Early Festive Gift, 2021 is going to be wild: Come for an eco-tour to Kafue National Park in Zambia.

The world has received a slight glimmer of hope following months of coronavirus pandemic doom.  Multinational pharmaceutical giant company Pfizer said a final analysis of its clinical-trial data showed its Covid-19 vaccine, developed with the help of the German government and Germany-based BioNTech, was 95% effective in preventing Covid-19. This may pave the way for the company to obtain regulatory authorizations for its use in few coming days. This news which made people around the world to rejoice at what could be the light at the end of the tunnel – is an early festive gift for many of us in the tourism industry here in Zambia. Never before in my entire 10+ years of tourism business operation have l ever experienced anything so catastrophic as  the impact of COVD-19 pandemic on my business. With absolutely nothing to fall back on for financial survival, it is a miracle that I have made it this far to see the near end of 2020 in grand style, with only a month to go.  Pfizer announcement could never have come at a better time than this. It is great sigh of relief and indeed 2021 is going to be wild!

So it is true and now I believe the common saying that those of us in the tourism industry are highly a resilient people.  I wonder where this resilience comes from as the year 2020 has been a true test of endurance beyond my comfort zone. I am grateful for the emotional support I received from a lot of our travel partners overseas in terms of encouragement on how to hold on and navigate in these turbulent COVID-19 times. But my greatest moment of agony came from seeing the massive suffering my workers have been subjected to. They entirely depend on the income they earn from my tourism businesses whose operations came to a grinding halt due COVID-19 pandemic. Without any form of COVID-19 financial bailout or relief from government, it was practically impossible to give my workers any form of financial support for them to eke out a bare minimum standard of living. Our tourism business depends entirely on international tourist arrivals to sustain our business. Domestic tourism in Zambia is very minimal due to economic malaise many locals go through. Leisure tourism is the last thing on the mind of a common citizen but daily survival drill is the common norm. With ZERO tourist arrivals that we have been experiencing for the past 9 months as a result of border closures and restrictions of our big brother South Africa, the main transit route for many tourists to Zambia, it has been a living hell for us as there has been no income coming in. I tried the Face Book COVID-19 financial relief support program. Unfortunately our region was not included in their mapping for eligibility to receive any financial support.  Cry my beloved country in the real African hot sun! Only the very fittest survive.

So the best I could do to support my workers financially was to engage in vegetable gardening and sale the produce to the local market. But not all of the workers are interested in vegetable gardening as an alternative source of income as it is very labour intensive. So others opted to joining fishing cooperatives in Lake Itezhi Tezhi of the Kafue River. Sadly others resorted to making charcoal used for providing energy in cooking by engaging in massive tree cutting in Namwala and Mumbwa Game Management Area (GMA).

We did engage in vegetable gardening as an alternative source of income

Anyway with so much happening in the medical field, I remain optimistic that come 2021, it is going to be wild. We are likely to receive many international tourists here in Zambia after a full year absence. We in the Kafue National Park, are more than ready to  receive our guests with hearty Zambian smile. If you’re looking to travel to Africa soon and wondering about where to go, what to see, and how to do it all sustainably, look no further: we have your guide to sustainable tourism in Kafue National Park right here in Zambia. Kafue National Park  is a big, beautiful place, and there’s something incredible to see around every corner. You could travel every day for six months and still not manage to find everything it has to offer! 

Kafue National Park is in the center of western Zambia. It is the oldest and largest national park in Zambia. It is also one of the largest in Africa. It covers a total area of 22,400 kilometres squared or 8000 miles squared. It is so expansive that it has vast tracts of wilderness that are untouched and unexplored. It has more species of ungulates than any other national park in Africa. It has a number of the blue and yellow backed duckier, antelopes, sable and hartebeests among many others. It was established by the renowned conservationist, Norman Carr in 1955 as a game reserve and soon was turned into a game park. In the recent years, Kafue National Park has experienced a surge of tourism due to the increasing lodgings being set up around it which has increased its popularity.

Come for a private tour of Livingstone, the tourist capital of Zambia.

Livingstone is a city in Southern Province of Zambia. It is the disputed capital of Zambia’s fast growing tourism scene. Until 2012, it served as the province’s capital. Lying 10 km (6.2 mi) to the north of the Zambezi River, it is a tourism center for the Victoria Falls and a border town with road and rail connections to Zimbabwe on the other side of the Victoria Falls.

A historic British colonial city, its present population was enumerated at 134,349 inhabitants at the 2010 census. It is named after David Livingstone, the Scottish explorer and missionary who was the first European to explore the area.

Dr. David Livingstone

The range of activities around Victoria Falls is truly amazing, whether you want to relax and take it easy, or pump adrenaline like there is no tomorrow. Within a few hours, you can go rafting, canoeing or bungee jumping, watch elephants and rhinos in the dry savanna, get soaked to the skin in the lush rainforest, or sip chilled wine on the deck of a boat at sunset. There’s a good choice of places to stay, some laid-back cafes and bars, and a humming nightlife. There is a tourist Information centre near the Livingstone museum which has all the information brochures you might need to assist you explore Livingstone.

Victoria Falls

The main road axis epicentre of Livingstone is the Mosi-oa-Tunya road. The northern section of the road is lined up with shops, banks, bureau de Change, offices, immigration office and nice upmarket places to eat from such as ocean basket.  The main banks are First National Bank (FNB), ABSA bank and Standard Chartered. It is advisable to change your Forex at a bureau de Change as their rates are far much better and the service efficient.  About halfway down on the north side is the main post office. The town fizzles out once you get past the rail station with few recently built eating places and hotels. But the main road keeps heading south Victoria Falls, 11 kms away.

First National Bank

The Livingstone museum is one interesting place you should consider visiting. It is surprising large, neat and tidy. Interesting exhibits includes archaeological Tonga exhibits and crafts.

If you do not have time to explore the greater Livingstone city, at least make sure you get to visit Victoria Falls especially on the Zambian side.  Victoria Falls lies between Zambia and Zimbabwe (the Zimbabwe River is the border). The Victoria Falls is one of the world’s most famous and most impressive, natural wonders. No trip to Zambia is complete without marveling at the plunging water, getting soaked by the spray, and of course catching the famous rainbow on the water falls. On the Zambian side of the Victoria Falls, you will follow narrow footpaths through the tropical forest and cross a dramatic footbridge to reach spectacular viewpoints almost touching the falling water. The view of the falls is awesome, and the statistics are impressive. Victoria Falls is 1.7 km wide, and over 100m high. A million litres of water per second plunge over the edge of the Victoria Falls.

Tonga Crafts

Please also do not forget to visit the nearby Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park for close up game viewing excursion.It surprisingly has a good range of animals, including the zebras, warthogs, giraffes, elephants, various types of antelopes and small herds of bufflos and wildebeests. The highlight of visiting this park is seeing a herd of white rhinos-the only ones in Zambia.

A risky adventure trip to unknown country of Angola in terms of tourism activities.

Rebel soldiers of Angola

When I narrated the bad experience I suffered at the hands of Angola government security forces in the most interior bushes of Kuando Kubango province of the neighboring Angola to my late father, he was shocked and not amused at all with my story. My father got very upset and scolded me for undertaking such a dangerous journey to little known country of Angola in terms of tourism.   Of course his reaction was well understood as that of a loving parent who almost lost a beloved son in a war torn country of Angola.

I set out on a leisure adventure journey to Shangombo, one of the remotest villages in Western Province of Zambia. Shangombo is a gate way to southern part of Angola. The village lies on the borderline between two water bodies of Zambezi river of Zambia and Kwando or Cuando river of Rivungu district of Angola.  The journey to Shangombo was both captivating and a lifetime experience for me who loves extreme adventure. But my journey into Angola was a risky journey that I should never have undertaken in the first place. I must admit that it was a reckless decision on my part to plan and undertake this journey to Angola. I was fully aware that Angola had just come out of a protracted 27 years of civil war.   It is a miracle that I am alive today to narrate this horrific story.

Bomb explosions

I left Lusaka, the political capital city of Zambia late in the afternoon on board a public bus for Shangombo, situated at Zambia’s border with Angola. I travelled through Mongu, the provincial headquarters of western province of Zambia up to Senanga where I spent a night in a lodge. The following day late in the afternoon, I got on a weather beaten open Landrover van and pitched right on top the roof rack. The vehicle was fully loaded with various goods for those on board, most of them small trade vendors. We then embarked on a long rough stretch bumpy sandy road through Sioma district driving through the Zambezi floodplains for close to three to four hours. 

We finally arrived in Shangombo village the following day in the morning after driving through thick forest the whole night. My first impression of Shangombo village was that of a place far much better than what the print media in Zambia portrayed it as a backward place. Shangombo has decent modern looking houses for Zambian government civil servants. It has a recently built a rural district administration centre with electricity, all powered by diesel generator. There is a modern post office and a modest district hospital located right in the middle of the village. But the place has plenty of mosquitoes because of its close proximity to Zambezi and Cuando rivers. One’s reaction to mosquitoes helps locals to easily identify who is a visitor to the area. While the locals are used to mosquitoes singing in their ears, the scenario is rather irritating for a first time visitor who constantly has to flap their hands in the area to blow away the mosquitoes. The comforting part is that these mosquitoes are not malaria carriers, otherwise the malaria prevalence could have been high in this area. However, despite the experience with mosquitoes, the people of Shangombo are friendly and extremely accommodating.

After a week’s stay in Shangombo, I got a family visitor’s pass from the Zambia Immigration authorities that permitted me to cross over the Cuando River to Rivungu town on the Angolan side. I, together with other travelers used a traditional banana boat that was loaded with assortment of goods to cross the fast water moving Cuando River which took us close to two hours to complete. Upon docking on Angolan soil, we reported ourselves to a makeshift grass thatched Angola immigration post. To my total shock, I noticed that the immigration officer and the soldier brandishing a gun who were manning the post and who attended to us where both totally drunk.  Yes, drunk on duty! Their speech was totally incoherent and they spoke only Portuguese and Ngangela, a local language spoken on both the Angolan and Zambian side. We were literally verbally harassed to tell these officers what was our true intention of visiting Angola was. We were only saved from further embarrassing interrogation by the intervention of a Zambian lady in our company who seemed to know these two officers very well. She chided them to behave well and to let us go on with our journey.  The power of a woman prevailed over these two officers who finally stamped our border passes and allowed us to proceed to Rivungu.

Rivungu is indeed a former war-zone area. My first sighting impression of Rivungu was that of a place where rubble of cement debris are dumped from a busy construction site. It has many half collapsed buildings riddled with bullet holes as a direct result of the civil war. The Rivungu local administration offices are housed in traditional African huts. A white  Landrover was parked in front of the office of the Rivungu District Commissioner (DC). We were all marshaled into the reception area of the District Commissioner’s office and the DC himself met us in person for further interrogation.  We were all ordered to write our full names in the white book in the reception area. He sternly warned us to behave well whilst visiting Rivungu. The same lady who had previously assisted us at the Angola border post was summoned inside the DC’s office for what turned out to be hours on end of interrogation. When she eventually emerged from the DC’s office, she signaled us to walk over to an African market. There we we found an  old military KAMAZ truck waiting for us to board.

An amputee walks past bombed-out buildings in Angola

At sunset, we set out on one of the most gruesome journey into thick forest, following riverbeds used as roads heading to Mavinga. Mavinga once served as a military headquarter base for rebel leader Dr. Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA rebel movement, but now a government military base.  We were packed like logs of wood in the truck together with goats. We traveled for good two days and three nights and experienced numerous mechanical breakdowns of the KAMAZ truck before reaching Mavinga. I stayed at the Mavinga District Commissioner’s official residence during my entire three months stay in Mavinga. In the second week after my arrival, I was attacked by a serious bout of malaria and was bed ridden for close to two weeks, losing plenty kgs of body weight overnight. Being a special guest of the Mavinga DC, I was referred to be attended to by a special medical team, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) that was treating senior military officers at the local military base.  I was well attended to and looked after by MSF doctors who were happy to attend to a patient who spoke fluent English. After three weeks of personal medical attention, I was certified medically fit and ready to continue with my journey to Menogue, the provincial headquarters of Kuando Kubango (KK) province.

On one bright day, I bade farewell to my hoist family of the Mavinga district commissioner after  three months of my stay and was about to start on the final league of my trip to Menogue. The DC had arranged for me to take a lift in a military aircraft that brings various goods from Menogue for the soldiers on monthly basis.  

Little did I know that some senior military officers in the area had become suspicious of my three months special visit to Mavinga. Their suspicion was even stronger looking at the VIP treatment I had been accorded by the Mavinga DC. During my entire stay, I had an armed body guard who escorted  me everywhere I went around in Mavinga for personal protection, including any visit to the local African market. So these senior military officers were looking for an opportunity to capture me away from the DC’s presence. So once the DC’s driver had left me at the local airstrip and returned to the DC’s office, I was ambushed and quickly surrounded by some military policemen and pushed into the waiting military plane. When I tried to call for the local DC’s presence to help me explain my circumstances, I was told curtly “NO CHANCE” by my captors. Desperation and fear set in and that was the beginning of real trouble for me that lasted for two months. I was told to produce and show my travelling document to the military policemen. I showed them my stamped border pass and Zambian passport which had my six months Angolan VISA endorsed in by the Angolan Embassy in Botswana. All the travelling documents I produced and showed them where dismissed as false and fake. They said I was a spy mercenary for the Mavinga DC who had just recently been incorporated into government service from UNITA rebel movement.   

I was bundled into a tight jump-chair in the co-pit of the plane surrounded by military policemen. The military aircraft piloted by Cuban soldiers took off for Menongue, the provincial headquarters of Kuando Kubango.  On arrival, I was handed over to the local military command. All contents of my bags where emptied on the floor and thoroughly searched. As fate would have it, I was fortunate to be allowed to spend my first night in a rundown makeshift guest house within Menogue town infested with many rats that terrorized me at night  and whilst all my luggage remained at the police station. I was told to report the following morning at the station for further interrogations. Each time l reported at the police station, I was merely told to sit on a bench outside and nobody ever called me inside for further questioning. I spent close to four months staying in Menogue and reporting myself to the local military command daily without my case being concluded.

One cool day, I was summoned in the office of the officer commanding. I was told to find means to return to my home country Zambia without my case being concluded. I was frail and weak after close to six months of forced stay in Angola with extremely poor diet and contaminated drinking water. I was anxious to return home to be see my family in Zambia who I had not contacted or spoken to in a very long time. I then visited the local Menogue church of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA) and approached the local pastor for material and financial assistance. After listening to my story, the pastor invented me to stay with his family in his church house as they looked around for ways to assist me return home. I stayed with the Pastor and his family for a full month and some days. Every Sabbath, I attended church where a special appeal was always made about my plight and request to assist me financially was made.  It was interesting to see some of those military officers who had interrogated me at the local police station attending the same church with me.  Some befriended me and requested me to teach them learn how to write and speak English which I did every evening. The little money that they paid me assisted me to buy a few personal necessities. After a month, the church managed to mobilize some financial resources amounting to $50 to enable me travel home. As the money was not sufficient, one church member  offered to give me  a free ride in his bus transport that plies the route between Angola and Namibian border. Once I reached, the Angolan border, I had problems of how to exit Angola as my permitted days of stay in Angola had long expired due to my prolonged stay. It took the skillfull negotiation effort of my escortee with the Angola immigration officers that I was finally allowed to leave Angola and proceed to the Namibian border.   Once at the Namibian border, it was such a great sigh of relief for me that l was being attended to by an immigration officer who spoke to me in English, unlike in Angola where I struggled most of the time to communicate in portuguese. After being cleared by immigration, I was given a further $10 as pocket money by my escortee. I proceeded to the nearest Namibian town of Katui Tui  where I saw the world of civilization. I quickly rushed to the nearest restaurant and bought myself a  hot burger and a 1 liter bottle of Fanta that l galloped at once down my throat.

Women were the most affected during Angola’s 27 years civil way

When I reached my home town in Zambia, I found my wife and daughter had vacated our rented house and where staying with friends for support. Upon seeing me, my wife shade tears of joy.

The lesson I have learnt from this sad travel episode is that before travelling to a new country, one needs to do enough research on the safety status of that country.  My trip to Angola has left an unforgettable bad experience on my mind in the name of seeking adventure in a foreign country with insufficient country tourism information .

Warthogs almost spoiled our wildlife safari trip inside the Kafue National Park.

Warthogs in Kafue National Park

Kafue National Park covers a massive area in western Zambia. It is the largest national park in Zambia, covering an area of about 22,400 km² (similar in size to Wales or Massachusetts). It is the second largest park in Africa and is home to over 55 different species of mammals.

It’s known for its abundant wildlife and the Kafue River, running north to south through the park. In the north, the fertile Busanga Plains are home to lions, zebras, abundant birdlife and the sycamore fig trees of Busanga Swamps. In the more remote south, elephants and antelopes roam the Nanzhila Plains, and hippos swim in the waters of Lake Itezhi-Tezhi. It is also the largest of Zambia’s conservation areas.

Kafue National Park teems with plenty wildlife such as zebras

It offers its visitors the unusual safari experience: excellent big game viewing with barely another vehicle in sight.  Activities in the park include game drives, guided walking safaris and night drives in search of leopards.

Kafue National Park -Northern Region

In the summer of 2019, we decided to venture and explore the southern and central part of this massive Kafue National Park. One cool morning in the company of our two dearest friends from Czech, we departed from Itezhi Tezhi town and entered the southern part of the park by entering through Musa gate. Kafue National Park is a popular park because of its diversity; grasslands, forests and the floodplains. The Busanga Plains are a vast floodplain, fed by the Lufupa River. When the floodwaters recede, tiny shoots of grass appear, attracting huge herds of wildebeest, zebra and antelope. The park accounts for approximately 33% of Zambia’s national park system and is a wilderness area which remains mostly underdeveloped.

Our two Czech visitors

Upon entering the park, we drove along the spinal dusty road that runs parallel to Lake Itezhi Tezhi. We saw plenty antelopes trekking to the shores of Lake Itezhi Tezhi of the Kafue River for an early morning drink. The thick forests along the Spinal road is a good hiding place for Buffaloes and Elephants. So we exercised extreme care, driving at a snail speed to avoid bumping into unseen wild animals. After the stretch of the Spinal road that is near Lake Itezhi Tezhi, the road moves away from the lake and meanders deeper into the thick forest. The road becomes smooth and stretches straight ahead offering a spectacular view of true nature and wilderness. With very few animals to see, we all feel into silence, from time to time looking around to spot any wild animals. Without much success, we all started dozing leaving the driver alone to concentrate on driving.

Kafue National Park is Zambia’s largest conservation area. A quick anti-poaching squad, SAPU is present

Dozing and leaving the driver alone was the greatest mistake we ever made. The driver seeing that we had a long way to cover 172 kms of sheer wilderness to reach Chunga Game Management Area, he pushed harder on the gas pedal for more speed. The next time when I opened my eyes, I saw tress fast flushing past us as the vehicle was really moving fast. Looking ahead, I saw the road was very good and smooth save for the many unsignposted water passing drainage. Each time the driver saw one such drainage, he literally jumped on the brakes. This forced all of us to open our eyes. But strange enough no one said anything about the high speed the driver was moving at. Soon, we all fell back in sleep.

The beginning of the spinal road in Kafue National Park -southern region

Our driver, Rex with Eva standing next to the 4 x 4 vehicle we used.

Unknown to the driver, ahead was a pool of water right in the middle of the road. Some warthogs were mud bathing in this pool of water. In the process, they had dug a deep hole that covered the entire breadth of the road. What made matters worse is that the pool of water was covered by a tree shade. In a split of a second, the vehicle bumped hard inside the pool of water, sending the warthogs scampering in all directions.

The smooth spinal road

The driver almost lost control of the speeding 4 x 4 as it careered off the muddy pool onto the shoulders of the narrow road. The swerving of the vehicle violently woke all us from our deep sleep. Being the tallest in the vehicle, I hit my head against the roof of the vehicle. I heard the colleague of mine shouting the s… word! Fortunately, the young driver managed to bring back the vehicle back on the road. There was a moment of silence in the vehicle until the driver said he was sorry. My heart was pounding and racing hard after we stabilized. I was speechless for a moment. But I remember advising the driver to be extremely careful and told him that it is better to be late than never! Warthogs almost spoiled our wildlife safari trip inside the Kafue National Park. Nevertheless, we had a wonderful time in the central part of the Kafue National Park for the rest of the day. We parted company with our Czech friends and their driver at Hook Bridge. We hitch hiked back to Itezhi Tezhi, our base for all conducting all tours into the greater Kafue National Park.

We parted company with our Czech friends at Hook Bridge of Kafue National Park

Zambian’s important tourist asset are its People. Ever smiling and welcoming, just like KIWIS of NZ.

Zambians are a happy people

If there is anything that I will forever remember and always cherish during my three year stay in New Zealand, Auckland are it’s people the KIWIS. Kiwis are simply a wonderful and warm people to live with.  They are very kind and extremely accommodating people. When I used to live in Auckland NZ, I once found a parcel of fresh chicken deposited on my door steps by one good Kiwi friend of mine Robert for good wishes. As if this was not enough, one day I found my front lawn nicely cut by Robert for free! Well New Zealand has a lot of natural tourist sites worth visiting. But during my stay there, I realized that what made the visit to any tourist site worthwhile are its people, the Kiwi tour guides. They are ever smiling, welcoming and extremely accommodating people. This is what makes their tourism industry a popular destination to most people the world over.

A wave is very important to most Zambians

Well I guess the same can be said about the Zambian people being an extremely happy and welcoming lot to strangers. Zambian society is predominantly African. Zambia offers visitors some enormous attractions: the great national parks teeming with wildlife; the mighty Victoria Falls and the Zambezi River, and last but by no means least the Zambian people. Most people in Zambia are very friendly and easy-going towards foreigners. This is despite the massive social and economic ills that besets many Zambians.  Despite this relaxed disposition of the Zambian people, certain behavioral acts are frowned upon. Things like display of public nudity such as wearing extremely short see-through skirts, public display of affection among people of the same or opposite sex such as kissing in public are frowned upon. A few straight-forward courtesies go a long way in enhancing social harmony, especially in rural areas. Handshakes and pleasantries are taken seriously, and it is essential to greet someone entering or leaving a room. It is customary to offer a smile or a wave, even if you are just passing in a vehicle.

Traditional chiefs are the social cohesive element in the Zambian society

Zambia is one of the best tourism destinations you should consider visiting any time soon post COVID-19. In 2020, it was voted among the best top 20 destination in the world worth visiting by CNN Travel.    Zambia is relatively safe and unthreatening, friendliness and generosity are encountered far more often than hostility. As one transverse across the vast Zambian territories to see some exciting tourism attraction sites such as the mighty Victoria Falls, one is greeted by waiving and smiling children all along the way. Please spare an effort to waive back as these makes these children happy to see international visitors around their areas.

When you check-in at your hotel or lodge, rest be assured that you will be given that hearty Zambian welcoming smile. Zambian’s important tourist asset are its People. Ever smiling and welcoming, just like KIWIS of New Zealand.

Zambia is endowed with plenty wildlife

Missed water falls viewing opportunity at Victoria Falls in 2020

A rainbow forms as the turbulent waters of Zambezi River rush over Victoria Falls. Zimbabwe. ca. 1970-1995 Zimbabwe

Water levels at Victoria Falls had increased by 200% as of 27th May 2020 compared to last year’s flow on the same date. The recorded flow is 57% higher than the long-term average river flow for the Victoria Falls. This is against a background of extensive international media reporting that the Victoria Falls was drying up for the past couple of years.

This news of increased water levels should have brought excitement to the hearts of many water falls enthusiasts, especially with the risk of climate change, which is evident to all. The falls flowing at their peak gives a breath of relief to environmentalist as the ecosystem around it will thrive. It allows Mother Nature to operate at her finest. 

Livingstone, tourist capital of Zambia

But alas! With the Covid -19 pandemic still around us, tourists from all over the world are still unable to travel to Livingstone the tourist capital of Zambia due to some travel restrictions still in place. Therefore, 2020 can safely be said to be a missed water falls viewing opportunity for most international tourists except for local visitors. All factors being equal, the Victoria Falls which is still at its peak, could have given international tourists a life-time opportunity to view the beautiful and magnificent water falls before the water recedes later in the year.

The Zambian government had earlier on directed that the Victoria Falls and other tourist sites in Zambia be reopened to the public under the “New Normal”.  It was to be done under the prescribed health guidelines such as masking up and physical distancing. But this has not been possible to do as some travel restrictions that were beginning to be eased up have in some cases been re-introduced due to the resurgence of the second wave of COVID-19.

We encourage water falls enthusiasts to look forward to a productive 2021 water falls viewing opportunity post COVID-19 and never to loose hope.

A frightening encounter with an elephant right on my door steps in Chobe region, Botswana

Elephant, the largest land animal on the planet

I opened the back kitchen door to my house in Chobe region, Botswana to throw rubbish in the bin. Unknown to me, in the nearby thick bush was this Elephant, the largest land animal on the planet, totally camouflaged in the foliage eating tree leaves. My sudden appearance and very close proximity to the Elephant sent it into panic. It let out a loud scream that left me shocked and half paralyzed with fear. I was totally confused and did not immediately know what to do.

The Elephant’s immediate reaction was to defend itself from any imminent attack from me. It aggressively came out of the bush and faced me direct on. Looking directly in the dark eyes of this largest animal on earth, it seemed to pierce my soul, as l stood with nothing between the two of us but just the white Kalahari sand!  The Elephant exuberantly expressed anger but made no attempt to charge at me. This gave me the opportunity to quietly retreat back into the kitchen shaking like a leaf. The elephant then moved backwards and disappeared in the nearby forest. This was the most frightening experience l’ve ever had that I will never forget.

Airports and Airfields in Zambia

Zambia has no national airline but is served by a number of airlines that connect to international routes via Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Addis Ababa, Nairobi, London, Amsterdam, Dubai and Dar-Es-Salaam. The three of the four international airports have been renamed after the distinguished founding fathers as follows: Zambia International Airport Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, formally Lusaka International Airport, Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula International Airport, formally Livingstone International Airport and Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport formally Ndola International Airport.

Flag of Zambia

Kenneth Kaunda International Airport

Kenneth Kaunda International Airport is situated in the capital city Lusaka, 27 kilometers from the main business district. Due to its central location, the Airport is ideal for setting up as a hub airport in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. With a friendly people and a stable social economic climate, Lusaka is also an ideal investment, tourism, conferencing and trade destination.

Opened in 1967, the airport provides services for domestic, regional and international flights in accordance with the Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPS), developed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation. The airport has a 3.9 km runway with a width of 45 m and an orientation 10/28, one parallel taxiway and a number of taxiway links. The runway can land up to a maximum of a Boeing 747 air plane.

Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport

The former Ndola International Airport was originally set up as a military base for the Royal Air Force (England). It was built in 1938 to service the British army during the Second World War and was only converted into a civilian Airport in the 1950s. It is located approximately 3 kilometres south of the Ndola city central business district. The terminal building structure has been left intact with a few ancillary buildings added.

The airport has a 2.5 km runway with a width of 46 meters and one secondary runway which is 1.2 km long and parallel to the main runway. There is also a parallel taxiway on the northern side of the runway. The main runway can land aircraft of up to a maximum of a McDonnell Douglas DC-10 air plane.

Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula International Airport

Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula International Airport (formerly Livingstone International Airport) brings you closer to the magnificent ‘Smoke that Thunders’ – The Victoria Falls Mosi-oa-tunya. A stone through away from one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula International Airport is the second oldest airport after Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe (Ndola) but stands out as the pride of the country due to its rehabilitated facilities.

With a new terminal building, runway, apron and apron lights, the airport is the focus of the Corporation. Livingstone International Airport is situated 5km from Livingstone town, the tourist capital, in the Southern Province and perhaps more significantly, 15 km from the Victoria Falls. The Airport was built in 1950 for a predominantly domestic market, but the airport infrastructure has been considerably up-graded through major redevelopment programmes undertaken by the Zambia Airport Corporation.

Mfuwe International Airport MIA

Mfuwe International Airport was opened in mid 70s as a domestic airport to service the South Luangwa National Game Park, which is one of the largest national game parks in Zambia. The airport gained its international status in 1995 when it was gazetted as a port of entry and exit. The airport serves over twenty lodges and campsites. It has a runway measuring 2.2 km long.

Its’ location in the middle of the South Luangwa National Park makes it convenient for flight connections to most tourist destinations in Zambia and in the region. There are daily flights from Lusaka to Mfuwe and direct flights from Mfuwe to Lilongwe. There are plans to provide for additional connections with other tourist destinations like Mombasa, Victoria Falls, Kariba, Harare and Johannesburg. The terminal building has a capacity to handle 100,000 passengers per year.

Doing tours and activities for the local clientele base. A visit to a game park, local African village and market with a foreign diplomat in style.

Our VIP guest

Indeed life is unpredictable and very dynamic as it can suddenly change.  Anything is possible and can happen in life. Four (4) months ago before the advent of the #COVID19 pandemic crisis, I would never have imagined that we in the management team of our tour operator business Lochinvar Safari would be the ones in the fore front undertaking tour guide services for our dear customers. With a “skeleton” staff now at our disposal with many still away on forced leave, we the office managers have now been given the rare opportunity of experiencing what we have been missing doing in a long time. Doing firsthand visits and experiences to some local interesting tourism sites with our guests. In short, we all have been forced out of our comfort zones, from behind our computer desktops to the bushes. I think this is for the better for all of us in the management team to get re-oriented once again to the basics of good hands-on tour business operations. This will enable us offer a better service in future to our customers once tourism business re-opens and returns back to normal.

Hosting such high profile people normally makes us in the operations department a bit apprehensive with anxiety. There is this fear that we mighty do something wrong unintentionally and reported to some high ranking government officials for reprisal.    Not wanting to leave anything to chance, as business owner, I took it upon myself to handle this assignment from start to end. I crafted the most polite and professional email correspondences to his excellence the ambassador to inform him how most welcome his wife and himself were to visit the Lochinvar National Park. I went an extra mile to inform the local district fire officer and medical officer to be on standby just in case this dignitary accidently got burnt at a camp borne fire and must urgently be attended to. Others l informed of this visit of a diplomat are district police and security intelligence officers   for the protection of this VIP. Still not to be outdone, I booked them a Presidential Suit at a nearby executive lodge in the nearest town of Monze. Hours before their arrival, I quickly dashed into town to buy glass bottled mineral water as opposed to plastic bottled mineral water.  Guess what? If I had the means, I was even prepared to bring down the skies nearer to my guests as they had also expressed an interest to do stars watching at night, something very akin to me! Mind you, this is me an African doing everything within my means and power to impress a very important person (VIP) western diplomat.

In my absence, my special guests the ambassador and his wife arrived at the lodge they were booked in. The lodge receptionist called me on my mobile phone that my guests had arrived. Sweat started dropping from my arm pits. How could this be? From my calculation, I had anticipated a four and half hours’ drive for them from Lusaka to Monze. Well, here there were. Already arrived in Monze in three hours’ time of driving instead of the expected four hours drive.  At a break neck speed, I arrived at the lodge in a twinkle of an eye. I surveyed the car park. There was no indication among the many cars parked of a special vehicle befitting one carrying His excellence the ambassador.  All vehicles were simple ordinary vehicles in private number plates.  Without wasting any time, I took two steps at a time to enter the reception area and immediately after entering the room, I quickly scanned the sitting area to see and meet my VIP. From my quick personal profiling, no one seated in the room fitted my imagination of how an ambassador should look like. I had expected a large flush ministerial type vehicle parked outside with detailed security presence all around guarding it. Inside I had expected to see a very important looking person with a body guard standing next to him. So I raced up and down in panic thinking my special guests could simply have decided to have returned to Lusaka seeing there was no one to welcome them. I went back to inquiry from the receptionist on duty on the whereabouts of my guests. The receptionist pointed to a surprising simple looking couple seated totally relaxed and their faces fully masked up who a minute ago I was standing next to them looking around for my guests. I was extremely baffled to see such humble looking people being the VIP guests I was expecting who I guessed where much younger than me in age. In Zambia, even the most junior government official even on a private visit in a rural place would usually throw their weight around and want recognition and so much personal attention. So you must understand my misplaced behavior to impress this VIP foreign dignitary couple.

Overland transport for the village tour

I finally approached them with an apologetic but guilt smile that could have earned me an Oscar award. After a non-contact greeting procession, something very strange phenomenal for me. In Zambian, handshaking is a must do first greeting procedure when meeting someone for the first time. However, I fully understood this only bowing and nodding at each other greeting given the coronavirus circumstances we are were living in.  I tendered my sincere apology for my late coming. They said it was fine and that I should not worry at all as they drove quite fast so as not to miss our appointed time of meeting. I then proceeded to offer them glass bottled mineral water, they politely turned down my glass bottled mineral water and pulled out their plastic bottled mineral water from the madam’s hand bag. You could see the shame on my face after having taken all the trouble driving into town to get them glass bottled water. I then lead them to see their room, a Presidential suit, at the far corner of the corridor. After surveying the room with all its beauty and comfort, the ambassador said it was a very good room to sleep in. As an afterthought and like lightening without warning, the madam commented that it was not really necessary for them to be booked in such a big comfortable air conditioned room. She said they could have settled for a camping tent in the quite bushes. I pretended I had not heard her comment. Instead l requested that we go outside to collect their luggage from their vehicle. After picking all their luggage, I offered to carry all of them myself to the room. To my surprise, they said it was fine as they would carry their own luggage to the room themselves. They requested me to wait for them in the reception area. This accorded me the opportunity to quickly assess my situation and decided to change down my “gear” of diplomacy from level 3 to 1. After all, these were just human beings wanting to be treated as ordinary visitors and not as VIPs and enjoy themselves in a quiet and peaceful environment, l reasoned.

We traveled to Lochinvar National Park and eventually arrived at Chunga lagoon at midday, home to thousands of different bird species. They were such an easy going couple I have ever come across and we had a lot to talk about on our one and half hours journey from Monze town to Lochinvar National Park. We left our game viewing vehicle under the watch of game guard. Under the escort of an armed game scout, a trainee tour guide, we all started off walking along the shores of Chunga lagoon of the Kafue River where we saw plenty birds, hippos and crocodiles.  My guests carried all their cameras and binoculars and refused to be assisted in carrying their electronic gadgets.  We covered a long distance walking and they both  got carried away capturing on camera as many birds as possible before we realized it was getting dark. They were an extremely physically fit as they never at any time complained of being tired during the long walk. We arrived back in Monze quite late in the evening. They requested that they rest for at least two hours before starting our next special extra night activity of star watching at the nearest mountain within Monze town.

Chunga lagoon rich in bird life

The star gazing excursion was all done by the borne fire was such a hilarious experience I must say. Whilst the madam and myself sat by the fire warming ourselves, the ambassador spinned around endlessly gazing up in the sky, pointing to as many stars as possible. He shouted out aloud, “look! there is the southern star cross, the lion, the rabbit”. Well, being their tour guide, I had to stand up every time he shouted to see what he was talking about. To be quite honest, I had to make a serious effort to see and understand what he was pointing at in the sky. Of course I saw the Southern Cross star arrangement, but for others such as a rabbit, lion stars arrangement, it was an exercise in futility for me. Nevertheless, I was impressed at his great interest in star gazing that got him standing for close to two hours non-stop. After such long hours of association and familiarity, I almost got tempted of calling him by his first name as l had enough of addressing him as your excellency the ambassador during the entire trip. It was beginning to choke me in my throat.  Anyhow after three hours of star gazing, they decided to leave for their lodge to sleep. I together with the trainee tour guide went home to sleep as well. It was a day well spent though tiring for all of us.

The following second day was quite an interesting one for the entire team. We decided to spend the day in the countryside outside Monze town. We visited a local village in an area called St Marys (catholic is the most commonly practiced religion in this area, thus the name) for our guests to see how rural folks live and learn their culture. We visited at least two village homesteads. At one of the homestead, we found a relatively young looking man married to two women who were happily eating food together. This encounter amused the madam who questioned the young husband how he manages to live a peaceful life with two wives. This got the young man in a fist of laughter and said it was as easy as having just one wife and that he was managing the situation very easily. We saw a food security storage barn   which was full with corn maize which is the staple food. We also visited the cattle kraal and found a herdsman milking the cattle.  Before we knew, we were surrounded by a mob of children around the village looking at us in awe shouting “bakuuwa, bakuuwa, bakuuwa” meaning “white people”, white people”. Our guests simply waived at them smiling. When they attempted to take photos with the children, they scampered in all direction in fear of “bakuuwa”.

Our VIP guests where welcomed in a top African stylish dance at St. Marys village

We drove back into town for lunch in readiness for our next visit later in the afternoon to the local African market called Hamusonde market. Before going to visit this African market, I had serious problems convincing myself whether it would be safe to take these VIP visitors to these noisy and uncoordinated market place. When I consulted with them, they said why not.  So upon arriving at the market, I first went to report to the market chairman who was well known to me. He provided us with market security personnel who escorted us as we toured as many food stands without any disturbances from a curious crowd. They bought some traditional food stuff from excited women marketers who heaped some extras in their plastic bag. After a full two days safari tour, it was all done and dusted. Our trainee tour guide was given a heft tip whilst I was given a large sized pizza in appreciation of the excellent personalized tour guide service we had offered our VIP guests. We parted company happily and we have been in constant touch ever since then.

A special fact-finding visit to fish camps located on the fringes of the Kafue Flats Game Management Area (GMA) outside the Lochinvar National Park of Southern Zambia.

A fisherman constructing a makeshift shelter at Namalyo fish camp in the Kafue Flats Game Management Area

Big and old weather beaten trucks laden with huge deep freezers filled with what is believed to be fish caught from the Kafue River outside Lochinvar National Park with fishermen dangerously pitched on top always pass by our Lochinvar Camp site. They are on their way to lucrative fish markets in Lusaka city almost on a daily basis. The sight of these trucks is not a new and strange one to me as I have always seen them pass this way since I was a child growing up in this same area.

A small girl seen here collecting river reeds to assist her father shown above to roof their makeshift shelter

The trucks and people on board are all properly documented and their “cargo” properly levied by the department of wildlife authorities for passing through a government protected game area the Lochinvar National Park. Unfortunately, the description of what is truly contained in these deep freezers laden with ice blocks inside is not correctly declared to wildlife officers by its owners but simply declared as all fish!

I am seen here entering the Lochinvar National Park on my way to Namalyo fish camp for a fact finding mission.

Lochinvar National Park is in southern Zambia. Called by some as one of the greatest birdlife sanctuary in the world, Lochinvar is one of Zambia’s main birdwatch paradise magnet. The park is bordered in the north by the Kafue River located in the Kafue flat game management basin. It is also home to one of Africa’s largest concentrations of birdlife and is extremely rich in a variety fish species. This has given rise to the mushrooming of many makeshift fish camps built out of river reeds. These were initially meant to be temporal living quarters for fishermen but now have turned out to be ungazzetted permanent human settlements. It has now attracted all manner of undesirable characters. Some of these people are hardcore criminals running away from the long arm of the law in cities to hide in this unpoliced crammed human settlements.   With it has come all manner of anti-social behavioral vices such as drunkenness and promiscuity of married women getting involved in illicit love relationships with some master fishermen in order to be able to access good fish parcels to sale in major cities. With the Zambian economy “biting” hard in most towns and cities where many able bodied adults are out of employment as a result of Coronavirus crisis.  Unable to support their families financially, this seems to have become the “New Normal” of most Zambian dysfunctional family set up. These fish camps in the Kafue flats are also home to many undocumented illegal immigrants from some neighboring countries such as the war-tone Congo DRC. For some of our own local unmarried sisters, they have found love and marriage with these foreigners. Most of these foreigners marry our local ladies purely for convenience sake to legitimize their stay in Zambia as permanent residents through marriage to a Zambian citizen.  

Arriving at Namalyo fish camp in the Kafue Flats Game Management Area

On one fateful day, an old dirty looking fish truck blowing thick half burnt diesel smoke in the air passed by our Lochinvar camp site. As usual, it was full to capacity and was having serious trouble moving forward. It so happened that I was just returning from my routine camp site ground inspection all round it. After the truck passed me, I got curious on seeing a strange trail of small dotted line of dripping water the truck was leaving behind on the ground. On closer inspection, I discovered this was no ordinary water dripping from the truck but was water mixed with fresh blood. Well, for all I know no amount of slaughtered fish cannot produce this amount of blood to spill from a moving truck. I then followed this trail of dripping water on a dusty road for close to a kilometer. Truly I discovered that much of what was coming out from the moving truck was indeed mostly blood. This got me thinking seriously hard. What is it that is contained in these deep freezers that these trucks carry? Could it all be all fish or an addition of something else? Knowing that some of these fish camps are situated in the Kafue Game Management Area, home to thousands of endemic Kafue Lechwes, could it be that some of these fishermen where involved in some clandestine activities against the order of nature?

Kafue Lechwes in the Kafue Game Management Area, Kafue river

Being a person who believes in fact finding before arriving at a conclusion, the following day I got into my vehicle, drove and visited the main fish camp, known as Namalyo. Upon my arrival at Namalyo, I disguised myself as one looking to buy fish. But the elegance of my clothing and stylish vehicle sold me out as a no fish buyer at all! No person of my caliber and looks comes this far to buy small amounts of fish, they reckoned. I was therefore looked at with a lot of suspicion where ever I ventured to in the camp. I was eyed as a possible under cover government agent. No one was willing to cooperate with me with my fish trade inquiry. At long last, one old man summoned some courage to find out whether I first had reported myself to the camp chairman before coming to the fish harbor as that was the required area protocol. I boldly replied in the local language that I was no alien to this land but a bona fide indigenous person who required no special permit to visit the land of my fore fathers. He sincerely apologized to me for his uncalled for action. This earned me the freedom to visit and venture deeper into the slums without any interference from anybody.  When I went through one of the smoky lane, I heard a female voice calling from behind my totem African name. This came as a total surprise to me as only a close relative of mine can call me by my totem traditional African name. Well, a smiling woman emerged from one of the shacks holding a baby in her arms. Unbelievable, I saw one of my relative, daughter of one of my uncle living nearby our village.  She was equally surprised to see me ducking through these smoke filled in-between huts paths. Well, I informed her that I was merely trying to see how people in these fish camps live. She invited me inside her shack, which to my total surprise was well furnished with comfortable sofas, a two band radio and small TV all powered by solar energy neatly displayed in a corner. After a while, I was introduced to a man who emerged from one of the inner rooms as the husband to the same lady. I tried to greet him in our local native language but he failed to respond accordingly but simply smiled. I was later informed that he was originally from neighboring country of Mozambique and spoke Portuguese. We therefore resorted to communicating with each other in the general Zambian local Nyanja language. After I set him at easy and told him I was his in-law, he was happy to share with me the daily life on the fish camp.

A hippo in the Chunga Lagoon

He narrated to me that some people living on these fish island camps where wildlife poachers masquandaring as fishermen. At night, they sneaked into the protected Kafue Game Management Area to slaughter the Kafue Lechwes enmass and skinned them right in the Kafue grasslands. Then they made arrangements with truck owners to transport the Lechwe game meat by hiding it right under the fish in the deep freezers then cover it with heavy ice blocks. This now explained to me what I saw on the fate day when the truck was leaving a trail of blood mixed with water. It was a special game meat contraband mixed with fish destined for the Lusaka market. After talking for a while, I requested that I visit the toilet to answer to the call of nature.  I was met with a stoney face and I wondered what that meant. I was politely told that there is no toilet facility available nearby. I was requested to visit a nearby room, pee in an empty plastic water bottle and “offfload” human excrete in a plastic bag and leave them there. I was told these would be disposed off  in the deep Kafue waters at night by canoe. This was simply shocking news to me. I reasoned how so many people living in these close shacks could operate without any toilet facilities. How and where did these people get their clean drinking water? With so many children around, I wondered how and where they accessed health care services and schools.  Well, I reasoned this could provide an excellent case study site for World health Organisation (WHO) for the transmission of water borne disease such as cholera in Africa. When all was said and done, it was time to bide farewell to my nice hoists as I was not prepared to do this unclean act of using a plastic bottle and plastic bag for a toilet.

Watled crane in Kafue Game Management Area

After reaching home that same evening, I told my family what I had been told at Namalyo fish camp and how privileged we were for living a seemingly “comfortable” and normal life. I told them that trucks we saw passing near our campsite where not afterall carrying only fish as we are made to believe. They were also carriers of the much sought after bush game to cities in Zambia and also to Congo DRC for commercial meat business. But what surprised us the most was wondering whether the local wildlife protection officers in Lochinvar National Park were not aware of this underground poaching of wildlife for game meat taking place right under their noises. I just amazed me to what extend and extremes people are prepared to go to earn a living by destroying our precious wildlife and other natural resources without an aorta of shame in their mind.

Now, each time I see a truck passing by our campsite, I am pretty sure it is carrying game meat and contributing to the decimation of few remaining Kafue Lechwes in the Kafue Game Management Area. I now disgusted by the sight of any of these fish trucks passing by our camp site. They are accomplices to the rampant poaching taking place in the Lochinvar National Park and the greater Kafue Flats Game Management Area.  Twenty years ago, there were 250,000 Kafue lechwes roaming in the Kafue Flats Game Management Area. Now in 2020, there is only an estimated 20,000 Kafue Lechwes left in both Lochinvar National Park and the greater Kafue flats! Just what needs to be done to save our natural resources especially our wildlife from total destruction in Zambia and Africa in general is beyond my comprehension. I reckon part of the solution to save the endemic Kafue Lechwes in Lochinvar National and Kafue Flats is to demolish these fish camp. People must then be taken back to their original homes outside the Kafue Flats Game Management Area and all illegal immigrant deported back to their respective countries of origin.