While in Africa I wrote several stories with the intention of creating a book of short stories about my trip.
Rather than leave it as an unfinished book, here is part eight in a blogging mini series…. “Shane’s shorts.”
If I’d read the 2011(?) Lonely planet guide book before going into Zambia I may have had second thoughts. I don’t remember the exact words or whether the introduction was only about Lusaka or the whole of Zambia but when I read it months later I was shocked by negative image it tried to give. Something along the lines of high crime, high HIV rates, murderers, robbers and plague….or that was the message between the lines anyway.
Looking across the majestically Zambezi river at Zambia it just made so much sense to go there. After the challenges of the deserts the last couple of weeks from Windhoek had been dull to say the least. I was again ready for a challenge and adventure. The logical thing to do would have been to cycle the 200km to Victoria falls, the next “must see” place of my trip. But a 1500km detour through a country you hear almost nothing about and the gateway to central/east Africa seemed far more interesting. I mentioned the idea to the white South African owner of an internet café I’d spent most afternoons in during my time in Katima mulilo, her answer instantly convinced me it was the right thing to do “You can’t cycle that road, that’s a ‘oribbly ‘oribbly road!!!”
Leaving the air conditioned building of the Namibian immigration I instantly felt like I was in “real Africa” as I crossed the border to Zambia. The broken welcome sign, a search to find out which run down shack was Zambian immigration, the predictable “Are you in a hurry? “ question from customs (say yes at your own peril…). During the process of paying $50 for my visa the immigration officer recommend that I change my money with his “friend” just behind me, “it is better this way.” I was instantly paranoid about this corrupt couple and the implications of “it is better this way” but quickly saw the logic. Outside I’d already been hassled by a dozen money changers often 3-4 at one time. To do business with this one guy that was allowed inside the immigration office would be quieter and easier and I would be less distracted, reducing the chance of me getting ripped off. Five minutes later I was 250,000 Kwatcha richer and bartered 50% off the price of a sim card, and I assume that the customs officer would later get his cut.
The first couple of days the road was indeed ‘oribbly ‘oribble, as much due to the Chineese road works and trucks as the potholes and gradients. With time it degraded to strip road then for the last two days before the Kalongola-Senanga ferry crossing it was pretty much just sand track. I’d gotten the adventure I once again needed.
Being in “real Africa” meant the food was finally super cheap though limited to the infamous Nsima with chicken/goat/beef. Nsima is the staple food for most of Africa and is basically a kind of mille/cornmeal porridge that in the coming months would have many names depending on the region and country but almost always tasted the same. Most tourists can’t stomach or don’t like Nshima/Chima/Sadza/Ugali/Pap but luckily I loved it and through Zambia/Zimbabwe/Mozambiqu would often eat it as much as twice a day, only once I got as far as Malawi was I able to add the variation of Chips for lunch or breakfast.
Accommodation had also become instantly more affordable with rooms varying in quality and size between $5-15. Naturally few of the hotels were suitable for a package tourist but for a cheapskate cyclist they were an affordable luxury a couple of days a week. The cockroaches usually died with the first spraying of the room.
On my third day in Zambia I ask a man in a larger village where I could buy airtime for my new sim card and some snacks. Seeing the blank expression on my face after a string of directions he offered to guide me to the airtime seller at the market. I thought ‘hear we go, he obviously wants to earn a dollar from me…’ I left my bike where it stood on the main street, only grabbing my small hip bag with valuables. People may call me crazy but I think its rude to lock my bike up in small villages, locking your gear up is like “Hi I’m Shane, where can I get food and water here and by the way I don’t trust you fuckers….” Pretty rude really, luckily I was in Africa not Amsterdam so my bike was always safe under the watchful eyes of the locals.
After a two minute walk we found the airtime seller in an old sea container. I bought the airtime I needed plus some snacks and didn’t look forward to the inevitable discussion with my guide and fixer about his cut. I shook his hand, smiled and said thank you. He smiled back, turned and walked away to carry on with his day.
Apart from the occasional opportunist Zambia continued to be kind to me. During my rest day in Senanga I took a walk around the market. I was stopped dozens of times by stall owners or passers by, not to sell me their overpriced Chineese crap or other goods but pure out of interest in me. Many just stopped to say hello and shake my hand, the ones that could speak a little English asking what a white man was doing in Senanga. Naturally the people of Senanga often see white people pass in the their 4×4’s but few ever stop, even fewer bother the walk around the market or chat with the locals. These brief contacts and innocent conversations are truly the magic of travelling alone and on a bicycle.
From Senanga the Chineese had finished the road so I was in Mongu within a day, where I hung around for a couple of days hoping to see the already late Kuomboka festival, which sadly didn’t come while I was there.
My first morning in Zambia’s capital Lusaka I took a walk up to Manda hills shopping mall. I’d planned to grab a nice coffee and do a little window shopping and hoped to find a cheap external hard drive. Within minutes of walking into the mall I became a little dizzy and overwhelmed by the amount of people. The huge choice of shops, a food court, cinema and general overkill of consumerism were all normal things to find in a mall but after months on deserted roads and small villages it was all a bit much for me. I had to sit down for a coffee and watch the world go by for an hour to allow a sort of vertigo feeling to subside. It was weird to experience what can only be described as a sort of reverse culture shock.
The next two week Zambia remained very friendly. Wonderful hosts in Lusaka and later at the Munali coffee farm as well as a great week cycling with Ken. But all that stuff is already covered in a blog post >HERE<