Saturday, December 6, 2008

Ferry crossing to Zambia (Dec. 4/08 - Livingstone, Zambia)

Today we were to endure the saga of crossing the Zambian border, which we were told could take up to 8 hours. After a quick stop at the local meat market (yes, to actually buy meat, nothing else...), we came to the end of what was an extremely long line of transport trucks, all lined up to take the ferry across the Zambezi River into Zambia. This ferry is the first part of the reason why the ordeal can take so long... Picture a small barge about a third of the size of the dinky Albion Ferry in Vancouver, with only a single lane for vehicles and a CAT engine strapped to each side for thrust. When the ferry is working (which is not always the case), it takes about half an hour to do the round trip from one bank to the other. The clincher is that it can only take one big truck and one or two smaller vehicles at a time. Needless to say, the 50+ transport trucks we saw waiting in the line could be in for a wait in excess of four or five days. And we thought the sailing waits with BC Ferries was bad! Luckily, Zambia values tourist dollars more than material imports (apparently!), as safari trucks like ours get to drive right to the front of the line. I sure hope all those truck drivers get paid by the hour!

On the other side, we lined up in the scorching sun to file through the one-window immigration office. It was a greeze for people who had arranged for the visa in advance, but we had been advised to get it at the border, so we had to wait it out. I had been regretting not getting it beforehand, as the rumor was that you had to pay double at the border - $110! But in typical African style, that info was completely false, as the lady just asked us to pass in our whole stack of passports with $50 US tucked into each one. She didn't seem to care about which nationality you are (British have to supposedly pay $140!), and this amount ironically worked out to be far less than it would have cost to buy it before. We considered that a score!

We hurtled down the highway, getting our first glimpses of Zambia, which was remarkably more green and forested that what we saw of Botswana. It was a short drive to Livingstone, where it seemed that a large proportion of the businesses were named after Dr. David Livingstone, the famous British explorer who was the first westerner to put southeast Africa on the map. Since our Botswanan Pula are of no use in our new country, we stopped at a bank in town to get some of the local currency. The Zambian kwacha has been severely devalued over the years, as the exchange rate is now 4390 kwacha for each US dollar! Ken got a kick out of the ATM machine's receipt, that stated his bank account balance in kwacha - and it had about six zeros in it! Apparently, neighbouring Zimbabwe's currency has devalued so much that the government actually started printing bills worth 100 billion Zimbabwe dollars! Vendors were actually selling these bills in town to tourists for one US dollar.

We left town and followed the river to the turnoff to one of Africa's most well known sites, which also happens to be one of the seven natural wonders of the world - Victoria Falls. Not only is the lush forest and steep cliffs surrounding the falls scenic, but the geologic origin of the falls is unique. Basically, Zambia is flat, so a 100m high waterfall would normally be impossible. But a series of cracks in the volcanic rocks have eroded over time, intersecting the Zambezi River and giving it no choice but to fall over the edge of the crack and into an ever deepening gorge that immediately takes the fallen water away in a perpendicular direction. This time of year is unfortunately not a great time to view the falls, as water levels are relatively low and only comparatively small amounts of water fall over and into the gorge. The main waterfall is on the Zimbabwe side (the river is the border), so all we could see was the clouds of mist that hovered around the corner.

By the time we made it to our camp for the next few days, it was raining, lightening-ing, and pretty much dark. Good thing we have this whole setting up and tearing down of camp thing down to a fine art!

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