At ease in Zambia: part 2

Road travel in Zambia can be hectic, with pedestrians and animals wandering onto the road, trucks aplenty and many poorly maintained vehicles. To keep your sanity, make sure you head for pockets of tranquility. By Romi Boom

It isn’t plain sailing to get to southern Zambia. The most direct route from South Africa is through Zimbabwe and the Chirundu border post. But then Chirundu, chaotic to the extreme, is a word I’d rather banish from my thoughts forever. Fellow travellers who told tales of being fined in Zimbabwe “because the windscreen isn’t clean” did nothing to encourage an itinerary that included Mugabe’s crazy country.

Pictures by Romi Boom

The alternative route is through Botswana and the Kazungula border post. This entails crossing the Zambezi by ferry, where 50-odd trucks are lined up on either side, waiting their turn, who knows for how long. Mercifully passenger vehicles get bumped to the front of the queue. While the crossing is quick and efficient, the anarchy of the Zambian border on the far side demands a thick skin and all the patience you can muster.

After clearing first immigration, then customs, the agony starts. You have to find the office where you pay carbon tax and wait, amidst the disorder of truckers with wads of waybills, to be served. The system is haphazard, to say the very least, but with relief you’re told it’s OK to pay in US dollars. Then you proceed to the cubicle where you pay local council tax, which is where you may come unstuck. This has to be paid in Kwacha, and if you have none, you have to find an ATM among thousands of milling people.

Queue number five is to pay road toll, and this has to be paid in dollar. The queue hardly moves for 45 minutes. In utter desperation, you engage the services of a persistent fixer to go and pay your vehicle insurance meanwhile. After two hours and about R1,000 poorer, you’re free to enter Zambia.

From Kazungula it is a short drive to Livingstone, the country’s tourist capital. Campers usually make their way to Maramba, which offers a prime riverside spot with a swimming pool and watering hole where you can chill with Mosi beer. For company, you’ll have a colossal croc on a sand bank and a few hippos groaning and snorting. Your holiday has begun.

Zambia is a fantastic country, but the roads can be very intense, and overland access to national parks such as South Luangwa, Liuwa Plains, Sioma Ngwezi, Nyika Plateau and even Kafue is exhausting. Heading towards the uncrowded and the understated, we ventured into the deep countryside, towards Kariba, which is quite unlike the eastern lakeshore with its houseboats.

The road is winding with spectacular mountain views and banana plantations. It descends quickly, and on the approach to the fishing village of Sinazongwe, the surface becomes dusty and potholed. To our utter frustration, there were typical deviations alongside the newly built road that just needs finishing touches. If you’re stuck behind another vehicle, you eat dust for kilometres on end.

Lakeview Lodge overlooks golden sand and rocky boulders, with cattle on the beach and lazy waves lapping the shore. There is no formal campsite in the garden setting, but the rustic chalets won’t break the bank. If you insist on pitching your tent, they will give you the key to a shower. Chikanka Private Island, where Lakeview has a second lodge privy to game sightings, is a 40-minute speedboat ride away, but we just put our feet up and absorbed the stillness.

That is, until the pontoon-type kapenta rigs started chugging out towards the deep. Sardine-like kapenta, fried in batter, has been a Kariba staple since the sixties. Overfishing is rife; the latest survey counted more than a thousand fishing crafts. These are mainly active at night, when the catch is lured into nets with lights, and any notion of peaceful sleep is thwarted.

As elsewhere in Africa, here too the saying holds true: “Good roads, bad people. Bad roads, good people.” Everywhere the locals were delighted to see our ZA Land Cruiser and we acted like royals, waving non-stop. If laid-back is your style, and you happen to be in southern Zambia, consider a detour to Lake Kariba en route to Lusaka.

Tips for T4A travellers

Vehicle essentials – drivers face heavy fines for non-compliance:

  • Two emergency triangles
  • White reflective stickers on the front and red reflective stickers on the back

Exchange rates at the time of writing

  • 1 Zambian Kwacha = R1,42
  • 1 Botswana Pula = R1,26

Cross-border costs

RSA – Botswana

  • Road permit: P90
  • Insurance: P50
  • Road fund: P50

Botswana – Zambia

  • Kazungula District Council: K60 (payable in local currency)
  • Motor insurance: K103
  • Carbon tax: K200
  • Toll US$: 20

Where to stay

  • Maramba River Lodge, Livingstone: $20 per person per night (camping fee)
  • Lakeview Lodge, Kariba: K714 per chalet

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