Chipata and Safari
Trip Start Sep 01, 2005
72Trip End Ongoing
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The immigration officer didn't have the "visa waiver" that the guest house where we were staying claimed that they had sent, so we ended up paying the $50 for two visas. Later we realized that we were given a receipt for only one. So, at least twenty five dollars was paid, yet unaccounted. Be it bad luck, or corruption on the border, by the time that we made it to the guest house in Chipata my illness had progressed into a slight fever and feeling of weakness. I was beyond the point of having a prolonged argument. We bought tomatoes and onions on the street that evening with which Erin made soup.
"Mfuwi? What time do you leave?" We asked the driver.
"When we are full." He said pointing to a "26 person maximum" sticker on the mini-van's door.
"How many do we have?"
"We are four."
"Do we make six?"
"No, you make four."
The congestion in my sinuses built as we waited. By 11:00 we had perhaps 10 people. At 1:00 we paid for our seats because we were told that we had 24 people and would be leaving soon. By 2:00 when we did start up and begin rolling there was an anger brewing in both of us. Mine manifested itself in a fever. I couldn't understand why people would stand for waiting for the bus to fill. Set a time to leave, and if people needed to go to Mfuwi, then they would be there at that time. Why make a bus load of people suffer by waiting for the bus to fill? It was beyond my comprehension and my power to change.
By 8:00 it was dark and pouring. We stopped at a desolate watering hole long enough to unload several people and to give the local kids plenty of time to stand outside of the door yelling "wazungo, wazungo, wazungo," at us. Enough people got out so that we could bring our soaked belongings inside.
We still had 40km to go, which I assumed would take two more hours. After being stopped for half an hour, unloading in the downpour we started moving again. I was hoping that I hadn't contracted malaria. 30 meters down the road someone yelled something about a soda, and the minibus stopped again so that he could run back to the store and buy a Coke. At this point I was faint, but livid.
At 10PM we stopped infront of a solitary bar that had a solitary light bulb hanging from a solitary electric cord. A guy told us "This is the last stop. Get out now."
We stepped out into the rain, thinking about how much earlier, lighter and drier it could have been. The guy who told us to get out pointed to the darkness behind the bar and said, "There is a resthouse there, but be very careful. It is dangerous."
I did a mental inventory of my pockets and asked "Why?"
"Elephants. They kill many people here," was his only reply before they left us standing there angry and hurting in the nighttime deluge.
We traipsed through the mud into the shadows. I imagined a Gary Larson cartoon with an elephant holding a knife hiding behind the bar, waiting to mug us
We made that trip to go on safari and see the big game that makes most trips to Africa. I assume that most people who visit the South Luangwa either charter a plane or book with a safari company that provides transport. There would be virtually no business there if everyone had to ride the bus out. We were attempting to do it as budget wise as possible. We met a group of Germans at the lodge once we made it there the next day who had come from Livingstone in a Land Rover. They said that they preferred Zambia to Namibia because "here you get the real African experience." I think that they were talking about the wilderness. It struck me as a funny statement. "The real African experience." Staying in a lodge, being driven around under a canopy with binoculars and cameras pointing to where they wanted to go and "oohing" at the large animals. They should try the bus ride to Chipata for that "real" experience. The tarmac runs from the landing strip to the park gate. It is very nice, but much closer to fantasy than real, I'd have to say. We had been experiencing parts of the "real" Africa since we got off the boat in Aswan, and as we both developed a fever, I have to admit that I was getting truly tired of it. I was looking forward to the nice buses and good roads that had been rumored in the southern countries where there are more tourist attractions.
We did enjoy the fantasy of the safari, though we fought illness through out it. We went on a couple of game drives and got to see several different animals including: elephants, zebras, giraffes, lions, wart hogs, gazelles, hippos, crocodiles, cape buffalos, baboons, large porcupines, lizards, birds and rodents. The richness of diversity is a treasure in Africa, and we saw just a fraction of it. Jared Diamond asserts, in Guns, Germs and Steel that the reasons for Africa's diversity is the fact that humans had been there for such a long time. Long enough for the animals to have evolved a healthy fear of them as predators, unlike the massive herds of Europe and the Americas where arrivals of the hunting humans resulted in mass extinctions.
Now, most of the governments see the profit in protecting that diversity. Tourism is one of the greatest revenue builders here. There are so few exports and such little industry that making business is, sadly, virtually nonexistent. It seems ironic that a continent that is so rich with potential is so poor in the practical. It is baffling and intriguing in that it makes one question just what progress and development really are. Being on the bus made me feel hopeless. Until one demands changes, demands better, it will never be. Did nobody else value his or her time on that bus? And, of course, it must be self-sustaining progress otherwise it is utterly worthless.
But, I must digress for now. Aside from being sick, our safari was great. Elephants, giraffes, buffalo and hippos graced the lodge grounds. One evening we heard a roar like the Paramount lion. It was an exhilarating noise that can be recorded, but certainly not duplicated out of the wild.
After two drives and four nights, it was time for us to leave. It was the wet season, thus the low tourism season, and unfortunately we were unable to hitch a ride in one of those posh Land Rovers. We would once again cast our lot with the public transport. We assumed that from Livingstone to Cape Town we would be able to ride on nice buses, so that hopefully meant that we would have just this one ride left.
Again, we wedged ourselves into the minibus, and watched people push each other, smash bottles, yell and dance as we waited, sweating. We left at 6:00 PM after the conductor wrestled the keys back from a drunken hooligan who had swiped them through the window and was demanding a ransom. If our timing worked out we would be able to make Livingstone and Victoria Falls by the next evening. If we weren't obscenely delayed by anymore foolishness... if we didn't have to open the door anymore than necessary (each time it was opened, it fell off the tracks and had to be wrestled back into place), if the driver didn't have to keep stopping to get out with the tire iron and loudly beat at something in the rear of the bus, if we weren't submerged in mud or swept off the road by water, if we weren't stopped anymore in the middle of the night to watch the conductor dismantle the fuel pump, bang it on the ground, blow through it and tell us to start walking until they fixed it and could come pick us up again. And, it would be comfortable if it weren't stuffed with stinking people (us being two of them), if the seat weren't a wooden plank on a metal frame and if the bench in front of us didn't sway back on forth with the jostling bus and crush our knees.
We did make it back to Chipata, frustrated, bruised and uncomfortable, but with enough time to catch the early bus to Lusaka. We arrived at one in the morning. The first bus was scheduled to leave at three. A group of adolescents met us at the falling sliding door and showed us to it. We put our bags in the back and fell asleep in a couple of seats. I slept with a smile because the bus had individual, reclining chairs. At two thirty the driver started the engine. At three he started the tape player. At three thirty that morning, with the music blaring, we pulled out of the depot. Still I was smiling because the music was reggae. I smiled until I realized that we seemed to be pulling over every thirty minutes to wait for more passengers. This continued through the early dawn.. I fell in to periodic deep sleeps with fragmented dreams.
In one of those dreams I felt a tapping on my shoulder. I turned out to be the man across the aisle from me.
"What do you like?" He mumbled.
I looked at my watch. Twenty five minutes before six. "Excuse me?"
"What do you like? Gin?" He asked again, shaking a plastic soda bottle with an un-carbonated clear liquid in it.
"No. Nothing. I don't drink," I replied not feeling very conversational. I pulled my hat lower and turned my head away trying to sleep again. Half a dream later I felt another I felt the tapping again.
"You. You are a Christian?"
"Sort of," I replied, wanting to be as brief as possible.
"You are a man of God?"
"Not really, but kind of."
"What do you think then?" The man's eyes were half open. One was falling down and a little to the right. He drunkenly slobbered out his words. I was possibly carrying malaria on a rough bus through the night. Now, the bus was blaring some terrible pop R&B and still making long stops every half hour. It was around six, the sun had just risen. I was still obviously trying to sleep.
"What do I think? God is good, but I am sick. I need to sleep."
At the point the bus stopped and he got off to yell at and mock fight with some people on the road. I dozed off. Fifteen minutes later he got on and the bus took off. I tried to ignore the light and the Celine Dion that was loudly repeating on the blown loudspeaker above me head. I felt someone push the bill of my hat down.
"I want to hear you preach."
"You need to preach to us Stand up there and preach to us."
"Preach to you?"
"Yes, stand up and tell us what we do wrong."
I was too tired and my fuse had grown too short. My voice got loud and people started looking at us.
"I'll tell you what I think. I think that you need to learn respect."
"Yes, stand there and tell us," he said pointing to the front of the bus.
My voice got louder. "I'm not preaching. You need to learn respect for other people. You need to learn respect for yourself too."
"What do you mean respect?" He blinked as he spoke.
"I mean," I was nearly yelling at this point, "It is six in the morning and you are drunk. Why are you drunk at six o'clock in the morning?" At that point I was yelling.
He began, "Well, sometimes-" when a man approached from the rear of the bus and interrupted.
"Why do you bother the visitors?" He scolded. "Why bother these people?" Then he turned to us. "Please sir, why not move to the back of the bus. There are many open seats." Six hours to go. Lord, please make them easy ones.
No mile yet had come easy. But, the fact that all we had to put up with was the blasting R&B made them easy enough. We sped over the hills towards the capitol, arriving with interruption only at the police stops- normally two or three officers standing on either side of a board on the ground with spikes sticking through it into the air. The bus pulled into the depot just before noon. The next bus to Livingstone left at one thirty, so we bought tickets and found a lunch consisting of rice and boiled pumpkin greens. Neither of us felt like we would be missing much if we sped through Lusaka as quickly as possible.