East Zambia and into Malawi

Day 51 – near Petauke ( Chimwemwe lodge) – Wednesday 18th July, 410 kms

We left Lusaka early and only stopped for fuel at the last fuel post for a long time. Our map showed a good 320kms without petrol stations, so we also filled the 5 litre Jerry can. In the end, mid way, we came across a new petrol station. The buildings were still in construction, but they sold fuel.

The road, for half way, was rather boring and busy. It was lined with constant traditional villages ( small huts and mud houses) lined with constant cyclists and walkers, women carrying water on their head, kids in school uniforms, men walking around…. not much privacy for a quick pee stop. And many goats, pigs, cows wandering around. In one small village, a massive coach came in the opposite direction. As usual, goats were on the road. 2 small young ones in particular, did not look like they would move. They were standing on the incoming traffic line. I slowed down, expecting them to jump in front of me at any time. An incoming coach came at full pelt, only vaguely hooting, the 2 goats did not move. As I came to the level of the coach and goats, all I heard was a big “thump” noise. The driver did not even bother to slow down! I gasped in horror. I did not expect that! People along this road are very poor, a goat is worth a lot to them. I understand why the big buses have massive metal bumpers!

We passed many police check points and, soon after Lusaka, a toll. We were waved through the toll. The police never bothered with us either and just waved us through. The only time we got stopped was actually soon after crossing the border from Namibia. The poor police officer was alone and bored. We exchange few jokes and he let us go!

About 200kms from Lusaka we crossed over a massive bridge over the Luangwa river. The views were stunning but we could not stop for photos.

The weather was cold and cloudy and we had a strong headwind, as every morning since we started this trip. It seems the wind blow from the east. It usually calmed down early afternoon.

Although the road has many villages, there was no accommodation, shops, coffee shops or anything where you could stop for a rest. All along, people and children waved and smiled at us. Zambian are friendly.

After a long cold day ride, we arrived at the junction with Petauke. From my research, I knew there was some sort of hotel around. We found is eventually. From the outside, it looked nice. Inside, as usual since we left Namibia, it is poorly built, neglected and run down. The lodge had little individual wooden cabins or more expensive bricks ones. We took the cheap wooden cabin for 350 ZK ( about 35 $). They had a small restaurant, so we wandered there after a hot shower. I was absolutely frozen and asked reception for extra blankets. It was going to be a very cold night.

A the restaurant we had a choice of fish, pork or chicken. Rice or chips. We still had to wait a good hour to get our fried fish and rice. After eating, I felt a bit warmer. I never imagined Zambia could get this cold.

Tired and shivering, we got back to our hut for the night.

Day 52 – South Luangwa National Park – Croc Valley camp – Thursday 19th July – 310kms

That night we had a massive storm. No rain but a very violent wind. As we woke up, the sky was dark grey, it was cold and still very windy. I did not look forward to ride with such strong wind. We waited until 10am before setting off, with all my layers on. We neglected to put our trousers waterproof though. After all, this is the dry season right?

After riding for a while, it got colder and started to rain. We had to stop to fetch our waterproof over-trousers. While we got them on, a young lad on a bicycle, across the road, kept watching us. Women with goods on baskets on their heads passed laughing and saying hello.

By mid afternoon we arrived at Chipata, the border town with Malawi. For now, we only stopped there for fuel and at the local Spar, to get some lunch. As soon as we arrived at the Spark parking, we got surrounded by money changers. It always makes me nervous, all these guys surrounding us. We explained we were not going to Malawi and did not need their services. Eventually they left us. While Alistair went inside the shop, I kept watch of the bikes, being offered constantly goods by street sellers and being asked money by many beggars. I hate border towns. They always have that feel of crooks, thieves and danger.

Eventually, Alistair came back with a chicken pastry and two samosas, and some Diet Coke. After eating, we got out of town and picked up the road to the National Park. Surprisingly, the road was all tarmac, which was nice. After 130kms of a small country road, lined, once again, with many villages and people walking around, pigs, goats, cows wandering around, we saw the sign for Croc Valley Camp. I selected this one, among many, as it is one of the cheapest and also provide drives to the park at reasonable cost!

We decided, as it was just only 10 dollars more, to get one of the camp large canvas tent, instead of using our small flimsy dome tent. The tent was big, with two beds and enough room for all our stuff. It had a thatched roof over the tent, that would come handy.

After getting changed we had a look around and immediately saw all the monkeys. And the large baboons. So many of them! There was a communal kitchen that was kept locked. All food had to stay in metal containers or fridge. During the winder season, when food is scarce, elephants wander around the campsites and will steal any food they can reach. A tent, window or car door, is no match for them. And then of course, there are the monkeys.

Walking from our tent to the bar area, a whole gang of baboons had completely flattened a small dome tent and stolen some cloths. They were also all over the car next to it. The staff, unlike in Ai Ais, did nothing to stop them. I was glad we decided to stay in the big solid canvas tent.

Later on, a member of staff told me that monkeys are not afraid of women ( sexist pigs, or monkeys in this case!), and often steal food from the hand of women. So I should be cautious when and where I am eating. As it was dark, all the monkeys were gone. So it was ok. We cooked some vegs and noodles.

The camp is set next to the river and we could see many hippos laying around. They can walk across the camp at night, as well as elephants, crocs and other wildlife.

Day 52 – Croc Valley camp – Friday 20th July – 0kms

A bit before 7am we got woken up by a very large group of baboons. There was a massive fight going on, the noise, screams and rage going on, was pretty scary. They were all over our tent, the roof, the trees, our front door, with a bit of the fight just on my side of the tent. I was so glad to be inside a solid canvas tent. It was a very large group and the males were massive! I did not fancy an 80kgs baboon ripping through the tent!

We eventually came out, once the baboons settled their differences. We went to the building used as kitchen and ate our breakfast inside,standing around the table. There were no chairs but I did not want my breakfast stolen by monkeys again! We had booked a drive to the National Park, starting at 4pm.

So we did not do much while waiting for our drive.

The campsite discouraged people walking to the village but provided a shuttle service at noon, for free. So we took the shuttle service and visited the village. Elephants and will animals roam free in the area as it is so close to the National Park.

At 4pm, we got into the safari car, with 7 other guests and 2 guides, and drove to the park. It was very close to our camp. The park was much more impressive than Etosha, in Namibia, we thought. It was forested and had a higher density of wildlife. We saw many elephants, giraffes, zebras, hippos, crocs and many different sort of antelopes. We also got incredibly close to them. They did not seem bothered by us.

By 6pm it started to be dark. The safari car had a big torch that a guy used to highlight the bushes. Predators are active at night so we were looking for them. The previous day they had seen many lions and a leopard. We were quite keen to see big cats. Unfortunately we saw none. We came across few solitary hyenas though. One of them was just lying down next to the road, totally ignoring us. It looked quiet cute actually. They were smaller than I thought, the size of a biggish dog.

Back to camp around 8pm, we went to the kitchen to prepare our dinner. We met the unfortunate owners of the tent that had been flattened by the baboons the day before. It was a Canadian / US couple. They told us that the baboons had also urinated all over their tent and covered their car with poo. Nice!

We had a drink at the bar and went to chat with them again, around their campfire.

Day 53 – lilongwe, Malawi – Saturday 21st July – 290 kms

I woke up around 6am. I could not hear any monkeys around so decided to go to the loo. As I came out of the shower blocks and walked into the canvas tents area, built in a circle with the shower block at the exit, a large antelope, with very beautiful markings on its back and sharp antlers, was standing in the middle of the camp. I was as startled as it was and after a moment of surprise, looking at each other, we decided to ignore each other. I walked slowly to my tent, and it walked slowly and gracefully to the other side.

10 minutes later, tucked in bed, we heard a rumble. It was not the hippos, who kept rumbling all night. The tree near our tent was being pulled. Alistair unzipped the window on his side. We saw large tusks. There were few large elephants eating from the tree!

We found out later that a group of 40 elephants had crossed the camp. And also that a leopard was lying by the chalets around 5:30 am!

Asking the staff about the notice to check the pool for crocs and animals, they confirmed that they had pulled out snakes from it and that indeed the older pool had attracted crocs, hippos and elephants! But there was no much risk at this time of year, as the water is too cold.

All I can say is that Croc Valley Camp was an amazing place to see wildlife. It was magical! Definitely worth the stay.

We left quite early as we were planning to cross the border. At Chipata, we stopped to buy fuel and some food for an early lunch. After that, we avoided the money changers hanging around and rode the 20 kms to the border.

We parked the bikes near the office. We got our passports stamped out then the next window was custom. They filled and stamped the carnet for the bikes, gave us a Pass to exit the border and told we were good to go.Then we dealt with the money changers there.

We had checked the rates the day before. We had about 450 Zambian kwachas left, and got 40,000 Malawi Kwachas. It was a good rate.

Then we handed our pass to exit. Except there was a local tax to pay. In Zambian Kwachas only! Argh! Money changers again. I stood by the bikes while Alistair dealt with the tax.

Then we rode to the Malawi side, surrounded, once again, by the money changers.

We filled a couple of forms and pay 75$ each for the visas. We could pay with US dollars for that.

Then we went to the custom office to get the Carnets filled for the bikes. We were told we also had to pay a road tax of $20 each and needed proof of third party insurance for the bikes. Obviously there was a guy from the insurance desk hanging around. We paid 25,000 Kwachas each for the insurance. We changed $50 dollars as both the road tax and the insurance had to be paid in Kwacha (MK).

All that back and forth took about an hour and a half.

Some people may be interested on this: we travel with soft panniers. Nothing is locked. In border like these there are many people around, including the usual beggars. We left our bikes for quite a while, totally out of our sight, and in all our border crossings in Africa and Central Asia, so far, no one ever touched our bikes. We take valuables like cameras, phones and GPS with us but still plenty of stuff of value left!

After the border we rode into Malawi!

The villages along the road seemed to have better housing, built in bricks rather than wood. The roof were metal rather than thatched. I guess as there were less forests and more agricultural land, there is less wood available for construction, so locals have to buy bricks to build homes. Many were painted in white or blue and looked fine.

On the road we saw some tribal men wearing non European style costumes.

We arrived at Lilongwe, the town was confusing, with forest around and The Street along the forest, with far away building through the trees. It was hard to find our way round or a precise address! We had selected a guesthouse that had good rating in booking.com and made the error of not cross referencing the address on another site. As usual with booking.com, the guesthouse probably exist but somewhere completely different, 80kms away!

After that, we went in search of another guesthouse called Japan House. It had good ratings in booking.com. It was on the GPS. We arrived at a gated community. No signs of hotel. We asked one of the guards at the gate. He took us to a house! Hmmm! It had an A4 sheet saying Japan House. Hmmm.

It was actually a house were 2 Japanese young guys lived in. It had a spare bedroom with 3 bunk beds and an ensuing bathroom. The guy receiving us made us wait a good 15 minutes while he prepared the room. We had to remove our shoes inside. Not sure why as the floor was filthy. The house was a tip. 2 guys living there, no cleaner, the bathroom was such that I did not want to touch anything. At least we had clean sheets. The floor was dirty and covered in hairs, the kitchen a health hazard… we got changed and walked to the nearby mall as we needed cash. We found an ATM machine. We used several cards to get enough cash. Then we had some dinner at the mall. By then it was dark. Night fall at around 6pm, as we are still on the same time zone since South Africa, but have travelled quite a long way East. We walked back in the dark, which was quite tricky as there was no pavement and the road was dangerous with fast moving cars. We had to walk by the sandy track that could have holes, garbage etc…

Back at the house, there was a young woman waiting. We had seen her at Croc Valley camp, she was in our safari car the previous day. Veronica was Colombian, studying in Barcelona and backpacking around during the summer holidays. We freed the third bunk bed of our stuff. I had not used dormitories for quite a long time!

There was no hot water, and none of use fancied stepping into the filthy bath, so no shower for us that day!

At least the WiFi worked so we read stuff in our respective bunk beds and chatted with Veronica. It seems the baboons stole her breakfast too, in Croc Valley Camp!

Day 54 – Senga Bay, Cools Running Camp – Sunday 22d July – 126kms

Early morning, Alistair walked to the little mall with Veronica, to get some food for breakfast. Veronica also needed cash, as she had crossed the border the day before, like us.

I would not fancy using buses around here! She told us that she had to take a taxi from the border to the bus station. She was on the front seat of a car with 3 other people, while 6 people crammed at the back! Taxis are communal in Africa! But the mini buses are even worse!

After loading the bikes, we left town and the filthy Japan house! That it was rated 8.5/10 in booking.com is unbelievable! Just shows you cannot trust any of those ratings online!

It was a short 2 hours ride to Senga Bay. Along the road we saw plenty of kids by the side of the road. After all it was Sunday. They had a long stick with was looked like dead mice, 10 to 20 mice, skewered in those sticks. Sometimes even more, tightly packed. I found out later, talking to an Ozzie expat living in Blantyre, that the kids were selling roasted mice, which is considered a snack in Malawi! Some of them are roasted with the skin on. Not sure they are even gutted! The sight of them was rather revolting, with those little legs and skinny tails sticking out!

Finding Cool Running Camp was not easy. Even with the GPS. We had to turn back, stop at a fuel station and ask for directions. It had good reviews and was also recommended by a fellow traveller.

The place was very pleasant. It was very reasonably priced. For 10 USD each, we decided to take the wood hut with real beds rather that set up the tent. We had late lunch of toasted sandwiches on site and didn’t do much after that, the place was full by end of the day.

We also had dinner there. The local fish was excellent. It should be, as we are by the edge of lake Malawi. It is so big we could not see the other side. There were waves and looked like the sea.

Women were doing the laundry on the beach while kids played and swam around.

After our early dinner there was not much to do. It was dark. Most people seemed to have gone to bed very early, so we moved to our hut, away from the many mosquitoes. Our beds had mosquito nets which was really useful.

Day 55 and 56 – Senga Bay – Monday 23rd / Tuesday 24th July – 0 km

We woke up early. After breakfast we did some laundry and planning. WiFi did not work, so I did not buy a voucher. WiFi is rarely free in Malawi, except in high end hotels. Malawi has a hotspot system throughout the country. You buy vouchers to access WiFi. Except, if the power is off, there is no signal. Power cuts are a frequent occurrence in Malawi and most places have a generator. So our planning was mainly with the lonely planet and road map, as the power was off most of the day.

It seems that for Mozambique, we may have to get the visas at a consulate. It may not be possible at the border. Things change constantly, so we would need to find out what is the latest situation on this.

In the afternoon, a group arrived, some with British accent. They were a mix of Brit/ Ozzie expat and some of their family, visiting from the UK. We had a good chat with the Ozzie expat and his wife. They told us they knew of Europeans who had crossed into Mozambique and got the visa at the border. But it is a lot of hassle and things with Mozambique change almost daily, so we would be better off sorting the visas in advance. I found out there was consulate in Blantyre. It was in our way, so we decided we would stop there for few days.

But first we will visit Monkey Bay!