Zambia part 1: Kafue National Park

The day after we picked up my mom and sister it was time to switch our minibus for a 4×4. This was because our next destination was Kafue National Park, where a 4×4 is highly recommended. Because we had to arrange a car on short notice, and we didn’t want to spend thousands of euros on a car for just a few days, we got an older Toyota Prado.

With this car we should be able to arrive at the campsite near Ithezi-thezi, a town near one of the park entrances of Kafue NP. It turned out that the campsite was in a completely different place from what I expected, because Google showed the pin inside the national park. When we arrived on site (with directions of the manager) we saw that there was absolutely nothing there except a run-down green tent, however I did really like the view!

In this place – which had no facilities whatsoever – we unpacked our gas stove for the first time, which was not working (later we realized that the gas canister we had with us was empty). The idea was to make a nice and simple macaroni bolognaise, however after struggling with the stove for so long none of us felt like actually cooking on the fire, so we grilled ham and cheese sandwiches over the fire.

The following day we had already packed our tents early in the morning and went on our way to the park. We couldn’t go straight to the entrance as we first had to get some petrol on the black market (again), because neither this gate, nor the main gate was close to a petrol station (why is it so difficult to get fuel in Zambia!?). Once in the park we would take the ‘spinal road’ which would lead us from south to north through the park. The next campsite was namely in the north of the park, as close as we could afford to the famous Busanga plains (which is known for the lions and other carnivores that roam this part). Kafue National Park is only accessible by 4×4 and doesn’t have many tourists. In the south its especially very quiet and the animals are therefore easily scared off, opposed to animals in Kruger for example. The spinal road was horrible because of the very deep corrugations, which even at low speeds caused the car to get out of control. Because the animals in this part of the park were so skittish, the people we’ve seen driving behind us the whole way, probably haven’t seen any animals at all; every antilope of baboon quickly took off as soon as they saw us.

When we were getting close to the tar road, which intersects the park from east to west, we decided to take one of the few ‘loops’ in order to see if there was more wildlife away from the main road. The roads in this loop were not very clear and easy to distinguish, and it was visible that many people chose their own way or that people had cut the loop short. This loop supposedly followed the river bank on both sides, but since we were there only at the end of the dry season, the river had almost completely dried up; except for some small pools in a long cleft in the ground. At one of those pools we saw many crocodiles, so we decided to shut off the engine and wait for a little bit to see if more animals would show up. When it seemed that nothing was going to show up, we couldn’t get the car to start! There was a moment of panic, because we were stranded of the main road (which was already not busy), literally next to a pool filled with crocodile. Fortunately we quickly found out what was wrong: one of the clamps on the car battery had come off. Rik then put it back in place after which we could immediately start the car and continue our journey north.

Once we crossed the tar road, we entered the ‘touristy’ part of the park, even though the whole park isn’t really to be called touristy at all. Nonetheless the animals here slowly seemed to get less skittish, even though we still didn’t see so much. Right before the camp there was one turnoff at which we decided to try one more detour, and that detour eventually became the highlight of our long day driving. From this road, we spotted the first elephant of our trip to Kafue; it was a solitary male which calmly roamed the bushes. Although, that was until he decided that he didn’t really appreciate our presence, after which he suddenly charged at us, ears wide and a loud trumpet sound. Slightly panicked we drove a bit away from him, but it actually was very nice to photograph!

The next morning again we drove off early in the morning, because also on this day we had a certain destination in mind: the Busanga plains. Everywhere we looked online, a self drive going here was discouraged, but where your mom has a will, there is a way, and so we drove off around sunrise on our way to the north. The drive wasn’t short, but we didn’t encounter any problens, and so we arrived at the wide open plains in 3 hours and 15 minutes. The road were visibly not used very often, but after having read about all the warnings online about how its very easy to get lost, I thought the advice to not go to the plains was highly exaggerated. That said, we were very late at the end of the dry season, and the plains are not accessible (by car) for a couple of months every year because the plains are flooded, so perhaps any time shorter after the rainy season could provide more problems. In a few places there was still a bit of water, and those places attracted very big groups of red lechwe, which were occasionally accompanied with some warthog that were running among the antilopes (and startled them several times), but unfortunately there was no sign of the famous lions of this area

Oh well, we would get more chances to see lions and other preditors, because our next destination was South Luangwa National Park!

The morning my family arrived in Lusaka

Two weeks ago, Rik and I drove to Lusaka in Zambia to pick up my mom and sister from the airport. The drive from Lilongwe to Lusaka was about 9 hours, and we also had to cross the border which would take us about 1,5 hours, so we decided in advance to cut the trip in two. We stayed at Luangwa Bridge, so the next morning we would have to drive only 3 hours to get to the airport.

It all started with getting up early. ‘Rik, come on, wake up. You really have to wake up now, because in 3,5 hours they will arrive at the airport, and it’s still a 3 hour drive!’ Needless to say, Rik isn’t really much of a morning person, but eventually he managed to open his eyes and get our of our van a little past 6 in the morning (oh yeah, we bought a minibus which we are converting into a small camper, but today I won’t go into much more detail regarding that). Because it didn’t seem like our breakfast was ready yet, we slowly started packing our stuff. When we were done there was still no sign of breakfast. However when we went to the other side of the building we found out that they had been waiting for us, before starting breakfast, because they didn’t think we were ready. Oops!

When we finished breakfast we quickly paid the bill and wanted to leave. When we got into the car and tried to start it, we suddenly lost power. What happened? We opened to hood to check out the batteries when suddenly the car started beeping again. Luckily the car did start this time (we later found out the the battery was almost dry and we had to refill a lot of battery acid). At this point we realised that the manager of the lodge – who had asked us earlier that morning for a ride down to Lusaka together with his wife – didn’t come back yet. After 10 minutes we figured out that he lived on the way to the main road and that he was waiting for us there.

We saw that the fuel level was getting quite low, so we asked him whether we could get petrol in the village. The answer was no, and yes. There was no gas station in the village, but we would be able to get petrol on the black market. The next gas station was only in 75 kilometers, so Rik got out of the car and started negotiating a price for fuel, but petrol here was much more expensive than at the fuel station. In the meantime I decided to text my mom, informing her that we were probably getting late: ‘Car didn’t start for a little while, we took the owner of the campsite and suddenly had to buy petrol on the black market, so we’re running late. We’re probably there half past 10. If you have your suitcases and visa within an hour, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for a bit. Sorry and see you soon! X’

In the meantime, the price per liter of petrol was getting higher every minute and we quickly calculated that we should be able to drive 75 more kilometers with the amount of fuel we still had left, so we left Luangwa bridge pinning our hopes on the upcoming gas station. We tried our best to drive economically, which was not an easy chore with the mountainous road which was filled with holes and speedbumps. Because of this, we drove a bit slower than we normally would, so I was glad I had texted my mom as we would never make it in time.

In the distance we could see the gas station – we had made it! – when we realised that something was off. An employee explained to us that there was not a drop of petrol left. The nearest gas station was only in Chongwe, another 120 kilometers further, but our gas tank warning light was already on for a little while. We had no other choice than driving a few kilometers further until we reached a small village, were we had to try our luck on the black market again. What a disappointment! Rik was also getting very irritated because they were selling petrol just a few kilometers from the gas station with a 30% surplus per liter, but they knew they could do it because there was no alternative nearby. We really had no choice and so we get 15 liters. That would certainly have to be enough to reach Chongwe (which is very close to Lusaka)

While we were worrying about petrol, the daughter of the manager was sleeping like a princess.

At 10:30 – an hour after my mom and sister should have landed – I texted my mom again:
‘ETA is now between 11:15 en 11:30. Navigating towards Avis, because Lusaka airport is not on Google Maps. Hope everything went alright.’
We could drive at our normal speed again, knowing that there are many petrol stations in Chongwe and Lusaka, but in the meantime we were severely delayed. I hoped my mom and sister had to wait quite a while for their visa and suitcases, but half an hour later my sister texted me: ‘Hi Mel, is everything alright? Where are you? We have been waiting for a while. We are in the parking lot. See you soon! X Romana’
Oh no, this meant my mom had never received those texts so they couldn’t know what was going on. Instantly I texted back that we were on our way an that we were almost there.

When we finally arrived at the airport it turned out their flight was a bit early, obtaining a visa went quick and without a hitch and so they had been waiting in the parking lot for almost 2 hours! I quickly put it into perspective and thought: oh well, we made it and we didn’t end up on the side of the road with an empty fuel tank. Then they would have had to wait a whole lot longer.

Welcome to Africa you two.

Azungu on the beach

A couple of days ago Rik and I were busy cleaning the house after we have been away for a couple of weeks when Rik suddenly said: Azungu, I see azungu walking!’. I didn’t understand what he was talking about all of a sudden. ‘Huh, azungu? Where?’ ‘Yeah well, just here, on the beach.’

I followed his gaze and spotted some western looking guys. They were carrying big backpacks, wore hiking shoes and both had stick in hand – obviously they were hikers. But where did they come from, and where were they going?

Tanguy and Hugues turned out to be two French guys who wanted to walk from Cape Maclear to Senga Bay. Because they weren’t sure about wildcamping in the national park they decided to start a little further south, but even then a trip of about 110 kms to Senga Bay remained. When they arrived at this beach, they had only walked about one kilometer from their previous camping spot, however they thought the beach looked so nice, they asked if they could stay anyway.

When we showed them the garden, they saw a papaya. After we’ve told them what it was, they revealed that neither of them had ever tried one. Given that we have quite some papaya trees around here – and that they bear fruit all year long – it surely must be possible to give them a taste of one. James thought he had seen some ripe papaya in the highest tree we have on the land. When we spotted them, James took off to get some bamboo stick and started to tie them together to poke the papaya out of the tree, as we’ve done before.

Tanguy thought this was taking too much time, and studied the tree: ‘I think I can climb up this tree.’ There wasn’t much time to stop him, because in no-time he was already halfway up the tree!

He picked two papaya and threw them down, where James was ready to catch them. I was happy James took that role, because if I had to catch them there was a decent chance that I might have dropped them..

Back at the house I cut the papaya open for a simple papaya-banana-mango smoothie. Of course they had to taste a piece before it was to be blended with the rest of the fruit, otherwise they would still not know what papaya tastes like. I have to say that I personally don’t like every papaya, however the ones that are growing here are nice and sweet and the taste reminds me of melon. I think they liked our papaya too, however they got REALLY enthusiastic when they tasted the smoothie.

‘What did you put in it? Just fruit?’ I explained it was only three ingredients: fresh papaya, banana from the freezer (because usually we sudden have a huge bunch which we can’t finish all fresh, and this makes the smoothie nice and cold) and store-bought mango juice (mango season only starts in two months). Their judgement: it was the best smoothie they had here in Africa, and according to their own statements, they already had more than a few here.

The rest of the day Rik and I were, unfortunately, busy with our appointment with the vet, but Hugues and Tanguy said they have enjoyed themselves nonetheless. They have put up the volleybalnet for us (which the pied kingfishers also loved) and took the dug-out canoo for a ‘test drive’. At night we grilled some chambo and had a beer together.

I really enjoyed having visitors of our own age, and their hike along the coast has given me some new ideas and inspiration for our own trip around here.

Tanguy and Hugues, thanks a lot for your company, and perhaps we’ll meet again sometime!

Overdue work (with a view)

A couple of days ago we returned to Malawi. It has been a while since I’ve last posted an update because we were having visitors a couple of weeks back. After they have left Rik and I went on a short (but sweet) holiday to Zambia, after we we went straight to the Netherlands so I could be with my family when we said our last goodbyes together to my grandfather. It was very nice to be with my family for this moment, and being in the Netherlands also allowed for us to meet up with some friends after 6 months.

Now we’re back in Malawi and we immediately had work overdue! Because we had visitors shortly because we left, there was a huge pile of bedsheets and towels waiting to be washed. Luckily our water ladies were here to help us out (for a fee) with this chore. I didn’t really look forward to washing all this by hand in the lake…

In the meantime, the floors of all the houses have been sweeped, mopped and polished. The dishes are done and the toilets have been cleaned – even though they haven’t been used for a couple of weeks, there were some animals which made their home inside the bowl! Like this toad:

When we returned we immediately noticed that the cats were covered in parasites. We couldn’t find anything to treat them ourselves, so we called ‘Ask’ the veterinarian. When he came it took half a day of our time as he doesn’t have his own transportation, so we had to pick him up from the gas station close to Monkey Bay (as he could reach that place with public services). Driving there and back already takes a little less than an hour, and we had to drive that way twice. When he was here however, I took the chance to ask him to check out Bear Gryll’s wound from the sterilisation. Ask agreed with me that the wound didn’t look completely right, so Bear got a prescription for an anti-inflammatory. This was administered by injection and this injection had to be repeated for the next 4 days, so Ask asked me if I could do it..

Well, I am absolutely terrified of needles, so I replied immediately that I couldn’t do it. In reply he asked whether Rik could do it then. Since driving the vet up and down here for an injection for a couple of days in a row wasn’t really an option, Rik asked how he should do it. Today we had to do it ourselves and I think we were both pretty nervous for it!

But of course Rik is some kind of superhero, so eventually he stuck the needle into the designated muscle in the thigh, he checked whether he wasn’t inside an artery and injected the anti-inflammatory. Bear barely showed any discomfort; a relief, because tomorrow we’ll have to do it again!

Visitors

We were fixing insect screens to the windowframes when Danny came to us and told us there was a car in front of the gate. The contractor said he might come by today, so I didn’t quite understand why they made him wait. “No, it’s not the contractor, it’s from Pumulani,” Danny said. Pumulani is a very luxurious resort just down the bay. Did they come to check out the potential competition?

It took a while for a landcruiser to enter the site with 4 people in it. Apparently they had already seen the houses from the water when they came by boat and wondered what was going on here. Before arriving here, the two British ladies had already had a tour through Kasanka (the fishing village a little further) and they had been to the church on the mountain in Nankhwali, so this stretch of beach had become part of their tour.

When they arrived here, they thought everything was great, while it is quite the construction site in some areas. We have been tidying up the last few days, but even without seeing anything the ladies thought it was beautiful. When I said that they were also allowed to take a closer look at the houses, of course they were very impressed by those too. Immediately a remark was made about how cool the bamboo ceiling was, which is nice to hear as so much work has gone into it!

Coincidentally, the ceiling outside was just finished today.

I’m very excited about the bathroom myself, so I invited them in to see the bathroom. The reactions to this were comparable to my own enthusiasm: “Now THIS is a room with a view!” Comparisons have been made with the toilets that overlook Victoria Falls, haha.

The view is very beautiful indeed!

Not much later they had left without seeing everything. The man that had accompanied them turned out to be Pumulani’s manager and immediately invited us to come and have a look!

Because it was already past twelve, we immediately went to eat a peanut butter sandwich, but our lunch was cut short because another car suddenly appeared on the site. A while ago a carpenter was supposed to come by to finish the doors, but he didn’t show up at the time. Apparently he came today, together with his boss and two others. The boss immediately made a remark about the bamboo ceiling. Wow, that ceiling received its second compliment of the day! Rik took his chance and asked their boss what he thought of the bed that Rik made recently. Well, he thought it was a nice and sturdy bed, and immediately asked where we had bought it. This was Rick’s time to shine: “I made it myself,” he said with a big grin.

Rik turns out to have a hidden talent as interior designer πŸ˜‰

While the carpenters were busy with the doors, a third guest arrived by boat this time. He came to bring the canoe that had been in the making for a while. We need that to pick up the boat from the anchor that is a bit further into the lake since it is fairly shallow here.

Well, sometimes nobody comes here for weeks, and suddenly there are many guests in one day. We certainly need the weekend off, after all those visitors πŸ˜‰

Baobab juice

Salete – a girl from the village – said she would teach me how to make ‘freezers’ which she sells for 200 kwacha each (about 26 American dollar cents) hopind to make enough money to pay tuition fees. The main ingredient of freezers is baobab.

It has cooled down a bit since it’s winter, so she is not selling freezers anymore. However the baobab season is coming to an end, so it was about time I learned how to make freezers.

She arrived here with a whole bowl filled with baobab pieces. The dry fruit was already taken from the hard shell and fallen apart. We put about half of it in the biggest pot I could find, the rest didn’t fit anymore.

Next we added water and brought it to a boil. After cooking for a while the pulp dissolved and only the large seeds and some fiber remained.

We sieved the whole thing and added some sugar. This was also the first time for me in the process to taste! Baobab juice is tart and sour, so I understood why sugar was added. The sugar made the whole thing taste a bit like lemonade and while I really like lemonade, I still had to get used to the flavour. Rik absolutely didn’t like it! Because of the strong flavour I think it’s better to add to a smoothie rather than drinking it pure.

Today I secretly added a ladle of the juice through the smoothie and he didn’t notice anything. He’ll find out when he reads this post πŸ˜‰

Picking papayas

Recently we have free for a whole weekend, which means we also have a little bit of spare time of Saturdays. Rik has been working on a bedframe (but I’ll show you more about that later) and after lunch we went to the garden where the chickens are.

The chickens are slowly getting used to their new home, but in the past three days there has been a fresh egg every day. After feeding the chickens, we were on our way back to the beach when we passed a papaya tree and I wondered if we would be able to get one down.

So I walked up to the tree and tried to give it a good shake. Unfortunately I didn’t succeed in getting one down. But then, while looking around, I saw two bamboo poles tied together which they had used to get papayas down before. I was bumbling with those poles while Rik was watching me. He said I was too short. Of course Rik had to come over then to show me how it’s done!

The first papaya that came down did not survive the fall. Fortunately the first one we tried already had holes in the bottom, so we didn’t feel so bad when this one splashed on the ground.

Oops!

Shortly after a second one followed. Fortunately we were not standing there! This one showed some cracks in the peel, but didn’t explode so we picked this one up (and used it in a smoothie shortly after).

But we were not done yet. We were convinced there must be a better way if one of us used the poles to poke the papaya and the other one would catch it as it was coming down. It was in essence quite a good plan and the third one easily came loose (Rik was already adept in using those poles by now) only we didn’t keep into account that neither of us was very good at catching… It flew into Riks direction while he was a couple of meters away from the tree, so it was beyond my reach. Oh well, another crack, but apart from that it still looked fine. Guess we’ll just have to be quick about eating those two papayas.

Bathroom

Yesterday afternoon the last wall of the bathroom was put in place, which means we can take showers from now on!

We had tried the shower before with some temporary screens, but now the bathroom is almost the way it is supposed to be, and it’s really awesome. Enthusiastically, I already started planting the bathroom with plants we had in the garden. For now we have planted some lemongrass, ferns, a Swiss cheese plant and a flower (of which no one around seems to know the name, but the leaf resemble banana leaves). Soon we will go to a tree nursery again to get some more plants. I am already so excited for that!

For a couple of days we have been taking showers shortly after 5 o’clock, because everyone has just left around that time and the sun is still up (and because we can enjoy the sunset from the shower! How cool is that?). Afters Riks first shower here he was totally zen. His review: the bathroom truly is the nicest place of the house.

We already had our first guest in the bathroom too: a chameleon! How that one ended up on the fence is still a mystery to us, but it was definitely a nice surprise.

Of course, the bathroom is not finished yest, because the shower column still needs some paint, we need to plant more (yay!) and we need to add pebbles. Because as you may have guessed; that rubble with two timbers for a shower tray is not like the final design.

Having a bathroom with wall is a luxery which we had to do without for so long. Now all I want is hot water. πŸ˜‰

Peanut butter

We ran out of peanut butter, which meant that we ran out of all of the spreads. The hardest thing about this is that the people in this region don’t even know what peanut butter is, so it is not possible to just buy it somewhere. They do, however, sell raw peanuts everywhere for 1000 kwacha per kg ($1,32).

So, what do you do in this case? You make your own peanut butter.

Rik said to me earlier that the peanuts which I had bought on the market did not taste very good, so we still had a whole jar on the shelve. What he didn’t know about it was that those were raw peanuts, and he expected the taste of roasted peanuts. So the first step in making peanut butter was to roast the peanuts. Fortunately thats easily done by putting them in the oven at 180Β°C or 355Β°F for 10 minutes.

Next I removed the skins as I think they are a bit bitter. I collected the skinned peanuts in the bowl of the foodprocessor we have since Roy has been here.

From here it’s actually very easy. I added a pinch of salt and turned on the food processor. When the peanuts looked like crumbs I scooped some out and set them aside, because Rik prefers a chunky peanut butter. Then you continue using the machine until the crumbs start to stick together and form a ball, but at this point you don’t stop yet. You continue until it goes soft and smooth again and then you add a little bit of oil, so it becomes spreadable. I made Rik taste it and he said it tasted like CalvΓ© (the most well known Dutch peanut butter brand). Peanut butter here is imported from South Africa and they add sugar while in the Netherlands we are used to peanut butters that only add salt. So it tasted like Dutch peanut butter, good! As a final touch I reintroduced the peanut crumbs and mixed it in.

Then all that was left to do was scoop it into a jar. I chose an old peanut butter jar which we cleaned, so we could reuse it. What better container could I choose?

Next time I’ll make a bigger portion πŸ˜‰

Just in time for lunch!

A second attempt

Our first boat trip did not go exactly as planned, but it was time to try again. We replaced the spark plugs and got some extra petrol. And for those who wonderen: we still had petrol left from the first attempt, so that was not what went wrong then. πŸ˜‰

During our first trip, people were staring at the contents of the tank and found some dirt inside. So this time the fuel was sieved through a fish net, and the tank was rinsed before the petrol was returned. Time to board the ship again, with a set of extra paddles this time!

Miraculously everything went well this time. We stayed close to the shore and first went to the east and then 2 kilometers or so to the west before returning to the beach. Along the shoreline we have seen many small fishing villages.

Chakuda on fishnet watch.


Almost all of the guys on board were visibly in their element, and I realised that most of them were fishermen before they started to work with us.
After ‘testing the engine’ for half an hour we were back on the beach. It was time to work on another problem with the boat: fixing some leaks. Today the boat was pushed up on the beach as far as possible and tomorrow we will see if we can fix the leaks.

Let’s hope three times is the charm.