We crawled along at about 30 km/ hr over the potholed road to the first town and a bridge over the Zambezi. We had been told finding money in Zambia would be no problem and ATMs were plentiful and easy to use.
I think this advice may be a little insular and perhaps relates to the more well trodden routes. Crawling up the upper Zambezi there was little evidence of any ATM network but we finally found one little ATM attached to a preschool which allowed one of our cards to work. Most ATMs will work for either visa or MasterCard so best carry both! Oh well 2000 kwatcha was better than nothing and feeling cheered we carried on. It was hot and the day began to fade but the scenery was beautiful with frequent vistas over the mighty Zambezi. The landscape featured many mango trees and small cassava plantations.
I had about 6 camp spots identified from T4A but there was absolutely no road side advertisement for any type of accommodation and as we crawled from one identified site to the next we found the promised idyllic shaded and grassed camp spots closed and derelict. Our spirits began to sink.
Clearly T4A are out of date in Zambia and the economy seems to have taken a downswing since their entries were made. Finally we saw a sign for a lodge clearly owned and run by expats and happily chugged the 3-4 km dirt to get there only to be received by a smiling lady who informed us she had closed the campsite permanently and the lodge was closed because they needed a rest after a busy period. She had sent the staff home! Anyway she must have seen how dejected we looked as the sun started to nudge the horizon and she assured us there was a lodge 10 km further on with camping. Off we set and we found Kabula lodge and a cold Zambian beer called Mozi waiting for us there. Again it seemed run down and we were the only guests but the camp manager was friendly and welcoming and the facilities adequate under huge trees by the side of the Zambezi.
The land where the sun never sets. The smoke from the seasonal veld fires hide the sun before it reaches the horizon.
It was our plan to visit the Ngonya Falls on the upper Zambezi, the second largest falls on the Zambezi after the famous Victoria Falls and we had heard this was best viewed by boat from Sioma. It was with trepidation we pulled into Sioma camp next day. The camp at least existed and there was a sign post from the road (good sign!) but it had fallen over. The camp was on the Zambezi bank with 4 permanent tents and a shaded gazebo overlooking the river. Brighton, the camp assistant, introduced himself and assured us we could stay for a nominal charge of 100 kwatcha.
Bonus! On closer inspection it became apparent the tents were in poor repair. He let us use an ensuite bathroom at the back of one tent but the water was not connected, the wood was rotten and the canvas torn and the beds had no mattresses or bedding. Good job we did not choose that option! Brighton bounded up and down a steep bank to the river to fill up 20l buckets for us to use and chopped us a big pile of wood before returning to fix his bicycle. Later he told us the camp was owned by a Danish man who had gone back to Denmark.
It seemed no one knew when he would return and he was not sending wages regularly. Brighton said he was owed 7 months wages and after his house burnt down in a bush fire he moved in to take care of the camp. There seems to be a bit of a pattern regarding foreign owners abandoning their investment in Zambia. Maybe , although sounding idyllic on paper, it proves too hard to run and maintain with little infrastructure support.
The government even has a special process to lodge a complaint but this needs attendance at Mongu which is a lengthy and expensive business, especially as Brightons bicycle had 2 front wheels but no back wheel. He sort of runs on his bicycle and gets a free wheel down hill.
I doubt the camp will survive another season without maintenance. There were predictably neither guides nor boats for the falls but the view over the river allowed us the opportunity to capture the local fishermen tending their nets and we could hardly complain when Brighton ate most of the supper..
The Ngonya falls make up a cataract over 1 km across of waterfalls and rapids intersected with islands and rocks. There is a small national park there and an office although we found it closed when we arrived. We stumbled around the area looking for the falls, (we could certainly hear them! ) until a girl opened the office and led us down the trail to overlook some of the bigger falls. I felt a bit redundant with my walking shoes and stick as she was wearing bedroom slippers but she still managed to be faster and more sure footed than me. They charged us a nominal fee per person but a lot for the car which did not even go there. Not sure how that worked. Apparently there has been a total crop failure in the region this year and the people are struggling financially so we bought a few souvenirs in support.
There is a rich history around the falls going back to the early exploration. Livingstone of course "wuz here" but one story particularly tickled us. In Victorian times one of the local chiefs was invited to visit England for a ceremony and he saw the canal system in the British midlands. He came home convinced he could build a canal system around the falls using a series of locks to drop the water and facilitate the Zambezi as a waterway for trade for which he intended to charge. He tried to get funding but was stuck when the British refused to allow him to raise a toll on the canal arguing it was an "international waterway". Eventually he got some shady characters to start the project privately but the budget was very inadequate. One guy built a pair of lock gates in the middle of the veld and then ran off. In the end about 4 km of the canal was blasted and can still be seen from the air today. It was never completed. still that was a man before his time, perhaps before any time!
After an amusing morning we turned our noses north once more towards Mongu , the gateway to Liuwa plains and our first major destination in Zambia.