The wear on my gear is my only indication for the passage of time. Almost every piece of cloth from my pants to my saddlebags, the netting of my tent to the straps that tie down my bag – is fraying, strings hanging out, small holes appearing. My cable net is snapping bit by bit, the bike chain links are crooked. The bottom of my water bottle is green with mold, my helmet more scratches than visor. Without this I wouldn’t feel the five months that have passed. Sometimes I find it hard to differentiate – is this a dream? Will I go back home and feel as though this never happened? Or is this reality – sailing past breathtaking scenery, open road ahead, wind in my back, song in my heart? I am close to the finish line. This isn’t a race, but I will feel a great sense of personal pride when (and if) I make it.
The last time I crossed into Zambia the border was a hectic nightmare. This time around I was again using a major border crossing, so I prepared myself for the worst. And was then very pleasantly surprised when I went through so quickly and easily. How easily? At the first counter I approached a potbellied old officer asked me for my Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate, which I have lost. Smiling casually I explained that I didn’t have the certificate but did get the vaccination, to which the officer replied that I need to pay 150 Kwacha for a replacement certificate. This is of course ridiculous because it does not represent proof that I have indeed been vaccinated. Also it is ridiculous because I will not pay that much money. After a few minutes of good-natured arguing I suddenly had an idea. “Officer, please, I DO have the certificate. It is just that it is on my bike somewhere and it would take me ages to find it. But it is definitely there!” “Hoo, hoo, well then, in that case, carry on!”. It appears that that was enough of a case to convince him that I wasn’t worth his time and he could go back to sleep. It was, after all, only eight o’clock in the morning. Much too early for pestering tourists.
I left the border merrily, not having been forced to pay any silly fees like the last time I came in when I had had to pay a Carbon Emission Tax, a Road Tax, a Council Levy and Insurance. Ridiculous! The question remains – what then is the official Zambian policy? Every border post for itself I suppose.
About a hundred kilometers onwards I drove up to a barrier, two metal gates which had been put up to block the road. Two men, wearing civilian clothing and bright neon vests, came up to me and asked to see my papers. They requested to see my receipt for the Council Levy and I explained that no one at the border had told me/charged me for such a thing. Just as they began to demand that I pay it to them, another car pulled up behind me and they began opening up the barrier to let it through. I quickly looked around and assessed the situation. These guys weren’t cops and I had heard stories before of civilians trying to pick on foreigners. So I quickly started up the bike and simply zoomed past them. I think that it is important to respect laws and local authorities when you are travelling through a foreign country, you are a guest in the country. But there are some situations where a little bit of gas can save you the time and hassle of an unnecessary bribe and I admit that sometimes I revert to that.
I loved riding through northern Zambia, three days of bliss from the Tanzanian border to Lusaka. The road was good and virtually empty, flanked by tall yellow grass. At times I rode through whirlwinds of golden leaves glittering in the sun. Other times dust would whip up into miniature tornadoes by the side of the road, coming towards me and my bike. You can’t help but scream in your head “Brace yourself!” when the wind hits you, holding the handlebars tight until you pass to the other side and continue gliding. There were only a few very small towns, between them tiny groups of round brick houses with thatched roofs. I felt very at ease stopping along the way for water or tea and chapati’s. Most people knew at least basic English so I was able to communicate, and when I stopped I didn’t become an instant road-side attraction. The people were extremely friendly and kind.
At Lusaka I stayed with a friend of a friend, Marius, an extremely kind Namibian guy. He showed me the groove of life in Lusaka. Marius’s friends are a huge group of all ages and sizes, Zambians, Namibians, Zimbabweans, Brits, Welshmen, farmers, technicians, car salesmen. To avoid the heavy afternoon traffic everyone arrives at Micky’s Bar at four thirty in the afternoon and stays until midnight. So many lovely, interesting and colorful characters. There was Mr.Walters, a young-at-heart Welsh who marketed himself as “30 years old with an additional 42 years of experience” and showed off his greatest classic pick-up lines such as “You look tired honey! It must be because you’ve been running through my dreams all night!”. Another trick of his was to claim to read palms and after a few minutes of talking nonsense about life lines and how many kids you will have he would exclaim “I don’t really know how to read your fortune! I just wanted to hold your hand!”. Another common game among the group was to buy drinks for one another, slowly but surely getting everyone tipsy and merry. I would have loved to stay longer but after two days I had to continue to Zimbabwe.
I had heard so many negative things about Zimbabwe that I had not meant to enter the country at all. However, some Overlanding motorcyclist friends who have been here recently recommended it and I had another friend of a friend, Morice, to stay with. So I stocked up on dollars and crossed through Kariba dam into Zim. I drove a few kilometers to the harbor at the edge of the lake and there met Morice and his friends Echo and Nix. I left my bike at the harbor and we sailed to the other side of the lake where we would stay a few days at Morice’s holiday home. Lake Kariba is the largest man-made lake by volume, created along the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The project began in 1958, taking 5 years to complete, and now provides power to both countries. Before the Lake was filled the existing vegetation was burned, creating a thick layer of fertile soil on the lake bed and ensuring the preservation of the vibrant wildlife. We saw hippo’s, crocodiles and elephants along the shores and went fishing for bream and tigerfish in the lake. Morice’s house was like a five-star hotel – gourmet food, lavish rooms and of course endless drinks. I’m afraid I’m becoming quite spoiled and will find it difficult to go back to my tiny tent.
After three days on the lake we packed up and drove to Harare, the beautiful capital city of Zim. I have not seen enough of the countryside of Zim yet, but the capital seems a strange contrast, a haven of the super-rich. The city is made up of wide streets with huge houses behind high walls, large trees. There are supermarkets filled to the brim with the best fruit, vegetables, dairy and meat products there are. The shops are full of people and there is a lot of construction – new businesses and houses being built. However, Zim’s economy is on the verge of collapse and the country has an astounding 95 percent unemployment rate. In a few days I will leave Harare to travel around Zimbabwe before crossing back to South Africa and I am eager to see other aspects of this country and culture. For now I have been spending a few relaxing days writing, drinking and dancing with friends and eating local food.