22.04.2014 - 29.04.2014
Soon after the chameleon rescue, we were quite surprised to find a nearly deserted Zambian immigration office. Passports were stamped very quickly and had no vehicle loop to clear so we were in a taxi on the way to our hotel in Siavonga within minutes.
Driving through town:
After spending the last few nights in very basic accommodations, we felt like we had just arrived at the Ritz when we checked into Lake Kariba Inn.
Greg: enjoy this, it's our last comfortable night for a while.
We decided to try our hand at fishing - how hard could it be?? Total tally: Issy - 30, Greg - 3 - some of us are just more gifted than others
Problem was, we kept catching babies, which made me feel very guilty about the whole thing. We immediately released them, of course, and I knew the ones we kept wouldn't go to waste but my conscience was having a serious meltdown. I even felt bad for the poor worms we used for bait, so I decided that fishing just wasn't for me.
Captain showing us how it's done:
More capenta fishing boats:
Chilling on the hill leading up to the hotel:
Greg: enjoy this, it's our last good meal for a while - famous last words.
The next day (April 24th) marked the beginning of our journey through Zambia. We had a train to catch in Kapiri Mposhi on the 25th, about 200km North of the Capital, Lusaka. From what we had read online, Kapiri Mposhi is an important point in the regional freight network but is just a transit city with little in the way of hotels, points of interest or entertainment so we decided to spend the night in Lusaka and catch an early bus the next day which would get us to Kapiri at around 11am, 3 hours before our train's scheduled departure time. Perfect, easy peasy. We had 2 options to get from Siavonga to Lusaka: 3-hour bus ride for KW 110 (roughly US $18 for both of us) or private transportation which would take approximately 2 hours for US$90. We chose the bus. Problem was, it wasn't actually a bus, it was more like a minivan.
The van pulled in and it was already full, only enough space for half a bum cheek on the 1st row and another half a bum on the 2nd row. I took the first row, Greg sat behind me. I apologized to the passenger next to me and thanked the whole row when they squeezed even tighter to make room for my other cheek. We watched in disbelief as another passenger sat on a plastic bucket next to me and the assistant got in, stood half bent in front of Greg (he was practically sitting on his lap), closed the door and gave the driver the ok signal. The prospect of 3 hours in a sardine box with no air con and strong b.o. was slightly alarming but we figured this is what our fellow passengers had to deal with on a regular basis so we weren't about to start complaining. About 15min into our journey, we arrived at the first stop. And yes, hard to believe but they managed to squeeze yet another passenger in despite the cries of outrage: "no more! no more!". Safety was clearly the last thing on their mind, must maximize profits. They basically removed the safety bar behind the front bench and asked the new guy to sit on the tiny ledge behind the front passenger seat facing the bucket man, which then crammed the bucket against Greg's knee. Greg's legs were already dead from the awkward sitting position for the first 15min - 3hrs of this you say? How longs the walk?
Seating capacity including driver - 15. Actual load - 22 (not including kids and assistants sitting on laps).
See we weren't kidding about the bucket and the man on a ledge:
Still the taxi driver was tooting through every town we passed to check if anyone else needed a ride - luckily no more takers. Greg was about to lose his composure when people started getting off at the following stop. By the time we arrived in Lusaka, Greg and I had the whole front row to ourselves. See that wasn't so bad??
We thought we would arrive at the Intercity Bus Terminal, just a few blocks from our backpacker's and where we would have to go the next day to catch our bus to Kapiri Mposhi, but instead we arrived at the City Market, probably the busiest and most chaotic place in town. Street vendors, food market, pedestians, cyclists, buses, cars, motorcycles, and carts everywhere you looked. Somehow, our driver managed to weave through the chaos without hurting anyone and stopped in what looked like a bus station but I can't say for sure. The assistant was kind enough to find us a taxi and we were soon on our way to Flinstone Backpackers. It turned out to be a bit of a dump in a dark alley but it would have to do for the night. We spotted a mall on the main road just a couple of blocks from the hostel and headed straight for it within minutes. We bought food for the 50-hour train ride to Dar Es Salaam, had dinner at a very nice Indian restaurant inside the mall and called it a night. We tried to banish thoughts of another 3-hour ride in a sardine can and prayed for a seat on an actual bus. We thanked our lucky stars when we were comfortably seated in the big bus by 7am the next day, nevermind the 45 min delay.
Taxi drivers were litteraly fighting for our fare to New Kapiri Mposhi train station only 2km away from the bus terminal. Taken from the cab as we pulled away from the terminal:
Deserted train station.....hmmmmm......
Nobody at the ticket counter or sales office so we asked a gentleman in uniform:
"Sir, where do we buy tickets for the Tazara?"
"what time will it open?"
"not today, tomorrow"
"........." (Greg and I looking very confused)
"bbbbut the train to Dar....is it not leaving today at 2pm?"
"is delayed, arrive at 19, engine problems"
At this stage we were relieved to hear there would even be a train and we had read all about the very long delays so all seemed normal until he said:
"train leave tomorrow at 2pm"
Wow, 24-hour delay!
"wait here, somebody will come"
Who? when? We sat down in the empty waiting area to regroup but our minds were just blank. Luckily somebody did come and opened the ticket office counter. She confirmed what the security guard had said and told us we wouldn't be able to buy tickets until the next day. From what I had read online, it was highly recommended to buy a whole 1st class cabin (4 tickets) so the sooner we secured them, the better. Luckily we were able to reserve the tickets and since the lady seemed very nice and willing to help, I asked her for hotel and restaurant recommendations. She only had a couple of places to suggest so off we went, back to the city. The Novotel was in a quiet area away from the main street and our suite was clean and spacious with separate kitchenette and living area. Good! We would be spending a lot of time there so any extra space was very welcome.
Jupter, the only decent restaurant in town and where we had lunch, dinner and lunch again the following day, consisting of meat pies and samosas:
Our quick tour of Kapiri revealed that there is, in fact, absolutely nothing to do there and it seemed our hotel was the best in town so we were back in our suite by 2pm.
People watching from our balcony:
The next day couldn't come fast enough but time eventually came to go back to the train station. Tickets in hand, we could finally relax and hope there wouldn't be another delay.
48 hours after leaving Siavonga in the sardine can, we were finally aboard the Tazara and in 50 hours, we would be in Dar Es Salaam, or so the schedule said...
In hindsight, we probably should have taken the express train which leaves Kapiri on Tuesdays instead of the ordinary which leaves on Fridays (or Saturdays depending on the delays). Friday worked with our itineray and it seemed worthwhile at the time seeing as it was only supposed to take an extra 4 hours. It was closer to 15 hours in addition to the original 24-hour delay! One has to wonder why they haven't updated the schedule because it is highly unlikely that it has ever made the journey in 50 hours. That being said, it was a memorable journey through the Zambian and Tanzanian countrysides. Kindles and cards kept us entertained and we saw many beautiful places and people along the way:
In the spirit of full disclosure, we feel we must also mention a few of the "quirks" in case you decide to take the Tazara one day. Toilets are basically a hole in the ground (1 per car or 30-35 people) and although they are cleaned everyday, try aiming in a moving train car that feels it's about to derail at any moment with the occasional hard hit on the breaks that sends you flying against the cabin wall. Needless to say, we did not look forward to bathroom breaks and had to mentally prepare for them. We felt victorious if we returned to our cabin unharmed. There was also a small insect problem in our cabin which we discovered when a few miniature cockroaches came out of their hinding place to look for leftovers. A closer inspection revealed there were plenty of these bugs hiding between the table and where it was attached to the wall underneath the window sill so we had no choice but to blast them with our only weapon: mosquito repellent. We took advantage of their panicked escape attempt to crush as many as we could before they found a new home (probably under our pillows). I was now constantly inspecting our cabin for the ones that got away and felt I wouldn't be able sleep knowing they were out there! Luckily I love my sleep and only worried about it for about 2 min before passing out. Not for long mind you because the sudden hit on the breaks continued through the night and were it not for the safety railing on the side of the bed, Greg would have been ejected many a times. I simply hit my head against the cabin wall a few times. One stop in the middle of the night had us thinking we had just been boarded by outlaws and would soon be separated from all of our valuables. It turns out it was just some passengers who hadn't checked their tickets properly and kept trying to open our cabin by mistake, or that's what we keep telling ourselves. Once awake, it was hard not to feel slightly panicked by the violent side to side shaking made worse by the fact that we seemed to have gained considerable speed during the night. "Please stay on the rails, please stay on the rails" is all I kept thinking until the following stop, which was usually long enough for me to fall asleep again. And so it went until morning.
Filling up on rice crackers and tuna:
Hoping to hang on for the night:
By the third day, we had made friends with a couple from Denmark and arranged to catch a cab together to our hotel in Dar. That was before we realized it wouldn't be necessary because we would be spending another night on the train. We arrived at 7am the next day, 65 hours after our departure from Kapiri.
We are now in Kigali and will post an update on our Tanzania and Rwanda experiences as soon as we can. We fly to Addis Ababa tomorrow (May 9th).
Greg and Issy