Zambia: Rock Art, Waterfalls, Worlds Largest Mammal Migration and Mushrooms!

We travel into the country with the worlds largest mammal migration as well as the worlds largest edible mushrooms!

We crossed into Zambia from Chitipa in Malawi, going through a tiny two man border post, they stamped our passports but could not obtain a Visa for Tom. Traveling through 85 km of very sandy and windy roads (always fun on a loaded motorcycle) we arrived at Nakonde, the nearest town where we could do the necessary Visa arrangements.

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After getting all the admin out the way our convoy pushed toward Kasama, the capital of the North of Zambia. In order to get there we had to cross a river barge and about 300 km of sandy roads. We ended up making camp next to the river after we crossed the barge, this area of Zambia is extremely rural and unaffected by the west and technology as you can see in the photo below of the grass hut. This is a form of housing that was usually made by nomadic peoples compared to the more advanced dung and mud huts with a thatch roof. Not long after we set up camp, we were joined by a few local village children who found our little convoy to be very interesting, Istene grouped them all up to join her for a little yoga session.

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After spending the night we hopped onto our motorcycles and journeyed toward Kasama, we noticed the same theme as Mozambique and Malawi, a slash and burn approach to agriculture. Placing massive strain on natural forests “a quick fix” for the enrichment of the soil. This method of agriculture has been the main technique used for hundreds of years, however, with population increases, the strain of this outdated agricultural technique on the environment is too great to be sustainable. Possible alternatives should be introduced, education and the production of better soil quality is the best way to ensure older forests do not get cut down.

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On the road westward just 10 km before reaching Kasama we discovered a gem by the roadside in the form of the Mwela Rock Art reserve. This area has some of the densest concentration of rock art sites in all of Africa (More will be written about this fantastic area in an upcoming blog).

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We found a quiet place called Airport West Villa, with a lovely garden camping area with two local zebra that roam around the property. We spent a few days as Tom searched for tire levers (replacements) and got my tires replaced. The tires that were taken off my motorcycle were kept as spares in the case of a side wall tear.

Chishimba Falls is around 30 km from Kasama and was the logical next destination of our Zambia journey.  This is one of Zambia’s 17 main waterfalls, and a lovely stop over in the north of Zambia.

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From Chishimba we turned southwards towards Kasanka National park. stopping at an old colonial household (Africa House) and farm that belonged to a diplomat who managed the borders between the Congo and Zambia in the early 1900’s. A huge house in the middle of Zambian wilderness, It was an achievement to have undertaken such a large project in such a remote place.

We stopped at Kapishya Hotsprings and spent a night at the camping area which is a modern establishment a few kilometers from Africa House. The springs were beautiful and we got to camp right next to the river.

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We went through some beautiful and wonderful areas including the  Mutinondo Wilderness on our way down to the highly anticipated Kasanka National Park.

The reason for our anticipation for Kasanka National park (a 1000 km detour in the wrong direction) was to witness 10 million straw colored fruit bats descend onto a few hectares of swamp in the smallest Zambian National Park. This migration is the largest land mammal migration on the planet and one of the continents best kept secrets.

We woke before first light to try and catch the returning of the bats from their evening foraging. We crammed five people into our little Sukuki Samurai. We had a new team member (Alex) joining us for a leg of our African journey. All this rush was to little avail as we did not see a single bat that morning. We drove through the reserve and canoed in the scenic Luwombwa River.

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After waiting out the heat of midday next to the river we went to investigate where the best view point would be to see the nocturnal bats leaving their roosts as darkness falls.

These platforms/tree houses are pre-booked and are generally for high paying customers. Luckily we got ushered toward a viewing deck as we were making our way our intended spot (in a field) to watch the 10 million bats emerge from the swamps for the evening. Bats began to emerge from their slumber, viewing millions of bats from 30 meters high, in a tree, was an experience I will never forget.

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Tom with his brilliant David Attenborough impersonation catching the first bits of the bats leaving their roosts for the evening foraging for fruit. Below you see the bats in full force, it truly is an amazing special to see that much life in one location.

The above video shows how the density of the bats gets higher the later it gets, until eventually 10 000 000 bats have flown past you in order to forage for fruit throughout the night. We witnessed the Bats and then made our way northward again to Lake Bangweulu. We arrived at the white sandy beaches of this huge lake and made ourselves a chicken stew with mushrooms.

On our travels in Zambia we managed to catch the beginnings of the rainy season, this meant that we caught the beginnings of the mushroom season. Some of the species that grow in Zambia are among the biggest mushrooms in the world. The Termitomyces titanicus – “Chingulungulu” is the worlds largest edible mushroom and found almost exclusively in Zambia and Tanzania. The hat has an average diameter of one meter. The stem reaches a length of 50 centimeters. The entire fruiting body weighs on average 2.5 kilograms. Although we did not encounter such large specimens of Termitomyces we did encounter some large and diverse edible mushrooms. This made for great eating in Zambia as the locals sell various Termitomyces species on the side of the road.

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Northern Zambia has an abundance of remote places if you look for them, with a bunch to see and learn, with very few tourists and huge open spaces. Zambia also has over 40% of southern Africa’s water, 60% of that water is from the northern portion of the country, with dazzling greens, enormous ant hills, in a country full of flowing streams and rivers.

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We will continue with Zambia in another blog where we will show you some of the incredible waterfalls the country has to offer as well as the southern shores of Lake Tanganyika.

Cheers

Trent Seiler

& The Nitty Gritty Nomads

 

Botswana: Bushmen paintings of Tsodilo hills and Istenes crash!

Drama! The dirt road leading towards Tsodilo Hills had a sandy patch that caused Istene to take a rather serious tumble on her motorcycle.

Drama! The dirt road leading towards Tsodilo hills had a sandy patch that caused Istene to take a rather serious tumble on her motorcycle. The crash resulted in her dislocating and breaking her humerus (arm). Not humorous at all.
Luckily we were traveling with friends, and Istene, determined to see Tsodilo Hills jumped in the Landy, whilst a friend rode her motorcycle. After the Hills, we drove straight to the Sapupa Medical Clinic and from there an ambulance to the Gumare Hospital. This lead to Istene being shipped back to South Africa for an operation and recovery period. She will meet up with us in Vilanculos, Mozambique after her recovery.

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Sunrise after a long night in hospital. Camping by the Clinic

Tsodilo Hills is a fantastic archaeological goldmine with huge national and global importance, being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002. The hills have been a congregation point for bushmen groups for the past 100 000 years according to some recent archaeological research. The hills are also littered with incredible rock art.

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Our knowledgeable guide, walked us through the hills, showing us some caves and all the rock art, explaining the importance and history. The rock art represents thousands of years of occupation and was created by the san/bushmen during ceremonies asking for assistance or rain.

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Pictured below is a Mankala Board, which is a game that was introduced from Indonesia during inland trade with Bantu groups in the center of southern Africa about 200 years ago. They are a common feature at archaeological sites through southern Africa.

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Tsodillo Hills is a place of intense spiritual and archaeological importance. It is also the only rock art site within 250 km of the site. The men climbed the Male Hill, one of the few mountains in Botswana. Climbing up around 700m, it is a wonderful hike with views that overlook the flat vastness of the surrounding Kalahari shrub.

Located on one of the most drastic natural features in the surrounding flat vastness of the Kalahari shrub. From here we made our base in Maun and did two expeditions, one into the panhandle of the Okavango Delta (the worlds biggest inland delta) and on the Makgadikgadi salt pans.

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A big thanks to the Sapupa Medical Clinic staff for all the help.

Cheers

Trent Seiler

& The Nitty Gritty Nomads!