Sat, 26 Jul 2008 08:50:15 +0000
TAZARA Day 3 Index Livingstone
We were woken up around 3:45 to warn us of our arrival in Kapiri Mposhi, and I got all my things together. As usual, this didn't take long, and I was left sitting on the seat yawning and coming close to drifting off as we waited for the station to turn up. We pulled in about half an hour later, still pitch black night.
The task here was to get into Lusaka somehow. I'd been told that there were minibuses from the bus station, about a kilometre away from the train station. I wanted to make sure that I had other tourists to follow around. Luckily that was no problem: the Polish monk, the Canadian woman, the English medical student, and myself quickly clustered together. The nice thing about that is, there were two Zambian residents in the group, so I didn't have to think for myself at all.
The minibuses turned out to be parked in the parking lot of the train station itself, so the four of us piled in along with various other travellers. The third man from my compartment, who was returning home, popped along to say goodbye to the Polish guy and me, which was nice. And then we waited for the minibus to fill up.
At first I was congratulating myself on having a full seat to myself, but I should have known better. The minibus is clearly designed to hold four rows of three people in the back, but in Africa four people are expected to squeeze into each row, and eventually this happened to mine. We were so tightly packed in that there was no room to rock left and right when we went round bends, which actually improved the ride somewhat, at least for me in the middle. Still, three hours of this is not exactly luxury.
Everyone was tired, and one by one the people in front of me attempted to get comfortable enough to sleep. It was fun to watch this process. Various strategies were tried, but the solution most people converged on involved leaning forward to rest your head on the seat in front. With everyone packed in and bent forward it looked for all the world like prayers in a mosque. I didn't think I needed, or would be able, to sleep, but I soon found myself dozing, and eventually gave in and adopted the crash position myself. I think I must have slept an hour like that, which given how much trouble I usually have getting to sleep, seems positively miraculous.
The major problem with the journey was how cold it was. The back window of the minibus didn't fit well and there was a constant cold breeze blowing from behind. I had my jumper, but it wasn't enough. The English girl in front of me had an even thinner jumper on that me, and I imagine she was frozen stiff. Most of the Zambians, of course, had big thick parkas on, or even blankets.
It was a bit warmer by the time we pulled into Lusaka bus station. My Polish companion had told me that it's about six hours from Lusaka to Livingstone, and that Lusaka itself isn't very interesting, so I'd decided to skip Lusaka completely and go straight to Livingstone. That made life rather simple. The Polish guy pointed out the bus I should catch, I bought a ticket, and waited to leave. That was it. There was a little drama because I didn't have enough Zambian money to pay for the coach, but the conductor took a 50 USD note and brought me back my ticket and my change in Kwacha. The correct amount of change, too. So that was all as simple as could be. I bought a meat pastie from a vendor as breakfast, and I was ready to go.
The seats on the bus were extremely narrow, not wide enough for me and my neighbour to sit with our arms crossed. But being in the front row, I had a great view out the front of the bus. This being a notably classy bus company, they served us wafer biscuits and a cold can of coke as we set off. Thankfully there was no video presentation, although there was music from an MP3 CD player. We started off with some whinging folk singer, which seemed pretty out of place. Then we moved onto a reggae compilation, which seemed a bit more sensible. And then we got UB40's greatest hits, at which point the bus driver's musical credibility evaporated completely.
I spoke to my neighbour a bit. He runs a photo processing company, and apparently Lusaka and Livingstone have only three digital processing labs between them. Somehow, I didn't quite catch why, this requires my neighbour to regularly make the journey between the cities.
The road leading out of Lusaka had some pretty bad potholes, and the bus driver veered erratically around the road to avoid them. Once we got well out of town, however, things got better. And then about 60km from Livingstone we started to hit the section I'd been warned about: the road to Livingstone is absolutely appalling. It's so bad that for long stretches the driver simply abandoned the bitumen and drove along the dirt track to the side of the road instead. On the wrong side of the road, I may add, which made life interesting when we encountered trucks coming the other way doing the same thing.
An interesting feature is people along the side of the road, who fill in the potholes with shovels and then try to flag down passing motorists. I assume they're freelancers after tips, or possibly hitch-hikers trying to karmically pay for their rides. Certainly our driver ignored them completely.
One important incident: along this Livingstone road I distinctly saw a baboon scramble off the road into the bushes as we passed. Excellent, my first genuine piece of African wildlife. It's no safari, but it will do me for this jaunt in Africa.
As we pulled into Livingstone around half past three I could see the layout of the town: basically stretched along one main street. Unfortunately I couldn't see any of my recommended hostels from the road, so I had to take a taxi to "Fawlty Towers", the first place on my list. It was just up the road, but of course I'm paying to avoid the need to wander around lost for hours on end. I was in luck: they had a place for the night. All booked out for tomorrow night though, which is a problem.
They have a little booking agent downstairs, and I went there to figure out my next move. I want to go to Namibia, but the questino is whether I go all the way to Windhoek or just to Katila Mulilo in the Kaprivi Strip. The lady told me (after correcting my pronounciation of Windhoek, which was embarrassing) that there's a nice bus to Windhoek that happens to leave on Wednesday, which suits me beautifully. I have to go to a different travel agent to book that though, so that'll wait until the morning. Then there was the small matter of a place to stay tomorrow. Unfortunately the number two hostel on my list is also booked out, and number three doesn't exist any more. That's a bit of a worry, but I can sort it out tomorrow.
I headed into town for dinner, going to an unremarkable but nice-looking bar and restaurant attached to a local supermarket. They didn't have anything exotic on the menu, so I just got pizza and a couple of the local beers. The place was about evenly split between tourists and wealthier locals, some of whom were getting quite rowdily drunk. A pretty uninspiring place to spend the evening really, and I didn't hang around.
The way back was a bit difficult, since there are no streetlights in Livingstone whatsoever. I almost got killed crossing the road, mistakenly thinking it was a dual carriageway and only looking in one direction. I also tramped through a patch of horrible clay/mud, and the attempt to kick it off my boots when I got back to the hostel just made a horrible mess on their wall. I had to spend ages rinsing them off under a garden tap instead. However, the lack of lights did mean that I was treated to the best display of stars I've seen in a long time. Perth shows a fair number of stars, but everywhere I've lived since has only managed a scattered few. So I enjoyed the chance while I could.
So. I've landed in Zambia and I have a decent place to sleep tonight. I can now tick off the TAZARA as being a complete success.
TAZARA Day 3 Index Livingstone