He’s looking worried.
It was meant to be an overnight stop – but there’s no way we’ll fit everything in and reach Kalambo in time to pitch camp by daylight.
We have to stay another night, but not at Thorn Tree. They have no room.
Plan B was always my favourite. There’s something reassuring about the Catholic Mission outside town. With its grand old gardens and its fecund farm it exudes an air of calm that I suppose comes from the holy brothers. Though I’ve never actually seen any.
Our first stay there was ‘interesting’. Our twin-single-bedded room looked as if it had just been vacated by a teenage boy. In a chunky bungalow, a former family house, it led off a huge sitting room, complete with sofa, armchairs – and a congealed-blood-coloured floor.
We shared a bathroom with a couple intent on making as much recreational use of the bed as possible. He must have had bronchitis, or been drinking while (euphemism alert) gasping for breath the amount of coughing he did.
And when I say ‘shared’ a bathroom, it was accessible from both our rooms but each of us could lock the other out. They did.
But the meals were good and there was beer available to order – always a bonus.
That was a few years ago – and now here we are again. Eight of us.
We check in and divvy up the rooms.
This time we have a shower to ourselves. The shower head hangs forlorn, mended with rags. Water trickles down the wall instead of spraying. But it’s clean. Unless you count the fact that it’s come through those rags. No, don’t go there.
The day turns hot as we pick up our new colleague Victor from National Heritage. He volunteers to guide our shopping and we wander down to the centre of town, to a market of sorts. Buzzing with life, with colours and smells and sounds, it bakes in the full glare of the mid-morning sun.
We ponder our pan requirements as bright sparks fly from a welder and the clang of metal on metal reverberates through the dusty air. We’ll have to come back later – they’re being welded for us to our chosen size.
Never had pans made for me before – I have to assume Victor knows what he’s doing.
I’m on more comfortable ground with tin plates and cheap cutlery. Plastic bins for storage. Loo rolls. Soap. Tea towels. Scrubbing pads for dishes. A kettle.
A water barrel that doesn’t smell too bad – and has a lid.
The list of ‘might needs’ keeps on growing.
Four more people are joining us at the Falls. I have to feed 12 people for seven days. Cooking over an open fire, or with charcoal on an mbaula. (Note to self: add one – no two – to the list.)
With no running water.
When you’re nearly three hours’ drive from the nearest town you don’t want to have to slip back for a few things you’ve forgotten. Like matches. Especially matches.
The supermarket’s a great big Shoprite, impressively well stocked. I decide to leave the 12 (or so) loaves till the next day, so it’s fresh, but stock up on tins of tomatoes and beans, bags of dried soya chunks, rice, candles, UHT milk. Lentils. Paraffin lamps.
I buy matches, many matches. And a plastic box to put them in. You never know.
It’s been a while since I did this campsite cooking lark and I’m anxious. Want to buy the vegetables now but everyone agrees – there will be roadside markets on the way. Cheaper. Fresher.
We pick up our pans and head back to the mission, drop them and the water barrel off for a good wash. One of the pans has a very odd blackness across its base, as if it was engraved. I try not to think about what it might have been in another life.
At least the barrel’s not bad. The last one we had never lost its taste of oil – mechanical oil.
A quick (Zambian quick) sandwich and we’re on the road again, off to see the rock art.
Our caravanserai slows to a stop by a small road near some big, rocky hills.
The Pied Piper would be redundant here – all you need is white folks and the children come running, materialise from seemingly nowhere. Rosie dispenses more balloons, I hand over sweets. Fruit sweets – that makes it all right, doesn’t it?
A young man arrives, also seemingly from nowhere. Turns out he’s a guide, an official guide.
Zambian rock art can be disappointing if you go expecting deep caves adorned with cavorting, Lascaux-style animals. A lot of it’s geometric – lines, circles, dots and so on.
Think Bridget Riley but (mostly) red.
Here at Kasama, though, the hills are rich with art and one of the most celebrated pieces is a leopard. There are even some stick people. (Not to Lowry’s standard IMHO. But then, I do love Lowry – and I suppose there’s never been much call for bowler hats round here.)
It seems Kasama has its own Banksy, too. Graffiti with a message. A religious one. If you know Handel’s Messiah well enough you’ll recognise the words from Isaiah painted expertly on the rock next to Tim. (Not by Tim, I hasten to add.)
We’re all impressed – with the art, not the biblical verse – if a bit tired, what with all the clambering.
On the way back we manage a diversion via an old friend, Victor’s boss, then on to Victor’s. We meet his family, drink a welcome glass of Mazoe – the odd, slightly bitter and strangely addictive orange squash (that’s a dilutable drink, dear Americans, not a vegetable) that’s the staple ‘orange juice’ around rural parts.
Over dinner it turns out the mission’s supplies of alcohol have run out and in the absence of a miracle we resort to the box of red wine we’d stashed for our trip.
Several thirsty souls deplete it significantly. But we can buy some more tomorrow.
Except the shop’s not open.
It’s a national holiday.
But as we queue to take out cash from the one cash machine in town (a wonder it hasn’t run out already) something wonderful happens – Shoprite opens. Just later than usual.
Soon we have 11 loaves of fresh, warm sliced bread stored in our plastic bin where they’re sweating nicely in the warmth.
And we have a new – smaller – box of wine.
I feel a mixture of emotions – but mostly fear. Have I got enough food? Will the site be OK? Will there be drunken partying locals with boom boxes there like there were last time? Where will we pee?
What if …
But there’s nothing I can do about it now. Just hope.