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June 16, 2013 / samwilson60

Off on our own again

On leaving Ben and Jen we ran the checkpoint gauntlet again around Mbala (plain sailing this time) and headed about the same distance again to the Shiwa Ng’andu estate and camped at Kapisha Hot Spring. Driving through the estate was mind-blowing – we’d been warned but still couldn’t believe quite how like a little England it was (tile roofs and all). The lodge that provided us with camping and hiking was equally surreal.

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We felt very out of place in the manicured gardens and just barely resisted the offer of high tea. The staff were lovely and very down to earth, though, and the campsite was just as we like them. If the internet hadn’t been so hideously overpriced we might even have stayed another night but the pesky Swiss were still causing trouble and we wanted to update the blog so we headed onto Kasama and lucked in at a guesthouse (albeit a slightly odd one) with free wi-fi (for as long as the power held out). It was a very productive stopover and we had the garden all to ourselves.

From Kasama it was a short drive up to the Zambian shore of Lake Tanganyika, or at least the nearest town, Mbala. From here we had the option of tar to Mpulungu or a “bad road” towards the falls. As there appeared to be a lodge marked on the falls side, we went for that and spent the rest of the day wondering why. Within metres of the tar ending the track got interesting. Unlike any of the many lesser used routes we’d taken in the past, this one was primarily soft sand that had eroded just enough to leave a shelf of rock along one side and neither the rocky nor the sandy side was wide enough to accommodate all four wheels. The resultant lean was alarming at times and downright petrifying at others. Just as we were getting over the shock of this new challenge, we were flagged down by a local pickup full of road repairers. They looked blankly as we described our ordeal and much to our amusement had been charged simply with repairing the bridge – the only structurally sound part of the track, for now. They agreed to hold off demolishing the old one until the day after next, to give us time to get back across. It seemed straightforward, universally understood and convenient to all, but we couldn’t help wondering if we’d ever make it back. We didn’t wonder for too long though, as we still had over three-quarters of the outbound journey to content with. Thank God it was scenic!

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A brief reminder of why we were putting ourselves through the newly dubbed ‘worst track in Zambia’

By the time we got to the turnoff for the lodge we were more interested in finding somewhere to stay than upending the truck trying to get to the falls. We were also fairly pessimistic but open to the possibility of the offshoot being better than the main drag. In fact it was. It was still long and rocky and we had a very big, very lively village to contend with at the bottom, but the Tinker Beast felt a lot happier.

Just as we were discussing the chances of a fully functional, in-business lodge still existing at the end of the road, we pulled up at the gates. They were locked and there was no one in sight. No one except the dozen kids that had engulfed us. We’d just about accepted our fate (a night fending off children and livestock), when we spotted some washing on a line and too obviously functional a car not to still be in use. And sure enough, after only about 15 minutes of horn-honking and searching the grounds, someone appeared and was more than happy for us to camp. In fact, she and her husband couldn’t do enough for us. We had the full grounds of a luxury lodge all to ourselves, free papaya and boundless information on the local area.

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When chatting about where we’d been and where we were going, the owners asked if we’d already done the Zambia exit formalities. We looked blank and they explained that customs was in Mpulungu and immigration in Mbala, both further back down the disastrous track we never wanted to see again (we’d passed the turnoff for Tanzania at around the halfway point). They also mentioned that the rest of the track out to the falls was even worse than the part we’d already done (their last guest’s vehicle had fallen off it) so we agreed to stick with what we knew, retrace our steps to Mbala then out to Mpulungu and look into getting a boat to the falls before visiting customs at the port.

We never found the place the previous lodge had recommended but that worked out really quite well. We were a bit bored of expat operations and had all we needed at the locally owned “Science Lodge” (still no idea why it was so named).

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The owner, a proud father of many, even offered to help us organise a boat over to the falls but the guy he found was asking a startling amount, way more than we could afford even if we’d wanted too. The price was clearly for real (fuel prices are VERY high in Zambia) so we didn’t begrudge them it, shame though it was. Instead we enjoyed an awesome lakeside fire and an in-depth education in Zambian wedding formalities, past and present.

The next day, customs at the port couldn’t have been simpler and immigration in Mbala likewise. The guy in town was as miserable as they come but with just enough Eeyore about him to be endearing. The border itself wasn’t deserted as we’d been led to believe but the staffing did only stretch to one man with no stamps so clearly we did the right thing. He checked our papers and waved us off. Simples 🙂

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