Our last night in a tent in Zambia and we cooked up our last banana porridge for breakfast. It’s been grand feeling so independent out here. A wind had blown up overnight and the morning was cool despite the sunshine glinting on the river. We went back to the lodge to say our goodbyes to Mark and Mel who we hope to see in London later this year.
Before we left, Mark very kindly gave us a couple of bags of the coffee he is growing by the lodge. Then with hugs and handshakes we were off, back down the track to Shiwa Ngandu.
The trees make a glorious avenue which photos don’t really capture. Then they open out to reveal the estate; white plastered farm buildings, some now boarded up, a traction engine that took two years to make its way here through the bush, the old clock tower over the gate house with the now defunct estate office. Horned animal skulls still line the passageway.
People are still living and working on the estate and inhabiting some of the original farm workers cottages.
Mark had called his brother Charlie to let us see the house, even though we had missed the official visiting time. He greeted us with a wave and guided us up to the house, which you can’t see from the track. He and his wife still live there.
It is a grand and imposing Italianate structure on the slope of a slight hill, constructed entirely from hand made mud bricks. There is a central tower, and beneath it a doorway with the Gore-Brown’s initials painted on the lintel, and the date 1932.
Entering that doorway was like going back in time. Rosemary the office manager showed us around. It was constructed rather cleverly with long white-painted corridors and openings in walls to let the air flow. It felt cool inside.
Every hallway was lined with animal skulls, family pictures, and photos of the estate in its heyday.
The library had hundreds of books, many of them first editions by people such as TE Lawrence and Gertrude Bell. On a table was a blunderbuss used to defend Jalalabad in the 19th century.
Monogrammed leather suitcases were stacked up on a stairwell and huge carved doors from Zanzibar were propped against a wall.
Outside, the gardens are still tended and watered with the view down to the lake, but the tennis courts and swimming pool are long gone.
In many ways, his was a tragic story. His great love was actually his Aunt Ethel and he wrote to her three times a week even after he was married. This was the tragedy for his wife Lorna who was trapped in this remote estate trying to make a life for herself. She too was quite the pioneer but eventually she returned to England and they divorced. The great house remains, somewhat faded now but an extraordinary echo of another world.
We made our way to Lake Shiwa for a lunch stop and saw zebra on the drive back to the track. Then we turned south on the Great North Road towards Lusaka. There were a fair few big trucks but hardly any cars and the road was mostly ours.
We passed boys selling sugar cane and stacks of something we haven’t yet identified in string bags. There were occasional cavernous potholes to avoid, and police checkpoints that we were waved through. Field clearance fires blew thick smoke across the road a couple of times but all was quiet. Tom slept in the back, Philippa dozed in the front.
While overtaking a truck on an incline, I felt the Toyota’s power cut. It didn’t completely die but all of a sudden it had no oomph. Going up hill meant changing down from sixth to fourth and there was no acceleration. No warning lights had come on, there were no strange sounds or black smoke, just a sudden enfeeblement of the engine. Rats. I decided that as we could keep going then we might as well get to our next stop where we would be for three nights and try to sort it out from there, rather than go to some flyblown garage by the roadside where we could get stuck for who knows how long. So on we went, turning onto a dirt track at Kabonje for the forty minute drive to the Mutinondo Wilderness and its lodge.
This turned out to be a good thing.
We got there without drama and settled into our very simple thatched chalet backing into a rock face with a balcony overlooking a sweep of hillside and forest. It’s remote and peaceful and much cooler here than on the other side of the escarpment in the Luangwas.
Jeff, the manager is an expat Brit: with a raucous laugh; “I’m from Torquay dear!” He chatted to us over a dinner in an entirely candlelit dining room with a big roaring fire. He’d gone to South Africa in the seventies and was managing a guest house in Pretoria before the owners offered him the chance to run the lodge here; “I jumped at it”.
There’s no phone signal here but there is WiFi in the office here so I emailed Bushlore about the sickly Toyota and we will see what tomorrow brings.