The World Nomads Podcast: Zambia

Learn about one of nature’s greatest spectacles, hear a horror health story that almost killed this traveler, and going overland from Zambia to Tanzania on the Tazara Railway.


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The World Nomads Podcast: Zambia

This is our destination episode featuring Zambia. Alongside hearing why it’s a great place for nomads to go, you’ll learn about the amazing Kansaka bat migration and an incredible story of survival after a horror diagnosis of malaria.

What’s in the Episode

00:21 Why Zambia is appealing

02:04 12 million bats partying

07:05 "They eat their body weight in fruit, every night." - Catherine

11:39 When malaria hits

14:06 "It was a very scary time." - Kristi

18:46 10 of the most disappointing tourist sights

24:26 What Sally discovered on her trip to Cambodia

33:12 What prompted Helen to leave the UK and live in Africa

35:41 Victoria Falls

40:08 What is the book bus?

43:13 Did you like that? What about this.

Who is in the Episode

Kristi Eaton is a travel writer who says she has cartwheeled in China, stared down bison in South Dakota and was lost in Samoa. All for the story. You can follow Kristi on Instagram.

Catherine Marshall began her career as a hard news journalist in her native South Africa, now two decades later the Sydney-based writer specialises in travel writing. Read her story about one of nature’s greatest spectacles, the Kansaka bat migration in Zambia.

Helen Davies is a blogger who quit her job and headed to Africa 10 years ago, sick of the 9 to 5, sick of the commute and determined to go on the adventures she’d always dreamed about. Helen has heaps on information on Africa on her site Helen in Wonderlust.

Sally Hetherington is President of the Human and Hope Association,  an Australian charity working towards sustainable development in rural Cambodia.

Resources & Links

Scholarships Newsletter: Sign up for scholarships news and see what opportunities are live here.

Hit the ground running in Africa with our Travel Phrasebook App, including basic vocabulary, essential phrases and 40+ helpful audio sentences.

We believe that your mindset, choices and purchases can have a big impact on the places that you travel. Check out our travel manifesto here.

The San Fransisco poop map and details on the app Snapcrap. It's available for free in the iPhone app store.

The World Nomads podcast episode featuring Tanzania
Hear about the wildebeest migration rated as one of the world's most spectacular natural events - what it means to smell popcorn on safari - and traveling with a disability

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About World Nomads & the Podcast

Explore your boundaries and discover your next adventure with The World Nomads Podcast. Hosted by Podcast Producer Kim Napier and World Nomads Phil Sylvester, each episode will take you around the world with insights into destinations from travelers and experts. They’ll share the latest in travel news, answer your travel questions and fill you in on what World Nomads is up to, including the latest scholarships and guides.

World Nomads is a fast-growing online travel company that provides inspiration, advice, safety tips and specialized travel insurance for independent, volunteer and student travelers traveling and studying most anywhere in the world. Our online global travel insurance covers travelers from more than 135 countries and allows you to buy and claim online, 24/7, even while already traveling.

The World Nomads Podcast is not your usual travel Podcast. It’s everything for the adventurous, independent traveler. Don’t miss out. Subscribe today.

You can get in touch with us by emailing

We use the Rodecaster Pro to record our episodes and interviews when in the studio, made possible with the kind support of Rode.

Speaker 1:  Welcome to the World Nomads podcast, delivered by World Nomads, the travel, lifestyle, and insurance brand. It's not your usual travel podcast. It's everything for the adventurous independent traveler.

Kim:  Thank you for tuning in the World Nomads podcast. This is our destination episode featuring Zambia.

Kim:  Phil, tell me what is appealing about it outside of having the world's largest waterfall?

Phil:  It's also got all the big five animals, if you're thinking of taking a safari, and some pretty amazing national parks. And all of the national parks, by the way, and lots of the accommodation near it as well as unfenced. So elephants and lions are known to wander around some of the towns, so you can really take a walk on the wild side there.

Kim:  I'm feeling like there's a bit of a difference between and elephant and a lion wandering into a town.

Phil:  An elephant and a lion walk into a bar, everybody else leaves. Right.

Kim:  Yeah, exactly.

Phil:  Exactly. Look, there's also heaps of cool hidden things that a nomad would like to soak up, pun intended, like hot springs alongside a rainforest trail, caves with prehistoric rock art, and you can dine on the biggest edible mushroom in the world.

Phil:  A couple of facts. The capital is Lusaka. They speak English and Swahili. Did you know? We've got some World Nomads phrasebooks that you can download, and we've got one about Swahili, so you can get some Swahili phrases. I'll put a link to that in the show notes.

Kim:  Yeah. All freshly updated, too.

Kim:  But let's start the episode with Catherine Marshall. She began her career as a hard-nosed journalist, reporting on news, Phil. And that was in her native of South Africa. 20 years later, she's in Sydney writing travel articles.

Phil:  Yeah. One of the articles that she's written that really caught our attention is about one of nature's greatest spectacles, and it's the Kansanka bat migration in Zambia.

Kim:  Now, why we reached out to her is because often we share stories of taking a safari in Africa, or even seeing as an example, the wildebeest migration in Tanzania. But bats, that's different. We were keen to know just how many bats we're talking.

Catherine:  Would the number 2 million, sorry. 12 million. Would 12 million surprise you?

Phil:  That must just about blot out the sun. Although it's at night, so the moon.

Catherine:  The sun is just going down as they emerge, so it certainly blots out the twilight. And when they return in the morning, the sun is starting to rise. So they once again, blot out the dawn.

Kim:  Why the pilgrimage?

Phil:  Going somewhere to eat, obviously.

Catherine:  They are. It's just one massive feast. They come from all over equatorial Africa. Bats have been tracked from Uganda to Tanzania, Cameroon, I believe. Of course, countries in Eastern/Southern Africa. Zambia is in Southern Africa, itself. And who knows how these creatures first learned about this tiny little swamp forest in northeastern Zambia, but they somehow did.

Phil:  Maybe it was bat Instagram.

Kim:  Bat Instagram. Don't even laugh, Catherine. That's bad.

Catherine:  Not laughing. Bats have a form of communication that we haven't discovered yet. And while of course they do, a lot of bats use echolocation, but these particular fruit bats actually don't. It's some very deep and primordial instinct that leads them to abandon temporarily their regular homeland, and to congregate for just over two months from the end of October to the beginning of January, every year in this tiny little forest in remote Northeastern Zambia.

Kim:  12 million fruit bats. Just explain what that must sound like?

Catherine:  Yes, the sound, I'll tell you what it sounds like. And then, if you'd like to, I can tell you what it smells like.

Kim:  Please.

Catherine:  By the way, this 12 million is an estimate. Some estimates actually go as high as 15 million. They do emerge from the forest, gradually. One's ears do have an opportunity to adapt to the sound. A couple of scouts will come out of the forest and determine whether the sun has sunk far enough for the rest of their group to emerge.

Catherine:  As they start to arise, it sounds like a gargantuan beehive, so a lot of buzzing sound. But once the lot of them is in the sky, it's just an absolute outlandish cacophony of shrieking, and shouting, and screaming, and rasping. It's as if they all have to have their say about something. It's quite extraordinary, really.

Kim:  And the smell?

Catherine:  One views them from there are four hives. It might have actually changed because the camp where I stayed when I was there a couple of years ago, I believe has been refurbished. At that time, there were four hives located around the forest. It's not a very large area.

Catherine:  Generally, what you'll do is you'll climb up into a water berry tree or an African mahogany. These are really towering, towering trees. I am rather scared of heights, and so that was probably the worst part of the expedition. You hope like hell that you're going to avoid any of the bat droppings, but there is a very intense smell of guano, I suppose. It's a very primordial earthy natural experience, shall we say.

Phil:  But with so much guano on the ground, that must make it a very fertile part of Zambia as well.

Catherine:  It is, and I think it's because of this fertility that the bats actually congregate here. They eat their body weight in fruit, every night. They arise, they set off in all different directions, and they will fly all nightlong. Some of them, some mothers with pups clinging to their underbellies, and they will consume around about 250 grams of fruit. Sour plums, loquats, water berries, and then they'll return to the forest before sunrise to rest.

Phil:  I'm just doing a little bit of maths in my head, which I'm not good at. 250 grams multiplied by 12 million, that's a lot of fruit.

Catherine:  It's a lot of fruit, isn't it? You wouldn't expect flying over this part of the world, that it would be such a fertile place. You have these little forest clumps, which of course are lush and green, but there are a lot of savanna lands and a lot of dry patches. But evidently, the bats know where to find this fruit, and it's available and that's why they keep on returning.

Kim:  Outside the traditional safari that you can take in an African country, why would you recommend this one?

Catherine:  Wouldn't you be interested in seeing 12 million fruit bats having a great delicious party?

Phil:  This must be a very important part of the ecosystem because they must be helpful to spread this fruit, dropping the seeds everywhere.

Catherine:  Of course, yes. They're dispersing. I suppose we're surprised that so much fruit exists in this wilderness. And yet, just by going out in search of it, the bats are also then perpetuating its growth, dispersing seeds in their guano that we spoke about.

Catherine:  Can I actually just say I'm not sure if you're aware, but of course you mentioned the wildebeest migration in Tanzania and Kenya. Most people tend to think that is the world's biggest animal migration, but it's actually this bat migration that is the largest migration of mammals, since bats are mammals, in the world.

Catherine:  A lot of people are quite squeamish when it comes to bats. They're actually really beautiful creatures. They're very similar to the flying foxes that we get here in Sydney, where I live. For some people, it might be a bit off-putting, the idea of climbing into a tree and being surrounded by these rather eerie creatures. But it is an opportunity to witness the world's largest mammal migration, and also to see a part of Africa that is not always considered when people are booking safaris or trying to decide where to take their safari.

Catherine:  I would really encourage people, who are considering a safari in Africa to consider Zambia. It's a comparatively stable country. It has a magnificent park close to Kansanka called South Luangwa. And indeed, when I did this bat safari, I first did a safari in South Luangwa National Park. And there you can see the big five, plenty of elephants, lions, hippos, all those charismatic animals that you'd expect to see on safari. It's a magnificent environment, but few people know about it.

Catherine:  There are a couple of smaller parks in Zambia, which are being rehabilitated. One of them is called Liuwa Plains, and another one is Bangweulu Wetlands, which is north of Kansanka. In fact, if you were doing a safari to Kansanka, it would make sense to then continue northwards to try and see the rare and endangered shoebill, which it's a bird. It's quite a large bird. It would stand sort of [weight heist 00:10:29] to an average height person, and it has a beak that makes it look quite primeval. A little bit like some kind of some Jurassic animal.

Phil:  We'll find a photo of those.

Kim:  Definitely. You have written a wonderful article about your experience, and you've included in that, five other unusual migrations, which include the sardines in South Africa, which are quite famous, but we'll show that in show notes.

Kim:  Catherine, thank you so much for fitting us into your busy schedule.

Catherine:  That's a pleasure. It's been lovely chatting to you.

Phil:  A couple of other unusual animal migrations from around the world. Zebras in Botswana, which holds the record for Africa's longest land mammal migration. And there's a dragonfly migration in India, but there's a bit of a sad twist to that one. Most of the dragonflies don't live long enough to complete it. Yeah, a bit sad.

Kim:  Is that because they don't have a long life?

Phil:  Yeah, and I imagine they just sort of [inaudible 00:11:30]

Kim:  Yeah, fascinating stuff.

Phil:  Rolling dragonfly mall, there you go.

Kim:  Speaking of survival, Kristi Eaton is a travel writer too. She's says she's [inaudible 00:11:41] in China. She's stared down bison in South Dakota, and was lost in Samoa, all for the story. But I really don't think anything could've prepared her for what would happen in Zambia.

Kristi:  I was selected to be the Fistula Foundation's inaugural writer in residence, and it was a program for journalists to be able to see what they do, up close and personal. I went there for three weeks in October of 2018.

Kim:  What happened?

Kristi:  I actually had a great time. I worked very hard. I wrote about 15 stories. I got to see their programs up close, and got to see their outreach efforts, and meet women and learn their stories. It was all very powerful.

Kristi:  The last few days there, I started to think that maybe I had food poisoning, or I just thought my stomach wasn't adapting to the food very well. I've traveled extensively, and I just felt a little off, but not horrible. I just wasn't really sure.

Kristi:  I ended up... I didn't leave early anything. I completed my time there and came back to the US. And a couple days later, I still wasn't feeling better, so I ended up going to the doctor.

Kristi:  I explained the situation, and they ended up testing me for malaria. They called me back later that afternoon, and said I had it. There's a couple strains of it, and I had the most severe strain.

Phil:  Of course, you did

Kristi:  Yeah. I ended up being hospitalized, three times, and it affected my ability to walk and just function. I had a couple of blood transfusions because it impacted my blood, and my red blood cell count. Yeah, like I said, it affected my ability to walk.

Kristi:  This was all in November, that I was hospitalized about three times. And then, in December, I went to physical therapy and relearned how to walk and work out again because I'm a big exerciser. I would say it's been like the last month or so that I'm really back to where I was, but it was a very scary time.

Phil:  We're both sitting here, open mouths. Encephalitis, that's really sick.

Kristi:  Yeah. I was intubated and there's a couple days that I don't even remember.

Phil:  Did you know when you'd been bitten? Did you at least get the little bugger? You know, a big.

Kristi:  No, that's the thing. I wore long pants, and I used DEET, and I slept with the nets. I don't recall being bitten at all. I don't even know when I contracted it.

Kim:  Can't you get inoculated for malaria, before you...

Phil:  No, no, no, no, no.

Kim:  You can't?

Phil:  No.

Kim:  I thought that you could.

Phil:  No.

Kim:  No.

Kristi:  You can take pills that you can take 'em before you go. They say that you kinda get sick on them, and then it doesn't prevent it 100%.

Phil:  There's two types of malaria medication that you can take. One of them is known to cause in some people, not in everybody, is known to cause in some people, really bad dreams and nightmares and like night terrors. It's like really, really, really bad. And I forget which one, and I'm not going to say which one it is. I know there's two types.

Kim:  Dr. Phil.

Phil:  Dr. Phil. But the other thing is and it's like do you take it as a preventative because it's not 100% effective as it, and it can give you these side effects. But what you take before you go, it's the same thing you take if you get malaria.

Kim:  Right.

Phil:  Lots of experienced travelers will go I'm not going to take it before because of the side effects. But if I get malaria, I'll take it afterwards. That's the debate about what you do.

Phil:  I'm not a doctor, and you should speak to your own doctor out there to get that advice. I'm just telling you what experienced travelers say. But it sounds like you got it so badly, it wouldn't have made much difference.

Kristi:  Yeah. One of the nurses that treated me, she also had malaria a couple years ago and had taken the preventative pills beforehand, and also got it. It just goes to show that it's just something that occurs and you do your best to deal with it.

Phil:  I'm trying to think. Is it like one of the biggest killers globally, or something like that, or is it dysentery, or something? I'll look that up.

Kim:  Look that up, Dr. Phil.

Phil:  Just talk amongst yourselves for minute, while I look that up.

Kim:  Look that up. Okay. This is a horrible souvenir that you took back from Zambia. But you said while you were there, you wrote 15 stories. What was cool about the place, and what were the highlights?

Kristi:  We went to Mafinga, which is like a really pretty rural part of the country and it was just like where we stayed, they didn't have running water and we didn't have electricity all the time. But the people were so kind, and I got to see some of the foundation's work out there up close, and got to meet with the women, who are receiving these life-saving surgeries from the Fistula Foundation. And the fact that the women opened up to me and shared their stories, it was very powerful.

Kim:  What's the illness or the issue that you're talking about?

Kristi:  It's a hole in the birth canal, and it usually happened in developing countries and it's from prolonged labor. Like they might not be able to get to a health facility in time, and so they're just in labor for a long time.

Kim:  Has it put you off from going back to any African countries?

Kristi:  I don't have any plans to go back, right now. I think I will go back. I've traveled quite a bit, and I'm kind of taking this year to just recuperate.

Phil:  You've got a few close friends in the world because there's an estimated 300 to 600 million people get malaria, each year. More than 40% of the world's population lives in malaria risk areas. Over a million die from malaria each year. And here's the really, really sad bit. Mostly children under five years of age.

Kim:  Whoa.

Phil:  And 90% of malaria cases occurring in Sub-Saharan African.

Kim:  Kristi, we wish you best of luck with your recovery, and thank you so much for sharing your story.

Kristi:  Yes, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Kim:  That is an incredible story. And again, a good idea to check with your doctor on what medications or vaccines are advised when traveling to Zambia.

Kim:  What's the travel news?

Phil:  Okay. We love a list, don't we? How about this one for a new one I found?

Phil:  The most disappointing tourist sites. See how many of these you've been to, and see if you agree.

Phil:  The Mona Lisa in Paris.

Kim:  I didn't go in, too small. I'll see it on Google. I know massive philistine, do apologize. But yes, you can't get within [inaudible 00:19:09] as they say in Australia.

Phil:  I think it's a pretty good painting, but I was more fasci-

Kim:  Do you?

Phil:  I do. I actually quite like it.

Kim:  What do you think Picasso would say? Thanks, Phil.

Phil:  I'm not only a doctor, I'm an artist.

Phil:  But I was more fascinated by the crowds pushed up against the barrier, leaning to get a look and take a photo with it. I love people-watching, and that was a great spot for it.

Phil:  Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin.

Kim:  Shocking.

Phil:  Really?

Kim:  Yeah. What has Darth Vader and Mario got to do with Checkpoint Charlie?

Phil:  What?

Kim:  There's these characters, weird characters that are dressed up, and they want to have photos with you. It makes no sense.

Phil:  The Moulin Rouge nightclub in Paris.

Phil:  Haven't been in, but it is small from the outside and it's a big tourist trap, and it's like busloads of people turn up at the front.

Phil:  The Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen.

Phil:  It's tiny. That's the problem. You think it's this great big statue. It's about the size of a small dog.

Kim:  A chihuahua.

Phil:  That's why you get all these people turning up, looking for it in the harbor, and it's just this tiny little thing.

Kim:  Disappointing.

Phil:  I cannot agree with this one, that it's disappointing. The Eiffel Tower.

Phil:  I loved it. It was great. You had to queue forever and all that sort of stuff, but I loved it.

Kim:  We might be slightly different travelers. The best thing for me with the Eiffel Tower was when I walked around and saw this magnificent structure. I went out and touched it, or we did, there were four of us, and then walked away.

Phil:  Maybe it has something to do with my love of building Meccano models, when I was a kid or something [crosstalk 00:20:41]

Kim:  It might be. It could be a boy/girl thing.

Phil:  Yeah, it could be. [inaudible 00:20:44]

Phil:  I can't agree with this. Well, yeah, maybe. The Spanish Steps in Rome. Yeah, it's really on a warm summer day, it's really, really overcrowded. But the usual thing is, of course, everybody goes off to have dinner at a particular time, and it empties out a bit and you can get it more or less to yourself.

Kim:  Yeah, right.

Phil:  It's not bad. It's a nice spot. It's a good place to sit down and have some gelato. But yeah, yeah, fair enough.

Phil:  The Trevi Fountain in Rome.

Phil:  It's actually magnificent sculpture, it really is. But it's been spoiled by the throw your coins in the foundation, and everybody's standing there and chucking coins over their shoulders.

Phil:  The Louvre in Paris.

Phil:  The entire Louvre is on this list of disappointing. I'm not sure how you can be disappointed by some of the greatest art in the world, but there you go.

Kim:  Again, I didn't go in. We just...

Phil:  You saw the glass pyramid [crosstalk 00:21:31]

Kim:  Someone did that stupid thing of let's take a photo pretending to touch the [crosstalk 00:21:35] On the top, yeah.

Phil:  You loser.

Kim:  I know. Mate, you're talking to somebody that's drove past Stonehenge because the crowds were too long. Just slowed down. Wow, there it is.

Phil:  All right. The last one on the list. I kinda get this one too. The Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Phil:  Lots of really fantastic towns in Tuscany, and I don't think Pisa is one of them.

Kim:  If we've learnt anything over the 60 episodes that we've done of the World Nomads podcast, you don't have to go and see these big ticket items.

Phil:  The number of times I paraphrased Christine [inaudible 00:22:11] when she was on the program. If you like crusty bread, wine, and cheese, any French village will do.

Kim:  Yeah.

Phil:  Yeah.

Kim:  Very well said.

Phil:  All right. Speaking of over-touristed sites, San Francisco. They're thinking about charging $10 USD to drive down one of the city's most famous streets, Lombard Street. That's the crooked one that goes by, yeah. And they say local residents say it feels more like a theme park than it does like a proper residential street, so they're thinking about limiting the number of tourists that can go down there to try and balance it up a little bit.

Kim:  Or use the $10 to clean up all the poop.

Phil:  Really? Oh, yeah. No, San Francisco.

Kim:  [crosstalk 00:22:48] Yeah.

Phil:  Yeah. Yeah.

Kim:  It's a bad issue.

Phil:  We should put a link in the show notes to that poop map.

Kim:  Yeah. There's actually a poop app that you can get.

Phil:  For San Francisco.

Kim:  For San Francisco.

Phil:  It's quite a sad story.

Kim:  Oh, no.

Phil:  But funny as hell. You've got a map of it.

Phil:  I know we're about the destination and not the method of getting there, but when you travel, you have to spend a fair bit of time getting there. Here's some good news.

Phil:  Airlines are beginning to phase out reclining seats. Some have already limited the movement to a couple of inches, five centimeters, but many airlines when they're ordering their new jets for the in the future, they're getting them without the reclining function at all. That [inaudible 00:23:24] when you sit down, the chair in front of you doesn't encroach in your space.

Kim:  What, so you've got to sit upright like a pencil, all the way to Paris?

Phil:  No, it's generally for shorter flights.

Kim:  For short hauls.

Phil:  Yeah. [crosstalk 00:23:39]

Kim:  Long haul is different. See, you have to be able to recline.

Phil:  Yeah.

Kim:  Did you like the image of sitting up like a pencil.

Phil:  Take a photo, and put that in show notes.

Kim:  Yeah. Okay, thanks for that. Now, Sally Hetherington is President of the Human & Hope Association. It's an Australian charity working towards sustainable development in rural Cambodia. We're moving away from Zambia for a minute.

Kim:  Sally has worked in Cambodia with the non-for-profit for the past five years, and what is interesting is how she found herself there for so long.

Sally:  I have a pretty interesting story in that when I was 25, I moved to Cambodia because I had this urge to help. I thought the best way to do it was by coordinating foreign volunteers to go and build houses, teach English, et cetera. But in my first year there, I realized that I was contributing to the dis-empowerment of Cambodians.

Sally:  What was happening was this revolving door of volun-tourists, which is what they're called, short-term foreign volunteers. The local staff were becoming disempowered, and the children were having these real attachment issues and because they were already vulnerable children, and there's just no stability that way and it just wasn't contributing to the organization's sustainable future. That's how I started my time in Cambodia.

Sally:  And then, I realized what I was doing was leaving a negative footprint in Cambodia, and I decided I can either continue at this organization, try to change from within, which I knew wasn't going to happen, or I could go back to Australia with my tail between my legs. But then, I decided, no, you know what? I can do better than this, and so I teamed up with a group of local Cambodians, who had formed a nightly English school at a pagoda. They were teaching English for between 50 cents and a dollar a month to their villagers in the hope that they could then have the English skills to get jobs.

Sally:  I thought this is great. This is what really needs to happen. It needs to be Cambodians leading their own communities out of poverty. That's the most sustainable way.

Sally:  I teamed up with them, and said I'm going to help you build this up into a sustainable organization. But what has to happen is we end the foreign volunteer program, and I make myself redundant, once it's in a good position, which is exactly what I managed to do.

Phil:  It's a feel-good thing, and people go overseas and they want to help. They want to think they're doing the right thing, but it's deeper than that.

Sally:  Definitely, and we all had this urge. And sometimes people don't like the message that I sell because they think that I'm saying no, you can't help. You can help, but the first thing you have to ask yourself is would I be of any benefit? Because a lot of people go over there to build a house, when something like 400,000 Cambodians live in Thailand and a lot of them illegally because they cannot get building work in Cambodia.

Sally:  And then, you have to think is it sustainable? Could a local person be doing my job? Am I going to be working with children or the beneficiaries directly? Because you really shouldn't be, unless you are a doctor that has to be training a skill that they absolutely cannot get there. You shouldn't be working with them directly. You need to be training the staff.

Sally:  But on that, I'm a big believer that if the staff can actually get training in their country through external training providers, or university scholarships, you should be supporting them there, and you should be supporting the local economy.

Sally:  So really, see are you needed? And if you are, passing on your skills. Is there a succession plan there, so then if those staff members leave, that knowledge is still passed on? That's what we have at Human & Hope. It's a great thing is we are very open with sharing our knowledge, and I would always share it. And we have a very, very, very low staff turnover because the staff there go, you know what? We got 90% of the students are passing their exams because of what we've done. There's been no outside help. This is us, and our commitment. That's the thing that will take people out, off poverty.

Phil:  Tell us the truth about many of the orphanages.

Sally:  Unfortunately, Australians, Americans, us primarily, we are fueling that demand for orphanages.

Sally:  For example, in Cambodia, but this is all over the world, I will add. The number of orphans has decreased. The number of orphanages has increased. About 80% of kids in orphanages have at least one living parent. But because we are going over there and saying, yeah, I want to go play with these orphans, I want to go look in their bedroom, which is so crazy, and play with them for a day and leave these vulnerable kids and be this inconsistent force in their life.

Sally:  We are driving that demand because I am sure that there are some legitimate orphanages, but it's been proven that kids who are raised in residential institutions are 500 times more likely to commit suicide than those who are not. But what we need to do is stop fueling that demand, and if we stop going to those orphanages, they'll disband.

Kim:  If they've got a living parent, does the parent drop the child off, like it's childcare for the day, or how does that work?

Sally:  No. There's a lot of different ways that they get them. Sometimes the parent is desperate, and these orphanages are promising a better life for their kids and they don't really know the real situation. What should be happening is foster care and community-based living.

Sally:  The Cambodian government is good in that they are recognizing that more, but there's a long way to go in Cambodia [crosstalk 00:28:55]

Phil:  Because there's no infrastructure for that.

Sally:  Yeah.

Phil:  It's [crosstalk 00:28:58]

Sally:  It's NGOs who are doing it, but it needs to come from the government.

Phil:  We're about the old take a pack of pencils and delivering to the local school.

Sally:  I always say definitely support an organization with supplies, but you need to see firstly if it's a need. Always contact the organization first. See what needs they have. Buy those supplies in that country to support the local economy, and also do your research first. Because for example, Human & Hope has a visitor policy, and we do not allow any photos to be taken of our students. We don't allow more than five people at a time, so we don't turn them into a tourist attraction.

Sally:  When I first moved to Cambodia and I had all these thoughts about what I could do because I didn't understand on the ground, and that's the worst thing you can do is go to a country, thinking that you know everything, when it took me a long time to learn from my mistakes. I was like how about I ship over all these books? I collect secondhand books and ship it to them, and the man at the organization I originally worked for said, you know what? One time, somebody sent us a whole box of books, and we had to pay $2,000 USD. And like I say, just buy the supplies there, unless it's something that you really can't get there.

Kim:  That's a very good tip.

Phil:  We have a responsible travel manifesto, which we publish on World Nomads, and I encourage everybody to go and read it. We've got a few dos and don'ts in there, and it's like as you say, turning people into a tourist attraction is one of our please don't do that, and visiting orphanages, and all those sorts of things. I do encourage people to read that as well.

Phil:  That's a bit of a negative side about that, but you've had some great success with what you do. So just explain... I mean so now, you've started this English school, but it's grown from there.

Sally:  Yeah, definitely. It did start as an English school as you just said, but we realized that for children to learn, their parents had to earn. Because otherwise, their parents would not let them go to school. So that was really important and a real eye-opener for us that we had to have this holistic approach to development, which involved whole families.

Sally:  It took awhile and basically, now we have education vocational training community support programs, all run by the local staff and they're the program managers. They involve the local community. Because without the community input, you're just telling people what to do, and it's just going to fall flat on your face.

Sally:  We have English classes. We also have Khmer classes, which is the language of Cambodia because a third of our students go to public school but they're illiterate because there's a whole issue with public schools and that can be that they have up to 60 kids in a class. When our preschool class first graduated and transitioned to public school, they didn't have a teacher for six months. But fortunately, we had already taught them their own local language, so that worked out for them. Not for the other kids though.

Sally:  We also have English classes, art class to promote creativity, hygiene, which is a big issue, and we are looking at developing a student leadership program. But then, for the adults, we have a sewing program, which is really successful. This month is six years that it's been running for.

Sally:  We have seen 20 women move out of poverty and remain out for at least a year. We have seen domestic violence reduce or be eliminated by 70%, which is huge because women tend to not have rights in Cambodia.

Sally:  And then, we have community support programs to tie it all together, which is a chemical-free farming program and community outreach. And also, a lot of workshops addressing budgeting, road safety. Any social issues we see, we hold workshops to try and improve the knowledge of people, and it works really well.

Phil:  There will as usual be links in show notes. It's a really good resource, actually. Please do go and check out everything we put in the show notes for you.

Phil:  Sally has a book due to be released. It's titled It's Not About Me, all about her experiences in Cambodia.

Kim:  All right. Back to Zambia. Helen is an affiliate partner of World Nomads. And if you want to know more about how you can become one and make money while you travel, check out our episode announcing our writing scholarship winner. There's a whole section on that.

Phil:  [inaudible 00:33:06] 10 years ago, Helen quit her job and headed to Africa, sick of the 9:00 to 5:00, sick of the commute, and determined to go on the adventures she'd always dreamed about. So how did Helen in wanderlust come about?

Helen:  Yeah. Basically, that's exactly how it happened. I was working in a very corporate job. I'd been there for a number of years, and I'd just started working out how long I'd been spending in the car. I don't know. I must have had like a boring afternoon or something, and I just started working out, like over five years, I'd probably spent three hours a day commuting. I started to think, oh my God, that's quite a long time. I think it worked out to be like four months of my life, or something.

Helen:  I ended up going traveling. And then, a few years later, back home, I was still [inaudible 00:34:00] and I'd really fallen in love with Africa. I started looking on the internet about Africa traveling. I realized there wasn't really anybody writing about backpacking in Africa.

Helen:  I decided I could start a blog and help people to travel, and that's basically where it started. That was 2013, and then I've just carried on and it's grown. Yeah. Now, I've got my own little community of people who travel in Africa, and it's great.

Phil:  What was it that you fell in love with? What was it about Africa?

Helen:  Do you know I think it's absolutely everything. There's obviously things that frustrate me, but that also kind of is why I love Africa as well. To me, it was such a different place. It was so vibrant. I loved the safaris. I loved the sense of community. Just everything to me was just exciting and different, and it still is. Even like 10 years later, I still love going there.

Helen:  I loved the fact that when you travel there, it's not... Especially the way I travel, it's not kind of a polished travel experience. It's you see a bit of everything. I'm often taking local buses. Just doing all kinds of things that are different to what I do at home, so I just really fell in love with everything, really.

Kim:  That's what I'm enjoying about the last couple of African countries we've focused on. They've really turned themselves around and are keen to pull travelers. Rwanda was one, and that's definitely a place I want to visit. And Zambia, the government has a huge focus on attracting people there.

Kim:  That's what this episode is about, but we're kinda looking at it beyond Victoria Falls, which everyone seems to talk about. But Phil is determined that we're going to touch on it, Helen.

Phil:  Yeah, we have to. You can't not talk about it, can you?

Helen:  It's my favorite place in Africa actually, so I'd be disappointed if you didn't touch on it.

Kim:  All right. It's the biggest waterfall in the world?

Helen:  Yeah.

Kim:  What else?

Helen:  It's an incredible place for adventure. It's the adventure capital of Africa, really. There's so many different things to do in and around Victoria Falls. You've got two great towns on either side of the falls. So obviously, you've got Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe side, and then you've got Livingston on the Zambia side.

Helen:  My personal favorite is Livingston on the Zambia side because it is a really vibrant town, and there's a lot going on there. You get a really local experience, whilst also being able to do all these cool kind of adventurous touristy activities. It's just got the best of both worlds, really.

Helen:  But yeah, there's so many activities to do. Like I say, like actually in the falls. You can do things like rafting, canoeing. At certain times of the year, you can swim underneath the falls, which I did last year, which was an amazing experience.

Helen:  You can go and sit at the top of the falls in the Devil's Pool or the Angel's Pool. And then, there's the national park called Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, which is next to the falls. Mosi-oa-Tunya means the smoke that thunders in the local language.

Helen:  You can go skydiving. You could jump off the Zim-Zam bridge and do bungee jumping. There's literally so many things to do.

Phil:  But what's the feel like in Livingston then? Because often, those places that attract lots and lots of adventure-seeking tourists and what have you, tend to lose a little bit of the local flavor. Has it hung onto that?

Helen:  Yeah, I think it has. It's kind of like where you... There's two different parts of Livingston, I think where people stay. You've got the side by the river, which is kind of the more upmarket hotels. And then, you've got in the town. So a lot of the backpackers, they stay actually inside the town and it's very much a local town.

Helen:  I think on the other side of the falls in Victoria Falls, it's a bit more touristy in that sense, but Livingston is very much a working local town. It's got all the local shops, local markets. It really hasn't lost that flavor. And if you are looking for that, you can 100% get that local experience. It's not overrun in the town by tourists. I think most of the tourists, a lot of them stay by the river and kind of come in and out to do safaris or see the falls. But when you actually go inside the actual tower, there's not that many tourists wandering about. It still feels like a real local African town.

Kim:  You mentioned a lot of people will stay by the river, and then venture into the town. As part of the research for this podcast, I read that a lot of the national parks and almost all of the accommodations are unfenced. So it's not unusual for an elephant or the odd lion to wander into the town, while you're doing your shopping. Is this correct information that I've uncovered?

Helen:  Yes, it is. That's on the Victoria Falls side. On the Livingston side, no because Livingston is a too busy town. There's no way I think you would get any of the animals coming into town. I'm not sure if that's 100% fenced, but I've seen elephants basically outside as you drive towards Botswana, which isn't very far away. You do sometimes see elephants by the side of the roads.

Helen:  When I was working for The Book Bus, I used to see elephants on my commute to school. But then, on the Victoria Falls side at the time, yeah, it's a lot closer. So yeah, I think sometimes elephants do wander into town. I've never seen any myself, but I do see warthogs puttering about town, quite a lot.

Kim:  I like how you said that, warthogs puttering around town.

Kim:  We came to know about The Book Bus too. Tell us about that?

Helen:  Yeah. I literally arrived in Zambia, it was my first African country I ever visited. I was volunteering on The Book Bus.

Helen:  Basically, what The Book Bus do is they provide a mobile library service to schools. What we would do as volunteers, we would go around to schools and we would take classes, like a time... Kind of an extracurricular activities, really. We weren't replacing anything that the teachers were doing.

Helen:  What we would do is we would take the kids in small little groups, and we would read a storybook with them. A lot of the schools in Zambia, they don't have any fun books.

Phil:  I know it was awhile ago, but do you remember what was the most popular books? What did they like to read?

Helen:  Yes, I do. There was one. My favorite book anyway, it was Giraffes Can't Dance. One of the books that we used to do.

Helen:  Yeah. There was things like Elmer The Elephant, and things like that.

Kim:  All right. That's The Book Bus covered.

Kim:  Another thing we wanted to touch on is there is so much on your site, and I'd actually shared it with Phil and said, mate, there is so much here. What do you want to touch on? Another of the things that we were interested in was that overland train from Zambia to Tanzania.

Phil:  Tanzania.

Helen:  That was quite the experience, obviously. But the time I took that train, I had been in Livingston and Africa for about a month by the time I took that train. It was my first real solo travel experience. I think we were late departing. It was the most rickety train. It was great. There was so many people taking this train. It was just amazing, just to sit there, looking out the window. There were so many people around the tracks, and the train went quite slow in a lot of places. We'd stop in towns, and there'd be people outside the train, selling all kinds of stuff. SIM cards, fruit, lots of different types of things. At a point, you could get off the train and interact with people, which I did quite a lot. I stretched my legs and things like that. And then, the train would start moving again. You'd have to kind of run and jump back onto it, which was great.

Helen:  Yeah, it was amazing. [inaudible 00:42:27] we did break down a couple of times, I think. I think one time we stopped in the middle of the night, and I have no idea why we stopped for so long. I'd heard a rumor that we'd run out of fuel, but I don't know if that's true or whatever.

Kim:  Handy.

Helen:  [inaudible 00:42:40] I don't know. Yeah, that was an amazing experience, but we ended up actually arriving, 24 hours later into Dar es Salaam. It was just very typical and an amazing way, I think, to start off my true solo travels in Africa.

Kim:  A link to Helen's site, again, it will be in show notes. It's our bible really, isn't it?

Phil:  It is.

Kim:  If you enjoyed this episode on Zambia and would like to hear of another great African destination, and given Helen mentioned it and we mentioned it, how about our episode on Tanzania?

Speaker 8:  Lots of the national parks, depending on where you're going and where you're staying, they will have public campsites. There are some very basic facilities provided, like a blockhouse with showers and toilets. Maybe like a little kitchen or a dining room, a little eating area under that.

Speaker 8:  These are unfenced campsites, so a lot of the tented camps and lodges across various parks in Africa are also totally unfenced. Regardless of your accommodation, the animals can be passing through your camp, and they don't necessarily care what you're in.

Phil:  You can find the latest episode through all of your popular podcast apps and players, but the easiest way to listen is just to go to If you've got anything you want to say to us or any suggestion, you can email us at

Kim:  If you know someone who loves travel as much as you do and we do, please tell them about us. We'd appreciate any likes, shares, and social love you would care to give us.

Phil:  Yes, please. Next week, it's another amazing Nomad.

Kim:  Bye.

Phil:  Bye.

Speaker 1:  The World Nomads podcast. Explore your boundaries.


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