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has been the main technique used for hundreds of years, however, with population increases, the strain of this outdated agricultural technique on the environment is too great to be sustainable.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

 

Zambia Backroads: Giant Waterfalls, Congo Refugees, Two Great Lakes and Tom’s snapped frame!

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Zambia continued! We left Samfya and the sandy beaches of Lake Bangweulu as we began our gradual ascent in latitude. Travelling northwards again gave a feeling of progress as we etch closer to Ethiopia. We had set a course for Lake Mweru and the small town of Nchelenge, to tick off another Great African Lake in the Great Rift Valley. The road there was a muddy one and we did tend to opt toward the dirt roads through the bright green Zambian woodlands.

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Along these rural back roads we encountered the UN who were in the process of creating a refugee camp for 6000 immigrants fleeing the Congo. Intensive fighting in the Congo has shifted from the northern borders of Lake Tanganyika to the southern end of the lake. The border between the Congo and Zambia in the area east of Lake Mweru is not well defined or patrolled. Thus, Congo raiding parties and refugees have made it less safe to travel further north in Zambia than Mununga.

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Later that afternoon we arrived in Nchelenge on Lake Mweru, which is the second largest lake in the Congo River Drainage Basin and is relatively shallow, with a maximum depth between 20 and 27 meters. We made camp at a place overlooking the lake and had a few beers to the sunset.

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From Lake Mweru we made our way toward the famous and remote Lumangwe Falls.  Getting there involved some windy and muddy back-roads that were welcomed as a new challenge.

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The countryside is incredible with woodlands towering on both sides of the muddy paths. When we eventually got to Lumangwe Falls we decided to stay for three days, camping right next to the waterfall.

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There are two waterfalls within the reserve Lumangwe and Kabwelume Falls. Lumangwe is the largest waterfall in Zambia that doesnt border another country and has a height of between 30 and 40 meters and is 160 meters long.

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Kabweume Falls is a spectacular semi circle cascading down three connected waterfalls.

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When we left Lumangwe Falls we took the tar road toward Kasama once again but turned left to head north toward the southern shores of Lake Tanganyika. Unfortunately on the dirt roads to Mpulungu Toms’ bike, Frankenstein, frame snapped toward the rear. This is a result of too much weight on the rear as well as a bolt or two that came loose on the hectic roads.

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Luckily the frame broke 75 meters from a construction site with welders and various metal off cuts. Within 2 hours the motorcycle frame was repaired stronger than before and we were back on the road.

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The following day we eventually made it to the banks of Lake Tanganyika the second largest, deepest and oldest lake in the world! This is where we found a spot to settle for a few days in order to celebrate the birthdays of Tom and myself. Preparation was vital.

Ingredients for success were:

  • Alcohol
  • A goat
  • A good place to camp

We found all these ingredients in and around Mpulungu, finding alcohol in the form of millions of tiny bottles of mainly energy based alcohol.

The goat was slightly more challenging, first finding it and then the transport on the motorcycle proved interesting followed by slaughter and preperation.

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Once all the ingredients were collected we began the sheep spit this took place in sections over the next 3 days.

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Bellow are two videos of the preparation of the goat and the actual spitting of the goat.

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Birthday weekend/marathon was a lovely way to cut loose and enjoy our time on the banks of such a massive Lake, as well as a good way to bid farewell to an incredible country. Adventure is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Northern Zambia. There is so much space to just get lost and see spectacular environments along the way. Our road from Mbala, Zambia into Tanzania was a wet one.

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Zambia is still a lovely source of adventure not too far from South Africa, what Zambia lacks in infrastructure in the north it makes up for with the amazing ecosystems and phenomenal waterfalls and collection of great lakes.

Cheers

Trent Seiler

& The Nitty Gritty Nomads