36 hours of absolute madness

After the T-2, we turned on a dirt road that was not in the best of conditions. The puddles of water were huge, but still manageable. We slalomed between the potholes and puddles. This road was our first indication that turning back might have been a safer option, but we went ahead, looking for another adventure. 

This next adventure is called Kafue National Park. We had spent our time in Zambia either at workshops or on the bad roads (except for the 2-day Kapishya holiday) and our opinion of Zambia was not the best. This was also partly caused by the experiences we had with the people we met in northern Zambia, who were definitely not the friendliest.

We wanted to at least do some extra sightseeing and visit the Kafue National Park, to give Zambia an extra chance. Since we entered Zambia in the rainy season (as is customary during our trip), most parts of Zambia are hardly accessible. The famous North and South Luangwe parks could not be reached and neither could the Lower Zambezi park. The Kafue National Park was not really on the way, but still it was not a huge detour on the map. 

The road we mentioned before, is the reason why most parks are inaccessible. The rains flood the roads to and in most parks and that is why many lodges close during the rainy season. We had read online that Kafue National Park is open year-round and that several lodges are also open year-round, so we decided to give it a try. On the road, it had rained the entire time.

Funny enough, the rain stopped when we drove into the park. We were super lucky with this and enjoyed our drive in the park, spotting many birds. Due to the rainy season, only one road in the park was open and accessible, the so called spinal road. This is the road that runs from north to south and it was the road we intended to take. Along this road is Kasabushi Camp, the campsite we planned to spend the night. 

The spinal road was quite a good road and we saw relatively many animals, considering the fact that in the rainy season the bushes are very green and thick and the animals disperse throughout the park. We saw many beautiful birds and we even saw a bush pig family, an animal we had never seen before. We were super happy to see elephants as well, mainly since it had been a long time since we had last seen them. We arrived at Kasabushi in a happy mood.

Kasabushi is a nice campsite and lodge in inside the park and is owned and run by a lovely Dutch couple who had taken over early 2023. When we arrived, we were offered a nice drink to chat with one of the owners at the lodge. After that, we went to the campsite and met the other owner. We went for a short evening game drive, but we did not see much. When we returned, we set up camp, had some dinner and took a lovely shower in the open air, which is always wonderful.

The next morning, we set our alarm early, as we had to break up camp, make some breakfast and leave around 6AM to have a nice game drive and still have time to exit the park before 9AM, as we would have to pay for an extra day if we exited the park after 9AM  The expected time to drive to the exit was about 2,5 to 3 hours, so the timing would be very tight.

The game drive started great. The first animal we saw, within 5 minutes of departing the camp, was a leopard. It was a very brief encounter as it went straight into the bushes as soon as it saw us, but still always a great sighting. As we continued, we didn't see as many birds as the day before, but we did see some other amazing animals. The most wonderful animals to us were a sable antelope, which we had never seen before (they are only in one park in Kenya that we haven't visited) and another family of bush pigs, which are both rare sightings. 

We went to Kafue National Park with the hopes of seeing wild dogs. These amazing and endangered animals are hard to find, so we have planned to visit a few parks with the possibility to see them, however slim those possibilies are every time. Although we had seen more animals than we expected, we were a little sad that we did not see the wild dogs and we sped up a bit to not arrive at the exit gate much too late. We already knew that we would be late, but we just wanted to try to make our time exceeding 9AM as little as possible, hoping they would let us through. We were already thinking of excuses we might use that caused us to be late.

Then we suddenly saw something strange far away in the road ahead. We couldn't really figure the shape out and after looking through the binoculars, Emma said: 'it looks like a dog'. We look again, and indeed, there were two wild dogs on the road, and there even seemed to be more in the bushes next to the road. We quickly get our camera out and for the first time in Kafue NP, we open our windows. Due to the enormous amount of Tsetse flies, we drove with our windows closed the whole time. We had agreed that only one animal could get us to open the windows and risk being stung by these pesky flies, the wild dogs!

We take a few photos, from far away, since we don't know what happens if we drive a bit closer. After the photos we drive ahead a little bit, stop, and take some more photos. We repeat this a few times, until we are REALLY close. The two dogs are not interested in us and remain lying on the road, while there were another 20 lying in the bushes. We absolutely loved how chill they were and how close they were, just lying there beside our car in the bush. 

We spent about 20 minutes just enjoying the view, making some photos and videos and we decided to continue driving to the gate. The dogs had slowly disappeared in the bushes anyway. As soon as we started the engine, suddenly over 20 dog heads popped out of the bushes to check us out. We slowly started driving and all the dogs come out of the bushes to walk behind us. For their safety (we don't want them to chase us if we drive away), we decided not to speed up, but we stopped our car and shut off the engine. 

As soon as we stopped again, the magic happened. All the chilled out dogs started playing together and making their famous pitching noises. We spent another good 20 minutes just enjoying the views again. We had never seen wild dogs and on our first sighting we were even treated with them playing, making their famous sounds. It was just the best thing we could have wished for. 

After having spent about 45 minutes around these beautiful creatures, all of them had disappeared in the bushes and we continued our way to the exit gate. We were massively late, but had decided that if we would have to pay an extra day in the park, it would be worth it. To add to this, during all this time in the park, we did not have any rain during our drives and we even did not have any Tsetse flies bothering us while we were at the dogs. We were still hoping they would not charge us for the extra day of course.

When we arrived at the gate, we quickly learned that no excuses were necessary. The guards were mostly stunned that there were people who came from where we came from. However, the gate we arrived at, Musa gate, was not our intended end in Kafue NP. We wanted to continue south, because there is another gate, Dundumwezi gate, all the way to the south. Musa gate was only halfway (about 150km from Kasabushi) and we still had to go another 150 km to Dundumwezi gate. When we told the people at Musa gate about our plans, they shattered them and said that the road was not passable. We would have to go all the way back and to Lusaka. We told them that we did not want that, and we asked if there is another way. There was, and with 4x4 they told us the road would be passable. Not good, but passable. This was enough for us and we were on our way again. 

The road started fun. It was a nice bush track and our friends at Kasabushi also informed us that this road should be an 'All season' road. However, it quickly turned bad and from there, it got worse.

This was definitely not an 'all-season' road yet. The rain had flooded most parts of the road and the puddles became bigger, deeper, longer and wider. There were times when we could only see water and mud. Unfortunately, we did not have enough fuel to turn back and we had no signal at all in the park. There was one way, and that was forward. The photos below are by no means the deepest pools. At some point we stopped making photos and videos for fun, to focus on not drowning the car in the deep pools.

It took us over 4 hours, but 150 km after Musa gate (not even too bad), we arrived at Dundumwezi gate. The detour was substantial and it was far from a decent road, but we made it. We checked under the hood, but we could not identify where any of the weird noises or smells came from. Another thing that started to worry us, was the fact that with these heavy roads, the huge detour and the constant accelerating in 4x4 made our fuel consumption go a lot faster than expected. Our problems were far from over.

We had hoped that after we left the park, the roads would be good. However, the road was just more of dirt road, potholes and pools of water. In the meantime, the screeches, rattling noises en smells only got worse. We stopped a few times, but were not able to locate any of the issues. All we could do was continue driving for as long as we could. 

As we went on, the fuel gauge got lower and lower. With 45km still to go to the first fuel station, the fuel light went on. Clearly, we hadn't learned from our narrow escape in Uganda and we could really kick ourselves. We stopped another vehicle asking if we could buy some of their diesel, but they were also low on fuel. We passed them, hoping that if we would get stuck, they would pass us and we could come with them to the fuel station.

After 45 nerve wrecking and butt-clenching kilometers, we made it to the fuel station. We filled up and decided to finally use our spare container. We hadn't eaten much that day (a few sandwiches for breakfast and some cookies for lunch), so we bought some grilled corn and relaxed for a few minutes. We were so happy that we had made it on the tank and back to civilization, that we allowed ourselves a few minutes of stress-free rest. We still had to make it to our destination for the day with all the sounds the car made, but that stress was not for those few minutes.

We had found a farm in iOverlander and the hosts were said to be lovely. We informed them and went on our way. On the way, we stopped again when the check oil sign went on. Together with the ABS sign that had been on for some time, the noises and the smell, we had lost faith. It felt like we had won the battle with the rain and mud, but we had lost the war and our car suffered for it. Without additional issues, we managed to arrive at the farm. We ate some noodles and went to bed. We decided that this was our cue to leave Zambia. It was just not our luck here.

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