Tuesday, May 10, 2011

DR. LIVINGSTONE, I PRESUME?

The now famous words supposedly uttered by H.M. Stanley when he finally found David Livingstone in Ujiji, Tanzania, after the latter had been out of contact with the Western world for many years. The year was 1871. David Livingstone was the first European to explore the Zambezi within the Livingstone vicinity. Now, Livingstone is a thriving tourist town in Zambia, where the Victoria Falls draw thousands of holidaymakers and dreamers from around the globe. 

 

Livingstone was where we’d be staying for 2 weeks.

 

Town of Livingstone.

Livingstone.

 

Crossing the border of Botswana into Zambia via Kazungula was a pleasant breeze. Holding a Malaysian passport, all I had to do was fill up a simple form which recorded the list of foreigners entering the country. It’s more like a guest list and the officers were polite throughout. I wonder now what would’ve been playing in their minds and I’m reminded again of that historical encounter between Mr. Stanley and Mr. Livingstone, the reply back to Mr. Stanley was, “Yes, and I feel thankful that I am here to welcome you.“ Wouldn’t that be a novelty.

 

Kazangula, the border town of Botswana and Zambia.

Kazungula.

 

The ferry should’ve cost us 2 Pulas each but nobody went around to ask for a fee. Kazungula is 60km from Livingstone and a group of cabbies wait outside the gate to take you to town. The normal rate is 150,000 Kwacha (USD30). We shared a taxi with Renee, whom we met and was coincidently staying at Jollyboys Camp that was earlier recommended by Lucky. Unfortunately it was full for the evening due to the Easter weekend so we stayed at the Comfort Inn in town. The owner was very friendly and the room was cheap but decent; a house converted into a guesthouse.

 

I have many good things to say about Jollyboys Camp. Although it’s a 15-minute walk from town compared to Jollyboys Hostel, it’s worth every penny you pay for the dorm rooms. At USD10/person/night, it’s very peaceful; it has clean ablution blocks, a kitchen, an amazing lounge area and restaurant where we caught a few minutes of the Royal Wedding, an internet cafe, a shop, a camp site, a swimming pool, a braai area, dorm blocks, individual rooms/cabins if you opt for that and best of all the surrounding greenery. Everybody’s friendly, from the front desk staff right to the maintenance staff. Highly, highly recommended. Our base in Livingstone established, we interacted and worked with the Kwenuha Women’s Centre, the Lubasi Home and the Youth Community Training Centre (YCTC).

 

The dorms in Jollyboys Camp.  The individual cabin.

Jollyboys Camp, not to be confused with Jollyboys Hostel in town.  Kitchen, lounge, restaurant.

The Jollyboys Camp in Livingstone, south of Zambia.

 

KWC

 The good people at the Kwenuha Women’s Centre, one of the organizations we interacted with in Livingstone.

 

The one last splurge for us in Livingstone was to walk the cheetahs at the Mukuni Big 5 Safari. Cheesy as it sounds, I don’t think I’d ever relive the experience anytime soon and it was nothing short of extraordinary. The cheetah walks are USD85/person, you can get a good deal if you combine it with either the lion walk or elephant ride. I was thrilled just to have a chance to see a white lion cub.

 

Keeping up with the cats.

A quick rest.

A few words of encouragement from Rizwan.  Cheetahs purr like engines.

  Walking the cheetahs at the Mukuni Big 5 Safari.

 

The luxurious Mazhandu buses from Livingstone to Lusaka run once daily, with tickets at 85,000 Kwacha/person (USD20) and leave at 9 a.m. They’re very comfortable and spacious but one tip is to try to secure a seat on the right side of the bus, anywhere along the row behind the driver. This is to avoid the scorching afternoon sun on the left. The music selection was pretty chaotic yet entertaining just for that fact – anything from Michael Jackson to Hong Kong ballads.

 

We stayed at the Kuomboka Backpackers, which turned out to be a good thing as it was less crowded compared to the Chachacha, the most famous hostel around, where we originally planned to spend the night. The Chachacha seemed to be full of western tourists who managed to arrive with or form their own cliques, and foreigners filling up the bar to its brim. The Kuomboka Backpackers was much more relaxed, frequented by both locals and foreigners alike and priced at 150,000 Kwacha/night (USD30) for a double room.

 

In Lusaka, we had the pleasure of being hosted by Topsy who showed us around town. We tucked into nshima served with a healthy variety of meat, fish and vegetables for lunch, leaving almost no room on our table. The evening before we feasted on grilled goat at the Kalahari Restaurant and were entertained by the local crowd, dancing the night away while the band played.

 

Lunch in Lusaka.

Nshima and various dishes with Topsy.

 

Thinking back, there are several things I love most about Zambia: -

 

1. It’s a super friendly country; in fact it’s the friendliest I’ve come across in this journey. Everyone in the street will say hello or smile at you, and even the seemingly grumpiest looking person will respond when you initiate the greeting.

2. All the lovely bright and multi-coloured print sarongs the women wear. It just feels festive everyday. They are not afraid of prettying themselves in fuchsia or sparkly maroon, with occasional splashes of lime or indigo on top of that. The colour mix is haphazard enough to make for an interesting conversation. It’s advisable to have your sunglasses in hand, especially for you faint-hearted ones.

3. Old style hand-painted advertisements adorning the street walls. It’s quite rare to find printed ones around. The practice is still very much alive and well. I can imagine how much more satisfying it is too, a finished piece of work displaying a dying skill. It’s far from being menial.

4. It’s the only country I know so far where the 24-hour system is used. Zambians get confused when you tell them you want to meet them at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. You’re supposed to say 14 hours. 9 in the morning is 9 hours.

5. The little unusual but mostly amusing things you encounter when you least expect it. Chinese ballads being played during bus rides when there’s remotely any Chinese. Then there were attendants coming around to announce which flight is boarding as the the boarding halls are not numbered – gives a whole new meaning to international airports.

 

All of Zambia’s openness, warmth and simplicities make me smile.

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