Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Travel day from Hell

Our post-Vic Falls Day introduction to Zambia has not been a positive one. In fact, yesterday was probably the worst day of the entire trip. On Thursday we got all of the visas we wanted to –other than the elusive Ethiopian one—very quickly and people were extremely helpful and friendly. So we decided to save on a night of lodging and take an overnight bus from Harare, Zimbabwe to Lusaka, Zambia. That was fine. We slept on the bus at the border along with six other buses full of people and as soon as the border post opened at 6 am everyone rushed in, was cleared, and we were off to Lusaka. Semi-chaotic, but nothing horrible. The only odd thing was the bathroom situation. When we arrived at the border around midnight, the actual bathrooms were closed. Instead of digging pit toilets outside of the gates, since the bus queue was a typical thing, there was nothing. People just hopped off the bus and went in an open field shamelessly littered with toilet paper. I’ve peed off the side of the road on many bus journeys in Tanzania, but this was something else. I think if I ran a health-related NGO, digging and maintaining pit toilets there would be one of my first priorities.
When we got to Lusaka at about 10 am a man got on our bus and asked where we were going. Stupidly we told him. The price he quoted us was reasonable.  As soon as we got off, a group mobbed us but we followed him to a bus to Chipata that he assured us was a time bus leaving in an hour. The bus did have passengers on it, which was a good sign, and it was the first in the line of buses headed that way. We got on, then after we paid our bus fare he charged us extra for luggage. We’ve since learned that that’s typical in Zambia. Fine. Then another guy gets on the bus and says that we didn’t pay enough for the luggage and if we don’t give him more, he’s going to throw our luggage off the bus. He was very, very, very insistent. To the point where we believed him. Turns out the schmuck was just a conman who stole our 20,000 kwacha. (About $5, but still, we had already paid almost $30 for the bus each.) Well, that made us feel like gullible, idiotic white tourists.
Then, we waited for the bus to go. 11 am rolled by, no movement. Noon. Nothing. We didn’t leave the station for 6 hours and 22 minutes. Six hours of waiting for nothing as they shoved more and more luggage on the bus and a constant stream of people came on trying to sell us socks, drinks, watches and perfumes. We tried to get our money back multiple times but to no avail. It was miserable. I guess you should never pay for bus tickets until you know that it’s actually leaving. We probably could have gotten on a different bus, but at this point, $60 is a lot of money for us to just walk away from. We aren’t broke yet, but money supplies are dwindling very quickly.  Our exhaustion from the previous night didn’t help.  Even though our seats reclined a bit on the bus, it’s not like it was a good night’s sleep.
A woman overheard us complaining –many Zambians speak English – and sort of put us in our place. She had overheard me say while in a fluster that I hated Zambia, though I quickly amended it with the fact that really I just hated the situation. It feels terrible to be had. She commented at least we could travel around to different places. The US government won’t even give most Africans a visa. (Very true. We had the same conversation with officials at the Kenyan Embassy the previous day.) And we had the money to travel, though she assumed that we just had it, not that we had been saving up for years and sold our cars and all our furniture. Yes, the situation sucked, but it only sucked for one day out of many for us. It sucked like that for many days for many other people. I still get annoyed and angry thinking about yesterday – why couldn’t the people in Lusaka be honest like the people in Zimbabwe? Or Botswana? Or even, for that matter, South Africa?  If the bus is leaving when it’s full, then tell me that.  Don’t say it’s leaving in an hour because that’s what I want to hear and it will get me on the bus.  Nice people in previous countries led us to put our guard down. But, I recognize that sometimes things just suck, and I need to move on. It’s not right to judge a country by the bus depot in its capital city and I know that, but still…
By the time the bus was ready to go – six hours later – you couldn’t even walk down the aisles. People were stepping from armrest to armrest to get out of the bus. The purpose of the bus seemed to be to make more money from transporting goods than people.  The place was filled with enough blankets to stock a large hotel, solar batteries and equipment, stereos, massive bags of flip-flops, empty and full suitcases, a tray of baby chickens (we think), and who knows what else. It was a scene to watch as people approached the bus depot and were instantly mobbed by those working for the bus companies.  It hasn’t been this bad anywhere else we’ve been, but at least it made us feel better that everyone got mobbed, not just us.  We arrived in Chipata at 2 am, 32 hours after leaving Harare. Luckily, we borrowed someone’s phone and booked a room at a backpackers. The owner left a key for us with the night watchman. We’re chilling out for a day before braving more public transport to South Luangwa National Park.  Then, it’s out of Zambia and onto Malawi, said to be the home of the friendliest people in Africa. Good. I’m ready to go back to some place like Zimbabwe.      
Warning: This blog was written before the bitterness and frustration had completely worn off. We're quickly getting over it.


  1. Catching up with your journeys these past few days has been amazing. I've always wanted to go to Botswana, but never Zimbabwe. I think I've changed my mind now.

  2. sawasdee ka!

    i come to visit naka.


  3. i had never read such an amazing post,during the reading feel like to be there with the passengers..
    World Top Tenz

  4. Oh, my gosh, y'all are wearing me out! :) Love following your adventures. Miss you but glad you are (mostly) having fun.