Shiwa Ng’andu and Some RnR at Kapishya Hot Springs

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I did get a half-decent night’s sleep at Bayama’s Lodge but not without getting up sometime after midnight for a clandestine ‘bucket bath’ from a large barrel of water situated near the dining area. It was pretty chilly by that hour of the night but the way I saw it the cold was temporary but the relief from the layers of grime and sweat, especially around the groin and armpits, would be immeasurable. I know there might be a few hardened travellers out there having a chuckle but honestly it made all the difference when I slipped back into my sleeping bag.

I did get a half-decent night’s sleep at Bayama’s Lodge but not without getting up sometime after midnight for a clandestine ‘bucket bath’

Well, speaking truthfully it hadn’t been as straight forward as that. Needing to warm up a bit after washing I trod softly towards where the night-watchman was quietly snoring next to a brazier of glowing embers. I obviously hadn’t trodden softly enough because he awoke with a start. However, he seemed glad of the company and we talked for quite some time about various things. He was a humble man with one good eye and the other misty and obviously blind.

He told me that he used to be good friends with an Anglican clergyman before the man had emigrated back to Britain. His mind stretched back to pre-independence days (before 1964), and I thought of all the changes he had seen in Zambia during his lifetime. He regretted having no other means of supporting himself or his wife because it was not a sociable job and he had to sleep most of the daylight hours. He said prospects were better for his children. I remember brewing a cup of instant coffee in a small pot on the embers and little while later saying goodnight.

His mind stretched back to pre-independence days (before 1964), and I thought of all the changes he had seen in Zambia during his lifetime.

The following morning the night-watchman was gone and after packing my tent I headed back to the main road. Andreas had advised an early start the evening before. I strolled past the service station where the vendors were already establishing themselves – women with buckets of fried chicken, packets of boiled cassava root, dried fish, packet biscuits, soft drinks and so forth. More than one taxi driver tried to tempt me into a ride but I wasn’t budgeting for those sort of prices.

IMG_20150604_090135474Close to the place where my two companions of the day before had deposited me I found a crowd of onlookers surrounding a large haulage vehicle on its side. Was anyone injured I asked someone passing by.

He smiled and explained that everyone was fine and that it actually happened quite often. It was not apparent how considering the flatness of the road and the surrounds. Perhaps he had swerved to avoid something or someone and his load shifted position and flipped the cab? A policeman appeared and shooed people away from the front of the vehicle and proceeded to place a few leafy branches as a kind of perimeter marker.

A policeman appeared and shooed people away from the front of the vehicle and proceeded to place a few leafy branches as a kind of perimeter marker.

I continued past the upturned truck and crossed to the other side of the road. There was a row of shops here housing a number of enterprises: a hair salon, a grocers and general store amongst them. I bought a few fresh provisions and then scouted around for a lift. I was told that this was the best spot for lifts heading north on the Tanzam Highway. I needed to get some 80 km up the road to a T-junction and the road to Shiwa Ng’andu.

I approached the driver of a silver saloon and inquired about a lift. It wouldn’t be a problem. He named his price, 20 ZKM, which seemed quite reasonable and far cheaper than the taxi option. First up, however, he needed to go into town to get some fresh meat supplies. He had come all the way from Chinsali, some 300 km by road, for provisions. He told me that it was still cheaper to drive all that distance to buy these commodities in Mpika rather than Chinsali where the traders put on a hefty mark-up. Possibly he was intending to resell some of these goods himself.

He had come all the way from Chinsali, some 300 km by road, for provisions

So a short while later we drove the short distance into town to the butchery he had in mind. It was still not yet open but as we waited the number of prospective customers grew in number so that when the doors did swing open for service there was a surge of bodies into the shop. Fortunately we were at the front. I hung back as my driver friend stocked up on a variety of beef cuts and other bits and pieces. I was paying more attention to the other clientele, the businessmen and housewives all vying for the attention of the shopkeepers.

IMG_20150604_093911555On the walk across to the vehicle I noticed a vendor selling a variety of DVDs. The selection of titles ranged from popular Hollywood action flicks to Nigeria’s Nollywood toting films like ‘Adolphus the Village Hunter’ and ‘Who is the King?’ I couldn’t read many of the titles because of the way they were filed on the display stand but I could see that ‘Nigeria vs Ghana’ also featured on several of them. On the bottom row were a selection of Asian (Chinese?) films with titles like ‘Destined Heart’ and various combinations of the words ‘eternity’, ‘life’ and ‘love.’

The selection of titles ranged from popular Hollywood action flicks to Nigeria’s Nollywood toting films like ‘Adolphus the Village Hunter’ and ‘Who is the King?’

We made our way back to the main road and before long there were two other people in the backseat as we progressed north. The driver had a sense of urgency that was lacking the day before, not that I’d minded, but now the kilometres dropped away and it wasn’t long before we were at the turnoff. My luck held out as a few minutes later a rickety old land cruiser pulled up near to where I’d decamped beneath the main road sign. The driver leaned out his near side window and asked me if I was after a lift.

It was only 12 km to my destination but the driver was going all the way through to the Kasama Rd. I would need to follow that route but first I wanted to see two particular places on the way. I was told lifts were erratic but my faith in fate and good fortune had not failed me yet. Therefore, a short while later, after offering the driver 10 or 15 ZKM, he deposited me at the entrance to the famous Shiwa Ng’andu estate. I say famous because in recent years it had seen a revival in its fortunes.

I was told lifts were erratic but my faith in fate and good fortune had not failed me yet.

The estate dated back to when an Englishman, Sir Stewart Gore Brown, had established a presence in the area and built a virtual self-administered enclave miles from the nearest railway and European settlement. He’d been involved with the Anglo-Belgian Boundary commission which had established the border between Northern Rhodesia and the Belgian Congo in the early part of the century. He had scoured the land between Ndola and Lake Tanganyika for somewhere suitable and had settled on this land near Lake Ishiba Ng’andu which in the Bemba language means lake of the royal crocodile.

(Sir Stewart Gore-Browne) had settled on this land near Lake Ishiba Ng’andu which in the Bemba language means lake of the royal crocodile.

It was pleasant countryside – open woodland with clumps of water-loving trees and palms near the water’s edge. It wasn’t difficult to understand why Gore-Brown had chosen this spot to settle. I had read an acclaimed book on the history of Shiwa Ng’andu and the eccentric aristocratic who lorded over it by the author Christina Lamb (The Africa House: The True Story of an English Gentleman and His African Dream, HarperCollins, 2005). In truth I had no intention of visiting the place when I set off from Lusaka but when Mike du Plessis in Mpika had reminded me that it was well worth a visit I recalled the book and quickly factored it into my plans.

It was pleasant countryside – open woodland with clumps of water-loving trees and palms near the water’s edge.

IMG_20150604_120457169_HDRWell I won’t say too much more about Sir Stuart except to say that his dream of building a European style manor estate in the heart of the African bush was bold, ambitious and grandiose. Was it foolhardy, a little too egotistic? No doubt his legacy will divide opinion. It was certainly strange to see slate-roofed, red-brick houses with whitewashed fronts built purposefully for the local labour and staff, African kids playing nearby and chickens pecking around the bare-swept courtyards. According to Wikipedia: The estate had its own schools, hospitals, playing fields, shops, and post office. Workers lived in brick-built cottages and the estate was ruled as a benevolent autocracy [Link to article]

It seems the impression that Gore-Brown left with black Zambians was predominantly positive. It is said he embraced a racially inclusive political mindset. In any event he was granted a state funeral – the only white man to have ever had the honour – and his descendants have maintained ownership of the farm and adjacent tracts of land. My companions on the road the day before had remarked that there was no reason to grant the area of Shiwa Ng’andu its own territorial status, something almost akin to a province, except as a nod to the importance of the estate. They thought it was a bit ridiculous.

In any event he was granted a state funeral – the only white man to have ever had the honour – and his descendants have maintained ownership of the farm and adjacent tracts of land.

Back to the present I found myself wandering between various outbuildings looking for a reception or farm office which I did find half a kilometre further up the road. I’d noticed a sign near the approach to Manor House which said something about Shiwa House visiting hours being between 9 and 11 am and by appointment only. It had already gone 11 so I was obviously out of luck. A visit was also levied at US $40 which was not in my budget.

IMG_20150604_145923944_HDRBack at the farm office a busy black lady was tabling expenses with a pile of bills and invoices on the table in front of her. She helpfully dialled the mobile number of Mr Charles Harvey who presided over the farm. Apparently he was busy but she told me to keep an eye out for him. I went outside and looked around again. I noted that various farm implements and old machines lay idly on the edge of the gravel road and beneath some Jacaranda trees to one side. This included an old steam tractor and what appeared to be several steel boilers.

I noted that various farm implements and old machines lay idly on the edge of the gravel road and beneath some Jacaranda trees to one side.

I recall going over to a farm trailer, sitting down and taking off my shoes to give my blisters some relief. I noticed an elderly white couple nearby, examine a pig pen and then go across to a yard with several large farm vehicles. If they saw me they ignored me. Various black people, staff and labourers presumable, walked in either direction, but only the children seemed to take any particular interest in me.

Eventually a middle-aged white man appeared from somewhere. I approached him as unassumingly as possible and introduced myself and asked if he was Mr Harvey. He was. He asked whether I wanted to take a look at Shiwa House. I replied that I did if it was all the same to him. He told me to go right ahead. I was a little taken aback but he reassured me that it was fine. Without any further banter he excused himself and I was left to my own devices once more.

(He) asked whether I wanted to take a look at Shiwa House. I replied that I did if it was all the same to him. He told me to go right ahead.

I walked back towards the manor, stopping to admire the stately gatehouse from the roadside. It was dominated by a square-sided, brick clock-tower perhaps 10 to 12 metres high. The clock showed the wrong time and probably hadn’t functioned for years. Like the other brick structures on the estate it had a steeply inclined slate-tiled roof at two levels. To the right of the clock-tower the adjoining building was whitewashed which contrasted with the olive-green window-frames. The window panes were knocked out of the end windows. It looked a bit forlorn.

The clock showed the wrong time and probably hadn’t functioned for years.

IMG_20150604_144417110_HDROn closer inspection I discovered that the rooms were largely empty, bar a few low benches, the white paint peeling from the ceilings and walls. Definitely not in use I concluded. A sign above one of the doors declared that it had once been the Estate Office. There was also a neatly painted list of game under the title ‘Shiwa Game Animals.’ There were twenty-one species listed, mostly antelope.

I was unfamiliar with a few of the names like Sitantunga, Oribi and Puku. I had read somewhere that Mr Harvey had stocked the estate with some game and taken anti-poaching measures. Moments later, walking out from beneath the gatehouse I heard something bark to my right and looking up saw a small buck dashing through the undergrowth, a fluffy white tail poking up from its rump.

I continued down a pedestrian avenue until I reached another gate with a crude hand-painted sign which informed me that this was the entrance to Shiwa Manor House. I had come this far earlier from the other direction and decided against proceeding without permission. This time around it was granted. For the most part the approach to Shiwa House is obscured by the flanking trees but it was suddenly there, not a 100 metres ahead. The garden lawn was lush and green. I could see and here sprinklers at work a short way off.

I continued down a pedestrian avenue until I reached another gate with a crude hand-painted sign which informed me that this was the entrance to Shiwa Manor House.

The garden itself contained an abundance of exotic plants from red-flowering Poinsettias to spiny sisal, Jacaranda and Cyprus. This was not exactly surprising. Wherever European colonists have settled in Africa they’ve brought with them exotic plants, many collected from far-flung corners of the former empire. It occurred to me growing up in Harare that many Europeans, probably most, had never sought to take the many faces of the African landscape at face value.

There was such a staggering abundance of native flora that it was hard to understand why a Cyprus or Jacaranda was somehow preferable to a spreading Albizia or Brachystegia. No doubt it had something to do with the psyche of the settler and the desire to manipulate the landscape into something different, discernible from the communal or tribal lands which inevitably surrounded them, and perhaps remind them of home.

Wherever European colonists have settled in Africa they’ve brought with them exotic plants, many collected from far-flung corners of the former empire.

Recalling the Shiwa Estate I also remember avenues of bland cedrella trees, and woodlots of exotic gums and conifers. If the coniferous plantation I had seen the day before was the initiative of a local Zambian one could hardly blame him because the precedent was set by the Europeans.

I suppose I’m being a bit of an idealist. After all there are many innocuous garden plants that have travelled far and wide, the world over, without causing any harm. And where we would we be without the humble potato, tomato, citrus and maize plants that today are incorporated into the diets of many Africans? They were all imports to the African continent and elsewhere. It is a case of aesthetics to some degree, especially when it comes to landscaping. The one angle not I have not mentioned is that of ecology. Not all imports are beneficial to the habitat into which they’ve been introduced.

Anyway, I’ll leave it at that and get back to the present – my first impressions of Shiwa House. The entrance was flanked by two metal sculptures, one of a rhino and the other an elephant. This sort of design, welded iron plates and bars creating a composition, had become very popular in Southern Africa over the last decade or two. The lion was brilliantly portrayed with jaws open, displaying a row of rusty fangs. The rhino was stout and the various welded plates combined to convey a sense of proportion and strength.

The lion was brilliantly portrayed with jaws open, displaying a row of rusty fangs. The rhino was stout and the various welded plates combined to convey a sense of proportion and strength.

IMG_20150604_124256032_HDRThe house itself was very stately as I recalled from pictures I had seen in the book by Christina Lamb. It wasn’t as imposing as some of the English manors I’d seen such as the Luton Hoo Manor house, now a hotel, on an estate in Hertfordshire, where I had worked as a waiter for a year and a half. All he same it was impressive in size and design. The pictures speak for themselves. From an upper balcony a dog yapped furiously and unrelentingly. I tried to call to it and saw that it was only a small terrier.

From another direction a larger, tawny, short-haired dog galloped towards me. My heart missed a beat but I stood my ground. It too barked at me but by the way it backed off I knew I had the upper hand. I walked towards it with a soothing voice (or what I hoped was suitably soothing) and it grudgingly settled down. A smaller terrier appeared and was quite friendly from the outset.

IMG_20150604_124715179The dogs followed me as I made a cursory inspection of the property. The front door appeared locked but a side-door was ajar and when I opened it I realised that I was in the family chapel. There was a wooden tablet mounted on the opposite wall, topped by a coat of arms, presumably that of Gore-Browne, and inscribed in gold letters the various ancestors of Sir Stuart. At the top of the list, written in capitals, was – Sir Thomas Gore Browne, KCMG, … Regts Governor of St Helena, New Zealand, Tasmania, & Bermuda B. 1807, D. 1887.

Beneath his name was that of his wife Harriet, a reference to her parentage, and beneath their names those of their five children. The last of these, Ethel, was apparently married to Hugh Fortescue Locke King, Grandson of Peter, 7th Lord King, B. 1848, D. 1926. He Founded Shiwa. This was a bit confusing. I thought Gore-Brown had founded Shiwa? I remember reading that Sir Stewart Gore Browne had been very attached to Dame Ethel Locke King, Sir Hugh’s wife.

The chapel had a simple brick altar, the cement floor polished red and the walls inset with narrow, arched windows on two levels, letting ample light into the interior. The seating was not fixed in place – several wooden benches and chairs facing the altar. Stood in each of two alcoves on either side of the rear end of the chapel was a stylised wooden angel. The interesting thing about them was that their features were African not European.

The chapel was had a simple brick altar, the cement floor polished red and the walls inset with narrow, arched windows on two levels, letting ample light into the interior.

I had read somewhere that Sir Stewart Gore-Browne had earned the nickname chipembere or rhinoceros because of his fierce temper. I noticed another two miniature statues of the beast prominently displayed on either side of the front door which was inscribed with the date 1932 and the letters L and S on either side of the date, which I assume stood for Lorna and Stewart. Lorna had been his wife and 22 years his junior. I don’t think it had been a happy marriage and they eventually separated.

I had read somewhere that Sir Stewart Gore-Browne had earned the nickname chipembere or rhinoceros because of his fierce temper.

The front door appeared locked and no-one answered my knock. I thought about entering the house through another door which stood slightly ajar but thought better of it. Mr Harvey hadn’t said that the house was off-limits I felt uneasy venturing into another person’s house without their express consent. It would have been a different matter if it was just an abandoned relic but Harvey and his wife lived there.

I explored the garden a bit further and came across a large flame tree or Spathodea, a native of East-Central Africa. Can you recall Elspeth Huxley’s The Flame Trees of Thika? This particular specimen was very big, it’s trunk fissured and covered in parts with earthen termite passageways. About 8 or 9 feet up was a copper plate tarnished blue with oxidation, commemorating Coronation Day, 2ND June 1953. That was over 60 years ago which explained why it was so high up on the trunk.

About 8 or 9 feet up was a copper plate tarnished blue with oxidation, commemorating Coronation Day, 2ND June 1953. That was over 60 years ago which explained why it was so high up on the trunk.

Thereafter I decided it was an opportune time to take a walk, in the midday heat, down to Lake Ishiba Ng’andu after which Gore-Browne had named the estate. The crocodiles were still present or so I was told, so I wouldn’t be taking a dip, as attractive as that seemed at the time. It was a moderate walk down to the lake, hampered slightly by the heat and my sore feet. I took in the horses and young calves grazing off to one side before crossing the road, skirting the airstrip and heading though the adjacent woodlot of exotic conifers. I saw a male bushbuck on the way down.

The crocodiles were still present I was told so I would not be taking a dip, as attractive as that seemed at the time.

After a while the conifers gave way to natural woodland and a short while later I emerged on the shore of the lake which was still some way off. There was a flock of sheep grazing near the water and a shepherd boy waved from where he was sitting on an anthill. On the shoreline itself was a viewing platform. I ambled over and slowly ascended the rickety old frame. I had to be careful because some of the decking was missing but it afforded an excellent view over the lake.

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I took out my compact binoculars and examined the shoreline on either side. If there were any crocodiles they were hidden from view. There was only one boat I could see out on the water, two fishermen paddling it slowly towards the shore. A short distance from me was a large clump of papyrus reeds and I got the impression that it was more of a shallow depression than a lake. I looked determinedly for any sign of birds or other life around the lake but could only make out the occasional heron. It was probably because of the heat that it was so quiet at this time of day.

On the walk back I saw another buck, a larger one with a handsome dark brown coat and distinctive white markings on the legs, torso and face. It was browsing through the short undergrowth on the edge of the coniferous woodland. He saw me simultaneously and with his long legs he dashed deeper into the woodland and was very quickly out of sight. I later looked at images of antelope on the internet which confirmed my suspicions – it was a male sitatunga, an amphibious antelope fairly widespread throughout central Africa. This was near the southern extent of its natural range.

On the walk back I saw another buck, a larger one with a dark brown coat and distinctive white markings on the legs, torso and face.

Back on the estate I confirmed with the lady in the state office the direction to Kapishya Hotsprings. Initially I was determined to walk there but it was 20 odd kilometres away and my feet were not in great shape as I have repeated several times. Sorry! I had a number for the hotel at the hot springs which I called. The man who answered it told me that transfers from Shiwa cost US $20. To be honest that wasn’t exorbitant, but being a determined budget traveller I still sought ways to minimise my expenses. He would make arrangements and confirm back with me. Meantime I decided to set off towards Kapishya.

Besides a truck crammed with chattering farm workers, some of whom waved and shouted greetings in my direction, not a single other vehicle appeared in either direction. I calculated I’d walked about 5 kms before a beige land cruiser came roaring down the gravel road from the other direction. The driver pulled up opposite me. He was a large European guy with a tanned face.

I calculated I’d walked about 5 kms before a beige land cruiser came roaring down the gravel road from the other direction.

“Are you the guy from Shiwa who wanted a transfer?” he asked. I replied that it was most likely me. He stared at me a few moments longer and then told me to sling my bag in the back and hop in.

“It’s $20, you know that don’t you?” he stated without any small talk.

“Considering that I didn’t know if you were coming and that I’ve already walked 5 km I think you should give me a discount,” I replied more boldly than I probably should have.

He stared at me another few seconds and then shrugged.

“Ok, we can make it $15 then.”

We drove a minute or two in silence and then he introduced himself as Tony. His accent was definitely antipodean but I was bad at placing accents from Down Under. He must’ve read my mind.

“I’m a Kiwi. I’ve live in Mozambique these days.” I felt the tension of the last few minuets lift. I can’t remember where he said he now stayed exactly but the Mozambique coastline is renowned for sunshine, sandy beaches and good food. He explained that the owners of the resort, Mark and Mel, had flown out to the UK to visit a sick relative at short notice. He had answered the SOS they sent out and had driven northwards via the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania and then southwards to Kapishya through northern Zambia. It had been one hell of a journey he old me. “Never again.”

Still, if you were going to do a trip over treacherous and potholed roads land cruiser was just the vehicle you wanted. They were used throughout the safari business because of their reliability, durability and power. Only the good ol’ British land rover had a similar reputation for operating in the less accessible parts of the continent.

Still, if you were going to do a trip over treacherous and potholed roads land cruiser was just the vehicle you wanted.

After a couple of kilometres Tony turned to me and asked if I wouldn’t mind doing a bit of a diversion to look for some hartebeest he thought were in the vicinity. I didn’t mind in the least. We diverted off the road at a tangent along rough track through the open woodland that flanked the hills here. We soon came to a game fence and followed it still going westwards. He told me to keep an eye out for wildlife. Despite having the task of driving he was the one to spot a kudu antelope hidden in a thicket of trees on my side of the vehicle. I remarked on his sharp vision and he replied that he had spent many years in the bush. He enjoyed hunting.

The real catch was a group of at least five of the hartebeest that we had been looking for. There was a cow and calf and several other adults, probably also females. They didn’t seem unduly disturbed. Tony explained that Mark ran anti-poaching patrols and as a result the wildlife here was well protected.

The real catch was a group of at least five of the hartebeest that we had been looking for. There was a cow and calf and several other adults, probably also females.

He reached under his seat and brought out a pair of powerful binoculars with nice big apertures to let in plenty of light. I only had my much smaller 10×25 birding binoculars. He handed his to me and, looking through them, I was surprised to find that there wasn’t a great deal of difference between the two. The image of the buck through his pair was slightly brighter but the magnification was not much different. I was suddenly very pleased with my pair which I had brought online at a discount. It occurred to me that I was becoming a bit of a guru in the budget and bargain travel department!

IMG_20150606_103352968We left the antelope in the serenity of the bush and got back onto the main road. We gathered pace and before long crossed the river that flows past Kapishya resort, village huts dotted on either side, and a few minutes later pulled up at the campsite. Tony deposited me near the entrance, telling me where I could find him and said we could sort things out later. I was the only one there so I had my pick of the place. I chose a level spot half-way to the river to pitch my little tent where the grass was a bit thicker. I was travelling without a sleeping mat after all.

We gathered pace and before long crossed the river that flows past Kapishya resort, village huts dotted on either side, and a few minutes later pulled up at the campsite.

That evening I went down to the river. It was flowing strongly but it didn’t look very deep. I could see rocks here and there and the presence of others indicated where the water frequently rippled and flowed over irregular objects beneath. I’d been warned not to swim. Mark had apparently shot a very large crocodile a short way upstream quite recently. I didn’t agree with shooting the animals even if they could predate on humans. This was their habitat after all.

IMG_20150604_171859151_HDRThe river banks were flanked by short, spreading palms with large, broad fronds reaching out over the surface. It was beautiful and peaceful. Hard to reconcile with ferocious, potential man-eating reptiles. That’s Africa in a nutshell: described with words like beauty, serenity and majesty in one breath and their antonyms ugly, chaotic and brutal in the next. Granted that these perceptions are coloured largely by man’s activities. It is enough to say that the natural world can seem very cruel and unfair at times but uplifting and untainted at times like this.

The river banks were flanked by short, spreading palms with large, broad fronds reaching out over the surface

From there I took a walk up through the rich, green, riverine vegetation to the hot springs proper. I found Tony already immersed in the shallows. The pool was 20 or 30 meters across and crystal clear. For the most part it was underlain by fine, white sand but there were also a few large, smooth rocks as well, surrounded on the one side by vegetation and on the other enclosed by a straw fence of sorts. The edge was lined by rocks and stones and it appeared that there was a weir constructed to create the shallow pool.

Tony was soaping himself at the point where water spilled over the edge of the barrier into a stream that flowed down to the river below the campsite. The owner’s black labrador was lying nearby. He followed Tony everywhere. The big man invited me in and we chatted for a while whilst the evening closed in on us. The waters were deliciously warm, a little below blood temperature I’d guess.

The waters were deliciously warm, a little below blood temperature I’d guess.

After ten minutes or so I had to expose my torso and sit on one of the rocks. It was just too hot for me. Tony didn’t seem to be suffering the same effects. I noticed how, near my feet, the sand seemed to vibrate and pulse with energy. It was if there was some sort of device beneath pumping air through in bursts. This was the source of the geothermal heat which created the hot springs in the first place.

I noticed how, near my feet, the sand seemed to vibrate and pulse with energy.

That evening I busied myself cooking a simple dish on my portable gas and meth stoves. I also washed some underwear and socks in one of the campsite basins and hung the items to dry from the guy ropes to the tent. I was hungry and also tired. It wasn’t long before I bedded down for the night.

The following day, a Friday, I woke early to a familiar sound – the melodious duet of the white-browed robin chat (formerly known as Heuglin’s robin), without doubt one of the most distinctive and melodic bird song of my childhood growing up in Harare. My cousin Dominic expressed a loathing for the avian alarm clock which would wake him up consistently at the crack of dawn he complained. Here at Kapishya I revelled in the symphony of bird call. The riverine thicket between the campsite and the hot springs was alive with their song.

The following day, a Friday, I woke early to a familiar sound – the melodious duet of the white-browed robin chat

I grabbed my binoculars and camera phone and strolled down to the water’s edge. The view was subtly different to that of the day before: a pall of pale mist now hung over the river. Not the billowing mists of the Kundalila Falls but rather delicate, white, diaphanous wisps and puffs moving gently upwards from the surface waters.

I made my way along the river’s edge towards the hot springs on one of several footpaths through the density of shrubs and trees, carefully trying not to disturb the birds in an attempt to identify some of them. It was difficult as they flicked and flitted through the undergrowth. Without a doubt there were warblers and flycatchers amongst them.

As I got closer to the resort proper I heard a bark from somewhere up in one of the cluster of Eucalyptus trees planted here. My first guess was that it was a monkey of some sort but was amazed to see that it as actually a bird, and a pretty fast-moving one at that. A flash of colour and a glimpse was enough to know that it was a turaco. It looked as though there were several of them bounding around through the trees. I had to be patient though and it took a while before I got a good enough view for a positive ID.

A flash of colour and a glimpse was enough to know that it was a turaco.

Its most distinctive feature was a corn-yellow facial ‘mask’ and thick beak beneath a bright red crest. This was Ross’s turaco, an illustration of which I had memorised from a volume of Birds of West and Central Africa, a book I had inherited from an uncle of mine and which I adored as a child. The only difference was that in that book the bird was known as Lady Ross’s turaco. Sometime during the intervening years she had lost her title. Ah well, no less exotic nor distinctive for it.

This was Ross’s turaco, an illustration of which I had memorised from a volume of Birds of West and Central Africa…

IMG_20150605_063809858_HDRI wandered past several comfortable-looking chalets, an outdoor area with a swimming pool and deck chairs before emerging near the river a bit further upstream. It was a bit wider here as it snaked in a broad bend past Kapishya. The mist hung over the water as it did by the campsite, attractively highlighted in parts by the sun as it emerged over the landscape.

I went back for some breakfast and noticed that another couple of campers had arrived in a truck. They had a mobile solar panel on the roof – it looked as though they were in for some serious overland travel. I don’t remember exactly how I spent much of the day except that it went far too quickly between enjoying some sunshine by the swimming pool, taking a few lengthy soaks in the hot springs and watching the birds. Despite the arrival of new campers there was only one other family staying at the resort.

I don’t remember exactly how I spent much of the day except that it went far too quickly…

I took the opportunity to rearrange my backpack and came to the conclusion that I was carrying too many garments, therefore I decided to get rid of two pairs of shorts and several shirts, most of which were cheap items I’d picked up in Turkey earlier in the year. I’d become acquainted with the barman, a young Zimbabwean guy, and gave him the first pick of the ‘rejects.’

I was asking for a token amount -10 or 15 ZMK (about $2). Being a typical Zimbabwean he insisted on bargaining me down further. It didn’t take long before I had one of the cooks and several other members of the establishment scuttling over to get in on the flash sale. He upshot was that I had enough for a couple of beers later on. It transpired that later on would involve more than just a few beers.

Being a typical Zimbabwean he insisted on bargaining me down further.

After taking a walk up the gravel road to one of the roadside stores to resupply on eggs, tomatoes and a few other necessities (some of which I purchased with one of the pairs of shorts) I went on an extended stroll before dusk. As I crossed behind the resort I encountered a herdsman driving several dozen head of cattle back to a kraal behind the resort buildings. It seemed Mark was doing a spot of farming like his brother Charles at the Shiwa N’gandu Estate.

That evening, as I hinted, I made my way over to the reception bar for a quiet beer. The European family were there, finishing their evening meal. I nodded a greeting to the parents. They moved off back to their chalet a little while later. I was thinking about doing the same after a couple of refreshing beers when Tony strolled in. He had been in Mpika on some shopping chores which explained his earlier absence. He sat down nearby and offered me a drink from a bottle he plonked on the counter.

They moved off back to their chalet a little while later. I was thinking about doing the same when Tony strolled in.

“Tanzanian import,” he elaborated. “I noticed them all drinking it up there so I got curious. It’s not too bad actually. A bit like gin I suppose.” He gestured for the young barman to bring us some glasses with ice. I scrutinised the label a bit closer. It had a graphic of a pair of black arms flexed above a head in profile and vested torso – some sort of muscle man apparently – beneath two inscriptions, THE PRODUCT OF TANZANIA and THE SPIRIT OF THE NATION.

CWnKO1hWcAACLTbAcross the centre of the label in large, bold type was the name of the liquor, Konyagi. There was a graphic of some forked flames depicted at the bottom of the label above the words PORTABLE SPIRIT. Didn’t they mean potable? Still, nice to know I had an alternative source of fuel for my portable meth burner. Perhaps the most important information was the bit about it being 35% Alc. Vol.

Across the centre of the label in large, bold type was the name of the liquor, Konyagi.

I have little doubt the evening had a predefined trajectory from the moment those first measures of the clear spirit were decanted. I’ve discovered a few similar accounts online of other people’s experiences with the beverage on their travels. One of these comes from a student on the blog Quench, Cardiff’s monthly student magazine. She writes:

Konyagi: It’s not vodka, it’s not gin, it’s not water and it’s barely legal outside of East Africa. As soon as that distinctive taste hits your lips, all aboard! You’re in for the long run; the Konyagi train has just departed … One minute you’re casually basking in the dry heat, having an ever so pleasant conversation with an intriguing comrade to be. Then the Konyagi takes hold … Dance moves follow, chairs are soon dispersed across the Savannah as every muscle in your body delights in this new liquid companionship. MI5 has their own unique style of truth serum, and this folks, is the key to the majority of East Africa’s police interrogations.

Link to article

I have to admit that alcohol, in moderation, is a splendid thing. It deconstructs and dissolves social inhibitions and, as the young blogger suggested, injected a serum of honesty into our discourse. I felt a tremendous feeling of bonhomie with the grizzled New Zealander who was far from the man he appeared at first glance.

I have to admit that alcohol, in moderation, is a splendid thing.

Amongst the facts I gleaned were that he had once been married once to a Japanese lady, with whom he had two girls; that he had made ‘a fortune’ from running several successful restaurants back home; that his one daughter was a budding ballerina working as an understudy at a prestigious dance school in New York; that he was in love with Africa; and that he fancied getting remarried and settling down on the coast, somewhere in Mozambique.

By the time the bottle had been equitably distributed between the two of us my head was buzzing. Tony said a hearty goodnight and staggered off to bed. I on the other hand staggered in the opposite direction and straight into the hot springs where I wallowed blissfully in the semi-darkness stripped down to my underwear for an hour or so. The leaves rustled gently in the branches above, stars twinkled through the gaps in-between and all was well with the universe… until the following morning that is.

By the time the bottle had been equitably distributed between the two of us my head was buzzing. Tony said a hearty goodnight and staggered off to bed.

My parched palette and tongue were the first reminder of the previous night’s antics but after a bowl of porridge and a final dip in the hot spring I perked up considerably. Despite whatever hit my body had taken the previous evening upon absorbing ‘The Spirit of the Nation’, on the balance of things I felt pretty well rested. I took my time packing up and it was only just after 11.00 that I settled my bill and said cheers to the bargaining barman – there was no sign of the Kiwi – that I was finally on my way again.

I suspected I was in for a bit of a hike. A signboard on the approach to Kapishya informed me that it was the length of a standard marathon to the Kasama Rd, 42 km. With a spring in my step and all the goodwill in the world I set off.

With a spring in my step and all the goodwill in the world I set off.

From the Splendid Kundalila Falls and on to Mpika

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It was now early June, well into the sub-tropical ‘winter’ at that latitude. In reality this translated to cool nights and mild days in the range 20 -22 degrees C, with few clouds in the broad blue sky. In other words, almost perfect weather for backpacking!

I hadn’t been at the roadside at Mkushi long before a local man approached me with the offer of assistance. I told him that I was wanting a lift heading northwards toward Serenje, about 100 km away to the NE. He very helpfully flagged a passing minibus and without further ado I was crammed into one of the rear seats, my backpack placed up front with some other passenger luggage. The only inconvenience was having to occasionally disembark when someone further away from the sliding door wanted to get out. I can’t remember what I paid exactly but it wasn’t more than 20 ZMK.

He very helpfully flagged a passing minibus and without further ado I was crammed into one of the rear seats

Quite unexpectedly a woman’s voice with an American accent piped up behind me. The lady in question, who I struggled to turn and talk with face to face, introduced herself as Megan. She politely enquired if I was an NGO worker or a tourist. She in turn informed me that she was in the Peace Corps. I had heard of these guys, even met a few of them back in Zimbabwe years prior (they were no longer welcome by the present regime), but was unclear as to what it was they did exactly. I would meet quite a few more later on and get a clearer picture.

Quite unexpectedly a woman’s voice with an American accent piped up behind me.

Conversation was difficult in the circumstances so we didn’t get a chance to exchange much information beyond the fact that she was working in a nearby village on a social project focusing on women and that she loved it. She had the option of staying a further year and she told me she would take it. She was off to Serenje to get some provisions I seem to recall and before we knew it we were there. Megan hopped off without so much as a backward glance and was soon lost in the throng of bystanders, hawkers and roadside merchants.

Someone advised me to remain on board a while longer as we diverted off the highway towards the main trading area. I hopped off and once again, a helpful local person introduced me to a long-haulage driver and his companion. Yes, they would be prepared to take me further up the Great North Road to where I next needed to disembark.

The driver was a Tanzanian man of few words but that was okay with me considering that the road was only a dual lane highway and that it was his job to transport several hundred tons or more of copper to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. I would rather his concentration be on the road ahead than with me. I also got the impression that he had limited English. Someone previously told me that many Tanzanians are only conversant with foreigners in Swahili, a tongue spoken fairly extensively in east-central Africa.

…it was his job to transport several hundred tons or more of copper to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania

IMG_20150602_113342786His companion was a young and rather earnest Zambian who spoke basic but perfectly understandable English. He was the one who told me about their valuable cargo and the long hours involved in hauling it to the distant port. He expressed an interest in keeping in touch, as many Zambians I met would, and I imagine that I gave him either my local number or an email address.

It wasn’t long before the driver pulled up by the small roadside town of Kanona and told me that the locals here could point me in the direction of the waterfalls I wanted to see. I thanked them with a small contribution and wandered over to a nearby store.

By this time it was quite warm and the few inhabitants of the small town that I could see were relaxing in the shade provided by the buildings. A young shop-keeper pointed up the road and informed me that it was the next turnoff that I wanted. Fortunately it was within sight of the town and 15 minutes later I was at the junction, reassured by a metal signpost reading ‘Kundalila Falls’ with an arrow pointing down a dusty dirt road headed southwards.

By this time it was quite warm and the few inhabitants of the small town that I could see were relaxing in the shade provided by the buildings.

The only other distinguishing feature of the junction was a house, evidently a new build, a hundred yards or so away on the right side of the road leading to the falls. It had a broad veranda fronted by stylised, red iron railings and supported by four fluted, unpainted concrete columns in the doric style. In bold capitals, written in relief on the gable above, was the name TONGA LALA. On either side was a crude concentric pattern also in relief and the cement behind the letters was roughly stippled. The two sides of the roof inclined at a very shallow angle from the apex and appeared to be of some corrugated material.

In bold capitals, written in relief on the gable above, was the name TONGA LALA.

“Hello!” someone greeted me heartily from the verandah. He waved me over and introduced himself as the owner and architect of the said building. He was an army man from what I could gather and he had some idea that the place could become a guesthouse for wayfarers like myself. It occurred to me then and later that being someone of rank in the Zambian Army obviously brought with it some advantages. I had already met a well-respected, rugby-coaching officer in Lusaka and I would meet a few other military men involved in other ventures before my trip was done.

We chatted for some minutes while I sipped at the water-bottle he kindly allowed me to refill from his well. I told him that I intended to get to the waterfall that day and with any luck be back at the roadside by mid-afternoon. He looked a bit incredulous. “It is very far, do you know?” Obviously I didn’t. Yes I could walk but he was very doubtful whether I could get back that evening; besides which he told me that I would be able to camp out there. It would no be a problem.

I told him that I intended to get to the waterfall that day and with any luck be back at the roadside by mid-afternoon.

At that moment a beige land-cruiser honked its horn from the side of the dirt road leading past the house. The owner and the driver exchanged greetings and then had a brief conversation. “It is your lucky day” said the house-owner. “If you want a lift he can drop you off near the place you want to go”.

Without need of a second invitation I dashed across to the waiting vehicle which I noticed belonged to the Ministry of Health. Attached to the roof were several loud-speaker horns. The driver waved me to a seat at the back amongst an assortment of boxes and supplies. There were two or three other people besides the driver and I realised how fortunate I was because there really wasn’t any further room available.

… I dashed across to the waiting vehicle which I noticed belonged to the Ministry of Health. Attached to the roof were several loud-speaker horns.

We set off down the road, crossed the main railway line, and continued for some minutes until we came to the first of several villages en route. As we passed each the driver slowed the vehicle, took the loud-speaker microphone in his free hand, and bellowed something in the local language. I didn’t really stick around long enough in any one place to get a feel for the local dialects except to say that there are a number of them.

An intelligent young receptionist at the Wanderers Lodge in Lusaka had given me a fairly detailed overview of the ethnic makeup of the country and the linguistic regions. She was from Serenje and ethnically a Lala. I wish I could recall everything she told me but I can’t. Most Europeans I spoke to simply boiled the local languages down to Nyanja and Bemba but there were evidently many other groups such as the Lozi and the Lunda with their own dialects – more than 70 according to Wikipedia.

Anyway, on this occasion the proclamation of the ministry official via the amplified speakers was to inform the local people that there would soon be some sort of clinic held in the area to coincide with a global event – the Day of the Child? I imagine that UNICEF or the WHO were involved somewhere behind the scenes. It was interesting to see the villagers going about their daily routines suddenly stop and prick up their ears. What they made of the announcements I couldn’t fathom.

It was interesting to see the villagers going about their daily routines suddenly stop and prick up their ears.

There is a tendency for so-called educated Westerners to poke fun at Africa and other parts of the developing world for being ‘trapped’ by superstition and religion and not embracing modern developments. It is a fact that the line between undeveloped and developed is not a linear one and the criteria for becoming developed are not always clear. From what I saw in Zambia there were indications that they are making progress in the path of modernizing whatever values, positive or negative, you might attach to that process.

When it comes to religion, Zambians were no less in thrall to the successive waves of missionaries that have crossed its well-watered lands, from the time of David Livingstone to more recently, than any other European-colonised nation south of the Sahara through which I have travelled. If you followed my progress from Livingstone to Lusaka you would have seen the picture of the monolithic cathedral erected by the British in the 1950s, reference to a proselytising pastor and a photograph of a mosque.

When it comes to religion, Zambians were no less in thrall to the successive waves of missionaries … than any other European-colonised nation south of the Sahara through which I have travelled.

Of course the complete picture is not just one of Africans bowed at the foot of an altar or caught in the rapture of a preacher but also of Europeans and Asians expressing their own religiosity. I have written about this previously in the context of Zimbabwe and in an earlier post about the white farmers of Mkushi.

Of course the complete picture is not just one of Africans bowed at the foot of an altar or caught in the rapture of a preacher but also of Europeans and Asians expressing their own religiosity.

IMG_20150603_111206609On this occasion I noticed the relative modesty of these villages, the unassuming general stores or grocers, surrounded by assortment of traditional grass-roofed huts and occasional brick structures. Life was a lot slower here than in the cities, the people closer to the land of their forebears. It did not surprise me either to see evidence of religious affiliation although I did not expect to see quite so many signs proclaiming the presence of a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall in this village or that. There were many between there and my journey to the northern extremity of the country.

The ministry official deposited me at a junction in the road after some 20 minutes or so with the instruction to continue on for a short distance after which I would see the entrance to the waterfalls. And so it proved. It seemed as though there was no one there on arrival at the carpark/campsite but whilst I delved in my pack a man approached on an old steel-framed bicycle, coming to sudden halt a few yards from me. He greeted me, introduced himself as the warden, and invited me to his office.

It was hard to tell precisely but I guessed that he was in his 50s or 60s. He had calculating eyes but a somewhat inscrutable expression. He peered at me for some moments before rustling around beneath his desk for a ticket book. I was advised that it would cost me the equivalent of 30 USD for the pleasure of the visit and another 30 USD for the use of the campsite. I was not carrying much in the way of cash but I had changed enough previously to pay for the visitation fee but not the campsite. I sought to negotiate and he fixed me with another of his inscrutable stares.

was advised that it would cost me the equivalent of 30 USD for the pleasure of the visit and another 30 USD for the use of the campsite.

I cast an eye over the ticket book and saw that he had, on average, only several foreign visitors a week. I decided to play another card, the tourist who is happy to make an alternative plan. I announced that I would find somewhere else to sleep. It wasn’t a problem. My stated intention caused a deep furrow to appear on his brow. “How much do you have?” he responded in turn.

“Only $10” I repied.

“Let us make it $15” he said with a level gaze and then broke into a broad grin, “because you and me we are friends.” I reluctantly agreed to the revised price. It seemed as though the bargaining had raised his estimation of me and with a bit more vigour he showed me around the campsite.

It seemed as though the bargaining had raised his estimation of me and with a bit more vigour he showed me around the campsite.

There wasn’t much in the way of facilities. One toilet was blocked and smelly but the other seemed functional. There was no hot water nor showers which didn’t bother me particularly. At least there was an abundant supply of fresh water from the river nearby. General waste was disposed of in a pit dug for the purpose. He lamented the village children who would come and dig around inside it. We hoisted a few cans and bits of paper strewn around the edges back into the cavity.

Of course what I really wanted to do was get on and see the falls whilst it was still light. It was still early afternoon and I had several hours of light remaining. I realised that taking my backpack along would be an unnecessary burden since I was to return later and so I asked the warden if I could leave it somewhere safe. He agreed to letting me leave it in his office. In the process of looking for something or other he opened the door to an adjacent storeroom. I peered inside to see it strewn with empty beer bottles.

In the process of looking for something or other he opened the door to an adjacent storeroom. I peered inside to see it strewn with empty beer bottles.

He escorted me along a path that skirted the summit of the waterfall a few dozen yards hence. He pointed out a barrier of green, painted metal and told me that under no circumstances was I to go further than that point. I could hear the waterfall thundering just out of view.

“There was a very terrible accident” the warden informed me. “There was a girl from Denmark. She slipped over there,” he said pointing towards the barrier. “All the way down,” he said with another gesture. “She died.”

“There was a girl from Denmark. She slipped over there,” he said pointing towards the barrier. “All the way down”…

With that tragic story in mind we parted ways. He had some business to attend to. I assured him I would be back by 4 o’clock or so. It seemed he wanted to see me before he disappeared for the day. Of course I had to take a closer peak at the spot where the Danish girl had allegedly fallen from.

IMG_20150602_133143994_HDRA short way from the barriers the layers of steeply inclined rock fell away into the void beyond but the head of he falls could be seen a short way off. For a while the falls were hidden from view as I descended further, but after 5 or 10 minutes they appeared again between the trees and a short while later I was at the base.

It really was a fantastic sight: the waterfall cascading first into a pool just out of sight, the billowing mist caught by the afternoon sun streaming down from my left. It continued to flow down in a series of cascades and rapids. I have recorded a video clip on my phone which speaks for itself. Best of all I had the place to myself. There was no-one else there. The vegetation was lush and green, some of the riverine trees towering straight up many metres up to where the gorge widened and their crowns unimpeded.

It really was a fantastic sight: the waterfall cascading first into a pool just out of sight, the billowing mist caught by the afternoon sun streaming down from my left.

I remember feeling like a little boy with his first sight of a natural wonder – seeing the ocean for the first time or a great river. A nervous energy coursed through my veins as I scampered over the rocks, following the river downstream, ducking under old branches and dead trunks. At one point I had to climb over some slippery surfaces and it wasn’t till I looked up again that I realised that the waterfall was out of sight. Here the water ebbed into quieter pools, their depths hidden in the shadows, and the atmosphere was more sombre.

I remember feeling like a little boy with his first sight of a natural wonder – seeing the ocean for the first time or a great river.

I clambered down yet further until something caught my eye – an old bag, much the shape and size of my daypack. It had obviously been there a while. It was old and rotted. I couldn’t find anything alluding to its former owner whoever he or she may have been, except a brand label which read Bjorn Borg, which sounded Scandinavian to me. Images of distant fjords came to mind and a country name – Denmark.

As morbid as this may seem there is no means of connecting this article with the deceased tourist. And even if it could be what would it achieve? It did give me pause for thought though and I wondered for a few solemn moments who this young girl had been, her life snatched away from her so cruelly in the prime of her life. It reminded me too that in my efforts to commune with nature, to see her in all her wild beauty, I needed to tread gently and modestly. I was prepared to take risks but I wasn’t a thrill seeker.

It reminded me too that in my efforts to commune with nature, to see her in all her wild beauty, I needed to tread gently and modestly.

A little while later I had reason to reflect on this as I scrambled up a rock face to get a better view of the pool beneath the waterfall. It was a sparsely-vegetated side of the gorge and if I slipped down I could sprain an ankle or worse. I reconsidered my predicament, weighing up the secret thrill of swimming in the pool versus the inherent risk of getting there and decided not to on this occasion.

Besides, there was so much to absorb and enjoy that I had no need to take undue risk. A flock of hornbills alighted in some trees nearby and made quite a cacophony. Above the mists billowing upwards a couple of black crows floated with apparent ease, masters of the breeze. Growing amongst the rocks on the edges of the ravine were various wild flowers, Gladiolii and others I knew but couldn’t put a name to.

Above the mists billowing upwards a couple of black crows floated with apparent ease, masters of the breeze.

By the time I clambered out the gorge back to where I had parted company from the warden a few hours before it was a little after 4 pm. Suddenly he appeared along the path looking furious. “Where were you?” he bellowed at me. “I have been waiting!”

I apologised and asked him what the urgency was. It was then that the sweet, fruity odour of sorghum beer wafted over towards me and I knew that the man was inebriated. With a little more placating he led me back to the campsite by which time he was back in good spirits going on about our enduring friendship and such nonsense.

It was then that the sweet, fruity odour of sorghum beer wafted over towards me and I knew that the man was inebriated.

I waved him goodnight (and muttered good riddance) before finding a spot beneath a large spreading tree to pitch my tent. The evening was drawing in so I decided to head back to the river, a bar of soap and towel in hand. The river above the falls is perhaps one of the most unspoilt and picturesque that I have had the good fortune to set eyes on.

The river above the falls is perhaps one of the most unspoilt and picturesque that I have had the good fortune to set eyes on.

IMG_20150602_165419453_HDRPart of the charm was no doubt the character of the rock – sheets of it highly folded, vertically inclined and poking out sporadically, the river waters dividing and recombining in turn. Beneath the smooth surface algae and fantastic, swirling water grass clung to the sub-structure. Red-blossomed aloes sprung from rocky alcoves on either side, alongside spiny Euphorbia plants and clumps of wispy grass. Many of the trees were draped in long wisps of green, spidery lichen, colloquially referred to as ‘old man’s beard.’

Beneath the smooth surface algae and fantastic, swirling water grass clung to the sub-structure.

IMG_20150602_171146895_HDRThe river either emanated from or flowed through a large wetland area a few hundred meters above the falls. A large clump of palm trees hugged the edge of the wetland a short distance away from where I was bathing. These wetlands are a fairly common feature of the Zambian landscape and on several occasions a most welcome source of fresh water. I am not so familiar with them in the context of the Zimbabwean landscape which is dominated by granite.

That night I cooked a pot of pasta and sauce on a fire made beneath a small, circular thatched structure, using a handful of the roofing straw as kindling, as per the instruction of the honourable warden. I had queried his method but he assured me that he didn’t mind re-thatching it periodically. A near full-moon appeared over the escarpment to the east and I felt at peace with the world. A few sounds reached me on the night air from a neighbouring village, besides which I was completely alone (bot not lonely).

A near full-moon appeared over the escarpment to the east and I felt at peace with the world.

The packed the following morning and was ready to move out before the warden had even arrived. I ambled out the gates to the campsite and started heading back up the road. This time around there was no assurance of a lift. By my reckoning I had at least 10 km to walk (actually 14 km on Google Earth) to get back to the main road. I had a one full dedicated water-bottle and several other smaller plastic bottles with either soft drink or water in them as well.

After a hundred yards or so the sprightly warden appeared on his bicycle. He seemed equally as incredulous as the army man the day before that I would dare attempt to walk unaided back to the main road. “Let me take you on my bicycle. We can negotiate a price,” he urged me. Besides the fact that the bike would struggle to accommodate my person let alone my fully-laden pack I liked the idea of the challenge. I declined his kind offer.

By my reckoning I had at least 10 km to walk (actually 14 km on Google Earth) to get back to the main road.

He walked with me for several hundred meters, past a group of excited, chattering children and a large vehicle that appeared to be loading up on soil (or perhaps off-loading, I couldn’t tell). As was his nature he stopped abruptly and told me that he would go no further, shook my hand, and left me to continue alone.

At first it was fairly easy-going but as first one hour and then another slid by I felt my thirst increase incrementally and I drained the bottles with alarming rapidity. My shirt was completely drenched in perspiration along the part covered by the straps and including my entire back. I rested every so often but tried to keep it to a minimum and focused my eyes on the road ahead. Not one vehicle passed in either direction.

At first it was fairly easy-going but as first one hour and then another slid by I felt my thirst increase incrementally and I drained the bottles with alarming rapidity.

Suddenly out of nowhere a group of school children appeared from one of the villages, both boys and girls. The boys all wore pale blue open-collared shirts with black trousers and shoes. A few of them were throwing a soft miniature rugby ball between them. I gestured to one of them to throw it to me. He obliged and very soon I was the subject of a new game.

Suddenly out of nowhere a group of school children appeared from one of the villages

IMG_20150603_120655873I tried to be as cool and unpredictable as possible pretending to throw it one way but tossing it the other. They loved it, scrambling this way wanting to be the first to gather and return the ball to me. The girls were less sure of my antics, smiling shyly and dodging the ball if it came their way.

Eventually they peeled off to the left side of the road and I was walking alone again. Not long after I saw a truck cross the open space between the trees in the far distance and I knew I was almost at my destination. By the time I got back to Tonga Lala I was, for lack of a better expression, well and truly pooped. I flopped down next to a tree for a few minutes, drank the last of my water and munched on some biscuits.

By the time I got back to Tonga Lala I was, for lack of a better expression, well and truly pooped.

I also took off my Salomon walking shoes and let my feet breath for a few minutes, observing the white puckered skin on the balls of my feet where blisters had formed and ruptured. Taking a bare-foot run on the farm in Mkushi hadn’t helped matters. I would have to keep an eye on these particular parts of my anatomy, especially considering how crucial they were to my continued expeditionary success.

Back at the roadside town of Kanona I found a welcome store from which I bought a cold-drink and some further snacks. It was already past midday and the next challenge was to hitch a ride up the main highway, the T2 or Great North Road, to the town of Mpika. I’d initially hoped to stop off at the Mutinondo Wilderness Area on the Muchinga Escarpment between Kundalila and Mpika but it was a bit off the beaten track and the prices, although hardly exorbitant, were beyond my modest budget. Another reason to go back in the future!

I’d initially hoped to stop off at the Mutinondo Wilderness Area on the Muchinga Escarpment … but it was a bit off the beaten track and the prices … beyond my modest budget. 

I recall having to stand by the roadside for quite some time before I had any joy getting out of Kanona. Most of the traffic on that stretch of the highway had no reason to stop at the little settlement and I soon gave up on standing to close to the roadside as a series of massive lorries roared past, dust and diesel fumes in their wake. Several of these were driven by Chinese men. Apparently Chinese firms had some big construction contracts in the north of the country.

Whilst awaiting a chance lift I tried to make myself as comfortable as possible perched on top my backpack, my floppy hat pulled down low and shading me from the glaring midday sun. Eventually, as seemed the tradition, a local man took pity on me and somehow flagged a passing car with two young gents inside. They seemed quite amenable to having a passenger.  As it happened they were heading to Mpika as well. As the crow flew it was about 160 km up the road.

Whilst awaiting a chance lift I tried to make myself as comfortable as possible perched on top my backpack, my floppy hat pulled down low and shading me from the glaring midday sun.

The driver and his companion were comfortably conversant in English. They had both been living in Lusaka but were heading north to investigate a business opportunity, something to do with a farm, north of Mpika.

The guy in the passenger seat I was surprised to learn was a computer scientist who had been working for one or other of the banks as an IT contractor. He was pleased to hear that I had been living in the UK and informed me that it was his dream to get work there one day, to be as he proclaimed ‘at the cutting edge.’ How serious he was about this dream I can’t say for sure. I asked him if he was on LinkedIn and he said he wasn’t. I suggested that if he wanted to get in contact with the right sort of companies that he sign up. It hasn’t landed me any jobs but I’m informed that it has done so for many others.

(he) informed me that it was his dream to get work there (the UK) one day, to be as he proclaimed ‘at the cutting edge.’

We talked about various things on our way north, the driver proceeding at a modest speed. I was informed that the tyres were not in great shape and were struggling to keep pressure whatever that meant. It sounded a bit ominous and it didn’t help to see one or two car wrecks by the roadside, one of them very recent and attended by a small crowd of onlookers.

It is quite normal to stop in such instances in Africa which we did. Apparently the accident had happened the day before. The truck, a land cruiser by the looks of it, was in the process of being righted and was due to be towed off that afternoon.

We continued on towards Mpika as the conversation turned to politics and the state of the nation’s leadership. The previous president, Mr Sata, who’d passed only some seven months prior and apparently well liked, was succeeeded by an unknown entity, Mr Edgar Lungu. One of my companions derided him as a pliable man who had a penchant for the bottle. They both laughed heartily at this statement.

We continued on towards Mpika as the conversation turned to politics and the state of the nation’s leadership.

They lamented the passing of the late president who they claimed to have been a capable and strong statesman but added, with a touch of pride, that we were in fact entering the home area of the late, great leader. I have double checked this fact and confirm that Michael Chilufya Sata was born and raised in Mpika, Northern Province, Zambia.

They lamented the passing of the late president who they claimed to have been a capable and strong statesman

There was a large hill on the approach to the town which he had somehow laid claim to. I can’t remember it’s precise significance. What I do remember off to the left (north-west) of the road was the natural woodland suddenly opening up to reveal acre upon acre of reforested land. The trees of choice were conifers, to my mind completely inappropriate for that area. I wondered whose amazing idea that had been. Was there a public consultation, a well-scrutinised EIA? I have no idea but I imagined it as a so-called ‘green desert’ in years to come. The local flora and fauna would not thrive in such a place.

IMG_20150603_172615846We entered Mpika in the early evening and stopped by a roadside hotel that my companions recommended to me. A quick perusal of the place left me unconvinced. I was lucky enough to have a bit of data on my phone and was able to do a quick accommodation search on the internet.

We entered Mpika in the early evening and stopped by a roadside hotel that my companions recommended to me.

There was one prospective place on the edge of town in the direction from which we had come and another, Bayamas, which looked promising but which was a little dear for my budget. I talked briefly over the phone to the owner, a European national of some sort, before deciding I would camp at the first place mentioned. I messaged Mr Bayama out of politeness. He messaged back asking me to reconsider. I hadn’t said I wanted to camp and campers could stay for free!

By now I was hobbling along, the outside of my right foot especially painful. I was getting some quizzical looks from some of the locals as I went in search of a cash machine, of which I was assured there were several. As luck would have it the first was inside a bank which was closed, the second was out of cash and no-one seemed to know where the third was. I found it eventually, having limped up and down that main stretch of road several times by now.

By now I was hobbling along, the outside of my right foot especially painful.

Meanwhile my companions were struggling to remove one  of the wheels from the car which was bald and chronically low on pressure. It was a miracle we had even got into Mpika considering the condition of those tyres. They had promised to look after my pack and I had promised to return with the petrol money we had agreed upon earlier.

I left them in a state of repair and walked back up the road to the main junction, near to where I would allegedly find Bayamas. It wasn’t quite as easy as that and I initially started walking in the wrong direction. What to do in such circumstances? Ask the locals, obviously.

I flagged a couple of youths who were ambling by at that moment and asked the question of them. With a certain swagger and confidence they took me by the arm and marched me the short distance back up the road to the junction, across to the other side, and a further 100 yards on we were there. I thanked them for sparing the time and told them I would be fine. Nevertheless they insisted on following me inside.

With a certain swagger and confidence they took me by the arm and marched me the short distance back up the road to the junction, across to the other side, and a further 100 yards on we were there.

IMG_20150604_083918830I found a similarly young male employee who explained that Mr Bayama wasn’t available at that moment but would I like to follow him to the campsite? I tried to ignore the restless trio of youths still waiting by the door to the dining complex as I followed the steward to a grassy patch of land beyond the back of the guesthouses. They were not deterred.

As I scouted out the land I saw the most vocal of them saying something to the young employee. He in turn turned to me with a nervous smile and informed me that they wished to be ‘rewarded’ for their helpfulness in showing me to the guesthouse. Well I couldn’t keep my anger bottled any longer. I looked him straight in the eye and told him what I thought.

“I come to your country as a stranger and this is how you treat me. If you came to mine I would be happy to show you where you wanted to go and wouldn’t expect to be paid for it either!”

The youth looked at me long and hard, his eyes narrowing and I thought, oh no, this is not going to end well for me, is it? Fortunately the old night watchman had appeared. Perhaps that tilted the balance of things back in my favour. Breaking the tension as suddenly as it had developed, the youth threw his head back and laughed in the same moment reaching out to slap my hand.

Breaking the tension as suddenly as it had developed, the youth threw his head back and laughed in the same moment reaching out to slap my hand.

“Don’t worry my man, I don’t want anything from you,” and with the same confident swagger, grinning all the while, they departed the premises. I was still concerned that they might come back so I asked the night watchman to keep an eye out for them. He assured me he would.

This was the same night watchman I mentioned in an earlier post: the one who spoke solemnly about the state of the country’s forests and the dysfunctional ministry who was supposed take custody of this natural resource and to responsibly manage it. But that conversation would happen much later in the evening.

I wanted nothing more than to get a good plate of grub and a good night’s rest. It was at that moment that the esteemed owner of the establishment, a large German gentleman introduced to me as Andreas, hove into view. He had an rounded, bald head, an unremarkable but hospitable face and a large frame. He stood a few inches taller than me and more than a few pounds to the good. He waved me over to the bar and promised to come chat once he had attended to some other business. I obliged and with some eagerness ordered a nice cold Mosi beer from the barman.

I wanted nothing more than to get a good plate of grub and a good night’s rest.

It went down very easily, perhaps too easily. I was simultaneously aware of how tired and sore my body was after my exploits earlier in the day. I was probably quite dehydrated and beer was probably not the ideal liquid to imbibe at that time. A few other patrons of the establishment wandered in – mostly black, but not exclusively so.

A white South African gent introduced himself from across the counter. I was surprised to learn that he had been just about everywhere else in south-central-east Africa except for Zimbabwe. He bought me a beer and then wandered off. He was a regular patron I learnt from Andreas. His forays to the bar were good business for him. In the meantime I ordered a plate of Nshima (a thick maize meal porridge) and chicken from the kitchen.

In the meantime I ordered a plate of Nshima (a thick maize meal porridge) and chicken from the kitchen.

Andreas returned a little while later and sat down next to me. He politely inquired as to my business and I explained that I was a free-spirited backpacker. What was he doing here I asked him in turn. He drew a breath and told me that he had come out some good 15 or 20 years earlier with the German development aid agency, DED. He was a carpenter by trade and he had been involved training up apprentices in the local community alongside other tradesman contracted for the same purpose. That sounds useful I remarked.

“Maybe for a short period of time,” he replied somewhat surprisingly. “I mean what’s the point turning out dozens of carpenters and other artisans when the local community only requires a finite number of them.” I nodded in agreement but not really sure either way.

“Anyway, after some time with the DED I decided that we achieved out purpose and were no longer of any real benefit. We had ceased to be useful. Meantime I had really come to like Zambia: the people, the climate, the lifestyle. Sure it’s not Europe but that’s what I like about it,” he continued passionately.

“To start a business in Europe requires all sorts of bureaucracy. Here in Africa you can just get on and do it. Everything you see here I have built,” he continued, gesturing across the wide interior. And if I want to add something on tomorrow I know the people to talk to and I can start as soon as I want to.”

“Zambia has been through some hard times. These young men you see here,” looking across to where several of them were chatting at the other end of the bar, “they are the orphaned generation. Most of them lost their parents to the AIDS epidemic. They grew up without fathers, perhaps only grandfathers. They were told that they were a generation without opportunity but in reality they have all the opportunity now because there was so little economic activity before they became adults. They are the future and this is where I want to be.”

“Zambia has been through some hard times. These young men you see here … they are the orphaned generation. Most of them lost their parents to the AIDS epidemic …”

I couldn’t find any point of his to contend. In fact I was quite taken by his optimism. Why had he called the place Bayamas I enquired of him. He smiled and explained that it translated loosely as ‘uncle’s place.’ He had garnered the name uncle – Yama – somewhere along the line and realised that it was worth his while to try make it stick instead of being known as a generic muzungu. I laughed at this obtuse but somewhat understandable logic.

He had garnered the name uncle – Yama – somewhere along the line and realised that it was worth his while to try make it stick instead of being known as a generic muzungu.

Eventually my food appeared. One of the waiters started setting a nearby table but Andreas gestured for him to bring the cutlery and dining mat to the bar. I could sit and eat and chat to him simultaneously. I didn’t mind. On a nearby television an episode of the popular BBC car show, Top Gear, was playing. He followed my gaze and smiled knowingly.

“One of my favourite shows,” he elaborated. “I love this black humour of you English.” I wondered if that was how the outside world viewed the British – a nation of dark sarcasm. How amusing, especially coming from a German, a nation whose reputation for clarity and precision did not suggest a predisposition to this so-called ‘black humour.’

Around that time the affable German’s wife sidled up to the bar, a smiling Zambian woman in her 40s I would hazard to guess, much the same age as Andreas. They looked like a couple at ease in each other’s company. She talked with him briefly in a low confidential voice and then moved off. He turned to me and informed me that he must be off and that I was welcome to stay as long as I wanted. I thanked him but wanted nothing more than to ‘hit the sack.’ And that’s exactly what I did a short while later.

Mkushi and the New Farmers

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I arrived in Mkushi on a Thursday evening an hour or so after dark. Fortunately for me the driver was acquainted with the Forest Inn en route to Mkushi town. I was deposited at the roadside and compelled to cross the road in the direction of a dim light emanating from behind a metal gate.

I was deposited at the roadside and compelled to cross the road in the direction of a dim light emanating from behind a metal gate.

For a second I wondered if it was the same place that Tim had in mind but upon entering I found a guard who confirmed that it was. Furthermore a restaurant and bar were on hand with a number of white and black customers. Not busy but it looked tidy enough. I made my way to the bar and promptly gulped down the ice-cold Mosi Lager placed before me by the compliant waiter.

I was soon joined by two young white South African gents who’d been out on one of the farms vaccinating several hundred head of cattle. They introduced themselves as Tim (a different one) and Casper. It was Casper’s cousin who headed up the business. Casper informed me that he was making a very tidy sum for his efforts.

I was soon joined by two young white South African gents who’d been out on one of the farms vaccinating several hundred head of cattle.

I didn’t ask the boys what they were getting paid but they seemed to be enjoying life, both being in their mid to late twenties. Tim looked as though he was fresh out of 6th form, such was his fresh-faced appearance. They lived down in Lusaka but drove all round the country.

My contact, also Tim informed me that he and his wife were at a bible study and would only be able to collect me afterwards which gave me a good hour or so. Tim and Casper gave me an overview of what they did and what they thought of Zambia (positive) in their relatively short time there (6 months). I followed my first Mosi (local lager, not bad) with a second.

The boys were drinking vodka-mixes, the last one of which they concocted into a ‘vodka slammer’

The boys were drinking vodka-mixes, the last one of which they concocted into a ‘vodka slammer’. This involved adding to the tot of vodka two fingers of soda, placing the palm of one’s hand over the tumbler and shaking it vigorously. The effervescing mix was then consumed on one go through a small vent where the thumb met the glass. Just as I was compelled to follow suit Tim the farmer walked into the bar behind me, thus saving me the trouble. On the way out he chuckled and asked me if I was being led astray! I protested but I was guilty as charged!

On the way out he chuckled and asked me if I was being led astray!

Tim and his wife Hanneker were farming on the edge of a farming block and Tim claimed there were no other commercial farmers between him and the DRC border about 10 kilometres away. Due to the unusual shape of the country the DRC makes a large incursion into Zambia between the Luapula River and the watershed boundary just north of the various Copperbelt towns.

I’d met Tim on an Ethiopian Airways flight into Lusaka end route to Harare the year before. We had only chatted briefly but he kindly extended the offer for me to stay if I ever I passed through. That day had come! They were pleasant Christian people who kindly shared their house and home.

I had until the Tuesday when their son Francoise was returning from Stellenbosch University. Also staying on the farm was another Zimbawean man, Johnny, new to the community and in the process of setting up shop nearby. His wife Moira and daughter Mia were staying with some other friends in the district whilst their house was being built.

Also staying on the farm was another Zimbawean man, Johnny, new to the community and in the process of setting up shop nearby.

I was very impressed by what the commercial farmers field done in Mkushi. Many of them have resettled from Zimbabwe but Hanneke informed me there was an older, wealthier contingent who had settled years ago from Tanzania, many of them Greeks! It seemed one of the big men in the area was a chap called Peter Michaels – an anglicised Greek name if ever there was one.

I got a cursory look at some expansive hectares of wheat under irrigation, game farms, and maize fields ready for harvest as we drove to church on Sunday morning. It was all very neat and tidy and reminiscent of what many of the Zimbabwean farming districts looked like in the 80s and 90s before that fool Mugabe set about on his program of nationalising the land. Tim explained that they were all on 99 year leases and they paid an annual rent on the land. They had indefinite leave to remain on some sort of investment permit.

I got a cursory look at some expansive hectares of wheat under irrigation, game farms, and maize fields ready for harvest …

I walked extensively on Tim’s farm taking in his relatively new fields (only 3 years in), the workers levelling the last of the termite mounds, a small acreage of tobacco, a larger area of winter wheat being irrigated by his new centre pivot, and an area of citrus trees. The only regrettable aspect of this sort of farming was the fact that all the land now under irrigation had been clear-felled of every last tree. Huge piles of hardwood trunks lay stacked up neatly in the one corner nearest to his tobacco barns.

Huge piles of hardwood trunks lay stacked up neatly in the one corner nearest to his tobacco barns.

Tim was not oblivious to the waste of fine trees. It was a great shame he told me: the price of growing food for the hundry masses. I understood the dilemma but so long as tracts of surrounding woodland were preserved and the land maximised I suppose it was a justifiable compromise.

The one area near Tim’s farm that sticks in my mind for its beauty was a few kilometres away to the north. Tim took Johnny and I there on the Friday evening, the day after I arrived. The area in question was part of a line of outcropping ridges of vertically-foliated rock running roughly in a northerly direction towards a prominent waterfall 7 or so kms away, demarkated even on my country-scale tourist map of the country.

The view over the adjacent woodlands and distant farms was superb but the rocks and vegetation thereon was equally interesting. The surrounding Miombo was broken through by the outcrops and clinging to the rocks and the gaps between them was an abundance of Euphorbias: a thorny, candelabra-shaped, cactus-like plant. There were also clumps of small purplish-blue aloes and other shrubs and climbers.

The surrounding Miombo was broken through by the outcrops and clinging to the rocks and the gaps between them was an abundance of Euphorbias: a thorny, candelabra-shaped, cactus-like plant.

The rocks were obviously very deformed but it was still possible to identify the precursors as conglomerates i.e. sandstone embedded with rounded pebbles. Tim was particularly excited to show me what he called his ‘river of quartz.’ Indeed, numerous flakes of the opaque, white mineral littered the ground. We followed the ‘river’ between the rocks to where it emenated: a large quartzitic outcrop which appeared to have been deliberately excavated.

IMG_20150530_163010413Further observation of the surrounding outcrop revealed some interesting nodules which looked very much like ore – hematite perhaps? I knew that the Copperbelt was not far to the west and suspected that these rocks may have been in continuity with that stratigraphy. It would also explain why Tim had seen Chinese men digging prospecting trenches in the vicinity.

Further observation of the surrounding outcrop revealed some interesting nodules which looked very much like ore – hematite perhaps?

It was very much business as usual for Tim and Hanneke and when I missed the chance to go to the local airshow the next day because I was out taking a run it was ‘tough takkie’ as the Zimbabwean saying goes.

Therefore I was compelled to entertain myself for the rest of the day. Taking a barefoot run on a farm is all good and well if you are 10 years old; now I’m 36. By the time I’d done 5 or 6 kms out and back I was hobbling and my right foot had a nasty gouge where I had wacked a root. The roads were for the most part sandy but I had underestimated the roots! All the same I wasn’t going to let the day go to waste so I set out again around midday with binoculars and Tim’s GPS to hand.

Taking a barefoot run on a farm is all good and well if you are 10 years old; now I’m 36.

I digressed from my original plan after missing a crucial turning and by the time I realised I had walked a mile or so in the wrong direction. Therefore I decided to take a ‘shortcut’ through the miombo using the GPS. Bad idea: 6-foot grass (and grass-seeds), spider’s webs, and mid-afternoon temperatures in the upper 20s. Eventually I came to a footpath crossing my direction of travel. I backtracked to where I’d been an hour and a half before and doggedly determined decided to carry on despite an aching outer-right foot etc. Pain is for quitters!

I decided to take a ‘shortcut’ … Bad idea: 6-foot grass (and grass-seeds), spider’s webs, and mid-afternoon temperatures in the upper 20s.

It can be a bit lonely out there in the bush but if you open your eyes and ears it will reward you. Earlier I had run with the farm dogs – Poeter, a huge Boerbul; George, a perky Jack Russell; and a happy-go-lucky labroador whose name I forget. I loved their company but it was impossible to see any wildlife when they were with me.

Now it was quiet enough that I could get in close to the birdlife and see what was there. Many of them I had seen and knew (sort of) from years past. I just needed to brush up using the old field guide that Hanneke had given to me. Others were first sightings – Livingstone’s loerie (turaco), yellow-breasted and Mashona hyliota, and red-billed helmet-shrikes among that number.

Now it was quiet enough that I could get in close to the birdlife and see what was there.

Two things threaten this environment and both derive from human activities. The first is uncontrolled tree-felling. The second is uncontrolled hunting of the wildlife therein. I am not going to apportion blame to either but solutions have to be sought for the long-term survival and viability of this magnificently diverse ecological habitat. I have heard it said that all the game larger than the smallest antelope has been hunted and eaten outside of Zambia’s game parks. Tim said he had never seen any sort of duiker or other buck whilst he had been there.

I have heard it said that all the game larger than the smallest antelope has been hunted and eaten outside of Zambia’s game parks.

I also noticed many medium to large trees in the woodlands had been felled, seemingly at random. I asked Tim about this and his answer left me gobsmacked. People were felling them for the caterpillars (fushima) that lived in the upper branches. I knew that dried Mopane caterpillars, colloquially called Mopane worms, were utilised as an important source of protein in many parts of Zimbabwe, but I had never heard of trees being felled just for the purpose of harvesting them. What about the following season? What then? It was an example of short-term gain which is so characteristic of humans the world-over.

Without going into a discussion on the hows and whys I do believe that poverty is probably the main driver of such activities. After all, it couldn’t be the easiest way to make a living selling the dried, disemboweled bodies of these unfortunate creatures by the roadside?

I spoke to a wise old man, a night-watchman at a roadside lodge in Mpika, a couple of days later. His name was Simon. We spoke at some length on these issues and others and he told me how worried he was for the forests of Zambia.

“We will be seeing deserts in the future” he said to me as he sat looking sadly into the brazier of coals that was keeping him warm through the winter evening.

Look, the situation is not as bad as all that at this moment. The Miombo is still extensive enough that it can regenerate given time. Even the wildlife would probably return with the right measures in place. Anecdotally speaking, I hear the situation is far worse in Malawi which has a far higher density of people than Zambia.

I hear the situation is far worse in Malawi which has a far higher density of people than Zambia.

There are people and organisations doing good work to try to find solutions and they need to be supported. I would encourage you to visit these places, to talk to the people and ask them about their aspirations. Much of what they say will probably surprise you.

On a more positive note I have a nice little gallery of plant and flower photographs taken with my nifty little Motorola mobile phone of the bush around the farm. I managed to ID a few of them from a nice little handbook on plants of the Miombo, also loaned to me by Hanneke. A few were familiar from the Zimbabwean bush but others were new.

I have a nice little gallery of plant and flower photographs taken with my nifty little Motorola mobile phone of the bush around the farm.

The Miombo here was of the ‘wetter’ type highlighted in the book and characterised by more epiphytes (orchids and similar plants growing on the branches and trunks of trees) and a slightly different floral assemblage. For the most part the trees were not unduly large – not as large as some I had seen in the very well-watered DRC off the NW – but there were some tall, straight specimens at the base of the outcrops which were 30 m or taller I’m guessing.

In the evenings we ate early and slept early. It is the farming way of life I think. All the same there was a bit of time to converse beforehand and chatting to Johnny I was surprised to learn that he was quite well acquainted with my family. My father had represented him regarding some legal matter sometime between 2003 when he started to fall ill (cancer) and when he passed away three years later. A few years before my cousin Michael had interviewed him and a number of other farmers for a postgraduate project he was engaged in researching for. I promised Johnny I would ask him for a copy.

My father had represented him regarding some legal matter sometime between 2003 when he started to fall ill (cancer) and when he passed away three years later.

I also asked him why he hadn’t come out to Mkushi earlier, after losing his farm to the land nationalisation and resettlement program over a decade before. He said to me that he gave it three years to see if things might change, then another three and another three again, before realising that it was a lost cause.

I worked out that he must have been in his early 50s. I admired him for giving the farming lark another go with all the attendant risks. Others had packed their bags and headed to Australia and the UK whilst others remained in Zimbabwean towns doing other things, as Johnny had done for the last decade.

I admired him for giving the farming lark another go with all the attendant risks.

I didn’t really get to speak to Tim that much but he was a pretty upbeat sort who seemed to treat his staff reasonably and enjoy his chosen vocation. I spoke more with Hanneke when I accompanied her to Mkushi town on the Monday. She’d suggested I talk to her immigration officer, Victor, about getting around the place (I was considering the train) and any other troubleshooting I might require.

I spoke more with Hanneke when I accompanied her to Mkushi town on the Monday.

En route Hanneke, who came across as quite a tough cookie as a first impression, spoke more openly of life there. It wasn’t as easy as all that she said and she missed being so far away from her kids (two at university in SA and one at school there). She told me that in the early days of their Zambian adventure things had been so tough they hadn’t even had any food to put on the table some days. They were only managing a farm then and as result had no collateral land against which to borrow. Slowly but surely they had pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and now they had their own farm and food on the table for which I was a grateful recipient for several days!

Slowly but surely they had pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and now they had their own farm…

I had to chuckle when we arrived at Victor’s office because Hanneke’s countenance changed completely. It wasn’t that she’d been unkind or severe but her businesslike attitude was put aside and she was suddenly all smiles and rather charming. You see, Victor was a rather important man around those parts for he had the power to renew work and residence permits. He responded well to the smiles and complements in his tidy little office with the picture of the new president, Mr Edgar Lungu, hanging on the facing wall.

Victor was a rather important man around those parts for he had the power to renew work and residence permits.

He was young, probably not much older than me, of average height and slim with dark skin set off against ever so white teeth, suggesting to me that he’d spent much of his youth outdoors. Whilst Hanneke sat across his desk and I sat pretending to study my map he set about calling various people in the chain of command. There was a slight snag in one of the renewals but never mind, he would sort it out he assured Hanneke, who heaped praises on the little man for his efforts.

Whilst Hanneke sat across his desk and I sat pretending to study my map he set about calling various people in the chain of command.

By this stage I’d decided that I wouldn’t take the train up to Tanzania after all but rather bus/hitch lifts up to Lake Tanganyika via a slightly different route. It would allow me to take in some sights and places that I would have bypassed on the train. Victor gave me a few suggestions and helpfully made a phone call to a contact to ask him the best way to approach Kapishya hotsprings – advice I later disgarded, but appreciated nonetheless.

On the Sunday morning I accompanied Tim and Hanneke, Johnny, Moira and Mia to church. It was about an hour’s drive away and I remarked to Moira that it was a more like a pilgrimage! She laughed and Tim also remarked that it was probably the longest trip I’d ever taken to go to church, right? It probably was.

On the Sunday morning I accompanied Tim and Hanneke, Johnny, Moira and Mia to church.

It was a tidy little place although the congregation was a little diminished after the previous day’s airshow. It was reminiscent of many of the Protestant-Christian services I’ve attended over the years in various places. There was an emphasis on song (good) with a few competent musicians leading the worship and a key speaker who just happened to be an American pastor who was out visiting another American friend who ministered in the area. The latter was also an avid hunter which struck me as a bit strange for a missionary sort but there it was.

Here was a community who needed something to rally around and for this collection of farmers and their families it was their church. The importance of their Christian faith came home to me on that same drive to Mkushi with Hanneke that I just mentioned. She told me that she wouldn’t have been able to get through the upheaval of the last 15 years if she hadn’t had her faith.

Here was a community who needed something to rally around and for this collection of farmers and their families it was their church.

“I just gave it all to the Lord,” she said. “It was too much for me to cope with.”

Many of those who had gone off to Australia and elsewhere were the ones who still bore such bitterness and enmity she went on to say. They still bore such a grudge towards Mugabe, towards black people. “They need to deal with it,” she said.

It was a fair point although I know how hard it is to forgive when we feel badly wronged.

The other thing about the European community in Zambia is how heterogeneous it is. Hanneke is of Afrikaans extract as her name might suggest, as were many members of the Mkushi community. I heard mention of Danie’s and Stefan’s and similar, and smatterings of Afrikaans I heard quite frequently. English is the language of the land though and the average black Zambian speaks it quite well, even in areas well away from the towns.

The other thing about the European community in Zambia is how heterogeneous it is.

Yet the English-speaking whites were also a varied bunch: some Zimbabwean, others American, others ex-Tanzanian and a few Brits to round it out. Of the latter I met a very personable family, the Woods, who were doing some sort of missionary work. John invited me to braai/BBQ with them later in the day. Fortunately for me they had established themselves on a corner of Tim’s farm so it was easy to get there and back.

Yet the English-speaking whites were also a varied bunch: some Zimbabwean, others American, others ex-Tanzanian and a few Brits to round it out.

John and Judith lived 6 months of the year in Wales and 6 months in Zambia. They had three boys, all well-spoken and bright, and they resided in a basic but comfortable cottage amongst the trees. We were joined by an Afrikaans couple, Karel and Hannelee, and their three children. It was a great afternoon spent chatting, playing badminton and eating some lovely, tender fillets that John had acquired from afar.

John was a typically jovial, robust Englishman, who laughed a lot and made frequent ripostes about braaing better than an Afrikaaner, in an attempt to goad Karel no doubt. Judith was a locum doctor when back in the UK but assisted John in day-to-day life and with family responsibilities in Zambia. I was impressed with how much John had travelled within Africa and some of the stories he had to tell will make good reading one day when he has the time to reminisce.

John was a typically jovial, robust Englishman, who laughed alot and made frequent ripostes about braaing better than an Afrikaaner.

The following morning I packed my things and readied myself for the next stage of the journey. Hanneke had taken me to visit the du Plessis family the day before. The three of them, father, wife and son were still living in temporary, tented accommodation. They had invested all their money in buying a farm (they could expect to get a title-deed but would still lease from the Zambian government). However, the seller had disappeared with the money and they were without the deed and in a state of limbo.

Hanneke was evidently sympathetic although there was little she or Tim could do. Not for the first time she emphasized that farming was no walk in the park.

Their son, Mike, had an adventurous spirit and had attempted to explore some of the lesser known rivers, waterfalls and valleys in the northern part of the country. He was happy to share a few stories with me including a failed attempt to reach Wonder Gorge by kayak from upstream and some others which had actually gone more or less to plan. He advised me against going to Lake Bengweulu saying it was overcrowded and over-rated.

Their son, Mike, had an adventurous spirit and had attempted to explore some of the lesser known rivers, waterfalls and valleys in the northern part of the country.

“You’ll want to see some of the waterfalls like Kundalila and Kapishya Hotsprings is a must. Then you can also see Shiwa Ngandu.”

He pointed to the Kasama Rd on my map, telling me this was my best bet in getting to Lake Tanganyika. He also put the Lake near the top of the list which gave me some reassurance that I was making the correct decision. There were a few small details which I would have to address myself but since I was hitch-hiking much would be left to fate.

I recall Hanneke telling me that she could never travel on her own. Was I sure I knew what I was doing? I just shrugged and smiled. Tim had kindly fixed a broken tent pole as best he could with epoxy and black tape. I was as ready as could be expected. They took me down to the main Mkuski town and dropped me by the roadside. Getting a taxi ride from here would be the easy part. A few minutes later I was on board a crowded minibus and heading up the Great North Rd to Serenje.

Tim had kindly fixed a broken tent pole as best he could with epoxy and black tape. I was as ready as could be expected.

 

Camping Out in Suburban Lusaka

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Lusaka is not a beautiful city by any definition I would venture to say, but it would be an injustice to say it is lacking in character. I soon discovered that Zambians are, by and large, quite friendly and helpful by nature. I spent the first 3 nights in a hostel called Kalulu. It was a busy place in the evenings since it had a bar, a pool table and DSTV (digital network channels broadcast from South Africa). I didn’t mind this particularly because the patrons seemed to behave themselves and those of us in the dormitories were left to our own devices.

I soon discovered that Zambians are, by and large, quite friendly and helpful by nature.

The first night I shared my dorm with a German student, Ursula, who had come out to research indigenous foodstuffs, something which I’ve always been curious about. I mean, what did Africans eat before maize came along? Indeed, what do they eat when the maize doesn’t come along (so well) i.e during droughts and economic upheavals? (both of which are fairly common in sub-Saharan Africa). She needed to get an early night before catching a bus to Livingstone and the Falls early the next day so we didn’t get to chat for too long.

The other occupants of the 3 bunk dormitory were a couple of guys from Canada who belonged to the organisation Engineers Without Borders. They were all very young, not yet out of university. They would spend 3 months in Zambia, each stationed in a different part of the country. What a fantastic idea! The two guys, Dawson and Mohammed, were both very friendly. A third, Caroline, was sleeping in another dorm. They were also off to – you guessed it – Livingstone! I was happy to hear that most of them were checking into Jollyboys, where I assured them all that they were sure to have a jolly good time (yes it’s another pun!).

The other occupants of the 3 bunk dormitory were a couple of guys from Canada who belonged to the organisation Engineers Without Borders. They were all very young, not yet out of university

The following day I took a walk to the nearby Levy Mall. I thought it ironic that the first mall I visited in Lusaka bore the name of one of the wealthiest (and most loathed) property-owners in Harare, the late Sam Levy, whose legacy is a shopping centre which bears his name. I gathered that his son now ran the show there but I still wondered if there was a family connection to this ‘straight-out-of-RSA’ shopping mall in suburban Lusaka?

It had a good assortment of shops: many South African clothing and food franchises; a few international ones e.g. Bata shoes; and a minority of local brands. The busiest was undoubtedly the supermarket (Pick and Pay). It didn’t lack for much and I had to resist buying more than was strictly necessary for my immediate needs.

I thought it ironic that the first mall I visited in Lusaka bore the name of one of the wealthiest (and most loathed) property-owners in Harare

I decided to take a walk in the afternoon in the direction of the show grounds where I fell in sync with a local middle-aged Zambian man wearing an English rugby jersey. He was on his way to watch two games (one half of each apparently) in the vicinity. Firstly he was going to the Red Arrows Sports Club and he invited me to accompany him.

On arrival he was greeted heartily by most of the patrons. I learned then that he was actually quite a well-known figure in Zambian rugby circles, coaching both an army team (he was a sergeant in the ZNA) and simultaneously involved in youth development of the sport. I was quite taken aback. Rugby is traditionally seen as a white man’s sport. Not so in this neck of the woods.

I decided to take a walk in the afternoon in the direction of the show grounds where I fell in sync with a local middle-aged Zambian man wearing an English rugby jersey

Both teams that took the field were composed entirely of black players although there was a young white chap scouting for talent from the balcony beside us, for his team in Livingstone apparently. How coincidental I thought; I had seen a poster in that town advertising for players for their inaugural rugby team. By half-time the Red Arrows had run in several tries and looked to be dominating the game. Taking into account the hour we had waited for the game to begin and the fact that my sergeant-friend had disappeared to monitor the game from the sidelines in some official capacity, I decided to call it a day at the pitch.

From the club I walked across the edge of the show grounds to the Polo Club of which I had heard so much from my friend Mandy back in Jo’burg. Actually, she wasn’t particularly enamoured of the Polo Club, complaining that it seemed to be the only place where the local whites hung out. She had spent several years in Lusaka but never took to the place. It was evident that the ground had seen action that very afternoon. A number of jodpur-wearing, horsey types were strolling around or sitting on deck chairs enjoying a beverage whilst the horses were being led off by local groomsmen. It was getting late though so I didn’t stick around to make conversation.

A number of jodpur-wearing, horsey types were strolling around or sitting on deck chairs enjoying a beverage whilst the horses were being led off by local groomsmen

That evening at Kalulu there were three new arrivals to take the place of the previous evening’s occupants. Two of them were Dutch nurses coming from Malawi where they had been active at a clinic for three months, ministering to the needs of local Malawians. I gathered that it was some sort of Christian-oriented organisation. The girls were themselves avowed Christians.

The other new arrival was another Canadian, this time of Sri-Lankan extract. Her name was Mary, newly graduated from university. She had come via a rather impressive overland route encompassing such nations as Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and Kenya. Like me she was travelling alone but was doing voluntary work en route. She had also just come from Malawi which she had really enjoyed. A very friendly, warm character doing some inspirational stuff.

That evening at Kalulu there were three new arrivals to take the place of the previous evening’s occupants

The following morning it was back to Levy to find a SIM for Mary. She was leaving later that morning for Mazabuka, south of Lusaka where she had volunteered for a project working with blind people. She would receive free food and lodgings in return for her assistance. Joining us too was one of the Dutch girls who needed to draw some cash. She failed to find an ATM that was either online or able to dispense cash, a problem would come to encounter quite often myself. I lent her 100 KW to pay her bill. She assured me she would pay me back later in the day. She did.

On the way back just short of Kalulu we passed a man who was hobbling along looking in great discomfort, clutching his left side. Beneath his hand he had a wad of toilet paper and another bit protruded from one of his nostrils. I asked him what was the matter.

“I am suffering from gases,” he explained. “It happens to me from time to time. I came to get help from some friends but they are not here. They usually help me with money for the hospital.”

On the way back just short of Kalulu we passed a man who was hobbling along looking in great discomfort, clutching his left side

When I pressed him on the details he was a bit ambiguous. I wasn’t sure if it was his stomach or something else. He called the condition something that sounded like ‘separitis’ although I could find nothing to match that term online. One of the nurses suggested that it might be his liver and to ask him if he had been drinking. He assured me he hadn’t. He wanted 30 or 40 KW to get home.

I told him to go and wait down by the road and I would come back and assist him. At this point I genuinely believed the man was suffering. Either that or he was a damn good actor. When I returned I volunteered to go to the hospital with him to which he readily agreed.

Two taxi rides later we were at Lusaka Market, a place alive with the activity of dozens of hawkers and vendors, taxi drivers and pedestrians, along with some smelly cesspools of water by the roadside. My afflicted comrade, name given as Edmund, hobbled along asking to stop every now and again. He advised me not to come here alone as I would be easy pickings for thieves, especially considering I was the only white man in sight. Eventually we found a taxi that would take us to the hospital. And where exactly would that be I asked him? In Kafue, he replied.

He advised me not to come here alone as I would be easy pickings for thieves, especially considering I was the only white man in sight

As we sat in the vehicle for 5 or 10 minutes as the driver waited for further customers, it occurred to me that I was being an idiot. Kafue was probably an hour away. I told Edmund that I wasn’t comfortable with the idea and once again he readily agreed to an alternative. We walked/hobbled back to the Cairo road where I drew 150 KW for his treatment. I gave him a further 40 for the taxi to Kafue. He assured me that he would let me know how he was doing.

He didn’t have a phone at that time but he told me to write him an email and he would reply. I did and eventually heard from him several months later. He was in danger of eviction he told me. Could I send some money his way urgently? Sorry mate, no can do. Glad to hear you’re alive though…

The rest of the day was spent washing, socialising and catching up a bit online. Later in the day after Mary’s departure we made our way back to Levy’s Mall for the sake of the other Dutch girl, bought some mince and other items for dinner, enjoyed a coffee at an indoor food market, and then returned. One of the girls was very reserved, the other more talkative.

They told me about their experiences in Malawi which chimed with those of other travelers I have talked to i.e. Malawians are extremely poor yet at the same time extremely friendly people. The rest of their time in Africa would be on a package safari from Livingstone through to Chobe and the Okavango in Botswana and hence to Namibia and then South Africa, terminating in Cape Town.

They told me about their experiences in Malawi which chimed with those of other travelers I have talked to i.e. Malawians are extremely poor yet at the same time extremely friendly people

The following morning they left early, around 0530, to walk to the intercity bus station, where I had arrived a few days before. They said a quick goodbye and then they were gone. I decided that it would be a good day to move out as well, not out of Lusaka per se but to another campsite. The cooking facilities at Kalulu were sub-par and I was a bit miffed at having my camping cutlery being used by everyone passing though, and my spoon was missing.

Before I left I had a chat with a Congolese woman who had flown up from Jo’burg to register one of her siblings at the local university. She told me she was sick and tired of living in Jo’burg and only persisted in the hope of getting the said sibling into Wits University. He or she was on a waiting list indefinitely.

Before I left I had a chat with a Congolese woman who had flown up from Jo’burg to register one of her siblings at the local university

I asked her about her situation in Jo’burg in the wake of the recent xenophobia which had gripped many of the cities and townships across the land. She lived in Hillbrow, a rather notorious part of the city, but unafflicted by the recent trouble. The real problem she said were all the Zimbabweans next door.

The real problem she said were all the Zimbabweans next door

“They play their music all night and very loud as well. I always have to go round to tell them to turn it off,” she told me candidly. Furthermore she said they could not be trusted. “So many of them are thieves,” she insisted shaking her head vigorously. It is sad to hear these sort of reports of my countrymen, many of whom are recognised for their hard-working nature and honesty, but I suppose by virtue of so many of them being in the country, a good number of whom have not found employment it was inevitable that some would turn to crime.

“So many of them are thieves,” she insisted shaking her head vigorously

Thus it was that later that morning I moved across to The Wanderers, a property operated by Lusaka Backpackers. It was a clean, well-run place but with the major drawback of being so near to Addis Ababa Rd, which had tons of traffic night and day. We even heard a rather nasty sounding accident that evening, a regular occurrence apparently.

There were only a handful of occupants: a young English couple who had come out to start a safari lodge on the Kafue River and were waiting for final permission to start building; a South African couple who were traveling the region by 4×4; and a couple of other male individuals. Nothing particularly exciting occurred during my several nights there but it was as good as any in terms of location. I was able to walk without too much difficulty into the city.

There wasn’t too much in the way of buildings or industry to take in but my first perusal was of the neighbourhood where most of the embassies were established (plush). From there I strolled across to the sector housing the various ministries (agriculture, finance etc), many of which still stood in what appeared to be pre-independence ‘classroom-like’ structures. After that I took in the pleasant High Court buildings and the two new multi-storey constructions that would house the Ministry of Home Affairs, under the supervision of a Chinese contractor.

There wasn’t too much in the way of buildings or industry to take in but my first perusal was of the neighbourhood where most of the embassies were established (plush)

Next door was a cemetery which hosted the graves/mausoleums of three of Zambia’s late presidents. Interestingly, the only completed mausoleum was that of the late President Mwanawasa. That of his predecessor, the late Frederick Chiluba, was still under construction, even though I was pretty sure he had died some years before. It was only later that someone shed some light on that anomaly.

You see he had been under investigation for corruption after being voted out of office and quite likely his fall from grace tarnished his legacy. Apparently he had only latterly been acquitted or at least forgiven his transgressions. President Sata, who had died quite recently, lay entombed in a grave lined by black granite. I assumed the mausoleum would come later.

Next door was a cemetery which hosted the graves/mausoleums of three of Zambia’s late presidents

Also worth a look-in is the large Anglican Cathedral a stone’s throw away from the previous places mentioned. Built sometime in the mid to late 50s it of a particular style which I won’t venture to categorise: post-modern gothic/renaissance? I have no idea except that the ceiling was a good 50 feet above the floor. I managed to get close enough to one of the windows to get a decent shot of the interior (see the relevant photo). I walked back to the intercity to find out some information on buses headed north and in typical fashion by the time I got back to the backpackers my feet were aching, blisters forming on the balls of my feet.

The only other place of interest worth mentioning is a little, historic cemetery near to The Wanderers, heading west on Lagos Rd, about a ten minute walk away. Some of the graves there go back to the 1920s. The largest sections are dedicated to Christian-European graves, but there are also sections for Jews, Hindis, Muslims and a few black individuals as well. In the Christian section were a disproportionate number of Polish graves. I later learnt that over 4000 were repatriated here during the Nazi-occupation of their homeland during WW2.

My guide, who appeared quite spontaneously, was a middle-aged black man. He quickly made me aware of the fact that he was deaf and proceeded to write down odd bits of information on the inside of his forearm. Some of it I could have deduced myself but other bits of info were not so obvious – for instance a grave containing the ashes of two people and the body of a third; and that the grave of a particular black man, an officer of some rank, had died in an air crash.

My guide, who appeared quite spontaneously, was a middle-aged black man … he was deaf and proceeded to write down odd bits of information on the inside of his forearm

There was also a pretty little church which had been restored to its former glory by the Aylmar May Cemetery Project (that person apparently being a district medical officer in early Lusaka). There was a sad story behind it of a young Irish woman who had died of appendicitis shortly after coming out to Zambia at a tender age – 25 I seem to remember. Her husband, an officer in the British Army, had built it in her honour.

I was encouraged to sign the guest-book which I did. I noticed on the opposite page, quite coincidentally, an entry from the previous week made by a well-known Zimbabwean businessman who had business interests in Zambia. I can’t say I knew him very well but the few times I met him I got a fairly good impression of the sort of man he was. Not someone I was likely to see eye to eye with.

There was also a pretty little church which had been restored to its former glory by the Aylmar May Cemetery Project

The next day that I called time on the capital city, as I should probably have done a few days before. I caught a rather expensive taxi across to the intercity only to discover that my 1500 coach had already departed and it wasn’t even 1430! Unheard of in Africa. I suspect my ticket had been sold off to another customer. When I had bought it two days before the agent had seemed skeptical regarding the early-booking, although one of the ticket touts had assured me it wouldn’t be a problem. As it turned out it was a problem.

I caught a rather expensive taxi across to the intercity only to discover that my 1500 coach had already departed and it wasn’t even 1430

“Could I come back the next day?” another of their touts suggested. At this point my anger probably made itself evident because he scampered off and after about 20 minutes returned to say that he had secured me a place on a sister bus. It cost me another 20 KW for the luggage/facilitation but I was grateful nonetheless. Therefore, only 30 minutes or so after my former scheduled departure, I was en route to my next stop, Mkushi.

The Thundering Falls and a Layover in Livingstone

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I once again chose the Intercape coach for my onward journey. It seemed well run and punctual. Next to me was a young black man who introduced himself as Andrew. He was a Shona from Masvingo who had gone to school in Harare and later the University there, around the same time as me. I recall him saying he’d studied tourism and/or environmental management. Later he had completed an MBA. He was well qualified anyway.

He was ewn route to Ganda Lodge at Hwange Game Park, run by the Forestry Commission, and which he managed. We had an interesting conversation for the next hour or two. From him I learnt exactly how corrupt the system had become in Zim when he told me about his business operations in Bulawayo.

Next to me was a young black man who introduced himself as Andrew. He was a Shona from Masvingo who had gone to school in Harare and later the University there.

He ran three commuter minibus taxis. From his daily takings he had to deduct the cost of employing the drivers, fuel and maintenance as well as another unbugeted cost – that of doing business. What this amounted to was paying 5 or 10 USD every time his minibuses were stopped by the police at one or other of the many checkpoints around town. This was not negotiable.

From his daily takings he had to deduct the cost of employing the drivers, fuel and maintenance as well as another unbugeted cost … paying 5 or 10 USD every time his minibuses were stopped by the police.

Apparently, one of them was on record as saying that ‘someone had to help pay their wages’ i.e. someone other than the state. As a result he was struggling to profit and had decided instead to sell one of the minibuses, park another and use the third to transport fish from the town of Binga (on the upper end of Lake Kariba) to Bulawayo.

Funnily enough Lily, who I had lodged with a few days before, told me that she had previously been in the fish-selling business as well, except that she’d sourced her fish from a dam somewhere towards Beit Bridge. She’d also considered purchasing from Binga initially but found it more profitable to deal with the fishing cooperative operating at the dam. Andrew on the other hand dealt exclusively with the Zambian fishermen who came across to Zimbabwe to sell their catch. “I can buy from them for 50c whereas I have to pay a Zimbabwean $1.50 per fish.” As a result he could get his fish to the supermarkets in Bulawayo at a very competitive price.

Andrew on the other hand dealt exclusively with the Zambian fishermen who came across to Zimbabwe to sell their catch.

The other reason his taxi business had apparently failed was that the city council also wanted a cut of the action. All taxi operators were obliged to register which he had no problem with but they were also being coerced into joining what sounded like a co-operative run by these same councillors. The profits had to be remitted to them before a dividend was paid out to the members.

He and some other drivers had taken them to court and had the judge had ruled in their favour. In retribution the traffic wardens had come down on hard on him and the others. He suddenly found himself with a slew of fines for petty misdemeanours and offences that he was adamant had been falsely concocted. “The first thing people will ask you when trying to do business in Zim these days is ‘what’s in it for me?'” Andrew explained. Such is the cost of doing business in Zimbabwe these days.

“The first thing people will ask you when trying to do business in Zim these days is ‘what’s in it for me?'” Andrew explained. Such is the cost of doing business in Zimbabwe these days.

I asked him about his family. Surprisingly it turned out that he had a white partner with whom he had fathered a child. Mixed marriages were not unheard of in Zimbabwe but with all the racial propaganda coming from the politicians over the last decade and ingrained prejudices it could not have been easy for them. When I remarked on this issue he laughed. He explained that his parents had been a bit ‘disappointed’ that things had not been conducted in the traditional manner but that it had been harder for her. Did they intend to marry? It would be nice he replied, but seemed undecided.

On our approach to Hwange we turned off the main road to Vic Falls and drove a few kilometres towards the game park entrance, our first drop-off point. We hadn’t gone far before we saw 6 or 7 giraffe including a baby (only about 6 feet tall rather than 15!). This was followed by a large herd of buffalo on either side of the road. Andrew became quite excited explaining that he had a large group of guests coming the following day. We passed the turn-off to his lodge. He would get off at the drop off and come back this way with his driver. It would be unwise to walk anywhere in this area after dark. He assured me that where one saw buffalo lion would be in close attendance.

It would be unwise to walk anywhere in this area after dark. He assured me that where one saw buffalo lion would be in close attendance.

After dropping Andrew and a few others we continued on to Hwange colliery and hence to the Falls themselves. After disembarking at the Kingdom Hotel I walked the half-a-kilometer or so to Shoestring’s Backpackers. The way there was poorly lit but I was helped by a friendly taxi driver who pointed the way. In the distance I could hear the roar of the water cascading over the edge of the Falls. I had stayed here once before. As the name suggests it does not cater to those with expensive tastes. If anything it was even more basic than when I had last been there. The music was blaring at a quite ridiculous level as I made my way round the back to pitch my little tent for the first time. Thereafter I took a little walk to find some ‘graze’.

The USD prices at the nearby restaurants were more than the price of my accommodation so I scouted around for a cheaper option.

The USD prices at the nearby restaurants were more than the price of my accommodation so I scouted around for a cheaper option. My answer came in a young black man who wanted to know if I would buy some old Zimbabwean bearer cheques from him – the ones which reflected the ridiculous level of hyperinflation 6 or 7 years before: denominated in millions, billions and trillions. I explained that I had lived through all that nonsence and had the notes already, but did he want to show me somewhere cheap to eat in the township and if so I would buy him a meal? He readily took me up on the offer and we proceeded towards Chinotimba, the local township, on foot.

The first stop was a beerhall which he optimistically hoped would also have food. It didn’t. He explained that it would be easier to get a lift further in to where he could guarantee a meal. We found ourselves a taxi headed that way. There was already one customer in the passenger seat. He argued loudly with the young driver regarding the fare but was eventually deposited at the roadside. I think it cost us a dollar a head to where we were going.

The chef was dressed in an apron and whites which was reassuring and we could chose from a selection of chicken, beef or fish.

The restaurant my new found friend took me to was round the side of a small shopping centre. The chef was dressed in an apron and whites which was reassuring and we could chose from a selection of chicken, beef or fish. I avoided the beef after the Bulawayo experience and went with the chicken. It goes without saying that it was accompanied by sadza and relish. It was a good meal and a bargain at US$ 1.50 a head. I asked my companion his ambitions.

“To get a passport”, he replied, “but I am still saving for it.” It would cost him US$ 60 and a wait of a few weeks. Once he had it he could go across to Botswana or South Africa with the millions of other Zimbabweans trying to make their livings there.

The taxi ride to the backpackers was without my friend who lived in Chinotimba. The driver looked all of 15 years old and he drove with scant regard for the highway code, taking corners at high speed and cutting across into the other lane to dodge potholes. Two of the other passengers were deposited at some nearby shops and for the princely sum of US$2 I was dropped back at Shoestrings, relieved to still be alive.

for the princely sum of US$2 I was dropped back at Shoestrings, relieved to still be alive.

The music was still blaring whilst I took a shower and went to type up the day’s activities. Before I could get going an old chap who had been watching me erect my tent came across and gestured that the music was too loud and that he couldn’t sleep. I nodded sympathetically but he was obviously keen to chat instead.

He introduced himself as Antonio, an Italian who had been living in France for the better part of his life with his French wife. He had a shock of white hair, bushy white eyebrows and merry greyish-blue eyes. He reminded me a little of my late grandfather. Like my grandpa Raph he was also a bit hard of hearing, even when the music did eventually cease. Nevertheless he was an enthusiastic conversationalist.

From what I gathered he was an ardent traveler. He seemed to have made it his life’s mission to travel to as many countries as he could before he died. I have no idea why he traveled without his wife but I didn’t really get the opportunity to ask him. He refered to me as a ‘young man’ which I always appreciate. Eventually I announced that I must sleep (no lie) and I hunkered down for a reasonable doss, albeit a little colder than anticipated.

He seemed to have made it his life’s mission to travel to as many countries as he could before he died.

The next day I packed up, had breakfast, said cheers to Antonio and was on my way by mid-morning. I disappointed numerous taxi drivers by refusing their offers of a ‘cheap’ ride to the Victoria Falls. “Only $10 my friend!” they would call out. I politely declined and casually walked the 20 minutes or so to the Zimbabwe side of the Falls.

At this stage of the game my efforts in Bulawayo bore dividends. By acquiring a plastic ID disc to replace the aluminium one that I had surrendered back in 2002 (dual citizenship law) I saved myself US$23! If you were a tourist coming from Zambia you had to pay for the privilege of crossing into Zimbabwe for the day (US$30) as well as a further US$30 to view the Falls. Locals paid only US$7.

May is when the river is at its peak flow and the Vic Falls were thundering. Copious amounts of water were passing over the edge and the power of it as it impacted the swirling waters of the gorge 70 or 80 metres below was awe-inspiring. As a result a huge plume of spray wafted upwards and outwards, buffeted by the wind, such that a gust would suddenly bring a hail of droplets towards the viewing points, drenching the unwary onlooker. Rain coats were well advised. I had been there on several occasions but each consecutive occasion is no less impressive.

May is when the river is at its peak flow and the Vic Falls were thundering.

It’s no surprise that the place is reknowned for honeymooners, weddings and romantic getaways. I spotted a number of couples taking in the spectacle together. Not I, solo, unencumbered traveler that I was. I walked the path in both directions on the Zimbawean side (incidentally about two thirds of the entire length) before officially departing the country and walking across the bridge to Zambia.

Half way across I was accosted by the inevitable copper-bracelet salesman. I had collected half-a-dozen or so from previous visits but my persistent friend, Antonio ‘Tomato’, badgered me for an age before relenting. My resolve would not prove so resilient on the Zambian side where I capitulated to another seller later in the day and bought a further two of a design I didn’t have.

I parted with US$50 for the obligatory visa, grateful that it didn’t include the $5 ‘on top’ as per the Beit Bridge fee. From there I took a taxi across to Livingstone and Jollyboys backpackers. It was chalk and cheese when compared to Shoestrings on the Vic Falls side: spacious, quiet, tidy and well maintained. The evening passed without incident. I was a little bit antisocial but I took the time to catch up on emails and suchlike. When I looked up I noticed just about everyone else doing the same either via laptop or smartphone. The digital, online age that so divides opinion. No comment!

The following day after a quick breakfast I headed across to the bus terminus by the old South-Western Hotel. I had booked a ticket to Lusaka with one of the intercity bus companies the day before. It went by the name Shalom (peace). Well if ever there was a misnomer it was here. The journey begun with an hour or so of an evangelical preacher (recorded for your listening pleasure) who implored our repentance and salvation.

To my relief the young chap in front of me volunteered to bare witness to Jesus and repent. He was asked to repeat his ‘confession’ after our preacher, word for word. At least it drew the heat from the rest of us. Thereafter we had an eclectic mix of RnB, soul and the occasional rock number blared from the speakers above each of our seats. Sleep was well nigh impossible but at least the landscape was new to me.

Link to Soundcloud: Evangalist on coach to Livingstone

I knew I was in Africa when I saw the cluttered roadside market stalls en route and at each stop along our way, selling fruit and vegetables mainly but also dried fish and other snacks. I watched in horrified fascination as a young kid goat was placed alongside the other luggage next to the bus, both its front and back legs bound with twine. It bleated occasionally but to no avail. The luggage hatch then went up, obscuring my view. When it was closed the kid was gone as was the luggage. I can’t be sure but it seems likely that it went into the storage compartment with the rest of the bags!

Before we had even parked touts were calling out to me. “Muzungu, Muzungu!” they shouted to try and draw my attention.

Several hours later we arrived at Lusaka intercity bus terminus. Before we had even parked touts were calling out to me. “Muzungu, Muzungu!” they shouted to try and draw my attention. ‘Muzungu’ means white man as does murungu in Zimbabwe and mulungu in South Africa. There may be other variants of the word I have not yet encountered.

I declined most of the offers and settled on a quieter man, a taxi driver, who assured me he could get me to my hostel for 35 kwacha (about US$5). It was a bit more than I was hoping to pay but it was dusk and I didn’t want to be searching in vain after dark for my accommodation. It turned out to be a short hop across to a place not much more than a kilometre away. Thus I arrived for the first of 6 nights in Lusaka.

Sprucing Things up with Some Multimedia…

Standard

So I’ve been using WP.com for a while now but my advancement has been a gradual evolution interspersed with sudden progressive bursts where I’ve actually taken the time to read a tutorial or try a different theme. I like to think that I now have a semi-respectable blog but truth be told I haven’t really stretched myself as regards embedding multimedia. Only recently did I actually dare to try embed a gallery. It worked! I see one can tweak the appearance in a number of ways and I am very keen to do that. First, however, I would really like to successfully embed a video! Not any old video but one of my charming, albeit, amateur efforts.

The succeeding three videos contain footage from a road trip I did about 5 years back, in Africa. In my quest to try discover if I might not actually want to emigrate to the UK after all (I did) I thought I should at least investigate all of my options. I was long intrigued by the fact that there were other European communities out to the west of Zimbabwe (my turf). I had been to South Africa many times but never to any of the neighbouring nations. Therefore, in March or April ’09 I set out on my own, first to Botswana and from there to Namibia. In Windhoek I discovered an attractive little city populated by Europeans, black and mixed-race people alike. I stayed with a couple, he German, she Afrikaans, who had been living in the country for many, many years. After a couple of weeks in the city looking at the possibility of working (difficult) or studying (possible but also difficult) I headed back to Zimbabwe via another route on another mode of transport (a coach and then a plane) taking in the Caprivi and the Victoria Falls on both the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides of the bridge over the gorge. It was by no means a safari but there were some memorable moments and people along the way.

I have a written account to augment the videos which I will post as well. I think some of it should make good reading anyway.