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Steve and Emma's Travel Tales

Lazing by the Lower Zambezi

ZAMBIA | Saturday, 20 July 2013 | Views [386]

On arriving in Lusaka we’d spotted the area our guesthouse was in so it was simply a matter of a 15min walk to get to Kalulu Backpackers.  Now we all know that capital and large cities are more expensive places to visit but this backpackers took it to extreme.  Our $40 double room ONLY had a bed in it, the shared facilities were limited and none of the doors locked and towels in Zambia are obviously on the CITES endangered species list.  Again Steve had booked it in advance but our arrival came as a complete surprise to them.  You’ll not be surprised to hear that this is a place we don’t recommend you stay in!  It was only an overnight stop as the next morning we caught a minivan to Chriundu.

We decided to walk down to the bus station but in fact it turned out to be a little further than we’d anticipated and hidden in amongst hundreds of market stalls.  Once there we were astounded at the number of minivans waiting for customers but dismayed to find that not one of them announced their destination.   Usually in these situations someone will pounce on you asking where you want to go or to volunteer to carry your bag.  This is all in the hope of earning a few bob more than actually being helpful.  For once this didn’t happen and we found it very difficult to find someone to point out where we needed to go to find the correct vehicle.  We eventually tracked down the van we needed whilst simultaneously muttering about Zambian’s lack of friendliness.  The fact that the conductor didn’t give us our change didn’t help us warm to Zambians – granted it was only a small amount but there are principles at stake here.

As per usual more people than seats were crammed into the vehicle and this time we seemed to be even more uncomfortable than usual.  Travel isn’t particularly cheap, this trip was Kw52 a seat and Kw10 for the big bag, and to be uncomfortable into the bargain?  I think the fact that the road was being improved forcing us to have to deviate onto a dirt track for quite a long way didn’t help.  Dust was billowing into the vehicle and we soon realised why when the back door flew open and a bag tumbled out.  Four hours later we gratefully extricated ourselves from the van and stepped into a small, dusty frontier town on the border with Zimbabwe.  Steve popped into a local shop to pick up a few extra self-catering supplies and the owner promptly tried to short-change him.  Following being blatantly over-charged for what we’d bought didn’t help endear Zambians to us.  A taxi to take us a couple of kilometres down the road then set us back a further Kw50.  However, he redeemed himself by offering to take us back to Lusaka for the acceptable sum of Kw400 – that gave us something to think about.

Lower Zambezi

Steve had pre-booked us a room at Zambezi Breezers but they were far from full and didn’t appear to appreciate the fact that we’d turned up.  It was yet another place set in acres of land and this one had the advantage of a decking area on the banks of the Zambezi River.  Other than a few tables and chairs set up on the decking and in the bar/restaurant area there was nowhere to sit.  All of that lovely space and not one chair – not even round the miniscule swimming pool.  We’ve come to the conclusion that the owners of most places in Zambia feel they can charge what they like but offer very little in return.  This place’s website said it welcomed self-caterers but when Steve asked what facilities they provided received the answer; none.  It was just as well we’d stocked up on travel kettle friendly supplies!  In short our $40 a night only got us a bed and a table in our room along with the use of the shared toilet/shower block and once again no towels.

Don’t worry it wasn’t all doom and gloom!  Sitting on decking watching a river flow by is always calming and relaxing and this spot had the added bonus of hippos and crocs in the vicinity.  Plus, as sunset was approaching, a small herd of elephants approached the bank for a munch and a drink.  On enquiring about boat trips we were rather dismayed to learn that it would set us back Kw350 for the boat and we’d have to pay for the petrol too.  In the end we decided that since we’d bothered to travel all the way there, and we hadn’t done boat trips in Liwonde or on Lake Malawi, we’d go for it.  It proved to be a good choice as the cruise along this section of the Zambezi lasted 4hrs and it worked out at about $65 a head.

Mind you even this little treat didn’t start off well as they allocated us a boat where Steve didn’t even have a seat and was asked to perch on the prow.  About 2mins into the trip we pointed out how uncomfortable we were and asked why we couldn’t use one of the lovely safari boats with seats.  There was initially some mumblings about it being not suitable for the river conditions.  We asked to abort the trip and return to the guesthouse.  There was little point paying a lot of money to be uncomfortable and not even be able to talk to each other.  Guess what?  We were promptly transferred into one of the comfortable safari boats that we’d seen being used the previous day!  Right, let’s start again!

We’d been advised that doing the trip in the afternoon was better so set off around 2pm and returned about 4hrs later as the sun was setting.  A huge swathe of the Zambezi River forms a natural border between Zambia and Zimbabwe so we actually drifted in and out the two countries.  Although this area is outside the jurisdiction and protection of the national park it is virtually free of people and very natural.  Considering we were there at peak season we encountered very few boats on the river making the trip very peaceful and enjoyable.  Plus, whenever our boatman/guide spotted a bird or animal ahead he switched off the engine allowing us to glide past in silence.

The afternoon is definitely the best option if you want to see elephants; this is the time they come down quench their immense thirst.  At one point we were watching elephants in Zambia to our left and Zimbabwe to our right with hippos bobbing about further upstream.  Although we’d seen plenty of hips and crocs in South Luangwa it was great to get closer to these huge and ancient creatures respectfully.  We could only hope that none of them chose to pop up directly under our boat!  As the afternoon wore on more animals came down to the river bank for a drink and we added; baboons, vervet monkeys, bushbuck and kudu to our list of sightings.  A cool box of beers and soft drinks had been placed on board for us to help ourselves to (& pay later!) – who were we to say no to sunset beer while drifting down the Zambezi River?!

The main focus of the trip, other than elephants, was to see which birds could be spotted amongst the reeds and rushes.  Many of those we saw we’d seen previously and I was pleased to note that our list of birds we could identify and name had lengthened.  Fear not we’re light years away from being twitchers!!  The highlight for us was finally finding a giant kingfisher and believe me they are aptly named.  We also learnt that egrets will follow and ride on the backs of elephants in just the same way as they do buffaloes and cattle in Asia.  As the beasts disturb insects the egrets snap up a meal plus we discovered that they will pluck tics from an elephant.  I always thought that job was left solely to the oxpeckers – told you; a long way to go before we start twitching!!!

Also spotted:  heron (goliath, purple & greenback), kingfisher (pied & malachite), cormorant (reed & white-breasted), plover (white-crowned & blacksmith), bee-eater (little & white-fronted), goose (Egyptian & spurwinged), African fish eagle, African open-billed stork, African jacana, African grey hornbill, white fronted duck, Burchell’s coucal, yellow vented bulbul, hamerkop, intermediate egret and red-billed oxpecker.

Feeling refreshed and relaxed we couldn’t bear the thought of taxi, minivan, taxi back to Lusaka so decided to splash out for the door-to-door taxi option.  To be honest it only cost us around double the price of using public transport.  Besides it was worth it for the convenience of being able to set off when we were ready not when the minivan was over-full.


Lusaka – again!

We hadn’t planned on popping into Lusaka twice but unfortunately events dictated our return.  You may be wondering why our photographs of the leopard weren’t up to Steve’s usual standard and, more tellingly, why there aren’t any photos of the Lower Zambezi.  Steve had an almighty muppet moment as we were starting our second jeep safari in South Luangwa National Park – he dropped his camera.  It clanged onto the metal floor of the jeep and displayed its dislike of such treatment by refusing to open the lens.  Luckily another couple in our group had a spare camera for us to borrow but they were carrying it simply as an emergency back-up so wasn’t very technical.  Still it was very kind of them to let us use it so at least we have some photos of the spotty cat.  Maybe if Steve hadn’t dropped his camera we’d never have been so lucky – who knows? 

We knew the camera wouldn’t be easy to fix so we’d left it in Phoenix camera shop in town while we popped along to the river.  We didn’t particularly want 2 nights back in the city but wanted to be able to pop into the shop a day early so they knew we were serious about our short time frame.  Guess what?  We didn’t check back into Kalulu Backpackers!  Along the same street is Broads Backpackers which again cost us $40 but this time we got an en-suite room with bedside tables AND towels!!  The noisy bar is the only downside but we did use it to our full advantage as their DSTV system can show more than one channel at a time.  We booked ourselves a spot and settled in for some serious Ashes viewing – great cricket the first 2 tests proved to be for an England fan.

We only ventured beyond the walls of Broads to collect a now functional camera, buy bus tickets for Livingstone and Steve got his hair cut.  To the best of my knowledge Lusaka doesn’t actually have any tourist attractions so I don’t think we missed out on anything.


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