An illegal in Zambia

With sweat on my forehead I wake up in the middle of the night. I dreamt that I was in Zambia without a visa. Oh well, dreams, you know. In the morning I check my passport, just to make sure. No visa. I check my other passport. Same result: I am illegally in an African country! The day before I crossed the Botswana – Zambian border with a small (takes one truck and a 4×4) ferry at Kasungula. On the Botswana side things went pretty smoothly, untill a customs officer wanted my carnet. I told him it wasn’t stamped at entering Botswana, so it cannot be stamped exiting. He is a surly man, doesn’t look me in the eyes but communicates with my crotch. I want to ask him if he’s always in such a good mood, or is he just having a great day, but don’t want to make things worse. “Sir, I am just doing what I have to do, and I have to stamp your carnet,” he says, and is about to tear out one complete page. “Don’t do that, it will just waste a page of my precious carnet!” But he stamps, signs, and tears the page, hands it back to me and wishes me a safe journey. “Have a nice day,” I can barely manage.

The Zambian side at Kasungula is chaos, a beautiful example of African inefficiency, and feels strangely familiar after crossing West and Central Africa. Lots of hassle and fixers. One of them, Elvin, a young man smartly dressed, offers his services. I decline politely, but he follows me like a young puppy. I go from the Health desk (to have my body temperature taken for signs of Ebola), to the Road Transport and Safety desk ($20, with receipt), to the Carbon Emissions desk (150 Kwatcha, with receipt), to the Customs desk to have my carnet stamped (no costs). The officials all wear mouth masks and white surgical gloves. Ebola is everywhere. Elvin explains that the first case has been reported in Congo Kinshasa, Zambia’s neighbour, and that the Zambian government is actively taking precautions. To my left and right are groups of people waiting to be vaccinated before being allowed to enter the country (vaccinated against what? There’s no cure for Ebola), and posters explaining the disease are everywhere. Elvin gets a commission for every insurance, so I finally follow him to a row of sea containers. One of them is the “office”, and is completely empty apart from a tabble and one chair. The price is reasonable (260 Kwatcha, which is about € 30). I then drive to the last barrier, guarded by “the big man” as Elvin calls him, a big military with a big smile and an even bigger automatic weapon. “You show him all the receipts, and that’s it,” Elvin explains. When I drive up to the “big man”, I am stopped by another official (how many people do you need to run a border post?), who wants me to go back and show the papers for Thimba. No problem (I think). I need a stamp. The stamp is in a closed office. The only one who can give me the stamp is an official of the Ministry of Health who happens to be in “in a meeting”. Elvin suggests that we go and look for him. We walk to the local market and hear a metallic voice over a loudspeaker. “That’s him,” Elvin says, “I recognize his voice.” People are gathered around a couple of white Red Cross Toyota’s, listening to a lecture about the dangers of Ebola. It’s in the local language, but I recognize English words such as ‘contact’, ‘seamen’, ‘fever’, and ‘vomiting’. We just stand there, listening to something I know what it’s about but can’t understand, being watched by people who wonder why a white man should listen to all of this. After half an hour, Elvin suggests we go back to the border post and try our luck with the official who stopped us, whatever that means. The ‘stamp’ man is continuing his tour for the rest of the day and might not even be back until tomorrow, so I readily agree. Elvin advises me to drive the car right to the barrier, as a sort of statement. It appears that I can now pass the border without a stamp when I pay $60. And I do. And during all that hassle and inefficency I did not get the most important document: a visa! So the next day I decide to drive the 10 km to the Zambia-Zimbabwe border crossing at Victoria Falls. A couple of beautiful immigration ladies help me out, and I have my visa within half an hour.

 

They call this "no season."

They call this “no season.”

Some rerouting
When there’s a fork in the road, take it.”
(Zen saying)

Thimba’s wellbeing made me change my initial plans, that’s why they’re plans. I didn’t cross DRC from Kinshasa to Lubumbashi and skipped a few countries here and there. That’s fine, I’m not travelling around Africa to tick as many country boxes as possible. And there’s my right shoulder which is giving me a lot of pain driving. My carnet is running out of pages: with the countries I crossed sofar I’ve only got 5 pages left. With Tanzania, Kenia, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt ahead of me the carnet is full. Getting a new one is possible but not easy. And last but not least – on a personal note – in Holland Autumn is setting in, the evenings are getting longer, and Eljen is very much longing for my return home. I had been looking forward to Burundi and Rwanda. But that would mean taking the western Tanzanian route with some very bad roads and reports about armed robberies. So from Malawi (where I am now, enjoying a very relaxed time on the shores of Lake Malawi) I’ll go straight up through Tanzania, crossing into Kenia from Arusha. In Nairobi (the famous overlanders hotspot Jungle Junction) I’ll be looking for fellow travellers north to team up for the Moyale – Marsabit road in northern Kenya.

Too many baboons!
My first stop in Malawi is Senga Bay, and I find a beautiful campsite at the Safari Beach Resort. With Thimba still in the car, her head through the window in eager anticipation, the baboons gather around us. Up in the trees, left and right, there must be tens of them, dog like, big, making agressive noises, getting closer and closer, eying Thimba. I walk back to the reception, leaving Thimba in the car. “Will the attack my dog when I let her out?”, I want to know. “It’s their territory, and they see the dog as an enemy and can become very agressive,” the man at the desk explains. “Are there any campsites here without so many monkeys?” “Your best bet is Mufasa Backpackers.” I get there driving through narrow alleys, passing huts very closely. Unfriendly faces; my smile is not returned. A young man runs towards me, waving his hands, shouting. Maybe I missed a turn, so I stop. He keeps shouting at me through the window. I can’t understand a word he’s saying, he’s clearly drunk, drugged, or both. So I drive on, he gets even more angry and holds on to the door. I accellerate and see him wildly gesticulating in the mirror. What an entrance! The lodge is basically a local hangout: a well-stocked bar, a couple of rooms and a toilet. The only place to put the car is in the car park, big enough for two cars. But with a great view of rows and rows of tables where villagers are selecting and drying sardines. I ask James, a local fisherman and selfproclaimed guide, to show me around. We walk for two hours with the light of the setting sun. Each time when I want to take a photograph I ask James to introduce me and get permission. This is never a problem. Just once he says: “O.k., but quickly!” It appears that he offered his services to an American recently, who declined and walked around the boats and the people taking photographs. His camera was taken from him and smashed. Could be just another story. However I’m glad that I have James and two of his mates to accompany me. It makes things a lot easier.

James, at a table of drying sardines

James, at a table of drying sardines

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Boiling the sardines for export to Zimbabwe and SA

Fresh and dried sardines

Fresh and dried sardines

Boys repairing nets

Boys repairing nets

Bringing in the catch of the day

Bringing in the catch of the day

Interviewed by South-Korean television!
At Kanda Beach Resort I meet Jung, a documentary maker from South-Korea. With his two colleagues he’s making a documentary about Malawi for a national television network. He asks about my travels and gets more and more enthusiastic, frequently bowing his head while shaking hands (with both hands). Indepent overland travel is virtually unknown in his country, and he suggests doing an interview with me as part of their documentary. An hour later he reappears with his cameraman and the presenter of the programme and they shoot video for three quarters of an hour, Jung directing his crew, me, and Thimba. They climb into the rooftop tent, drink water from the filter, walk with Thimba, sit behind the steering wheel. Hiddink can’t be left out: he’s a big hero in South-Korea after he coached the national football team to unknown heights. “It creates a strong bond between the two countries!”, Jung believes. And I think he really does. He promises to send me the video when it’s finished in October. Can’t wait!

Jung (middle) and his crew

Jung (middle) and his crew

Jung and his crew at an early morning shoot at Laker Malawi

Jung and his crew at an early morning shoot at Lake Malawi

8 thoughts on “An illegal in Zambia

  1. Tristan

    Gee! Hope Thimba is well, you didn’t swell on it but I’m almost getting worried. You’re making very fast progress now and we haven’t even started yet: still tryin to clear Alexandria customs… We’re hoping to be in addis in about a month’s time, would love to meet up! Think you’ll be past Kenya by our schedule but lets stay in touch! You’ve got my email, I’ll try and send you our international number which might be easier?

    Take care,

    Tristan

    Reply
  2. Adriane Creamer

    This is a really enjoyable read, the whole trip so far. Quite a gutsy effort for a single traveller, congratulations and we looking forward to reading more. Thanks and best wishes.

    Reply
  3. Humperdinck

    Hi -

    I drove south from Egypt and the Moyale to Marsabit road is perfectly safe. It’s very rough washboard.

    Be very aware that ferries to Turkey are intermittent: possibly Port Said is the only port with an option.

    Email me if you would like any details.

    Humperdinck

    Reply
    1. Gee Post author

      Hi Humperdinck,

      Thanks for your comment.
      I will see about the Turkey ferry. I might even ship the car from Egypt to Holland, and fly back with Thimba. Don’t fancy a three day ferry tour with a dog.

      Cheers from Nairobi,

      Gee

      Reply
  4. Dani

    Hello! So I can’t believe I actually found a post about the Korean film guys. I was also interviewed by them while working at the dive shop at Kande. Did he ever send you a copy of the film? Or say what network he was working for? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Gee Post author

      Hi Dani,

      Nope, never got anything, despite several mails. I could send you his email address, if you want.

      Cheers,

      Gee

      Reply

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