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Fording a river or Africa is not for sissies


luangwablondes
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I shamelessly borrowed a couple pictures to enable a few readers to envision the drive to the 'office.'

 

I am not going to mention the lion, puff adders, or other wildlife I had encounters with. This was just a trip to work.

 

In 2001, I managed a remote photographic safari bush camp in North Luangwa Nat’l Park, Zambia. A park renown for bush walking among its huge herds of Cape Buffalo and many prides of lions.

 

Edited by luangwablondes
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To get there was a bit of a challenge. 10 days for something that normally took one very long, long day of remote difficult unmarked, unrecorded tracks from SLNP.

Edited by luangwablondes
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First day out, I broke the rear short half shaft. Not a good sign. Being a little hard headed, stubborn is probably a better word, I decided to carry on.

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Some 180 kms and eight days later after several delays (getting stuck was a recurring theme), found me on the banks of the Luangwa River across from this remote park. The coffee colored, croc infested, couple hundred metre wide Luangwa River. The river that John Coppinger, a well-known Zambian guide and safari operator, had pioneered canoeing on the Luangwa. He had written about his experiences a few years earlier, of his encounters with some very large aggressive crocs while canoeing this same remote section. This is where I decided to camp, on a sand bar with an Nsenga fish poacher that latched on to me when I arrived for the evening, to share a fire and dinner. He spoke not a word of English, but we got along well. He shared his nshima and dried fish, and I threw in a steak from my Minus 40 fridge/freezer for him. Not that he appreciated the choice cut. He burnt that sucker to a crisp, as most Africans do. However, I could tell by his smile and enthusiasm that he appreciated that chunk of beef. Protein is not something normally found in the diets of remote villagers.

 

The next morning, the poacher and I walked the river to find the shallowest and least sandy track, marking with reeds as we went (This was obviously a time before a pontoon was brought in a few years later). I then tried to ford the river, but promptly got stuck. I should say at this point, the crocs were mostly sunning themselves, because it was quite cool in the early morning hours. At least that was my presumption, because they did not seem in a hurry to join us in the river. With the landy firmly stuck, I asked the fisherman to get me 12 Nsengas to push me across in an ‘on the fly’ sign language. He came back with seven, who immediately declared one younger Nsenga to be the leader and engaged me in negotiations for payment. Where in the hell they came from, I haven’t a clue. They pushed me back to the sand bar, where we unloaded the landy and carried all the gear and supplies across. I tried two more times with only front wheel drive engaged, and still got extremely stuck. The final time, crotch deep in the middle of the river. There was no pushing me forward or back. Now the poacher understood my request for more help and off he went. The rest of the Nsengas and me hanging around the land rover, while I pondered on the question of the day, ‘do crocs prefer white meat or dark meat?’

 

A few hours pass, the crocs are no longer sunning themselves on the banks, and more recruits arrive. With that, the fresh meat entered the river and we started negotiations again… in the middle of the river. You don’t think they’d risk life and limb with little reward.

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Having agreed to a reasonable fee- what’s reasonable when they have you over a barrel, they quickly pushed the landy across and up the steep, sandy bank in less then 20 minutes. Yeah baby. That last attempt took only 4 hours including the time parked in the river. I immediately handed out $1 USD each to the Nsengas, as agreed. Amazingly enough, the landy started up on cue and off I went to into North Luangwa National Park. Only one more night of bush camping and one more river to ford.

 

About a week later in the safari camp, I woke up from a deep slumber with a startling revelation. I had a short half shaft hidden in the shorty from preparations for my previous safaris/overland trips (expeditions to others) that would rectify my situation.

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In the coming months, I forded the Luangwa and Mwaleshi Rivers many times on my own and in 4 wheel drive. Life can be such a pleasure deep in the bush.

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In a lodge at South Luangwa National Park, hangs a photo, among many other photos, taken from a plane with several tourists, flying low over the Luangwa River. In this photo are 12 Nsengas and 1 mzungu pushing this white short wheel base land rover in the middle of the river. The one thing that makes this photo interesting is a few hippos and several crocs (a couple quite close and submerged) without a doubt intent on the happenings in the middle of their territory.

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That is true adventure.

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Robbie at least you had a decent 4x4 for you to be able to achieve all this. :)

 

Hell of a trip and must have been a great adventure.This is what makes me tick.

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That is true adventure.

 

And a good book to read!

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I know this may seem a bit hard to believe, but many a day were an adventure. Series landys have that effect on their owners. Of course, you need an owner who likes to tempt fate, and always has a positive attitude (or tries).

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Robbie at least you had a decent 4x4 for you to be able to achieve all this

 

The one thing I learned during the breaking in period (of me) by my 5 series landys, was that they needed lots of attention - read preventative maintenance- to avoid the numerous unexpected breakdowns. They still happened, but not near as often. If you took good care of a series landy, when you need the beast to come through, get you from point A to B, they out shine just about anything else out there. Most other vehicles today, when they break, they require major surgery. Not a series landy. I've used things like baling wire, soap, chewing gum, screws from various places to fix a u joint, crazy glue, a hair dryer ( with 12v-120 v inverter), more oddball stuff then I ever thought possible, to get them back to operating condition.... for the moment, that is.

 

Andre- thanks for being so diplomatic and calling the series landy a decent 4x4.

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What an adventure … fantastic!

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Whoa.... After all these years, he's finally giving us the lowdown :)

 

Mesmerizing story and want to read an installment a day! Tony need look no further for his character...

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Robbie at least you had a decent 4x4 for you to be able to achieve all this

 

The one thing I learned during the breaking in period (of me) by my 5 series landys, was that they needed lots of attention - read preventative maintenance- to avoid the numerous unexpected breakdowns. They still happened, but not near as often. If you took good care of a series landy, when you need the beast to come through, get you from point A to B, they out shine just about anything else out there. Most other vehicles today, when they break, they require major surgery. Not a series landy. I've used things like baling wire, soap, chewing gum, screws from various places to fix a u joint, crazy glue, a hair dryer ( with 12v-120 v inverter), more oddball stuff then I ever thought possible, to get them back to operating condition.... for the moment, that is.

 

Andre- thanks for being so diplomatic and calling the series landy a decent 4x4.

Robbie I only drive Landys and I admire the old series Landys as these are the pioneers of Africa .

 

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Excellent story! The sort of adventure that would be great to have experienced, but not to experience :D

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That's a great tale. You did a good job of typing out your story with only one arm, since the croc got the other.

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Oh, no. That wasn't my hand. That was some poor Zimbabwean. The rest of him was found, well in the croc. But did you ever think your gut might be right?

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A ripping good tale. One thing about going remote, you need to be a good mechanic or have a good one travelling with you.

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you need to be a good mechanic or have a good one travelling with you.

If I can't fix it which is 90% of the time, taking mechanics is just dead weight, usually a pain in the arse. All you need is the parts and tools, because the bush mechanics in Africa cut their teeth on series landies. I'm living proof.

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you need to be a good mechanic or have a good one travelling with you.

If I can't fix it which is 90% of the time, taking mechanics is just dead weight, usually a pain in the arse. All you need is the parts and tools, because the bush mechanics in Africa cut their teeth on series landies. I'm living proof.

In my case the "bush mechanic" is the guide but on one safari i remember a client was a truck driver from Oz. He pulled the guts of the vehicle apart in the morning laying everything out on a tarp and had it back together and running in time for afternoon tea. He gave the morning walk a miss to get the vehicle going again.

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Great read, though may want to remove the croc pic as it is copyright infringement, I believe. I think the hand belongs to a Taiwanese vet......

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LB, please do check if you have copyright permission to publish the images on Safaritalk and credit the photographer if necessary. Thanks, Matt.

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A whole lot better then this.

 

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