When you’re twenty two months old you can venture off north into neighbouring African countries in a kombi as long as you’re prepared and have the right companions. Like Stripey. He’s unflappable and always smiling.
And your Mom. She’s the best for food, clothes, warmth, that sort of stuff.
and your sis and your Dad can come along too . . He’s quite handy as transport and a vantage point.
Just watch out if you go to Lake Malawi . .
and catch the ferry to Mombo Island . .
. . that you don’t drop your companion Stripey overboard! ‘Cos then the ferry driver will have to slow down, turn around and go back so that your Dad can hang over the side and rescue Stripey. To avert a disaster!
THANK YOU Mr Friendly Ferryman! signed: TomTom and Stripey
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
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.
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.
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.
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 pool. Jessica heaven. Wore a hole thru her cozzie bum!
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.
Jess and the three ZambiYanks and their Schoolbus
Then into the park – a long-awaited dream. It was terrific. Saw puku antelope for the first time.
That huge tall Thornicroft’s giraffe suddenly looked small
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.
Chembe village beach fig tree, Lake Malawi
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.
Outside the room, Aitch was in heaven:
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’.
Two Mile Reef, two miles east of Bazaruto Island off Vilanculos, Mocambique
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!”
Ponta Zavora, Mocambique
One Child, One Beach
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.
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”.
1. Vwaza Marsh, Malawi
We delay stocking up, thinking surely the next market will be better, but each town is the same: A big market with lots of stalls, but only a few occupied, and those only offering a few oranges and sweet potatoes. Eventually we arrive in camp not having bought anything. We resolve to fast and go back to Rumphi before moving on to Nyika Plateau.
The Vwaza game guard comes over to heat our shower water bucket and asks when we’ll be eating. On hearing we won’t be, he brings his own sadsa/phuthu on a tin plate! We have a vacuum-sealed pack of salami so we add that and share the meal. Everybody wins!
We deliver a book on Bruce Lee martial arts to beach guide “Bruce Lee” in the Comores (a gift from a previous guest who heard we were going there). He invites us for supper at his home in the nearby village where his wife cooks for us. A number of small plates with various veges, and one plate with four tiny fishes – which they put on our plates. We say we must share them, but “No. You are our guests!” they insist.
3. Jozini, Zululand
Whenever I visit Tobias he and Thulisiwe treat me to a lovely meal in their home. This time it was curried chicken and phuthu. As always Thulisiwe gave me a bag of her home-grown roasted and salted peanuts to take home.
We flew in on our first trip to Malawi. Me and Aitch. At Lilongwe airport we hired a car from the brochures on the desk, where the man on the phone said they didn’t have any presence at the airport but they were nearby, they’d be there in a jiffy. Cheap.
The airport emptied till it was just us, so we took our bags to the entrance and sat in the shade waiting. There was no-one there but a bored youth sitting in a Honda with sagging suspension, but we were chilled and the airport garden needed birding.
Eventually I went back to the desk to phone the man. He was amazed: “My man should have been there long ago!” ‘Twas him. ‘Twas our car: The Honda. “No, no” we laughed, “there must be a better car than this!” (thinking of the rough roads we’d be traversing). “Come back to the office and choose” said the friendly man. Well, of course, it was their best car, bless them, so off we headed to Kasungu National Park in our dark blue Honda Civic with Formula 1 ground clearance.
In the park we drove with one wheel on the middle bump and one on the left edge of the road. On the open road we drove slowly and avoided anything above deck. Vwaza Marsh, Nyika Plateau, Nkhata Bay and beautiful Lake Malawi.
South of Nkhata Bay we suddenly came on a stretch of smooth road! I crept the needle up to 40km/h. Then 50 and eventually 65! “Careful, Koos” admonished my Aitch, clinging white-knuckled to the dashboard (kidding! Sort of). Then we came up to the big yellow grader that had smoothed our path. It moved aside and we went past with a wave to the friendly driver. The road was back to interesting so I slowed down to 40. “Slow down, Koos” admonished my Aitch. We’d been doing 30 so this still felt fast to her and I knew she was right but I had tasted speed . . .
WHUMP! We hit a brick and I knew immediately that we’d be getting to know this remote stretch of Malawi. I parked on a low level bridge and leaned out to peer under the car: Oil pouring out the sump. Do you have any soap? I asked Aitch. Here, she said shoving a bottle of liquid soap into my hand. Um, no, a bar of soap. Ever resourceful she whipped out a fat green stick of Tabard mozzi repellant. Perfect I said and shoved it in the hole. It went into the sump without touching sides! To break the tension I took my binocs and went for a walk and straight away things got better. “Come look!” I called Aitch “A lifer!” A Fire-Crowned Bishop flitted around in the reeds of the stream we were parked above.
Aitch made us a snack and we waited. Before too long someone came by. On foot. A few schoolboys who said Not to worry, they know a mechanic in a nearby village. He will fix it. Great! I said, Would you ask him to help us? thinking Actually guys, there’s no ‘nearby village’.
An hour later a car zoomed by without stopping. Unusual for Malawi. Another hour later and a Land Rover stopped, the driver got out and shook his head sadly. He couldn’t help us as he was in a government vehicle. As he drove off we saw his female passenger appearing to give him a thousand words. He stopped and walked back with a 5l oil can in his hand. “I can’t sell you this oil because its guvmint oil, but I am going to give you this oil” he said. Great, we accepted it with alacrity. It was half full. It was a start.
Another hour or so and some figures approached us on foot, one with a greasy green overall and a red metal toolbox on his shoulder. It was our mechanic! The schoolboys had come through!
Soon he had the sump cover off and I started tapping the hole closed using a shifty and a spanner. As I tapped I asked if anyone – perchance – had a bar of soap. Nope. No-one. Holding up the cover to the sun I tapped until not even a glint of sun shone through. I had closed the hole. As we started to replace it, I muttered “I’d give twenty kwacha for some soap” whereupon one of the guys whipped out a sliver of red Lifebuoy soap from his pocket. Boy! Did the others turn on him! “How can you be so unkind to our guests?” was the accusation and they refused to let me pay him more than four kwacha for his soap, despite my assuring them that it was worth twenty to me.
Magic mechanic watches as I tap-tap
As we prepared to depart we gave them each a cold can from our hebcooler, paid the mechanic his dues (he didn’t charge travelling costs) and gave them each a cap.
Our rescuers pose
1500km later we handed the car back and I told the man at the airport: “Please check the sump. Its leaking oil”. It wasn’t, but I wanted him to check it.
Trish (Aitch) and 5yr-old Jess made a paste-and-cut album when we got back from our trip to five Southern African countries. I found it lying around so thought I’d photograph it and paste it here as a gallery. Click on the first pic and it will open full size, then scroll through the 43 pics in the gallery. Hope you enjoy.