Road Tripping Down Memory Lane - Butch's Zambia Part 5

Posted in Travel / The Honey Badger Diaries

Road Tripping Down Memory Lane - Butch's Zambia Part 5

I believe that childhood memories are sweet for most adults. Unsullied, pure and gentle, we recall our “small” years. Days are long, weekends endless, and a year takes a lifetime. Christmas, Easter, and our birthdays mark the passing of time in a candy-floss ball of sweet, spun sugar hazy days.

Our parents and older siblings are our heroes who can do no wrong and, like superheroes, sweep in, capes billowing to our rescue in the nick of time to save us. Our “owies” are kissed better, and a comfortable lap and a bear hug can resolve a multitude of scrapes while we’re cradled in a warm embrace.

Butch’s childhood memories are a compendium of happy-go-lucky days spent in the bush or being Molly-coddled by his adoring sisters. The only complaint he’s ever offered was the destruction of his collection of Dinky Toy cars by his younger brother Ian, who upended his meticulously packed brown cardboard suitcase of treasures which lay strewn across the parquet floor. He was so distraught and overwhelmed by the invasion that he lost interest immediately and never looked at them again.

Broad-shouldered, stocky and muscled, Shorty, the family Jack-of-all-trades and major Domo, became his carer, adored him and indulged his every whim. On occasion, he even reprimanded Butch’s Mom when the little blighter got into the cocktail party’s dregs and left-over punch and woke up the following day complaining of “needles pinching my head!”

When Butch decided to leave his family at the age of four, Shorty packed his knapsack and made sandwiches for the journey. In a flood of tears, Shorty waved from the porch steps and kept his eyes on Hansie Slim, gallantly waving his chubby hands before setting off in search of new horizons. A few hours later, after enjoying his sandwiches, Shorty wordlessly guided the tired boy home, drew a hot bath and listened to his tale of woe.

“If I didn’t love him so much, I’d have killed him.” Shorty commented, outraged and deeply offended, when Butch made rude, unbecoming remarks about Shorty’s new bride, who Butch thought was “unattractive and too gangly.” Out the mouth of babes, he dribbled his opinion.

Chuckling, he remembered his sister Jan returning from Cape Town, where she was nursing. “There she was at the top of the stairs disembarking the plane, all togged out in a fashionable cloche hat, white gloves, and a new polka dot mini-skirted ensemble waving madly shouting, “You-whoo, you-whoo!” we stared back blankly. We didn’t recognise her until she removed her gold-rimmed Ray-Ban aviators, besides she’d put on so much weight!” 

These were the stories Butch succinctly told me on our drive to Chingola, the town of his birth and early years.


Our route included villages and towns like Masaiti and Ndola, where traffic and roads were congested and sidewalks a-buzz with activity, music and wood smoke from barbecue fires.

Ndola had mushroomed, and the only landmark remaining was the lane of Jacaranda trees in full majestic amethyst blooms.

The new sports stadium is juxtaposed next to informal market traders selling all manner of goods.

Kitwe is a thriving mining town where we stopped for bicycle parts. “Time has not stood still”, Butch remarked as we navigated our way through bustling streets.


At last, he could identify Chingola landmarks hiding in the dry, golden grasses. Corroding mine dumps, skeletal remains of ancient mining equipment and the familiar face brick Dutch Reformed Church of Northern Zambia. The street name has changed and is now Buteko Road.

Our fleeting glimpse of the CBD clearly showed progress. New buildings, large advertising billboards, modern chain stores and informal pavement stalls lined the main thoroughfare.

Butch’s memory of a rural village, where his Mum shopped at the farmer’s market on Thursdays when fresh produce was delivered, was no more. With a jolt, he had to accept change happens even in a sleepy hollow.


Anticipation and excitement took hold of us as we navigated to the suburb he grew up in. He was sure nothing could’ve changed there. Yet it had.

Suddenly, there it was—the family home. The bungalow was smaller, the veranda had been built up, and the garden, his Dad’s pride and joy, was neglected, the manicured lawn spotted with dark, dry patches. The hedge their gardener painstakingly clipped into a neatly boxed hedge had overgrown and spilled over itself.

The mango trees were colossal, but the spindly Jacaranda looked worn out.

It was a reminder that it was winter and the dry season didn’t lift his spirits, and no sooner had I clicked one photograph before we moved on. He declined to meet the current owners.

The Flamboyant still bloomed profusely at the golf club, and the clubhouse looked pretty much as he recalled it.

We parked the Honey Badger under the shade of a large Acacia tree. While we waited for our samosas and coffee, we explored the premises, looked for familiar names on the leaderboard, and squinted at ancient monochrome photographs hanging askew in the silent, musty locker rooms.

The only sound was a dove cooing perched on the shingles outside. No more are the excited giggles of ladies booting up, applying lipstick, or brushing stray curls under peak caps—the clip of spikes on the tiled floor or the creek of a locker being closed: the only sound, the ghostly silence of a bygone age.

The samosas were hot, spicy, and packed with filling, and the drinks were good, but we were aliens in a strange setting where the clocks had stopped decades ago. Understandably, decay had set in, and even the charm of the golden, roaring nineteen fifties, had worn off and now seemed brassy and tired.

The new Nchanga South Hospital looked impressive. There are new schools, colleges, and training centres. The Konkola Copper Mine’s sign is new; Anglo American Mining has pulled out, and the mines are in full swing. Smoke billows from towers, conveyor belts move carting recently mined ore, and massive, heavy vehicles ply the red dirt roads, carting heavy slabs of copper to foundries.


We made our way to Chililabombwe, formerly known as Bancroft.

and then to Konkola, where Butch’s family resided for a while. Situated on the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s border, the first signs of mining brought back fond memories of his hunting days with his father. This, he said, sweeping his hand across the landscape, was the Africa he loved and remembered.


Thunderstruck by the town’s size, he recollects they were only one of two families living in the compound. Today, it’s a booming mining township. The Konkola of his childhood has mushroomed and is unrecognisable. Butch couldn’t find one landmark he remembered as we trawled and combed every street, road, and path.

Children scuttled to hide behind their mother’s skirts, old men turned in their rickety chairs to stare at us while motorbikes carrying heavy loads zigzagged toot-tooting as they passed the Honey Badger making its way through potholes and narrow busy lanes.


We’d had a long day and decided to wild camp on the shores of a nearby lake. Unfortunately, much of the shoreline is allocated to small, independent mining companies delving for salt and minerals. It was interesting to note that this "lake" has been formed from water pumped from the mines and has subsequently dammed up the flood plain. 

The quarry was the perfect spot for the night. Protected from the road and main highway, we could set up our table and chairs, enjoy supper, and quietly regurgitate the day.


Butch had one more turn to make before we headed off. He wanted to find the golf club where his brother-in-law had been a member and club champion.

A mad goose chase pursued following memories, GPS tracking and Google Maps. At last! We found the ancient rusty entrance.  

And there: in faded gold leaf was printed: 1962, and again in 1965, Ivor White, Club Champion.


While groundskeepers were clearing away the mess made by partygoers the night before. Feeling emotional we sat on the steps of the front veranda, and Butch recalled “those days.” He thought they’d never end.


Our route took us back to Chingola, where, with fresh eyes, we enjoyed the landscape, its people, and their lives without nostalgia.


Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage and Ranch was our destination. Returning to the veld suited us, and we brushed the past away.

We unhitched our bikes, checked the tyres, and rode out. We rode for miles and miles over the golden grassy plains and through the Mopani forest to witness the remarkable work done by a team of local carers and international aid workers who rehabilitate orphaned and rescued chimpanzees.

We were permitted to wild camp for two nights without any amenities at the information center which suited us perfectly. A cicada visited us one night and enjoyed our companyso much he refused to budge. 


We arrived at feeding time (noon) and were invited to watch the animals’ antics from a rooftop viewing platform.

Our guide informed us about the “families” who are residents, explained their habits, and indicated the large tract of land the troupes inhabit. These often injured, abused, or neglected animals and their families will never leave the orphanage. This is their safe haven.

Although the animals are habituated, humans are not encouraged to become too familiar with them, reminding us that they are all wild animals and not pets.

We had to wear masks at all times to protect the animals from viruses as they are very susceptible to human viruses, which could be deadly. We were told that one or two animals even contracted Covid-19.

My favourite Chimpanzee was the mischievous Valery, who glared at us from under a bush.

  • We share 95 to 98 Percent of the same DNA with Chimpanzees
  • Wild Chimpanzees can only be found in Africa. 
  • Chimpanzees are omnivorous.
  • Chimpanzees have complex family and social structures. 
  • Chimpanzees can live op to their 80s.
  • Chimpanzees are an endangered species.
  • Chimpanzees have the ability to learn human languages such as Sign Language
  • Chimpanzees are one of the few animals that are known to use tools
  • Female Chimpanzees only give birth once every five years
  • They can walk on two legs

In their eyes one can see their souls.Unlike humans Chimpanzees can't hide their emotions. Their body language speaks volumes if, we care to listen.


On our cycle home we stopped for a while, sat on the edge of a towering ant hill and devoured the last of our Lunch Bars! I salivate.


We were ready to hit the road again.

According to my Geo/date tags on photographs, our route took us back to the districts of Chingola, Lufwanyama, Kitwe, and finally Ndola.

Along the way, we spotted a bright lime-green Chameleon. I’d not seen one for months, and this one making his slow way across the road presented a perfect photo opportunity. We stopped and enjoyed watching his slow but steady amble crossing the road before disappearing into the grasses, quickly changing colour to prevent shifty predators from spotting him.

He was lucky to survive the crossing, we agreed. Bright green on a red road, his saving grace. How remarkable nature is.


Brickmaking was the popular industry along this stretch of road, where muscled young men mined clay from anthills by hand. We were fascinated to learn more and stopped to admire their painstaking, backbreaking labour using rudimentary, locally forged farming tools.


At last, we reached our destination—a farm stay where we could unpack for a few days of well-deserved R&R.

No matter the circumstances we find ourselves in, we can attest whenever we’ve met ex-South Africans now living in foreign lands that, we have been welcomed with open arms and warm hearts.

Our doors were flung open, and broad smiles greeted us the minute we stopped at Eugene and Marlene Meintjies’ back door.

Before Butch could state our case, Eugene shooshed him and assured him there was time enough for that. First off the bat was coffee in their large sunflower-festooned farmhouse kitchen. On the slowly turning lazy Susan, Marlene had placed pretty pottery biscuit bowls filled with a selection of her homemade beskuit.

Hours later, we traipsed back to the truck, ready to park and set ourselves up on the greenest lawn under a massive umbrella tree in magnificent, flamboyantly scarlet.

We soon settled into farm life. Slept late, went for bike rides,

and perused the comprehensive library Eugene had built. The books were a gift. Here, I could run my fingers over a thousand spines recalling books I’d read years ago, admiring rare collectors Africana, burying my nose in well-thumbed, cracked-spined Penny horrible paperbacks, Atlases, coffee table beauties, dictionaries and long outdated Encyclopedia Britannica’s.

I admired beautiful watercolour paintings nostalgically depicting Free State farms, bunches of pink roses and Zambian landscapes. On enquiring who the artist was, Marlene had to confess it was her. My hours spent draped on a couch were the only inspiration I needed to pick up a book and read after many weeks of inactivity.

Marlene agreed to escort us to Kitwe, where we satisfied our cravings to shop in a Shoprite supermarket. With limited space, we have become accustomed to “replacement” shopping. Still, the joy of wandering up and down the aisles, touching familiar brands, and breathing in gulps of StaSoft and Skip liquid laundry soap was dizzying. I laid my hands on a bottle of Worcestershire Sauce and a tub of English Horseradish sauce and slipped a jar of strawberry jam into my basket.

Butter lettuce, a bunch of celery, and sweet corn on the cob are treats that are not available at the local market. I assured Butch, who eyed me suspiciously.

After coffee and croissants, I promised we’d head off to the bustling local market for our fresh staples.

The nightmarish experience we’d had at the border when we’d departed/entered Tanzania/Zambia was still fresh in our memories, and the thought of a repeat performance on our exit and re-entery into Tanzania in a few days was a thought too appalling to contemplate. This time, we’d have all our ducks in a row.

While in town, we bought COMESA insurance valid for six months, covering all the remaining countries we planned to visit. In a jiffy, the friendly agent had us insured. I breathed a sigh of relief.

In her RAV, Marlene took us to all our desired destinations. Exhausted, we slumped back into our seats to return “home”. Our driver swished us home at full throttle, missing potholes, dodging, and hooting while veering this way and that. She manoeuvred her sporty vehicle, running the gauntlet of motorbikes, minibus taxis, cattle, pedestrians and makeshift carts. Butch and I were speechless after many months of crawling at a snails’ pace. Relief washed over me when, at last, I heard the indicator clicking into action. Exhausted and flushed, we tumbled from the vehicle, clutching our precious parcels. We were not accustomed to so much busyness anymore!


Being with you, getting to know you, Marlene and Eugene, and experiencing your unending kindness and generosity will permanently mark our visit to Zambia as a highlight. Your joy, faith and open-heartedness inspires us, especially when things don’t go according to our plans. We are reminded of the obstacles you so seamlessly overcome, encouraging us to forge ahead.

I squirrelled away the four bags of beskuit you baked, and for a few weeks, every morning, we’d each dip a fragrant fennel rusk into our coffee, think of you and our wonderful stay on your farm.

Many mornings, I’d look up at the sky and wonder whether Eugene would come flying by in his self-built plane. Maybe one day we’ll see his wings overhead!

You are the salt of the earth.


We were on the road again. The following business names caught my eye while I gingerly nursed an egg-sized wasp sting on my cheek.

Corporate Ladder Hardware Store
Dread Rocks Hair Salon
Only God Knows Restaurant
Uncle Promise Grocery Store
Twice As Nice Bar
Promises Of Hope Store
Malicha Me
People’s Last Hope Grocery Store
Aunt Chi-Chi Pleasure Resort

And this no-nonsense notice: “You looks so honest, but I can’t trust you. No credit.”




Our journey continued north-easterly to the Kasanka National Park to witness the annual Bat Migration.

“Kasanka National Park is in the Chitambo District of Zambia’s Central Province and is one of Zambia’s smallest national parks. Kasanka was the first of Zambia’s national parks managed by a private-public partnership, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife.

There are several shallow lakes and water bodies, the largest being Wasa.

The park has five perennial rivers, with the largest being the Luwombwa River. The Luwombwa is the only river that drains the NP, which flows out in the northwestern corner and is a tributary of the Luapula, which further upstream also drains the Bangweulu Swamp and forms the primary source of the Congo River. Kasanka NP is part of the Greater Bangweulu Ecosystem. There is no direct hydrological connection between the park and the Bangweulu Wetlands.

One hundred fourteen mammal species have been recorded in the park, including elephant, hippopotamus and sitatunga. Several species have been reintroduced in the park by Kasanka Trust - the most successful of which are zebra and buffalo.

Close to ten million Eidolon Helvum (African straw-coloured fruit bats) migrate to the park’s Mushitu swamp evergreen forest for three months from October to December, making it the largest mammal migration in the world.

The bats start arriving towards the middle of October each year. By mid-November, the roost has reached its highest density. Numbers are estimated to be around eight to ten million and are believed to be the planet’s highest density of mammalian biomass and the most significant known mammal migration.

The arrival of the bats coincides with the start of the first rains and the ripening of many local fruit and berry species, such as the masuku (wild loquat) and waterberry, on which the bats feed. The bats are estimated to consume 330,000 tonnes of fruit during the three months.

The bat roost is centred on one of the most significant remaining patches of Mushitu (indigenous forest) in Kasanka along the Musola stream. Several excellent ‘hides’ in trees at the forest's edge provide sightings of the bats in flight at dawn and dusk. The high concentration of bats attracts an incredible variety of predators and scavengers to the bat forest. Martial eagles, pythons, fish eagles, lesser-spotted and African hawk eagles, kites, vultures and hobby falcons are among the raptors concentrating on the roost for easy pickings. In contrast, leopards, water monitors and crocodiles make off with those bats unfortunate enough to drop to the forest floor.

The origin of the various colonies that make up this ‘mega-colony’ has never been fully established. However, it is known that bats travel from other parts of Africa, including the Congo.” Wikipedia

Unfortunately, we were a week or two too early to see the migration, and with tails between our legs, we had to leave after our two-night stay.


We might not witness one of the most extraordinary phenomena on earth, Butch said, but we would camp beside a waterfall, he promised.

Our final destination on this leg of our journey was to spend one night at the Popa Falls in Luwingu. The setting is picturesque and a popular picnic spot for day visitors. We were permitted to wild camp in the parking area adjacent to the falls. Unfortunately, weekend revellers had trashed the place, and maintenance workers had yet to get to work emptying overflowing trash bins, unkept facilities and the common areas.

I was roped in to participate in a family’s fun photoshoot. At first, I thought the Honey Badger was the focus of all the attention, but surprisingly, it was me. Umzungu, captured with beautiful young ladies, only highlighted my age.

To my great shame, it also underscored my tech illiteracy. I couldn’t find the WhatsApp number to which I’d promised to send the photographs later, so I broke my vow to forward the album.


We set off to spend time on Lake Mapulungu at dawn the following day. But, before we reached the shores of the lake we spent two nights at the Hippo pools where, at a distance of 50m from our front door we could watch and enjoy the antics of a huge pod  of hippos in an ever deminishing pool of water as they waited for the first rains. 

During the night we could hear them grazing, quite relaxed, with our intrusion in their midst. These seemingly gentle giants are believed to be the most dangerous wild animals in Africa. , 


As the miles slipped past us we became quieter and enjoyed the changing landscape. Butch had accomplished his dream to show me his place of birth and early childhood. The landscape changed dramatically. We saw lollipop trees, large wet lands, rivers in full flow, new roads being built and thunder clouds rolled in from the horizon, even the local archtecture changed depending on local materials e.g. clay bricks, thatched roofs, wooden structures, rondavels, and colourful doorways and billowing curtains covered entry ways.

Butch’s final story was also about Shorty, who, for this occasion, was decked out in Butch’s Dad’s morning suit. Jan, who was enjoying a medicinal Gin and Tonics (quinine to combat Malaria), often recalled how, he watched Shorty pedaling his bike furiously to deliver a message. The Robertson’s were attending a grand dinner party at the time. Shorty, at 5’4’, was dressed for the occasion. The tails of the morning coat sweeping the gravel road, the trouser legs rolled up and the waist tightly belted. The jacket, Jan noted, fitted perfectly around his broad muscular shoulders.

With a proud swagger, Shorty marched up the  veranda steps, polishing the floor in his "tails" to deliver the message.

If Butch could've had one wish it would've been to see his beloved friend and childhood comrade-in-arms, Shorty again.


Butch, I’ve noticed, no longer refers to Zambia as “Northern Rhodesia” as often as he used to. I believe our reflective road trip made him realise that those nostalgic, heady colonial days are well over, and the country is proudly flying the new Zambian flag.