We started the week in luxury by waking up in the Ramada Encore hotel. Hot showers, A/C, and a breakfast buffet were all available to us. We spent the day tying up loose ends, souvenir shopping and relaxing in Dar. Emily was leaving the next day and I was mentally preparing to embark on further adventures in Zambia with my friend Killian after dropping her off at the airport.
Departure day for Emily was spent laying in bed until as late as possible without getting charged for another night. Lucky for us this wasn't until noon so we were in heaven. After checkout we relaxed in the deli area until leaving for the airport to get Killian. Traveling with Emily was amazing and we went through a lot together particularly when dealing with the permit issues. However, I knew that travel with Killian would be great since we've visited places before but never for 2 months nonstop. The friendship will definitely be tested. ;-) Killian arrived and unfortunately for Emily, she would have to wait at the airport for 9 hours before her flight and the Dar airport is not very entertaining. Killian and I needed to head on though for the fairly short drive to Morogoro to begin our first of many almost nightly camping rituals (Simbamwenni was our stop). Day 1 of adventures with Killian had begun.
The following day we bought some groceries and headed towards Iringa where we would be camping at the Rivervalley Campsite. Along the way we entered a wonderfully forested area with steep grades both up and down. Occasionally we would stop to botanize and it was becoming to be clear to me that the rains have been good and that we were in geophyte territory. The route for the day included 3 Ledebouria species, Gladiolus, Glorisa and many others. Upon arrival at camp we went for a hike around the property with the resident dog, Polly, where we saw even more odd geophytes! I was in absolute heaven. To top it off, during the night we were treated to the sounds of an animal being attacked and the twinkle of fireflies.
Our last day in Tanzania would be the drive from Iringa to Mbeya for a night at the Utengule Lodge and Campsite. What should have been a somewhat short day of driving turned into 8 hours of almost nonstop poor road construction and/or poorly paved roads. This is Africa so it's not entirely surprising but this is a major road so we were surprised. :-\ However, along the way we made stops to partake in "pitstop botany" as we now call it. It typically involves an emptying of the bladder while at the same time taking note of the plants around or, if they're lucky, below you. This activity led to 2 new Ledebouria, hundreds more Glorisa, and several other oddities that I'm unfamiliar with. Our eventual arrival at Utengule was much needed and we promptly plopped our tent on the helicopter pad (yes, you read that correctly). Turns out that Killian is quite the impromptu chef and he whipped up dinner made of mango, some arabian sauce we bought and rice. We then enjoyed a drink at the bar followed by a cool, quiet night's sleep.
On Friday, we headed to Zambia! We really had no idea what to expect at the border but after failing to find a grocer in Mbeya we took off towards Tundumu. The experience at the border crossing deserves its own post so I'll save the details for then but know that after almost $200 USD, a yellow fever vaccine, and 4 hours of time, we were finally cleared into Zambia. The remaining short drive to King's Highway Restcamp was filled with clear skies, friendly people and constant banter about the shitshow (excuse me) of a border crossing we just successfully completed. The campsite here was a random find we happened across on Trip Advisor which is a shame because the campsite is amazing and the amenities are everything a budget camper in Africa needs. Killian made another awesome on-the-fly dinner since we failed to restock supplies in Tanzania and we were finally able to relax for the first time since entering Zambia.
Our first full day in Zambia was absolutely wonderful compared to Tanzania. It's less populated, you can actually drive at a constant speed for a long time, the roads are good (with some rough spots), and everyone is friendly. Also, having the national language be English makes it easier to communicate. We made the swift drive to Mpika and restocked on supplies and visited the local vegetable market where we were able to get eggplant, tomatoes, carrots, bananas, oranges, and bell peppers. We were set for yummy dinners until our arrival at Lusaka. After Mpika we had an interesting exchange at a police checkpoint where the officer wanted our red plum jam (I told him no) and he proceeded to tell us of his travels to Manitoba. He was friendly and didn't seem to like Tanzania except for Zanzibar. We then kept driving to the turnoff for Mutinondo Nature Reserve where we were met with a lovely 25km dirt track leading to reception. After setting up camp, Killian got to work making another excellent dinner from the riches of veggies we bought that day. I sat and updated this blog while the rain lightly fell in the surrounding forest. After dinner we walked to reception, got a map for the following days hike, grabbed some cold ones and were then greeted by several botanists from Kew Botanical Gardens who were here surveying the plants found here at the reserve. There was a lot of chatter about the US election, Brexit, and botany. They gave me some pointers for dealing with permits here in Zambia which relaxed me a bit because it didn't sound too difficult. After drinks it was time for a hot shower and bed. It was slated to be yet another cool night in the tent.
After an entire night of rain, we awoke to a wet, cool, windy morning. We set off for what would be a 7-hour hike around the reserve. Along the way we encountered 4 (maybe 5) different Ledebouria, two Aloe, tons of prostrate leaf beauties that ranged from orchids to asters. We also encountered a cool gesneriad, an epiphytic orchid, and some cool ferns I knew Emily would love to see if she were here. The hike also involved visiting 4 different waterfalls along the river and we enjoyed lunch at Mulinso Falls. Shortly after lunch we made our way around Kaonde Rock and trekked back to camp skirting next to Vicky's Rock. As we were walking we noticed the large thunder cloud forming in the distance and moving our way. It soon began to rain and did not stop until after dinner. I learned that day that all of my rain gear is leaky and to expect to be wet if caught in the rain again. Zambia seems to be very wet this time of the year but that's alright because everything is green and growing, and we get discounts at some places because it's the low season. Anyways, we returned to camp to shower, make dinner and head to bed. The hike was quite long and we needed some sleep. Some time in the night the heavens opened and poured all they had on us. Surprisingly, these loud rains make it difficult to sleep as they pound away on the poor tent that hasn't been dry since entering Zambia. Oh, well. Looks like we better get used to a muddy, wet time here in the country.