In the centre of Zambia the legacy of Sir Stewart Gore-Browne stands like a proud old man. Made famous (for the second time I suppose) by the book "The Africa House" by Cristina Lamb, Gore-Browne devoted much of his life and his aunts money to build an enormous British mansion in Zambia. A financial disaster as an enterprise but a charming personal legacy.
The only time the house turned a profit was for 4 years during WWII when essential oil prices spiked and supplies of lime oil were otherwise hard to come by. In an attempt to bring the red-brick mansion into the black, the house is now open as a luxury lodge and offers short tours for $25 pp but we arrived on a Sunday and they weren't running. The house is still visible from the outside as is the nearly decrepit gatehouse and overgrown path up to the house. The entire estate was made from local clay, timber, and stone by the workers that lived there, but wouldn't be out of place in Gloucestershire if it weren't for the antelope grazing on the grounds.
A second attraction nearby is the natural hot-spring that is run as a campsite and lodge. The owner, Mark Harvey and his wife have acquired a reputation and we reticently arrived. It transpired that Mark and his wife were away and the site was being run by a capable friend Michael. After learning how expensive the lodge was (it is also a days drive from anywhere else) we took our reception issued toilet paper and went to park. By this time it was dark and raining and we had been driving for 12 hours. On the way out of the gate I caught the rear tyre on a fence post with an old hinge in it and burst the sidewall. Our first flat tyre. Before the whooshing of air ceased completely I pulled forwards out of the gateway into the drive.
I went back to the reception/bar to inform Michael, a seasoned safari operator. The mechanics have gone home he said, but he can get someone to go and fetch them to help. In our first stroke of fortune Michael found the mechanics waiting out back for the rain to stop before they walk home. Our second stroke was the revelation that they had a Leyland DAF T244 round the back and with it, all the tools and skills required to help us do the job for the first time.
Within minutes we had replaced the tyre for the spare and were set up at the campsite. The path from the campsite to the bar requires tip-toing through the hot spring itself which we undertook at night. The steaming pool eerily bubbling in the dark. Being the only campers present we joined Michael for some drinks and stories. A bottle of whiskey later we stumbled back through the hot-springs and climbed into bed.
We spent the morning floating in the hot springs hoping to rehydrate through osmosis and the afternoon making inquiries about a replacement tyre in Kasama. Incredibly a new tyre was in stock and affordable so we planned to head there early the next day.
The journey was long and uneventful and we arrived at Kasama's only campsite at about 5pm. The owner, a Welshman, came out to greet us but our truck was too tall to fit in the gate. Fortunately he was able to offer us to park at his sons house in town. Kasama is a small town with few mzungus so everyone seems to know each other, in fact Adam had been round earlier that day and the kids staying there were still talking about his motorbike.
We met Adam the next day in town and he arranged us to visit two American mzungus who had a farm outside of town and ran a non-profit. Like Gore-Browne, Justin and Clare had built their own vision of life in the African countryside but instead of an English manor house, they had created a small homestead in the local style. Round thatched huts, pit toilets, wood fired cooking, and water drawn from the river. The ex peace corps couple had learned the local language (Bemba) and, in addition to their womens empowerment non-profit, gave employment to local tradesmen.
Adam, who was undertaking masters research in the area, was furnishing his hut as a base of operations and was in the process of painting it and installing his DIY lamps. A few other guests were present and we shared a group meal in a round hut before 4 of us took a leisurely inflated-boat ride downstream. Kasama had recently opened a Chinese hardware and furniture store, Fubest, and had a week-long opening ceremony complete with a Chinese arch and inflatable gold dragon backdrop and a load megaphone wielding panel addressing passers by in the street. To us it was an opportunity to pick up cheap tools for our truck, to them a symbol of capitalistic oppression and Chinese neo-imperialism. I think we can both be right.
Our truck tyre was sourced and four men arrived with it in the back of a pickup. All that was left was to settle the £200 bill. As is common in Zambia, the ATMs were either not working, out of cash, or didn't accept Mastercard. It took over an hour of me walking all over town in the oppressive midday sun to get the cash required to pay for it. By the time we had returned to the shop the pickup was gone and the tyre was left outside leaving me to roll it across town to the fitting station.
The tyre repair station were quick and professional but had stone-age equipment. Nevertheless they had the old tyre off and the new tyre on in less than 15 minutes. The wheel comprises a large half and a outer rim held on with a ring. If the ring is not secured properly the assembly can explode on inflation, often causing death and serious injury (look it up on youtube). In Europe it's mandatory to inflate them inside a steel cage but in Africa no such protocol exists. The staff laughed at us when we retreated while they inflated it but I did notice they were careful not to step or lean over it and cautiously tapped it with a hammer before lifting it up. In a country where sunglasses pass as welding masks, it was a clear display of caution.
Spare tyre in place we had a few beers with Adam and a few friends and set off early in the morning for Malawi. We were going to attempt a border crossing that exists on maps, but could find no evidence of online or using any of our African explorer maps. The road was said to involve a pontoon ferry of unknown capacity, crossing a steep escarpment, and 'rough roads by local standards'.