The drive from Kalabo (after a fantastic visit to the Liuwa National Park), Western Zambia, down the western side of the Barotseland floodplain to Sioma.... (November 2011)
We got off to an early start after a quick pack and very sad goodbye to Craig, Kath and Dylan. About half an hour down the road the fuel light lit up. Apparently we were still operating on “Liuwa Time” yesterday and were simply too relaxed to remember to put the diesel from the jerry cans onto the tank. Alas, this did not seem like it would be a big problem as we had purchased a brand new “no more sucking pipe” for this very purpose prior to the trip. However, as we had left amidst quite a frenzy of activity, there had not been time to watch the instructional dvd and we could not work it. We shook, we sucked, we blew but no flow of fuel from the jerries. By then we had been shaken out of our lazy liuwa stupor and realised we were wasting precious time and needed to make a plan and get back on the road. As we did not have a backup funnel (something that will forever be on the packing list) and we had cleaned the vehicle out of all empty water bottles, we resorted to emptying our only 5l of water and made a funnel out of the bottle. This was somewhat of a snap decision although bearing in mind we thought we only had about a 4 hour drive ahead of us, it was understandable under the circumstances!
So, with 80l of diesel in the tank we were back on our way, listening to some cool tunes and loving the freedom of being on a new and unknown road. The ultimate road trip! We found out that evening that the road we were one is called the “lower mango road” and the fact that we used it had the guide we chatted to chuckling away. BUT, we took the road less travelled by and that is what makes a good story!
The lower mango road hugs the Barotseland floodplains and is one of the most beautiful roads I have driven. It is also probably the most technically difficult. The road gets its name from the hundreds of mango trees that line it, all with low hanging branches that are quite capable of removing ammo box or jerry can from your roof rack! Along the road you pass through village after village where the novelty of seeing a vehicle is high and where there are small children, crazy charging dogs, cattle, goats and donkey carts to dodge all while trying to keep your momentum up in order not to get stuck in the extremely thick sand. Definitely a challenge! The road from Kalabo to Kalangolo is approximately 210 km (rough estimate).
I have always heard about the Barotseland being spoken about with reverence by “serious” travellers and it was a privilege to get to drive both the east and west side on this trip. The area is beautiful and seeing it is more than worth the tough drive.
At one point, when we noticed the incremental dent we were making in terms of distance, we made an attempt to head inland as the GPS showed what seemed to be a more direct road to the west. The road we chose to make this route switch ended up becoming a cattle path and we drove over a koppie into the back of a village, much to the surprise and amazement of the inhabitants. We did get a great view of the floodplains from the top of the rise though!
One problem that was becoming more and more apparent was that we were getting a little thirty. By around 14h00 (around 8 hours into the journey) it looked like we were getting close to the pontoon crossing over the Zambezi (Kalangola ferry). Alas, when we got to the last obstacle, a crossing over a small tributary the water was just too high to get through. At this stage the lack of water and now possibly fuel (after driving for 7 hours mostly in low range 2nd gear and with the next place to fill up being Livingston) seemed all too apparent! After some consultation with the locals, we headed downstream as they indicated that it was possible to cross there. We quite quickly came to a muddy section that looked just too risky being one vehicle only. We explored a bit to see if there was another way around but it was just to remote and with black cotton soil all around, the risk of getting properly stuck was just too high.
Back to the village we went. By now it was around 15h00 and we were a little nervous, very thirsty and quite hungry. We were directed to the home of the headmaster of the school and he told us that we should drive upstream for about 30 minutes and that there was a bridge where we could cross. We followed his instructions and as an added precaution, picked up a fisherman who was heading in that direction. Between the fisherman and the headmaster’s directions, we found the bridge, or what was left of it! It was possible to cross through a fairly shallow stretch of water upstream of the bridge but the bridge itself was completely washed away in sections. It must have been an impressive mass of water that did that kind of damage.
Once over the river, we headed back towards that Kalangola ferry and finally arrived there at around 17h00, after a journey of around 11 hours instead of the expected 4. What an adventure though! We finally got some cold drinks that quenched some fairly severe dehydration.
We drove to Sioma Lodge (about 50km before Kabula). Our original plan was to get to Livingston (for the record, this is not possible!) alternatively back to Kabula Lodge but the road was very wet and muddy, it was raining and we were all feeling tired after such an adrenaline filled day. So, we stopped at the stunning Sioma Lodge and as an added bonus, booked into the permanent tents which were definitely a worthwhile luxury. The staff was great and allowed us to cook our supper in the kitchen.
This was a long, nerve wracking, beautiful day that will generate many stories and will be remembered always. It would have been a disaster in most other company but with Christie and Jon it was pure intoxicating adventure!
P.S. The concept of always carrying at least 25l of water is a good one to stick to! Always!
I was privileged to spend a lot of time exploring wilderness areas in southern Africa from a very young age. I got my first camera when I was 6 years old and I have been passionate about wildlife and landscape photography ever since.