On the way back from Afriski one year (I think 2012) we drove through Harrismith instead of our usual route down Oliviershoek Pass. Stopping to refuel at the Engen Tom and his mate (Josh, I think) said “Dad. we’re really thirsty, can we have a cooldrink?” Sure, I said and gave the the only cash I had: A R200 note.
When they returned they hopped in and off we went. Later I remembered and asked Where’s my change, m’boy?
“Um, there’s no change Dad”. No change!? “No, in fact, we had to pay in”. Let me see the slip, I asked.
Here’s their “cooldrink”:
At least they willingly shared their loot with Jess and me!
Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique via Botswana. We only had a month, so not as leisurely as we would have liked. Can hardly believe it was fourteen years ago! The kids are now 19 and 15!
Mostly we drove at a leisurely pace and didn’t do great distances. We did put in a long day of driving on four stretches, which allowed us to chill most other days: Lusaka to Chipata in Zambia; Blantyre in Malawi to Tete in Mocambique; Tete to Vilanculos in Mocambique, and lastly Zavora to Nelspruit back in South Africa were all long-hauls. On those days we left early with the kids strapped in and sleeping. We’d drive for hours before breakfast. Aitch always had food or entertainment for them.
For the rest our days were unhurried. Slowly with the windows usually down, as we didn’t use the aircon. Anyway, speeding and potholes are not a good combination. At places we liked we’d stay up to three nights. Each of our five three-night stays felt like a complete holiday on its own. The Bushman off-road trailer proved its worth at every stop.
Waterberg, South Africa
Luxury! To each their own en-suite
On through Botswana and to the Zambian border at Kasane where a ferry carries you over the Zambesi. One of the ferries had dropped a big truck overboard and got damaged, so only one was in operation, which slowed things down. Took about four hours and we were safely across the Zambezi river in Zambia. Tommy took to the “fewwy” in a big way and called all boats fewwies for a while. The battered and half-drowned second ferry and truck and trailer were visible looking sad at the side of the river. The border post was pleasant enough. They charged us more for our “minibus” and tut-tutted sympathetically at my exaggerated protests that this was not a fee-earning taxi, but just our vehicle! Laughingly insisted “Well, sir, it’s the rules”. Had a good chuckle and they wished us well in their country.
What a rig!!! The envy of many. Well, some
6 wheels follows 36
In Livingstone we camped on the grounds of the Maramba River Lodge. It was full, so we squeezed in near the gate – not the best site, but quite OK. Lovely pool again. Drove to the falls at daybreak where a vervet monkey snatched Jess’ breakfast apple out of her hand. Our first sight of the falls from the Zambian side. Spectacular even though low.
Jess lost her breakfast apple to an enterprising vervet here
Drove to Taita Lodge on the very lip of the Batoka Gorge downstream of the falls overlooking where we had rafted years before. A warm welcome and a great lunch on the deck hanging over the river. Ice-cold beer, great sarmies. Looked for Taita Falcons, saw Verreaux’s (Black) eagles soaring below. Tom & Jess banging on the dinner drum and xylophone was un-musical, but no other guests around, so no one minded – in fact the staff loved the brats and spoilt them with attention. I thought I’d better step up and perform as Aitch had been doing all the lessons and homework, so I taught them Cheers! Salut! and Prost!
On the way out of Livingstone we hit the best section of road we saw on the whole trip – brand new wide black tar with centre white stripe and side yellow lines! Amazing!
BUT: Just as we hit the smooth, the ole kombi died. Stat. Not a shudder or a hiccup first. Just suddenly nothing. That much-dreaded “CAR TROUBLE” thing! Well, after 197 000km I spose it’s OK. Unpacked the back and lifted the lid to stare at the engine. That’s my mechanical trick: I stare at engines.
Some school kids walked up and said ‘Don’t worry, they know a mechanic at the nearby village’, and the toothy one on the battered bicycle offered to go and call him. Sure, I said, not hopefully. “JP” from Gauteng, on his way to service some big crane, stopped his rented car and kindly offered his assistance. Soon he was joined (I was amazed) by Carl the mechanic, who arrived with a metal toolbox on his shoulder, and between the two of them they peered, prodded, unscrewed – and broke the distributor cap! Using mostly my tools and swallowing the ice-cold drinks I passed them, they eventually gave up. ‘Must be something computerised in one of these little black boxes’ was their verdict. Right!
‘There’s a VW agent in Lusaka’ says Carl cheerfully. Right! 200km away. As they’re about to leave, Carl spots a loose wire under near the sump. Finds another loose end of a wire and joins the two. VROOOM!! Apparently the wire was from a cutout switch to a heat sensor in the block. The kombi roared to life to tremendous applause! Well, four of us cheered. JP said ‘My pleasure’, Carl said ‘R200’, I said ‘Bargain’, Trish and the kids said ‘Thank you!’ and we were on the road again!
Next stop Lochinvar National Park at the south end of the Kafue National Park. We’d never heard of it but saw it on the map. Quite a bumpy road got us to the gate after dark. ‘Sorry, but you can’t go in’, said the soldier with a gun. ‘Sorry, but I have to’, said me. ‘You see, I can’t let these little kids sleep out here and nor can you, so hop onto your radio and explain that to your main man’. Back he came – ‘Sorry. The main man says the gate is closed’. ‘You just didn’t explain it to him nicely enough’ I said – ‘Please tell him I can’t, you can’t and he can’t leave a 22 month old sleeping in the sticks’. Off he went and back he came. ‘The main man will meet you at the camp inside’. ‘You’re a marvel, well done, thank you!’ we shouted and drove in on a 4km free night drive in Lochinvar. No animals, but some nightjars. A primitive camp, so we rigged up our own shower. Nice big trees.
Lochinvar on the Kafue
It has beautiful flood plain lakes in the middle of dry surroundings.
South Luangwa National Park in Zambia was my main destination – I had read about it for decades. It was everything and more I imagined. Flatdogs Camp just outside the park was a blast, too. Big shady trees, a hearty meal available if you didn’t want to cook, and a swimming pool with a slide. Jess loved it so much she wore a big hole right through the bumular zone of her cozzie.
Flatdogs on the South Luangwa park eastern boundary – right on the banks of the Luangwa river.
Homework for Jess
Lemme drive . . . Pleeeez!
Good pizzas & hamburgers served
We met an American Mom with three kids. She’d married a Zambian man in the USA and had shipped over a converted school bus to tour around Zambia.
Then into the park – a long-awaited dream. It was terrific. Saw puku antelope for the first time.
Watched eles crossing the Luangwa as he ate. Little ones submerged except for trunks!
OK, I’ll say it: Zebra Crossing
To get there we had to drive from Chipata town – that dreaded road we’d been warned against! Well, the grader had been a few days ahead of us and it turned out to be one of the smoothest stretches of the whole trip!
On to Malawi
Chembe village on the shores of Lake Malawi, and freshwater snorkelling off Mumbo island in Lake Malawi, cichlid fishes, and bats and swifts in a water cave.
We stayed at Emmanuel’s. Fair-minded people will agree with my assessment of it as ‘luxury’ but Aitch veto’d that and stuck it firmly under ‘basic with roof’, even though the shower was almost en-suite.
Stephens’ Ace Luxury Lakeside Lodge. Deluxe
Footbath – Virtually en-suite. Bleedin’ luxury!
Outside the room, Aitch was in heaven:
Bye Lake Malawi
Aitch in Paradise! This is where she wanted to be!
Back to the mainland
Aitch snorkelled for ages . . .
Leaving Malawi we crossed the wide Zambesi at Tete, where we stayed in a motel on the right bank as we wanted to head straight off the next morning. Probably Aitch’s least favourite lodgings of the trip – mozzies and an empty swimming pool. Leaving town two garages had no petrol. They said the word was that the town on the far bank had, so we crossed back over the Zambesi, filled up and crossed back again. The kombi liked that!
Our biggest luxury was three nights at Vilanculos Beach Lodge. Sea, sand, a bar, lovely food, huge soft beds, friendly staff. Especially João, who spoiled the kids rotten, writing up cooldrinks to our room number! They thought he was a wizard.
We took a boat to Bazaruto Island and then on to Two Mile reef offshore in the big Indian Ocean. Lake Malawi and Bazaruto were Aitch’s main snorkeling destinations and she LOVED them both! Two-Mile reef really is ‘like an over-stocked aquarium’.
Crabs at Babalaza Cafe
NICE camping, Mom!
Romany creams at Bara Lodge beach. Thanks, Aitch!
Zavora Bay near Inharrime. Stunning lakes and a wi-ide bay; A reef at the point, so you can walk in and snorkel in sheltered water for a kilometre; Lovely cottages – houses, really, on top of the dunes overlooking the bay. Our best find in Mocambique. We hadn’t heard about it before and we fell in love with it. We agreed: “We MUST come back here one day!”
Here’s where the kids got sick. We tested them – high positive readings for malaria. Luckily the lodge owner gave us Co-Artem pills which we fed them and then set off early next morning for South Africa.
Vilanculos hammock. We don’t know it yet, but Jess has malaria brewing!
TomTom was not himself – that night the malaria struck at midnight. We left early next am after testing them, then treating both with Co-artem
When we got to Nelspruit hospital they tested all clear! The Co-Artem had done its job perfectly!
Two Memory Highlights: The rivers – stunning! The Chobe, Zambezi, Kafue, Luangwa, Shire, the Zambezi again (at Tete it’s wi-i-ide and beautiful), the Save and the Limpopo rivers were all magnificent and welcome and we stopped and stared. South Africa has some lovely rivers, but these were wider, swifter-flowing and clearer.
The friendly people. Everywhere we went we were helped and fussed over and we heard laughter and “No Problem!”, and quite often: “Are these your children?”
Accommodation: We camped 14 nights; Basic shelter with roof 6 nights; Comfy lodgings 7 nights; Spoiled ourselves with luxury 5 nights;
Duration: Five 3-night stays; Three 2-night stays; Eleven 1-night stands;
Cook’s Tour: Thomas Cook (1808 – 1892) was an English businessman best known for founding the travel industry. In 1855 he took two groups on a ‘grand circular tour’ of Belgium, Germany and France, ending in Paris for the Exhibition. The expression ‘A Cook’s Tour’ was humorously used for any rapid or cursory guided tour: “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium”.
Having decided “We’re Going” we wanted to keep things simple.
Over-preparation can cause delays, complications and second thoughts! I took long leave (I asked me, I said yes, I hired a locum optometrist, all good). Trish was between jobs – looking after kids was her current full-timer – so she was good to go. Mario serviced the kombi for us and gave me his usual lecture about looking after it. He told horrific stories about his trips up north in 4X4’s and how terrible the roads were. Especially the road between Chipata and Luangwa, ‘the worst road in Africa’. I made a mental note.
And instead of buying all sorts of stuff I bought a . . . . drum roll! . . . .
1975 Bushman Tracker 1 Off-Road Trailer
R27 500. Made in Nelspruit / Mbombela 28 years earlier. It had a stove, a gas bottle, a tent, a mattress, a table, ground sheets, cutlery and crockery, a spice rack and a 45l water tank. What more could you possibly need?
In the kombi I removed the bench seat in the middle row and fitted the single seat for Tommy’s car seat next to the new National Luna 65l fridge (about R6500, if I recall correctly) so we could walk around both sides to the back bench, to which Jessie’s sturdy and comfy car seat was attached.
2003 Kombi Plan
Heading North towing our Bushman! Nice & quiet right now . . .
That back bench seat also folded down to become a double bed, so we could all sleep in the kombi if need be, as I also rigged a removable bed between the two front seats for Jess and for Tom we had a mattress on the floor. While checking the tyres Jacks Tyres showed me a second-hand kombi mag wheel just like mine, so I bought it. Now we had two spares, like rugged okes!
For each of the kids I had a rectangular six-sided mosquito net “cage” made that zipped closed over them once they were in bed and we then lifted up the four corner straps and hooked them to fittings I had affixed to the kombi roof, completely enclosing them each in a mozzie net “Four Poster Bed”.
We were ready to go.
We packed food for three days plus plenty of snacks – Aitch’s forte. The rest we’d get on the way, in line with my motto: Weight is the enemy!
We’d been meaning to go for ages but, you know – procrastination.
The idea of a long road trip up north is a common dream and – like many Saffers – we planned to do it ‘one day’.
Then one lazy day at home in 2003 I read a lovely interview with an Austrian bloke who had traveled down through Africa on his own from Vienna to Cape Town on a motorbike. The journalist interviewing him asked him about the trip, his adventures, his highlights and his challenges. He’d had a fun time.
The journo then looked down at his bike and said: “Hey – this is a dead-ordinary street bike! What on earth made you choose this bike for your African safari?”
“Choose it?” he said “I didn’t choose it. I had it”. That did it! I got up right there and then and started pacing around. ‘Acting strangely’, according to Aitch.
Within a few months of reading that Wake-Up! What Are You Waiting For? call we had hopped into our white VW kombi petrol 2,3i 2WD with 195 000km on the clock and headed north.
Two little problems: While procrastinating we had adopted Jessie, now five, and Tommy, now 22 months old. But what the heck, even after we’d modified the kombi it was still a six-seater. There was room for them!
Before Safari 2003
Mom’s birthday 2003. Jess about to snuff the SINGLE candle!
In the featured pic above the heading our ‘Estonia-type’ chalet is off to the far right. It’s the middle one in the picture below. It sleeps 11 people and is wonderfully comfy and warm as toast – very well insulated, double-glazed. Its called ‘St Moritz’ for some reason. It used to be called Estonia No.5. I’d have preferred a Sesotho name! Anyway, a rose by any other name . . . Maybe Mahae – ‘rural home’ or ‘rustic home’.
The new chalets they’re selling are smaller, modern, square, lots of glass. They’re OK. They call them ‘edgy’. But they’re nothing like our old “Estonian Wooden Chalet”!
We bought one week of winter skiing (plus three weeks in summer) and we have used it seven winters in the ten years we’ve had it. Now I would sell if I got a buyer. Someone could get a bargain for the last five years, especially if two families shared it.
We flew on from Oddballs east out of the green delta across the dry Kalahari to Savuti:
The flight was a bit bumpy in the hot clear air and Aitch started to go green about the gills but we landed before she resorted to any lumpy laughter. At the strip we were met by pink-cheeked Emma the Pom in an open game drive vehicle. She was the camp chef – and the airstrip fetcher that day. She drove us right up an ele’s bum at a waterhole en route.
Just three of us in the vehicle. The last time I had been to Savuti was in 1985 when I’d arrived in a crowded old Land Rover full of Kiwis, Aussies, a Pom and a Yank on a budget overlander. We pitched our tiny tents in the public camping area and the eles bust the water tank.
Sixteen years later, luxury! Emma took us on to camp and fed us overlooking the famed Savuti channel. After Oddball’s roughing it: YUM!!
Fetched from the airstrip by pink-cheeked Pommy chef Emma who drives us right up an ele’s butt . .
. . . and then feeds us at camp
Jenny and Lionel Song hosted us. She was a honey, he was lion-obsessed. And we had Texans with us, so we did a lot of lion-chasing. ‘Myomi’s pride’ was the focus. Gotta have names.
So first thing in the morning we’d hare off to where the lions had last been seen and at last light (its a national park, so you can’t be out after dark) we’d hare back to camp. Once on the way we saw two ratels (honey badgers) skoffeling around and at least we did slow down to watch them awhile.
In Lionel’s defence he was doing his job, the Americans were repeat guests who worked for Southwest Airlines based in Dallas – world’s biggest carrier at the time. They were delighted when he gunned the Cruiser after a lioness as she started sprinting at a giraffe. She and five others brought down the giraffe and that was it, we spent the rest of the day watching lion lunch.
The good thing is a vehicle is a great hide so I could scan around for birds too. While doing so I saw two ears above the grass some 100m off. A cub watching and waiting. It stayed right there till the pride leader looked up and made a funny high-pitched bark and they (three of them) came running straight onto the carcase and started making a nuisance of themselves. When we left they had hardly made a dent in the huge female giraffe.
Next morning we drove straight back at first light and all that was left was a blood stain on the grass, a chewed head nearby and scattered bones! Two males had arrived and they were lying there the size of dirigibles. Eight round lions and three bloated cubs. They looked like the animals from Rollin’ Safari:
In camp Lionel, teasing, said to a guest who asked about the Lloyd of Lloyd’s Camp: ‘You should meet Lloyd, pity he’s not here. He’s 6ft 4in tall with long black hair tied back in a ponytail”. Yeah, right! Lloyd Wilmot’s a legend in deeds, but not in stature.
I love the one guest comment after yet another exciting Wilmot Safari: “While the Lloyd is my shepherd I Wilmot fear…”
It was 2001 and the Savute channel was dry, so the only waterholes were supplied by boreholes. The Savute flows with water from the Linyanti river. It apparently flowed in Livingstone’s time, around 1845, then was dry in 1880 and remained dry for over 70 years. It flooded again in 1957, dried up again in 1982, flowed again in 2008 and the marsh flooded fully in 2010. This was documented by Dereck and Beverley Joubert in their films Stolen River and Journey to the Forgotten River.Mike Myers tells how the whole dynamic of the region changes depending on what’s happening with the water. I heard in Maun how Lloyd Wilmot had found a crocodile (crocodile carcase?) high up in the rocky hills above the marsh around 1982 after the channel ceased to flow.