Saturday, September 21, 2013

Livingstone, Zambia

We had a road transfer between Chobe in Botswana and Livingstone, Zambia. The border crossing is at Kazungula, where the Zambezi River provides the border between the two countries. Actually, there are four countries that meet at Kazungula: Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia. The river at this point is about 400 meters across, and there is no bridge. The only way to cross is on the Kazungula Ferry. This is also one of the major trucking routes of southern Africa, and the ferry is only large enough to take a few tractor-trailers at a time.

As we approached the border, the queue of tractor-trailers was at least a mile long. We asked our driver how long they would have to wait for their turn to board the ferry, and he said as long as a week! As we drew closer to the border, we could see that a small town was set up on each side of the river, with shops, food stalls, bars, and all sorts of things needed to keep the truckers occupied while they waited.  We also saw many prostitutes, of course.  We got our passports exit-stamped and then took a small passenger boat across the river. I wish I'd taken photos of the ferry and the lines of trucks and the stalls along the side of the road!

On the other side we were picked up by a new driver, who helped us get through passport control for Zambia and then drove us onward to Livingstone.  We asked him more questions about the truckers (the queue of trucks on the other side of the border was just as long), and it turned out that he had actually been a truck driver for a while himself. He told us that many of the drivers actually hire a truck minder to stay with their truck and move it forward in the queue, and then they go home to spend some time with their families until they get the call that it's their turn to cross.

It seems like an insane system, but it's the way it works here. There are apparently plans to build a bridge across the river, which would change the economy of this area quite a bit. We saw no evidence that construction on this bridge has even started, so who knows?

Once we reached Livingstone, we were picked up by the owner of the next place we were staying, the Taita Falcon Lodge. When Doug was looking for a place to stay in Livingstone, he found that almost all of the hotels and lodges were either fully booked or didn't accept young children. This was the only place that we could stay.

The lodge itself is a fairly rustic camp way a long drive down a primitive dirt road, perched on the edge of the Batoka Gorge overlooking the lower Zambezi River. The view from the lodge's main area was simply stunning.

This rapid is one of the larger ones on the river, and every day we could see the whitewater rafters turn the corner and ride down it on their way down the river. We could hear them shouting from the lodge, which was hilarious!

We spent four nights here, and we decided to take it easy on the first day. Our hut had a little fenced-in garden, and Carter really enjoyed playing in the dirt with all of his little vehicles. The lodge had a pool, but the water was really too cold to go swimming. Carter got in for a few minutes, but even he couldn't take it!

On the second day, we decided to go out for the day. We went to the Zambian side of Victoria Falls and walked around. 

One of the things Doug and I did years ago was go white-water rafting on the Zambezi. Carter is obviously too young for that, but there are jet boats that go on the river as well, and Carter could ride on a jet boat, it turns out. So we booked a jet boat ride for the afternoon. 

We were picked up in a big open vehicle, that took us down dirt roads and past villages to the point where we would take a cable car down to the jet boat. It's really quite interesting that so many people in southern Africa live in traditional villages like this one. The small huts are made of wood and covered with thatched roofs, and small clusters of houses may have fences around them. 

Women draw water from a central well and carry the containers on their heads back to their houses.

We stopped in one village and a large group of children gathered to look at Carter. He waved at them and they laughed and waved back. I think they may not get to see small white kids very often! 

When we went white-water rafting back in the 90s, we had to hike up out of the gorge at the end of the trip. It was a kilometer straight up, and it was a pretty tough climb! But now there is a cable car that you can ride out at the end (installed by man who started the jet boat operation), and the jet boat starts and ends there.

The jet boat ride was a lot of fun! I don't have any pictures because we were warned to leave any electronics behind. And that was good advice, because we got completely soaked! We didn't get all that wet going up the rapids, but when we went back down, the driver steered us right into all the spots in the rapids where we were guaranteed to get a giant wave of water splashed right over our heads. And then he drove the boat back upstream and did it again!

Of course, it was hot and so it wasn't terrible to be wet, and by the time we got back to town, we were basically dry. Unfortunately, by mid-afternoon, Doug was starting to feel bad, and it became clear that he'd contracted some sort of food poisoning. He spent the next 24 hours in bed, feeling miserable. And of course, this would have to happen when we were essentially living outside in hot weather, with no air conditioning. To add insult to injury, he woke up the next morning covered with mosquito bites -- they'd somehow gotten inside the net. 

So we didn't end up doing a heck of a lot during our time in Livingstone, unfortunately. Carter was a trooper, as usual, and had lots of fun playing. He constantly surprises us with his ability to adapt to new situations!

After four nights, we flew from Livingstone to Lusaka and then Lusaka to Mfuwe to arrive at our final African destination: South Luangwa National Park. I'm still reviewing the photos from that week and I have over 500, so I think I will need to go through them more carefully. Or perhaps there will be two posts. :-)

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