41 – Zen by the Zambezi

41 – Zen by the Zambezi

Following Wayne’s advice, we broke-up our journey from Lusaka to Harare in Chirundu, where we camped for a few nights beside the Zambezi.

Before heading to our campsite, we made a detour to the Post Office. It was, after all, our last stop in Zambia, so our last chance to send our Zambian postcards. Upon arriving at the Post Office, the door was shut, and nobody inside (despite the sign saying “OPEN”). We asked a guy opposite if he knew if the Post Office was open. He said yes and told us the guy was not there. Oh really?! We asked him if he knew when he would be back. He shrugged and went on his way. Another guy walked past, we asked him if he knew where the Post Office guy was. He smiled, said it was him and proceeded to unlock the door. Super!

Once inside we flashed our postcards in front of him and asked if we could please buy some stamps for Europe. He told us he didn’t have stamps and that he would not have any before next Monday. We asked him if he knew where we could find stamps today as we would soon be leaving the country. He signalled to wait a moment.  Next, he got out his phone and chatted away with someone (possibly someone with stamps?). He hung up, smiled and said we could buy stamps in a nearby town. We told him we did not have a car so could not get there, plus we were leaving soon. We decided our only option was to leave him the postcards with money for the stamps. We gave him our WhatsApp number and asked him to send us a photo of the postcards with stamps on Monday.

“No problem!” he said, smiling. Just as we were about to leave, a lady entered – another client, we presumed. We greeted each other. The lady then proceeded to walk behind the counter!! Arnaud and I turned to each other, raised our eyebrows, then asked her if she had any stamps.

“Yes of course!” she said, before disappearing around the back of the store. A few minutes later she emerged with several folders full of stamps! The guy handed over our money and acted like all was normal, whilst we tried to refrain from wetting our pants with laughter. This was not the first time we had been told a load of rubbish, but it was probably the best time! Ha ha.

After an hour’s taxi ride (200 kwachas, i.e. £11.50), we arrived at Kiambi Lodge: a beautiful resort with lodges and camping spots overlooking the Zambezi and Zimbabwe. We camped there three nights and had the whole place to ourselves. Being only a few hours from Lusaka, it probably gets busy on weekends and during the school holidays.

The staff pretended to be working as they watched football on the TV. The bugs and spiders in the showers were not complaining; it gave them more time to go unnoticed! We did not mind either, as the barmen always put ice in our water bottles!

Most of our time was spent cooling off in the swimming pool, watching stunning sunrises and sunsets over the river and listening to hippos nearby. It was a great place to relax and soak-up magnificent views.

After three days of observing Zimbabwe from a far, it was time to cross into this mysterious country. We already knew that the country suffers (amongst other things) from a of a lack of cash. Bringing US dollars in cash was recommended, hence why we had been collecting these precious notes in every big city that offered them since we left.

We packed up the tent around 4am, met our prearranged taxi at the gate, and arrived at the border around six. We exchanged our last Zambian Kwachas for a few Zimbabwean dollars (the only ones we saw throughout our whole stay in Zim!). Google cannot even tell you the going rate, so we were grateful for the ‘Backpacking Africa’ Facebook group for that!

Once our passports had been stamped on the Zambian side, we crossed the impressive bridge linking the two countries (a gift from the Japanese). We were first welcomed by a troop of baboons at the roadside.

A queue snaked around the Zimbabwe border post. It was mainly women waiting with big sacs or buckets of goods on their heads: shoes, clothes, fresh fruit, electronic items etc; all ready to be sold in Zimbabwe. We tried to join the queue but everyone around us signalled for us to go inside. It was a bit awkward jumping the queue, but we were the only ones going to the visa counter. For the first time, we paid a different price for our visas: Heather paid 50USD with a British passport and Arnaud, 30USD with a French passport. It’s a matter of reciprocity apparently and perhaps a vestige of Zimbabwe’s colonial past? Pity Heather does not have a South African passport anymore (SA citizens get free entry into Malawi, Zambia & Zimbabwe). We could have saved ourselves 175 USD!

With our passports freshly decorated with very expensive stickers and stamps, we headed to the carpark to wait for our bus to Harare. Despite having rung the company several times to ensure they would save us seats on the bus coming from Lusaka, we would not truly know until the bus arrived! In the meantime, we bought a local SIM and data from a street vendor. The bus finally arrived around 11am. Two seats had indeed been saved for us! Yippee.

The waiting was not over. Next, we waited for all the passengers to go through border control and then we waited for everyone’s bags to be checked. You may think us unlucky, but no, we were fortunate: the entire contents of our bags were not emptied onto the pavement for all to see. We then waited and waited and waited. We were all squished into the small shade available. No one really knew why we were waiting. Apparently, something to do with the bus’ paperwork and an official dude needing to watch us get on the bus? Whatever it was, it meant we waited for a solid two hours! Chatting to the other passengers helped pass the time. One was a Congolese guy who worked in South Africa and was an extra in the film “Hotel Rwanda” (filmed in SA). Another was a Chinese guy who enjoyed the slower pace of working in Africa but wished he could travel back to China to see his wife and daughter more than once a year. He also could not fathom how we were on “holiday” for one year.

A guy in uniform finally approached the bus. He crossed the carpark at the slowest pace ever known to man. He must know a good cobbler if he drags his feet like that all the time! He barely even looked at the passports, then nodded for the bus to depart.

We spent what felt like another two hours stuck in traffic before arriving at a police checkpoint. Our bus was pulled over. We waited patiently aboard whilst the crew and policemen spoke amongst themselves. The aircon was not working. We could bare it no longer: we asked one of the crew members if we could have some air. He replied, “Impossible, the fans do not work when it is hot.”. Of course they don’t. In desperate need of air, we got off the bus. The rest of the passengers soon followed. We all watched on as the police pointed at the baggage whilst shaking their heads and fingers at the drivers. The policemen then pretended to look in some bags; painstakingly moving, and half opening them whilst still shaking their heads at the drivers. The heat was unbearable. Everyone seemed to have had enough. A deaf passenger mocked the police behind their backs, sending us all into a fit of stifled giggles. The bus crew seemed submissive, like they knew exactly what was coming and it was inevitable. The drivers then asked everyone to get back on the bus, as they “had to give something to the police but could not do it in front of us”. It was the first blatant case of bribery since the beginning of our trip.

After the police had got what they wanted, we were finally on our way again. The views from the bus were beautiful. We crossed large expanses of bush, forest and fields. Everything looked so spectacular in the evening sunlight. For the first time on this trip, we spotted industrial agricultural equipment: tractors, irrigation systems and grain silos. However, everything seemed to be shutdown; there was no activity.

We arrived after dark in Harare. Graeme du Preez, (Heather’s Dad’s cousin), came to collect us. It was wonderful to have reached family. We all had dinner and drinks together: it was the start of a wonderful few days.

That night we went to Val’s Airbnb where we had booked a room for the next three nights. We were so exhausted after such a long day but were looking forward to spending more time getting to know the du Preez and this fascinating country.

One Reply to “41 – Zen by the Zambezi”

  1. Such incredible scenery – what a magnificent place to camp. Live those proper African trees. Bus looks posh (in spite of the dysfunctional fans!) Xxx

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