Chipata and Mfuwe (South Luangwa National Park)

August 15, 2008 - Chipata, Zambia

Saturday, August 9th I was up before the crack of durn left Chachacha backpackers at 5am to catch the 6 hour bus journey to Chipata in the east of Zambia near the border with Malawi. Accompanying me was a couple I had met at the backpackers in Lusaka. Belen was from Spain and Guillaume from France. They were living in Madrid, but travelling the world for a year. The bus journey ended up taking 8 hours. There was lots of children crying for most of the Journey, and every person near me seemed to reek of BO. The scenery eased the pain a little with amazing views over the mountains that reminded me of the Drankensburg in South Africa. The trees were beginning to turn brown in the winter season, with some still yellow and some vibrant red. I'm beginning to see why travellers opt for busing it rather than overland tours. Apart from the obvious reason that it's a lot cheaper, you also feel like you're part of the experience. Sitting amongst the locals with that amazing view out the window is by far the best way to see Africa. Even if by the end of the journey the smell on the bus from the food and sweet is over powering it's kind of all worth it in the end. The person next to you becomes your best friend for those long hours on the bus which seems to lesson the journey. As well as the amazing countryside the towns and villages the bus passes through are quite unlike anything in England. We passed a small market town, were there could have only been a dozen houses. The market at the bus stop however seemed to outsize the town. The stalls so typical of Africa were constructed from what ever material the seller could get his hands on. Most were made from wood collected from the bush tied together by either old rope or tree bark with polythene or grass roofs. The items on sale were anything but African. Most clothing donated to 3rd world countries will end up on a market. Charities like oxfam and UNICEF will bundle up large quantities of clothing and give it to local people, who will clean and dry the items before selling them to either local people or Westerners for a very good price. We were staying at Dean View Lodge, just outside Chipata On Sunday we headed to Church. None of us are religious but we had been told that it's a great way of meeting local people. We arrived at 10am. The service had started at 8am and was going on until 4pm with about 6 sections to it, which you could attend as many or as few as you liked. The service was being taken on a grassy hill, in the shade of some large trees, across the road from the church which was in the process of being rebuilt as it was to small. A new larger church was being constructed around the existing building, so you basically had a church in a church. There must have been about 1000 people attending the service. Women and young children sat on grass and polythene mats in the centre and men were seated on chairs around the edge. The ladies were dressed in brightly coloured ankle length skirts with 'Reformed Church of Zambia' embroidered onto the front and backs. They wore white shirts and black head scarfs. The men mainly wore suites of varying ages and colours. At the bottom of the hill Muslims were going to the very impressive mosque that stood out from any other building in town. With cockerels screaming in the background and a cool breeze the church service was in full swing. A number of speakers performed there sermon in Nyanja (the national language of Zambia), and the ladies in the crowd make there appreciation herd by walling to the minister, where there children entertain themselves, with very few crying. One child was playing with a fist sized rock while others were being breast fed. When the speakers were not performing they would be seated at a long table in the centre of the congregation. At different intervals groups of ladies would stand to sing and swaying from side to side. The minister would sing a line and then the singers would return a line as if they were having a singing conversation. Collection pots are handed around. I notice some very large notes are donated. I put in 1000 Kwacha (about 14p). The minister notices us and and in Nyanja apologies for not noticing us sooner and hopes we will leave with something even though we were unable to understand the service. Two men near us begin to translate. The minister then goes onto explain how a doctor can not help you 'only the lord can', and I wonder what this is doing for the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa. A lady in the audience starts yawning and we realise we have been there for 2 hours already and decide it's a good time to leave. We head for the supermarket for dinner supplies. It's shut already so we head to the local market. Belen cooks us a great vegetarian spag bol and we are joined by Cheese who I met at Chachacha and Dean who owns the lodge. Myself and Cheese head into town in the evening for a few drinks while Belen and Guillaume get an early night. We find a great little bar with a pool table. I play the locals and loose. We decide to get a taxi back to Dean's and see one in the parking lot. I try asking how much it will cost but quickly realise the driver is completely drunk to the point were he can't hardly stand. We decide to get a lift from one of the locals who had been drinking in the bar who could still hold a conversation (just).

On Monday 11th, headed to the bus station with Cheese for a minibus to Mfuwe. We checked with the driver how long it will take as the bus looked like it was going to fall apart any minute. Three hours he says so we decide it's going to be more like four. We jump on the bus and hope for the best. I squeezed onto the back seat with luggage all around me and realised that if the vehicle court fire there was no chance I was getting out in a hurry. A seat belt was not required, not that it had any. After two hours we were still in the bus station waiting for the bus to become very full. Once underway my feet and legs were already beginning to ache and I new I had at least three more hours of this to go. I very cute 6 year old girl was sitting in the seat in front of me so we passed the time by pulling faces at each other. We had the most amazing smile and here English was perfect. Having an English teacher as a mum helps, who by the way was very attractive. I remember seeing some village along the route but as my legs were aching so much, I remember very little else. After eight of the worst hours of my life, and four breakdowns later, we finally make it to Mfuwe. We get a lift to Flatdogs campsite were we staying. We booked ourselves into one of the cottages which used to be a dog kennel. The cottage has just one room with two beds in it and an outside shower and toilet to the rear. The roof is made of grass and has brick walls that go half way up the structure with bamboo filling in the rest. Instead of a carpet we had sand on the floor. After a shower (to get rid of all the red dust from the road that had caped my because the back door of the bus would not shout properly due to all the luggage) we headed to the bar for a well deserved beer and and food that everyone told us was the best in Zambia. We met up with Eve and Kate who had also been staying at Chachacha. After my average meal with a not so average price tag of 16 US$ we headed back to the cottage with a touch man to guide us as elephants and hippos freely walked the campsite. On pulling back the sheets we discovered three tree frogs in our beds. I made sure my mosquito net was properly tucked into my bed that night.
Up at 5am on Tuesday for a game drive in South Luangwa National Park. We spotted the usual animals including lots of elephants and giraffes, hyena, monkeys, baboons and zebra, plus some new ones like Crocodile and Lions (including one week old lion cubs). The animals were obviously used to people as the drivers were able to get within a few feet of the pack. But the animal that I saw the most was the more-a-spotted tourist. With 4 truck loads of people staring at the same pack of lions, cameras going off all over the place I quickly began to forget about the magnificent creatures and more about how artificial the whole thing felt. I always imagined tracking animals in Africa would we a very personal experience but with so many people around it was far from personnel. The problem is it's the tourists that keep the parks running which help to protect the animals from poachers. It's that catch-twenty-two situation. Animals can't live with Humans, but they can't without them either. I was pleased to here though that of the four and a half thousand hector park only one quarter of it is set aside for tourists. The other three quarters the animals are left alone. That evening we had a night drive were I spotted my first Leopard. As we followed it stalking a gazelle I really thought this was the animal moment I had been looking for. I was finally going to see a real animal kill in Africa. However as us and the five other trucks took it in turns to shine our lights on the leopard and it's pray the cat must have got fed up with us gawping at it so scarpered leaving the gazelle to see another day.
Wednesday was spent trying to improve my suntan by the pool and on Thursday myself and Kate headed into Mfuwe to take a look around the small town. After walking for about 10 minutes we decided to leave the busy road and head into one of the communities. I asked a lady if it was OK to look around and she obliged. Three girls came to great us. The oldest, about 11, spoke English well. She began telling us her name and the names of the other two. Before we knew it three had become 10 which became 30. With so many children fighting for our attention it was hard to work out what they were saying. The 11 year old girl took charge again and began walking us around there mud huts, explaining were they lived and what fruit was in season. I child offered me his portion of Nsima that he had cradled in his hand. I said thank you very much but had already eaten. Another boy showed me his toy truck that had been constructed from coat hangers which could turn corners with the help of a long stick that pushed against the front wheel axle to turn either left or right. He told me his father had made it for him and they gave me a go. While I was playing with the toy truck Kate was having her hair stroked and legs touched by the younger children. As all black people have dark hair they rarely get to see blond people so Kate's hair was a novelty for them. When they saw her freckles on her arms they became concerned thinking it was a decease. Some of the Younger children wanted to hold my hand which I discovered was to pickpocket me with there other hand. One of the older boys told them off and told me to put my hands in my pockets to stop them doing it. They sang us songs about white Europeans as we walked back towards the main road. We jumped on one of the Flatdogs trucks back to the campsite. On the way back I realised that instead of the community being a tourist attraction for us we had been more of a tourist attraction to them. I shared a tent with Eve and Kate that evening which was perched up in one of the trees. I fell asleep to the noise of the hippo's in the nearby river that sounded like they were laughing to each other. Up very early on Friday morning to elephants stomping through the campsite below us. It seemed like it was something from Jurassic Park with the big beasts pushing the branches of the trees aside as they made there way towards the river. We jumped on a bus back to Chipata. On the journey we chatted to some piece core volunteers from America who were being typically arrogant (which has been very un-typical of Americans I have met so far on my trip). They were giving the conductor hassle by trying to negotiate their price down and refusing to give up there seats to elderly locals. One of the girls even went as far as to kick a local man as he tried to sit next to her. As you can imagine he was very annoyed by this but choose to be the bigger one of the two and just told her off. If it was me I think I would have kicked her back. What struck me as strange was the fact that piece core people were the ones breaking the piece! Once back at Chipata I booked myself in for one night at Dean's Hill View Lodge again and met John and Emma a couple from England who are on a years trip around the world. Normally they would be walking the beat of Peckham. With them was a young Australian (originally from Indonesia) called Chris who was travelling around Southern Africa for a year during his gap year. We organised to collectively go to Malawi the following morning. I left the three of them with Dean who was rather drunk talking about the advantages of drink driving in Malawi while I headed off to bed.


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1 Comment

Belen & Guillaume:
October 6, 2008
hey! how is it going Kelvin!! After 3 months in Africa we are now in Sydney, Australia. Back to the 1st world.
Nice your post!
Here you have a couple of videos to remind your day in the reformed church of zambia with us!

Take care & travel safe!

Hope to hear from you soon!


Belen and Guillaume
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