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Friendly Zambia


I stare intently at the petrol gauge while trying to drive with the least possible amount of throttle. I’m in sixth gear, moving at 50km/h, and trying to keep the revs as low as possible to stretch every possible kilometre from what little petrol remains.


Capital City: Lusaka
Population: 17 million
Size: 752 000 square kilometres
Official language: English
Currency: Zambian Kwacha
Independence from England: Oct. 24, 1964

After 30km, I’m not really surprised to find the dusty town does not have a petrol station – rural Zambia is not a densely-populated place, after all.

With little choice, I roll on, towards almost-certain failure.

A handful of kilometres later, the engine dies. There is no coughing or spluttering, no indication that anything is amiss. It simply dies without fanfare.

Manhandling the almost three-tonne Jeep onto the shoulder without power-steering is not easy, and it eventually comes to rest less than two hundred metres from a police roadblock.

As I walk towards the police, I try not to think about any gunk that may have been sucked into the fuel pump.

Into Zambia

We drive over the bridge at mighty Victoria Falls, and are stamped out of Zimbabwe in five minutes. After purchasing a visa for ourselves and obtaining an entrance stamp from Immigration, I begin the process at Customs for the temporary importation of the Jeep. I soon learn that Zambia is one of those countries that makes the process as convoluted and complicated as possible. I clutch copies of multiple documents as I wander down corridors to beg stamps and receipts from senior officers, without ever fully understanding why. In true African fashion, I must pay an official fee in US Dollars – which I don’t have – and then yet another fee, to the same officer, in local Zambian Kwacha.

I remind myself that it’s not supposed to make sense.

The majority of East African countries share an insurance system called COMESA, or ‘yellow card’. Once I buy COMESA, the Jeep will be legally covered all the way to Egypt, and this is something I have been meaning to do for a while. After a lot of back and forth, I buy 10 months’ worth of Zambian insurance, and then add 10 months of COMESA. The friendly guy at the border explains that this is the only way it can be done; so, for about 70 USD, the Jeep is now legal, and all future borders should be straightforward. That’s the theory, anyway.

Petrol drain

We explore the entire northern area of the country, simply venturing to wherever we think looks interesting on the map. The days are warm and sunny, but the nights are cold enough to require a campfire. On a whim, we drive deeper into the wilderness, and discover a beautiful lake where we camp for the night. We’re told there are no crocodiles or hippos here, although the temperature drops quickly when the sun goes down, so I am dissuaded from having a swim. In the morning, I decide that it is better to go forward rather than back; and, as long as the first town on the map has a functioning petrol station, we should be fine.

When the Jeep inevitably dies, the police at the nearby roadblock are very curious, and want to know why I have stopped so close to them. Friendly as always, they immediately enlist the help of the next passing car, and I’m soon in the back seat with members of a local family.

In the small town nearby, I ask around, and a friendly man fetches a jerry can I can use. At the petrol station, I’m told that it is illegal to fill plastic containers, so a taxi driver offers to help. We put the plastic container in his boot where it can’t easily be seen, and then pump five litres into the jerry. For a couple of dollars the taxi driver runs me back to the Jeep, and after pouring the five litres into the tank, it fires up with no hesitation. Apparently there was no gunk sucked into the fuel pump after all.

The tank capacity is officially 82 litres, and at the next station, I get just below 75 litres in before it overflows. Some scrap-paper maths tells me that there was somewhere around two litres in the tank when it ran out – the fuel pickup apparently can’t suck up that last little bit. All told, this screw-up has cost less than two hours.

After all my careful planning and preparation in the last two years, I find that running out of petrol is not such a big deal… in Zambia, anyway.

Land of Waterfalls

I top off our drinking-water tank and we’re soon back on the road, arriving at Kundalila Waterfall just at sunset. It’s on the Kaombe River, near Kanona in the Central Province. The entrance price also includes camping, so after a quick look at the falls from above, we light a campfire and once again attempt to take in the awe-inspiring display of stars. After all these many months, spotting the Southern Cross still puts a smile on my face. Somehow, it makes everything feel like my home down-under in Canada − in reality, very far away.

In the morning, we hike to the bottom of the canyon to see the falls from below, and it feels great to stretch our legs and get some exercise.

Always excited about being in natural hot water, I pull into Kapishya Hot Springs, full of expectation. It’s just off the Great North Road, in a private estate called Shiwa Ngandu. Camping is right on the banks of the stunning Mansha River, and a perfect hot spring is only a two-minute walk away. The soaking pool is plenty big enough for a genuine swim, and is the ideal temperature. Of course, we stay an extra night, soaking every morning, midday and night.

The Northern region of Zambia is littered with massive waterfalls, and a record rainy season has recently ended. We set out to explore, visiting many wonderful sights in a handful of days. Almost all the waterfalls have a hydro set-up on site, and the entrance fee includes camping – absolutely perfect for us. At each fall, we camp within a stone’s throw of the raging water and are free to swim and explore to our heart’s content. The fast-flowing water ensures there are no crocs or hippos lurking; at least, that’s what we’re told.

The highlight comes at Lumangwe Waterfall, which is possibly the most stunning I have seen in my life. We pitch camp less than 50 metres away, and eventually light a fire less than 20 metres from the edge. The photo opportunities at the top are breathtaking, and I repeatedly get closer than makes sense. I take the ‘swimming at own risk’ sign as a challenge, and enjoy a refreshing dip right on the edge of the raging white water.

For the rest of Dan’s story, grab a copy of the June issue of SA4x4 Magazine.