Lake Malawi – Domwe Island

For our last stop before parting ways we decided to head back north to Lake Malawi. You can’t visit Malawi without visiting the lake which makes up 1/3 of its overall border and it was the perfect time on the way back towards the airport from where we just were in the south.

We decided to do this properly and booked for Domwe Island, run by Kayak Africa out of Cape McClear. We were nervous that we were arriving later than the 3pm “ferry” because the road from Setemwa took a bit longer than expected. Well, it turned out the “ferry” was just a dinghy that is used to shuttle guests to the island and we were the only ones around that night so it didn’t much matter what time we got there.

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One the “ferry”

The island and the camp were quite neat. We opted for self-catering so brought all of our own food with us. We booked one camping platform with our own things and one tented platform with one of their tents (we couldn’t bring our rooftop tent with us – too difficult to detach from Fiona so we left them both in the secure parking lot on the mainland.) There are only 6 platforms on the island and since we had 2 of them it was an intimate affair. The first night we were the only ones there and we were joined by one other couple the second night.

We quickly settled into reading, playing Scrabble and a game or two of cards while sipping a few beers and glasses of wine. A perfect, relaxing way to spend the evening.

The camp staff were very attentive, going out of their way to help carry our things and show us around the kitchen while we were making our food. They introduced us to the local civet and bush pigs too.

Around a campfire on the beach the first night and this civet showed up to see what was going on. 

The next day we lazed in bed before a bacon and egg breakfast and chatted through the morning. We decided to stop being lazy and embarked on an early afternoon kayak around the southern point of the island. Now, my mom isn’t known for her kayaking skills but Dad gracefully accepted the added excitement of having her as a partner. We had them set-off first as I grabbed my camera, ready to photograph should any unexpected swimming occur but, much to my disappointment, they paddled away as if they had been doing this their whole lives!

Cheryl and I followed (we too got away with no problems) and we paddled around the island. As we were going along we realized how much bigger the island was than we had expected and after getting ~1/3 of the way around we decided to take a break on a beautiful beach and have a swim and some snacks. We read, relaxed some more and all took a dip. Mom even got her hair wet! Something which was quite the remarkable event during my childhood. Now she did it so nonchalantly. Camping changes a woman.

After an hour or so on the beach the weather started to turn. We went from enjoying a warm, sunny afternoon to dark clouds and a battering wind which whipped the lake into a sea of waves large enough to easily tip a kayak. I helped my parents off through the growing white-caps before Cheryl and I pushed off ourselves. Somehow neither boat tipped and we were able to make it rather quickly back around the island and mostly out of the wind.

It turns out that was exercise!

We enjoyed some more drinks and hot showers when we got back and dinner tasted exceptionally good that night.

We spent the night continuing our card battles – they culminated in a parents vs. kids Pinnacle tournament which we split 1:1 before getting too tired to continue, given the early morning the next day. The trophy is still up for grabs.

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Cooking dinner.  I don’t think it had anything to do with my culinary skills but the food tasted exceptionally good that night after kayaking.

The next morning we were up at 5am for my parents to begin their journey home.

And what a journey it is. Three modes of transport (boat, Fiona, plane) and six different legs (boat off island, car to Lilongwe airport, plane to Joburg, plane to Dakar, plane to DC, car to home). All taking over 36 hours. The things they do to spend time with their children.

Although I was sorry to see them leave I definitely enjoyed the time together with my parents. It may not have been the relaxing time away they originally had in mind but I hope it was even better than they had imagined. Judging by the smiles on their faces (and subsequent Facebook posts) I don’t think they would have changed a thing.

If you are interested in my Dad’s view of the trip you can find a link to his photos on Google+ here:

Next stop: Not sure. Either West into Zambia for a few days in Lower Zambezi National Park, further North into Malawi or South into Mozambique and back along the beach front. Essentially anywhere but East. That would be back into the lake and we just did that.

Huntingdon House on Setemwa Tea Estate – Luxury to spoil my parents

When my parents were discussing what they should do to celebrate being married for 40 years this August they had visions of going away some place fancy and relaxing. Camping in Zambia and Malawi didn’t enter into those dreams. That is, not until Cheryl and I brought up the idea that they could join us. Despite their reservations about camping they decided to forego white, sandy beaches and barmen serving pina coladas with two cherries stuck to the end of a mini beach umbrella for long rides in our dust-filled pick-up and the stress of immigration lines and African driving.

Because of their anniversary and the fact that we live an ocean apart, Cheryl and I wanted to spoil them at least one night while on the trip. In figuring out what to do we came across Huntingdon House on Setemwa Tea Estate. It is a beautiful colonial home in southern Malawi built by Cathcart Kay a few generations ago. The house has been revitalised and now serves as fairly luxury accommodation for intrepid travellers. It is situated on Setemwa Tea estate which affords gorgeous views across the farm as you drive in to the hotel. It sounded like the perfect place to celebrate 40 years. We were sold.

Before we got there though, we decided to take a stop at the Zomba plateau, an hour south of Liwonde. We drove up a windy escarpment road passed ladies carrying wood on their heads, running down the hill and farmers selling fresh fruit along tight hair-pin corners and narrow lanes.

We stopped for some strawberries on the way up along with a few photos at a dam before continuing to a hotel where we were given directions for a beautiful hike through the woods.

This part of Malawi was like nothing that we had experienced on our trip so far. Tall evergreen forests and cold mountain mist defined the plateau as we hiked down dirt roads (downhill and back uphill again..) We eventually got to a beautiful waterfall where we settled in to snack on trail mix and our fresh batch of strawberries before returning to the car to continue on our way to Setemwa. It was a great place for a hike and a cool way to break up the drive.

Stopping next to a waterfall for some strawberries and a few photos

As we pulled into Setemwa we were greeted by expansive views of the tea estate and followed a road which wound its way through fields of tea being picked by men and women wearing blue coveralls and using shears to chop off the top few leaves before tossing them into a giant open plastic basket worn on their backs like a back-pack. We eventually got to Huntingdon house in the middle of the estate and enjoyed some, believe it or not, tea as a welcome drink before having a walk around the estate and preparing ourselves to relax for the afternoon. My mom and I had an epic battle of croquet (not saying it was as epic as the height of our golf competitions but the win counted the same in my book!) before we all got ready for dinner. We were soon sipping on tea-inspired versions of classic cocktails (like the Mo-tea-to which used tea leaves and mint or the G and Tea which used tea-infused gin along with tonic) as we waited for everything to be prepared.

The staff were exceptionally friendly and had decorated the dining room specially for my parents anniversary. Lit by candle light and a roaring fire we dined in the family dining room and had it all to ourselves (there was only one other couple staying in the 5 rooms of the estate.) We thoroughly enjoyed the meal and the evening. It was as special as we had hoped it would be.


In the morning, before hopping back in the car to drive to Lake Malawi we opted for some tea tasting at the factory where they actually produce the tea. We learned all about how tea is produced, the differences between types of tea and the work that the estate is doing throughout Malawi. We left only after I offended the tea expert (what is the tea version of sommelier?) by asking how rooibos was made (it turns out it’s not tea.)

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We had told my parents to bring one nice outfit for dinner that night but realized we didn’t have anything nice ourselves.  To be ‘nice’ we kept a clean shirt each.  Talk about a treat!

In the morning, before hopping back in the car to drive to Lake Malawi we opted for some tea tasting at the factory where they actually produce the tea. We learned all about how tea is produced, the differences between types of tea and the work that the estate is doing throughout Malawi. We left only after I offended the tea expert (what is the tea version of sommelier?) by asking how rooibos was made (it turns out it’s not tea.)

Favorite fact from the morning: all tea is made from the same plant, just oxidized differently and mixed with different ingredients or using different parts of the leaf.

Next stop: Domwe Island – Lake Malawi

Liwonde National Park – Malawi

Our first planned stop in Malawi was Liwonde National Park. All we needed was a quick-ish stop in Lilongwe (the capital) for some groceries and cash (card facilities are limited in Malawi so cash is king) and we were on our way again.

The roads were much easier to drive during the day but just as crazy with people, trucks and vegetable stands dotting the sides of the sides almost everywhere. All this also made it difficult to find places to stop and stretch (read: go to the bathroom).

Liwonde is situated south of Lake Malawi, along the Shire river which is the drainage river from the lake. We had originally booked for Cheryl and I to be camping and my parents to be in an en-suite chalet at Liwonde Camp but they were enjoying camping so much that they figured they’d stay with us in the campground instead. That is until they saw the chalet. Situated on its own, with a deck which overlooks the bush, covered on one side only by screens, and a spacious, hot outdoor shower on the side along with crisp, white sheets on the bed and they were convinced. Chalet it is, At least for a night. The second night they actually surprised Cheryl and I by booking it again and having us stay in there while they camped. How great!

While in Liwonde we took a river cruise along the Shire. River cruises are a great way to see animals (especially birds on this one) and we loved it. Cruising along our Captain pulled right up to a bunch of crocodiles, a pod of hippos and a lone elephant chomping on the riverbank grass.

River cruising on the Shire river – Liwonde National Park, Malawi

Later that afternoon we decided to do a self-drive through the park, but not before purchasing some Baobab jam and fresh honey from the Parks worker at the gate. We saw lots of game and were impressed with the amount of work that was being done to keep up the park. Africa Parks has recently taken over management and is visibly doing a lot of work on it which is great. It’s a cool little park. One of the things they’ve done is to reintroduce predators (as well as remove some of the overpopulated elephants.) Up until 2 weeks before we arrived Liwonde had no predators (though they claim to have leopard, I doubt it.) Two weeks ago they released 4 cheetah into the park, first in a pen for a week and then into the wild. We went in with no expectations of seeing the cheetah but low and behold, as we were driving out and debating whether to take a detour or not a big male cheetah was laying right next to the road in front of us.

Our hearts went out to the poor guy who was obviously lonely and missing home. He was acting strangely, whining and unsure of what to do with himself it seemed. We stayed there watching him for a good 10 minutes until a hyena call made his ears stand up straight and he slunk off into the dimming light of the setting sun. Later that night, when talking to a guide at our campsite we realized that we are the first self-drive people to have seen the cheetah in the wild in Liwonde.

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Looking for a new home, this cheetah was visibly sad.  Here he laid down and took a break from his crying for a moment before getting scared by the hyena call.

All in all we really enjoyed our time in Liwonde and would highly recommend Liwonde Safari Camp. The best part about the place wasn’t the hides overlooking the bush or even the great chalet but just how friendly the people were there. It was a stark contrast compared to many of the places we’ve been. In general we found the people of Malawi to be fantastically friendly and they would go out of their way to help out when needed.

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Mom and I playing Scrabble with my dad reviewing photos in the background.


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Sometimes my mom got bored when I would take too long to make a word.  She broke out her book to pass the time.

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Our game was interrupted as elephants got close to camp.  Dad had to cover up his white shirt to not startle them.  Somehow Mom’s pink hat was fine with them though.

Next stop: Huntingdon House on Setemwa Tea Estate – time to spoil my parents!

Into Malawi we go

One last drive through South Luangwa National Park and we were on our way to Malawi. This is the only night that we hadn’t pre-booked for while my parents were with us so we knew it was a bit of a gamble. Do we stay one more night in South Luangwa and have a very long drive the next day or do we cut off some of that drive by doing it in the afternoon instead? If so, how far do we go?

We decided to not stay in South Luangwa or even on the Zambian side of the border. Rather, we pushed through to shorten our drive the next day and not have to do a border crossing at typically the busiest time of the day (morning) and on a Monday at that.

The border was an interesting experience (especially for my parents I’m sure) but we made it through with relatively limited issues, just a small delay as we waited for all our American visas to be processed and they had to fire up the generator to print out the confirmation of our third party insurance purchase. The biggest issue was that the sun had now set by the time we got out of there and we had to drive in a new country, in the dark, with no reservation or destination for the night, and no book on Malawi to to recommend a spot or us.

We quickly found out that driving in Malawi was going to be different than any other country we’d been to on our trip so far. It turns out that Malawi is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa and this translates into people being on the roads at all times of day, everywhere. People walking, riding bicycles, carrying heavy loads, two or three abreast at times and it’s not like they’re wearing reflective gear at night time either. Add to that some roads with potholes that have wiped out the side of the road, cars without their lights on and massive trucks going in both directions and you start to get the picture.

I guess this is why we’d been warned not to drive at night.

Pictures from driving during the day the next day.  At least this bike stayed off the tar, that wasn’t the case the night before.

We found a place on our route on the GPS whose name sounded lovely: “Barefoot Safari Lodge – Camping.” Done and done. Let’s hope they have space. Luckily, space wasn’t an issue (just like packing our car) but when they offered us two <slightly questionable but overall decent> chalets at half price we couldn’t pass up the opportunity not to set up our tents in the dark so we happily settled in for a quick dinner and went to bed.

Camping in South Luangwa – Kalovia Camp

We had wanted to have my parents experience the remote and wild camping that we love so much. Unfortunately, these sites aren’t as easy to find in Zambia as they are in some of the other countries that we’ve been to. After a Sherlock-esq search we found a spot in South Luangwa. It’s called Kalovia camp. It’s just outside the north-eastern part of the park above an area that juts out like a peninsula from the park called the Nsefu Sector. We booked 3 nights.

We drove through the park from Wildlife Camp to get there, stopping for photos of zebra and birds as well as lunch (we didn’t take any photos of our lunch, we just ate it.) We drove through multiple villages and continued right through until we saw no other cars for a few miles. At that point we took a left off the already dirt road onto a 4×4 track which eventually led through a dried riverbed and into the camp.

Cheryl and I looked around and thought “Wow! This place is great. It’s a luxury campsite. There’s a shower, toilet, sink, braai pit – everything we could need.” One look at my mom’s face though and we could tell she wasn’t sharing our excitement. At least it wasn’t ‘Oh no, what have I done?!!?!?” though. It was more like, “Stay positive, I enjoy a challenge.  Keep smiling…” Smile she did. She’ll claim she never had any doubts but her face showed otherwise. I can’t blame her. The first two nights at least there was electricity and plumbing. Here it was firelight and hand-filled bucket showers. Still those doubts must have quickly faded as she settled into camp around the fire with her and my dad teaching Cheryl and I how to play pinnacle for what was the start of an epic contest of the wits in cards.

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Setting up camp.

Over the next few days we hung around camp, read, worked out, played cards, went for a hike and went for a long game drive. I’m sure I’m forgetting something but you get the idea. We relaxed.

The camp had two attendants staying at it that helped us out. We’ve come across this a couple of times before and it is pretty awesome. They lit the camp fire for us, heated the water for our shower and even acted as our guides on the hike. We later found out that they built everything in the camp by hand out of sticks and reeds. On top of all that they were super friendly and great hosts too.

The hike was pretty cool. We were originally planning on driving through the bush to “hippo bend” which has the highest concentration of hippos in Africa. We were disappointed when we found out the road had not been fixed since the rainy season so it wasn’t passable. However, our favorite camp attendants offered to take us on a guided hike to ease our disappointment. We walked through the bush past puku and impala until we got to the river. There in front of us, on the far bank, 50+ hippo were roused from laying in the sun and stampeded into the river throwing up dust and causing an awful commotion (the bank we were on was on top of a ledge some 30-feet high above the river – safely out of the way of any charging hippos). As we looked slightly further down-river and up-river we saw more and more hippos. They were everywhere. We walked to “hippo bend”! (Actually, we later found out we were only at the far end of “hippo bend” and further upriver there are hundreds upon hundreds of hippos all vying for space in a small section of river but that was the part that was inaccessible.) Awesome to see. Little did we know when we went for the game drive the next day we would see hundreds more hippos. Needless to say, we have plenty of hippo photos. Almost one for every hippo seen…

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Hippos were literally on top of one another in Hippo Bend

We had to wade through a river to start and finish the hike.  No hippos or crocs in this river though.  At least not that we could see.

The next day we were up early again to get into the park for a game drive. We tracked back to the Nsefu sector and spent the majority of the day in the park. We had a couple of different great sightings of lion (not eating this time, just lounging), giraffe, elephants, buffalo, crocodiles and many cool birds. We topped it off with a pancakes and bacon breakfast, some scrabble and reading during the heat of the day. What a great day in the park.

Some of the animals we saw in the Nsefu sector.  Also, the roads got a bit interesting at times.  Luckily we were there during the dry season or we may not have made it up the other side of this river crossing.

A late breakfast while on the road in the park.  Perfect place for pancakes!

Unfortunately we weren’t staying at Kalovia forever and after 3 nights we set off.

Next stop: Malawi

Camping in South Luangwa – Wildlife Camp

One day after sitting on a plane for over 20 hours we made my parents pack into Fiona for a 9+ hour drive from Lusaka to South Luangwa National Park. We were joined early in the morning by Cheryl’s and my friend Calvin whom Cheryl worked with in Joburg but now lives in Lusaka. I mostly packed the car while Cheryl and he reminisced over tea and coffee. It was great to catch up.

Since Cheryl and I only arrived late at night we hadn’t had time to do the grocery shopping or fill up on diesel so we quickly filled the last remaining few cubic inches of space with food and fuel and we were on our way. (Actually, we only left around 10am but still, it was kind of quick.)

Then the chatting began. 9+ hours of driving = 9+ hours of chatting.

We caught up on everything from the grand kids to the Mets. From work to adventures. Along with everything in between. I think we re-told every story about our trip, even the ones they had already read in great detail in this blog. They lovingly pretended to be hearing it for the first time and maintained strong interest despite the jet lag.

We were still on the road when the sun went down but when we finally pulled off the tar road (after a few near misses in the dark with unmarked one-lane bridges) we were greeted by a pack of wild dogs. We weren’t even in the park yet. They are rare to see and to have two dogs come right passed us on our first evening in Zambia was very specially. We finally stopped at Wildlife Camp just outside of South Luangwa. It was a lovely campsite on the banks of the Luangwa river with hippo and elephant passing through to say hello from time to time. We put my mom and dad to work straight away (Mom on cooking dinner and Dad on unpacking with us.) I think everyone slept surprisingly well that night. Especially since it was Mom and Dad’s first time camping in a long time (maybe ever for mom?)

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Mom posing in front of her loft apartment.

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Despite having driven all day in the car the day before, we were up early and packed up for a morning game drive. We didn’t know where to go but heard that driving along the river was the place to be. Unfortunately we didn’t find the “common” leopard (I’ve never heard such a thing as seeing leopard being “common” but that’s what some sign said when they listed common sightings in the park.) We did however have an awesome sighting of 7 lions eating a buffalo. We were on our way out of the park and to head back to camp when we noticed a couple of vehicles parked in the middle of the bush. With a little more searching through binoculars we were pretty sure it was lions. We didn’t know they were on a kill though. It took some exploring but we finally found them. They were full, fat and lazy pretty much just lying around in the shade. 2 males and 5 females. Awesome.

You can see these lions are collared and tracked.  Nobody told us where they were though!

After a bit of time back at camp my parents and I went out again in the afternoon. We went back to the lions straight away and got to see one of the females eating this time which was pretty cool. We then also enjoyed two young bull elephants practising their fighting technique. As we sat and watched another elephant was struggling to get up a very steep embankment from the river below. As he struggled we noticed a fourth elephant below him and saw that elephant literally push the third elephant up the hill with his head. It was incredible. When the fourth elephant made it up, those two started fighting as well. It quickly became a 2 on 2 tag-team match. Fun to watch.

And now for an aside about elephants: For those concerned about the elephants fighting and us just watching and not scolding them it is actually just a natural thing for males to do. Elephants live in three different types of groups; 1. A breeding herd – mostly female and young. They are led by a matriarch and can grow very large in number. 2. Lone males – typically older bulls that are crotchety and just looking for some peace and quiet. 3. Small groups of young males – these bulls have gotten too old to stay with the herd they were born into so they go off and form small groups of 3 – 5 elephants. These young bulls often “fight” with each other but they are really just playing to learn how strong they are. When they meet up with other groups they also fight. Through this play-fighting they learn how strong each other are so when they hit puberty and are ready to mate they can actually avoid real fighting because they have already established dominance and know how strong the other bulls are. Sometimes, when two strong bulls are in musth (male elephant term for ‘in heat’) they do fight for real and injure each other but it’s often avoided because of all of this play-fighting beforehand.

Anyway. Enough about elephants for now. I could go on though. We’ve probably learned more about elephants on this trip than any other animal and we’re full of fun facts. Did you know elephants are actually walking on their toes? It’s true. Their “flat foot” is actually a sack of fat that comes down but their heel never hits the ground. That’s how they can walk so quietly despite their massive size.

After a couple of nights at Wildlife Camp our next stop is Kalvoia camp – just north of the Nsefu sector for anyone that’s got their Google Maps out.

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Packing for 4

We woke up in Lusaka relatively early in preparation for the long drive to South Luangwa. First things first – pack Fiona.

Cheryl and I had our system down for two people. Everything had its place. The things we needed most often were within quick, easy, access. Things we needed less often were tucked away. Our clothes stayed in the cab on the back seat, cooler box and basket of important implements (read: things necessary to make Cheryl’s tea) in the middle. It worked perfectly.

That system got all blown up.

With four people we didn’t quite have twice the amount of stuff but our nice little system definitely wasn’t going to work any more.

My mom and dad were given strict instructions on the size of their bags (and they definitely tested the limits but I was impressed with how well they had done actually.) I had an idea of where everything would fit when they got there but it didn’t quite work out.

It took a lot of finagling but eventually everything did fit. We just had to put a couple of ammo boxes (our spares box and our linen/ mosquito net/ Cheryl’s boots box), our ground sheet and my clothes bag (which we put the entire thing into a dry bag) on the roof of the car.

It all just barely fit. Each time we got to a campsite we had to unload almost everything and load it back up again when we were leaving. It was like a children’s puzzle where you’ve got to make everything fit just right to make it back into a perfect cube.

Then we went food shopping.

By the time we were done and on the road to South Luangwa there wasn’t an inch of space left where something hadn’t been shoved into it.

Luckily I get my packing skills from my Dad.

Space wasn’t an issue.

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In our rush to get out of Lusaka, I never took a picture of the packed car.  Here you can see me strapping my bag to the roof while Cheryl is zipping up the tent in Malawi.  Not much space on the inside either.

3 countries in a day

We were up and out of our campsite before dawn on our last morning in Ihaha, Chobe. We had one heck of a day ahead of us. One last drive along the river front to get to the park gate and on to the boarder yielded no final hurrah in terms of animal sightings. In fact, we saw barely anything moving for the first 30 minutes until a heard of giraffe and kudu came to bid us adieu.

Once we hit the tar road we were all business. Through the park gate and the nearby Ngoma boarder post we were cruising at 120kph back toward Katima Mulilo with high hopes that the spare parts we had ordered had arrived on time and that the mechanic remembered we were arriving to get them installed. With all fingers and toes crossed we nervously pulled into the local Midas. Sure enough our leaf springs and bush kits had arrived and were out and ready for us to have them loaded into our car. As we pulled around the corner to the mechanic he too was ready with extra guys on hand to install them as quickly as possible (still to take ~3 – 4 hours.)

All going according to plan.

Cheryl and I headed to a coffee shop / restaurant to do some final things on the internet, eat some breakfast. (Actually we had already had breakfast in the car so at 10am I ordered a chicken burger. A bit odd given the hour but definitely delicious.) We had meant to finish up with enough time to do our food shopping (only buying non-perishables because we weren’t sure what could be taken across the border into Zambia.) but to our surprise Fiona was out of surgery with beautiful new leaf springs installed before we left the restaurant.

We are on schedule.

We split up (Cheryl to start shopping, Josh to go to the bank and pick up the pick-up) before coming back together for a couple of more errands (fill up with diesel, buy some stools so everyone has a place to sit when my parents join us) and headed out.

The crossing into Zambia took much longer than necessary thanks to an American couple in front of us in line who were in anything but a hurry. 6 lines and 5 payments later we entered into Zambia having spent significantly more on border fees then we had expected. Time to hit the road again.

It is 3pm. We are a bit behind schedule but still ok.

As we pulled out of the border something happened that we hadn’t anticipated. The road was horrible. We expected them to be bad but this was a whole new level. How can you even consider this a road?


It is 4:00pm. We had over 600km to drive. We are way behind schedule

Our average speed for the past hour was 20kph. How do you even call this a ‘tar’ road? We had been warned that a part of the road some 400kms away from us was “very bad.” If that means this wasn’t “very bad” we would be driving all night.

Luckily the roads cleared up considerably once we got passed Livingstone and were on our way. We drove well into the night despite the many warnings against doing so and only had to slow down at the “very bad” section we had been warned about. Though it still felt like a highway as we could easily avoid the potholes at 90kph.

We finally made it to Lusaka just before 1AM and then embarked on the mission of finding the Air BnB that we had booked. Mom and Dad had been picked up by the local driver who knew the place so they made it without issue. (Good thing too because we were still a few hundred kms away when their plan landed.) Unfortunately for the owner we didn’t know the place and they were woken up with a phone call from two lost customers in the middle of the night.

We pulled into the driveway around 1:30 and Fiona’s purring engine woke my parents so they came outside and greeted us with lots of hugs and kisses.

Finally made it.

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Back to Botswana: Chobe National Park

We had to make the decision about going into Chobe with our truck bed sitting directly on the chassis or to skip the park entirely and sit around in Katima Mulilo twiddling our thumbs for a few days until our new springs and bushes arrived. It wasn’t even a legitimate decision. Of course we were going to Chobe. We were told that nothing worse could really happen to the rear suspension, just that the ride would be a lot more bumpy (and boy did it hit hard sometimes…) We hadn’t thought through all the potential secondary effects though and now we definitely have a few more rattles and squeaks that weren’t there before. Since there were no springs to help dampen the big bumps the impact was taken directly in everything else. Now our chairs squeak, the gas bottles on the roof thump around, there’s a squeak in the airbag compartment somewhere. But that’s all that really happened. Fiona otherwise made it out without a hitch and we saw some awesome things in Chobe.

Overall we spent 6 nights/days in the park. Our first two nights were spent just outside the park at Muchenje Campsites along the Chobe river in the Chobe Forest Reserve. We drove into the park for some game drives and enjoyed the beautiful sunsets from our site. On the full day that we had there we decided to forego the afternoon game drive in favor of an afternoon river cruise. Great decision. We drove down to Kasane where we boarded a boat with one other couple and a captain and we cruised around the river looking at hippo, elephant, crocodile, buffalo and all the other creatures that come out to enjoy the late afternoon drop in temperature after the heat of the mid day sun. We brought a cooler full of drinks which we happily sipped along the way. Highly recommended for a relaxing afternoon.

Our next two nights were spent in Savuti which is an area of Chobe around 100kms from where we were the first couple of days. Sticking to our mantra we originally planned on driving the long way through the park to get to Savuti using the drive to see game along the way. We got up early, packed up and hit the tar road. Within a kilometer after we turned onto the first sand road I hit the breaks. The going was just too slow. With the massive bumps and no rear suspension we were both nervous that we might just not make it over the 170km that we planned to drive. Not if it was all like that at least.

A quick change of plans had us driving along the Chobe river front again where we came across three lionesses on a hunt. What a spectacular sight to see them in their element like that. They were casually walking along when they suddenly froze. Stone still. The one in front crouched and stared intently ahead. Around 100m away stood a lone male impala. The stalk begins.

Every time the impala put its head down to eat the three lionesses would creep forward. Then stop. The impala’s head just came up. Did it see them? Will it run away? Nope. Back to eating. Back to creeping forward. The stalk continues.

As the lionesses got closer two stayed back, stone still. One continued forward and circled around to the right. She came up right near where we were sitting and inched forward. Head up; she stops. Head down again; she continues. This went on until she was behind the impala. She looked so close! Surely she would leap out and take him at any moment.

What was that? Something spooked him. He is at full alert now. Staring directly at the two lionesses that stayed behind. He still doesn’t see the third. Will she pounce?

Suddenly, to our dismay, he calls out an alert and bounds off and away from the danger.

The lioness sat there until her two friends caught up to here and they continued walking on. The hunt continues…

It would have been amazing to see a successful hunt but these lionesses really showed why they are considered ‘opportunistic hunters.’ They really didn’t have much chance against an athletic male impala who was keenly alert. Still they had to try their luck. Even though the one lioness seemed close enough to make the final pounce, she made no effort as he bounded away. The opportunity was there so they went for it but they weren’t about to expend the extra energy if they didn’t need to.

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The three lionesses on a hunt…

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She was so close!  That is the lioness on the right and the impala on the left.  Just after this he got spooked and ran off.

After that awesome sighting we finally made the drive to Savuti along the tar road for part of the way and then onto the main sand track. The road was still rough but nothing like what we had attempted earlier in the day. We checked in to our campsite and quickly headed out again for a late afternoon game drive to get a lay of the land. Savuti is a very sandy place but nothing of issue, even for an injured Fiona. Our second morning we heard some female lions calling to each other from within a thicket but we got too anxious about what we might be missing at the water holes 1km away (nothing, it turns out) that by the time we left and got back there we missed them coming out. Still, while we were in Savuti we saw some cheetah lying around under a tree and had a couple of close-up encounters with two other individual female lions. We really enjoyed our time in the area and it ended all too quickly.

Sightings from around Savuti.

Our next stop was Ihaha Rest Camp for 2 nights. This is back in the Chobe River Front area but it is in the middle of the park rather than staying just outside the gate like we had the first two nights. Overall, this was our favorite camp in Chobe. We had a lovely unfenced spot right along the river. There are 10 campsites in total and we found ourselves at the last one on the far end. Too far to walk to the bathrooms at night (especially when we heard hippo and buffalo around) but that was perfect for us. We took the car when we needed to shower. We were relatively secluded from the other campers and had great fires overlooking the river, drinking wine well into the night. Although we had two nights, we essentially only had one day in the area by the time we got there from Savuti. We also had to leave at 6am when the park opened (still in the dark) on our last day in order to get to the boarder post by 7am (more on that in another post.)

Despite only having one day, Ihaha presented us with another great leopard sighting. It was very early morning as we were driving along the river I noticed a small head dip under a tree. It’s a lion. No, wait. It’s a leopard! After a minute or two alone with the big cat two safari vehicles came up and flushed it out to run off. It tracked above the road for a while as we followed it. After a couple of kilometers it disappeared suddenly and just when we were about to give up it emerged ~50m away to head back to the water for a drink. Everyone kept their distance to enjoy the sighting of this ever skittish animal. After it’d had enough it quickly headed off into the bush again. Gone.

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Leopard coming back from drinking in the river. It quickly disappeared after this photo.

Ngepi Lodge and the Zambezi Strip

From the Kunene River Lodge we took a loooooong drive across northern Namibia, stopping for a night back in Rundu for yet another alignment and to spend the night on our way to our next destination. Even though the drive was long it was uneventful and we got to Rundu with plenty of time to spare before the shops closed on the Friday afternoon.

After Rundu it was a relatively short drive the next day to Ngepi Lodge in the Zambezi strip. (The Zambezi strip is the pan handle that comes out of the north-east of Namibia. It used to be called the Caprivi strip but for some reason the government decided to change it a few years ago. I think it was mostly to confuse tourists and because someone had a bone to pick with a cartographer. This of course backfired as they now sold many more maps with the updated name.)

Anyway, back to Ngepi. Ngepi is a quirky lodge famous for its bathrooms (yes, you read that right) and its tree houses along the Okavango river. This was the place Cheryl and I had decided to spoil ourselves and we rented a treehouse that literally sat over the river. It was an open-air room and we woke up each morning to the sunrise gleaming in our eyes from across the river. We really enjoyed the lodge for both its quirkiness and the luxurious feeling of sleeping in a comfortable, plush bed with big, fluffy pillows for the first time in a while. And you’ve got to see the toilets to understand why they’re famous.

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Our room at Ngepi.


Waking up to the sunrise.

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Playing cards.  It was actually pretty cold at night and this night we decided to have a fire and make our own food in a poitje.

The toilets…

While there we took a quick drive to Bwabwata National Park’s Buffalo area (just across the river from Ngepi but it’s a 30km drive up and around over the only bridge) for an afternoon and saw some leisurely game along the river including our first sable antelope and a massive herd of buffalo. Throw in the requisite elephants, hippos, giraffe and kudu and it was a lovely little afternoon of game viewing.

After two nights in our luxurious digs we moved on and decided to try out the Nkasa Rupara National Park as a tune-up for our trip into Chobe National Park (back in Botswana) in the coming days. We luckily sorted out a place to stay in one of the three options by the gate. We were a bit nervous when the community camp was full the next camp we stopped at didn’t offer “camping” just glamping in luxury safari tents way out of our price range. Luckily Livingstone’s Camp had a campsite available so we booked in for the most expensive campsite we had yet stayed at and went into the park. (Though it was expensive the campsites were really nice with private bathrooms and kitchen so probably worth it if that is very important to you and you see it during the day time.)

The park itself is on the smaller side but quite interesting as they have a lot of game concentrated in their smaller area. There is a lot of work being done on the park as it’s a bit behind the times in terms of signage and development but it is a nice place that I would definitely return to if I found myself in the Zambezi strip with an extra day or two on my hands. (Though this time I might reserve a campsite at the community camp ground to avoid the high prices.)

For the last few days we’d been noticing that our rear shocks were getting worse and worse (and the bed of our truck was definitely lower then when we set out) so we decided to jet off early the next morning to stop in Katima Malilo and have it checked out. Unfortunately our rear springs and bushes took a beating along the way in Namibia and gave out. Our passenger side is sitting directly on the chassis while the driver side is completely overloaded and also needs replacing. Of course, the parts which we need to replace them are at least 2 days away back in Swakopmund. Luckily we were able to make a plan with Steve’s (the local garage run by a South African expat) and the local Midas/Cymot franchise to get the springs and bushes ordered and delivered over the next few days.

If everything goes according to plan (and that is a BIG if) the parts should be delivered sometime on Friday afternoon to the Midas. Instead of going straight into Zambia from Botswana after our six nights in Chobe, Cheryl and I will now cross the boarder back into Namibia on Monday morning, pick up the parts from the Midas and take them to Steve’s where Fiona will be fixed up over the next 3 – 4 hours. And if everything REALLY goes according to plan, Cheryl and I will use that time to do our food shopping in preparation for the next 10 days with my folks while that is happening.

Supposing this is all completed by around noon we will then dash off north into our third country for the day and make the long drive to Lusaka to meet Mom and Dad at the Air BnB we’ve arranged for the night, 20kms from the Lusaka Airport. Oh, part of the plan is also for my parents to be picked up at the airport by a local driver since we won’t get there in time any more. Lots of planning. We may have to be flexible but I’m sure we’ll make it work. Somehow.

Next stop: Chobe National Park.