Freitag, 18. April 2008

Zambia – the bicycle country

Before we crossed the border to Zambia, we enjoyed a relaxing cruise on the Chobe River. It was good fun and we saw plenty of animals and were even chased by a hippo which acted more like a dolphin. The water must have been not very deep or they can swim very fast and jump extremely high – it was quite a spectacle and we were glad that our boat could take up speed quickly as well.

The next morning we left for Zambia. As there is no bridge over the Chobe River we had to take the pontoon. We always thought that they are planning to build a bridge but by the time we arrived we were told that the responsible minister of Zambia decided to sponsor two more ferries instead of building a bridge. At the moment there are two pontoons from which most of the time only one is running. The best part is that each ferry can only take one big truck, and in the best case four vehicles. So be prepared to wait… I was told that the truck drivers sometimes wait for 2 weeks until it is their turn cross! There is a long queue of trucks, but if you have a small vehicle, you can just pass them all, otherwise you are stuck for two weeks as well. As soon as you passed the Botswana border, there are several guys who offer you help to fill in all the paper work on the Zambia side. They say it will cost you only ZAR 10.00 but we compared it with a fellow camper who took their service. He ended up paying three times as much as what we paid doing everything ourselves! After an hour it was our turn to board the pontoon (which you are not allowed to call ferry or boat without starting an argument with the locals). Only the driver is allowed in the vehicle, in case the boat sinks! The passengers are only granted permission to board once all vehicles are parked. As the river was quite strong, the pontoon had to turn twice, otherwise it will turn over. This apparently happened before and a lot of people died in the incident.

After the short ride, we had to do all the paper work. You end up paying US$ 20.00 for the pontoon (this has to be paid on the Zambian site)
200’000 Kwacha (can not be paid in any other currency. Fee depends on the engine size) for the Carbon Emission Tax (this has to be paid in the same building where you get your visa)
10’000 Kwacha for the Council District (this has to be paid in the police office)
112’500 Kwacha for the Third Party Insurance (in one of the small little wooden block huts just in front of the gate)

Once we have mastered the paperwork and paid the fortune we were ready to leave the dodgy place. From here it takes about 60km to Livingstone, where we stayed at the campsite of the Livingstone Safari Lodge (US 6.00 pp). It’s nothing special, but was alright to crash for the night. As we will meet Lynn’s parents in a week’s time, we decided not to visit the Vic Falls yet but to explore Zambia a bit. Be prepared to pay a fortune for Petrol which is more than twice as expensive as in South Africa. In Livingstone they currently charge between 7500 and 8100 Kwacha per litre, in Lusaka it’s between 7000 and 7300. The cheapest option is to buy the petrol from some street guys, but you are never sure if they have mixed it with water and whether they supply you with the right juice. We bought a couple litres and didn’t have any problem, they can beat the petrol station prices, as they smuggle it with the Pontoon from Botswana.

As our GPS is still broken, it somehow can not find any satellites (!*%#*!), we had to trust a good old road map to find our way to the south gate of the Kafue National Park. It was quite tricky, as the map only stated one road and there were plenty! The good thing is that there are always the very friendly Zambians who pointed us in the right direction. We were quite amazed to see that many of them are riding a bicycle; I guess it’s because of those unbelievable high fuel prices. We arrived at the gate just after 3 pm. The ranger offered us to camp just outside the gate so that we did not had to pay for the night and could go in first thing in the morning. Unfortunately we only figured out that 70% of the park is inaccessible once we were inside the park. Most of it is flooded, the North Part is even worse. So we drove the only road which was accessible through the park and did not see one animal. The only exception were hundreds of Tsetse flies, they somehow chased our cruiser all the way trough the park! It was quite frustrating, but the drive was nevertheless good fun as on many parts the road is washed away and bridges are broken. The best time to visit the park is between August and November, when even the North is accessible. We left the park on the same day and drove up to the M9 towards Mumbwa. The afternoon which we spent outside the park was much better than inside the park, we did not see any game, but could get a good insight into Zambia’s everyday life. It was just beautiful! We arrived at our camp spot (which was at a National Park gate, where the ranger let us sleep behind a hut) after dark. He said that he makes sure that we are safe and since he was armed with AK 47 that promise seemed reasonable. It was a 15 hours driving day! We got up early, (as we had to leave before 6.30 a.m. so that the ranger did not get into trouble with the next shift) and headed for Namwala. We thought it will be a shortcut through the Kafue Flats back to Livingstone. After 4 hours of driving trough remote villages and crossing several so called Zambian bridges we reached a village just before Kasanga. There the pontoon goes over the Kafue River to Namwala. Unfortunately a tributary of the Kafue River cut the last stretch to Kasanga and there was no way to cross so we had to head back to Mumbwa. Without GPS this was quite tricky, as there are hundreds of roads leading to some remote villages and kraals and dead ends. Again with the help of some friendly villagers we made it back to Mumbwa. The funny thing is that if you ask three people in a village of 20 inhabitants you will get three different directions.

It was just after 4 pm when we returned back on the main road and so we decided to drive the 150 km to Lusaka. We would have made it easily before sunset but just after Mumbwa the Cruiser started to stutter and uphill there was hardly any power coming from the engine. There was no way we could drive to Lusaka like this. Some locals told us that there is a service station in Kasalu (the next village). We headed for that one, but couldn’t make it that far before the Cruiser stopped all together. Luckily the car just stopped pretty much outside the house, where the mechanic lives. And to our luck, he just drove into the main road the very same minute we stranded and found us. He’s name is Joe Madraya (+26 0977220149) in case you need help on that side of Zambia. He took the whole caburator apart as he thought there might be sand in it but in the end he figured out that it was the ignition coil which wasn’t cooling anymore.. As he did not had any spares, he told us to splash some water over the ignition coil and rewired the immobilizer for the moment. This seemed to work perfectly and after 3 hours we continued our journey to Lusaka. We arrived again, very late and stayed at the Eureka campsite just 10 km south of Lusaka (10 000 Kwacha per person). Our mission was to bring the cruiser back to Livingstone to get it fixed and chill there until Lynn’s parents arrive. After another 300 km, the engine oil gauge suddenly dropped to low. We were afraid to drive any further, but since we were in the middle of no where, we were forced to drive at least until we had cell phone reception. We called Joe and he told us to check if all wires are still connected to the oil filter. We found a little tiny one loose, but somehow even when we plugged it in, the gauge was not moving. As the engine still sounded fine, we continued towards Livingstone. In Zimba, some 80 km before Livingstone, the cruiser started to stuttered again. We stopped and consulted a mechanic, but unfortunately he was completely pretty drunk and could not even open the bonnet without our help. We purred water over the ignition coil which worked again and made it over the pothole riddled road to Livingstone. This time we stayed at the Waterfront Campsite (US 7.50 pp), which has two fire places, running water as well as electricity on each campsite. We made this our home for the next couple days and until the cruiser was fixed. As it was the weekend, we have to wait until Monday to bring it to a workshop. After two rather lazy days we went looking for a mechanic and found help at the BP workshop (they normally don’t do electrics but could help us anyway). 5 minutes later our engine oil gauge was working again. It was just that tiny cable which had to be cut off and plugged in properly. We bought a new ignition coil at Autoworld (50 000 Kwacha) and went back to the workshop where they installed it. We are going to test it in a couple of days once we drive back to Lusaka, from where we go to South Luangwa National Park and then continue on to Malawi. So far, Zambia is the most expensive and most rural country we visited in Africa. The spar juice, meat, veggies... costs twice as much as in all neighbouring countries… Hopefully Malawi gets a little cheaper again, otherwise we have to end our trip too soon.

Somehow I couldnt upload any pictures to the blog, but on Picasa. To view the pictures click on the picture below:

Chobe & Zambia

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