The week started with wonderful things! We arrived in Lusaka around noon and decided to stay for the night and see what was happening with my permits. We made a lunch stop at our favorite coffee shop with reliable Wi-Fi, ZamBean. While checking my mail I noticed I had received an email from Dr. Chuba at UNZA. He stated that since the permitting process was taking so long, the department would supply me a letter stating I was clear to do the work should anyone ask to see it. Wahoo! We picked up the letter, went to camp, had dinner and made plans for our trip north.
The following day we drove towards Nsobe Camp just south of Ndola. The drive was peaceful and we arrived early afternoon. The property at Nsobe is enormous with acres of miombo woodland, farming plots and sleeping quarters. After afternoon tea and cookies, we went for a drive around the property in search of interesting plants. The took us a surprising 2.5 hours, during which time we saw some awesome plants but no Ledebouria. It was strange to me that we couldn't find them since the habitat looked exactly like what they'd prefer. We returned to camp shortly before dark for drinks and dinner. I was starting to worry our trip north wouldn't reveal any Ledebouria. Luckily, we had one more chance the following day at Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage.
What should have been a very short drive from Ndola to Chimfunshi turned into an almost all day affair. We started early and made excellent time to Kitwe, especially since the road from Ndola to Kitwe is now a two-lane divided highway! However, beyond Kitwe was a total nightmare. The roads past Kitwe to Chingola are currently under total construction and are demolished almost the whole way. The city of Chingola (pronounced with a heavy Mexican accent) has the most atrocious roads we have traveled yet. If you're looking for an excellent African massage, just drive here. Just passing through the city takes a good 45 minutes depending on how many trucks are also traveling. We eventually made it through and started on what seemed to be a really nice road towards Solwezi. After passing through a military check point, which we thought was rather odd, we came upon a very long line of semi-trucks. Killian and I, having been through our share of African border crossings, knew exactly what we were looking at. Apparently, we missed a turn and were now on our way to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Not wanting to experience that crossing, we quickly turned around and went back towards Chingola. At the police stop just outside of town we asked the officer for directions and were informed that the road under construction at the police stop was the one we wanted. So we started on the dirt road, which was actually better than the one through Chingola, and after dodging numerous potholes we arrived at the dirt track to Chimfunshi. The road was wet with a few puddles but was also rocky so no worries about getting stuck. Upon arrival we met Rosie, looked at the site and set up camp. We prepared dinner in their kitchen and headed to bed after our sundowners. While brushing my teeth, I noticed a peculiar little plant with one flat leaf on the ground and my headlamp highlighted the faint little spots on the surface. My curiosity got me and I had to dig. Turns out it was a Ledebouria and my day ended on an awesome note.
We awoke on Thursday to the sounds of a torrential downpour. Since we were driving all the way back to Lusaka, I wanted to get an early start so we could see the chimps (Google Chimfunshi), and still arrive in Lusaka before dark. However, the rains delayed that start and soon our tent was wading in a large puddle of water. There appear to be small holes in the floor because our sleeping pads were a tad bit wet, and the splash made water leak from the zippers. The day was off to a great start. Eventually the rain ceased enough to get out and make breakfast. We then headed over to the enclosures where we met Felix, one of the keepers. After watching the chimps feed and socialize, I couldn't help but wonder how people cannot believe in evolution. Anyways, the chimps were great but we needed to get moving. We left Chimfunshi, made the 3-hour trek through to Kitwe and just south of Ndola we encountered one massive rainstorm. I thought Florida had rains but not like Zambia. 10 hours after departing Chimfunshi, 2 of which involved driving in the dark, we arrived back at our Lusaka campsite Eureka, where we are now recognized and just waved through. A quick dinner of ramen noodles and showers, and we settled in for the night.
After a slower start since we weren't going very far, we made our way towards Kafue National Park. The drive was excellent with amazing roads and friendly police. Despite being rained on almost the whole way, a few stops revealed some new Ledebouria that I hadn't seen yet. We soon arrived at Mukambi Safari Lodge and were informed that they do not have campsites, and after looking at their prices we decided we would go elsewhere. The receptionist suggested a spot only 5 minutes away called Roy's Camp. The turnoff for Roy's was clearly marked and we made our way on the somewhat questionable 1.5-kilometer dirt track. About 500 meters in I kindly asked Killian to get out and walk the road since I could no longer see it because of the water. After watching Killian stumble, sink, wobble and almost eat mud in 50 meters, we turned around. We returned to Mukambi and tried to convince them to let us camp at their place but they were not having it. They suggested a guesthouse in Kaoma which was roughly 2 hours away on a good road. This meant we'd be driving in the dark for a bit. Shortly after leaving the national park boundary we were met by the most ungodly, potholed road we had yet encountered. Driving was very rough and very slow. The short distance to Kaoma took longer than we were told and we arrived after sunset in the rain to Farmer's Rendezvous Guesthouse. The receptionist was lovely and allowed us to use the kitchen for our dinner. I finally relaxed after the stressful drive and fell asleep.
Saturday's drive was far better than the previous day's and we made it to Mongu in the early afternoon. The bad road ended shortly after Kaoma which is why we arrived so early. After being told our original campsite didn't have camping we made our way south. Luckily, Killian found another place in Mongu which offered camping so we turned around. We set up camp at Greenpoint View lodge, read all afternoon and had a delicious dinner of mushrooms (our third species) and libations.
Sunday was another short drive south to Sioma. Back in Mongu we were informed that the road to Sesheke was wonderful and the bridge at Sioma was complete so we knew we had some easy driving coming our way. We arrived at Sioma Bush Camp and met the manager, Mastah. He informed us that we could camp for free since there was no water at the camp and we gladly accepted. The camp is situated right along the Zambezi river, which made for some great views. We found a "beach" near reception and set up our chairs for some more afternoon reading while listening to the river flow. Later, while prepping dinner, Mastah brought us some corn to cook and we enjoyed the rest of our mushrooms with it.
Monday was mostly uneventful. We drove from Sioma to Livingstone on an almost perfect road except for the 60 kilometers of road that has more holes than tarmac. That was so much fun! But it was expected since our travel guide mentioned it. We made it to Jollyboy's camp, had showers finally, checked emails and decided to go get dinner in town. We walked to Mukambo and seated ourselves at a table. We were then approached by a man named William who clearly had had enough to drink and wasn't shy about shaking our hands. He informed us that he was the owner and we think he was celebrating something that night because he bought us a round of beers and kept telling us "thank you very much" in Portuguese. We were also then informed that they did not offer food and that we could go next door for that. I don't drink beer so poor Killian had to chug both on an empty stomach. I think he actually enjoyed it. Next door was Hertitage restaurant where we ordered some amazing Zambian food that included Nshima, which was a dish we were dying to try. The food arrived, it was amazing, and part way through Killian looked over to notice people flattening the nshima and using it to pick up their food. So we followed suite and ate the rest of our meal by hand which was quite satisfying. After getting back to camp we had one more drink and headed to bed.
Not much happened Tuesday. We drove from Livingstone to Moorings Campsite just north of Monze and the only thing to report is a police stop just outside of Livingstone. At this particular stop the officer noticed ground nuts in the car and asked if I liked them. Then, the commanding officer came over to ask us where we were from, how long we've been in Africa and what we thought of Zambia. My honest answer, which was that Zambian police were nice and friendly unlike in Zimbabwe, and that I like Zambia more than Tanzania, made them very happy. After that, we just drove and arrived at camp. More afternoon reading followed by the sad news that I can't get my permits until Friday because Wednesday is a holiday. What about Thursday, ZAWA? Ugh. Anyways, I wasn't too worried since everything should be quick and without hassle. Let's hope that's how it actually goes.
The next day started with a very painful sting from a wasp who decided they would try to set up shop in my hanging towel. After the swelling subsided and I could grip the wheel we headed up the road to the Women's center which had a little shop of handmade embroidery items. I gladly spent $26 on several items and thanked the lady for letting us shop on a national holiday. The drive to Lusaka was short and sweet and we have back at Eureka camp early afternoon. Reading, grocery shopping and dinner followed later. We had a lovely bbq of ribs, sweet potatoes (not the ones back in the US), salad, bread and blue cheese as we listened to people cheer for Zambia while facing South Africa in a U-20 soccer game.
Thursday was spent dealing with the last little bits of my permit. First, we made a trip to UNZA to pick up my plants from the herbarium. We arrived and discovered that both Dr. Chuba and Florence were not in that day and they were the ones who knew my plants were in their space for safe keeping. The wonderful secretary phoned Mr. Zulu who has a key to the room but upon meeting him he would not allow us access because he wasn't sure who we were or what the arrangement was we had with Florence and Dr. Chuba. Clearly, my plants were very safe. Eventually the secretary had Dr. Chuba call Mr. Zulu and confirm that we could take my plants. Then we made our way back across town to ZAWA to pick up my permit, fill out the export permit paperwork and find out where we get the Phytosanitary certificate. After finishing up at ZAWA (we had to return tomorrow to really finish things) we ran to Mount Makulu to figure out what was needed for the Phyto. As expected, no surprises arose and I already knew what was needed. We returned to camp where I busily cleaned my plants for their inspection the following day. Killian made tuna patties for dinner (yums) and we settled in for the night.
Friday, our last day in Lusaka, was one of the most busy days yet in Zambia. We started by visiting the Chilanga Indo Bank, paid for my phyto (during a power outage), and withdrew some money for my research permit fee. Then we went to ZAWA where Rhoda looked over our plants, cleared them from CITES, called someone to come fill out another part of the export form, and asked us lots of questions about Ledebouria. The export permit needed one more section filled out by someone higher up and luckily, he was in that day. In the meantime, we went back to Mount Makulu to get my phyto, which went smoothly as they always do. We then went back to ZAWA and got my export permit (cost an unexpected $175), which meant that I was FINALLY DONE there!! Then we went into town to try and catch Dr. Chuba at UNZA but we were unsuccessful so we made our way to DHL to ship my plants (didn't take cards) so we crossed the street to FedEx and successfully got my plants shipped to the USA.. It wasn't even 1pm yet. At 2pm, we met up with Nouscha (remember the superman party?) in Kabwata for lunch. She took us to the local market for chicken, nshima and veggies. We wound our way through tight corridors, muddy paths, and strange looks, and arrived at lunch. We had a wonderful chat and yummy local food then decided to grab a coffee at the Arcades Mall. After coffee, and as one usually does when in Africa, we grabbed a drink...or two. It was then getting late so we decided we might as well get dinner too. Killian and I decided to treat Nouscha to a lovely dinner at Marlin, the first restaurant we visited in Lusaka. It was a Friday so I was a little worried about getting a seat but we arrived at 6:30, the host said if we could finish by 8 we could have a table so we sat down. After some nice drinks, a salad bar and very full bellies, we waddled our way to the car and dropped Nouscha off at her host family's place. Bed soon followed for Killian and I once returning to camp. The next day was gonna be a long drive in order to cross back into Tanzania on Sunday.
Saturday was full of driving. We had planned on staying roughly 80km north of Mpika but per usual, driving took longer than expected. We decided then to revisit Mutinondo Nature Reserve. We arrived shortly after 5:30 and met with the owners. They told us that they were hosting a fungus and tree ID workshop, and that they had some peace corp campers. Sounded like the place was full! Luckily, there is plenty of space at their campground and they even let us use a tent of theirs that was still standing after visitors from the previous night. It had beds in it! What luxury! After dinner we fell fast asleep on the comfy foam mattresses.
Our last day in Zambia was bittersweet. Crossing back into Tanzania meant we would soon be on our way to Namibia but it also meant that until then we'd have to deal with overpopulation and slow drivers. Ugh. Anyways, the drive was fine and it took us 6 hours to get to the border. Upon arrival we parked at the building where we last got our visas and before we even got out of the car, our ole buddy Paul was there to greet us. Honestly, I was happy to see him because it meant we were bound to get through quickly. Paul informed us that we needed to cross the border and deal with stuff on the Tanzania side. We parked, got our visas (my residence permit was closely inspected and questioned but it got me through, Killian needed cash for his and Paul had a friend for that), crossed the street to get our vehicle registration we left behind (the guy who got it was quite funny and very nice) and we were done. 35 minutes after crossing we were good to go! As a reminder, last time took 4 hours but we were going into Zambia with a Tanzanian car so it was expected to take a while. This time round was great! We then made the crowded and slow 100km drive to Mbeya. The night at Utengule lodge was chilly and cloudy but it's a luxurious location so it was all good.
The next day would take us to Kitulo National Park, a botanical paradise! It also would bring something I've been dreading the whole trip. Stay tuned! :-)