Splitting North and South Luangwa National Parks

The first sixty miles or so are good gravel and the only town we come to also has a checkpoint and boom gate across the road. The men are very friendly and happy to talk about the road ahead. There is a major river crossing, we’re told, and it’s uncertain if we’ll be able to proceed that way. Not to worry, the men say, we can just come back this way!

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The mountain road dropping to the valley floor

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In the mountains before dropping to valley bottom

In the next five miles the road drops extremely steeply to the valley bottom, and the rocks stacked to fight the severe washouts provide some of the steepest and trickiest low range 4×4 of the entire expedition. Dusk comes and goes and so we find a small clearing on the side of the track and declare camp. A small campfire drives away the frigid night air and we sleep soundly in the utter silence.

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Sunset at camp

We rise at dawn and continue forward and in less than twenty minutes the Jeep is utterly full of tsetse flies. These massive flies bite aggressively and leave a painful welt – soon my arms and legs are covered from top to bottom. We realize we’ll have to drive with the windows up and over the course of the day it becomes extremely difficult to even stop for a bathroom break. The Jeep is covered in many hundreds of the flies – somehow they seem attracted to the black parts.

The track ranges from second gear dirt and gravel down to low range first 4×4 dry river beds. Thankfully there is no water to speak of, so nothing presents a problem. In multiple places we see elephant, lion and other big tracks on the road, though the animals keep hidden from view.
In yet another town we must register in a huge ledger – an anti-poaching checkpoint – where the armed men explain the road with the massive river crossing has been closed for many months. It’s absolutely impossible to go that way, so we should just continue on. They assure us there is in fact a ferry to cross the river, and that we should be fine.

A few hours later we drive through multiple small fires on the roadside before we eventually catch up to an anti-poaching patrol. These are heavily armed men patrolling on foot. They burn the long grass to make it easier to see people and tire tracks off the road, and also to deter the animals from hanging around so close to the road where they may be poached. The men are on foot in the sweltering heat and tsetse flies, though they don’t seem to mind in the least, each and every one grinning broadly.

After many more hours we burst out on the shores of the mighty Luangwa River – wide, fast flowing and obviously packed with hippos. Following our noses we continue to the South and eventually find what must be the ferry. In reality it’s a bunch of plastic barrels lashed together forming a platform not a lot bigger than the Jeep. The men assure me it’s up to the task, so I drive on slowly before very consciously leaving the Jeep in gear when I shut it down.

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On the ferry, fingers crossed!

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Pulling the ferry across the river

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The Jeep on the barrel ferry – there is not a lot of free board!

The pontoon has no motor, and so the two men get to work pulling it across the river, using the steel cable strung across. With the weight of the Jeep the whole thing is sitting very low in the flowing river, and I’m more than a little nervous about the whole enterprise. The guys heave and haul and in less than ten minutes we’re across, where I drive onto a makeshift platform of sticks and logs before driving up and onto the sand.
This is by far the smallest and sketchiest ferry I have dared to put the Jeep on, though the whole thing goes off without a hitch!

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Just before driving off the ferry onto the stick road

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Jeep and ferry

Now on the correct side of the river, we continue in a Southerly direction, bumping into multiple large (and baby) critters as dusk comes and goes.

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Baby Giraffe

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Elephants have huge eyelashes!

Just before arriving at our destination we come across a local mini bus helplessly stuck in in a deep sandy dry riverbed. The twenty or so passengers are all standing around looking glum while a solitary man shovels in the deep and soft sand. I swing the Jeep around and everyone lights up when they realize what I’m planning. Soon I have the tow strap attached and in low range first the Jeep hauls the mini bus through the sand, dragging it’s belly the entire width of the dry river bed.
After a huge round of handshakes and smiles we pull onto a paved highway just after the sun hits the horizon.

It has been a massive crossing through the wilderness of Zambia, and we’re elated to arrive at our destination.
Great things await!


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