Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Part 1 - Botswana & Zambia

Elephant Sands, Botswana

In August 2010, we left our life in Gaborone, Botswana and headed to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania - our home for the next 3 years at least...  We decided to drive the few thousand kms, visiting as many of the national parks as possible in the time allowed, before settling down to life in Dar.  This is a record of our trip...

Our first night on our trip - Elephant Sands, Nata, Botswana
We left Gaborone late on Wednesday morning, so couldn’t make it all the way to Kasane.  Instead we stayed at Elephant Sands, 60 km past Nata.  Our plan was to leave there early the next morning, but after spending too much time at the bar talking to a guy who works around Africa, we got to bed too late and got up late, which meant we only got to Kasane at lunch time.  We decided not to catch the ferry in the afternoon as we didn’t know how long it would take, so went to the Chobe NP for the afternoon instead.

Chobe NP, Botswana
They now have a complicated system of routes to drive to alleviate traffic, but don’t know if they use it – we didn’t have to.
Our last drive in Botswana - Chobe NP, Kasane, Botswana
Botswana’s flagship park, Chobe, is situated about 8km from Kasane.  We went for our last game drive in Botswana to see how it looks in the dry season.  It is so low, in stark contrast to 5 months ago when you couldn’t get near the river because the water was so high.  Now, the water has receded so much that it’s more of a stream than a river and you can drive on some of the floodplains.

Elephants on the Chobe river
Impala watching us


Waiting for the ferry - Kazungula border, Botswana
After a nice drive in Chobe, we spent the night at Toro Lodge.  We were up early the next morning to get to the Kazangula border by 7am and got the paperwork done.  To get into Zambia, you have to cross the Chobe/Zambezi River and this is done by loading the car onto a ferry.  The crossing itself takes about 15 minutes, but we had to wait while the ferry was in Zambia loading up trucks.  So after about 45 minutes, we finally got on and were on our way to Zambia

Waiting to cross the ferry, hoping the bus isn’t going with us – it did
Ferry crossingBotswana to Zambia
So for the ferry, all passengers need to get out.  The car gets driven on along with any other number of cars and in our case a big bus.  Once all the cars, bicycles and people are loaded, the ferry takes off without warning – sometimes the guys are still running on while it’s leaving.  The crossing itself takes about 10 or 15 minutes to get across and all the passengers get off followed by the cars, where you need to pay your $20 fee and get your receipt (and don’t throw it away – it’s important as we found out later).

About to drive onto Zambian soil
And while the ferry is unloading the cars, amusingly there are these little dugouts that ferry across passengers’ luggage – amazing that these 2 guys are moving stacks of luggage just balancing in the boat across the Chobe River!

River taxis
(Un)organised chaos at the Zambian border
While the ferry itself is pretty straightforward, the Zambian border definitely isn’t.  First stop immigration and visas sorted out, but then the fun starts with the money changing, carbon tax, import tax, and any other tax that the Zambian authorities have thought of.  Unfortunately for Dru, he was the one handling all of it while I guarded the car; luckily he latched onto a couple of guys that had done this before and they gave him some good advice on how to handle it.  

He came back after a while saying that the office for the car import tax was closed, so he couldn’t get the 3rd party insurance yet either.  But while trying to get it, there was a bloke that sold some tourists bogus 3rd party tax. Unfortunately for him, the authorities caught him and in their effort to stamp out corruption, handcuffed him to a windowsill and were beating the crap out of him – guess that’s a bit of a deterrent…

At the border
The way out is on the left – and the cars in front are all parked, some for days.  It took us forever and with a lot of manoeuvring to finally get out the gate.
After 2 ½ hours, the running around was done, except that I had to go back to the visa section and get the immigration official to change my visa – he’d only given me a 1 day transit visa instead of 4 days.  Luckily that was sorted out quickly, but then it still took another 40 min to manoeuvre our way out of the gate, where we had to show our ferry permit of all things (?!) before we could start the 80 km to Livingstone.

Car trouble, tomatoes and chickensLusaka, Zambia
We made it to Livingstone and stopped off at a pharmacy to get some malaria treatment – we had the test kits, but figured it would be a good idea to get the treatment as well just in case we were stuck in the middle of the bush and one of us came down with malaria.
We got to Lusaka just before dark and then found our way to Pioneer’s Camp, a place just outside Lusaka that caters for backpackers and campers.  We had a major problem with the car though – the roof rack was breaking!  We had had the problem in Gaborone and got a temporary fix the day before we left, but it hadn’t held.  So the next morning we had to get into Lusaka to get it sorted.  After a bit of asking around, we found a market in the local part of Lusaka that had welders. 

After agreeing on a price, the guys from Pazed Steel welded a temporary fix… very temporary though – it was hardly holding by the end of the day!  By 9 am we left Lusaka and headed off on the Great North Rd towards Tanzania, passing plenty of people and vegetables stalls along the way – mostly selling tomatoes, onions and live chickens!

Veg sellers
The vegetable stalls are common all along the road in Zambia, mainly selling tomatoes and onions, with the occasional live chicken – this stop even had ducks and a wild guineafowl for sale.

Night at a knockshop? Mpika, Zambia
Because we left Lusaka late, we couldn’t make it as far as we wanted to.  So by sundown we got to a place called Mpika.  We didn’t have any idea of where to stay, so we asked the policeman at the roadblock outside the village – (there are so many roadblocks – we did about half a dozen in 400 km) who gave us the name of a place.  But after checking it out it wasn’t an option – right behind the only petrol station in the middle of the village on a Saturday night. 
Our “Lodge” in Mpika
The alternative was camping, not really an option when the toilet and shower is right next to the “cocktail” bar filled with patrons on a Saturday night.
We checked out a couple of other places, but eventually settled on Tushia Lodge – a very posh name for what we think is actually a brothel.  Still, aside from the dodgy bathroom (which had a kitchen sink for a bathroom basin) and a couple of people coming and going in the evening, it was a peaceful night’s sleep.
Bathroom – It did have hot water, which is more than some places in Tanzania
Driving through craters – Last part of Zambia
We were pleasantly surprised by the state of the roads in Zambia – all the way from the border to Mpika the roads were in good condition.  But after Mpika, the road got a whole lot worse, especially the last 100km of so from the Tanzanian border. Then the potholes were right across the road and some extremely deep – a real problem as evidenced by the amount of trucks and buses stuck on the side of the road. 

Entrepreneur – we saw one guy filling one of the massive potholes with sand and grasses; then demanding payment from the trucks and cars since he was “fixing” the road…
In Zambia, you need 2 red triangles in case of a breakdown, but no trucks seemed to have that – instead they put tree branches in front of a breakdown – so if you see branches in the middle of the road, slow down!  There’s a broken down bus or truck around the corner!  Fine in the day, but a major reason why you don’t drive at night here!

Branches - Zambia’s substitute for triangles
Stuck at the border – Nkonde/Tunduma border
After an entertaining stop at Isoka to try and get petrol (which involved containers, so we declined) and then actually getting petrol at the border town of Nkonde (which involved using a hand started generator to pump the petrol), we headed to the border.  It was chaos on the Zambian side, with so many people trying to “help” – we had about 8 guys running after our car into immigration.  Eventually we settled on one person (the one who ran the furthest!) who got us across the Zambian border.  But then it went downhill…

Getting into Tanzania, the visa part was quick, but when it came to the car it became a problem.  Because we needed to import the car, but didn’t have a work permit yet, they wanted us to bond the car, pay half of the value of the car as a down payment and then get the money back when we got back to the border.  That was not going to work since we weren’t coming back…  It was all going horribly wrong…  We were told to wait for the big boss who was in town because the president was in the area campaigning (elections in October).  Well, he never came back the afternoon, so in the end his deputy told us we would have to leave the car at the border. 
Our hotel in no-man’s land. 
Apparently the guys that live in this strip can go to both Zambia and Tanzania without passports (?) And there are plenty of people that are randomly walking across the borders with no-one taking any notice.
Understandably nervous about that (all our belongings were in the car), we finally had to take the valuables and stay at a hotel in “no-man’s land”, a strip of land between Zambia and Tanzania, which apparently no-one owns…  in the end it worked out though – got back the next morning to find the car intact; the big boss arrived and authorised the car to get into the country, and 21 hours after arriving at the border, we were finally allowed through into Tanzania…


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