening.
At sunrise the same happened except this time they were flying to their feeding areas and they were noisier, squawking to each other as if to say turn this way, or that way.
There are many Cheetah in the area but unfortunately we didn’t see any however there are also Brown and Spotted Hyena which paid us a visit 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.
For dinner the night before our 6:00 pm encounter we had pork chops cooked on the brai over our open fire. Having a couple of bones left we thought about throwing them into the bush near our site.
Now to be honest you really aren’t supposed to do this. Regardless of whether the park is empty of tourists it is a no-no to feed the wildlife, in this is case and anywhere else in the world.
We threw the bones into bush near our campsite. Our bad.
That night/early morning we heard a visitor and could hear it crunch the bones and rustle around looking for more scraps so when it came back earlier the next evening we figured it was intent 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 the tee lined periphery of our site a very large Spotted Hyena appeared.
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.
Before going to bed we again 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, late in the evening we heard Scotty the Spotty came over and probably have his/her first feast in quite a while considering there isn’t whole lot of food around in the park at this time in the season.
We were happy to hear satisfaction squeals 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.
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 refrigerator and his exercise consists of walking around and maintaining the camp site and using a “stair-climber” type of water pump to maintain the water levels in the solar heated water tanks and water supply for the toilet and shower. We had great conversations and we exchanged contact info. We will definitely keep in touch with Agray.
The drive from Kalabo to Mongu is about 52 km, if we don’t follow Garmin GPS and Google Maps!
After our ferry crossing from Liuwa Plains NP to Kalabo it was around 12:30 and we expected to arrive in Mongu about one hour later. When we arrived into town we checked our itinerary information and confirmed the name of the lodge we were staying at and then proceeded to try to find directions using all three of our map apps.
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 our place that was supposedly in Mongu was the Makapayela Lodge. Written beside the name on our itinerary (my hand writing) was Ithteke Lodge.
I recalled when we picked up our truck we were told the lodge had 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 a guy with an intermediary travel company used by Bushlore, the company we rented our truck from. We didn’t know this and it was Max’s company that made the Mongu 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. It seemed it would be much further away.
The lodge was 27 km out of town on terrible sand and gravel roads and would require a 180 degree turn around drive back to Mongu the next day. The road was potholed hell and seemed to be taking us into the absolute middle of nowhere.
When we finally arrived, 2 hours after arriving in Mongu, we were greeted with a sign on the entrance that said “Ithteke Lodge”. The sign looked liked it was a hundred years old. We’re not sure how “recently” they changed their name but certainly not in the last decade!
The lodge had a nice layout but was looking run down. It was located on a lake with a small beach in front and was apparently a weekend party place. The rooms seemed nice.
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 we thought we were staying in Mongu and our plan was to fuel up and get groceries in the afternoon so we could have an early departure to Kafue the next morning.
It was not going to happen.
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 all lanes and shoulders 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. Mayukuyuku Bush Camp.
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.
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 really haven’t 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 and rapids 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.
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 departed Kafue NP on August 12th and camped overnight at Pioneer Lodge, just outside of Lusaka, about a 6 hour drive. The next morning we loaded up on groceries and headed out along the Great Eastern Road to Peatuke, a small town about 4 hours drive from South Luangwa National Park. As we checked in to get our campsite another couple from Germany arrived. They had pulled up in a fully decked Land Rover and were dressed the part. Safari pants and shirts, Crocodile Dundee hats and…they both wore a knife sheath and knife on their left waist. Very cool. Not! Now, no offence to the German population but cultural appropriation which they absolutely love didn’t even fit here. Joyce and I spent the rest of the evening wondering what the hell the knives were for. They did mention to us that they were going to take the off -road route to South Luangwa so maybe they were going to skin a few Impala on the way to add to their fridge and maybe make some Impala schnitzel to roast over their open fire. Who knows. It was strange.
We opted to have dinner in the lodge restaurant. The menu was varied and exciting (again not) with ultimately only three choices. We wanted a burger, they only had curried chicken, 1/4 roasted chicken or stir fried chicken or something. We split a very salted stir fry.
We departed early the next morning for a 4 1/2 hour drive to Croc Valley Camp, located on the Luangwa River on the opposite side of South Luangwa NP. We’ve become used to camping in very private surroundings. Croc Valley wasn’t what we were used to. Our site was nice in that it was on the banks of the river but there was no privacy. There were two large groups within spitting distance on either side of us. South Luangwa NP is a popular place so we really can’t complain about the crowds. We are a little spoiled considering where we have camped so far however the view from our site was excellent save for the effing monkeys who will steal the shirt off of your back if you’re not paying attention.
We arrived early afternoon, set up camp and relaxed for the remainder of the day. I lit the fire and cooked chicken paprika over the flames with a nice side of scalloped potatoes and carrots with butter. We decided to pay for a morning safari drive so we hit the sack early and arose at 4:45 am the next morning so we would have time for two cups of coffee, instant oatmeal with banana and a small yogurt before our 6:30 am departure. There were only four of us in the truck, perfect for a 4 hour drive. Zambia has been suffering through drought so the area seemed to be particularly drier than our last visit in 2017. There was less game and after a couple of hours we began to think this drive was waste of time and money but there were still good photo ops for the scenery and animals.
Fortunately another safari vehicle pulled up beside us and told us a pride of lions had been spotted about a km away so we proceeded to race to the scene where we were greeted by a beautiful male lion, three females and four cubs. They had just settled down for a nap so we were able to get up close for some good photos. They obviously had a recent kill as their stomachs were bloated, especially one of the cubs who laid on his side panting heavily as he snoozed and digested his recent gorging.
On the 16th we departed an overcrowded and no-privacy Coc Valley Camp and proceeded to the northern sector of South Luangwa to Zikomo Camp.
We departed Croc Valley on the 16th and left the crowds and rowdy monkeys behind for the peace and tranquility of Zikomo Camp located on the bank of the Luangwa River opposite of South Luangwa NP.
As has happened a few times so far, when we arrived in the early afternoon we found we had the whole camp to ourselves, at least for the first night anyway, so we had the choice of about 8 sites.
The camp was situated a little distance from the Luangwa River but the Puku, Baboons, Elephants and Hippos were plentiful and we had an almost panoramic view of the flatlands and dried ravines that made up the flood plain landscape.
We settled in, set up our site and relaxed and a few hours later I lit a fire to prepare the brai to cook another gastronomical gourmet delight of bbq sausage with foil wrapped snap peas, green beans and squash with butter.
It was dark when we finished eating and as we relaxed beside our fire the Lodge safari truck drove by on the flats with their spotlight arcing left and right over the dry terrain when suddenly they came to a stop not far from our site. They paused for a few minutes and then continued on back to the lodge.
Joyce and I commented that if it was a lion or lions that they spotted then they probably would have stayed at that spot longer and thought it would be great if they came over to our site to let us know lions were in the area.
Well probably 10 minutes later truck lights approach our camp along the campsite access road. A Safari truck pulls up and four men get out. Two are wearing their guide outfits and the other are lodge employees.
We were sitting beside the fire and when they pulled up we told them they were too late for dinner.
They proceeded to tell us there was a male and two female lions right in our vicinity so we grabbed our light and walked about 15 metres to the banks of our site, shone our light and there sat a beautiful large male lion about 25 metres away.
They then told us the females were probably right behind or near us in the bush so best to keep our eyes open. They then proceeded to their truck and off they went, the truck lights fading into the distance allowing the dark to envelope us once again save for our camp fire.
It was very dark outside and the area was littered with dry leaves from the enormous shade trees dotted throughout the camp site. Any whiff of wind would move the leaves and make it impossible to know if it was the wind or lion disturbing the leaves.
We sat near the fire and listened. We were a bit apprehensive. Then……a loud roar followed by guttural grunting. And very close by.
This lion is really close and there are apparently two more near by as well.
Our site was such that you either face towards an area where the banks extend to the flat lands or, you face looking towards bush to the front and left and right of us. We faced the the larger area of view but behind us was the blind spot.
We sat scanning the area with our high-powered flashlight, hair on the backs of our necks bristling, feeling something must be sneaking up behind us. Sitting back-to-back would be the best way to look out for attacks!
It was getting late, around 8:00 pm (ha ha) so we figured it was probably time to go to bed. As we drew our sleeping bags over us another guttural roar but this time further away. They had moved on. That was an exciting evening!
The next day and evening were uneventful but we did have hippos in the evening feeding very close to our site and on the morning of our departure on the 18th had a great close encounter from a visiting elephant.
We departed Zikomo Camp on the 18th and had to back-track at least 600+ kms to get to just outside of Lower Zambezi National Park.
We originally planned on stopping back in Petauke where we pit-stopped on the way to South Luangwa NP but after leaving fairly early and making very good time to Petauke, it was 1:00 pm and there was nothing to do in Petauke, we decided to just keep going and stop at Pioneer Camp outside of Lusaka, a previous stop on our way to South Luangwa. We arrived just at sunset, about a 9 hour drive but worth it because if we stopped in Petauke we don’t know how long our drive would have been the next day to get to the Royal Zambezi, probably about 11 hours.
Departing at around 8:30 am on the 19th we arrived at the Royal Zambezi Lodge at around 2:00 pm. Finally a little pampering for three days!
Our second surprise came the next evening. Again we were having our sundowners at the bar and had realized we hadn’t put in our dinner meal request. Hoping we weren’t too late we asked if we could see the menu. No we were told, grab your drinks and follow us to the safari truck. A little late for a safari but we followed and were met by Vincent who had been our exclusive safari driver for the two drives we had done. We hopped into the truck and off we went for what was a 5 minute drive. We assumed we must be going to the Royal airstrip where maybe tables had been set up as we didn’t think there was much else around but after a short drive, in the distance was a very large bonfire and a crowd of people milling about. There were lanterns and torches surrounding the area and we were on the banks of the Zambezi River. Tables were set, the bar was fully stocked and we walked into a beautiful scene out of an old African movie. There was one other British couple who were staying at the lodge, us and the Managers of the lodge, Vincent, an NGO rep and several others associated with the lodge and the protected area. There was Impala stew, chicken curry, nishimi, rice, vegetables etc. etc. which was described to us by the head chef from the lodge. Wow! We were made to feel at home and very welcome. We’re not sure if this a standard routine but we had great conversations throughout our stay with the staff and management and were as always friendly and polite (Canadian eh?) so maybe this helped us snag what we thought was a very nice gesture and what will be something we will not forget. Our hats are off to everyone at the lodge for giving us a very memorable experience. A big thank you to everyone at the Royal Zambezi Lodge!
We hit the sheets late (about 10:30 which is late for us on this journey), awoke later than planned a little fogged by the wine and departed for a long journey back towards Lusaka and a continuation on to Zimbabwe to experience the World Heritage site which is Mana Pools National Park knowing we would miss the comfy bed but looking forward to again camping in the African wilds.
We departed Mana Pools on the 26th, had an easier crossing back into Zambia and proceeded to drive via Livingstone to our next pit stop at the Golden Pillow Lodge in Monze, a few hours drive away from Livingstone.
It was comfortable and the the pub next door sold 750ml bottles of Carling Black Label for the equivalent of $1.50 CAD. I was happy. We proceeded to Livingstone the next day where we stayed at the Victoria Falls Waterfront Lodge. We had stayed at this lodge almost two years to the day back in 2017. Joyce was very ill and I basically hung around during the day and then hung around the bar during the evening. The lodge is located on the Upper Zambezi River and has nice accommodation ranging from camping to “luxury bungalows”. We paid a few extra dollars and stayed in a nice unit facing the river. The food is very good and the outdoor bar is very busy with locals and the younger crowd who are here for whitewater rafting. It is a place we would recommend for a couple of nights stay on your way to/from Chobe NP in Botswana or the parks in Zambia. A highlight of our stay was meeting Linda (again). She was serving us our lunch and I looked at her, she looked familiar so I asked how long she had worked at the lodge. Three years. I told her we had been at the lodge two years ago and mentioned Joyce being sick the whole time. She immediately remembered us and me, the lonely soul who yes, I am married and my wife is sick back at the bungalow and that’s why I’m standing here drinking beer all alone! It was great to see her again. This time Joyce wasn’t sick but, as she is an insect attractor, she was attacked by a Bee while we were having lunch. It stung her on her upper lip and for the rest of our stay she walked around looking like an example of a very bad botox job.