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africa trip:
 

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Australia
South Africa
Swaziland
Mozambique
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Botswana
Zambia
Tanzania
Rwanda
Kenya
Ethiopia
Sudan
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Turkey
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Romania
Hungary to Germany


Africa Tour August 2011 - August 2012
Zambia

07/10/2011 Zambia

On the 1st of October we crossed into a new country. And are now in Zambia. We took the border crossing in Kasane near the Victoria Falls which is actually a ferry. Getting out of Botswana is easy. Getting into Zambia chaotic. You need to pay for the ferry and the visa in US$. And for a 'Carbon Tax' and a third party insurance in the local currency, the 'Kwacha'. The issue is, that we were not able to exchange anything for Kwachas in Botswana. And since there is no ATM or Currency Exchange at the border you rely on the 'Black Market' money exchange. Which is a million people around you trying to get your business with all tricks you can think of. And same story again with the millions of third party insurance sellers. Having a few hundred thousand Kwachas before getting to the border would have saved a lot of time and hassle. However, 'Kwachas' are cool and on the ATM today I became a millionaire for the first time in my life! (1AU$=5000Kwacha).

Otherwise we did not need a Carnet for crossing into Zambia. But if you have one you need to hide it, they go for it like a vulture. We try not to use it if possible because we will go through more countries than there are pages in the Carnet. In Zambia you can ask for a Temporary Import Permit instead. Which is issued within 15min for free.
Coming into Zambia we went straight east and then north on a tiny gravel road towards the southern part of Kafua NP. Again a road just made for our bikes. The southern bit of it was easy cruising along a dusty road with a couple of mm of sand on top. Easy even for me. The stakes got higher later when the road became more and more overgrown from the sides. Unfortunately overgrown not with flowers but with bloody thorny bushes, thorns of around 20mm length on big dry branches just hanging into the road more than a metre high. If you brush past them they catch your clothes and panniers and simply rip into them or go straight down into your skin. Not to mention the poor tyres. And to add to that the road finally becomes one of those roads with two car tyre tracks in deep sand, the edges and the centre of the road around 200mm higher than the tyre tracks. And did I mention the deep sand? Pretty much you can't change from the left track to the right or vice versa because you would need to climb up to the sandy middle bit first. Have I ever mentioned my opinion to sand? However, the choise is yours between changing lanes through the sandy centre every hundred meters or get torn in pieces by the thick thorny branches hanging into your way across the tyre tracks.
But, to be honest, I loved this track. Somehow I got a good crack on it and figured it out how to ride this stuff. Best in 2nd gear, swiftly accelerating through the deep bits, fishtailing up onto the centre bit and around the thorny stuff and down the other side. And the same in reverse 100m later. It's heaps fun. Sure, there were a few unvoluntary excursions into the bushes. And we both had to pick up our bikes from the sand every now and then. But nothing too serious for the hundred km we did today. There will be another 200km tomorrow and I am looking forward to it already. It's also this sort of road where my little Suzuki seems to fly along much easier than the heavier Africa Twin. So I had to cope with some tough German swearing over the intercom. But at the end we both made it in good shape to a good spot for camping when it started getting dark. With a family of elephants not too far away it was again a day with our big five of favourites. So yeah, this is Africa.


07/10/2011 Zambia

Days 35 and 36 - Zambia
We had a very special day yesterday, a day which shows how bad luck and good coincidence can easily follow each other. We are still in Zambia, still on that little gravelroad west of the main highway going between Kalolo and Choma. As usual it is our luck when we choose to go these dirtroads that somewhere along the way they turn into nasty sand pistes. This particular one was not too bad though and again great fun to ride along. There were however many intersections and forks along the road which disagreed with the one straight line that our map showed. The GPS did not show any road in this area. So sure enough we soon got lost, had to ask for directions just to end up at another fork in the road with another 50% chance to get lost further. Once we even lost sight of each other and took separate roads and it took a while to find back together. Soon this game became a little bit frustrating and in the heat and humidity of the day it had it's effect on our mood. The unluckiness of the day soon culminated. Martin was riding a few hundred metres ahead of me. I came around this one corner and saw the disaster area right there in front of me. Martin standing in the middle of the road frantically waiving with both arms. His bike on the ground and his luggage strewn across the whole area. 'Oh s...t' just went through my mind. Fortunately Martin was alright apart from some minor scratches and bruises. It was just a little stump of a tree that caused the mess. On a gravel road which cuts a few centimetres into the ground there was this little stump right on top of that little embankment. Covered by green leaves and grass. Just close enough to the road and high enough and covered enough. And Martin just riding far enough to the left. Just enough to give that little stump a direct hit with his left luggage box. Which sent him flying and the Africa Twin sliding. But fortunately, as I've said, he is alright and his bike soon was upright again and apart from a shattered windscreen undamaged. The aluminium luggage box was not so lucky though. Two of the four bolts to fasten it to the rack got ripped out and the box was dented to a degree that you couldn't get it back on the rack to safely ride on this bumpy gravel road. So there we were. Nowhere near a town. On a small dirtroad in Zambia, trying to get the box back in shape by hammering with rocks and sticks. And lucky as we were, the big dark clouds which came closer and closer over the last hour finally opened to send us some rain down. Not too much but enough for us to stop hammering and seek refuge under a tree. Watching the lightning come closer and listening to the thunder getting louder.
And then there was this one guy walking along the same road. Walking past us and a few metres further turning and coming back to us. He offered us to come to his village and wait out the rain. And so with him we went. And as soon as we arrived in the village the perfect tropical storm started. The sky darkened, the wind picked up and changed direction every few minutes. And it was just bucketing down. So much that the village was soon a river and the ground so soft that my little Suzuki's side stand sank in and she almost fell into one of the straw walls of a hut. It was the first rain of the wet season. The first rain in this area for many month. Coming down right then when we were stuck out there.
And that is where our luck turned. Not just that we were lucky enough to meet that one person walking along that road in our time of dire need. But also that he offered us shelter in a little hut with a wood fire burning and his friendly family sitting beside it, watching us drying our dirty clothes in the warmth of the fire. He was also by coincidence the only mechanic in the area, having the tools available for doing metalworks. Once the rain had finished he took care of the bent aluminium box and in no time at all it was square again and two new holes were done to replace the ripped out bolt holes. All by just using a double T steel beam horizontally stuck in a tree, a hammer, an old iron and various random pieces of steel. By the time it was all done it started becoming dark so we were happy to camp next to bis hut. And here it became a truly magical evening and we could learn what it means to live in a remote village in Zambia.
The name of our saviour is Moses and he lives with his wive and his three children (4 and 7 years and 4 months old) on this little compound of one proper hut and a few straw shelters. The hut is built of bricks. Bricks he made himself by digging up clay and forming it to bricks in the fire. There are no windows, just a door. Which is an old torn rice sack covering the rectangular opening in the wall. The roof is sheets of corrugated iron which is held in place by rocks and old potts and other heavy stuff. There was still a gap of around half a meter in the roof. The money only bought that much corrugated iron. We sat on little carved timber stools inside, just Martin, Moses and me. Because tradition has it that the wife and kids have no business in the room where men sit and talk. So wive and kids were outside in the 'kitchen shelter' cooking dinner while we talked. Moses introduced us to his life in his home. It was pitchblack inside. Apart from the few pieces of glowing timber in an old holey paint bucket in the centre of the room. Smoke from the glowing timber filled the room and brought tears into our eyes. And Moses told us his story. How his parents came from Zimbabwe to Zambia. And he was born into a poor family in Zambia and stayed here. He never went to school, school fees were just to much to bear for his family. And still his English was excellent and he somehow became a mechanic. The family lives of the little money his mechanic skills can earn. And from the 'garden' where his wife works all by herself. Growing a few tomato bushes, some cabbage and some green leafy stuff they call 'vegetable'. Together with Maize which they grind to Maizemeal, a flour like substance which can be boiled in water. Becoming a dough like meal which is the staple food down here. It's Maizemeal with cooked vegetable. Every day.
While we sat there talking about the prospects for the kids and the hard to afford school fees we shone our torches around the room. Bringing into the light the belongings of the family. One corner is taken by the bed. Not larger than a single bed it is a pile of dirty empty rice sacks on the ground, some rolled up and folded as cushion or blanket.
The other corner has two old metal boxes in it. Three or four cups hang from wires of the brown rendered brick wall. Another wire with cloth pegs on it goes across the room, along the wall which is not covered by the iron sheeted roof. One day, when more money can be saved, the one more sheet of iron will be bought and the roof will be complete. Also in the room are three carved timber stools. On which the three of us are sitting around the fire tin. The rest of the room is empty. The belongings of the entire family would easily fit on our motorbikes. Having nothing themselves Moses still insists they invite us for dinner. Which is Maizemeal and vegetable and chicken. And which is cooked with great skill and is delicious to us. Eaten with our hands straight out of the pot. For all that, rescue from the rain, the repair of Martin's box, dinner, good company and a place to setup our tents - Moses asks for nothing in return. He just insists that Zambians are hospitable people and people are supposed to look after each other. He asks a lot about our home countries. And finds it hard to believe. That there are no elephants there. That we never had Maizemeal at home. Or none of the tree species as they are growing around his compound. And that there is snow in Germany in winter. Sitting in this dark smoke filled room that night in the dim orange light of the glowing timber pieces after the tough day we had and sharing our stories was really cool.
The next morning we shouted the family a big pot of our vanilla flavoured poridge from Botswana which they seemed to like a lot. Moses then proudly showed us their 'garden' around a km away. Heaps proud how well the vegetables and the cabbage grow this season.
Before we packed our bikes with all our fancy gear (Moses was amazed by our waterproof tents and our camping stove) we left him 50000Kwacha (~AU$10) which is the amount needed to buy the last sheet of corrugated iron and complete the roof. Which changed the mood completely and made a grown up man happy like a child on Christmas. The wife was immediately called and both shook our hands many times and praised god for us. To see their faces there and then was one of the most memorable moments I've ever had in my life.

I guess all of you who travelled in Africa had those moments when you realise how little you need to give to make a huge change to the good in someones life. And yet you have to say 'no' so often and it is soo hard to do so. Because how can you fairly pick the few people out of the inmeasurable crowd in need to deserve what you can afford to support?

Another example that gives me much to think about just happened an hour ago. We camp near another small village tonight, a village of around 20-30 people. Out of those one young man really stood out. He spoke perfect English and explained to us not just the village and hirarchy of people but also many facts about Zambia, it's history, the politics and many more things. His name is Ben. Three years ago he started growing Maize with his hard work on a tiny piece of land. He sold the harvest to the Maizemeal mill and made some money with it. One year ago he married and his new parents in law lent him two oxens for a short time. So he could more effectively work on his land. Together with the fertiliser, bought from the profit of his first Maize harvest the year before he grew the perfect Maize and made enough profit to buy his own three cows and more fertiliser. With the cows on the plough he again works more effectively, so much so that he could get a second parcel of land to grow Maize for next year. With the aim to earn enough to attend college. A smart man really standing out in his community. How so? This is his story:
When he was in Basic School (the equivalent to Primary School in Australia) we managed to do particularly well in his English classes. One day a couple of white people visited his school and his class. And for his good English he was the only one in his class able to properly communicate with them. Which impressed one Japanese lady so much that she decided to to sponsor his school fees for him to attend school up to year 12. Being the only one in the village having the opportunity to go to school without break for so long made him not just excell in English (which helps in dealing with officials and in trading) but also in Maths and Science and provided him with the skills to do the accounting right for farming his little piece of land and how he can generate much more income. And it made him shine amongst the people of his little community. The amount the Japanese lady supported bis school fees with? AU$250 a year. AU$250 which built a person. I suppose the Japanese lady might not even know how much her support changed Ben's life for the better over the years. But the question remains - is it fair in the big picture to choose one person out of a crowd and lift him out of the community and onto a good life?


07/10/2011 Zambia pics

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My little Suzuki proudly displaying her new yellow reflective sticker. It is compulsary in Zambia to display a yellow reflective piece of tape to the front and the back of a motorbike. And we heard of many other travellers being fined for not having them.

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Entering the city of Livingstone on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls

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The little dirt path turning off the main road some 20km east of Sesheke and going towards the South Kafue NP. Parts of it are overgrown with really nasty thorny stuff and you need to go across the deep sand at the centre of the road to avoid it.

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Martin stuck in the sand after a failed U-turn attempt. It took us a while to dig and push out the Africa Twin in this deep sand.

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Random scene

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Our bikes always draw much attention. You can't imagine how much laughter you can generate by just letting people sit on the bike and taking a photo of them. Showing that photo to the village on the digital screen of our cameras is enough to entertain a big group of grown up people for several minutes.

07/10/2011 Lusaka

Lusaka, Zambia

We made it to Lusaka today, the capital of Zambia. There is actually only one reaon for us to be here - the promise to receive a visa for the D.R.Congo. Which is hard to get. When we asked in the Congo Embassy in Maputo we were assured that Lusaka would be the place for us.
Usually embassies only accept visa applications before 12pm so we rode a bit faster to make it in time. Which promply earned me a speeding ticket for 180000 Kwacha. Traffic in Lusaka is a huge mess and the only way to describe it is a big brawl of cars and bicycles and pedestrians, all sharing the road and doing their thing. All on extremely small margins and sometimes cars came hairraisingly close. So we just made it to the Congo embassy with half an hour to spare. Asking for a visa we got promply refused because we did not have a letter of invitation. But fortunately we remembered the name of the person in the Lusaka embassy who promised us that a visa can be issued when we asked in Maputo. Knowing a name opens doors. And all off a sudden we were invited into another room to talk to Gaston. Who even remembered the phone call from Maputo. We explained our situation. Being on the road for so long makes it impossible to obtain a visa in our home countries because they issue it for max. 3 months in advance. He understood the issue and is happy to support our case but has not the authorithy to decide our case. So we do have an appointment with the chancellor of the embassy tomorrow morning. We need all the mental support we can get so please cross fingers for us!!!
The Congo presents the probably biggest challenge to us. We heard it is so hard to get a visa from anywhere other than your home country. So getting the visa problem solved would make me sleep much easier. Because there is no way around the Congo to Westafrica. If we receive our visa than the other challenge will be the way through the Congo. The plan is to see the famous Mountain Gorillas from the Congo side. So we would enter the Congo from Bukavu in Rwanda in January (=dry season north of equator). After meeting the Gorillas we would continue to Kisangani. Having two options from there. Either continue by road to Bangui into the Central African Republic. Or go by barge down the Congo River to Kinshasa and continue into Brazzaville. However, no one can tell if the trouble area on the Congo -Rwanda border is open for tourists. Or if the road from Kisangani to Bangui still exists and is rideable on our bikes. Or if there are any boats going between Kisangani and Kinshasa.
So yeah, the Congo is the big headache of our trip and once we are through, it will all be easy cruising from there!
So cross fingers for us tomorrow and we shall hopefully soon see the most beautiful visa in our passport!

10/10/2011 Snapshots

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Close to elephants. Even outside National Parks elephants are often roaming freely. It's an awesome feeling to come so close to them on a motorbike.

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The kilometres add up quite quickly. My little Suzuki made it into her twens in Zambia, she's a grown up lady now!

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Riding gravelroads in Zambia

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Typical lunch brake. During mid day temperatures can get really uncomfortable. So quite often we stop for a while, have a cheap lunch and a cold Fanta, write our diaries or just mingle with the locals for a while. This picture was taken in a small town called Pemba in Zambia.


10/10/2011 DRC Visa

As promised I just need to write a little update about our attempt to get a visa for the D.R.Congo. Just to write off my frustration. We dont have the visa yet and they didn't even accept the visa application from us.

Just imagine the following happening in Australia:

On Thursday morning we visited the DRC embassy in Lusaka for the first time. And were met with super friendliness by one guy we shall, for the purpose of this post, call 'the friendly guy'. Who listened to our situation and said the visa is no problem. But the decision lies with the chancellor who we need to see but who was not in the house. But expected back any moment. So we were adviced to go back home and the friendly one would send us a text message to Martin's mobile as soon as the chancellor arrives.

We did not get any text message all day.

So back we went on Friday early morning. To be told that 1.) the chancellor is not in the house, no one knows if or when he would be in and 2.) we could not get a visa because we need a letter of invitation from within the Congo, rubberstamped by the Congo immigration department. So we referred to Thursday's conversation and said we wait here for the chancellor. Nothing happened then for at least an hour. There were six people waiting with us in the waiting room. One wall of the waiting room had a little window in it which you could speak through to the lady at the reception. Another wall showed fotos of Mountain Gorillas, Okapies and of Kinshasa, each boasting the title 'Visitez la Republique Democratique de Congo'. The other side of the room was occupied by an empty desk on which every now and then a clerk in a 'Jesus is Lord' shirt would appear just to sit there and mostly ignore us all. Sometimes he would call someone from the waiting room to his desk for a long conversation with lots of laughter. And that was it for a while. He ignored us two completely. And whenever we talked to him we got pushed back with a one sentence reply. To sit and wait. Standard answer to every question. Sometimes he would just go out and stand in the sun. Just stand there for 20min motionless. With his back to the window through which we looked out at him. It was a nice sunny day. And he surely made the best of it. We kept asking reception and the clerk in turns if the chancellor will come in today. And were told to sit and wait or leave. So we sat. And waited. We asked reception to give us our visa application forms to start filling them in. Nothing else to to. And we got one. A second one would have been too much. We asked for a second form. But got told "No". The friendly guy from thursday rushed past us a few times without looking in our direction. When we run after him to talk to him he was friendly again and told us to sit and wait for the chancellor. So we did. Then, some three hours later the lady from the reception came round to us and without a word dropped us a second visa application form. And went straight back. There is probably only one form available every two hours? Nothing else happened for another hour. The six others and us just sitting there watching the clerk watch us. And the clerk going outside to just stand there. Followed by eight heads turning after him in apreciation of the movement in the room. And the clerk disappearing through the back door. And the clerk coming in through the back door to just sit on his desk. All in slow motion. We couldn't ask the reception lady any more because she was by now asleep in the far corner of her room, as far away from the reception window as possible. And out of reach for our voices. She has a tough job indeed and deserves a proper sleep.
So we waited and no chancellor came. And waited. And no one knew if the chancellor would have the grace to appear at all. Hours later a fine white limousine entered the compound and a friendly well dressed guy walked through the waiting room, friendly greeting us with 'bonjour' and disappearing through the backdoor. That was the big highlight for another hour and a welcome distraction for the six others and us. Apart from the usual routine of the clerk leaving the room to stand in the sun a bit. Can't blame him, it was a nice sunny day. So why not enjoying a bit of sunshine? Than the well dressed guy came back. With the friendly guy from yesterday to walk straight past us, to their car and disappearing. The reception lady had now woken up and went for lunch. Having such a tough job she really earned a big lunch today. Asking us what we were still doing there on her way out. 'Waiting for the chancellor' we said but she was already out the door. The rest of the room waiting patiently or talking loudly in some local language. Which everyone seemed to enjoy. Nothing else happened for another hour. It was lunchtime after all. The embassy closed at 4pm so we thought we might just wait till then. The reception lady came back with the clerk, we asked her a question, without even listening she just told us we need a letter of invitation while walking straight past.
And then all of a sudden strange things happened. Movement! A few cars started arriving with people going into the building through the side door. Unfortunately the reception lady stopped talking to us completely. The clerk ignored us by now, regardless what we did. So whenever a car came into the compound Martin and I walked in turns to the security guy at the boomgate to ask if it was the chancellor in that car. Until he was too upset and just told us to sit and wait and the chancellor was not in yet and he would not know if he comes in at all. We came back anyway after each car to ask him until he too disappeared and was not seen again. I hope we did not stress him into an early grave. By that time we doubted the chancellor even existed. I mean, c'mon!?!? The friendly guy came back, this time without the well dressed guy. Just telling us to wait. It was 3:30 by now. Time for the reception lady to come around and asking us what we were still doing there. She probably scheduled that question for 3:30pm since the early morning. And noting that we need the letter of invitation. And that the chancellor was not in. Then the well dressed guy came back and there was a lot of motion around. He sat down at the little desk, the clerk now standing beside him and really looking busy. We were afraid all that stress would cause the poor guy to collapse. But he was tougher than we thought. There was actually stuff happening, right in front of us! The reception lady had just left for the day, laughing that we were still there. Before she left she actually smiled at us and told us to come back on Monday. Sitting in Lusaka for a whole weekend just to have more of the same on Monday wasn't a great outlook. So I asked her if we would not need a letter of invitation on Monday. Her reply: "come back on Monday". My question if Monday would be any different from today. Her answer: come back on Monday. And gone she was, shaking her head. Meanwhile the welldressed guy was busy signing papers, given to him by the clerk. His presence had a profound effect on the mood in the room. Something was happening. He talked with authority to everyone (except us), was superfriendly to everyone (just ignoring us) and obviously told a lot of jokes because everyone was now in a great mood and laughing a lot. Except the two white guys in the room who dont speak the Tonga language.
After an hour of signing and talking and laughing the well dressed guy was finished and went to the backroom. It was now just after 4pm, closing time for the embassy. But the waiting room was still full. Full of the same people as at 11am this morning. All just sitting in the same chair as they did all day. None had achieved anything. No one seemed to bother though. So one by one they left. To come back on Monday. One waiting lady asked us why we were still there. 'Waiting for the chancellor' we said. "But the chancellor was just here, the guy signing the papers!". Which was Mr. Welldressed guy.

To get this straight: we were sitting there all day, wasting time waiting for the chancellor. The same chancellor everyone in the embassy was aware we are waiting for. The same chancellor who earlier today walked past us together with the friendly guy who promised us to let us know straight away as soon as the chancellor is in the house. The same chancellor who sat there next to the clerk who told us a hundred times that the chancellor is not in and it is unknown if he comes in at all. And the same chancellor who was now laughing and talking loudly to the clerk and the friendly guy in the reception room. So when the clerk came out of that room we just jumped on him. "Ah yeah, the chancellor is in there". The clerk, calm as usually would now tell the chancellor about our request to talk to him. Good that we reminded him, right? That again was it for another half an hour. Of sitting there hearing our chancellor laughing in the backroom.
Then, finally, the unthinkable happened. The door opened and the chancellor appeared. We were the only two people left in the waiting room, so he must intend to talk to us. And he did. However, all his friendlyness and good mood was gone. Instead he gave us a dressdown about the impatience of white people, that there is no way to hurry things up. He gave us no chance to talk. Whenever we tried he just interrupted us loudly and continued his tirade against impatience. So we carefully listend and tried to be following his speach with silent interest. Once he finished we could say one sentence: "we just want to apply for a visa, however long you need for processing doesn't bother us, but we dont have a letter of invitation. " We said that very quickly, always afraid not being able to finish our sentence. But we got the whole sentence out! He asked us about our business in the Congo. "Tourists" we said and pointed towards all the nice colour photos on the walls saying in capital letters "VISITEZ LA REPUBLIQUE DEMOCRATIQUE DE CONGO".
His response? "Come back on Monday".

But then, in the most amazing moment for the whole day he said "Please go ahead and apply for a visa on Monday". "We won't have a letter of invitation on Monday either". "No problem, you don't need one." This was said by the mighty chancellor. 5pm Friday night.

We shall now see what will happen on Monday morning.


19/10/2011 Still in Lusaka

The Congo Visa - it seems to be a never ending story. But at least a story of a little progress. When the guys at the embassy said last week that we should come back on Monday it obviously did not mean we would get the visa on Monday. However, Monday was a much better day than Friday. The same people who kept asking for an 'invitation letter' on Friday accepted our application with a smile and without the invitation letter on Monday morning. No problem. And they even said we should come back on Monday 2pm! We surely would not get the visa on the same day, would we? Asking what would happen at 2pm we just got the response to 'come back at 2pm'. Anxious of messing up our good run we stopped asking questions. And came back at 2pm. When we were told to come back on Friday.
By then we have stayed in Lusaka for 6 days. Just for the visa. There was nothing else to do for us in Lusaka. And another week waiting did not feel very tempting. So we left all our papers at the embassy and promised to be back on Friday.
Then we started studying the maps again. There is not much you can do around Lusaka without travelling a great deal there and back. And both, Martin and me, had no strong preference of what do do. Except that we needed to get out of the city. Martin, keen on more sightseeing, suggested to see the South Luangwa NP. That would be a 1000km return trip from Lusaka. I, keen on not wasting too many km out of nothing to do, suggested to visit Lake Kariba, a 400km return trip. At the end we thought it would be stupid for two people to do a massive return trip just for a visa. Or the hope of getting one. So we decided to split up for a week. Martin going to South Luangwa. Me going to Lake Kariba and on my return picking up both our passports from the embassy on Friday. And we would then reunite on the Malawi border on Sunday. Good plan, hey?
So on Tuesday I went down the 200km to Lake Kariba. My map showed a town called Siavonga which looked like a good place to relax for a few days. And again things took a fantastic turn as soon as I engaged with people.
Just stopping for a cold coke in Siavonga I was immediately called to come and sit with a group of young blokes underneath a shelter next to the road. Why not. So we sat together and talked a bit, soon getting over the typical questions. And people started telling me their little everyday worries. One was looking for a sponsor for the only radio station in town. Another one has had a car accident and when going to the hospital got a diagnose that his knee was swollen and needed to be bandaged and painkillers were prescribed to relief the pain. Only that the hospital had no painkillers and no bandages in stock. And a third one had just bought a car from Lusaka but the car behaved strangely and the battery was flat. Here I am, the traveller, tell me all your trouble! So I promised to look at the car first which quickly got pushed to our location. It was an old Nissan Pulsar, it would not get a road worthy certificate anywhere in Australia, but for Zambia it was in pretty decent shape. The battery was flat. The only key broke inside the lock for the boot. So the ignition was laid bare to start it by connecting the wires every time. And the boot could only be opened by skillfully pulling on a wire which could be accessed from the back seat. Some damage on the front and a broken left rear shock completed the picture. However, the real problem was the alternator belt. Two problems actually. First it was way too lose. And second, it was fitted the wrong way round. The sticky rubbery bit on the outside. And the stiff textile bit running over the sprockets. So it didn't move the generator at all, hence flattening the battery and not powering the ignition. Fortunately I had a spanner in my panniers. Which made it easy to quickly turn around the alternator belt and tighten it to a degree that it was actually doing something. And this changed everything.
A tourist happily getting his hands dirty to help a local without charge sure was unusual. So immediately the Nissan's proud owner by the name of O'Brian became my best friend and brother. I was given free coke and free . And a big plate of lunch which we decided to share with the group. And he knew someone who knew someone who owned a guesthouse. Where I could stay courtesy go the manager with my tent pitched not even one meter from the waters of Lake Kariba. And his friend the barber helped me out looking human again, shaving my 2 months worth of beard off and cutting my hair so I looked like the guy on my passport photo again. And we sat together in the group and talked all evening long about the world, the universe and everything.
The next day I started seeing the full impact of what had happened the day before. O'Brian's car had a big importance here. It was used for Police duties (the Police did not have their own car!?!?) to transfer suspects between their home and the Police station. And O'Brian got paid for it. He also used the Nissan as a taxi for fellow people who had to go somewhere. And he got paid for it. And most importantly, O'Brians main business was to sell diesel to the fishing boats to go out onto Lake Kariba and supply the town market with fresh fish. The diesel has to be bought either expensively at the a service station outside the town or cheaply off O'Brian who purchases it on the Zimbabwean border 70km away. So with the car running again O'Brian had a busy day taxiing people to and from the Police and to other places, travelling all the way to the border to load up the poor car with a few hundred litres of diesel and thus having something to sell to the fishing boat guys.
And whenever he was not busy he came looking for me, shaking hands and buying me coke or . It's hard to describe the extraordinary hospitality in Siavonga.
I was also invited to the towns radio station. Which was a state of the art and really modern radio station. Sponsored by a South African charity the building was airconditioned, full of computers, flat screens and expensive european made broadcasting equipment. There was a news room, an interview room and an editing room. The South Africans sponsored the construction but they won't give money for the running of the station. So I hope they find a way to cover their operating costs into the future.

As a traveller you are quite often asked about your 'mission'. Or why you are here or who sponsors you. And the question sure came up in Siavonga too. I suppose it is hard to understand why you would travel without having a destination, someone to visit or business to attend to. Spending all that time and money.
So what am I doing here? I explained that I am here to learn, to see what's happening in Africa. To talk to people and learn about their way of life. Which varies from country to country. And is surely different from the lifestyle in western countries with it's focus on money and work. The purpose of the trip? See and learn as much as I can and return home as a 'wise man'. And this purpose is understood quite well. Most interesting is that people who question the reasons of travelling would still love to come and see Australia. But they can't tell why. I guess we are all the same somehow, right?

So now I am back on my way to Lusaka to hopefully pick up our passports with Congo visas tomorrow. Cross fingers for me, okay?


19/10/2011 Stuck in Zambia

There was a great news day for us last Friday: we've GOT the D.R.Congo visa! After all that waiting and messing around it was as simple as going to the embassy, paying the fee and picking up the passports. Only a 5 minutes affair. It's almost sad because we started feeling at home in the embassy in Lusaka. But how cool is that - we are going to the Congo!!!
With the visa issue out of the way I jumped straight on my bike and got the hell out of Lusaka, spending way too much time there. The plan was still to catch up with Martin at the Malawi border on Sunday, Martin coming from the South Luangwa NP. However, we already run into each other on Saturday at the supermarket in Chipata.
The current issue with Malawi is the countrywide fuel shortage. In another HUBB post it was declared over and filled us with good hope. But it is not over. Asking other travellers who just crossed the border from Malawi into Zambia we got told the same story over and over again. The only service stations selling petrol are in the capital Lilongwe. There's maybe three or four. Queues there are such that it would take around 5 hours (!) till you get to the pump. If fuel does not run out before. In all other parts of the country service stations have nothing to sell. And even on the black market it would take at least a day to line up a seller and a deal. Not good news for motorbike travellers. This combined with the expensive charges for toll and carnet fees when entering Malawi was reason for us to give Malawi a miss and stay in friendly Zambia a bit longer, eventually reaching Tanzania from here. And Zambia is still awesome and I totally dig this place.
We discovered a small unsealed road on the map, leading North from Chipata along the South Luangwa NP, crossing the Luangwa River and connecting in between the South and North Luangwa NP to a paved main road to Mpika and the Tanzania border. The gravel bit would be around 350km long. Should almost be possible to get through the next day and enjoy a cold dring in Mpika.
However, we did some more sightseeing along the way and had a rendevous with hippos and only made it around 100km North of Chipata where we stayed in a future camp right next to the Luangwa River, the camp currently still in construction. Which was cool because we prefer camping in our tents anyway. In the camp we met a friendly Dutch couple who invited us for lovely food and good conversation. Asking about the road ahead they said the road is alright, there will be steep ascends onto a plateau which would be rocky and challenging. And yeah, the pontoon across the Luangwa River is not running. Oh s...t, that's bad news. But they were not sure. So we asked some local people, building on the camp. They all agreed that of course the pontoon is operating. No worries then. Early next morning we were off to an early day full of surprises. A day to remind us that we are alone in Africa. And alone we were. Along the 100 or so km to the pontoon we did not meet a soul. Just a few boom gates manned by friendly rangers who all assured us the pontoon is running.
Arriving at the pontoon site we immediately discovered the first hurdle in our path. The road headed straight into the river and came out the other side. Through the river some sticks in the sand indicated the straight way through.
200m downriver we also discovered the rotten remnants of the pontoon landing platforms, there has not been a pontoon for many many months. A huge hippo just surfacing right on the platform on the other side, eying us suspiciously ('What the hell are humans doing here?').

So it's either through the river or many hundred km detour. And through the river we went. It was our first major river crossing so we took it extremely carefully. First walking through, anxiously watching the Hippos bathing a few hundred metres away. While waiting for a big crocodile to pop up and eat us alive we measured the water depth to just above knee level with moderate current and sandy ground. Back on dry land we started preparing the bikes for being pushed through: removing the luggage, taping the air intake and the exhaust. Just in case. Then pushing our bikes through, one by one. Wading back and forth a few more times, still watching the hippos watching us getting our luggage across. Putting everything together again. Alltogether 90 minutes hard work in the midday sun. The ground too hot to walk barefoot. But we made it. Made it slowly and safely across and both bikes starting normally. Thank god!
The rest of the way looked pretty straight forward. On the map. But out there the road quickly deteriorated into deep tracks, unbelievably bumpy over the hard black sunburnt ground. There were dry riverbeds to cross, a hundred meters of deep sand. Or dry creekbeds, a sudden deep drop of a few metres followed by an extremely steep ascend of a few metres. Steep enough that the front wheel lifts of the ground when accelerating to much. Steep and rocky and full of ruts where others dug out their vehicle. And sections full of round little rocks, so deep that the bike sinks in and follows our beloved deep sand behaviour. All an extremely shaky ride in 1st and 2nd gear under the mid day sun. And no one else there, not a single other car or bike all day. And sure enough right there I got my first flat tyre. An old nail was too much for my front tyre. Right what we needed, another hour hard physical work in the boiling heat. But we succeded proudly in that one too. At the end however I had to sit down a minute because my mind started playing funny tricks with me in the heat. Drinking our water which was on the verge of being too hot to drink quickly gave me some relief and back on the road we went. In hard work through the gravel, shaking our bones over the hard bumpy sections and going down the creek beds almost in freefall. Simply the thought of a cold coke in Mpika kept us going. Until some 90km before the end of the gravel road. When Martin's Africa Twin engine cut out. And didn't start again. Just us two wannabe mechanics out there - it was a great thing to happen. In hours of analysing and taking things apart and putting them back together we could not find the reason. Starter engine running. Motor not starting. Spark plugs did spark. And fuel pump did pump. Filters all clean.
Fortunately, and thank god for that, we were only a km away from a village. With the road steeply going up and down there was no way we could push the heavy bike there. But at least I could ride there on my little Suzuki to fetch some drinking water for us before the sun disappeared and darkness engulfed us completely. By the time I made it back to Martin he was able to locate the defect on his bike and repair it. Something as simple as a loose electric connection behind the front cover. With the engine now starting it was only a matter of putting the rest of the bike back together. Which, done in the dark by two exhausted travellers, can take it's time. It was late and pitch black by the time we reached the school compound were we got the friendly approval to camp. So tomorrow it is, tomorrow we will reach Mpika and finally have our cold Coke.
And tomorrow came. And Martin got up with a big ugly eye infection. He couldn't open one eye at all. Tears of pain running out the other eye. In a little school compound 90km of extremely demanding dirt road away from civilisation. A km from a village of six straw huts. No way Martin could ride this road in this condition. So let's stay here for a day. It is like destiny plans to keep us from Mpika. But tomorrow, tomorrow we will reach Mpika and drink a nice ice cold Coke. Mpika more and more sounded like the golden city of El Dorado for us, more legend than reality.
And so tomorrow came. And we kept going. And the road as sandy again. And a massive steep incline littered with big rocks and gravel. But anyway, we made it. We had a cold Coke in Mpika. And a second Coke thereafter. And I am now sitting in the only Internet café in Mpika. What a journey!!!


27/10/2011

Before I forget - I need to tell you one more cool story from Zambia. Just a short one, I promise. It's about a teacher at the school in Kazembe. That's where we had to wait for a day to let Martin recover from this strange eye infection.
However, if you happen to be a teacher, just imagine the following job description:
the school is located in a rural area just around 100km from any sealed road or town or shop. There is only a dirt road passing 2km from the school. Which is so beyond repair that no vehicle can use it. It's a scenic and very quite area. Most people actually fled the area in recent times because of the rising numbers of lions and elephants. Elephants are likely to come around every now and then to eat whatever you happen to grow on your fields. You will live at the school compound next to a village of 7 huts. There is 3 classrooms. For 122 students of grades 1-7. But school has to finish by 12 noon to give the ones walking from further away the chance to reach home before sunset. Too many lions after dark.
There is no power. No phone. No mobile reception. There is a well at the compound for water. But it is unfortunately dry. Good news is that 300m away and down the steep embankment there is a river, clean enough to drink and wash and bath. Even better news is that crocodile attacks in this river only occur during the wet season.
Accomodation is provided for you free of charge. For food - well there is no shops anyway. Or delivery trucks. So you are instead provided with a nice piece of land and are free to grow whatever you feel like eating. All fresh and organic. There is nothing else to do after 12 noon so you surely will appreciate the opportunity to do your own farming.
The generous renumeration package is AU$ 300 per month. But don't worry, there is no shops to spend money anyway. Payment is cash only, to be collected in person in the town of Mpika once a month. It's only a 100km walk which most people can do in just 2 days there and 2 days back. Walking in the African sunshine once a month is certainly good for your fitness. You will have three colleagues so there is always one teacher for each of the three classrooms and one teacher walking to collect his salary. Dodging the lions on his way to keep things interesting.

Sounds like the job you're dreaming of? It's all real here in Zambia.

However, this was Zambia for us. Up to now my favourite country in Africa for it's super friendly people. After three weeks in Zambia we crossed another border today just from Nakonde in Zambia to Tunduma and are now in Tanzania. The border crossing was very easy and straight forward. US$50 for the visa. The bikes get in for free. A free temporary import permit can be issued if you don't have a Carnet. Or if you're like us and try not to use your's. Registration with the Police is for free too.

So here we are - Tanzania. First impression - Tanzania seems to be a lot more developed than Zambia. There is no huts but brick houses. Roads have linemarking and footpaths. Right at after the border we already found someone equiped for aluminium welding to repair Martin's cracked luggage frame. Petrol and cold drinks are a lot cheaper. And people are just as friendly. But only a few speak English. We might have to learn some Swahili here...


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