After two weeks exploring beautiful, frustrating, friendly Zimbabwe (see previous post), Mathieu and I crossed the border into Zambia.
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Zambia, a former British colony until gaining independence in 1964, is a land-locked country about the size of Colorado and Utah combined. The country’s official language is English but there are 72 indigenous languages and dialects, mostly derived from the Bantu language.
To be honest, we only went to Zambia as part of our clockwise loop through southern and eastern Africa. While Zambia is well-known for its beautiful national parks, especially those along the Zambezi River where you can see the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and Cape buffalo), we’d already seen these animals and so many more so decided to focus on other activities. But what else is there to do and see in Zambia? With the help of my good friends and former Zambian residents, Sebastian and Anna, we found some other lesser-known places to visit on our passage through the country.
After crossing the border, we drove directly to Lusaka, Zambia’s capital. On the way, we got cash from the ATM and filled the gas tank, both of which felt like luxuries after Zimbabwe. We spent several days at a comfortable backpackers lodge on the outskirts of this huge, bustling city (population ~2 million). We used the strong wifi to watch Netflix movies and do research about Zambia and beyond, we chatted with fellow travelers, we did yoga and worked out in the large garden, and I worked on my blog and journaled. After the difficulties of Zimbabwe, it was especially nice to just chill. We also took advantage of being in the big city to have a date night to eat delicious Indian food and see the latest Lion King movie which was especially cool since we were in Africa and had seen all of the movie’s animals in real life!
From Lusaka, we continued north, driving 400mi (~650km) over two days. We drove through a mostly unchanging landscape of flat shrubby forest, some grasslands, and farm fields. We drove through numerous tiny villages and a few small towns. In preparation for the next growing session, the locals were burning their fields. There were also nearly constant small fires to burn the roadside vegetation and to burn patches of forest (likely to graze cattle). The skies were mostly gray and the air filled with faint smoke for most of our visit. And since we were on the main road between Lusaka and the borders, we encountered frequent police checkpoints. After being waved through numerous checkpoints, we were finally stopped. The young policeman politely let us know that our road tax permit was expired (a mistake we didn’t catch at the border) and would have to be renewed. He then gave us a traffic ticket (our first in Africa!). Thankfully, like many things in Africa, the fine was negotiable. We paid a reduced fee (thanks to Mathieu’s negotiation skills), promised to remedy the issue within the required 7-day period, and went on our way.
Along with the police checkpoints, we shared the road with lots of commercial trucks transporting huge loads of goods in/out of the country. We passed several broken down or jack-knifed trucks and one totally gutted by fire. Tough road! The paved road was good for about half of our drive but as we continued north, we started to encounter more potholes, some the size of small ditches! After a particularly bad patch of road, Wily felt strange and had a new noise. Looking under the front end, the large metal bolt connecting the two halves of the idle arm shaft (part of the steering system) had broken. WTF!?! Thankfully we could still drive the truck, so we limped very slowly along the crappy but straight road for the next few hours to the next sizable town, Mpika.
We ended up staying in Mpika for a few days. We totally lucked out to find Tony, an trained and experienced mechanic. However, he had trouble getting the parts needed for the repair. We could have the parts sent from Lusaka but it would take a few days and be expensive. But Tony found another solution. He asked his friend, a machinist for the national railway company, to make a new bolt to replace the one that broke. It was faster and way cheaper. With the idle arm repaired, we could continued our trip. Or so we thought…later that night, I noticed oil leaking down the tire from the left reak brakes. Crap. This was a reoccuring problem that we’d “fixed” several times over the past five months. Argh… The next morning, Tony ordered a new seal from Lusaka and was able to provide a temporary fix so we could get out of town for the weekend.
We backtracked a bit to visit the Mutinondo Wilderness, a privately-owned reserve protecting unique granite inselbergs (domes) and a diverse flora and fauna. We found a nice bush camp in a meadow near the reserve where we enjoyed a lovely evening under the stars. The next day, we had a wonderful day hiking to the top of the hightest dome, walking through the forest, visiting several gorgeous waterfalls, and swimming in the clear, cool (crocodile-free) pools below the falls. It was a beautiful and unique place.
After our weekend in Mutinondo, we returned to Mpika to pick up the new seal. However, the taxi driver in Lusaka who was supposed to deliver it had a problem with the police the night before so used the money for the part to pay for his traffic ticket. Oh well. We got our money back and would have to find the part in the next country. While in Mpika, we also planned to renew our road tax permit as we had only a few days left before we’d risk another fine. We hoped to do it the following day, a Monday, but of course Monday was a national holiday (Labor Day). So we spent two more nights in the small, dusty town of Mpika at the same comfortable campground. The wifi didn’t work, the showers were cold, and there was no power for most of the day but at least we could play darts at the bar and enjoy delicious pizza made in an authentic brick pizza oven. On Tuesday morning, we renewed our road tax permit and continued north. Finally!
From Mpika, we drove north 260mi (~420km) to Kalambo Falls on the border of Zambia and Tanzania. It’s one of the tallest single-drop waterfalls in Africa. Seeing the water fall 772ft (235m) over the cliff top was stunning as were the views of the river flowing through the narrow, deep Kalambo Gorge. It was awesome.
We then drove through the bustling town of Mpulungu to a bush camp at the top of a small hill overlooking a huge lake. It was night when we arrived so we’d have to wait to enjoy the view. The next morning, we opened the tent door to look out over Lake Tanganyika. I’d heard about this lake all my life so it was especially meaningful to finally see it. While my parents have different versions of the story of how they came up with my name, they agree that Lake Tanganyika was one of the primary inspirations. They liked the “tan” and the “ika” sounds so came up with Tannika. Cool right?
So while we mostly just drove through Zambia to get further north, the people were nice, we saw some unique landscapes, and I got to finally see the beautiful lake that inspired my name.
I’ll let the pictures and videos illustrate our experience in Zambia. Enjoy!