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Zambia – Where Everything’s Perfect And We Are Not Happy

Zambia 23/01- 04/02

It was just weird: we were trying to fall asleep in our tent in Lusaka, dreaming of riding to Victoria Falls soon, and instead of crickets and bush sounds, there were mobile phones beeping in our fellow campers’ tents. SMS coming in or a call that got rejected. It was a black night, we were lying in our tent as usual, but this was no African bush. We had found a backpackers camp to pitch our mobile home and it was a fine place: friendly Irish staff, a clean lawn near a small pool, communal kitchen with fridge and real showers with hot water. Utter luxury. They also had a book swap shelf with plenty of interesting reads and most importantly of all, decent wifi for a reasonable price. But trust us brothers and sisters, we were anything but relieved to be there.
I could not say we were disappointed. Confused, maybe. After weeks of toughening up on the road, we were hungry for more. More trucks, more sand and mud, more downpours, more nasty bug bites, more villages and villagers hauling at our arrival and subsequent crashes. We could do with not showering for days, wearing the same clothes over and over, sharing an avocado, 3 tomatoes and 4 pieces of corn among 6. That was just fine. But Zambia was a whole different ball game. Straight from the Chingola border the roads dramatically improved, even compared to the good tar in Lubumbashi. We needed no visa and the papers for the bike were free. We only had to pay a small carbon tax, then we were off towards the capital. The first provincial town had a shopping mall and people dressed in fancy clothes. But gas was almost as expensive as in east DRC and for lunch we had to settle for a fast food, as we could not spot any local restaurants or mamas with corn or any other stuff that we knew from West Africa. This place could just as well be in Romania or U.S., no way we were still in Africa, were we?

We had to lunch on fast-food “pies”: pastries filled with meat or veggies. In this small provincial town we found a shopping mall, but no local cheap restaurants or food stalls.

At the franciscan mission in Ndola, where we stayed for the first night.

Custom carpet in our room. I wonder where can you order this stuff.

So the second day of Zambia we had arrived in Lusaka, after sleeping the previous night at a Franciscan mission. The US dollars keeps flying our of our pockets at alarming speed. Everything was expensive, everything was foreign to us: american brands, south African brands, lots of weirdly colored juices, crisps, chocolate, margarine…processed foods and shiny packaging. Water was hard to find: no pumps, tap water in fast foods was yellowish, even in villages there were only 500 ml plastic bottles on sale. What a crazy waste of disposable junk, and the junk was being disposed all along the sides of the roads indeed! Even the toilets in gas stations were not free. But we were not disappointed. We just felt a bit lost. In front of the many shelves of Shoprite supermarkets we wondered at the many kids of tooth paste available. We were back hey.
The bush drive had been hard. It took a toll on us, our relationships and our vehicles. Yet somehow a sense of nostalgia was lingering. It felt as if we had survived a difficult test, only to arrive at the finish line and be handed a wheel chair. Life was too easy. Even bread – widely available – was already sliced and so soft it needed no chewing. We were prepared for another kick in the gut, but we we got a soft hand shake.

Zambian staple: nshima (similar to Romanian polenta) and fish

Perfect tar to Lusaka

A Zambian dude goofing around. They love to do it.

Rolling a big one.
Zambia looks like a brand new country, a nicely greased machine that runs properly, a stable, safe system that just works. But somehow, magically, in this highly modernized place, the African megafauna still thrives, unlike in the Congo for example. After living in the wild for so long, after camping in random places that felt like the most remote corners of the planet, only now we were hoping to spot some wildlife. The elusive creatures we were dreaming about long before our departure, our childhood stories heros.

We spend 3 nights in Lusaka, resting, washing, blogging, taking a dip in the pool, cooking the big round tomatoes and mushrooms that filled the markets, shopping at the giant African corporation Zambeef.

Take 1: rabbits love bikes

Take 2: moto magic, the rabbit has become …Sam
Then we left in search for the giraffes, zebras, monkey, elephants, we went south. We were struggling with this new found comfort of driving on perfect tarmac, unable to find a resolution of this absurd dichotomy. Should we feed our hunger for adventure, should we enjoy the civilization? In Lusaka we had met with the second pair of bikers since we had left. James and Bryce are from Cape Town, and they rode their BMW F650 GS from London – where they’ve been living and working for many years – to their home in Africa, via Europe, Turkey, the Middle East and the east coast. Finally we had things to learn from others like us, we had stories to tell, tools to share, bolts to screw. We ate the same foods, we packed the same gear, we flaunted the same uninhibited swagger. James had had a problem with the clutch and had been towed by Bryce for miles, so in Lusaka we went to the same shop to rebuild brake pads. I also had to fit a new chain lock as the original one had already fallen off since Lubumbashi – so much for the cross chains reliability! – replace a lost shield screw and repair the broken right mirror, now necessary because of the driving style in Zambia.

It was logical and fun to ride together on our way to Vic Falls and on their way to Kariba Lake. But after being stopped for the second time for speeding by the same police car and after making them go so we could enjoy our lunch of roasted chicken with salad and corn, Bryce discovered that his chain was damaged. It was like it happened to us in Morocco, the chain was extremely stiff, with many frozen links. So they went back 50 km to Lusaka to find a new chain, and we drove south on the straight road until we felt we would fall asleep from boredom.

But this is the heart of Africa, and it comes with the most incredible sunsets. We were tripping in this surreal light that was scalding the vast plain. It felt like Zambia was all ours, to bathe in, to make our temporary shelter on. So no wonder we arrived the next day in famously named Livingstone with high expectations.

Chicken with leafy greens, similar to spinach

Beef stew

Both dishes served with nshima, the Zambian must eat staple

The small town was founded in 1905, but has been developing as tourist hub only for the past 5 years, and today it offers 2 shopping malls, many supermarkets, petrol stations and innumerable lodges and camps. The offer for the adrenaline junkies is mind-blowing: white water rafting, bungee jumping, paragliding, helicopter rides, safaris, fishing in the canyons. In Livingstone, you name it, and they have got it. Actually the insane over-development has urged the international committee to consider removing the World Heritage Site status of Victoria Falls. Since World Cup the entrance fees to the waterfall have doubled and a parking fee was introduced. The 20 US dollar ticket and the 5 US dollar parking tax are dumbfounding. We felt robbed, and right across the ticket counter there was a ridiculous display of shops selling kitsch replicas of African art. It was like we had to do this only because it was a famous landmark that we came across. It felt weird. We took our camera and walked in the direction of the roar. And there it was.

The Smoke That Thunders

Upper Zambezi is a gentle, wide body of water dotted with islets, washing the shores of green pastures where animals roam undisturbed. It calmly collects rivers and springs, rain making it stronger. But at this 1.7 km long  108 m deep crack in the black basalt, the river turns wild. A dormant beast wakes up and roars. Before you can lay your eyes upon it, you hear its voice, you see smoke coming from its mouth. Mosi-Oa-Thunya literally means in tonga “the smoke that thunders”, the inverted rain clearly visible from miles away, as it raises high in the sky like geysers. Immense, alive. The force of Victoria Falls pounds mercilessly, over 500 tones of water a minute strong. In the perfect afternoon light we wondered at the incredible power of this delicately intricate structure of falling water. It balances for a moment on the sharp edge, then it jumps into the abyss, while dissolving in an erotic dance, a thrusting see-thru body that disappears below, in the mist. An almost 360 degrees rainbow, droplets on our skin, sounds of another world, and we felt transported, transfixed. Whatever the price some mercantile people put on nature, we abandoned ourselves to being present, alive, feeling it, smelling it, drinking it.

It is beautiful, this waterfall. After exploding at this wide edge between Zambia and Zimbabwe, Zambezi can no longer longer let go, and it twists into narrow gorges, whirlpools in turbulent rapids. Right on the edge of one of these gorges, at Rapid 14, we found what we were looking for. A peaceful spot to relax and collect our thoughts while planing for the itinerary ahead. Free wifi included.

This is the route of ITW tour of Africa by motorbike so far

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