A Travellerspoint blog

Day 72 – Into Zambia

3rd December 2011

semi-overcast 31 °C

The Chobe River meets the Zambezi River at roughly the same place that four southern African countries meet. The border between Botswana and Zambia is bounded by the combined rivers, now known only as the Zambezi, and as a thing of necessity there is a ferry (think pontoon) that shuttles one lorry and two cars per journey across the few hundred metre stretch of river. Lonely Planet suggests that it is one of the shortest border crossings in the world; which appears to be both ignorant and ridiculous. Firstly, who measures these things, and secondly there are several hundred border crossings that don’t have a huge river in the middle of them and so are indeed significantly shorter in distance. Sensationalist journalism drives me to distraction and its all LP knows. If anyone is travelling abroad, buy the Bradt guide, because apart from the fact that everywhere seems, according to LP ‘one of the best experiences you’ll have in southern Africa’ it only requires reading more than two pages of the book to find out that it is painfully inconsistent. It may actually have been written by the Vervet monkeys that were trying to steal our peanuts, they seem to find everything exciting.

We drove past a queue of lorries two kilometres long all waiting for the same ferry we would be taking. As we pulled up near the ferry, only two vehicles were in front of us and within thirty seconds our first ‘fixer’ was approaching. “Hello, my name is Peter, you come see me on the other side and I will make things easy for you, OK.” He wore a smart shirt and digital watch. He was a young man in his early twenties and his white teeth smiled only half heartedly. The excess length of his well worn slacks concertinaed itself on top of a pair of highly polished loafers. “Peter,” I said, “Go away. We don’t need you.” My words should have been stronger but politeness and mild fear censored any expletives. I looked him in the eyes hoping he’d get the point, he didn’t. “I can take you through customs, I can change your money,” he protested. He carried on talking as Laura and I did our very best to be entirely rude, we ignored him, we talked to each other, we stared forward, we stared past Peter, I even looked him square in the eye and then in an exaggerated manner slowly closed my eyes, feigning a half yawn before finishing it with another “Go away.” This helped a little as he did back off, but we doubted that we’d seen the last of him.

On the ferry, it was a blur of people asking to help us on the Zambian side whilst we tried to root out the dollars we needed to pay for the ferry ticket. I deliberately kept moving around the car to make sure the doors were not being meddled with. Every border creates paranoia. Redvers becomes a huge box of personal possessions that requires protecting. Every border is filled with ne’er do wells attempting to fleece the unsuspecting tourist of whatever they can and we’re still novices. Money exchangers at international borders will be essential at some point, they’re quite often much better value than central banks, but you can’t stop concentrating for a second. They’ll give you sheets of newspaper in return, they’re maths is deliberately inaccurate or they’ll switch real dollar bills for couinterfeits. When David Livingstone crossed the Zambezi, he probably just had his men doink a few of the locals’ heads together to arrange passage, we needed Benjamin Franklin adorned, green dollar bills. We wouldn’t need Peter or any of his cronies.

Suddenly something was thrust in my hand, I looked down to see some reflective stickers, I looked up to see ‘Joseph’ “I will show you customs and then you change money yes.” “No.” I pocketed the stickers, he’d want money at some stage but if I had the chance I’d get away with them. The ferry guys themselves were really very nice guys but in all the mêlée we missed the convergence of the two rivers upstream from us and before we knew it we were landing on the Zambian side. We drove up to a car park and from there our tour d’offices began. We’d need to go to Immigration first, after that we’d then need to clear customs with the carnet, in another office we’d need to buy road tax, another office could provide us with carbon emissions tax and then we’d need compulsory third party insurance outside the gates. Whilst we ran this bureaucratic gauntlet we’d need to fend off several money changers that had a habit of following like a bad smell. Dollars flowed like an hay fever-ish nose in a pollen storm. We sat in the insurance office and the lady explained we could pay in dollars but our change would be in Kwacha. This would work nicely for us. Peter interjected, (yes, he was somehow in the office with us,) “She has no change and so you will have to change your money with me first.” “Do you have change?” I asked the lady. “Yes.” “What’s your exchange rate?” “Four thousand five hundred Kwacha to the dollar.” “Peter, what’s your exchange rate?” “Four thousand one hundred Kwacha to the dollar.” “Right so you’ll cost us more dollar for less Kwacha, we’re dealing with this lady, now sod off.”

The chap in the road tax office was a hero. We’d figured out that all cars have four reflective stickers, two on the front, two on the back. It was these stickers that Joseph had given me earlier on. He appeared again and asked for five quid for these postage stamp sized stickers. “You can sod off too.” I gave him the stickers back and even though he dropped his price he’d already lost his audience. The road tax guy gave us a letter saying that we would get stickers in Livingstone and he told us that the police, if they questioned us, would have to heed the letter. He arranged our tax so that we could travel anywhere and leave anywhere; he gave us his mobile number in case we had any issues and his e-mail address. Like I said; a proper hero. We gave him our sim card from Botswana, it hadn’t been used and still had some credit; he deserved a bonus.

We got back into the car with a sheath of stamped, embossed and hologram adorned forms; only for someone at the exit to ask for our bloody ferry receipt. We had no idea where it was. We made our excuses and drove on.

Posted by ibeamish 00:12 Archived in Zambia

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