We left the old world glamour of Livingstone headed North East towards the capital. The scenery rapidly changed from the dry and dusty scrub-land of Botswana to green and lush farmland and forests. Instead of heading straight to the capital we decided to visit the Zambezi river in Chirundu, right on the border with Zimbabwe.
We drove all day and arrived in Chirundu as the sun was setting. The town was busy with bar-goers, truckers, and bar-going truckers. In a refreshing change from the curious glances we were used to receiving, Zambians made their presence known by whistling and yelling. It can be quite distracting, when trying to navigate a busy intersections at dusk, to suddenly have 20 men yell and whistle at you for you attention. In the centre of town we turned off the main strip down a steep dirt road which we followed for many miles until we eventually reached the Zambezi Breezers camp (despite the name they do not sell any Bacardi products). The large but shabby campsite is directly on the river which is full of both hippos and crocs. While we were there the owner was training a couple of puppies to be scared of the water, apparently it's quite common to lose dogs this way. After settling down for the night and going to sleep, we were awoken in the night to footsteps outside the truck which turned out to be an enormous hippo grazing underneath us! It's hard to describe just how massive these animals are up close but they are about three times larger than they appear when in the water.
In the morning we booked an afternoon river cruise and after lunch we set off up the river. It being just the three of us (Kim, myself, and our guide) we got to see exactly what we wanted. Baby hippos being protected in large families, elephants wading through marshland, uncountable bird species, and crocodiles basking in the sun. As we were getting to know our guide, I enquired why he left the lodge just down the river for his current job. It turns out he 'left' after accidentally allowing his boat to drift over a hippo while escorting some British tourists on a fishing trip. The hippo had launched the boat a metre into the air, then bit a hole in the aluminium craft. He managed to start the engine and ground the boat onto a nearby island where they waited until another boat, hailed by radio, arrived to return them. The tourists had cancelled the rest of their itinerary and left a negative review which led to his 'resignation'. I offered some consolation along the lines of "that's too bad, everyone makes mistakes". Then he confessed that it was the third time that had happened! Fortunately these events had (eventually) made him fairly wary of hippos and he consistently took a large berth. I tried not to devote further thought to his rehabilitation and opened the cool-box to grab another beer.
The next day we made it to Lusaka, the bustling capital of Zambia. We navigated our way across the city and learned a lot about driving a large vehicle in African rush-hour traffic. On the open road there is an element of "might makes right" but in the city the mentality changes to "if I squeeze my minibus in front of you then avoiding accidents becomes your responsibility". We checked in to the Wanderers hostel and campsite and enjoyed a local lunch of Nshima and vegetable relishes and set up camp. Some Russians, on a break from their jobs as itinerant gold miners, were crouched over a bucket forcing mangoes through a giant sieve usually used for panning. Their English was not good but their jam making skills proved excellent and the next day we purchased a bag of yellow mangoes and made some jam of our own. They thought this mimicry was flattering and opened up a bit more. On questioning they revealed that their jobs were physically demanding and "hhhard vork". We were inclined to believe the man, who can apparently squat for 3 hours straight watching jam simmer.
The next day we went for a late breakfast at an expat cafe. As we walked through the car park I saw a Honda Africa Twin parked up with ZA plates. As I was mansplaining to Kim that it was the same model Adam owned (our American friend from Namibia), Adam walked out of the cafe with a bag. After a minute of incredulity, we discovered he was here to sort out some visa issues and pick up furniture. We scheduled to meet him for dinner later and went to visit the malls while he tried to deal with Zambian red tape.
At the mall I managed to get a haircut and we picked up some essentials and some luxuries. We went to an Indian restaurant with Adam later in the evening and were so wrapped up in conversation that the owner had to kick us out after cleaning up the entire restaurant and kitchen. The next morning we went to a local crafts market with Adam. The sellers there can be fairly persistent and are quite skilled at persuasion. The classic line to get their foot in the door is "looking is for free", one interpretation of which is that our time is worthless. Kim bought a bunch of happy pants and Adam bought some bowls to turn into lamps (which turned out surprisingly well). Later in the evening we shared a few beers in the campsite and said our goodbyes. Adam had to persuade the authorities that he should not have to leave the country to renew his visa. We tentatively agreed to meet up in Kasama in Northern Zambia in a week or so.
We took the opportunity to stock up on vegan essentials but sadly didn't do a full doomsday prep. We didn't know it at the time but Lusaka would be the last time we had access to a western range of goods and services for thousands of miles...