Part 2 – Kazungula to Livingstone

[Also in Afrikaans @]



(by PG Jonker)

Kazungula ferry

Day 6

According to my watch, today is the 31st of June, but I think it might not be exactly correct.

Our convoy of seven vehicles leaves early morning from Kasane in Botswana to try to get as near as possible to the front of the queue at the Kazangula ferry.  The plan is to enter Zambia with the ferry over the Zambezi, rather than to do two border crossings:  one into Zimbabwe, and then another one into Zambia at the Victoria Falls.  Also, I am told, this is the real Africa experience.  No easy peasy entry through Zim, bru.  Real men do ferries.

Up to now I have been touring Botswana on 300 Pulas and my credit card.  Before I left Durbanville I tried to buy Pulas and Kwachas, but could find none.  So with my borrowed 300 Pulas wearing thin, my credit card, and some US$ tucked away, I am to tackle this border crossing.  Up to now the credit card was pretty much accepted everywhere.

The formalities on the Botswana side take only a few minutes and proceed without incident.

The Botswana side

From there you drive down to the Zambezi river.  The GPS makes it sound very simple.  The girl tells you:  “Drive 600 meters and board the ferry”.  Sommer just like that.  She has not been to this ferry yet.

We arrive there with the two queues in relative chaos.  The one ferry just had a breakdown.  Those vehicles heading for the now non-functional ferry all want to get back into the other queue.  And not everyone in the other queue is as welcoming to receive them back as they might have hoped for.

Fortunately there is a separate queue for non-truckers.  I mean, falling into the back of the truck queue would be enough to dampen anyone’s spirit.  I nevertheless considered going for the front of the queue.  I know, there is someone there already, but likewise, there is already someone the back of the queue as well, mos.  Acting upon the advice of my wife, though, we decide to join the queue in the conventional way, which is at the back.

Amidst this chaos various agents approach you to offer their services.  Jacob tells me that he will take me through the whole process, for which service I only need to pay him R20.  This sounds too good to be true.  I feel my knuckles become white as I hold on to my purse.  One never knows.  However, Jacob is a very persuasive gentleman, and I hire him.  Admittedly, this is one of those services that gets sold, rather than bought.  I take a picture of Jacob and his partner for future identification, just for in case.

Jacob & Associate

Jacob and his assistant, whose name I unfortunately forgot, stays with me all the time, advising, encouraging and instructing.  At one stage Jacob instructs me to pull my bakkie into the queue where he indicates.  I do so.  Not everyone in the queue appears thrilled with my presence, but I decide to rather ignore them.  Jacob seems like a man with authority, and I just do what Jacob tells me to do.

I make small talk with a tour operator who advises me rather not to make use of these agents.  It’s a waste of money, he informs me.  However, it turns out that this tour operator himself greases the palm of an agent who works on the ferry.  Given that I got on the same ferry as the tour operator made me feel I got my money’s worth.

The ferry itself is a rather interesting experience.  Two ordinary vehicles in front, one truck in the middle, two further vehicles at the back, a load full of passengers, and off you go.

On the ferry

On the Zambian side things look even worse.  Trucks do battle passing each other in the somewhat confined space.  A few loud bangs and loud protests confirm that the space is, in fact, too confined for the number of trucks.

The Zambian side

I got separated from the rest of our convoy, so my plan to borrow some Kwachas from some of my fellow travellers will not work. Jacob escorts me to the immigration offices.  I fill in the forms.  Then Jacob reappears.  Without me asking he props 200 000 Kwachas in my hands and points me to the direction of an official where I need to pay this money.  The official, though, is deep in thought as he reads the day’s paper.  Maybe he was slightly myopic that he just did not see me.  Before I could make my presence known to him in some alternative way, Jacob arrives again.  He marches me around the building to another window where he takes me to second from the front.  After the gentleman in front of me had his fee paid, I wait for the official to call “next!” or something to that effect.  It does not happen.  This official, too, turns to his newspaper.  Jacob arrives again.  He then demonstrates to me how it is done.  You push your head through the hole and shove your papers under the nose of the official.  The official then looks up, disturbed, sighs, and then issues your receipt.  Nogals neat, I thought.

By now I have come to trust Jacob.  From the receipts that Jacob hand to me I can see that he paid the US$20 for the ferry, the 225 000 Kwachas for insurance, and he also paid the 200 000 Kwachas for the carbon tax or whatever.  This means that Jacob already invested a cool R1200 in me.  Now I understand why Jacob is looking after me so nicely.  I’m his investment, and until such time as I have rendered him some proceeds on his investment, he’s not going to let me out of his sight.  Well, it works for me.

Eventually we have all the paperwork done.  At the gate where you leave the immigration area Jacob and his assistant await us.  The hour of reckoning has now come.  I soon realize that the R20 fee that I have agreed upon with Jacob was only a decoy.  He makes his money from the exchange rate.  Jacob makes his sum as to how many US$’s he spent on me, divided by 2600 for the Kwacha / Dollar exchange rate, and reaches a figure.  Aikona, I reckon.  According to the printed paper on a notice board in the building I saw an exchange rate figure of 3400 Kwachas for a US$.  Jacob tells me that those are old papers, but he nevertheless raises his rate to 3000 Kwachas for a US$.  I don’t have much of a bargaining capacity and accepts.  The whole exercise costs me a cool R1480.

Comparing notes with the rest of our crowd it turns out that I did not fare too bad.  One member of our party paid R3000 – his agent quickly picked up that he has no idea of the exchange rate.  Another mistook a US$100 note for a 100 Pula note.

Dirk Steyn negotiating the price

Better make sure you know the exchange rate before you go!


Day 6 & 7

In Livingstone we make camp at Livingstone Safari Lodge & Camp Site.  I meet the owner, Tjisse Kamstra, from Friesland.  He peers out from behind an enormous moustache.  He speaks and hears more Afrikaans in Livingstone than he had in Johannesburg, he tells me.  Most of his suppliers of fresh produce are Afrikaans speaking.

A local business man approaches us where we sit around the camp fire.  He hands out his business card and would like to talk business.  What business would that be, we ask?  He sells gemstones.  Oeps!  None of us thought it would be a charming idea to get locked up in Zambia for illicit trading in gemstones, so we choose to rather not do business with him.  He is not deterred, and makes himself at home with us.  The discussion wanders off to neighbouring Zimbabwe.  The local businessman shares with us his views as to the reasons for Zimbabwe’s woes.  He seems to be from the same school of thought as Mr. Malema.  We listen quietly, not keen in getting involved in a heated political discussion.  This is a foreign country; one never knows when you tick of the wrong guy.

Meanwhile a rather chilly night temperature has made itself comfortable in my bones.  This is nearly mid-Africa; it’s not supposed to be this cold!  What is more, against my wife’s advice I did not upgrade our sleeping bags for colder circumstances.  It turns out to be a mistake.  Eish, that place is cold at night in winter!

The next day I get sent to buy blankets.  I decide that this is a good time to get some local currency.  I’m still operating on my credit card.  I’m too scared to put my card in the ATM, though.  If that card gets swallowed by a machine then I have nothing left to pay with.  As I pull up near the bank in downtown Livingstone a chap knocks on my window.  He can exchange money at a very good rate, he assures me.  How good, I want to know?  He reckons ZKW3300 for a US$.  That is excellent.  Well, too excellent.  The guy leaves me rather nervous.  Would I be buying fake money?  Or might a local law enforcer be watching the transaction to arrest me for contravention of exchange control provisions or something?  Fortunately the bank closed early, so I cannot get money to exchange.  I decide this might be a blessing in disguise.

I head for Pep Stores to go look for blankets.  And for the first time in my travel through Botswana and Zambia neither my credit card nor US$ are acceptable.  Only Kwachas.  However, the lady behind the counter in an extremely busy shop leaves everything and personally escorts me to a nearby exchange bureau.  There are two of those within 50 meters of each other.  Not quite Thomas Cook or Rennies style.  More like a typical mobile shop where you would expect to buy fish tackle.  The first one does not have enough Kwachas to exchange for US$60, but the second shop can assist me.

The family is very excited about their new Zambian Pep Store blankets.  They should be, given the trouble I had getting them.

It takes a bit getting used to the Kwacha as mode of payment.  The numbers are just so big you have no idea how much money you’re talking about.  On one occasion one of our travel mates simply handed over all his crumpled notes to the waitress, asking her whether it is enough.  To which she quipped:  “money is never enough“.

Ja, wise words indeed, especially if you have teenagers in the house.

Continued in Part 3


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