Izi Falls: Getting There

Alli, about to ford a river on the way to the falls.

Reading this week:

  • How to Hide an Empire by Daniel Immerwahr
  • The Passion According to Carmela by Marcos Aguinis

So although the Zwangendaba burial site thing was a fun little mini-adventure, the real adventure this weekend was to go to Izi Falls. Izi Falls, aka Mpona Falls (which I am like 90% sure means “Falls Falls”) is located to the west of Mpulungu along the Tanganyika escarpment, overlooking the lake. The easier way to get there is to take a boat from Mpulungu and then hike up to the bottom of the falls. But every time I bike home I see the whole escarpment in the distance, running from Mbala to the lake, and that is the route I wanted to bike. This turned out to be quite a thing.

On the map it doesn’t look so bad. If you go over to Google Maps and look at the satellite imagery, there is a road that runs most of the way there, along with what looks like a bush path and then maybe 2.5km of bushwhacking, tops. So my friend Alli came along and I am glad she did because she made like all the good decisions. We arrived in Mbala on Saturday to spend the night so we could set off early as possible the next morning. We bought some supplies and made peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for the trip.

We set off as soon as it was light the next morning and started down the road. That road is actually really nice. It is a fairly wide dirt road and well maintained. The whole of Mbala is made up of sweeping, gorgeous valleys, and this road did not disappoint. We didn’t know anyone who had come down this way before and everyone is missing out. There were hills, but the first 20km or so weren’t so bad. But then we hit the escarpment. By virtue of not having gone down, really, we were halfway up the escarpment, but needed to go the other half, and there is a fairly steep switchback. This is the point, though, that gives you the first really grand view of Lake Tang.

Lucky for us though, about halfway up the path a canter came by and agreed to give us a lift. They were carrying sand to a farm down the road, and the guys in the back were pretty friendly, especially after I coughed up five kwatcha for some booze. They took us another 20km or so down the road. There was one moment that really had us worried though; we said we were going to Izi Falls and at the point where we thought we should get off they told us to stay on, and then took us off the main road down a path I did not recognize. When you are trying to navigate unnamed roads via Google Maps Satellite images though, it’s hard to recognize anything, and in the end it turns out they were right. Our canter ride came to an end after another 5km or so at the canter owner’s farm. He offered us lunch and to store our bikes for us, but we were anxious to make more headway and afraid to leave our bikes with him. We probably should have taken him up on both counts.

So we set off down the road towards another village. In this village I started to get upset, because two white people rolling through on bikes attracts the whole village and this annoys me more than a little. We were going down the way we thought we were supposed to go, but some men insisted it was the wrong way and wouldn’t let us proceed. Then there was a committee of six dudes or so that somehow couldn’t quite point us down the right road. Eventually one dude broke out and showed us the way, and so we escaped the village.

The path from this point got less and less reassuring. We were told there was a village down the path, but although in some places the path looked well-worn in others it looked barely travelled. There were plenty of cultivated fields though, so that gave us some confidence. The steep downhills meant we should have ditched our bikes and just walked, but we were too stubborn for that, and so we continued.

What the path lacked in walkability though it made up for in stunning vistas. It was at this point that we sorta busted out of the forest and got to the edge of the escarpment, giving us stunning views of the whole Mpulungu valley and beyond. We were above a lot of the rain so we could look kilometers in the distance to see storms over far away villages. Frankly I think Mpulungu is best admired from a distance and if we had never got to Izi Falls I would have been satisfied with this vista.

But continue we did and we eventually found some homes perched on the edge of the escarpment. I am always amazed that people live in places like this, hard to reach and on a steep hill, but I guess Zambians like the view, too. Here we were getting discouraged because we thought we would have been to the falls hours before, we were hot, bringing the bikes was increasingly evident as a mistake, and every person we talked to kept telling us the falls were “very far.” Whenever you get told things are “very far,” though, sometimes that means it’s 20km away, and sometimes it means it is 2km away and they just think it’s far for us. Lucky for us in this case it appears to have been the latter.

Past these houses we stared to make our final descent into the valley at the top of the escarpment that holds Izi Falls. The falls are hidden until you’re right on top of them, so we couldn’t actually tell we were getting close, so it looked to us like we just had more and more difficult hiking ahead. Here we finally ditched our bikes by locking them to a tree, and here tragedy struck because I lost the wheel nut to my bike. This meant my front tire couldn’t stay on and this was gonna make biking 50km out of here the next day very difficult. But that was tomorrow’s problem and so we forged ahead.

Zwangendaba’s Burial Site

Me at the burial site.

Reading this week:

  • The Spy Who Loved Me by Ian Fleming
  • Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming (pretty racist)
  • Tangerine by Christine Mangan

So today (as I write this) I went to go see Zwangendaba’s Burial Site. Zwangendaba was a Zulu warrior king who was displaced from South Africa, along with his clan, as King Chaka consolidated power in the Zulu Kingdom. Zwangendaba and his people spent the next 30 years trekking north, eventually reaching modern-day Tanzania where Zwangendaba was hit by a poisoned arrow and died. He was buried where he fell and like 180 years later I went off to visit him.

The hitching point, where I spent a long time standing in the sun.

I set off from site, got to town, had some breakfast, and then biked down to the Nakonde Road, getting there at about 1000. I was hoping to catch a hitch pretty quickly and these dreams were slowly dashed. I stood there for hours. At one point a family posted themselves about 50m up the road from me, flagging down potential hitches before I could. I found this a little unfair, but eventually they got into a semi which I couldn’t do because I was bringing my bike along. At about noon I calculated when I would have to quit, based on seeing the gravesite and biking to Nakonde before sunset, and concluded I would have to give up at 1300. But then, at 1252, a bus arrived and I was off.

As Zambia goes, this is relatively well-marked.

This is Zambia, and directions are difficult, but the two Zambian heritage books I have both mentioned the site being about a kilometer south of the turn for Nachipeta School, so I told the conductor I wanted to be dropped at Nachipeta School (The coordinates are not listed on the internet, so for the internet’s sake, the Zwangendaba Burial Site Coordinates are: -9.316637, 32.485966). This they were kind enough to do, and so I found myself at the side of the road with nowhere to go. The turnoff for the school goes north, and to the south there was nothing but gorgeous landscape. Sliiiiightly distraught, I started biking towards Nakonde, and managed to spot a small corrugated metal sign spray-painted green and labelled “Zwangendaba 1.2km.” Neat! I followed the road it pointed down, and when the road diverged several times without follow-up signs I always took the widest of the paths and found myself at the CAR PARK.

Success! I found the site! It’s not much to look at. It’s pretty much in this dude’s front yard, and is very well kept, and has a nice sign, and is really just a pile of rocks. So neat. I looked around. A crowd a kids gathered. I had the dude take a picture of me. I said thanks and head out.

At least the views on the way to Nakonde were nice.

Here I began my 30km trek to Nakonde. This is the reason I brought the bike; I didn’t trust my luck hitching (I mean last time took 3 hours), and plus I wanted some freedom of movement in Nakonde. So I threw on my headphones and started biking, figuring it would be about 2 hours of biking until Nakonde. This didn’t take into account the important fact that it is apparently like, all uphill to Nakonde. You go from being in the wide valley between the Mbala Escarpment and the Muchinga Escarpment and start climbing up the Muchinga side and it sucks, lemme tell ya. I was low on water and hungry and running out of daylight. I took care of the first two by ducking into a tuck shop (I got Fanta and cookies, which didn’t really solve the problem and only postponed it) but I had to just keep moving for the last one.

I finally got to Nakonde right as it was getting dark. Nakonde is like, trucker central, and a large chunk of it is truck parking, which doesn’t help the weary traveller on a bike. I passed one or two seedy looking lodges but kept going. This was getting dangerous because of the trucks, and with the falling light I almost ate major shit in a huge pothole but caught myself in time. Panicking, my lodge standards were lowering, and now I was heading uphill again into town so it was going to take forever, and I was contemplating camping somewhere (I had a tent with me for the next adventure I’ll write about) and like, ahhhhh, when I spotted a lodge. What lodge was it? It was the Zwengendaba Fresh View Lodge. I figured it was fate and pulled in. At check-in I told the receptionist that I had in fact just come from the Zwengendaba Burial Site. He said, “Oh, they didn’t have rooms there?”

Harvest Bounty

Reading this week:

  • Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
  • The Old Patagonian Express by Paul Theroux

I’ve got adventures planned for this weekend, but in the meantime a garden update. The biggest thing is that my pigeon pea has finally really grown into the pigeon pea forest I wanted. The whole yard of pigeon pea is about 6-7 feet tall, and I like to duck in between the rows and be in my pigeon pea forest. The photo at the top is taken inside the rows at about eye level to give you the real good on-the-ground feel of it.

My biggest surprise this year is that it seems that pigeon pea is primarly pollinated (around here anyways) by these rather large beetles, so as I am wandering around in the pigeon pea these guys keep taking off and flying around with a loud buzz. I took some glamour shots:

The pigeon pea, as evidenced by the beetles, is still flowering and isn’t ready for harvest yet, but most of the rest of the garden is. The groundnuts (peanuts) are almost ready, though I don’t really know how to tell when they’re ripe. They’re edible but not like, the peanut you (I) expect so I’m giving them some more time. The soya, however, is ready to go. Tell you what though man, beans are a hassle. They’re low to the ground and you have to shuck them and I only have so many podcasts downloaded. I guess protein is cool but yeesh.

The other day, however, I yanked the season’s first orange-fleshed sweet potatoes out of the ground, so that was a momentous occasion. They’re pictured above, along with the soya beans. I’ve been harvesting carrots for a while now, but I thought I would show them off. Carrots have consistently been my best and easiest crop. The white thing is supposed to be garlic; garlic was the very first thing I planted, a while back, and it seemed to grow really well, but now it won’t go beyond that stage into like, garlic. The bulb above though still tastes like garlic, and I don’t know if I just need to wait longer but I won’t be around forever and so I’ve just been pulling it up and using it like that.

To celebrate this bountiful harvest, I made soup. I make soup every night for dinner, so that’s not actually special, but this soup was mostly stuff I harvested like, just that day, so that’s pretty neat (I also added some market-bought onion and tomato and of course spices). It was thoroughly edible, if I do say so myself.

Chilubula Mission


Today in esoteric Zambia history, I visited Chilubula Mission. I’m in Kasama this week hanging out (I guess nominally doing work and putting my life in order), and as part of my quest to see as much random Zambian history as possible (and keep adding places to Atlas Obscura) I decided to bike on over. The place is about 40km west of Kasama, so not impossible to get to by any means, but a hefty little bike ride.

Chilubula Mission’s claim to fame is being founded by Father Joseph Dupont, aka Moto Moto, the namesake of the Moto Moto Museum in Mbala. Joey there was a Catholic Missionary with the White Fathers and managed to be the first missionary, apparently, to get a toe-hold in the Bemba empire. Without judging one way or another the effects of missionary work on native peoples, he apparently did a lot to learn about Bemba tradition and culture. So in 1899 he managed to get permission to set up a mission in Chilubula and set about building the very nice and very large church in the photo above.

The mission itself these days is pretty amazing. Between there and Kasama there is not a whole lot. There’s gorgeous landscapes of the Zambian plains and a good number of homesteads dotted here and there, and even when you turn down the road to the mission there’s not a whole lot. Then suddenly you’re in this well-developed area with electricity and a very nice looking clinic and a Girl’s Secondary School and I was very pleasantly surprised. There is even a mini-mart with refrigerators and some good fritters that I stopped at on my way out.



It was easy to identify the church when arrived because like, it is big, so I got off my bike and wandered around. Out in front of the church I spotted the above marker, which claims to mark the spot where Father Dupont pitched his tent when he first arrived at Chilubula and presumably went about building the mission. I poked around a bit more and asked a passerby about the grave, and was pointed into the courtyard behind the church. There, wandering and looking lost, I eventually accosted an official-looking dude who was very nice and found me a guy with a key to the church to show me the grave, it being inside the church.


Father Dupont didn’t actually die anywhere near the mission, having left in 1911 apparently because he was a little imperious with discipline. He died and was originally buried in Tunisia, though apparently in 2000 they moved his remains and re-interred him in the above spot, just to the left of the sanctuary of the church. It’s a much nicer grave than some of the others I have seen. Besides their famous dead dude, the mission also apparently has some WWI history, having served as a refugee for people fleeing the fighting. So that is very nice indeed.

Having poked around the Mission successfully, I picked up some fritters and head out to complete the second half of my 80km round trip. I got very sunburned, stopped by a place claiming to have rock art, failed to find rock art (because I also failed to find the attendant), got stung by some insect with a very quick and nasty sting, and then eventually made some late lunch/early dinner. An average day.