The General Tyre 4×4 African Adventure set off on day 10 from Lake Kariba, following the snaking tarmac that took us back to the main road towards Chirundu.
Despite it being a national road, it is generally in very poor condition as a resulted of being pummelled by the steady stream of heavy trucks shipping goods and raw materials to and from Central Africa. Huge potholes are encountered at regular intervals, taxing the tyres – and the drivers – far too often.
About an hour later we turned off at this small but bustling town onto gravel and crossed the fast-flowing Chiawa River on a pontoon. A group of young boys was watching the proceedings with fascination as the 10 vehicles crossed the river, and they had been playing soccer with a makeshift ball made of rolled up plastic bags. So Conti SA’s David van der Merwe handed them a new soccer ball, to which they ran off screeching in delight.
The route travelled along the border of a vast banana and mango plantation, and then deviated off the main gravel road to follow a narrow bush trail. Despite being identified on the GPS as the D152, it is currently nothing more than a single-track foot path. The team had done a recce of the trail in January in heavy rain, and it was evident that no vehicles had travelled through there for ages before or since then.
After pushing through the tunnelling bush for nearly two hours, and crossing a watery swamp and towering reeds alongside a small village, the dense foliage opened marginally, to be replaced by a challenging, steep and rocky 4×4 trail.
We climbed over 700 m in elevation during the ensuing 28 km and two and a half hours, emerging on top of one of the region’s many beautiful mountain ranges.
Tyres were inflated in Chongwe, and we then departed at around 16:30 on the long 520 km haul to the overnight stop in Chipata. The road is an almost constant mix of fast turns and flowing sweeps through a stunning and largely untouched, lush countryside. Other than a handful of rural villages dotted along the road, there’s little evidence of civilisation or development. It was amazing to see endless, unspoilt rolling hills and rich green valleys stretching off as far as you can see – and particularly in an area that is so naturally fertile.
As the sun descended, the drivers had to become even more vigilant and focussed due to the exceptionally bumpy road surface that become impossibly narrow in places, especially when encountering oncoming traffic comprising large, heavily laden trucks, as well as cars with dodgy headlights.
The sharp and uneven verge threatened to destroy any tyres that strayed too far to the left, while the ever-present potholes had the convoy working overtime. Add in the large number of trucks broken down in the middle of the road, wayward pedestrians and stray dogs dashing across the road and it was remarkable, and fortunate, that we arrived in Chipata without incident.
The weary crew eventually settled in and set up camp at Mama Rula’s campsite at 11 pm, and eagerly tucked into the tasty pizza and lasagne served up by the restaurant’s patient kitchen staff that had waited several hours for us to arrive.
Indeed, it was one of the longest and most arduous days of the 2013 African Adventure, but thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless – a great Good Friday after all!