Monday, October 22, 2012

An Old Volkswagen, A New Country and a House Full of Kids

Once again I find myself in a new African country with a new set of languages (Bemba, Tonga, Lozi, Lunda, Luvale, Kaonde, Nyanja and Chewa, though English is the official language) a new currency (The Zambian Kwacha, 5215 to the dollar), a new local beer (Mosi, it’s ok) and basically no plan.  To me this is what real freedom feels like and while I don’t have a plan, what I do have is almost endless opportunity.  More than three months ago I arrived in Botswana the same way and if you have been following my adventures since then, you know just how wonderfully that turned out.  This isn’t a method of travel for everyone and it’s a way of life for even fewer, but I can’t imagine doing anything different right now.  It is not very often you meet someone who can honestly say they are living their life exactly as they want; but I am proud to be able to count myself among them.  Anyways, enough about that.  As always the last few weeks have been wonderful so let me show you what I’ve been up to.

I introduced Stefan (left) in the end of my last post, but let me but give a recap since this is the beginning of us traveling together.  Stefan left Germany in May and drove solo through West Africa in his 1974 VW camper van.  He intended on finishing in Cape Town but decided to stay in Africa longer and is now spending a few more months traveling Southern Africa.  I saw the classic-rock themed VW, wanted to meet him and after five or ten minutes of discussing our individual plans we decided to throw my bicycle in the back and travel together.  Sometimes it’s just that easy. 

Today was a day or running around town taking care of business and we had plenty to do.  We stopped by the new Maun branch of The Bike Shop where I was going to pick up the new tubes and tires, but when I met Fred he thought some new Armadillo tires and a tubeless conversion would be a better solution, so I left the bike with him to pick up the next morning.  Next on the list was to buy a new refrigerator as Stefans was long dead, to the tire store to repair a slow leak and buy two new tires and to the grocery store to stock up on grub.  Funds significantly depleted we returned to Old Bridge Backpackers, cooked dinner with Paul (right) and called it a night.

The next day Stefan and I had a few more things to do before setting off on our admittedly ambitions plan to drive from Maun to Kasane through Chobe National Park.  We went to pick up my bike from Fred at The Bike Shop and I admired my new flat-resistant tires.  I’ve never used tubeless before and was initially a little hesitant to set off into Africa with a system I’ve never used but it sounds pretty cool and I’m looking forward to giving it a try soon.  Fred and everyone at The Bike shop, thank you.  You have all been awesome helping me out with my bike trip through Botswana and beyond and I’ll be sure to keep you updated on my progress!

Next on the list was a stop at the internet café and while I was there I got a chat message from Michelle!  It turned out she and Michael were also in Maun (See? I told you every friend I made in Gaborone wound up in Maun for this weekend!) so we got lunch together near the airport.  Good to see you two again, I hope we cross paths again soon!

Ok, so this was the plan:  Drive from Maun to the edge of Chobe National park.  On the edge, we would camp in the bush, then first thing in the morning we would enter Chobe at the Mababe gate, spend the day driving north through the park on the Savuti route, exit the park on the same day on the north side and then explore the town of Kasane and surrounding area for a few days before crossing into Zambia.  Everyone told us this was impossible without a 4x4 but both Stefan and I had been hearing our various plans in Africa were impossible from day one and were tired of people telling us what we couldn’t do.  As always we were warned about the deep sand, the wild animals, the extreme heat and every other horrible thing Africa has to offer but if it was in fact impossible, we were going to find out by trying, not taking someone else’s word for it. 

We got a late start because of the lunch and other little holdups but didn’t have too far to go to the edge of the park and were not concerned.  Shortly after the paved road ended we experienced some of the worst washboard roads I’ve ever been on.  Combine that with a ‘74 VW full of gear and it was so loud inside we had to basically shout to talk to each other, despite the fact we were a meter apart.  The bulk of the road was packed dirt, stones and sand, but at times it would open up to large pits of soft sand.  Now the key to sand driving is momentum, so driving these roads slowly and cautiously isn’t really an option, especially when you only have 2-wheel-drive. 

Everything was going fine until we finally hit a patch of especially soft sand and stopped moving.  No problem, we grabbed the shovels, dug out the sand from around the wheels and I pushed with everything I had.  We got a few meters.  After trying this a few times, it was time to get serious: air down the tires (softer tires means more surface area and more traction), pull out the sand ramps and try again.  Still nothing, then the engine simply wouldn’t start and we could hear the petrol boiling.  This is a problem with the VW bus in extreme conditions.  Because the tank is between the gear box and engine, it tends to heat up a fair bit.  Combine that with the full heat of the African sun and revving the engine to get out of the sand and that was the situation we found ourselves in.  We opened everything up to help cool the engine and tank and waited for a vehicle that could pull us out.  After an hour, a 4x4 Land Cruiser came, we tied the bus on and they began to pull.  You guessed it, nothing.  They were trying to pull from soft sand as well and without being able to start our engine to help with some of the load; it was simply not possible for them to free us.  We thanked them for trying, untied and waited for a bigger vehicle. 

A little while later, this big boy came by and stopped to help.  We attached the tow rope aaaand nothing.  They were in 2x4 and the back wheels were simply spinning (the bald tires didn’t help).  After climbing under the truck to engage the 4x4 we were back in business and they were able to pull us out into a hard packed section of the road without too much trouble.  By now the petrol had stopped boiling, but the next problem was that the battery had simply died.  The big truck was 24v and couldn’t give us (12v) a jump, so once again we had to wait, in the middle of the road this time, as the sun was going down, for yet another vehicle to help us. 

A full two hours had passed since we first got stuck, the sun had already dropped below the horizon and we were going nowhere fast.  In fact in the last two hours, we had moved a total of about 20 meters, none of it using our own engine.  Finally another vehicle, a new Land Rover with all the fancy accessories came by and gave us a jump.  Finally we were off again, but far behind schedule.

The headlights on Stefans VW aren’t great, plus driving at night in Africa is a pretty dangerous proposition anyway, so we knew we had to find a place to camp soon.  We drove for a while looking for a place to turn off the road and get out of sight and took the first one that looked good.  Thanks to the new fridge, we had cold beer to enjoy, cooked dinner, watched the episode of Top Gear where they drive across Botswana for motivation and went to sleep hoping for better luck the next day.

We woke before sunrise and moved quickly to be at the park entrance first thing in the morning.  We were driving along just fine when the engine simply cut out.  Luckily Stefan built the VW himself and is a pretty handy mechanic as well as a very well prepared overland traveler.  After some basic troubleshooting he decided it must be the ignition coil climbed on the top, got the spare out of the box and hooked it up.  Success!  Stefan has been driving for 6 months through Africa, for 55,000km and this is the first mechanical trouble with the vehicle the entire time, not too bad, eh?  We drove on and eventually reached the Mababe gate, where we were once again told we wouldn't make it to Kasane through the park.  We paid the entrance fee and set off anyways.

I think you can see where this is going… About 900 meters past the gate we came into the softest and deepest sand either of us had seen and Stefan did his best to keep the speed up and get past the softest section.  Not only was the sand extremely soft, but the tire tracks were so deep that we were dragging the bottom of the bus along the sand.  Then there were the bumps to deal with.  In the effort to keep up momentum, we were bouncing and smashing across the sand and in the process found one of the four mounts for the roof-rack had broken.  Then the battery died again and we couldn’t start the engine.  I’m convinced we could have driven through this in my 1970 VW Baja Bug I have at home, but in a heavily loaded bus without enough ground clearance we didn’t stand a chance.  But at least we tried. 

We walked back to the entrance a little embarrassed to be returning so soon and waited for a vehicle to come along that would be able to give us a jump and help pull us out.  It wasn’t too long before a truck came, filled with a German family and we told them our story.  We got a jump and the engine fired up without a problem, then we tried the short tow-rope.  Unfortunately that still put the tow vehicle in the soft sand, and as the wheels on the bus were spinning, so were all four wheels on the Hilux.  Luckily Stefan had a 30m braided cable as well, and using that we were able to have the tow vehicle start on firmer sand which allowed us to get free of the deep sand and running again.  With a broken roof rack, a battery that couldn’t hold a charge, too little petrol in the tank and the deep sand in our way we decided our only option was to head back to Maun.  On the sand road back we got stuck once or twice again but were able to dig and push out without help. 

It was a tough 24 hours, but in the end we made it back to Maun and The Old Bridge Backpackers safely, with no real damage done to ourselves or the vehicle and smiles on our face.

That night we met up with Michael and Michelle again and recounted our adventures over a few cold (and well deserved) beers.

As we were about to call it a night, someone said they had found a python in a tree on the road outside of the backpackers, so we went to check it out.  The snake was about 3m long and just resting in the tree.  How it doesn’t mind hanging around on thorn trees I’m not quite sure…

The next morning, we had some clean-up work to do and some repairs as well.  We asked around for where the best place to get aluminium welded and everyone told us to check out AliBoats, an aluminium boat builder in town.  We got the mount fixed for 10 pula (about $1.50) and while in the parking lot reinstalling it someone came up to chat.  It turns out they had seen Stefan in his bus in Namibia a month or so back!  He said he was broken down in a Land Rover or something going over a high pass, and saw this blue VW just drive past like it was nothing, haha. 

These kinds of things happen all the time really and it’s amazing how much your choice of transport can create a totally different trip.  I’ve been with Stefan for about two weeks now and it seems nearly every day someone comes up to us saying they had seen the van around, wants to chat, buy us beers or help us out in some other way.  If we had been in one of these rental Toyota Hilux trucks like every other fly-in tourist, we would be as anonymous and uninteresting as the rest of them.  I’ve found the exact same thing during my time in Africa, first traveling in the 4x4 on my original Cape-to-Cairo trip as we were driving a truck covered in stickers of Nelson Mandela (long story, go back to my posts from January to read about it) and more recently on my bicycle ride.  I think this is an awesome travel tip though; do it in a unique vehicle that gets people’s attention and you will end up with a much better trip, I promise!

Having given up on our original route, we decided the way to go was east to Nata, then north to Kasana along the main roads.  This gave us a few hours of fairly uninteresting highway driving but it also gave me an opportunity to drive Stefan’s bus for the first time.  It’s best cruising between 80-100km, but we are not in a hurry and it’s quite comfortable and easy to drive. 

After two or three days of traveling together and talking VW stuff, Stefan and I are already dreaming about doing a road trip together through the Western United States in my 1970 VW Baja Bug, haha. 

A brush fire along the way to Nata.

A few weeks back Stefan went out to the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans and Kubu Island, another one of the places he was told he could never reach without a 4x4.  He made it without problems.  Anyway, out on the pan at 5:30am he got a knock on his window.  It was some guys on ATVs who were filming a bicycle race through the pans and they were in desperate need of motor oil.  Being a vintage VW owner (an ‘oil dripper’) and always well prepared, naturally he had oil and gave them some.  In return, they said if he was passing by the Nata area he could stay at their lodge, Elephant Sands, for free.  We decided to take them up on that offer.  Sure we got stuck once driving in, but that was only because we were trying to move to the side of the one lane sand road to let another vehicle pass, haha.  Elephant Sands is a very nice lodge, the kind of place neither of us could ever afford given the way we travel but hey, being able to stay at a place like this for free is just the kind of thing that happens when you travel in an old VW!

The key feature of the lodge is its waterhole, which attracts wild elephants (and other animals) every evening.  Because of this you can sit at your table eating and drinking while watching five or ten elephants only a few meters away.  Very cool. 

We didn’t have far to drive the next morning so we had a lazy breakfast, enjoyed the lodge’s wifi and hit the road around 10:30am.  On the way north to Kasane I saw something in the distance and immediately recognized it as a cycle tourer!  Turns out it was a Japanese girl who was riding solo from Nairobi, Kenya to Cape Town, South Africa, very cool!  Oh, and we saw many of these little tornadoes which I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to jump into the middle of one just to see how strong they really are…  The other common sight on the road was elephants, and in one stretch near Mpandamatenga we saw probably 150 in a 2km stretch. 

By 2:30 we were in Kasane, a small town on the Zambezi River and the border of Botswana and Zambia and built entirely on the tourism of Chobe National Park and people crossing the border to see Victoria Falls.  That is why we were there as well of course and because our plan to enter Chobe from the south was foiled by deep sand and car troubles, our new plan was to enter Chobe from the north.  What could go wrong?!

Reinforcing the roof-rack had been on Stefan’s mind since leaving Maun so we asked around where to get some metal work done.  Someone mentioned there was also an AliBoats in Kasane (the same shop where we had the piece welded in Maun) so off we went.  What we ended up with was very simple but effective, just two strips of aluminium that attached to the mounts and use the existing bolts as attachment points.  Stefan had his own drill and tools with him, so once the metal was cut he did the rest of the work himself right there at the shop.  This is one well prepared guy eh? 

You might remember Rod, Peter and Julius from my last post, the guys in Shakawe who saw me riding my bike and took me out to dinner.  Julius had said if I was in Kasane I could stay with him, so I gave him a call and just like that had another nice place to stay for free.  Kasane doesn’t have a cheap backpackers (at the lodges just tent camping costs something like $15, ugh) so this was a big help.  He is here in Kasane overseeing the construction of a new water treatment system and these are the homes put up for managers like him to stay in while in town for the project.

Thanks for the great hospitality Julius! (center)

In our efforts to drive into Chobe from the north this time we left Kasane and headed west on the newly paved road.  This road actually passes through part of the park, and I guess to ensure people don’t claim to be driving to one of the villages beyond then stay in the park vehicles must register at the checkpoint at border.  The camouflage clad, AK wielding soldiers may look serious, but the checkpoint really isn’t a big deal and as usual people were more interested in the VW than anything else.

On the road through the northern section of Chobe you can see a number of animals, and we managed to see zebras, various antelope, some big red-headed birds and plenty of elephants, including many young ones.

As usual, we didn’t really have a plan for what we were doing or where we were going.  We simply looked at the map and said “Uhhh, let’s find somewhere to camp in the bush in this area.” But as usual, that’s all it really takes for something interesting to happen.

As we were sitting under some baobabs in a small pull-out killing time and trying to figure out our next move, a local man named Sondomo approached us to talk.  We told him we were simply looking for a place to sleep and right away he offered to show us his property and let us sleep there.  He and his friend jumped in the bus and led us uphill through the sand and dirt roads of the village until we eventually came to his small piece of property, which consisted of a square about 100m square with a few trees and one little shack.  He picked it because it was near some of his family and said he wanted to build a guesthouse, but if he intended it to be for tourist honestly I can’t see any reason why someone would actually come…

Sondomo told us the first thing that needed doing was to clear brush, so we helped him with that for a little while.  Cutting and dragging brush, I felt like I was back at work! 

It’s not every day two long haired guys in a VW show up in this area, so Sondomo was keen to introduce us to his family.

Because we were now spending the night there, Sondomo said he needed to go to another family member’s house to pick up a tent and some blankets.  As soon as I saw the tent I figured he would end up sleeping outside because it was pretty much garbage, but Stefan and I managed to improvise something that would at least half stand up, and that was good enough.  While there, one of the young girls (none of them spoke any English of course) laughed at me because my feet were so dirty, and I also got a good laugh out of her reaction.  We then stopped by another family member’s house for another blanket and returned to the property. 

Back at his place we first burned the two large brush piles we had created, and then cooked dinner for the three of us (of course Sondomo had no food).  We spent the evening talking around the camp fire and it was a fascinating conversation.  At some points he has worked as a tourist guide, but now it seems he does what most people around here do, struggle to make any money at all.  He talked about selling fish in Kasane and as far away as Gaborne and Namibia where he can sell it for more but it was obvious this was rare.  We talked a lot about animals and food and he talked with fondness about how they used to regularly eat pythons and water monitors, but that they were rare to see these days.  When we asked about fishing he kept saying there are “plenty, plenty” but I couldn’t help but think they would soon go the way of the snakes and lizards, eaten to near extinction due to the rapid population growth in the area.  As we talked around the fire, we could hear a choir singing up the hill, dogs barking at the elephants and eventually four shots from a powerful rifle.  It doesn’t get any more real Africa than this.

In the morning we headed back to one of the family houses down the hill where we had been the previous night.  We had noticed some long pieces of meat hanging on a line and were told it was elephant.  I’m still not clear on the legality of this.  I was told by some people that all elephants in Botswana are protected, but I was told by others that if an elephant is destroying crops it can be shot when it is not in the park boundary (this town was outside of the park).  The thing is, given the development and rapid population expansion in this part of the country (such as the road that was just paved last year) increased human-elephant conflict is inevitable.  I was told by others that because they are obviously protected in the park, the elephant population has become too large for the space they are confined to.  I’m no elephant expert, but I saw some evidence that might point towards this.  We passed through areas where literally every tree was broken down by elephants and I’m guessing that isn’t good either… Anyways, long story short we were curious to taste some elephant meat.  We told Sondomo this, he spoke to one of the women, and after handing over 10 pula (less than $1.50) had about a kilo of elephant meat.  They told us it had to dry for another two or three days, but we each tried a bite because we were too curious to wait.  The taste wasn’t too bad, but it was so tough you could barely break it up in your mouth no matter how hard you chewed.  I gnawed on it for a while, then gave up and swallowed it whole.

Stefan and I drove to the end of the paved road towards the northern entrance to Chobe and once again came to soft sand.  We sat to think about it for a minute and decided it simply wasn’t worth getting stuck this time, because this was a seldom used road and we could be waiting a loooong time.  Instead, we took the sand road to the right and decided to simply find a place in the bush to camp near by.

A short while down the sandy but manageable road we found a large and nearly dead baobab tree (the damage was done by elephants eating the bark and soft insides of the tree) that looked ideal to camp under.  It wasn’t even 10am, but we saw no reason to go farther and made camp.  I finished the book I was reading and spent the rest of the day lounging around just listening to the sounds of the bush. 

Camp at night, I don’t think it gets any better than this. 

In the African bush when the sun goes down all kinds of huge and crazy looking bugs come out.  I’ve watched this on plenty of nights but it never gets old.  This time I wanted to get photos, so whenever I’d see some large insect scurry past our campfire I’d grab my camera and Stefan would grab his light and help me follow and photograph it.  We did this a few times and eventually one of the huge spiders I was chasing ran to the base of the baobab.  I excitedly thrust my camera towards it and took a photo.  As I was trying to reposition myself for a better shot I saw something I’d initially missed in my excitement, the fact I’d put my camera and more importantly my hand, about one meter away from a python!  Granted pythons are constrictors and not poisonous, so there was no real danger, but it was a good reminder of just where we were and that the next snake I accidentally surprise might not be so safe.

As usual we were in no hurry to get anywhere, so we had a lazy morning drinking coffee, making eggs and sitting in the shade.  As we were doing this, a white farmer who had property farther down the road came up to say hi, drawn in by the bus.  “I used to have one of these; you forget how good they are in the sand.”  He was surprised we had even made it to this spot (although it was actually quite easy) and with a laugh we recounted our adventures trying to get into Chobe.  He wished us good luck and headed to his farm. 

On the way out we passed this burned elephant skeleton.  When we saw it on the way in, we couldn’t tell exactly what it was, but being especially cautions (for once) and curious we actually stopped to pull out the binoculars and check before driving past, haha.  Anyways, carcases are burned after any eatable or useable parts are stripped off to prevent the spread of disease which explains the soot around the bones. 

As we neared the paved road again we stopped off at the bottle store to buy some cold sodas and were quickly met by the local police chief.  He told us he’d worked as a detective in Gaborone and then in major crimes involving diamonds at the Orapa mine before being sent here and I had to wonder if it was some kind of punishment because this was the middle of nowhere.  According to him, the only crimes out here were poaching (elephants?) and even those he simply referred to the park rangers.  It was only noon, but no wonder he was already drinking (and wearing an Eminem t-shirt, haha).  Naturally he wanted to see the inside of the bus which we happily showed him and went on our way.

When we were leaving Kasane to head into the bush the other day we saw Elise and Ashley, two American girls we had met back in Maun, walking down the street.  We stopped to say hi and they told us to come to a party on Friday night.  Well Friday night was here but first we need to clean up after three days in the bush.  I called up Julius again and although he was busy with work happily agreed to let us shower at his place again before the party.  I also used the opportunity to get on Skype and talk to some friends and family back home, which was great. 

The party was at one of the nice lodges in town and while it started out a little boring, I had a good talk with a guide who specializes in game walks about how to deal with wild animal encounters in the bush and the night started to pick up.  By 10pm most of the tourists had left and the bar was mostly crazy locals and expats.  This is always the best kind of party.  Being ‘the guys in the VW’ managed to bring a few free drinks our way, email addresses were exchanged (“I know someone in Cape Town who would love to meet you!”) and we ran into both a bus driver we’d met back at Elephant Sands lodge and the guy from AliBoats where we had fixed our roof rack.  By about 1am only the craziest of the crazy was left and people started to talk about moving to ‘the seep’ with the ice chest of sangria.  ‘The seep’ turned out to literally be a mud hole in a field near the Zambezi, but it was illuminated with lights from a truck, classic rock (CCR) was playing from another car, drinks were poured, clothes removed and people got muddy

Saturday was our last day in Botswana due to the fact my 90-day visa was about to expire (wow, I really did spend three whole months in Botswana), so we filled up the gas tank and used up our remaining pula buying groceries.  We’d met and talked to this group last night but we ran into them again at the shop.  In a rather amazing coincidence, these are friends of Stefans best friend and from the same village in Germany!  They have been cycling through Africa for the past two year if I remember correctly, two of them on a tandem bike where the front rider sits down like a recumbent bike and the rear rider sits upright in a standard position.  It’s the craziest looking bike I’ve ever seen. 

It was time to say goodbye to Botswana, so we drove out of Kasane a short distance to the Kazungula border post where we filled out the necessary exit paperwork and boarded the ferry boat that would take us over the Zambezi River to the other side and into Zambia. 

From about half way across the river, as soon as we could see the other side clearly it was obvious that we were returning to Africa.  You might say “But Scott, you have been in Africa this whole time” and yes, that is technically true but the fact is, there is Africa, and there is Africa.  Let me use the Kazungula border as an example.  On the Botswana side everything is clean(ish), fairly organized, there are signs for what to do and where to go and everything is paved.  On the Zambia side, one ‘dock’ for the ferry is paved for a few meters, but we pulled off the boat straight into the mud and trash and confusion and truckers and cheats and lowlifes that are emblematic of real African border crossings and real African countries.  Still, it wasn’t as uncomfortable as the border I crossed between Malawi and Tanzania…

As white people (and as usual), we were quickly surrounded by people trying to make a buck off us, telling us horror stories (“You could be stuck here for hours!”) and that only they had the solution to get us through the process quickly.  Yah, I bet.  We didn’t want to leave the vehicle alone, so Stefan waited while I got my visa.  Despite being told by the Zambian embassy in Gaborone, Botswana that I could get a 90-day visa for $50 (I told myself I’d believe it when I saw it, turned out I was right to be skeptical) they could only give me a 30-day for $50, although I was told I could extend it for free in any major town.  Once again, I’ll believe that when I see it…

Getting the visa was easy enough, but then it was time for Stefan to deal with the car and the resulting paperwork.  To drive into Zambia you have to pay for third party insurance, road tax, carbon tax (tourist tax?) and to make matters worse, there isn’t even an ATM at the border. We had looked in Kasane, but no one had Zambian Kwacha (it’s the neighboring country and plenty of people go from Chobe over to Victoria Falls, why don’t they change kwacha?), so you have to change money with one of the slimeballs at the border.  We’d looked up the rate before coming and it was 5150 kwacha to the USD and we were offered 4900.  Not great, but not terrible.  However when it came time to do the math, he typed 3900 into the calculator instead, telling us we needed to give him about $30 more than we should have.  Typical border behaviour.  For all this ‘help,’ as we were leaving he asked for an extra $20 which we had no intention of handing over.  I did have about $2 worth of thebe coins (Botswana pula ‘cents’) on me that were now useless in Zambia, so in what is essentially the same as paying someone using a handful of foreign pennies I gave him that and we drove away. 

Welcome to the Republic of Zambia.  I’m looking forward to it. 

It is amazing how quickly things can change.  As soon as we were over the river that makes the border between Botswana and Zambia, everything became greener; there were more hills, larger trees and a great deal less modern development.  That said, the road to Livingstone was a good one, so we had no problems on the drive.

Our destination in Livingstone was Jolly Boys Backpackers & Camp.  I didn’t know what the place would be like, but I was impressed with everything it has to offer.  Everything is clean; there is a nice pool, a chillout area full of cushions, a self-catering kitchen and laundry area and the standard restaurant/bar.  In addition, the office is a one-stop-shop for every Victoria Falls activity imaginable as well as trips into the game parks on both sides of the border.  More importantly however, is the simple fact it is a good traveller hub, filled with students and volunteers on break, overlanders, guides, locals and other assorted characters.  Camping with your own tent costs about $8 and they also have dorms and private rooms but I didn’t bother to check those prices. 

Having no Zambian kwacha, we headed to the nearest ATM (A Barclays) on the main road.  After taking out 600,000 (About $116) I heard the sound of a revving motorcycle and turned to see two or three local guys doing stunts on the main drag!  I don’t know if they were doing this because of the critical Africa Cup football (soccer) match between Zambia and Uganda that day (it came down to an exciting shootout, with Zambia victorious) or if this was common behavior.  Either way it was fun to see and we returned to the backpackers with smiles on our faces.

The next day nothing interesting happened.  I did laundry, I spent some time on the internet, I played in the pool, that’s about it. 

We were wondering when to visit Victoria Falls but were disappointed to discover that this time of year the water is very low on the Zambia side.  You can always go to the Zimbabwe side which is much better this time of year, but neither Stefan nor I want to spend the required money for that, although I’d have loved to spend a month or two in Zimbabwe if I had the time.  For now our trip to Victoria Falls is on hold, but it will happen at a later date now that we know more about our options (and more importantly the prices….). 

With one ignition coil down and running on the spare we no longer had a backup and wanted to solve that.  Back in Kasane we’d asked around where we might be able to find an old VW coil and were pointed towards Jobs Garage which is in Livingstone.  Apparently the owner had an old split-window VW bus and would more than likely be the only place to go to find what we were looking for.  We showed up in our VW, met Job the owner right away and got the grand tour of the yard.  Not only did Job have the ’57 split-window bus shell we had been told about, but he also had a ’64 Thing restored and running (probably the only one in Zambia) and two buggy shells, very cool!  We talked VWs for a few more minutes, he showed us one of the 1600cc engines he had (the photo above) and when it came to picking up a new coil, Job decided to give us two for free!  Stefan happened to have a recent issue of Volksworld we’d both finished reading, so we gave it to Job as a thank you and drove off feeling the VW love.  (Once again, this is the kind of thing that would simply never happen if you were traveling in a Hilux or Land Rover.)

Luckily for us, Stefan’s good friend Charlotte from home is volunteering in Zambia at the moment, so we headed off towards the town of Choma where she is living.  The Livingstone-Lusaka Highway drive once again was uneventful but both of us kept looking around with amazement at how we really were ‘back in Africa.’ 

Charlotte and six other young German women are volunteering at a place called Children’s Nest, a privately run home for orphans or children with parents otherwise unable to care for them.  It is currently housing 69 children at three different locations in Choma and is currently working towards centralizing all the kids in one location.  I’ve written with a lot of skepticism about foreign NGOs in Africa in the past, and given the fact I can’t go 10 minutes without seeing an expensive Land Cruiser plastered with World Vision logos here in Choma my feelings haven’t really changed, but (for example) Ms Fisher, the head of Children’s Nest drives an older and slightly beat up Rav4, and from what I’ve seen and heard things here seem to be on the level, so I have no second thoughts about hanging around and helping out for a little while.  In this photo, Jana is passing out clay for the children to make into fruit shapes. 

Naturally the kids were very interested in my tent, but honestly all I can think about is the fact that if they damage it I won’t be able to get a new one in this part of the world…

It may have taken me over nine months to do, but I’ve finally gotten the cliché ‘white person in Africa’ photo, haha.  (Only this one is cooler because it has an old VW in it.)

That evening we all piled into the back of the Toyoace truck to stop by the ATM, had to push start it down main street to get it going again, then headed to the grocery store.  The clouds had been gathering all afternoon, but while we were in the store they opened up with the first true rain of the season.  Initially we huddled under cover like everyone else, but as rain-fed rivers began flowing through the streets realized we could be waiting all night.  With the locals looking on and laughing, we climbed into the truck, all of us getting soaked in about a minute, and headed for home. 

With the heavy rain, the power went out of course and once we had all dried off and the rain had stopped we walked to ‘House 1’ to have a traditional Zambian dinner of maze meal, tomato ‘soup’ for flavor, eggs and boiled cabbage. 

The next day was Charlotte and Jana’s day off, so Stefan and I joined them to go to the market.  This is a proper African market and one of the many ‘African’ things that simply didn’t exist in Botswana.  Another thing that doesn’t really exist in Botswana where I’d just come from is bicycles.  I’d seen a few in Gaborone, but outside of the capital I could almost count on my hands every other bicycle I’d seen in the rest of the country.  I don’t know why this is the case, but it is.  In stark contrast, Zambia has bikes everywhere and this change literally happened as soon as we crossed the river.  As a result of this, the market was filled with stands selling parts and repairing bikes.  I stopped in to ask about the contrast between the two countries, but of course they had no answers.

Yep, it’s an African market alright.

We stopped by the museum to look for some post cards and use the next door internet café, got some small cups of ice cream at one of the shops, stopped to talk to the roadside carpenters and returned home.

In the evening I had to rescue the girls from a huge spider, the same kind of spider that lead me to the python the other night in the bush. 

As part of the process of centralizing the organisation and the children in one location, this was a day to transport furniture and children from one house to another.  Naturally this resulted in a great deal of excitement.

Stefan and I helped move bed frames, dressers and mattresses.  While it looked a bit scary, Tina had enough faith in our tie-down job and Stefans driving that she rode in the back on this trip.  Africa. 

Shuttling the kids to the Blue House once the furniture had been moved. 

And the kids playing outside their new home.

After a long day working it was time for dinner.  Stefan and Charlie cooked up a huge stack of German pancakes (just like my grandmother back home makes them) which were enjoyed with Nutela, syrup, bananas, sugar and other tasty fillings during another evening without power. 

So what’s next?  I’m honestly not sure.  I think Stefan and I will stick around the orphanage for a while longer, both helping out at times and using it as a base of operations for some short trips in the area.  We will probably visit Vic falls with some of the girls, maybe a few days in Lusaka and a few days in the bush.  As for the longer term, I think I will spend as much as two months here in Zambia.  The normal tourist activities in this country are entirely centered on Victoria Falls and the river or the numerous game parks in the country, but other than wanting to see the falls for a day, neither of these hold too much interest for me.  I’d like to spend a few weeks cycling through the country to the northern border and from there my plans involve a big body of water and a small boat.  Stay tuned and travel safe.