My African Travel Diary (Part 3): TIA, taxi conversations and wedding lights in Zambia

By Tsholo Tlhoaele

Animated conversations with the other travellers soon began. I felt like I was in a taxi back home where all commuters get onto the taxi, without even exchanging a greeting, let alone eye contact, until the taxi driver gets into an argument with another motorist, then we all become a community. Passing comments and opinions on how bad a driver the motorist is for wanting to go through a green robot before the taxi. Mama’s breakdown was exactly that. We all found comfort in the bad news and formed a community fuelled by complaints and anger. 

26- 29 November 2013:

When I woke up, I knew that I had a long day ahead, but what came of it was actually beyond my expectation.

A white bus with the name ‘Mama’ on tattooed to its side parked in the drive way of Adventure Lodge. “This rustic old thing,’’ I remember thinking to myself with my right eyebrow raised, “This can’t possibly be it?’’

Just looking at the exterior of the bus, I could already see that there was no chance of air conditioning, let alone the thought of a radio.

Sandile, the driver, and Nyiko, the tour guide/chef, introduced themselves before loading our bags  onto the 25 seater bus and handing us a covered plate of food. At the back of the bus there were 25 lockers where our bags were kept. I quickly went in to find an open window seat so that I could distract myself with the outside scenery and get lost in my thoughts.

The plate of food contained a dry slice of white bread, a boiled egg and a piece of bacon, my breakfast for the day. Even though it was so early in the morning (6am), the sun was already carving maps out of my bra strap lines on my back.

With my passport clutched in my hand, we took off towards a nearby resort to pick some more travellers. Again, Nyiko and Sandile introduced themselves to the crowd, only this time using a mic. This meant that the bus had a radio, “Phew! The relief!”

The bus was now full with curious and courageous people like myself. I scanned the bus to try and suss out what the other people were like and created stories and lives for all the people around me.

We were now headed for the Zimbabwe/Zambia boarder. No amount of water was enough to drown out the heat! Driving out of Zimbabwe I was glued to my window, seeing the limited greenery and playful children filling the streets. A lot of this reminded me of my own neighbourhood back in South Africa, where the kids rule the streets and own its culture.

What seemed like a comfortable journey, was soon interrupted by the bus choking to a stand still.“Eh, it seems Mama is having some problems, but we will be on the road soon,’’ Nyiko explained.

We were not even in the first country of our tour yet and already the bus had broken down. My heart sank at the thought that we had seven to eight hours to get to Lusaka, Zambia before dark. What was only meant to be a few minutes turned into a few hours of waiting in the punishing sun as we sat on the tar road.

Animated conversations with the other travellers soon began. I felt like I was in a taxi back home where all commuters get onto the taxi, without even exchanging a greeting, let alone eye contact, until the taxi driver gets into an argument with another motorist, then we all become a community. Passing comments and opinions on how bad a driver the motorist is for wanting to go through a green robot before the taxi. Mama’s breakdown was exactly that. We all found comfort in the bad news and formed a community fuelled by complaints and anger.

We walked to a nearby café to try and get some food and water. It was surrounded by a market, strategically placed as if tour bus breakdowns were a common thing. A blanket of locals soon covered us with bags, jewellery and paintings in hand for sale.

After waiting at the café for another hour, the sight of Mama cooled the air instantly. Off we were to the local bureau de change to exchange our dollars for kwachas. With very little time to cover an eight hour drive before dark, we made our way to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia.

Driving into the night, the sky lit up with stars and we arrived just before ten pm in Lusaka and rested for the night at Eureka Camp.

The morning came with breakfast being served from Mama’s side drawers. There was everything – all the cutlery and crockery you could think of. Mama’s belly held the kitchen for our journey. When Nyiko saw my expression while dishing up my cereal, he chuckled and said, “This is Africa, TIA!’’ And I loved it!

We collaborated in washing and packing dishes while making small talk with each other. At this point, we weren’t all very familiar with each other but we were comfortable.

We made headway through the rough roads of Zambia to get to Chipata, our next stop. For the next ten to fourteen hours we were forced to interact and get to know each other. By the fourth hour, I had identified passengers from Switzerland, Germany and Britain.

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With a bus filled with different age groups, we frequently stopped for the bush. If anyone were to shout out “Bush!” we just knew that it was an emergency toilet break. Until now, I had never seen myself squatting in the wild of a foreign country to relieve myself – but hey, TIA.

We arrived at South Luangwa National Park in Chipata just in time before dinner. As people started preparing dinner, I sneaked off to take a shower. We were staying within the national park, surrounded by exotic insects and sounds of wild cats in the background. Since it was dark, I hadn’t seen the place properly yet but I knew this place was stunning.

First thing the next morning, my curiosity woke me up to see what it all looked like. And wow. It was crisp! The sky so blue, that it almost looked glass like. The camp itself was set up in such an accommodative manner that it created a free spirited atmosphere. The camping travellers camped above a beautiful Luangwa river. You could actually hear the hippos drinking water at the river and the giraffes bending to reach it.The most exquisite sun set covered the sky, with monkey’s body shapes hanging on the tall branches.

That evening we took a game drive around the national park. We got to step out of the game drive truck to explore the park. As I got off the truck, I stood on an artwork of cracked ground, caused by lack of rainfall. I wanted to peel off the land I was standing on and tile it into a corner of my house. I wanted to take it home. Again the star’s wedding lights trail lit up, only this time, showing off a mass celebration of weddings in the sky. Each star aligned to form part of the isle. I remember my body sinking in awe of the natural delight.

That night when I went to bed I felt that my soul was at peace. I was convinced the next day’s trip to Lilongwe, Malawi would not do justice to what I had experienced in Zambia.

 

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