Tag Archive | Petauke Road

No Bridges? No Problem!

P1000208From our Tracks4Africa map, we knew that there was one bridge out before reaching the Mfuwe area, but there was a work-around. However, we didn’t expect many bridges to be out. Nearly all the crossings were dry, and most of the bridges were simply a concrete slab. Several of those slabs had collapsed or washed away – some were marked with the national hazard marking: a stack of branches and brush. But, some were not. Each time we got to the lip of a crossing, we stopped to peer over the hood of the rover to see if it was go or no. The numerous tracks generally showed the way around.

We suspected that we were getting closer to the Mfuwe area when the track turned into a recently graded road. We came to an open valley: zebra, giraffe, impala, baboons, warthogs, crested cranes and more. Enchanted, we stopped. Steve decided to take an early sundowner – after all, he had been driving rough tracks for hours. I was a little anxious to keep moving, as we still had about 40 kilometers to go. We pulled down to the edge of the valley, and Steve pulled out the side awning, unfolded the chairs and popped a beer. After Steve took a short nap (I still can’t figure out how he can sleep in these chairs), we folded everything back up and got back on the road.

The Unthinkable Route

Okay, we really did think about it…a lot. We painted the worst-case scenario: we broke down, couldn’t fix it ourselves, and we would have to call Safari Drive to bail us out. Given the remoteness of this route, we could be stuck for a day or two or three, really disrupting several days self-drive in the park. But, we are self-contained: we have food, water, shelter and beer.

We drove through Petauke – it’s far more developed than any of the guide books led us to believe. There were many lodge/camping options: many of them looked new, probably opening after the last guidebooks were published. Frankly, some looked like better options than last night’s campsite in the dirt.

There were plenty of people, goats and cattle on the road for the first 100 kilometers, and evidence that many villages had new boreholes and pumps. The road was well constructed and graded, and we passed several crews building diverter bars in the drainages to prevent roadside erosion.

After awhile, the road began to narrow and get more rutted. While the way was clear as we started to head down the escarpment, the road started to look more like a cobbled river drainage than an actual road. We came up behind a large open bed trailer-truck, loaded with sacks of maize, and about 8 or 9 people perched on top of the load. We figured that there must be a bigger settlement beyond the escarpment, and if that big truck could make the route so could we. It didn’t dawn on me until later that if that truck broke down in front of us, depending on the location, we might not be able to get around it.

Fortunately, nothing like this happened, and we were able to leave the truck behind somewhere past the escarpment.

Shortcuts and Very Cool Cultural Differences – Steve’s 2-cents

“Short cut” is what we heard over and over again about the Petauke road. But it took us nine hours. We compared notes with other travelers and learned that the alternative through Chipata was likely less time.

Well, it turns out that “short cut” has no relevance to time. “Short cut” means less fuel.

That’s such a cultural difference that it is cool to think about: Time doesn’t matter, cost does. That’s exactly opposite to my personal reality.

Sparrow’s Fart

Our previous day’s drive was short because, we were told, there was really no other good place to stop between Lusaka and the South Luangwa park gate. We had queried Safari Drive about a potential route across Lower Zambezi National Park to get to Bridge Camp. I think we heard the gasp across seven time zones when Clare read that e-mail query – it really wasn’t a viable option. Her return email read, “Do not even consider taking this route.”

But, there are two ways to get to the Mfuwe area, our next destination. One route, recommended to us, was to drive east to Chipata, and then loop back northwest to Mfuwe. While the road is paved to Chipata, the road from Chipata to Mfuwe is notoriously bad and slow going. In fact, our itinerary stated, “Allow 6 hours for the drive as the last part is dirt and quite dangerous. Slow and careful driving is essential as it is easy to slide off the road.”

The other option was to divert north at Petauke, dropping down the escarpment and essentially following the Luangwa River to Mfuwe. We were admonished, both in writing and on the telephone, that the Petauke Road was not an option: “You must drive via Chipata to South Luangwa. The road from Petauke north is 7 hours of very bad road and you should not think about driving that route.”

Hmmmm…”not think about it”…those words alone make us think about why we should not think about it.

Both are long, difficult roads. Other sources tell us that the Chipata/Mfuwe route is boring, but the Petauke road is more scenic. When we checked in with Chris back in Livingstone, he thought that we were quite capable of taking the Petauke Road. We reserved our final judgment for this morning, but we left at sparrow’s fart (Australian slang for dawn) to give ourselves the most daylight possible. After all, we didn’t want to break two rules in one day, taking the Petauke Road AND driving in the dark. Besides, we are much more afraid of driving in the dark than driving a difficult route!

We stopped at Petauke to fuel up, and asked our attendant about taking the Petauke Road to Mfuwe. Her response? “It’s a shortcut.” Well, okay, there you have it – the locals call it a shortcut. It was just before 9:00 a.m. – if it really was 7 hours of bad road, we have plenty of daylight to get there.

So, we turned north at Petauke. Nine hours later, we arrived at Wildlife Camp.