Say ‘remote’, ‘back tracks’, ‘less tourists’ and you’ll have Frankie’s attention. He is often scouring different maps, satellite photos, any other sources for interesting or less travelled tracks to link our destinations. They take longer to travel, being rougher and slower, but are more interesting. It is how we usually holiday travel in Oz.
We were on our way to South Luangwa National Park. Following a faint line on the map, crossing some nice country, and then dropping down a rocky mountain escarpment onto the plains.
We stopped to watch some elephants cross in front of us and had our first encounters with Tsetse Flies. They swarmed the car; we could see them following and buzzing around the windows as we slowly travelled along. The ones that came inside attacked us so we kept the windows up.
We went through a number of village checkpoints carrying the flies with us; they needed to record our details, including how many firearms and ammunition we were carrying.
Around 4pm we pulled up to camp. Setting up camp didn’t even start. As soon as we stepped out the flies attacked, biting hard and drove us back inside the car, slamming the doors behind us. We just sat there, trapped in the car; occasionally zapping the few that followed us inside. This was absolutely horrible, horrible camping!
We had to drive on, hoping to come to an area clear of them; but this place is full of Tsetse flies, and really hungry ones too. They were always out there so we decided to keep drive until sunset.
Eventually we pulled off and camped right next to the track, there was no need to move into the bush as nobody was going to be coming along this way.
I had also decided to abandon dinner. A bowl of cereal did us, and then we jumped into bed. One bugger followed us in and managed to bite me in the dark! Everything seems to be extra hungry and more desperate in Africa, even the flies ☹
We got up just before sunrise to get going before the flies, but a few had camped around our car and were ready for us at that hour! We shoveled in some cereal again and were on our way.
A few hours later we were driving through some lovely remote villages. Like the flies, they don’t get much passing traffic either so there were lots of waves and smiles rather than the usual frowns with begging hands held out (although we did not stop incase the greetings turned into begging). Some huts were beautifully decorated. There were lots of kids, neatly dressed in uniform heading to school. It was good to see there were many wells that residents could pump clean water.
The track got very slow and bumpy with stretches of track entirely of dried mud holes from elephant footprints. We crossed many arms of a river. A lot of these dry crossings were like very steep, deep dips; some were about 2 car heights deep. It looks like the water rises to the full depth in the wet.
We knew we had to cross the main river and wondered what the crossing was going to be like.
Finally we came to the main river and followed the track along it. We did not see any obvious tracks down to the riverbed to cross, but we knew we had overshot the area where the crossing was supposed to be. Further down we could see a massive group of hippos, so we went to visit them. What a fantastic sight! Lots of crocs together with them too; they’re all friends. Awesome, but it was a shame we could not stay longer to enjoy this sight, as the task at hand was how and where are we going to get across this river??? Obviously, not right here!
We backtracked and found a very easy crossing area where we would normally just drive across without batting an eyelid, but this is croc and hippo territory. Being a lone vehicle, and there being no winch anchor points in the a wide riverbed, we would have a very tedious, nervous recovery if we happened to get stuck.
Ideally we were looking for a crossing that would be 100% ok (without walking it).
“It looks so easy”, but we didn’t want to get stuck and have to fiddle around in the water. Standing there with these thoughts reminded me of similar situations that we have to deal with on our own, in the Top End of Australia (tho longer and deeper), in croc country.
‘Well its 99% LIKELY to be as simple as it looks’. We decide to do it and walked back to bring the car down.
Next problem, there were trees and bushes blocking car access to the river, and where there was no trees, the banks were 3 meter high vertical drops.
We are not into destroying bushes and banks so we continued driving back along the track looking for an area to access, getting further away from our crossing.
Finally we saw a track down to the river, which we had missed the first time, and this lead to the actual crossing point.
We looked at the crossings, and again we were not going to walk to check them. We just trusted the sticks marking the way; a diagonal crossing onto a sand bank; and then another crossing to the other bank.
The first crossing was fine, very shallow and firm. As we approached the 2nd crossing, 2 baby crocs scurried off the bank into the water. The 2nd crossing dropped off a bit deeper, but was also fine.
Now we were on the other side; we picked up the well-travelled main track to continue on to our destination.