‘Liuwa Plains National Park’ borders with Angola on the western edge of Zambia. Sandy and dotted with swamps in the dry season and flooded in the wet season. Due to its remoteness and difficult off-road driving, visitor numbers are low.
A real challenge and frontier for outdoor and 4 WD enthusiasts. As we were going to find out.
Giancarlo’s shiny and freshly washed Landrover joined Zimba as the last two vehicles out of our convoy to cross the Zambezi.
Two separate engines on each side propel the ferry to give enough thrust against the strong Zambezi current and keep the travel line steady.
A great opportunity to catch up and enjoy this majestic scenery. Soft sand awaited us on the other side of the Zambezi River. There was a sharp left turn up a sand dune to be driven, a very tight corner. Behind was swampy, muddy marshland. To get the perfect track line, one needed to go straight up the ramp, reverse and drive up the sand dune.
Without checking the track, the Landrover tried to turn in one go and ended up in the swamp. A costly, very basic human mistake. I left the ferry in the described line and stood behind a sad looking Landrover. Most off-roaders overestimate the ability and power of their car and try to rev it out of tricky situations. Something that gives me the shits as the wheels dig deeper and deeper into the mud. Giancarlo first, then it was Claudio’s turn.
‘The problem is that the front diff is not working’ Claudio said. ‘The problem is that this car is so deep in mud, that it can’t work. I replied.
‘We need to winch it out of trouble and not getting deeper into it’. I was getting a little frustrated as we haven’t even started our journey and couldn’t handle this simple situation.
The ferry workers grabbed the shuffle and got into action. Finally. The rear wheels were dug out soft sand and my maxtrax panels were placed behind. The real issue was the front right wheel in deep mud.
The dodgy angle this fully loaded Landrover was in didn’t help either. To heavy for Zimba’s winch alone, Guido’s Toyota was called in. He almost got stuck in the marsh as well, but eventually was parked next to Zimba.
His winch had issues which needed to be sorted. I had serious doubts about this whole off-road trip meanwhile. Too many chiefs, not enough Indians.
The waters off the Zambezi looked rather inviting for a swim. It took a while, but eventually, Giancarlo’s Landrover was freed and we were on our way.
With soft sand and plenty of muddy rivers to be crossed, care needed to be taken. A young local was on his way home and asked me for a lift. Local knowledge that is very important.
Claudio lost direction off the track and appointed me with our guide to take the lead.
At each water crossing, I inspected deeper waters closely before directing the best way to cross. We knew about a muddy swamp patch out east which needed to be avoided at all costs. Having local knowledge and following fresh wheel tracks, we crossed more and more rivers without incidents.
It was way after lunchtime and a lunch break was needed.
We parked at a shady spot next to a lagoon filled with water lilies.
A small family came by to inspect our little community.
I bought extra bread and oranges and handed them out willingly in exchange for a few photos. I was somewhat surprised by how many communities are scattered in this vast land, literally cut off from civilization.
Our guides home lies in meanwhile opposite direction from our destination and decided to walk from our location. Fair call. He pointed in the direction we should follow and I took the lead.
Like a scout, I followed the tyre tracks and walked through water crossings.
It actually was fun and a satisfying feeling, having the Italians following us and my instructions. Once on drier, higher land, Claudio took over the lead.
Passing more and more communities with amazed locals, we passed through a narrow track which leads through thick forest. Just enough space to pass the vehicles with care needed to be taken. But wasn’t by all.
The convoy came to a stop again. Most likely driving to fast to make up time, we lost all hope to get to camp shortly after. A low, thick tree branch pointing in drivers direction was overlooked and pushed Claudio’s roof tent almost all the way of his Landrover. The metal holders were bent and needed mending. Another basic easily avoided human error proved costly.
Masters of all trade Giancarlo and Claudio got started, others helped when they could, but it was a time-consuming effort. Little kids from the community not far away came to investigate. Shy like monkeys, they ran off when approached. A rather moving, but also a disturbing fact. The sun was setting low and there is no way we would reach our destination before dark. Driving at night is something I wanted to avoid at all costs, expecting more disaster happening. Plus the fact that setting up camp, cooking, and general duties would be carried out late at night. Not a morale boost. I investigated the nearby territory in search of a favourable camp spot.
I found some open space just outside the forest on this little community’s land. A great spot to call home for the night. These people are incredibly friendly. I walked over to meet the chief and asked for permission to camp on his land. I tried as much as possible to explain our situation, which I don’t know he understood exactly. The language barrier is very obvious in these communities. But without hesitation, he said ‘ok’ for us to camp.
Returning to the caravan convoy, I shared the good news. Relief reflected some worried and anxious faces. One by one, vehicles traversed through a narrow track to set up camp and usual ongoing for the night. Claudio’s Landrover arrived just before sunrise. A bunch of community kids watched in amazement from a distance.
I still had plenty of oranges left and walked carefully towards them. I don’t like the comparison between humans and animals, not at all, but their behaviour was almost identical. Over and over, the small group retreated backward. With body language and oranges in my hand, I sat down. I peeled and ate an orange whilst waving them over to come closer. Eventually, a couple boys came over and kneeled in front off me with their hands out to receive a couple oranges. A really moving moment for me. I just wished we wouldn’t be seen as some superior race. One by one, the others came over and ran happily off with their oranges. What a sight to see those smiles and joy on their faces. Simply priceless.
Giancarlo meanwhile started the warming fire. After setting up my camp I waved those same kids over to join. Shy and uncertain, but with a little more faith, they joined us by the fire. Their big eyes watched in pure amazement on the ongoing off our usual routine. I am certain, that this is the first time they been this close and actively interacted with the ‘Mzungu’ kind. Chief and other community members came over to join us by the fire, a well received and touching gesture.
By now, even the biggest Italian sceptics realised today, that it wasn’t such a bad idea for me to join this convoy. Grumpy appearing action man Giancarlo gave me one off his priced cigars, no bigger compliment could have been given.