Exploring The Zomba Plateau

Lilli Africa, Malawi 2 Comments

Alright, where do we start? We arrived in Zomba about two weeks ago with the intention of having a sneakpeek at the plateau that is overlooking the small town. Our travelguide recommended to camp on top at one of the two available camping spots. Well, that didn’t work out. Turn out that the nicer one of the two (Chitinji) was closed quite some time ago and the other one (Trout Farm) is even more run down than five years ago when our guidebook was released. Really creepy place unless you travel in a big group – its just a bit too sketchy up there. Shame!
While we were looking around for alternatives we found this little place half way down the mountain, the Casa Rossa. Immediately at home we parked our car and basically didn’t move for about a week. Oops. During that week we made some changes to the interior of the car and completely reworked the blog – as some of you might have noticed. Hope you like it, by the way.
But, long story short. The Plateau. After a week or so in Zomba we finally made it up there. Having read about armed robberies on top we didn’t take much with us and left the camera at home. From the car park at the Trout Farm the plateau immediately spoiled us with a small hiking trail that quickly went from thick bushes to a small stream that we followed for a little while. Alongside the stream (almost all around the plateau to be fully honest), you can pick a variety of really tasty wild berries that come as a real treat in the otherwise so dry and ‘african’ Malawi. One thing is for sure, you don’t feel like you are still in africa. It’s almost as if you are back in europe. At least until you reach one of the viewpoints. As soon as you reach the edge of the plateau you are simply blown away by the sheer drop and the view of Lake and the Mount Mulanje in the far back. There are a couple of “official” viewpoints scattered around the plateau, many of them are occupied by vendors that try to sell you semi-precious stones or other things, but we found one that is really remote with no one bothering you. After hiking around for close to 8 hours (thanks to the deliberate but secret detours that Lukas had everyone do) we finally made it around to the car, cutting directly through a pine forest for the last few kilometers! All in all a really cool experience, the one thing that was really missing though was the camera.

So two days later, while we were still at the Casa Rossa (Careful, you might just end up staying there for your whole holiday) we made good on the failure to bring a camera. This time we just took the Landy and drove up. There is a small network of dirtroads all around the plateau, so we made our way to the beautiful viewpoint that we visited the last time. Rough roads, but definitely worth it (just make sure you bring spare tires). You can drive around the whole plateau, which is what we ended up doing, with almost all the way being in good condition. Until we reached the last 7 kilometers of the round trip that is. After that the road got really bad, and that is not an understatement, it got REALLY REALLY bad! Definitely an adventure, driving alongside huge drops to the left and smoldering wildfires to the right. If you think of coming here, you will definitely need a 4×4 with high ground clearance. Harry made it through like a charm of course, purring along happily.

All in all, really successful days. Blog is up and running, we had some really nice food, stunning plateau to explore. Couldn’t be better we guess. We’ll be gone for the weekend, heading over to mount mulanje for a few days of hiking. That’s the place that supposedly inspired Tolkien to the setting of the shire in Lord of the Rings. Really exited to find out what that is all about.

So, until then, see ya Dudes and Dudeens.

The Mighty Makgadikgadi

Lilli Africa, Botswana 1 Comment

Stretching over an are of about 30.000 km², the Makgadikgadi Pans are the worlds largest saltpans by far. They consist of multiple pans of different size. The pans themselves cover an area of about 16.000 km² with the largest pan stretching over 5000 km². Why go into detail? Because someone out there will surely say ‘umm, but the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is the biggest pan in the world’ and yes, the Salar de Uyuni is the biggest SINGLE salt pan in the world (at about 10600km²) but the collection of the Makgadikgadi is bigger, HAH!.
If you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe the UNESCO. Okay got that out of my system now.
But enough of this. The Makgadikgadi lies inside the Kalahari Desert and is located in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and south-east of the Okavango Delta. They were originally part of a massive patch of water (believed to be the biggest inland sea that ever existed). Due to uncertain factors it dried out until the salt finally accumulated where it’s located now to form the pans. Even though it seems desolate it is refuge to many birds and animals during the rainy season when the pans are covered with a thin layer of water and the stretches of grass inbetween the salt start to grow. It is also an area of archeological importance, housing historic sights like tools and housing from the early stone age to the new age.

but does all that really matter? one thing is for sure: ITS FREKKIN’ AWESOME!
(or in other words: mindblowingly beautiful)

So we started our adventure in Maun, accompanied by Gareth and his beloved bike, and drove a few hours (maybe even a few more) until we were about 10 kilometers in front of a little town called Mopipi. At this point we looked for a suitable spot, left the road and headed straight towards the pans to the coordinates John recommended in Maun. He said something about a dirtroad leading up to the pans as well, but we couldn’t really make one out so we just drove as the bird flies.

And it was glorious! Being off road meant that we brought Harry back into his favorite element! He’s slow and noisy on tar but excels once you tackle the rough stuff. The first few kilometers whe cruised through extremely bumpy fields until we reached the first outcrops of the pans. The first pan we found was a really small one, but we went straight through anyways and enjoyed the first salty dust of the day. The pan turned into fields again and slowly the vegetation thickened. As we were trying to dodge the first bigger tree’s we stumbled across a road, probably the one recommended by John and the going was quicker then. The road is awkwardly sandy at some points.
This wasn’t a problem for Harry but Gareth got stuck a couple of times, lost momentum and fell. Funny sight to behold in this dusty sand though. One time he just disappeared into a puffcloud of dust right in front of us. (He wasn’t hurt obviously or it wouldn’t have been funny).

It was getting late and we were rushing towards the pans, trying to catch the sunset. Harry swallowed alot of dust and had a few arguments with bushes left and right when the track got narrower. At one point we brushed a bush to the left a bit harder then I wanted to. Oblivious to the fact that we clamped the GoPro to our left sidemirror we plowed on for a minute or two. Until we saw that the GoPro was gone…

SHOCK! We didn’t know how long it had been missing, there was dust all around us and we didn’t know which of the tracks we took as there are about 5 different ons running parallel to each other. The dust didn’t settle either, so we tried to find the right track by memory and estimate it by gps. After rushing back through the dustclouds we left earlier we spotted the GoPro on the ground by the road, still filming. phew.
After we picked it up we, headed straight back through the dust and eventually made it to the edge of the pans just in time for the sunset.
The view in front of us: indescribable. Just flat, white soil dotted with a spec of gras here and there. The view of the sunset behind us, mindblowingly beautiful. Wow!
As there was no road anywhere, we just drove straight in. We drove until we could barely make out the edge of the pan and set up camp for the night.

The last light of the day was fading fast then and we quickly prepared dinner before it got dark. Afterwards we spread out our large tarp canvas and put our bedding on top of it to gaze at the stars.
And what a night it was – there was a forecast for meteors and we spotted a few massive shooting stars bigger than any all of us had seen before.
Lying there, experiencing one of the most beautiful night skys we’ve come across, all of us got tired and we headed to bed rather quickly. As we went to bed the silence kicked in. You wouldn’t believe how silent it is out there. When it’s calm you don’t hear anything at all. The next day Lilli got up early and took a few long exposures.

After breakfast we packed our things and made plans on how to cross the pans. We had just seen that there were a few fences cutting of the pan we stayed in from the rest of the Makgadikgadi so we were trying to work our way around it. It was when we all were ready to go when Harry decided that he just wasn’t ready to leave this place yet and refused to start.

Awkward situation to be in in the middle of nowhere. After what Lilli describes as working some magic & sprinkling some glitter on his filters (which comes in no way near the actual process) Harry started working again – great!
Turned out all of the dust that Gareth swirled up with his bike on the way to the pans was a little too much for Harry’s lungs aka. air filter. In the end the fine dust probably just went straight through into the carburetor, where it clogged up, making Harry short of breath up to the point where he didn’t get any air at all. Poor Harry. Working magic and sprinkling glitter involved taking the filter apart and professionally unclogging the carburetor by opening it and banging against the outer shell. Don’t judge, the carburetor didn’t open with a soft touch due to the fact that it was last opened in the last millenium. Very Jeremy Clarkson… fixed with a hammer. How very Land Rover of Harry, too. We also added some valve ease, which probably helped (I like to believe that the banging did most of the job though. Please don’t disillusion me)

So we set off, not knowing if the issue was fixed completely. We were faced with a difficult decision, taking the ‘maybe’ faulty car to the next workshop which would mean turning around OR being stupid and irresponsible and just drive the car even deeper into nothingness (travelling in convoy). Well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what we opted for. Of course we headed deeper into the pans… pfff. But getting there would involve crossing two fences that we didn’t take into consideration originally. The first one was really easy to get across. We found a gate and a guy that very conveniently lives in the middle of nowhere to open a gate (probably once a week or less regarding how surprised he was to see us tourists). The second one turned out to be trickier. When we turned up we found a locked double fence and no one was home to open the way for us. Following a hint in the gps that the fence might stop a few kilometers later we plowed on along the fenceline until we realized that there was no end to the fence after all. Dang. Faced with the seemingly inevitable choice of retreat we took a chance and drove through a gap in the first fence. A kilometer up the road we stumbled across a breach in the second fence and found ourselves on the other side (Definitely a ‘this is africa’ – moment).

The legality of this might be a bit questionable… so we wouldn’t advise this to others (wink). After a few hours of driving through one of the biggest pans around we came out unscathed and amazed on the other side with a bush-fire greeting us next to the road.

So, if you ever get the chance to travel to Botswana: visit the pans! There are official tours like a day trip from Maun, but i would suggest to go with your own car. You’ll definitely need a 4×4 but even if you’re traveling without a car, i would say it’s absolutely worth it to either rent one for one or two days and go there yourself or book a tour either from Maun or from within the pans! There is a campsite at Kubu Island that you can stay at but you’ll end up spending a lot of money for a tree to park your car under and a longdrop.
So go there however you like – But if you camp in the wild don’t be a lunatic and don’t forget to leave nothing but footprints or tiretracks.

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Skeleton Coast

Lilli Africa, Namibia 3 Comments

First off: What a name… The Skeleton Coast is one of the places that are stated as a must-see destination in Namibia. Recommended in almost every travel guide and website, promoted with many pictures of old shipwrecks, it really built up a reputation.
Situated on the northwestern coastline it is just a short drive from Walvis Bay and Swakpbmund. Due to strong winds, a lot of fog and the Benguela current, this coastline was often the setting for disaster. Countless ships where caught by dense fog and offshore rocks, started to sink and break apart. Some of them were finally washed ashore as well and serve as reminders of the tragedy’s. Survival would be tough now, but back in the days it would have been a nightmare. Even if you were to survive the desaster in the cold and stormy see and made it to shore, you were stuck in the middle of a desert consisting mostly of salt, sand and rumble, the next settlement being up to a few hundred kilometers of nothingness away. The people who made it to shore alive usually died of thirst, never to be seen again.

Nowadays you can follow a salt road running along most of the coastline and see the remains for yourself.

That does sound spectacular, doesn’t it? Thats why our expectations were quite high before we came there and we where a bit disappointed in the end. Let us tell you why.

First things first. We set off to the Skeleton Coast from Swakopmund. Accompanied by the crazy Austrians that we met a week before while on our way to the Dunes at Sossusvlei (That whole experience is a different story that will feature on this blog at some point in the near future). Driving in two old Land Rovers meant that it took us ages to get from Walvis Bay to the entrance of the Skeleton Coast National Park, enjoying one or two shipwrecks along the way even though we had one or the other drizzle of rain along the way and no sign of the sun all along (As you can see if you had a good look at the pictures. Yes that greyish sky is really filled with clouds – Dang). By the time we arrived at the gates, – which are really cool to be honest – it was already too late for us to go in and the guards were not to be argued with. So we were faced with two options exactly: Driving back about 70k to the last campsite that we saw along the way, which, to be honest, looked like a scene out of a horror movie where 4 young people on holiday would happily set up camp, tell scary stories around the campfire and all exept for one of them face a horrible death during the night. Really pleasing thought.

Option two: driving back and turn off the road somewhere to find a place where we could camp in the wild illegaly (being in a different national park right in front of the Skeleton Coast one). But this part of the coast consists of more or less flat desert and there was not really anything where we could hide the cars, not even speaking of concealing our tracks which would have been easily visible in the soft/salty sand. Both of the options didn’t really promise a happy and peaceful night.

Luckily, realizing our peril, the guys at the gate of the National Park were extremely friendly and offered us to sleep inside the fence, directly behind the entrance in the middle of their little collection of houses. Perfectly satisfied, we sat down for a Braai, had a little chat with the park manager, went to sleep and had the option to be the first people in the park the next morning. So we had a full day to spend cruising along the coast to look forward to, GREAT!.

The next day started out exactly like the last day ended: It was cold, rainy and windy. That might be one of the reasons why we didn’t enjoy the first half of the day that much. We were looking forward to a little bit of sunshine and a nice breeze from the sea, but instead we got cold wind and cloudy skies. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that everything sucked, but it was very frustrating.

But we had a lot of old and spooky shipwrecks to look forward to, right? Hah… you would have thought so, but no, not really! We found exactly two.
With the first one, you could at least make out that it used to be a small boat at some point. There was still wood, holding the underlying structure together, and a huge engine was rotting away in the salt water. Alright we thought, good start to the day. Let’s find a bigger one. Hah, nope. The next one we found broke up into small parts a long time ago. The only remains being a few clumps of metal scattered around a remote part of the beach somewhere.

Alright. So there can only be three possible options here: Option 1) we were too dumb to find the rest. Option 2) they are all gone! Meh… or/and option 3) we expected too much.
It turns out that most of the really cool shipwrecks are a bit more up the coast, near, or even in, Angola. And there we go, after the wheather another reason why we were disappointed by the skeleton coast: no shipwrecks… wääh!

We did however find something else in the sand. An old oil tower. There is oil in front of the coast and underneath the soil of the park so they used to pump it up. When they stopped the operation they just left the old tower to rust away. A couple of decades (at least we think/hope so) later the environment has taken it’s toll on the old structure. The tower has given in, everythink is rusty and only parts of the main structure are still holding strong. Crazy to see how nature consumes this man made thing day after day. Our visit there surely didn’t help, because we collapsed one of the stairs by “accident”. It seems they are not holding up to abuse with a metal bar… not looking at you Dylan. NOPE.

So we still had fun along the way. If only not like we expected. We ate tons of bread with honey (inventive) and when the wheather cleared up and the sun started to shine down on us we tried to tie kites to the Landys. This proved to be more or less successful as we only made it work on one of the cars – but it sure was fun!

And thats it. Our day at one of the more popular sights in Namibia. Not really how we expected it to turn out, and we still can’t decide if we would recommend it to others. If you want to see thousands of spectacular shipwrecks: do something else or go to Angola! But if you want to see stunning desert landscape, stormy see and be all by yourself for a whole day: go for it! (Good company helps a great deal, too)

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Zambia – South Luangwa

Lilli Africa, Zambia 0 Comments

The most beautiful parts of a country are usually the National Parks. Untouched nature and a lot of animals are always worth a visit, right? We would love to visit far more parks then we did so far, if it weren’t for one big problem: entrance fees! (In the case of South Luangwa 30 US$ pp. and 15 US$ for your car – that is per day of course) We understand that they have to be quite high to maintain the park but its not easy to spend so much money if you are on a budget. In South Africa for example you can buy a Wild Card that gives you unlimited access to over 80 parks and nature reserves. It costs about 1770 ZAR for one person, 2770 ZAR for a couple and 3310 ZAR for a family of 7 and is valid not for a week, not for a month, but for one whole year. We’d like to see something like that in other countries, but as far as we know there is nothing like it anywhere else. And thats why we don’t spend as much time as we want in national parks. But that is not what this post is about. We want to show you how we found a way to see a lot of wildlife without spending a fortune on fees.

If you are ever going to Zambia we would definitely recommend the South Luangwa National Park. Experts claim that this park is one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries worldwide, mainly because of the Luangwa River and it’s lagoons. They create one of the most intense concentrations of animals in parks. You will find a huge variety of wildlife (only the poor Rhinos are missing because they’ve been poached extensively) and vegetation. There are about 60 different animal species and more than 400 different birdies.

In and around the park are a lot of places where you can stay. If you don’t want to stay inside of the park and still want to have an extraordinary place to stay, this post might help you.

We stayed at the Wildlife Camp and would really recommend it. It is not the closest to the park entrance (but it will only take you about 15 minutes to get there) and with 12$ for camping it’s not the cheapest either (although 60% of the money goes to a wildlife foundation and into social projects, so we think the price is more than okay). It does have a pool, overlooking the riverbed as well, which helps a lot with the crazy temperatures out there. Best thing to do: Pretend to be a hippo and spend the whole day in the water!

We’ve stayed there for about a week and only spent one day in the park. Early in the morning (around 6 o’clock) we drove into the park and finally saw a leopard (yay!). We had to get back at the point where it got too hot inside the car to continue driving though. After some hours in the pool, watching hippos and elephants pass by, we went on a night drive organized by the camp, which was really cool. We saw a lot of animals, and we even spotted the same leopard we saw that morning. But if we think about it now … it wasn’t really worth the money. We spent quite a lot for the fact that we could have just stayed at the campsite to see as much as we did in the park.

The wonderful thing about this campsite is it’s location. It is right next to the park, only separated by the Luangwe River. That means, especially in the dry season, the animals will show up regularly to have a drink at the river. We had elephant families walking by, just a few meters away from us. Usually twice a day, in the morning and in the evening. We also had a curious civet cat at night in the campsite and a lot of monkeys everywhere. We also got to see hippos and giraffes, the latter looking awkward while drinking. On our last morning we woke up to the monkeys alarm calling happily. We got up to have a look at what scared them so much. And you know what we saw? Seven lions crossing the riverbed and lying down on the other side to have an early morning nap. The day before we spent the whole day in the park, spending a lot of money to try and find them. And the next morning they came to visit us, thank you bigscarycats!

And thats why we enjoyed our stay here so much and would recommend it to everyone coming to Zambia. Of course it’s always worth it do drive into the park yourself or go on a game drive (especially the night drives are really cool because you can stay much longer in the park then you can when you are on your own vehicle), but the nice thing is that you don’t have to do anything to get the animals close by. Just sit back and relax and they will come to you eventually. All in all, if you’re ever coming to Zambia while being on a budget – visit this place! It’s worth it.
If you are not on a budget, you can stay in one of their beautiful safaritents or chalets as well!