Zambian Joyride

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Metaljockey

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We wanted a trip with a bit of a challenge, something to get our teeth into.

Zambia stepped right up to the plate and shoved it down our throats.

Day one

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Day two

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Day three

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And every day thereafter we were challenged and rewarded.



If you want riding bliss, Zambia is it.

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LMG

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This is going to be a "big" one!
 

Metaljockey

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Livingstone to Sinazongwe

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Neither me nor Hennie had any experience of Zambia, but we had heard good things, and we were keen to do a trip with a difference.

Normally our trips are at the end of the dry season. This helps with the terrain and the game viewing.  But I have grown weary of the dusty, dry and mono-chrome surrounds. I wanted some greenery, moist sandy tracks and the odd thunderstorm to pretty things up. So we planned to hit Zambia at the end of the wet season.

Our first target was to ride the length of Lake Kariba on the Zambian side. So we started from Livingstone and the first 60 potholed kilometers claimed my number plate.
As soon as we swung off the main road towards the lake, it became clear that we were gonna get what we came for.

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I have never been able to ride mud, and I doubt that it is a skill that I will ever acquire. This red stuff however turns out to be not too bad. It’s scary stuff to encounter and it makes you build up a sweat in no time, but after a couple of kilometers you can actually ride it pretty effectively. It’s almost like sand, just let the bike move around and do it’s thing, the throttle can get you out of most situations.

Rivers are running fast and high. Not really a good sign because we intend crossing a variety of rivers that are only passable in the dry season. Zambia had a proper wet season this year, three weeks before we came, there was news of 12 people having drowned in floods.

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When we get to a village we stop for some refreshments. Have a look at my headlight and screen on the X and the headlight and screen on Hennie’s 800. We had just ridden the exact same road. Now please explain to me how BMW finds it appropriate to fit an ornamental fender to the most off-road biased model in their range?

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It turns out that this village has no beer at all. Well, not commercial beer. They do make a home made jobbie from milk and maize though; chibuku. Now this is upsetting news for us, we are on the first day of our trip and already there’s a beer issue. We may have to learn new vices if this is indicative of how things are going to be for us further on. So we have some chibuku. It turns out to be an acquired taste. We will have to put some effort in if we hope to become regular imbibers. On the plus side, it’s cheap, around R1,20 a glass (or plastic container). There, it tastes a lot better already.

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After climbing a rough track we finally get our first view of Kariba in the distance.

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We have left the road by now and the track we are on is proving to be very enjoyable. Stopping at a stream to cool down I take the opportunity to clean some of that mud off my radiator.

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We are by now riding parallel with the lake but the track is several kilometers inland so we never get to see the lake. Good riding however, crossing streams and the like every so often.


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We get some quality riding in and by late afternoon we notice that we are within striking distance of a lodge called Kariba Bush Club. Seeing that we are tired and dusty this looks to be the ideal spot to overnight. When we get there, there is a sign at the gate that they are closed for a private function.  We try our luck anyway but are shown away without so much as an offer of a cold one as consolation. The cherry on the cake being that the guys in charge stand there with beers in their hands. To be fair though, they were really civil about it.

The next lodge is 60 km away. A bit of a tall order as it is late afternoon already, but I reckon we can make it. I’m wrong of course, like I always am when it comes to getting somewhere before dark. And so it happens that on the first day, in the dark, we have to cross a river where the bridge washed away. Although it is not too deep it is flowing and has a sandy bottom (‘spoelsand’ in Afrikaans). I make it some way in before the back wheel buries itself.

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Excellent, wet boots for tomorrow then. To our relief extra hands appear out of the night.

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They are experienced in these matters too and we are sternly instructed by an 11 year old to shut the bikes down and put it in neutral. By pushing the bikes they are able to stay largely on top of the sand and although it is hard work and I have to take a short break to get my breath back, we manage to get both bikes across.

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All this takes place just 3km short of our destination. And the last 3km we have to find our way through a flooded floodplain which can be tricky in the dark.

When we finally get to Lakeview Rest Camp, we are the only guests. Being tired, filthy and wet, we opt to take a bungalow and with an icebucket full of beers and fanta we retire to our stoep to reflect on Day One.

We are mightily impressed with Zambia. It’s seldom that the first day of a trip gets out of the blocks so decisively. We are well satisfied, this was not a day wasted.


 

Thump

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sometimes you just piss me off.

But thanks for posting, looks very exciting.
Will be following all the way
 

Metaljockey

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Sinazongwe to bush camp

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The next morning we get to see what Lake View Rest Camp looks like.

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I unpack my saddle bags that got flooded last night to dry stuff out and also strap them up high, it looks like water crossings are going to be par for the course from here on.

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I also do some waterproofing to electronics.

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After a good breakfast and a chat with Keith, the manager, we get going. As we pass through Sinazeze we buy petrol out of 5l containers, as we won’t have the opportunity to fill up for some time from here. They rip us R20 per litre.


Anything with wheels can be a victim of the wet season.

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Even caterpillar tracks in stead of wheels are no guarantee.

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This proves also to be the last intact bridge, the next one and all thereafter are washed away.

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From hereon only foot traffic. And of course us.

Wet boots for the second day.

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It is really pleasant riding, good gravel and crossing streams every so often.

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As we come around a mountain we see a river through the trees to our right, and it’s a big one. This could be a problem. After crossing a washed away part of the road on a footpath  we come upon a Hilux bakkie that has been parked in the road for months. Clearly caught between the washed away road and the river. And when we get to the crossing our fears are confirmed, the bridge have been washed away.

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I make myself comfortable under a tree and Hennie goes to walk it. Things don’t look too good.

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We are not keen to backtrack for two days, so we sit down and start working out ways of dealing with this dilemma. The thing about rivers is that the longer you spend with them, the more you get a feel for them and what can and cannot be done. If you take your time, a solution will invariably make its appearance. We watch a local cross the river on a very different line and we walk the river a couple of more times to check the best lines. Finally we believe that it can be done and we offload the bikes.

It’s not too deep,  but the force of the water can easily wash the bike out from under you. With local help and a towrope we go for it. We figure that if we are able to stabilize the wheels , we should be able to get across.

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It’s hairy, the river is flowing strongly and the bottom has large rocks.

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After getting the bikes across we also carry our luggage across and take a well deserved cool down.

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We are quite chuffed to have made it across.

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Luggage strapped on again and ready to go. Close to the end of this rocky bit I go down and the bike falls on my leg, painfully so. It takes a couple of attempts from Hennie to get the bike lifted high enough for me to pull my leg out.

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I am increasingly getting a dislike for the air shock on this bike. When you put a foot down to steady the bike and unload your weight on the seat, the shock pushes you right over because it has such immense travel.

Immediately after we cross this river it becomes clear that we are the first vehicles to travel here since the beginning of the wet season last year. We also again learn the value of Tracks for Africa as the main route has been abandoned, even by pedestrians. Something serious must have happened further on if even the locals do not use the route anymore. With the grass having overgrown the alternative route we have to go down to a 80m scale on T4A to find where the track begins, even so we ride past it four  times without seeing it.

The riding turns technical and we have a ball.

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This well has a plaque that says it was sponsored by Canadians, and I just want to thank them, they made my day a lot better.

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I am generally against outside aid but I must say, these wells make a huge difference to the quality of life of the people living here.



We continue riding and get a wide range of terrain to play on, rocks, sand, mud, clay, ruts, cambers, water crossings, everything your heart can desire. We spend the whole afternoon on the pegs just basking in riding nirvana.

Because everything is wet we get a lot of practice riding all kinds of slippery surfaces, and we learn a new skill. We are used to using the clutch to control the power output on the back wheel. Here however, we learn to modulate the throttle only. Using it to get the weight off the front but being careful not to overdo it so that the back wheel does not start slipping, because we are continuously riding the center ridges between ruts as well as cambers.

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Looking for a place to camp proves to be difficult because everywhere is wet.

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We finally find a small sandy patch, still wet, but at least not muddy.

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I find that with all the falling over during the day, my spare engine oil popped it’s cap and everything inside the pannier is now well oiled.

The kids from some nearby huts come to have a look at us but keep a respectful distance of about a 100m. This is new to us.

We’ve just had the best day. We conquered a river, we rode the most entertaining paadjies possible and we both agree that even if we were to donner neer and end the trip tomorrow, it was already worth it. We are damn happy.

That night we lie down to the sounds of drums and singing, beautiful female voices. Very atmospheric. During the night we have a rain shower passing through and I am glad that I am sleeping off the ground on a stretcher.
 

KiLRoy

Perfekte Balans tussen krag en soepelheid..
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subscribed...
 

Metaljockey

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KTM 640 Adventure
Bush camp to bush camp

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The next morning as we are packing up, the kids of the previous night appear and bring their parents with them. They bring us a gift of five mielies. How’s that, we squat on their land and they bring us gifts. So far we have found every single Zambian to be very friendly, courteous and helpful. We also get a lot of waving and cheering on when we ride past.

And the fantastic riding continues, interrupted every so often by river crossing challenges. Luckily Hennie seems to like wading rivers so I try to keep my fresh socks dry.

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Which is of course futile. So, for the third day in a row, it is squelching boots for us.

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It’s like enduro riding, just with a heavier bike and at a leisurely pace.

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By this time I have already made up my mind that Zambia is going to see me again. Day after day of this kind of riding you do not find just anywhere. It is pure pleasure.

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When we start finding vehicle tracks we know that we won’t be turned around anymore by some river, mud or washaway.

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We have a humorous moment where Hennie gets lost amongst some huts in a village and comes out the way we went in and keeps going. For several kilometers he is puzzled that he is now following two sets of bike tracks in stead of one before it finally dawns on him that he is backtracking.

And again we need to get the tow rope out.

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You won’t believe how tightly that sand can hold a wheel. It took both of us and several villagers to get the 800 unstuck.

When the track opens up we know that we are close to Chipepo and we take a break to have some of those mielies raw.

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We are absolutely delighted to come across a settlement that we did not know existed and they have beer.

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And a disco ball.

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We are also introduced to Whiskey Black. Double the alcohol content of beer, so we figure if we pack two each it means that we will have four beers each for tonight around the fire.

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From here we are riding blind as we do not have any mapping on the GPS. We are working off an old map that indicates a road through to Siyavonga. I have always found it strange that no two maps on Zambia ever agree on anything but the main routes. Being here it becomes clear that on an annual basis the wet season changes everything to the extent that from one year to the next, good, new roads can disappear.

Everybody is very helpful though and we learn that the road is known as the Bottom Road, and that it may be passable for us but not for other vehicles.

It starts out very nicely.

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Nice fast riding.

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But, if you see a suspicious stick you need to tap off.

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It was put there by some Samaritan to warn you of an impending teeth-on-the-handlebars situation.

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Fallen baobab. They are giants that live for hundreds of years, but once they topple they disappear quickly into dust as they are fibrous.

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Just look at this lovely stuff, now tell me you don’t want to enjoy that yourself.

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I hear all kinds of shenanigans from the rear of the bike when I hit whoops and upon checking I find that my home made rack system had broken a weld. Hennie has the allen keys so I wait for him to turn back so we can make a plan.

Which just makes this funnier. He crossed this ditch and waited for me to take a pic. After some time he crossed it successfully again to go look for me. Then, when I’m there with the camera it’s third time unlucky and he fucks it up.

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All this mud and wet sand is deadly for brake pads. I once did a wet and muddy enduro with brand new pads and within 90km they were down to the metal.

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So we brought spare pads and lo and behold, third day of the trip and the 800’s rear pads call it quits.

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In East London, where we stay, the closest BMW dealer is a 600km round trip away, so the 800 gets bastardized. Thank you Simon (our KTM dealer).

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The break also gives me the chance to modify my socks to protect my calf where the top of the boot has worn it raw. One of the things you learn happens when you stay wet for several days in a row.

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The other thing you learn is that there is a massively potent and pungent algaebacterialvirusbastard that thrives in wet helmet environments. Not the common variety either, this one only kills off the others on about the third day. Fucking disgusting I tell you.

When the track dries out we don’t recognise it as a sign and blissfully go on a substantial trip in the wrong direction.

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And still, wet feet guaranteed.

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And still just fantastic riding.

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We get put back on the right track by locals. During the two days we spent on this track we must have asked “Is this the road to Siyavonga?” probably over 50 times, and every time we were given the correct answer by helpful locals. You try that in the Transkei and see if you get two answers that concur.

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It gets harder to believe them though, late in the afternoon and the road is just a voetpaadjie. Several times we take a wrong split and have to hunt around.

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When we get to a substantial river, I just feel that we cannot possibly be on the Bottom Road anymore because we reach it on a sandy single track and the other side is just bush. There is a large bridge though that appears to have been abandoned a long time ago and the access to it has been washed away. After scouting around for a place to cross the river, an old man makes his appearance. I ask him if we are still on the way to Siyavonga. He lifts his arms over his head and casts them forward across the river as if he sees a wide highway and says “Yes sir, this the main road to Siyavonga”. This is the exact spot he indicates.

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We have to cross with a circuitous route because a ravine deposited a whole underwater beach of custard like mud in front of our exit. Powering through is necessary because the bottom is a mess of sand and mud alternating.

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Here Hennie has to cross the ditch and turn 90 degrees right up the hill without losing momentum which looks like a tall order to me.

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He manages though.

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I think it’s all done and I miss the picture of the day. The back wheel slides into the top of the ditch and with Hennie hanging full length on the bars the 800 flips over backward. I can see it is going to crush him down in the bottom of that ditch and catch myself shouting for him to get out of the way. Somehow he manages to get it sideways before it's too late.

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Again we get help from the locals to get the bike upright and up the bank.

Then it’s my turn and I manage to avoid all the pitfalls only to get stuck in a rut right at the top.

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It’s late and we are dog tired so we look for a place to camp.

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The warm Whiskey Blacks are welcome but we feel well used. Four days of hard riding and the last full day spent on the pegs takes it out of you.

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Personally I’m slowly getting gatvol of wet feet all day every day.

Again we find that the locals keep a respectful distance and again the night air brings the joyous singing of women. It is special to me because it is so Africa, villagers getting together to sing at night around the fire and you can hear the joy in the women’s voices. They really love the singing.

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Metaljockey

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Bush camp to Siyavonga

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We get a relatively early start and another day of wonderful riding lies ahead on the ‘Main Road to Siyavonga’.

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Siyavonga will mark the end of our Lake Kariba expedition. It is the Zambian counterpart of Kariba town in Zimbabwe. There is a border post and the road crosses over the Kariba dam wall.

Stopping to get water from a well again. Barack Obama conquered not only the USA but also the whole African continent.

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Check out the height of the grass.

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Day after day we are blessed with the best riding you can ask for.

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Here and there it reminds me of Northern Namibia.

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Then we start hitting dongas, which means stopping and finding a way through every couple of hundred metres.

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It is engrossing riding because the terrain keeps you busy, and we lose the way a couple of times as there is a shortage of locals to ask directions from. So here and there we run into dead ends.

When we reach a populated area we hear that from here on further, the road is such that vehicles can get to there. This is good news, it’s excellent news. It means that we are going to successfully finish our first objective – travelling up the length of Lake Kariba.

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The road is not a highway yet but we see vehicle tracks and things open up nicely, we get to increase our speed.

And I’m in the mood for a lodge. Siyavonga has several.

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Aaaaaaaaaahhhh!! Sandy Beach Safari Lodge

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Seeing this kind of thing is just heartwarming.

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The lake is filled to capacity. The sculpture is of the Nyaminyami, the river god that is said to live in the Zambezi.

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We are the only campers and we set up in an idyllic spot.

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We are so ready for a bit of R&R.

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As we sit there quaffing a beer or two, getting a feel for the place, I see what looks like a tiny human swimming out to the lake, elbows flailing. I wade out and find a chameleon that climbs up my arm hissing threats as he goes.

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We are relieved to get our violently stinking riding gear washed.

My bike has also been giving me some grief with the handlebars having so much play that it has been very difficult to ride rocks. It is mounted on rubbers and there is obviously some problem. I can even straighten out the bars whilst riding by just hitting the one end with my palm. No need to wedge the wheel against something solid.

We take it all apart and finally grind the spacer sleeves shorter so that the rubbers are compressed more. I also inflate the air shock again because it has gone down to such an extent that I have to slow down for holes and the like in order to stop the rear from bottoming.

These and other issues were a continual hassle on this trip and I will get back to this in detail at the end of the report.

Sandy Beach Safari Lodge is not the most up market of places but they are well priced and serve good food and cold beer. It is really good to get our boots dried out for the first time since this trip started.
 

Metaljockey

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KTM 640 Adventure
Siyavonga to Ihmman's Camp

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The next morning we do breakfast and leave to refuel and have a look at the Kariba dam wall. Filled to capacity.

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All nine sluice gates are open.

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From Siyavonga we intend to pass through Chirundu in order to get to the lower Zambezi. We opt not to take the tar road but to rather take a shortcut and stick close to the river.

Good choice, nice riding and very entertaining as there are a variety of footpaths criss-crossing the area.

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Crossing rivers here are different to what I am used to because of the sandy bottoms. I am used to rocky bottoms and where one normally want to cross at a fast walking pace, pushing a nice bow wave, here you have to carry as much speed as possible to prevent bogging.

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I am hoping for my first day with dry feet since the trip began, but Hennie, with shorty boots, are in for another wet one.

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That there is the Chirundu border post bridge, one of only three bridges to span the Zambezi in it’s 2700km length.



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At Chirundu we stop to buy petrol out of drums again. On the Zambian side of the border there are no fuel stations, because fuel in Zambia is so much more expensive than it’s neighbouring countries.

Again here in front of the bar I have to strip the headlight out to tighten the bars. As I pull away the bike cuts out, no electrics, dash, everything. It doesn’t take long to find a fuse had blown because of some exposed wiring making a dead short behind the headlight.

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We are on our way to the lower Zambezi and the Lower Zambezi National Park. The ferry over the Kafue river.

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And here we learn that the ferry is free, except if you drive a foreign registered vehicle. Then it’s US$5. And no, you cannot pay in Kwatsha.

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My concept of the Lower Zambezi Valley is that it is an unspoilt wilderness area with a dense game population living by the river. It turns out it is Dollar Valley. From the ferry onward everything is charged in US currency.

The river has a large variety of high end lodges, and all of them are in the range of $400 to $1200 per person per night. The ferry is the only way in and out.

We pull into what should be the most budget lodge and enquire as to camping. They want $19 per person, the going rate in the rest of the country is $5 - $7.50. So regardless of the excellent view we head out again.

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We look for, and finally, after dark, find a camp that we had heard about from a connection that we stopped at earlier the day to say hi. It is a private camp on the river and the owners are not there but the keeper lets us bed down for the night.

 

Metaljockey

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Ihmman's Camp to bush camp

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It turns out to be a lovely spot. Hennie has the unique experience of a vervet monkey urinating on his head while he sleeps.

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A spider making himself at home in my bedding.

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It takes us a while to get going as I am kept busy trying to get the airshock to do what I want.

As we continue in the direction of the Lower Zambezi National Park the animals increase, we also see elephant but cannot get a good picture. The parks in Zambia aren’t fenced, they are surrounded by Game Management Areas which are populated by man and wildlife alike.

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When we get to the park and pull in at Nature Conservation the message is unambiguous – no pedestrians, bicycles or motorcycles allowed. But they turn out to be the nicest people and on seeing our disappointment, they organize us breakfast and a beer. How decent, especially as they do not cater for visitors. I have to juxtapose this against the treatment we got at Kariba Bush Club, who showed us away without as much as an offer of a drink of water.

We go to the Chongwe river, which is the border of the park, to have a look at what we are missing. The park is also only accessible to vehicles for part of the year when the river is low enough to cross. This is not that time of year. This is the crossing.

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Looking at the frowning locals it may have been a blessing in disguise that we were not allowed in.

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In this riverine forest the visibility is not so good and the bush is full of elephant. So what we do is ride very slowly to give them the opportunity to move away. Except that the track then turns and you are on the other side of the same lot that just tried to get out your way.

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While we are riding on tenterhooks like this, swiveling heads checking for elephant, I suddenly see two lion slap bang in front of us, lying under a small tree. A full mane male and a female. They are close, maybe 30 metres and the track passes right next to them.

I jam the brakes and Hennie cruises on another ten metres before he stops, he hasn’t seen them, he is looking for elephant. He turns around to check why I’m stopping, by this time I’m already making turn around maneuvers, I motion with my head to look in front of him. When he sees the two lion not 20m away looking him in the eyes he goes into a stupor. For a further two seconds we look at them and they look at us, then, suddenly the lions jump up and race away. We also assist by putting some more distance between us and them. When it looks like we are clear I stop and take a pic, understandably a little blurry.

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Bikes cannot be common here, and the fact that we were two might have been the little bit extra needed for the lion to be caught off guard. Where we were, if they came for us, we would have had no chance at all.

The Nature Conservation people had given us directions to a road that leads out of the valley to the north, so that we did not have to backtrack to the ferry again. It’s called the Leopards Hill road and we find it quite easily. Again a road that has not yet been put in use since the start of the wet season.

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In places it is thoroughly overgrown. Not the most pleasant stuff to ride in. The seeds are sharp and your forearms gets cut. The seeds also penetrate your clothing and then gets to prick you many times over. Lastly you get a colourful collection of insects joining your forearms for a short ride, some of them repaying you by stinging, biting and whatever the word is for what the the hairy worms do to you.

In this grass it is easy to lose the track. We stopped here and as soon as the motors was shut off, the friendly chap behind me called out to come and show us the correct way. Zambians are really just the most helpful lot.

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Then the track turns into a river. A blind one, you cannot see the other end, so you do not know if it gets deeper or gets overgrown or just turns into a big river.

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Luckily it has a quality rocky bottom, so Hennie is off.

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Some to and fro shouting and I know it’s safe, he’s on the other side.

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A nice 90 degree lip.

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As the afternoon shadows gets longer the track keeps moving upward and things start opening up.

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It turns into the most beautiful scenery. This area is not populated and we are the only ones around to enjoy it.

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The pass going up turns out to be very steep and twisty as well as technical and we ride it in one go. So unfortunately no pictures. But really worth it and I can recommend this road to any 4x4 junkie.

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When we get to a river we are ready to stop for the night.

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Cool clear running water feels like heaven after a hot day of getting slapped by grasses. A bath is in order.

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There are beautiful pools upstream.

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Little fish come and groom you from top to toe. Really pleasant, like little fingers all over your body.

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It is impossible to find any open piece that is not overgrown, so we camp in the road.

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Blou Zebu

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Metaljockey and his trips is one of the top 3 reasons why I love Wilddog.za.net

Thanx!
 

BMWPE

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Awesome  :thumleft: :thumleft: :thumleft:
Thank you so much for posting and sharing this ride with us  :thumleft:
 

Metaljockey

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Bush camp to bush camp

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Early and we are up and at them. Hennie makes it through the river only to drop his bike 5m up the bank. Check out the dry feet.

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I don’t make it up the bank and submerges most of my luggage, including my camera that is tied to the left mirror. I am very thankful for the waterproof ATG bag, thanks to it, my sleeping bag stays dry. But not my feet. FFS! 30m into the ride! Hennie has to come back and get his feet wet picking my waterlogged bike out of the river. Yeah baby, all for one and one for all.

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And so I learn another lesson; don’t camp this side of a river, camp on the other side. At least then you can start your day with dry feet.

Again lovely riding in the morning but today we must get a move on, we are heading towards the road connecting Malawi and Lusaka, and we need to cover about 500km so that we can get back to the good stuff.

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One or two stops for beer,

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two stops for fuel, and we are heading up the end of the rift valley. Half an hour after sunset we finally get a causeway to make camp on, the rest is just tweespoor flanked by 2m tall grass.

This is going to be interesting. We were told that this route from Petauke to Mfuwe should be avoided until June, that is when the first vehicles can get through. We intend doing it in April. So we are not sure of what we’ll find or whether we’ll be turned around.

We prepare by making sure we get some protein in, leg of goat.

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