Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Arriving in Zambia

This summer, my wife and I travelled to Livingstone, Zambia, partly as a vacation and partly so she could help the Book Bus charity on a new project working with local teachers on how to better utilize books in the classroom.  I had never been to any part of Africa before, so, despite my broken collar bone, I was greatly looking forward to the trip.

Our guest house can just been seen at the end of this road.
After much debate, we decided to travel British Airways the whole way.  We could have saved nearly £400 flying with other airlines, but BA have always proven dependable, and we didn’t want to take any unnecessary chances.  Our flight from London to Johannesburg was long, but uneventful.  On arrival, however, I got my first shock in Africa – it was cold! I mean, it was really cold.  In fact, the day before, Johannesburg had actually seen its first snow flurries in more than a decade. 

Apart from a couple of stores selling colourful African knick-knacks, and a decent bookshop, there is not a lot going on at the Johannesburg airport, and we were happy to board our small plan to Livingstone.  As we soared above the African plains, I looked out of the window and saw great plumes of smoke rising in several places, the result of large bushfires brought on by the dry conditions. We flew directly over Victoria Falls. The pilot even tilted the plane to either side to give us a better look, but from above, I was never quite sure what I was seeing.

Finally, after about twenty hours of travel and waiting, we touched down in Livingstone, Zambia.  At immigration, my wife and I were each charged $85 for a double-entry visa. I don’t begrudge the country its money, but there is something a bit odd about charging money in a currency that can no longer be legally used in the country (more on this in a later post).

One of Livingstone's nicer side streets
Outside of the airport, we were met by a smiling cab-driver holding a sign with our names on it, a welcome sight arranged by the woman who runs the Book Bus.  Our cabby spoke to us in heavily accented English as we rolled out of the airport.  At first, I was impressed by the quality of the roads and the infrastructure, but this was an illusion that quickly vanished.  The Zambian government has obviously put a lot of resources into this initial impression to tourists, but the closer we got to the town of Livingstone, the more things started to fall apart, quite literally, in fact.  The roads became worse, sometimes crumbling around the edges, sometimes bulging in the middle, as though squashed by giant trucks.  The buildings, which dotted the road side, went from nice, to run-down, to dilapidated.  Everything, good and bad, was covered in fine, orange dust.

By the time we turned off the main road up the hill to our guest house, the road had nearly given up.  The surface we drove up had once been paved, but appeared to have been smashed with the hammers of giants, leaving gaping, rubble-strewn holes, and jagged, crumbling edges.  Even dodging the biggest holes, the taxi bounce up and down as though the road were a speed-bump testing zone.  It was with the greatest relief to my pounding head, and aching arm, that we pulled into the dirt drive of the Guest Mate Inn.

(To be continued...)

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