We’ve just come to the end of 6 days in Liuwa Plain National Park. We had two objectives. To film for Time and Tide Foundation, a short promotional film highlighting their educational community outreach programme, and to film frontline anti poaching rangers. These 6 days took us to Kalabo Secondary Schoool, Munde Primary, to interviews with a number of Zambian Wildlife Police Officers, scouts on the ground in the bush and interviews with two convicted poachers in Kalabo Jail. Lots happened so I’ll try and give you a flavour of some of the events of these days.
Before all this however we had 5 days to cycle 500k from Livingston to Lusaka.
The road to Lusaka is straight. The conditions of the tarmac are awful. Its a lunar landscape of potholes and crumbling road with our only saving grace being the gentle undulating hills that have provided some speed as we make our way to Lusaka. It’s a one-lane road which is used for heavy cargo trucks coming from South Africa, Botwsanna and Zimbabwe to the Zambian capital Lusaka.
Our source of bicycle touring wisdom has largely come from Mike. The character we met in Botswana who’s been on the road for 9 years. His passing comments on the road from Livingston to Lusaka weren’t to be taken lightly.
‘It’s the worst road I've ridden in 9 years.’
Our secret weapon for this 5 day blitz to Lusaka? African rocket fuel! Otherwise known as Pap in South Africa, Sadsa in Zimbabawe and Sheema in Zambia. In its uncooked from, its dried out corn granuals, milled down into a fine white, sand like consistency. Cooked for about an hour, the finished article is a thick white blob. Accompanied by beef stew and some veg it’ll keep you going for hours. Our only problem is the ensuing food coma at lunch which takes at least two hours to emerge from!
The towns and villages along the road provide colourful and vibrant food stops. The buildings are a variety of pastel oranges, blues, purples and yellows. Street stalls line the sides of the road selling oranges, bananas, tomatoes, watermelons, and onions.
5/5 nights have been spent under canvas. The first at a teacher’s house. He spotted us pulling into his village and offered us a patch of land next to the pig sty. The second night was in a Head Man’s garden. The third we spent under two trees in the central courtyard of Pemba High school. Awakening to the sound of school children giggling and whispering as I unzipped the tent bleary eyed and disorientated with a hundred kids staring back at me was a nice change from the phone alarm.
In other news, to our enormous excitement we’ve managed to locate some ‘Heinz Beanz.’ Quite a monumental discovery when your breakfast diet without fail consists of baked beans of some variety. Sat around after dinner, contemplating life and its many mystery’s Charlie had a moment of doubt concerning said beans.
‘Is beans spelt with an ‘s’ or ‘z’. A deafening silence ensued.
Confronting such hard-hitting subject matters as these is a part of daily life on the road. Are they counterfeit or not? One hell of a cliff hanger. If any of our readers could shed any light on this it would be much appreciated!
Similar topics of conversation have been how my once scrupulous standards of bag packing have finally come unstuck. My panniers, once held up as a standard for packing in the touring world, have seen a sharp decline. None more so then the day we came into Lusaka. My bike decided to distribute my belongings at even intervals along the road. For the lucky man who has my connect four set I wish you many good fortunes in your connect four career.
Upon arrival in Lusaka we camped again and were picked up by Elizabeth, the Director of the Time and Tide Foundation. As I mentioned earlier we’d be filming a short film for their promotional purposes over the next few days and also filming lots for our documentary.
The drive from Lusaka to Liuwa Plain National Park is a 9 hour stint and takes us through Kafue National Park. The second largest park on the African continent and one we’ll be returning to film later that week with SAPU (Special Anti Poaching Unit).
Spitting us out the other end of Kafue, in the Western province, we found ourselves in a small town called Kalabo. We spent the night camping at the Rob’s house (the Park Manger of Liuwa Plain) and woke up to a quick swim in the Zambezi and I mean very quick due to fear of crocs and hippos.
We were swiftly back on the road and heading into Liuwa Plain. The Western province is a fascinating place and Liuwa Plain even more so. It hugs the border of Angola and has had a turbulent recent history. With the Angolan civil war raging close to Liuwa Plain it was used as a way to feed the armies of both sides. Decimating the wildlife population Liuwa is still classified as a recovering ecosystem to this day. Liuwa’s also home to the second largest wildebeest migration on earth, after the Serengeti, and hosts a rather famous lioness by the name of Lady Liuwa.’ She was the only surviving lion in the park for a decade. Well worth watching the documentary ‘Lady Liuwa’ if you have a spare minute!
The physical geography of Liuwa Plain is unlike any landscape we’ve seen in Southern Africa. As the name suggests its flat as a pancake. The sky is as vast as I’ve ever seen and the ground stretches out like an ocean before us. The long grass, head height at this time of year, ripples like the currents at sea and if you close your eyes the motion of the landrover gives the rocking sensation of being at sea.
In order to gain access to the park there was one major hurdle. The Liuwa river. Our method of transit? A tractor, driven into the water onto a floating pontoon/barge. The tractor was then edged further and further forward onto the barge so as to lean the vessel away from the bank and enable it to come lose from the river bank. Everyone accounted for it was then up to us to propel our noble steed across the water!
On either side of the river, secured by tree trunks, a thick blue rope links both sides of the river. Its all hands on deck as we’re put to work heaving ourselves via the rope and the tractor across the Zambezi.
Our first morning in Liuwa began bright and early as we set off at sunrise to meet an anti poaching unit in the field. We spent the morning with the guys and learnt a huge amount about the specific challenges of operating in Liuwa. Its unlike most parks in that there are hundreds if not thousands of villages within it. These guys are doing a fantastic job and face challenges that are very hard to get your head around. One of the guys had to arrest his own brother for poaching. Another lost his father to a poacher and is now following in his footsteps as a ranger.
We filmed the rangers do a sweep of the surrounding area and as we arrived back in camp spotted a local fisherman in the pan next to the camp. The scouts went over to him to check he had his fishing permit.
Each pan is allocated to a particular family. The Ndona (head man of the family) has the authority to grant fishing permits and this particular individual didn’t have one. In talking to other fisherman at the pan they learnt he’d been fishing this pool for a month without a permit. The scouts confiscated his net, his spear and the 10 fish he’d caught.
But as we’ve learnt on our travels there’s always another side to the story. He’d had a disagreement with Ndona and was therefore unable to gain permission to fish. His crops had failed and needed to feed his family. The fish he’d caught would go for 2 qwacha at the market. That’s about $2 for the 10 he’d caught.
Whilst its clearly illegal for him to be fishing its never straightforward.
Another moment that stands out from the last few days was the interviews we did at Kalabo Prision. We found ourselves in a Land Cruiser swaying this way and that as it struggled through a sea of sand surrounding the prison. We pulled up in an outer courtyard, the Zambian flag whipping left and right in the wind and the slight figure of the Deputy Warden approaching us.
Minutes later, we were through the security gates and shaking hands with 14 inmates all in prison for poaching. They’re part of an African Parks rehabilitation programme in which they’re being taught agriculture techniques to farm maize, rape and tomatoes. The idea is, when they leave prison they’ll have an alternative means of income.
I certainly have moments of wondering how exactly we ended up here, and the prison was one of those moments. Interviewing convicted poachers, discussing the challenges they face is just not something I could have possibly imagined doing 2 months ago.
We’ve left Liuwa with some stunning footage and some great friends who we’ll hopefully see again some day. The road from here will take us to the Kafue National Park and then onto the Eastern border of Zambia where we’ll be filming in South Luangwa National Park.