The Western Provinces
This remote area of western Zambia is difficult to visit but can reward intrepid travellers with some of the country's most interesting experiences. The Barotseland floodplains, near Mongu, offer a glimpse of rural Zambian life that is still largely untouched by the 21st century, while the Liuwa Plain National Park has excellent game and few visitors. It may be the venue for one of Africa's last great wildlife migrations, which has remained largely unknown because of the difficulty of getting into the area. Other parks, Sioma Ngwezi and West Lunga, do not have the same reputation for wildlife, but are still very wild places to explore with a well-prepared group of 4WD vehicles.
Common to the whole region are the related problems of supplies and transport. Much of the region stands on deep Kalahari sand where vehicles need a high-clearance 4WD capability. If you are going off the main roads, then a small expedition is needed consisting of several vehicles, in case one runs into problems. During the rainy season, many of the roads are impassable, and even the pontoons (as ferries are usually known here) across the rivers will often stop working. Being stranded is a very real possibility. Thus the area's paucity of visitors is largely explained by the sheer difficulty of getting around.
The Christian missions have a very well established network here. On the whole, these do remarkable work for the communities in the area, being involved with schools, hospitals, churches, development projects and many other aspects of local life. The courteous traveller can learn a lot about the region from these missions, and they are also good places to find English-speaking guides to accompany you on your travels – who will prove invaluable for just a few dollars per day.
I've divided this chapter up into three sections: southwestern Zambia, Barotseland, and northwestern Zambia. These don't slavishly follow provincial divisions, rather they reflect the differences between the areas as I understand them and are a convenient way to organise this chapter. I have also written the first half of the chapter, through southwestern Zambia, as a tour, starting from the border town of Sesheke and continuing north up the Zambezi to Lukulu and beyond.