A Review of a Zambian Safari to the Victoria Falls
March is at the height of the rainy season in Zambia. It is also the green season again – water and green everywhere. This morning is special and we are ready to go!
We live in Chingola on the Zambian Copperbelt. It’s about 400 kilometers north of Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. My wife, Molly and I had decided that I take a few days off from work. I work as a geologist for one of the mining companies. So you guessed right, rocks and minerals are my business! But so is the Victoria Falls. Did I mention that it was our destination for that day’s ‘trip’?
Livingstone is home to the awe-inspiring, mystic…Victoria Falls. It is over 500 kilometers south of Lusaka. Now you know why we had to brace ourselves for this ‘small trip,’ a trip covering some 1000 kilometers – a great driving test for a day! The look of the morning suggests fine weather, but as usual afternoon rains were expected. You learn to predict such with age, you know : – )!
It is 6:00hrs in the morning and we are packed ready to go. The children, there are four nice guys we wouldn’t like to be without, are hovering around. The youngest Martha says, “See the falls for us too and come back home safely.” They had to remain because they were going to school later that morning.
I threw the hold all bag in the boot of our family car. It’s a Toyota Chaser, a saloon car still good on its wheels. It still drives effortlessly on asphalt roads and that was our type of road all the way; from Chingola to Livingstone. Literally cutting Zambia in half. See the butterfly-shaped map of our magic country Zambia.
Kitwe Zambia’s Second City
We were on our way…and stealing from a Chinese saying “a journey of thousand miles starts with one step”. Just about thirty minutes later we arrived in Kitwe. This is the first town outside Chingola. It is the hub of the mining activities in Zambia and the town is centrally located on the Copperbelt. Its ‘wealth’ comes from the four surrounding mining towns of Chililabombwe, Chingola, Mufulira and Luanshya.
Kitwe has a small central business district surrounded by residential areas. There are a few tall buildings within the business district. But business is growing and is now encroaching onto the nearby suburbs. Fancy offices are coming in the suburbs. You know, they pull down homes to replace them with office blocks.
Kitwe is a small cosmopolitan city, sort of busy, people crisscrossing, shopping and some with all sorts of wares for sale. Hawker traders are everywhere. It’s like everyone is selling some thing and everybody is buying …incredible! The central business district is small, just a couple of blocks or so and we were on the other side of the town center.
Ndola, the Friendly City
We left the town behind as we drove on. Another thirty minutes later we arrived at Ndola, the capital of the Copperbelt Province. Dubbed the friendly city of the Copperbelt. Ndola was built as a commercial and distribution center. You can still see the impressions of its former glory when times were good. It has suffered the fate of the former regime’s economic experiments! The manufacturing companies either shut down or migrated elsewhere. A most hurried privatization took its toll here!
The central business district of Ndola is much larger and more spacious. The roads are wide and clean. The shops are many and you see a lot of people and cars everywhere. Lots of tall buildings too! In the old days the beauty was complete. There was a lake on the river that bordered the town center in the south. It separated the town from the southern suburb of Itawa. The International airport of the Copperbelt is beyond Itawa. Planes land here straight from Jo’burg (South Africa), Lubumbashi (D R Congo) and East Africa. It was built before the International Airport in Lusaka.
The little lake in Ndola has a history. It used to be large and serene. Quite a beauty really. Now only a boating club still exists but the water spots, which used to be the usual weekend activity, are gone. Now you see people in a dugout canoe fishing illegally.
What brought about this sad story? “One bright” fellow brought from abroad a water lily, a water hyacinth we called Kariba grass. It attacked the lake and nearly chocked it into extinction.
So there is no boating, no water spots, nothing! Just a small dam in the center of what was the lake. The municipality is busy fighting the wed, claiming back the lake. The lake is slowly coming back growing. It appears great times are coming ahead, I hope?
We are back on the road and over an hour later we made it to Kapiri-Mposhi. This is the only town in Zambia with a hyphenated name. Kapiri as it is normally called is a small town but on a rail and crossroad. It must grow to meet the challenges of crossroad settlements. It is here where the Chinese great railway to Dar-es-Salaam begins.
The Tanzania Zambia Railway Authority (TAZARA) railway connects Zambia to the east coast of Africa in Tanzania. Using Chinese technology the hills were cut and the valleys were buried during construction of the railway line. Over a thousand such engineering fits are found on its 3,000 plus kilometre length to East Africa.
Kapiri is a gateway to East Africa. If you feel adventurous you can drive to the northeastern of Zambia. Then cross Tanzania to Dar-es-Salaam on the east coat of Africa. I have done this trip once and driving just over a thousand kilometers to the border was my frequent pastime in my earlier life. But that is another story!
We did not stop at Kapiri but drove through the small but growing shopping center.
Kabwe, the First Mining Town
Forty minutes or so later, hello Kabwe. I think the Bemba speaking people will not object if I say the name means ‘small rock’. Kabwe has a great history. It was once called Broken Hill. Yes you can guess it, the famous Broken Hill Man, a skull of our recent ancestors (homo rhodensiensis) – we as human beings are homo sepiens. This skull is now resident in a UK museum. The Broken Hill Man skull was discovered at the start of mining operations.
Kabwe is the first mining town in Zambia. There’s a billboard saying just that at the entrance of the town. The mining operations ceased in 1994 but Kabwe did not become a ghost town.
Help came from the fact that it lies on the Great North Road that joins Lusaka, Zambia’s capital city and the Copperbelt in the north. Farming has taken root here. The central business district continues to be a hive of activity. It’s rather a sprawling town center, spacious and lots of room. The largest textile manufacturing company in Zambia is found in Kabwe. It is an example of Chino-Zambia government partnership.
Lusaka, the Capital City
We were back on the road and after one and a half hours of driving brought us into Lusaka. Hello Capital …and the traffic is just dissipating after the morning rush hour. Its 10:00hrs two hours after the factory and office workers had managed to sneak into their work places! (I wouldn’t want them to hear me say that).
Lusaka was once described the fastest growing city in Sub-Sahara Africa. In 1964, at independence from Great Britain, Zambia was born with a ‘silver spoon in its mouth’, or should I say a copper spoon? With the excitement in the air and pride boosting the egos Zambians were a happy lot. The neighbouring countries to the south were all still under colonial rule. The economy was booming buildings were going up everywhere. The government was building schools; in fact a school in every district and a hospital too! Education was free. The times were great. Voila! Wake up Zambia!
The country has fallen on bad luck. Poor policies, high oil prices, etc did get paid to that. Now it’s a struggle for Zambians BUT there are signs that better times are yet to come.
However Cairo road is still a great major street. Beautiful skyscrapers cover the horizons. Shops are in every building. And the people… they’re everywhere. Lusaka’s population is two million people and that’s 20 percent of Zambia’s population… all in one city. Like every great cosmopolitan city in Africa you will find anything you want. The street venders are everywhere selling all kinds of goodies and nice ones too!
When you look at the cars on the main streets of Lusaka no one would blame you if you momentarily thought you were in Japan. Japanese cars are everywhere. And most are brandy new too! Cars from South Africa, the UK, Germany, and France are all found here. New buildings are popping up everywhere and in sundry places as if space is in short supply. Is this country poor, you might ask.
Sorry I digressed… We decided to surprise Molly’s cousin at her home. Well, perhaps I should say we were more interested on the homemade breakfast? Remember we started off without it that morning. After some greetings and enquiries about her children who were then at school and her husband who was busy at work, they were at each other! Chatting and hooting happily like schoolgirls – who ever said schoolgirls do that, I wonder?
Suddenly it was lunchtime and a quick light lunch was served. But we decided to leave before the family was back. We didn’t want a further delay that would result if the family arrived while we were still at their home. Remember the Victoria Falls was still further than the distance we had already covered from Chingola.
Oh, before I forget. Looking back we probably drove through rains twice or three times. You stop to count rainfalls when it’s a daily occurrence. I never seem to stop enjoying this though! Windows closed, a touch of heat from the car AC, my favourite music on – this time it was an African beat by Oliver Mtukudzi from Zimbabwe. The sound of the raindrops and the swishing sound of tires on the wet asphalt road, occasional cars and trucks going the other way! Just imagine that feeling, the sense of security against the elements of the weather – rain and wind as you drive past. Unfortunately driving in the rain gives Molly some discomfort. Poor her! She couldn’t enjoy that great pleasant feeling!
Kafue is like a dormitory town being a mere 35 kms south of Lusaka. That was our next town but it took about thirty minutes – what with the heavy traffic and a few turns on the hilly road. The turns are great for those with a dare devil attitude. Imagine, you’re driving down the hillside and then up the slope… and suddenly a speeding truck shoots out of a bend! But I kind of enjoy that. The excitement of danger, you know!
Kafue is a stone throw away from the banks of Kafue River from which the town derived its name. The Kafue River comes out of the Kafue Flats as it meanders on its way down stream. The Kafue Flats are home to Lochinvar National Park, a bird sanctuary situated up stream of the river within the flats. More than 741 bird species have been recorded in Lochinvar and the counting continues! Birders, this is your paradise.
Outside Kafue we cross the bridge over the river. There is a new bridge now. The former bridge was a “transplant” from the UK, a present from the British Overseas Office. Its stay lasted nearly a century on this site. After its usefulness was gone the bridge was replaced with a brand new one – a Japanese technology! And that’s what we drove on.
Mazabuka, the “Sweetest Town”
Hello Mazabuka! The town is nicknamed the “sweetest town” in Zambia due to the sugar cane and the sugar factory. Zambia Sugar Plc owned by the Ilovu Sugar Group has a sugar cane plantation. It’s situated a few kms outside the town on the Kafue Flats.
In it’s meandering the Kafue gets very close to Mazabuka.
Zambia Sugar produces more sugar than the country’s local demand. The surplus ends up filling part of the African quarter on the market of the European Union. Opportunities are great in Zambia. Just recently another sugar company has sprung up on the other side of the Kafue, outside Lusaka.
Mazabuka is now experiencing a lot of activities. The town is growing steadily, perhaps, the ‘sweetness’ is attracting all and sundry. But then Mazabuka is right on the Great North Road in the farming block of Southern Province, once called the maize belt. Large quantities of maize grain used to be grown around here in the 1960’s and 70’s. Not any more, at least not as much!
We are on our way again. This time we were heading for Monze, a small town on the highway. We drove past it without stopping except to slow down a little to avoid the wrath of the traffic police. They “pitched a tent”, I mean, put up a road block to check for car road fitness, driving licences and road tax. So we had to pretend that we were driving below the maximum speed limit through a built up area.
I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the traffic police are the same everywhere. They’ll delay you unnecessarily. When they stop you just watch them walking towards you slowly and majestically, like they own the world. You get filled with chagrin as you see the minutes tick by. What a torture they’re!
Back on the road and another trading center, a really small town flicks by. We don’t bother to stop because our target the Victoria Falls is still way too far ahead.
It is now Choma town. Once again right on the highway. The traffic is light at this time of the day. So driving is a pleasure. We stopped for some refreshment. Nothing beats a little stretching after seating in the car for so long like we had endured. Choma is another town I love so much. This love emanates from those old university days as a student on a field excursion – you know, learning rocks and all, geology again!
During my student days and on two occasions we ventured into the Zambezi Rift Valley, south of here, to have a look at a coal deposit and how it was being mined. You know, coal formed under intense heat due to a huge covering layer of rock deposited many millions years ago. Coal is a cousin of black gold, ‘oil’, but unfortunately it doesn’t pull in as much cash. What a pity!
So I digressed again… Choma is a neat town with its main buildings and shops all on the throughway. We took some drinks and a little rest at a popular stop for buses and motorist. And we had to leave. This was only just about half way to Livingstone from Lusaka.
As we leave town it’s raining again and I m pleased to note this. Molly is a ‘touch’ too unhappy. “This horrible rain is back again”, I can almost read her mind and audibly she remarked, “Won’t it ever stop raining?” Bad me I answered to spite her. ” You know, we need the rains, at least the farmers do”. I deliberately avoided looking at her but I could feel the mood. I knew what she thought. I was incorrigible just as the persistent rain itself.
Kalomo is another of those trading centers on the highway. A lot of farming activities in the surrounding area and shops to “siphon” the hard earned cash from the farmers. It’s a two-way thing really. Farmers are happy to buy goods after selling their crops. Again no stopping. We were now kind of tied. Only looking forward to a good night’s rest in Livingstone. Quickly we were past this small town.
Here is a beauty. There is a town, uncomfortably small though, named after me, yes me! Well, it’s only a coincidence. The town is called “Zimba” exactly spelled like my name is. So you see, how proud I feel about it. I actually pretend the town is named after “great” me. What a wish! Sadly our desperation was now heightened and we really wished we could just be up and we’re in Livingstone. But unfortunately we were only driving past my ‘beautiful little town.’
We were now on our last leg. We were driving again, the Toyota Chaser eating up the road with ease, heading to our destination …Livingstone…and the Mighty Victoria Falls!
Don’t forget that! 76 kilometres later and as the French say “Voila” we had arrived in Livingstone and safely too…