So there we were, up before the dawn thought of cracking, to meet our ‘fixer’ at the border at 7am. Chobe Safari Lodge was good to us and it was a bit sad to leave this idyllic spot and drive the 10km to Kazungula. Due to construction on the new bridge at the border, a ground road detour had been established, zig-zagging through the industrial area. Following the dust wake of a big tanker truck we finally came upon the kilometers long queue of trucks that signaled the approach to the border. Skipping ahead, we parked at the customs and immigration offices on the Botswana side of the border at twenty to seven. Being a bit early, we decided to start the process on our own.
Standing in the queue to get our passports stamped, we were fortunate enough to get bumped ahead by the generous big truck drivers. Filling in all the dog-eared books, we shouted across the glass partition at the hard-of-hearing, sour-faced official who seemed to be suffering from a stomach ailment for which she should’ve taken a sick day. She was in a bad mood and she made sure she took it out on everyone, chasing all the people out of the office after the queue had already been reprimanded twice for lining up in the apparent wrong direction by the security guards who seemed to think the fact that they wore a uniform automatically put them in authority. But we were at the window and were duly processed.
After a quick phone call to the ‘fixer’, who’d sent a friend to help us through since he was feeling unwell, we proceeded to drive on through the boom into ‘no-man’s land’, under through the newly constructed bridge and on to the river bank where the ‘friend’ was waiting for us.
Hardly had we greeted this man than the ferry from Zambia was docking and offloading a car and a truck. Despite the fact that there were already quite a few trucks standing on the bank, our ‘fixer’ beckoned us onto the, now empty ferry. Only the driver may remain in the vehicle on the ferry, so mom and I had to wait for Suzann to be positioned as well as the two massive trucks that shared the ride before we could walk aboard. With the diesel engine bellowing and spouting clouds of black smoke, we slowly headed out for Zambia where Suzann would have to wait for the trucks to be ‘unloaded’ before dropping off the ferry, the bikes missing the gangplank by millimetres. Mom and I again walked off the ferry to watch the offload process. Then we had to pick our way through the chaos, trying to follow where the self-appointed car guard had directed her.
The Zambian side is never an easy border to get though and the chaos seems no less than two years ago when we first did this crossing, and I quote from the diary … “Once on the Zambian side the fun really began. We were directed to a rather awkward parking between all the big trucks and other vehicles trying to get across the border as well. From there our fixer took over. First to immigration to have the passports stamped, then around the back of some little obscure building to another office where the official was standing in front of the counter having a conversation with another random person. The place seems to be full of people randomly wandering around between offices and no one seems to know who works where, or even if they work there at all!
The temporary import papers for the vehicle had to be filled in while hanging over the back of a row of broken seats initially intended for seating in that particular office, but it must be years since they’ve supported anyone’s backside. Then it was over the way to yet another glass-fronted office to find an inspection official to accompany us to the vehicle to check the engine number. Unfortunately my sister had written the number down incorrectly. I’m sure we’d have had much greater hassles if it weren’t for our fixer, since the official spoke to him and all we needed do was write it over correctly and countersign.
From there it was to the road tax office, another office round the back of the building, passed a man splashing water about in an attempt to clean the cement floor and over a tree root, through a donga over a pile of rubbish. There my sister was directed to take a seat on a half a chair, and by half I mean the backrest was broken off. After looking around the paper-filled office I realized that all the chairs had no backrests left. Waiting patiently for her printout my sister sat in the middle of the chaotic office on a broken chair.
Finally armed with the required printout our fixer went to pay the required fees at yet another office. From there it was off to a police post in a prefab building where yet another tax was payable, only in dollars. In front of this office stood a traffic police car that had obviously not been moved in years. The windscreen was covered with a thick layer of dust and the spider webs hung thickly in the wheel arches.
This, apparently was the final task before leaving the border area. Our fixer cleared the papers with the heavily armed official at the gate and we were waved through. Stopping again just outside the border we, yet again, had to rely on our fixer to buy the required third party insurance for us in kwatcha.”
This time round was much the same, only we had two ‘officials that were more than obvious in their attempts to get us to pay a bribe … but thanks to our ‘fixer’ they were put off. If it hadn’t been for the help we’d engaged, these individuals could’ve made life much more difficult for us … insisting on a police clearance certificate that the SAPS had said they don’t issue anymore, and the other customs officer that held my passport back while insisting we return to the office for a stamp on the vehicle temporary import permit that indicated the bicycles as well. This latter was obviously not necessary since the customs office didn’t seem to know of any such requirements but stamped the paper anyway, thanks to our ‘fixer’s’ insistence.
With everything finalized in 2,5 hours, we paid our dues and handed out two Bibles before heading on to the Maramba River Lodge in Livingstone.
After a marathon session of ‘deciding where the tent should go’, we ended up taking our old spot on the steep riverbank where the hippos and elephants can’t come out. From this vantage point we could watch the elephants on the far bank come down to drink. With the river being very low in this very dry season, there is a point where the ellies cross and come into the park though.
Sitting at the main lodge to check messages with their free WiFi, we got a surprising message of encouragement from Ps Eric, a pastor we met on the Zambian border. He was on his way to preach in Lusaka after doing some work in Botswana as well. He is from Kenya, and wanted to know if we couldn’t arrange something so that we could go to Kenya as well. He was quite keen to help us out to get to Kenya one day as well. Well, you never know …
Supper was rather a slap-dash affair of ‘blikkies and pakkies’ since we’d been turned away at the closed doors of the local ShopRite store since they were busy with stock-take. Nice to just close the store for such but not so nice for patrons wanting to do some shopping. Being redirected to the ShopRite in the heart of Livingstone by a local taxi driver, we headed off into a chaotic wild goose chase that took us round and round the store but never actually getting to the store. Giving this up for a joke we rather headed back to camp rather than drive a whole tank of diesel out circling the elusive ShopRite.
Next morning we woke to an icy wind that turned to a gale as we headed back along the road to the border. We were meant to cycle the distance we’d driven the day before but a mere 7,7km into the ride we had to throw in the towel as the wind was just too strong. We were being thrown around like rags in a hurricane, and I’m not very steady perched on top of the bike … even on a good day.
Returning to Maramba River Lodge, tail between the legs, we simply had to go and shower off the sunscreen we’d lathered ourselves with for the long ride. At least the shop was open again and we could buy some goodies for supper. But we never did get to make supper since we were holed up in the lodge with all the other guests while the elephants had general run of the campsite. No-one wanted to hassle with these giants, except maybe the crazy old German from the campsite next door. These ellies have trampled a guest here before. She was apparently taking photos and got too close for comfort. If I was the old German I’d not have walked up for a snap, even if the locals were with him, because when the one elephant got a bit stroppy with ears flapping and raised tail and trunk, the locals ran … not a good idea. A few well placed shouts and the ellie was deterred for the time being. That was where we took our gap to start up the vehicle we’d been hiding in and drive to the main lodge. From there we heard the shots as the security was firing blanks to chase the herd. It must’ve worked since when we finally returned after a supper at the restaurant, they had gone.
With such an elephant scare we weren’t going to get mom to stay another day, so we headed on out in the direction of Lusaka. Zambia reminds of home as the road is just one long hill after another. This got our legs again as we’d got used to the flats of Botswana. The heat though, was not nearly as bad as in Botswana, and we could keep going well into the afternoon, making this our furthest ride ever, 117km. This was still 53km shy of Choma, where we were supposed to stay. We drove on to Choma though. Yet, the lodge there didn’t offer camping and the nearest campsite, Moorings, was 100km away. We had to decide quickly as the afternoon was quickly fading into evening. We chose to drive to Moorings, fully intending to backtrack to complete at least the 100km from Choma. But as we progressed through town after town, we quickly realized that that would not be possible, the road was just too busy, there were no shoulders and hardly a line to speak of. The local drivers are maniac in overtaking in the face of oncoming traffic, and impatient … Going through a vet stop finally put paid to our plans to backtrack as we’d run the risk of losing our much needed protein.
Moorings held much pain in for me as I’d developed a headache of migraine proportions and was flat on my back in the tent while Suzann and mom had to concoct a make-shift supper of tinned soup and bread rolls in the light of a torch as the electricity was off. Suzann helped me to the shower with a headlamp when I finally started to feel a bit better.
Next morning we’d find out that the electricity only came on for a few hours in the middle of the night, of no use to anyone, and then went off again during the day. We couldn’t stay and rest at Moorings with such an arrangement. We’re still too reliant on electricity. Should’ve put in a dual battery system. Pity the thing costs so much though. But what can one do but head forth for the chaos of Zambia’s capital, Lusaka.
Thank goodness we’d decided not to cycle but instead drive to Lusaka as I still was not feeling 100%. We wouldn’t have made it very far if we had tried though. The Chinese roadworks are a mess of ground detours driven to dongas by the big trucks and a bicycle would’ve got lost in the billowing clouds of dust the 18-wheelers kick up as they race by despite the corrugated roads.
Arriving in Lusaka at midday on Saturday was an experience indeed. The two lane highway had suddenly become a four-laned gridlock of hooting, gesticulating, impatient Zambian drivers, each trying their level best to occupy the same physical space as we were in … a physical impossibility but they were going to try anyway. We progressed at the pace of an arthritic snail but finally made it to the relative safety of Pioneer Camp on the outskirts of Lusaka, on the Great East Road.
At Pioneer we’d stay to regroup and try to get our bearings, so to speak. Zambia has presented us with endless problems in the form of bad roads and unexpected amounts of traffic. It seems as if the back-up vehicle is more of a hindrance than a help here … just getting in the way of traffic while a lone bike could simply slip by on the side of the road. We have to rethink the whole thing here in Zambia as what we’ve heard from other overlanders about campsites we intended to stay at does not bode well. We’ve been warned not to stay at Bridge Camp on the Great East Road and there seems to be no other place to stay to break the 500km from Lusaka to Chipata on the Malawi border. Now we have to drive with the bikes rather than cycle on the bikes as this road may be east, but it is definitely not great. But safety comes first. We’re going to stay yet another night at Pioneer in addition to the four we’ve spent already since we’re going to give the road out a try, just as a symbolic gesture before heading on to Chipata. Disappointing …