Wild Dog Adventure Riding

Riding: Plan, Report and Racing => Ride Reports => Topic started by: Rooies on August 13, 2011, 02:17:01 pm

Title: A Hike Report - Zambia: Observations from the interior
Post by: Rooies on August 13, 2011, 02:17:01 pm
A colleague of mine recently completed a trip with a difference.  He subscribes to a philosophy of ďtravelling should not be expensiveĒ.  He has the means to do this kind of trip any which way he likes, but he chose to do it his way.

For those of you who like a good long read and a story with some depth, grab your coffee and enjoy.


The following is a small collection of my experiences, thoughts, and observations of people met and places visited throughout Zambia, from Livingstone in the South to the shores of Lake Tanganyika at Mpulungu in the far North. Certain names have been changed to respect the privacy of the people concerned. Everything you read here is true, as seen through my eyes, and as I experienced it.

01. Domestic life can be boring
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6088/6037654905_e82830d761.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6037654905/)

02. Deciding where to go...Zambia looks good
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6184/6037654977_a8386d5a67.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6037654977/)

Title: Re: A Hike Report - Zambia: Observations from the interior
Post by: Rooies on August 13, 2011, 02:32:10 pm

I first met Miguel in the arrivals lounge, if you can call it that, of Livingstone International Airport (an airstrip in the bush with baboons relaxing in the lush grass next to runway). A diminutive character in appearance, I first noticed him earlier in the day at O.R. Tambo on one of the airport buses that ferried us to our Kulula plane waiting on the tarmac. With his baseball cap and glasses firmly in place, he was fidgeting with the fasteners on his backpack, and I noticed that both of his forearms and hands were slightly undeveloped, a slight birth defect which slowed him down, but didnít prevent him from travelling to new countries.

Shortly after passing through passport control at Livingstone and having met my pickup man from the backpackers lodge, I put my backpack down to remove the plastic cling-wrap that had mummified it in Johannesburg. Theft from baggage is still a problem at our airports, and I didnít want to risk my 6-piece fishing rod getting stolen, I was going after big Tiger Fish in the Zambezi. As I was removing the wrapping, Miguel walked up to me, introduced himself, and proceeded to ask me a barrage of questions. Where are you staying? Where are you going? How long are you in Livingstone? What have you planned to do? The questions were very straightforward but not threatening or creepy, I sensed where he was coming from. I think that on account of his disability and diminutive size, he was keen to make a connection with someone as a travel companion, to help him find his footing at first in strange new city and country. Once he ascertained that we were going to the same place, he quickly suggested that we might investigate what there was to do and see around town. For someone like me, who likes to make it up as I go along when travelling, his approach was a little pressurising. I remembered his limitations, but didnít treat him as limited, and I agreed to his request, but knew that I could politely put the brakes on when required.

After checking in at the backpackers, he followed me into town as I told him I wanted to change some money and buy a local sim card. He waited patiently for me as I did this, and kept on suggesting and asking if there was some touristic activity or sight-seeing we could do around town. We took a walk down to the Tourist Office, which happened to be diagonally across the road from our lodgings, much to his delight. Once inside, he bombarded the staff with all his questions as I bought some postcards to send to people in America and Chile. He saw this and bought some too and buried them in his bag, as though they were proof that he had visited Livingstone. After taking some pictures of each other around the landmarks in town, he grew tired of walking around and returned to the backpackers. I went to the post office to send the postcards and proceeded to walk around town a bit more.

Miguel is from Coimbra in Portugal. He studied Economics and now works for a large mining company in Maputo, Mozambique. Itís a Brazilian company and is apparently the twentieth largest company in the world. He has been in its employ since February 2010 on a one year contract, much to the dismay of his parents back home. Despite being a little over five feet tall, he often insisted on giving me these almighty slaps on the back, as one would to a good buddy, and which would no doubt have sent me flying had I not applied myself in the gym over the last few months. Typically one of these encounters would be accompanied with the following sort of discourse:

Miguel: So we are going to the (Victoria) Falls tomorrow? (Slap)
Myself: Yes Miguel, weíre going to the Falls. (This was probably the 5th time I confirmed this statement/question)
Miguel: Good. (Slap)
Myself: Yes, it will be good. I hope itís not raining tomorrow.
Miguel: I agree (Slap), not this overcast weather. Do you think we will have fun there? (Slap)
Myself: Yes Miguel, it will be a good day. Donít worry lad.
Miguel: Good (Slap)

If I were to return one of these buddy-slaps, he would go flying and end up in a heap on the floor, on account of his lesser frame. While at the backpackers I would sometimes see him from a distance, and I thought of hiding in a quiet corner, to be by myself. I recognised this as a selfish part of my nature rearing itís ugly head, and I felt ashamed, so I stayed on the spot to chat to him. What kind of man am I if I donít even share the little I have to offer, with someone who struggles through life in areas where I have it easy? I think he perceived me as a confident traveller, and that made it easier for him. The truth is I was shooting from the hip, and planning on travelling by hitch-hiking through Zambia. I didnít know where I would be in two or three dayís time.

One evening while we were sharing a dinner of mangoes (I picked these from the many trees in town), bananas, canned tuna and bread rolls (which he was fond of), a Chinese backpacker approached us. He was staying at another backpackers nearby and was moving around different venues to see whether there was anyone who wanted to accompany him to Namibia in a hired car where expenses could be shared. I told him Miguel was travelling that way, and the small lad exchanged contact details with him (the next victim of the buddy-slaps I couldnít help thinking).  For all his questions and quirks, Miguel is a kind and gentle person, and is not shy to be generous with what he has. I hope he found his way to Namibia in good health and good spirits. I have no doubt that he did.

03. Little friend I met on the road
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6069/6037642701_922f2b84eb.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6037642701/)

04. The backapckers
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6086/6038191350_30e2dc9ea6.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6038191350/)

05. The road to Vic Falls
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6078/6037642833_5d211b6472.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6037642833/)

06. About to start hitching
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6200/6038191524_5c976cb650.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6038191524/)

07. First view
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6185/6038191610_d29b4f86b7.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6038191610/)

08. The bungee bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6084/6038191702_21765f7fa5.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6038191702/)

11. Miguel
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6149/6038191894_5bcf0d9f24.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6038191894/)

12. The gorge
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6065/6038191998_ef3de1706c.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6038191998/)

14. Getting sun-burn
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6075/6038192194_c0dfc29fbd.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6038192194/)

15. The river guide
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6088/6038192274_49a3be9e6a.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6038192274/)
Title: Re: A Hike Report - Zambia: Observations from the interior
Post by: Rooies on August 13, 2011, 02:35:17 pm
The Stone Seller

On my first evening in town I took a walk to the edge of the property where I was taking my lodgings in order to get a better view of the burning sunset, which was very beautiful. I hadnít even been standing there for a minute when a man who was playing pool nearby approached me. Without even saying hello he asked me where I was from, whether I was on holiday and if I was travelling alone. Having grown up on this continent, and had the opportunity to visit many of itís countries, the alarm bells of experience went off before he even reached me, when I saw the way he drifted towards me. I answered him and in doing so left no door open for further conversation. He said he was on holiday too and then when quiet and looked at me. So this was how this one played out his charade. The silence was intended for me to ask him a question, trying, in his mind at least, to get me to take the bait. As he stood there dressed in his American rappers costume, I looked into his eyes trying to figure what he was up to, and then I asked him where he was from. He said he was from Lusaka and was in Livingstone on holiday. A lie. He said that he was waiting for a friend to arrive so they could chat. A half truth at best. Then he said ďIím selling some stones, some Angolan stones...Ē. I gave him a hard look for about 3 seconds and then said Iím not interested and walked past him and away.

I heard him muttering something that sounded like an apology or a poor attempt to patch up his blown cover. I had no intentions of supporting the trade of illegal diamonds, knowing that many people suffer inhumanely through it. I wouldnít expect that fact to bother him, as people like him are opportunists, doing whatever is easiest to put extra money in their wallets, and not at all concerned about the bigger picture and the lives involved or how their actions contribute to it all. What is it that sets this man apart from the person who sells bananas off the top of their wooden cart in the main street in the evenings? This is not a final judgement, he is young man, and hopefully time will bring him some perspective. As for me, I had no wish to get involved anything that could get me thrown into prison far away from home.
Title: Re: A Hike Report - Zambia: Observations from the interior
Post by: Rooies on August 13, 2011, 02:42:16 pm
18. The lawns of the Royal Livingstone
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6076/6038192686_e9d15c9026.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6038192686/)

19. The smoke that thunders
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6196/6037644179_34283b02a1.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6037644179/)

22. Zebras for the tourists
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6139/6037644639_dd71355d8c.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6037644639/)

23. Sunset at Vic Falls
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6187/6037644909_5d3849bbf7.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6037644909/)

24. Flute player on the deck
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6186/6037644999_63e7d1fa5d.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6037644999/)

27. Jumbo on one of the islands in the Zambezi
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6201/6038193894_fcf1e8c221.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6038193894/)
Title: Re: A Hike Report - Zambia: Observations from the interior
Post by: Rooies on August 13, 2011, 02:43:37 pm

There are many different cultures, customs and tribes in the Zambian nation, including 73 languages and dialects. In other countries to the north, such vast and often less numerous differences have at times brought strife and bloodshed to many communities. A person from the far north of Zambia living on the shores of Lake Tanganyika could have absolutely nothing in common with someone from the south west. If you had no prior knowledge of this, walking into the country for the first time would not reveal all these cultural and linguistic differences. Yet despite the differences, Zambia was a peaceful place, and itís people friendly and polite.

Sarah was a staff member at the place I first stayed. She had been working there for five years. I was fortunate to have a very interesting conversation with her one evening, and she started telling me about her family background and life. Her family originated from the eastern parts of Zambia, where precisely, I am not sure. Her father is the grandson of the local chief or headman. In relating how her parents met and got married, she said that sometimes in Zambia a person doesnít get to choose their life partner, it needs to be approved by their parents and the elders. Sarahís parents chose each other out of love, which understandably caused some waves in the community. Despite the choice made from mutual love and affection, things soon got difficult for the young bride. Her husband wanted her to conform to the typical village tradition of being a ďkept womanĒ, according to Sarah. This didnít sit well with her as she had dreams and ambition that couldnít be expressed through day to day village life. Sarahís mother had her own little business, which sometimes took her away from home to other towns. This caused further problems for her husband, and when the children were born light in complexion, she was accused of infidelity. He went so far as to insinuate that due to their fair skin, that the father was probably white, a result of one of his wifeís business trips. This was not the case. As the children got older, it was clear in both their features and complexion that their father was the man who married their mother. Out of love. Looking at Sarah I could tell she was an ethnic black African lady. Her father had made a very serious and offensive accusation, which no doubt broke her motherís heart.

So Sarah and her mother and siblings moved to Livingstone, in the southern parts of Zambia. It was all too much. When she was about 15 years old, her mother passed away, and there was no immediate family in the area to take care of all the siblings. If it were not for some people in the local church and a few distant relatives providing help and shelter, Sarah and her brothers and sisters wouldíve eventually become destitute street children. Her dad just never bothered. Emotionally or financially or in any other way. She had to raise her younger siblings, and through a lot of effort managed to matriculate from high school as well.

It must be a huge strain on any teenager to take on the role of a mother and still find the will power to finish high school. The psychological and emotional burden of parenting on a young girl who is just past puberty, must take itís toll somehow or somewhere on their developmental make-up. Despite my efforts to analyse this, or what I thought might happen to a person through these setbacks, Sarah was a very mature and well spoken young woman. She was intelligent, beautiful, sharp in wit and knew how to engage a person in conversation. She was an excellent traditional dancer and received numerous awards and accolades through this talent. Requests too, for her and the group of dancers she performs with to entertain folk at high-brow functions throughout the country. Though her work schedule has demanding hours, she still finds time and energy to study part-time, and hopes to complete this soon.

I asked her how she felt about her father and whether she sees him at all. Her reply was not bitter in the least. She has forgiven him, and even (because she wants to) provides a little bit of financial support every now and then. She told me plainly she isnít close to him at all, due to growing up far away from him in another part of the country. He never took the initiative as a father and parent to bridge the physical and emotional distance.

I invited her out one evening after work for some drinks as she was an interesting person and the conversation was good. There was only so much she could say while still on the job, and we had many unfinished topics left to discuss. Many of them being questions on her part about my cultural background and customs. Before I left she gave me a little carving on a leather necklace of the Nyami-Nyami, the fabled guardian of the Zambezi River. I do hope that she finishes her studies on time and moves on to the more challenging career she is looking for.
Title: Re: A Hike Report - Zambia: Observations from the interior
Post by: Rooies on August 13, 2011, 02:48:05 pm
Victoria Falls and a man called Modern

Much has been written about Victoria Falls, so any attempt on my part would be reminding the reader of what they already know. Iím glad to have seen them from the air upon arrival. While I was there, I bumped into Miguel on one of the paved walkways that has viewing points along the edge of the gorge. I didnít actually accompany him to the falls after all, he took a taxi as he was impatient and too nervous to hitch, while I hitched a ride there. When I met him he told me about walking through the river to a rock pool near the edge where you could swim.

So I made my way to a point on the river upstream from the falls and started crossing towards the general direction he described. He paid an unofficial guide to take him there. I didnít, I just went and one ended up following me and ultimately showing me how to get to the rock pool. Just as well, as it wouldíve taken me a while to find the place, and I had forgotten my sun-block at the backpackers and was already starting to roast. Anymore time wandering around on the top of the falls would have kept me in the sun for too long, and I wasnít sure how close crocodiles ventured to the pool I was going to. It was good to swim in some of the shallower sections of the river, and itís warmth reminded me of how hot the ocean is in Dar Es Salaam at that same time of year.

The rock pool itself was very deep, at least four metres. There was a high ledge behind the pool, where one the many streams that fall over the edge cascaded into it. The ledge was great for jumping, and once you plunged into the water, all light disappeared and it went dark and cold, a sure sign of a deep pool. I remember standing on the lip of the falls and gazing 100m down into the gorge where some rafters were doing practicing their techniques in one the pools below. A nice viewing point, but not for those with a fear of heights.

The river guide was a Rastafarian and he put black shoe polish in his dreads to make them darker. He said every year one or two locals get too careless on the ledge and fall to their death. Sometimes when the river has risen by as much as five metres at the end of the rainy season, the current can be so strong that even elephants and hippos crossing upstream are carried down the river and over the edge.

On the day I went to see the Victoria Falls with Miguel, I was making my way across the rocks and through the shallows of the mighty Zambezi when some unseen force knocked my brand new Canon digital camera out my hands. It landed and bounced on the rocks while the zoom lens was fully extended. I would never have dropped it myself. I was gutted. I now had no way to capture my lunacy and share it with others. I decided that the best plan of action would be to call a friend in Lusaka and ask him whether he had any contacts in Livingstone who could help me fix it. In the meantime, I had the falls and the river to enjoy.

Iím glad I got to take a photo of the gorge below while leaning over the edge. I wouldíve been compelled to return if my camera had broken before that. Sitting on the edge of the falls after a swim in the rock pool and waving at the tourists on the other side was an experience never to be forgotten. The views from there were nothing short of spectacular. I sat there in the sun, burning, and it was worth it. I would suffer later, taking it all in was more important.

When I returned to the backpackers I spent time reading, talking to other travellers, and recovering from bad sun-burn. I also had to wait an extra day for Monday to roll around, as that was when the guy who was going to (try to in my mind) fix my camera. The man went by the name Modern. My contact told me that he was recommended to him by 3 different people, so there was a bit of a reputation, and hopefully a glimmer of hope. Buying a disposable camera in town was out of the question.

Modern arrived with no toolbox to fix a digital camera. A million thoughts went through my mind in an instant. I asked him where his tools were, and he pulled two small Philips screw-drivers out of his pocket, the kind one would use to repair a watch. He dismantled the camera, and seeing it in pieces was depressing. It couldnít get any worse I thought, the thing was already broken. Upon seeing the look on my face he just smiled at me reassuringly and told me not to worry, it can be fixed, he just needs to figure out how. Once it was dismantled he asked me to find him a length of wire that could be used to conduct current. I managed to get an old broken cell-phone charger that Sarah had lying around, and it was stripped and tied around the narrow pin of my own charger. This was used to touch the terminals on the zoom lens and get it to go in and out and back to itís default position. The shutter was still not closing properly and he had to open the lens cover, and work next to the lens itself. This was one of the most delicate parts of the camera. Somehow he managed to fix it, and reassemble it, all within an hour an ten minutes. It was also the first time he had fixed a camera like this he said. He had no formal training in this type of work, but clearly possessed a strong technical aptitude and ability for it. I gladly paid him the fee he asked for, which was a bargain in my mind, and took a couple of photos of him with the camera to test his handiwork.

17. Modern, he fixed my camera
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6077/6037643881_8170cef6c4.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6037643881/)
Title: Re: A Hike Report - Zambia: Observations from the interior
Post by: Rooies on August 13, 2011, 02:52:20 pm
A Dutch couple in Livingstone

One evening at the backpackers I met a Dutch couple who were on holiday in Zambia. They were students and were making their way to South Africa. Their names shall remain private for now. The guy was tall, with sandy hair, a ready smile and a little bit of a belly. His girlfriend was quite a bit shorter than him, blond, and it looked almost like she was nervous to have her smile linger on her face for more than 2 seconds. Thatís how fast it disappeared. I noticed she was like that with everyone, even her boyfriend. They had a friend with them, a Belgian. He had the same camera as me which he boasted about getting duty free at the airport in Johannesburg.

They all had an excellent grasp on Afrikaans but we reverted to English as the Belgian was less proficient in it than his friends. The Dutch couple were planning to go Scuba diving in Mozambique. I told them that my friend Gareth in South Africa was an experienced diver and may be able to tell them about the best dive-spots around South Africa and Mozambique. They said they would appreciate that, so right there and then I started sending him some text messages while we were having our sundowners. He replied straight away with information about dive-spots; accommodation options; costs to expect etc. They took the details down and Iím sure they have used them by now.

Seeing that I had been in Livingstone a few days longer than them, they asked me what activities I had been doing and what there was to see and do around town. Livingstone is the adventure capital of the region. I hadnít done any rafting, and there were higher bungee jumps back home. I was more intent on going fishing on the Zambezi for Tiger Fish. I told them about the falls, and how to get to some of the rock pools near the edge where you can swim and enjoy spectacular views. There was also the Royal Livingstone hotel were one could go for sundowners. I did this one evening and it was well worth it. The place is very posh and very expensive, with well laid out accommodation and green manicured lawns. There are some resident Zebra roaming on the property, and in the evenings they are herded by staff members past the pool and look-out deck for the benefit of the tourists. It was nice of them to allow plebeians like me in for a cold one or two.

The large wooden deck over the river has number of chairs and umbrellas, and has a good view of the spray rising from the falls. Itís truly worth the view. In the evening, the burning sun turns the sky different colours of orange and red, as it slowly sinks into deep blue storm clouds on the horizon, the way only an African sun can. The river is right in front of you, the frogs are starting their chorus, and somewhere on the banks crocodiles are slipping into the water and looking at you but youíd never know, and hippo can be heard grunting upstream. It is wild, it is the African bush. Once you have seen it, lived it, you find it hard to leave. If you do, a piece of your heart will remain there, and thereís nothing you can do about it.

Now that I have reminded myself and maybe you also of how wonderful that place is, let me get back to what I was saying earlier. So the couple followed my recommendation and visited the Royal Livingstone. They came back raving about the place and how beautiful it all was, as though it was their idea all along. Thatís alright, Iím glad they had a good time.
Title: Re: A Hike Report - Zambia: Observations from the interior
Post by: Rooies on August 13, 2011, 02:58:20 pm
Debbie and the Peace Corps

Out of all the travellers and people I have met throughout my trips in Africa, the American Peace Corps volunteers have been the least socially interactive group of people. Norwegians, Australians, Romanians, Spaniards, and Englishmen are more likely to say hello and introduce themselves to someone they have never met before than the Peace Corps. I have nothing against Americans at all. My wonderful older sister and her family are Americans.

At least 70 percent of the Peace Corps volunteers I have met was because I introduced myself to them first. Maybe they tend to see themselves as hardcore travellers, living in a new city and new country for the duration of their assignment. I have lived in 3 countries in Africa, and right now the wild and often ill-reputed streets of Joburg are what I call home. If you have lived here, or heard the stories, you would understand why travelling in and around Africa is not such a big thing for South Africans. Itís for the fun and adventure of open roads, and untamed people and places. I met other South Africans in Zambia, and there was no aloofness about them nor a boastful edge to their reasons for being there, just a simple ďWeíre here for the jol, bru!Ē.
Debbie was a volunteer, on holiday in Livingstone, planning to make her way to Dar Es Salaam on the Tanzanian coast, and eventually Zanzibar as well. Itís a popular route or corridor for travellers in east Africa, if I may call it that. One I had used myself before. She was in her early 40ís at least, had light brown hair, wore glasses, and was slightly overweight Ė something she admitted herself when she said hurt her knee walking at Victoria Falls. I met her at the backpackers one morning, at one of the benches where people could sit and eat or chat or whatever. She failed my ďSocial Civility ExperimentĒ. This experiment sees whether people are capable of being civil and greeting you when you first enter their presence, or, do they say nothing and ignore you. If you pass people on the street or in the corridors at work, do you ignore them or say hello or even give a simple nod? When you walk up to a shared table and sit down to eat, do you greet the people around you, or if you are at the table already, do you or the group youíre with greet the newcomer to the table? Unless Iím deeply preoccupied in thought, I generally try to greet people in the described situations. At times I keep silent for a few seconds to see whether the other person will say hello first, grace must be given, as their minds might be elsewhere too, and therefore it will be a little while before they acknowledge your presence.

So as it goes I sat down to eat my oats out of a cup that morning and eventually greeted Debbie. It wouldíve been too weird and rude for me to sit there eating my breakfast, not saying hello to someone two seats away. Not that I needed the company, if anything I am more reserved by nature, and more than comfortable in my own company, and therefore put a little more effort into coming out my shell. Once the greetings were over, we exchanged the usual questions and answers that strangers do who are both travellers in a foreign country. She was on her way to Lusaka from Livingstone, and from there she was heading to Zanzibar as I mentioned earlier.

Itís important in my view for travellers to share information and experiences with each other. That way we can make sure that others or ourselves experience exciting things that we were previously unaware of, and, we can also be mindful of and therefore avoid or inform others of potential obstacles and setbacks. So I told her all about the train that goes to Dar, and what to expect in terms of the cabins, the bunks, the type of food and drink on board, the people sheíll possibly meet, a nice place to stay in Dar, who to speak to at the ferry terminal, and a host of other things.

Debbie was a friendly person, and for my last few days there she would often say hello to me and ask me how my day was and what I had been doing. She also introduced me to some of her volunteer friends that were going with her to Zanzibar, and they were keen to hear the low-down on the Tazara (Tanzania-Zambia Railway) route to Dar. If you are a relatively intelligent individual and actually have half a clue about the male-female dynamic, you can at times, pick up when someoneís interest in you is slightly more than friendly. Women are infinitely more intelligent than men in this regard. They just are. I did however, in a moment of brilliance and uncharacteristic intuition, manage to notice the warmer than usual smile and lingering eye contact of one of Debbieís friends whenever she spoke to me. She was a tall blond girl with gangly limbs, wore glasses, and her hair in a pony-tail mostly. On the evening the Peace Corps was departing via the night bus to Lusaka, I walked up to the group to wish them well and say goodbye. They were fully stocked and equipped with packets of chips (crisps) and soft drinks for the journey to Lusaka, and some for the train ride too. They seemed to ignore the fact that I told them they could buy tasty and nourishing food, not to mention cheap also, on the train itself. If push came to shove, they could always buy mangos and bananas or nuts, Mopani worms or even live chickens from the kids selling them outside the train windows at the many stations en route. Be that as it may, as I was wishing them safe roads ahead, the blond girl came up to me and said we should stay in touch as she wrote down her email address on a scrap of paper she pulled from her pocket. I smiled and took the scrap she offered me, though I cannot recall what I said in reply. I had not intentionally encouraged the situation and I had no intention of using the email address. Somehow the scrap of paper got lost that very night, and besides, brunettes were the way forward for me. They always have been.
Title: Re: A Hike Report - Zambia: Observations from the interior
Post by: Rooies on August 13, 2011, 03:04:56 pm
Hitch-hiking though Zambia

One of the goals of my trip was to not use organised transport while in Zambia. By organised I mean inter-city buses, minibuses, taxis, or anything else where a fee needed to be paid. Not that the fees were that expensive. My plan was to hitch-hike everywhere I went, something I succeeded in. To me, itís all part of the adventure. The following paragraphs explain how and where to do this, and methods used, plus the distances covered. I have provided the details in this format, as it is information I have also submitted to some online communities I am a part of where people share such information.

Hitch-hiking for locals works along the following unwritten rules: Touts stand around truck lay-bys finding passengers for passing trucks and cars. It's an unofficial job for them, and they can get a little rowdy and disagreeable at times as I witnessed. They negotiate a fee with the passenger based on the destination, and then the truck-driver who stops pays the tout the fee he agreed with the passenger. The truck driver will then charge the passenger a fee which will cover what he paid the tout and add on an extra amount for himself. From the conversations I had with truck drivers in Zambia, they earn roughly between $150 to $180 per month. Sometimes their wages are even less than $150 per month, as they get paid more when carrying a load. I'm not sure whether this is the general way truckers are paid, or if it was just the norm for the companies that employed the drivers that gave me lifts.

At any rate, this is what they must support their families on, and as one confided to me, this is why they all supplement their income by charging passengers. A lot of this money gets taken away from them by the police who extract a "fee" at check-points along the road, knowing that the truckers are carrying these extra passengers, and therefore extra cash too.

If your personal hitch-hiking philosophy means not paying the truckers this fee, be prepared to stand on the side of the road and wait, sometimes up to 3 hours or more for a ride. The companies the truckers work for already pay the fuel costs, so in theory it doesn't cost them to give you a ride. They will try to get $10 out you on average for distances greater or less than 500km. It was my personal goal not to pay for rides on this journey, and I managed to achieve this, crossing the entire country in just 2 rides and a total distance of 1625km, thanks to the kindness of the drivers. It's not my intention to discuss/debate hitch-hiking philosophy in this post, it's for informational purposes.

Hitching: Not the usual "thumb" method. Instead of thumbing it, hold your hand parallel to the ground, palm down, waving your hand up and down. As though you're trying to fly like a spastic bird with one wing :-)

Livingstone to Victoria Falls: Distance is only 11km. Head south out of town along Mosi-Oa-Tunya road. Any spot on this section is fine and the road is good. Depending on how far you walk, you may pass into to national park territory, so keep an eye out for Elephants crossing the road!

Livingstone to Lusaka: Distance is 475km. Can easily be done in half a day or less, depending on the form of transport. Heading north out of Livingstone there is a Caltex petrol station where trucks can stop and the driver approached and asked for a lift, but the best place is a few km out of town. Walk about 2km out of town past the first lay-by. When heading north, there is a huge concrete water tower in the right hand side of the road to identify this point. Walk another 1 or 2km past this point until you reach a weigh-bridge for the trucks. Roughly 100m past this is a police check-point where they stop the trucks to check documentation. Don't stand there, as they think you are interfering with their job even if you are just pulling something out your backpack. Rather go another 50m down the road to the second lay-by. Directly opposite this, to identify the spot, is an SOS Childrenís Village and some other government departments, like the Road Development Agency. You will see the signboards on the property. Approach the drivers at this lay-by and ask them for a lift. I waited here and I caught a lift in VW Polo with 2 locals who were headed all the way to Lusaka. There are many mango trees in and around Livingstone, and they are an excellent source of free food, so stock up when you're there at the right time!

Lusaka to Mpulungu: Distance is 1150km. I did this section of road with one lift in a truck, in a time of about 13 hours, stopping to sleep for one night. One of the best lay-bys in Lusaka is just outside the town centre. Head north along the Great North Road towards the Independence Stadium. As you approach you will know you are nearby when you see a huge concrete arch over the road with "Celebrating 45 years of Independence" painted on it. As you pass under it, you go over the hill and off to your left you will see the spotlights of the stadium. About 50m down the road is a major lay-by where you can approach the drivers to ask for a ride once the trucks pull over. You can wait a long time until you find a truck that's going to your destination, but patience pays in Africa! I decided to do this, instead of making the journey to Lake Tanganyika in sections. After about 3 hours of waiting and asking truckers about their destination, I found a truck heading all the way there. That night I slept on the floor in the home of a Somali family who owned a little roadside shop that served meals and tea. As the truck had only one bunk in the cab, I asked them for a place to stretch out and rest for the night. If you don't have, ask politely, and you will often receive. I don't believe in dropping hints, and there are many ways to repay kindness and be generous to others on the road.

Mpulungu heading south again, or north to Burundi or east to Tanzania: If you're heading back south through Zambia, head along the main road through town over to the harbour compound. Mpulungu is Zambia's only port, and is on Lake Tanganyika. Trucks queue outside the compound waiting to off-load or load their freight in the harbour and often leave town the same day. You can ask the drivers here about their destinations. Or if there are no trucks around you can walk a little way into town and try for anything headed south. If you want a truck, another option is to enter the harbour compound and politely ask the security staff to check their log-books for departing trucks that may be in the compound, somewhere out of sight. I thought this best and tried it, and it worked. There is also a little bench nearby where you can sit and wait for the truck. Again, be patient, it pays. As this is a good place for information, remember to be polite and respectful to the staff, because it's right and also so that they will continue to be helpful to other travellers.

North on Lake Tanganyika to Kigoma, Tanzania, and on to Burundi and points north: The M.V. Liemba travels up and down the lake between Mpulungu and Kigoma. I haven't personally hitched this section, but I've heard of people who have managed to on this ferry. From Kigoma you can easily continue on to other points. Ask the harbour staff for details on the Liemba's schedule, as it often changes without much notice.

Mpulungu to Tanzania overland: Hitch from the same point outside the harbour and take trucks going to Nakonde, on the Zambia-Tanzania border. If you get stuck in this town, which is unlikely, as there are many trucks at the border post, you can catch the Tazara train which goes all the way to Dar Es Salaam.
Title: Re: A Hike Report - Zambia: Observations from the interior
Post by: Rooies on August 13, 2011, 03:07:59 pm

One of the characters I met in Livingstone was and Indian guy from South Africa now living in Namibia, but doing business in Angola, Zambia and Namibia too. Zunaid was an interesting person to talk to, as he had a lot of knowledge about distributing goods in African countries. He looked down on retail, distribution was where the money was he assured me. He told me how he determined a need for a product, how and where it was sourced, and the transport and customs and delivery methods used. Some areas were only spoken of at a high-level, protecting his trade secrets no doubt. This didnít stop me from asking blunt questions to learn more, and I acted as though I had not picked up on some of the intentionally vague descriptions. He would shuffle uncomfortably during these questions, and I pretended not to notice, and a little more information would be added to the overall picture.

He said he worked alone, and preferred it that way. He had a business partner once, but he got burnt when the guy stole money that he should have used to by stock with. The person subsequently skipped the country. He said one shipment or container load of macaroni or mayonnaise for example could be distributed to retailers within a day in Lusaka. This apparently made him enough profit so that he didnít need to work for about six months. He was staying at the backpackers, waiting for a truck to be cleared at customs. The border was not far away. There were some gaps in his story, and thinking of them lead me to believe that he may actually be working for someone else, and pretending like the whole deal was his idea and belonged to him. I didnít want to dwell too long on those thoughts, as we all do and say strange things at certain times in our life in order to gain acceptance or recognition, and besides, his friendship was more important than any of that.

Zunaid was stocky in build in the way that shorter guys often are. He wore no beard, but had a constant growth of about two dayís worth on his face it all times. I wondered if he kept it that length on purpose with the help of an electric razor. He said he used to train really hard in the gym and could even bench 120kg when he was at his peak. I assessed this statement from the corner of my eye and thought it may have been possible, if he were as big and muscular at one stage as he claimed. A training injury while doing squats then removed him from the gym for a long time, and stopped him from competing in body-building contests. He often wore a vest and baggy shorts with sandals and you could find him at the pool table, cleaning up the competition. He taught me some tricks and gave me tips on how and where to strike the ball on the pool table to get it to go or stay where you wanted it to. I tried these under his supervision and guidance and they worked exactly as he said they would. Within half an hour, my knowledge and skill at the game had more than doubled.

Zambian summers can be very hot. You can drink a few litres of water a day and not feel uncomfortable. This little fact happened to bring me to the next experience on my trip. I picked up on the fact that he was Muslim by religion and asked him this which he confirmed. I then said he was very friendly and accepting, something which I appreciated. I told him I had only met one person of his religion who refused to shake my hand in greeting and was visibly uncomfortable at being at the same lunch table as me. He told me thatís not what itís all about, and that those types of people are full of something which I wonít mention here. He said he had no problem sitting at a table and eating or sharing his food with me (something which he did indeed do before we had that particular conversation); he said he would even let me drink from his own water bottle Ė something which did happen when I genuinely misplaced mine one day and it was very hot. I wouldnít purposely test what he said; I could tell he was being real on an important topic. After all, we are fellow human beings first before any belief system divides us.

Zunaidís card tricks left me baffled and he could also tell some funny stories. He found them even more hilarious than I did and whoever else was with us, something which made us laugh all the more. If there was a woman around, the stories became even funnier and more fantastic, as menís stories are often bound to in female company. One evening in particular, a few of us were sitting around listening to his tales of travelling through and doing business in India. There was an attractive girl in the group who was the focus of all the guys, and at times he was talking more to her rather than to all of us. He said he once saw a white elephant up in the north of India. I had been to the sub-continent twice, and once saw an elephant that lacked pigmentation on certain parts of itís body. That could be explained and was common I was sure, but a white elephant? When the attractive girl (who was a student from Cape Town and had driven all the way to Zambia with two friends) questioned him on this, he replied with absolute sincerity and conviction in his voice and all over his face that it was so. As he didnít drink alcohol, the beauty at the table was the only obvious source of inspiration for these tales around the table that night. Eventually everyone else limped off to bed, and Zunaid and the beauty and I stayed up late telling stories and learning about each otherís lives, hopes and fears. This is what makes travelling worthwhile, and it reminds of the warm and friendly people we let into our lives by simply saying hello, and we are richer for it afterwards. No matter how fantastic the tales, we are richer for it.
Title: Re: A Hike Report - Zambia: Observations from the interior
Post by: Rooies on August 13, 2011, 03:18:14 pm
Kindness and bad attitudes on the road

At about 8am one bright and warm morning I walked north out of Livingstone to the lay-by described in the hitch-hiking paragraphs. The town had kept me in itís clutches for longer than I had planned. Walking in the sun, again, but prepared this time. I flagged down a couple of trucks, and all of them wanted to rip me off. I got to learn what the going rate for a lift was. Most drivers would ask me for double right off the bat, and shamelessly tried to bargain when I cut the price in half immediately. It was fine, I wasnít intending to pay for a ride anyway, and I knew I would get the right lift eventually. I stood around kicking stones and making people who just drove by wonder what I was doing and where I was going. No white Zambians stopped for me. Eventually another small truck with about five guys on the back stopped. The one guy on the back started with the money story. I told him Iím not interested and went so far as to say that if he came to my country people wouldnít treat him like a personal bank and ask for money first before they provided help. I have never paid while hitching in South Africa. He just laughed as the truck pulled off and said ďThat is your country!Ē.

Shortly after that, a car pulled up with 3 occupants, all of them wearing sunglasses and full of attitude. The driver was the only male and he looked very full of himself. I told him not to worry, Iím not paying, and the look on his face was unbelievable. Maybe he thought I was his personal bank, a mobile ATM. He could afford to wear expensive clothes, drive a very expensive car (compared to the majority of Zambians who did not), and still wanted money from me. I was starting to see a direct link and differences between people asking for money and those giving help, between those who have and those who donít, and how most who gave, had a pleasant attitude, and were free of pride and arrogance, and I could see a measure of inner peace in their eyes when I spoke to them.

The guys who eventually gave me a ride were driving a customised VW Polo, brought up from South Africa. They had another passenger, a young lady who worked as a waitress in Livingstone and was going home to Mazabuka for the holidays. She was very knowledgeable about her country and asked me a lot of questions about where I had been and where I was going. This line of questioning turned out to be a general trend throughout Zambia. People I didnít even know would walk up to me in the street and ask me the same questions. If I were to stop and survey my surroundings out of sheer interest and curiosity, a person would walk up and ask what my problem was. From a South African point of view this can sound like theyíre looking for trouble, but it actually meant what is wrong... why are you stopping and looking around...are you lost...do you need some help?

The driver of Polo was a thin guy, a trained accountant by profession, but out of work at the moment. His friend next to him told me what he did, but I failed to comprehend. At any rate he operated the CD player for the duration of the journey, but I did manage to extract some information from him. He was returning home to Lusaka and was surprising his mother by arriving a few days early. She called him while we were en route and he told her how much he loved and missed her, and that he would see her in a couple of days as heíd been delayed. His surprise had been set.

We dropped off the waitress right outside her front gate and continued. On the way we passed all the people who asked me for money in exchange for a ride. I would arrive in Lusaka at least 2 to 3 hours before all of them at the rate we were going. A short way before the capital we pulled into a small town so the driver could meet one of his girlfriends. She had been calling him and asking him to hurry up. When we got there, she wasnít at the spot she said she was, she said she was still making her way there. The driver eventually got impatient and we left. She called some time later and he told her off over the phone for lying to him. Once in town I asked to be dropped off at a place where my friend would meet me.

I was treated to dinner that night and heard some interesting stories about the line of work my friend did. I cannot go into detail about it here, out of respect for his privacy, and the sensitivity of the nature of the work. He is a kind and unassuming person, and very generous. Though slight in build, his heart is big, and he doesnít let the fact that he can make one phone-call and get doors opened for you get to him. The next morning I walked a couple of kilometres out of Lusaka to the lay-by I described. I was heading north again, walking in the morning heat up the Great North Road that crosses the length of the country. I was heading ever closer to Lake Tanganyika. After the usual conversations with touts, talking with truck drivers to determine which town they were heading to, and convincing people that I really didnít have a problem (even though I was the only white person trying to hitch a ride instead of taking a bus), I got a ride after about two and half hours. A woman who was hitching to Angola told me to be patient, the right truck will stop. She was right, and in Africa patience will see you through most things when travelling.
One of the touts that was hovering next to me (think mobile ATM) shouted that a truck that had stopped a good way up the hill behind us was headed to Mpulungu. I turned and there it was: a huge truck with a white and yellow cab, a good 70 metres or so up the road, just before the lane widened for the lay-by. The tout and his companion had taken off like two bullets in the hope of organising passengers. I picked up my backpack and threw it over one shoulder, my daypack over the other and then sprinted as fast as I could up the hill. There was already a swarm of people outside the cab. Whether it was pure adrenalin or my general fitness levels from months of training, I caught up to the touts within 20 metres and then overtook them, much to the shock and surprise I saw on their faces. Yes, this Muzungu can run when he needs to. Usain Bolt would have struggled to keep up with me on that hill. When I reached the cab, the driver looked me straight in the eye, and pointed to me only, saying I could get in. He then told the rest of the locals he was taking me only. We drove off amidst their protests, both of us laughing at the chaos. We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries; I confirmed he was heading directly to Mpulungu. The wind had been at my back since I walked out of Livingstone the day before.

Mshanga drove me all the way to Mpulungu. I was only the second Muzungu he had given in a lift to in his trucking career. The other guy was some NGO worker from Europe he picked up near the Tanzanian border. He had been driving trucks for over 15 years. He was married with 4 kids, his only boy was the youngest. The interior of his truck was clean and neat, as was his appearance. He wore a t-shirt tucked into his jeans, with a belt, and had clean white shoes on. His clothes were clean and pressed. The man was a gentleman, and he clearly took pride in all he did. Next to him I felt like a savage making my way to a lake in the remote north of the country.

It was Mshanga who told me about the low salaries that truck drivers earn, and that is why they pick up hitch-hikers and charge them a small fee. They need to supplement their income somehow, especially if they have kids who need to be fed and sent off to school. In Zambia the primary schooling is free, while the secondary is paid for. The quality of education at government schools isnít always that great, and not everyone can afford to send the children to private schools, especially truck-drivers. Sometimes in a family of four children the one with the best marks is the one who gets to go to high school, the others arenít as lucky. Some children in the remote rural areas only start school when they are nine or ten years old. The reason for this is that some of them can live as far as 10 to 15 kilometres or further from the closest school; and itís too taxing for a six or seven year old to walk that far twice a day. Some of the communities are so poor they canít even afford bicycles for their children. Such conditions make a person examine and reflect on the many blessings in their own life. If they donít, you need to stop and do just that.

30. Heading north to Mpulungu
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6071/6038194100_9cf0031982.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6038194100/)

31. You're doing it wrong
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6185/6037645463_9244302910.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6037645463/)

32. Happy for the lift after waiting a few hours
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6192/6038194256_292d60ea8f.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6038194256/)

33. Mshanga
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6194/6038194324_e55bdea6b6.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6038194324/)

35. Another summer storm is brewing
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6210/6037645771_3e5aecd22d.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6037645771/)
Title: Re: A Hike Report - Zambia: Observations from the interior
Post by: Rooies on August 13, 2011, 03:22:10 pm
Sleeping on a Somali floor

Sometimes when you hitch-hike from place to place you donít always know where you will sleep come nightfall. When Mshanga and I left Lusaka and the throng behind us swallowing our dust, I was so glad that I had found a ride all the way to Mpulungu that a place to sleep never crossed my mind. The passenger seat of the truck was very comfortable and we entered into an easy flowing conversation which took us very far up the Great North Road. When he said he would be stopping at 7pm that evening to sleep, I thought that if push comes to shove I can always sleep on the ground under the cab, on the tarmac, as it would have some latent heat from the day. I had my sleeping mat and a sleeping bag, so I was sorted. We stopped somewhere after the town of Serenje, but we pulled right off the tarred road and parked the truck on the dirt next to a string of shops.

Throughout Africa these places are always the same: thereís a little shop with tables covered with plastic and the seating is plastic, wooden or metal chairs. It will sell bread, nshima (pap / maize meal) with meat or fish and some tomato and onion gravy, and tea and coffee. There will also be a little bar with a few men strewn around the place, all in various phases of intoxication, and a pretty young girl behind the bar, of course. There will be a little grocery store too, a place where you can buy soap, pick handles, salt, sugar, cooking oil, utensils, items to eat and drink, bottled water in several varieties, airtime for cell-phones, and some other items. Fixed price airtime is always 1000 Kwacha more expensive than normal in these shops, as they need to make a profit due to a lack of volume in sales.

We went to the little restaurant and ordered some food. The young guy behind the counter looked like he was a Somali, an assessment that turned out to be true. Mshanga ordered nshima with goat meat; he preferred that to any other type of meat. I asked for mine with chicken, as the last serving of goat went to him. We washed the meal down with a cup of strong, sweet tea. When we went to pay he tried to open his wallet, but I insisted it was on me. He thanked me as a gentleman would. This man was teaching me a lesson in courtesy and manners.

A big woman wearing a brown hijab that flowed to the floor, but left her face uncovered entered the room. She had some stern words to say the young fellow behind the counter. His replies were deferential to her. Mshanga picked up one or two words of their conversation and told me she was the ladís sister in law. He was getting a lashing for something or maybe nothing, who knew? When she noticed a westerner in the room, she said hello to me in English and a smile briefly flashed over her face. I decided to chance it and ask them if they had a piece floor I could use to roll my mat out on for the night. There was only one bunk in the cab and the driver needed it to rest properly so he could be focused on the road. Sleeping in the seat would be uncomfortable, all I needed was some space to stretch out and rest, and I had all my own gear. Upon hearing a native English speaker asking for a place to sleep for the night, another older Somali stuck his out from around the corner of the kitchen and gave me a harsh look, it wasnít from prejudice, I could tell it was his general expression and he was surprised to hear my voice. The woman said something and he disappeared. I got the impression that her word (and her figure) carried a lot of weight.

She conferred with her brother in law through some rapid fire questions and told me to sit and wait for ten minutes. She left the room and walked down the dirt road and was back in two minutes and spoke to the young man again. He told me to fetch my gear from the truck and to go with her. I got my gear, said goodnight to Mshanga and arranged a meeting time for the morning, and pulled out my torch as we walked up the dirt road to their home. I made small talk with the woman and boy and they tried their best in limited to English to engage me. I really appreciated this. Their home was a series of buildings all in various stages of construction. I gathered they were building their own restaurant. The main house was somewhere behind the buildings, concealed in the darkness. We made our way through a building which at first had no roof or windows, that would suit me fine I thought. We passed through another door into a room that had a roof and some shutters, I think, over the square holes that were windows. I was seeing it all in torchlight. The room was a dingy little place with a smooth concrete floor, 3 beds with mosquito nets, and one small rectangular wooden table. There were some sandals on the floor under one of the beds. This was more than I had asked for and I was grateful for it. She spoke to her brother in law and the moved the table. I tried to help but she said something to me in her tongue which made me think twice. I gathered that in their culture that if they were going to look after me, they were going to do it properly, and make sure I was comfortable. I was humbled by their kindness and generosity, and willingness to take a complete stranger into their home. They then rolled out a small bamboo floor mat and motioned to me to roll out my sleeping mat on top of that. The floor would have been fine as far as I was concerned, and I had slept in rougher places, but I was overwhelmed by their thoughtfulness. I thanked them as best I could and they left the room, the young guy saying he would be back later.

I laid out my mat and sleeping bag and put on my mosquito repellent.
The mosquitoes must have been running on jet fuel that night, as they drilled straight through the thick layers of repellent, robbing me of sleep for a few hours at least. I eventually fell asleep to weird dreams sometime after 1am. In between that, the occupants of the beds entered the room to sleep. The young guy from the shop was first. He sister in law accompanied him, but this time she stayed out the room as I was sleeping. She did poke her head through a window in the wall however, and shone a torch in my face and all over me. No doubt she was checking that I was comfortable and probably looking at my sleeping mat and bag and the other pieces of western gear and items I was travelling with. When the other two entered the room they went straight to bed without making much noise, the one in the bed behind me shot off a sentence that sounded very much like Arabic. No one replied to it. In the darkness I my hearing became acute and I could hear them climbing into bed after they had kicked their sandals off, and they went silent straight away. No tossing or turning to get comfortable. It was just two things: get horizontal and eyes closed. The boy from the shop did make a few noises throughout the night and he talked in his sleep every now and then. No one else noticed, they were all fast asleep.

My alarm woke me at 04:30 and I packed as quietly as I could and left. I wished that I could say thank you again, but my appreciation from the night before would have to do. When I got to the truck Mshanga was ready to go and the engine was already running and warming up. We greeted each other, got in, and pulled off at 04:50 to continue the journey north. Lake Tanganyika was only half a daysí travel away. The section of road up to Mpika had a few potholes here and there, but nothing serious that slowed us down in any way. When I was driving up the Tete corridor in Mozambique a few years before, the road was so bad you couldíve been forgiven for thinking it had been shelled by artillery. You had to choose which pothole to hit, as there were so many, and you couldnít avoid them. That wasnít the case now. Nor was it to be for the remainder of my journey. I was hitching across the country at a rate of knots, and the wind was still at my back.

36. The Somali home
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6142/6037645877_c8184f6456.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6037645877/)
Title: Re: A Hike Report - Zambia: Observations from the interior
Post by: Rooies on August 13, 2011, 03:41:47 pm
The harbour town of Mpulungu

Zambia is a land-locked country. Lake Tanganyika provided a deep enough natural harbour to give the country itís only port. The lake is the longest and deepest in Africa, with a maximum depth of 1,470m. It is the second largest freshwater lake in the world, only second in depth to Lake Baikal in Siberia. It holds more fresh water than Lake Victoria. Itís about 673km long with an average width of 50km. There are about 400 hundred species of fish in it, freshwater otters, snails, eels, and also crocodiles in certain sections. When storms rise up on the lake, the swells can rise to five or six metres, and small vessels can easily go missing if they donít make it to shore in time. Itís like an inland sea, with small waves breaking on the shore-line. If there is thunder and rain at night, the locals say that the fishermen who are out night-fishing will be dancing on the lake for the evening, an allusion to difficult circumstances.

There are about five or six commercial fishing companies in town, and as many cold storage facilities too. One boat can pull as much as 80 to 100 tons of Buka-Buka out the lake in a month. These fish rise to the surface at night to feed, and are easily lured to their death with the help of spotlights, which attract them. The catch is mostly frozen and a good portion of it is shipped off to the fish-hungry folk in the capital. The fisheries carry on as if there is no tomorrow. The local fishermen were at one time no better. I was told that instead of using the mosquito nets that NGOís provided to keep their children dying from malaria, they were using them in the lake instead. The fine netting hauling out anything in itís path, resulting in a lot of fish dying, more than could be consumed or sold in the market. Eventually the Zambian Wildlife Authorities (ZAWA) put an end to this, threatening transgressors with prosecution, imprisonment and public humiliation. It seemed to be working so far. The local fishermen do work hard however. They toil in the hot sun to feed their families, and are constantly fixing and plugging the leaks in their wooden boats. The fish are then sold in the local market, where the Kapenta (small fry) are dried out and often eaten with nshima. Their curse is the little sachets of alcohol, called Gili-Gili, bought cheaply on the streets around town. Many of them can be seen staggering around town and in their nearby village of Kasasa, wasted on the stuff. They even go out on the lake intoxicated, sometimes paying the ultimate price for this recklessness.

When Mshanga dropped me off on the main road of Mpulungu, and we said our goodbyes and parted ways, I slowly made my way to a place called Nkupi Lodge, following the inaccurate directions in my guide book. I made a mental note to send them an email about it. The lodge was named after one of the local fish found in the lake. It was a decently sized piece of land with a number of brick and stone units with thatched roofs. There wasnít too much information on the place in the guide book and it barely registered on the grid, but it sounded interesting and I liked the name, so I made my way there after some locals set me on the right path.

If you are white, and if you are travelling through Africa, one thing you must get used to and which you will hear a lot, is the local people referring to you as Muzungu (literally white person). Of course this word differs from country to country, but it is there, none the less. You will hear people talking about you on the street using this word, little children will stop and stare and point, sometimes they will run to meet you, shouting Muzungu! Muzungu! at the top of their voices. One thing you must remember if this is new to you, is that it is not meant in a derogatory sense at all. Enjoy it and flow with it, and I promise you that youíll have a lot of fun. Zambian people are very friendly, but may have different ways of expressing this, any traveller would do well to take their time in understanding these customs. The kids loved to see the pictures I had taken of them on my digital camera. They would crowd in close, some of them using the opportunity to brush against me and feel my white skin, or the texture of the fine hairs on my forearms. Such innocence and curiosity. I would often wait a few seconds until they were all bunched right in, looking at their own expressions, and then roar at them, sending them running down the street in shrieks of laughter only to return for more.

On my way to the lodge I passed a restaurant that was still being built. A man called Thomas said he was the owner of the place, and his wife managed it. He also told me was the owner of one of the local fisheries, and pulled in a 100 tons  of Buka-Buka a month, much of which was sent to Lusaka, his home town. Thomas was a tall man and he was also over-weight, too much nshima and fish I thought. When I related this encounter to the manager of the lodge one day, she informed me that he was only renting the restaurant and that he was an assistant manager at the fishery, which was located right across the road from the lodge, set off a distance from the road. The real owner was in Lusaka and the normal manager was on holiday in Greece. I met another man a few days later by the name of Martin. He was an Englishman who had been in Zambia for some years, and used to work for the fisheries arm of ZAWA. He was married to a Zambian lady, his first wife having passed away. He battled to talk and get complete sentences out it seemed. When he said something it was accompanied by a lot of facial expressions, most of which looked like he was grimacing, and he shuffled around on the spot. It took some time getting used to having a conversation with him.

He told me a lot about the lake, the types of fish in it, and how to catch them when angling. I had no luck on the lake, fishing from a boat in deep water, I didnít have the right lures that went deep enough. No fish were really active in the first 20 metres of the lake due to itís clarity. Martin told me that the commercial fishing was depleting the waters around Mpulungu, and that they were not enough fish left in that particular area for Thomas to pull out 100 tons per month. Martin owned the Waterfront Bar, a short walk up the road from the lodge. A fact the lodge manager confirmed. He was only running the Caltex petrol station in town, and was not itís owner as she also informed me. She had been living in Mpulungu and running the lodge for over 11 years and knew a lot of the prominent people in town, locals and foreigners alike. I only went to the Waterfront Bar twice, it wasnít really a happening place.

One of Martinís regular customers was an old Englishman by the name of Mr Brown. He was a polite old man and liked to say good evening with a big nod of his head. Apparently Martin lured him to Zambia after he heard he had been looking for greener and warmer pastures for his aged dentures. Mr Brown had arrived in town shooting his mouth off that he had a lot of money to spend. He got involved in a venture where he bought a couple of cars from South Africa and tried to sell them in Zambia for a profit. As it turned out, he didnít do his homework properly and he got handled. I had heard of him from the lodge manager, and once saw him being chauffeured around town. The night I met him he gave me his English greeting and then proceeded to order two Mosiís (local beer) and a Laager (South African beer). His was sitting with some local friends, probably planning his next and hopefully successful business venture.
The first few days I stayed at Nkupi Lodge I was the only guest there. A few days later 3 Peace Corps volunteers arrived. Charity was the manager of the place and she had her 16 year old son, Marino, there with her for the December holidays. She was a very helpful and friendly person, and had a good knowledge of the general area, activities and their costs (Muzungu prices and local prices), best routes and modes of transport to neighbouring towns...all a traveller needs. Despite getting some food supplies in town when I arrived, they invited me to spend many meals with them in their kitchen. It was a warm and friendly place, and Marino often had his laptop playing music he had copied from friends.

Title: Re: A Hike Report - Zambia: Observations from the interior
Post by: Rooies on August 13, 2011, 03:42:07 pm
On Christmas day I went out early for a walk around town to see how people celebrated it. There was loud music coming from almost every second shop on the main road and in the market-place too. Most of the shops were open, which I thought was strange seeing it was a holiday. Many people were drinking or you could see that they had been as they were stumbling in the street. Some would come up to me and just stare, some would say incomprehensible things to me. I stopped at a little restaurant to eat a meal of 5-fingers (nshima is called this as itís eaten with the hand) and beef. I wandered through the town, down the dirt roads between the houses and eventually went back to the lodge in time for lunch, which was braaied (barbequed) nkupi with rice and vegetables. A very tasty fish and meal indeed. As I said, I spent a lot of time with them in the kitchen, talking and drinking tea made with lemon grass which was very tasty and something you could easily get used to. It was interesting to hear about their background, some of the people in town, and the big plans that Charity had for the lodge. It sounded like these had been a long time in the making, and I got the impression that she was only going to carry on working there until Marino finished high school, then she would retire. She had a plot in Mbala, a town just down the road when you head south, and she had a few small buildings going up there. She wanted to build a house for herself and Marino, and some guest rooms for travellers too.

In the kitchen there was a ďCarefree CirculaireĒ stove; a freezer chest instead of a fridge, which was used to hold stock for the lodgeís bar too; some shelves that carried cooking oil, salt and pepper, brown sugar, tea and a small can of coffee, plates and cups, beans, and a big bottle of fresh water. There is fresh water available from the tap, this is pumped from the lake and then passed through a filtration system. As there was no tap or sink in the kitchen, they stored water in a big plastic bucket with a lid and then used a deep frying pan with a handle to decant it to either the kettle or hand-washing bowl. The floor was smooth concrete, but cracked in a few places. There were two windows with no glass, only burglar bars and a mesh covering to keep mosquitoes out, these let in a lot of light during the day. Lighting at night was via a single bright bulb hanging from a cord that had been thrown over one of the rafters. It was a warm and homely place, and Marinoís big beaming smile and laugh lit it up even more. He was a good kid and had a positive, friendly nature.

Rowing far out onto the lake to fish was not yielding the results I had wished for. I was hoping to catch a monster Nile Perch, but I didnít have a lure that was heavy enough to plumb the depths these beasts lurked at. Moral of that little story: do your homework properly next time. At least I caught three medium sized Tiger Fish on the Zambezi about a week and a half earlier. Even then, the fishing tour with a boat on the river which cost me $120 was not up to standard. The boat captain, a short stubby man who seemed hard of hearing when I told him I wanted to try different sections of the river, was not well prepared. He had three rods on board, one which was for me, one had a reel with no line on it, and one was his. His fishing box was dirty, didnít have spare line in it, and not enough lures and steel trace that was needed for Tiger. The rod I was using didnít even have enough line on it to cast 20 metres, while his seemed to be casting just fine. I asked him to use his, as I was the paying customer, and he said that it didnít cast well and got tangled easily. Eventually I had enough, after trying through the circumstances to enjoy myself, and told him to take me back to the tour operatorís site. I was paying good money for this, and it was not delivering.

He said this had happened before but the manager did nothing about it. I wondered why he took customers on the river when he knew his equipment was sub-standard. So the boat guide blamed the manager who blamed the owner who blamed the lady who made the booking, what a mess. No one wanted to take responsibility. I asked for a refund and got it.
The fishing on the lake was bad for two days in a row, and I only had myself to blame. In the evening of the second day I went out to the Waterfront Bar for the second visit, after dropping the tackle off at the lodge. Marino wanted to know if I was going to join him for dinner, I said no thanks, I just needed to relax and enjoy the sunset with a cold sun-downer...and try and figure out where my angling skills were going wrong. I had taken him with for two days in a row now on the lake and heíd had no luck either, I felt bad for him, as though I was letting him down somehow. No Nile Perch, no Goliath Tiger Fish, no Nkupi, not a thing. I hadnít had such bad fishing in ages. That was the night I met old Mr Brown and Martin, who informed me about the habits of the fish in the lake. It was a good lesson to learn.

I was walking out and returning to the lodge when a local girl by the name of Grace waved at me and asked me to join her and a friend for a drink. I sat with them at the table and they ordered another round and got me another cold one too. The guy she was talking with was a teacher in one of the schools. She was a marketing student, and told me how some store owners were reluctant to provide her with the information she needed for her research. She asked why I was leaving the bar so early when she first saw me, and I said I was returning to my lodgings to sleep off a bad dayís fishing. Maybe Iíd try from the shore-line tomorrow. She was in town on holiday, visiting her parents who lived there. She had a scar on her hand which she said came from her ex-boyfriend throwing hot porridge at her in a fit of rage. This reminded me of something I heard someone say once, that we are not men until we have earned the love and respect of women and children.

Eventually the place closed, and as it was dark and the dirt roads had no lighting, I walked her home, which was about 1km from the lodge. I told her it wouldnít be safe for her to go alone, especially since sheíd consumed too much alcohol and was tipsy. We passed other people in the near pitch-black darkness on the roads and I could see the whites of their eyes staring at us. We must have seemed a strange couple to them. Eventually we reached her house and she thanked me for listening to her and for walking her home. Walking home in the darkness was no threat to my safety, even though she said people might attack me. The truth is I felt safer in Zambia than I did in my own country, and I was more concerned at stubbing my sandaled toes on a rock in the dirt road than I was about attackers. Some figures did pass me on the road that night, but we passed each other in silence.

The next day at the lodge the Peace Corps guys I mentioned earlier arrived, only two of them though, the third was still on his way. He arrived that night in the pouring rain. The one guyís name was James. He was doing some work with locals to preserve the genetic integrity of fish farmed for food. He seemed friendly enough, but he didnít blink regularly when he talked, he just stared, and that bothered me. For some reason I am bothered by people who donít blink at all and those who blink too much when they are in conversation. It just doesnít seem right. James saw us eating Nkupi and said he liked to eat Catfish, with the skin on. This sounded almost as if he were looking for attention. His friend Scott had a beard and wore glasses. He was volunteering in one of the health departments and had been placed in a rural community. His eyes worked properly behind the glasses.

The third guy arrived that night. I was having dinner in the kitchen when they walked in. The guy was Chinese in descent and didnít introduce himself to me or Marino, who was seated nearby. Charity had just fetched him from the front gate in the pouring rain and then called his friends to let them know he had arrived. They walked into the kitchen asking about dinner and if it could be prepared. I noticed that their body language and tone of voice carried a slight indication of expectation. This was not part of the lodge I thought, this was someoneís home, you are standing in someoneís kitchen, be more respectful. Eventually after surveying the situation for a while I introduced myself to the third guy. He said he had lived in Cape Town between the ages of 3 and 10. He was now a volunteer, and had hitched to Mpulungu that evening from where he was based. I told him I had hitched too, from Livingstone, and when they asked how much I paid, they all stared in disbelief when I said I paid nothing (James stared the worst of all). They got handled, big time.

 They went out the next day to buy fish for their dinner from the local market. When they came back the Chinese guy was relating the experience and he spoke condescendingly of the fisherman he bought the fish from. I wondered if he ever stopped to converse with people, instead of rushing straight into bargaining and buying things. Marino asked him how much he had paid for the fish, as he saw them heading off that morning and they had refused his offers for help in the market place he told me. The guy said he paid 80 pin ($17) for the three Nkupi. In Zambia, 1000 Kwacha is one pin. Marino told me later he shouldnít have paid more than 30 pin for the fish, he said the guy probably wouldíve even been charged more for buying some with a fixed price, like airtime for his phone, and we had a good laugh. The moral of that little incident is donít be ashamed to ask for help when you are a stranger in a strange land. Yes, U2 do have a song with that title.

When it was time for me to start heading south again, I walked into town one afternoon and determined the exchange rate at the nearest bank. It was worse than in Livingstone. I went outside and found some money changers sitting in the shade under a large tree. Itís not hard to find these guys in any town, and usually they find you first. I saw them, stopped, gave the group a certain look then walked towards them and stopped short about 5m away. This would reveal who was in charge of or who was the most senior in the group. An older man dressed in a short-sleeve button up shirt tucked into a neat pair of suit pants approached me. He looked healthy and well fed, business must be alright for him I thought. We exchanged formalities for a while and then he asked me how much I wanted to change. I asked him what his rate was, and he said it was determined by the denomination of the dollar bills I had. This was standard practice in most African countries, the smaller bills exchanging at a lower rate than the bigger ones. He gave me his rate and then looked away. I asked him for one pin more and then he turned to look at the main road in town as if he had never seen it before. I moved my feet as if I was turning to go and he turned to face me and I smiled at him, he knew he had won the bargain. It wasnít that I was unhappy with his rate, it was fine. It was more that the exchange procedure, the posturing and the bargaining was a ritual that needed to be performed every time. This was part of life on the road, and it never failed to amuse me.

On the way back to the lodge I passed the Peace Corps and waved to them from the other side of the road. I asked them where they were going and they said they were on their way to ask one of the commercial fisheries if they could accompany them on the lake. James was speaking, and from the other side of the road I could see his staring eyes and I wondered if they were going to get handled again. This made me think of the famous speech from the movie Cool Hand Luke: ĒWhat we got here is...failure to communicate...Ē.

37. My hut at Nkupi Lodge
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6210/6037646075_2732fc4bbd.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6037646075/)

38. Christmas day 2010
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6129/6038194928_2da59058c7.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6038194928/)

40. Local tough guy
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6068/6037646775_25c3c6c88c.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6037646775/)

43. Look at those fish
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6183/6037647757_05b124d83f.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6037647757/)

46. He insisted I take his picture
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6088/6037648843_2008c03d47.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6037648843/)

50. Blending in with the locals
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6185/6038198536_5d618f34c8.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6038198536/)

52. Local fisherman
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6194/6037650191_9ba4602f57.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6037650191/)

53. Thrashed on Gili-gili
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6068/6037650417_9086ba2f99.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6037650417/)

54. Charity and Marino
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6136/6038199238_b9fac2079c.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6038199238/)

55. Can I have some more please
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6122/6037650683_d00e02efb8.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6037650683/)

57. Picking lemongrass for tea
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6205/6038199638_413c2271a7.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6038199638/)

58. Storm blowing up in the lake
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6071/6038199768_a646bc76b8.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6038199768/)

62. The village of Kasasa
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6074/6038200874_fb3265a472.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6038200874/)

68. Marino at lake Tanganyika
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6194/6038202632_4683e628ac.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6038202632/)

76. Blending in with the locals part 2 - I'm the guy on the right
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6066/6038203358_c9af503eb6.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6038203358/)

77. Tired on the road while travelling through the night
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6187/6038203428_8234ed6228.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6038203428/)

78. Are you a man who cares
(http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6133/6038203494_5efdd6a27a.jpg) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/65818832@N02/6038203494/)

Title: Re: A Hike Report - Zambia: Observations from the interior
Post by: Rooies on August 13, 2011, 03:44:16 pm
This and that

Some things you must try and eat when in Zambia: nshima and fish, be it nkupi, tiger or perch. Nshima with tomato and onion sauce with fried Mopani worms on the side. Try the different types of mango that can be found almost everywhere (even good eaten with the skin on); village chicken Ė this means it is freshly slaughtered; and a large mushroom called chikolo. You will see people standing on the side of the road trying to sell them. Some can be as large as two dinner plates.

If you are travelling down a Zambian road and see yellow plastic cooking oil drums perched on a branch on the side of the road, itís not for oil or anything to do with cooking. It means that in a hut nearby you can buy petrol or diesel, at an inflated price of course.

Sometimes men stand on the side of the road attempting to sell poached game-meat to people passing by. They donít do this openly however. As a car or truck approaches, they will stand near the road and act as if they are wiping something from their lips with an open mouth for a few times. This is the signal, and this is how poached game is sold to those who have a palette for that sort of thing. Do try the boiled eggs that are sold at road side stalls. They are one pin each and the sellers have a little bag of salt for seasoning. Corn braaied on the cob is also good, and very cheap, less than a third of US dollar.

Buy bananas from the street vendors too. They are tastier and cheaper than those in the supermarkets. Tea and coffee is often served with a breakfast spoon for shovelling the sugar in. Watch yourself if you are a sweet tooth.

Last and definitely not least, if someone walks up to you and asks you what your problem is, remember to be courteous in your reply.


Number of car rides while hitch-hiking: 2
Number of truck rides: 3
First car distance hitched: 2km
Second car distance hitched: 475km
First truck distance hitched: 1,150km
Second truck distance hitched: 100km
Third truck distance hitched: 1050km
Total hours hitch-hiking: 42 hours
Total distance hitched: 2,777km
Degree of fun and adventure: Epic
Number of dangerous or bad incidents: 0
Title: Re: A Hike Report - Zambia: Observations from the interior
Post by: Ian in Great Brak River on August 13, 2011, 05:08:55 pm
Wow !! What a trip, this restores my belief in mankind somewhat,  thanks for sharing.
Title: Re: A Hike Report - Zambia: Observations from the interior
Post by: Crab on August 13, 2011, 05:21:32 pm
Title: Re: A Hike Report - Zambia: Observations from the interior
Post by: Rooies on August 14, 2011, 01:02:23 pm
Wow !! What a trip, this restores my belief in mankind somewhat,  thanks for sharing.

It is heartening indeed.  And its so easy to access this kind of humanity and do this kind of travel. I think we often over-complicate things ourselves by looking at the world through our own warped lenses.

The story also has a somewhat "Into The Wild" feeling to it.