I am thirty and will now always be at
least a decade older than I feel. At least this decade went out in
style I guess.
The one advantage of doing a border crossing on
your birthday and one which requires a visa is that the date
gets permanently stamped into your passport. It made the moment a
little more interesting than usual anyway, even though no officials
made the connection and let me off the hook on the charges.
The ferry across the Zambezi was only a mild shadow of its ugly
great cousin across the Congo river and we were straight across
into Zambia in under an hour.
Zambians like to tax you. Its not bribery but one cannot help
but wonder whether it is a clever way of 'fighting corruption' and
raking in the money all at the same time. Maybe I shouldn't be so
cynical but once we'd paid for carbon emissions tax (OK that one is
fair enough we do drive a Land Rover), road tax (having to pay for
a year when I only have a visa for a month seemed a bit odd to us),
local council tax (now we expect our rubbish to be collected thank
you very much), vehicle insurance and my visa, we were feeling like
our trip to Zambia had been expensive before we even started.
But it didn't take too long and so unexpectedly, I was granted a
relaxed birthday afternoon wandering around the town of
Livingstone, which we liked immediately. It has a few touches of
Britishness amidst lots of African spirit. The people so far seem
very warm and friendly.
We are staying at 'Fawlty Towers' a back-packers in town,
which we unashamedly chose because of the name but were a bit
disappointed not to find Basil, Sybil or Manuel.
What are the chances of meeting another British person, in the
middle of Zambia, at a place called Fawlty Towers, on your
birthday, who shares the same birthday as you? Well I did and we
had a braai with a whole load of other travellers to celebrate.
Neil spent most of the day at Foley's
Africa getting some minor things sorted on the car. Hopefully this
will be the last mechanic we have to see before Cape Town. I hung
out at Fawlty Towers and felt old amongst the young back packers.
We made it out for a lovely Zambian meal in the evening, which was
accompanied by traditional music and dancing. W even managed to
find somewhere where we could have cheesecake for dessert we
really are getting closer to civilisation.
The locals call it Mosi-oa-Tunya,
which means 'the smoke that thunders' and is a much more fitting
name than 'Victoria Falls', especially today. The smoke the spray
from the millions of litres of water gushing over the falls every
second was flying metres into the air and could be seen all the
way from Livingstone.
The Falls were at their height due to the
heavy rain that has fallen in the region over the last few months.
The statistics say that the average flow is a million litres per
second but that includes the dry season when the flow can be as low
as a tenth of that so who knows what the flow was today.
As you enter you have the chance to hire a poncho but that still
doesn't stop you getting drenched by the spray, which at points was
more like a torrential downpour. At times your couldn't see the
falls at all, even though we were just a few metres away. When we
did catch glimpses of the water, it was awesome, certainly
deserving of its place as one of the seven natural wonders of the
The day was made more fun by the fact that we randomly bumped
into Sarah who Neil recognised from Cape Town. They had loads of
people in common, as Capetonians often do, and it was fun to hang
out. It also helped me to feel more excited and less worried about
our imminent arrival in South Africa.
We also became trillionaires today, and it only cost us US$3.
OK. Zimbabwean traillionaires. We met a guy selling Zimbabwean
dollar notes. We bought four: One Hundred Trillion, Ten Trillion,
Fifty Billion and Twenty Million. Here's hoping that they reinstate
the Zimbabwean currency, then we could really travel the world!
Today was one of those serendipitous
days where you know that God put you exactly in the right place at
the right time.
Neil, Sarah and I went to the Presbyterian Church
down the road. It was a fantastic experience, especially when there
was a power cut and the congregation broke into perfect, harmonized
During the service, an American girl spoke about her work with
Overland Missions, whose base is just up the road from Livingstone.
We had heard of these guys back in England but had forgotten about
them on the way. Erin said that we could go and camp there for free
so we decided to go straight away after Sarah got on her bus back
The site these guys have for their base has probably got one of
the most impressive views that we have seen. It is on the top of
the gorge which then falls straight into the Zambezi, just
downriver from the Vic Falls. As a result you can imagine how
dramatic and dangerous the water is. Jump in there for a swim and
the next thing you would surely see is the pearly gates.
Overland Missions do just what their name suggests, they use
overland 4x4 cars and trucks to reach very remote areas, bring the
gospel and to develop sustainable infrastructure by way of
education, agriculture and primary healthcare.
Everyone on the base was extremely welcoming and it felt great
to be with a whole bunch of Christians especially when they
invited us to eat with them and we got a night off camp cooking.
And in the middle of the African bush there is wifi and DSTV.
That's the juxtaposition of modern African folks.
From the base at the top pf the gorge,
there is a very rocky, very steep track down to the river. We
decided to take come sandwiches down there for lunch. It was tough
on the knees and thighs, reminding us of the muscles we have let go
to rack and ruin, but certainly worth the effort.
We sat on a
rock right next to the swirling water. It is the entire force of
the Falls rushing through a channel which, at points, is no more
than 20 or 30 metres wide. As a result, at these points they say
that the water can reach up to 100m deep. We didn't want to see
those pearly gates just yet so we sat safely on our rock and
watched the water creating its currents and whirlpools of death
from a safe distance.
Another day and another month starts
in Africa. It's hard to believe we've been on the road for over six
months and yet we look back on the early days and it seems so long
ago like an entirely different trip. Maybe it's because we feel
like entirely different people. A whole world away from this time
last year, that's for sure.
Neil got stuck into mechanics today
but, as a welcome change, not on our car, but on some expedition
trucks. The team at Overland Missions were getting ready to send
out a team to Zimbabwe and Mozambique for a month. They are working
to the wire so it was all hands on deck including Neil's. I was
very proud of him as everyone was impressed by his handymanship.
We spent the day in Livingstone
getting some jobs done and enjoyed chatting to Solomon, who sold us
car insurance, and David, the night guard from Fawlty Towers who we
met in the local market with his son. We also chuckled at some of
the signs we saw 'No Idle Standing' was one and
We enjoyed wandering the back streets of the market
and were reassured to discover that the 'real' Africa, still
exists, although it is harder to find now behind the KFCs and the
Shoprites. Men were sitting playing draughts and women were cooking
meat over little fires. Stalls sold endless piles of clothes,
cassette tapes, food and toiletries.
Neil tried to find a genuine imitation Zambian football shirt
but only managed to find non-genuine imitation so didn't bother to
add to his growing collection at this stage. I have to say though
that the football shirt theme has been an unfailing winner
throughout the whole of Africa. It turns stern policemen into
smiling, passionate football fans, it makes easy conversation with
taxi drivers and gives us favourable passage through borders. It
looks as though we are going to miss our World Cup deadline in Cape
Town but this trip has been made all the more memorable and
interesting by the football theme.
We had been told that elephants and
other game sometimes get caught up in the current of the Zambezi
and end up being washed over Vic Falls. Then they get caught in the
current and whirlpools at rapid 14, at the foot of the gorge
beneath the Overland Missions campsite, where we are staying. This
morning we saw this for ourselves. An elephant was floating in a
whirlpool of water, at the edge of the river. It looked small but
that was merely perspective. Through the binoculars you could see
it was an enormous aduly elephant but its body was being tossed
like a leaf in the current testimony to the danger of the water.
Within a short time, thirty or so locals had legged it down the
gorge (not an easy feat in itself) and were busy trying to retrieve
the carcass from the water. This beast would feed the whole village
for a few days.
We watched with binoculars whilst they attached ropes to its
ears and tail, trying in vain to drag it out of the water.
Eventually they gave up on that approach and just hacked it up in
the water. We were told that they would then proceed to climb back
up the gorge carrying lumps of elephant flesh. We didn't wait
around to see this as I'd rather the prevailing image in my mind
was of a happy, healthy elephant.
After this early entertainment it was time for us to say goodbye
to the folks at Overland Missions. We had had a wonderful days
spending time with them and felt very encouraged as they prayed for
our safety and our future plans as we left.
As we drove out of Livingstone, Neil proved that he hadn't lost
his knack with policemen. A young guy pulled us over with a very
stern I-am trying-to-look-very-official look on his face. However,
with a few strategic conversational tactics Neil managed to get him
to forget he was a policeman.
It went something like this:
Policeman: Insurance please
Neil: Hello how are you?
Policeman: Fine and you?
Neil: Fine thank you, we are really having such a great time in
Zambia, it is a beautiful country.
Policeman (with the beginnings of a smile): Yes it is a beautiful
country. Where are you going?
Neil: To Lake Kariba, what is the road like?
Policeman: Fine fine.
Neil: Not too many potholes?
Policeman: No, it is slow for forty kilometers and then after that
the road is very good and you can hammer it at 180.
Neil: But we will keep in the speed limit otherwise you boys will
Policeman (laughing and handing us back our documents after a
cursory glance) Oh yes of course. Goodbye. Have a good trip.
His prediction about the roads was correct but we did decide to
keep to our maximum speed of 80 kmph rather than his suggested 180
kmph as we weren't sure all Zambian policemen would be so easily
Our destination was Longezia Mission on the banks of Lake Kariba,
which is run by Theuns and Karin Engelbrecht who are the parents of
some friends of ours from London.
We took a wrong turn at the last stretch which caused us to
drive through lots of very rural, very friendly villages, through
some mud and sand, across two dry river beds and through some low
hanging branches but we made it, as usual, just as the sun was
'On the banks of Lake Kariba' is by no means an exaggeration for
this place especially as, due to the amount of water around this
year, the lake has swollen beyond the confines of its banks. Theuns
and Karin kindly let us stay in their guest cottage, which is such
a treat. The lake begins just a couple of metres from our door and
we have a beautiful view across the water to Zimbabwe in the
Theuns and Neil share a common
passion. Land Rovers. Even though there wasn't anything wrong with
the car, they still managed to find things to fix, which I sense
might be the story of our lives from now on. This took most of the
morning and Neil was in heaven.
We went with Theuns in the afternoon to visit their Bible school
and meet the students. They treated us to a great braai in the
evening with steaks unlike anything we had ever seen before. They
were so big they looked like they could have been a cross section
of an entire cow.
Karin runs a programme to support
babies who are in difficulty due to illness or lack of food. Today
I was able to sit in on one of her appointments with a couple and
their baby, Jackson. Jackson was recovering from pneumonia and was
very small and weak for his five and a half months. Despite his
weakness, he did crack a couple of smiles and a chuckle or two,
which was encouraging for Karin and his parents, who could see that
he had improved greatly since she had last seen him a few days
Karin went through various checks and weighed him and
then explained, through a translator, how important it was that
they keep to the food programme so that Jackson could continue to
Seeing Jackson and his very young parents, highlighted again to
me the fragility of life in these rural areas. Quite apart from the
risks of disease, malnourishment and lack of hygiene can cause many
babies in these villages to die. Hopefully, though, Jackson and his
parents will be one of the success stories and he will continue to
develop into a happy, healthy little boy.
It was time to move on to Lusaka. We
were struck again by the genuine warmth of the people in the Kariba
valley as we drove back towards the main road. There were so many
welcoming smiles and greetings from people as we meandered through
Lusaka was a pleasant surprise leafy, clean and ordered, at
least the parts we saw on a Sunday afternoon! Capital cities in
Southern Africa are in a different league to those in West Africa,
except possibly Accra. No goats or donkeys in sight along these
We drove straight through the city, only stopping at Shoprite to
pick another healthy slab of Zambian steak, which we enjoyed on the
braai later in the evening at our campsite.
This morning our task was to get an
affidavit faxed to Linda to give Adam permission to use our World
Cup tickets for the game this Friday. The process of achieving this
multi-stepped task proved that we still have one foot in real
Africa despite the touches of civilisation.
First we had to get a
copy of Neil's ID certified by a policeman with a stamp and
secondly we had to find somewhere to fax it to South Africa.
The sticking point with step one is the stamp and to understand
this you may need some context of African bureaucracy. Being a
stamp holder here is evidence of rank. It is a highly esteemed and
sought after responsibility. Once someone has risen through the
ranks to hold the stamp, they like to make sure that everyone knows
We stopped at two rural police stations to no avail because the
boss with the stamp wasn't there. Never mind that all the other
staff were sitting staring into space desperately needing something
to do. No one can touch the stamp. We have even been in stations
where we can see the stamp but no one will touch the sacred object.
At times, we have been tempted to lean over and do the stamping
ourselves. But goodness know where we would end up if we dared, and
how many stamps would be needed to get us out of that mess.
At the second police station that had no stamp holder present we
were quite shocked to see prisoners being held in cells just off
the main doorway. Maybe they were members of staff who used the
Finally we were sent to the local court where we found the
judge, who was a Big Man in all senses of the word and who, joy of
joys, had a stamp. He had to fetch it in from his car where he
keeps it, presumably to prevent any of his underlings getting their
grubby hands on it.
He happily stamped the affidavit, for a fee. The flourish with
which stamp-holders stamp your document once they have agreed to
comply is always quite amusing. They don't stamp, they SLAM and not
just once, normally a good few times. Then everyone knows who is
Step two was slightly more straightforward and we were done in
three hours, not bad for a two step problem in Africa.
We made it half way to the border and set up in a campsite being
watched by three young boys who seemed to find us fascinating. They
were very polite and we ended up making some juice for them.
It was a beautiful journey to the
border town of Chipata, through the bush with the backdrop of
As we neared the town, there were people and bicycles
everywhere. Most bicycles had a passenger sitting side-saddle on
the rack. It amazed me how serenely they sat there, not looking at
all phased or unbalanced. The last time Neil and I tried something
like that we ended up in a messy pile in a puddle. After a while we
realised that these cycles were actually taxis. Not only did we see
these 'taxi-bikes' but we also saw many other crazy loads: a family
of four with the toddler on the handlebars; four enormous bags of
charcoal; cane tied on to each side of the bike, meeting about two
metres above the cyclists head. Nothing is too high, wide, heavy or
awkward for these cyclists.
That is the end of Zambia for a while but I think we will be
back. We have both loved this country with its amazing sights, its
wonderful people and its great African vibe.