After our animal tracking in northern Botswana last week, Big Red carried us across the Botswana-Zambia border, a seven hundred-yard stretch of the Chobe River. Jumping through the legal hoops to get the car across took a five hour chunk out of our Monday, and the introduction to “real” Africa on the Zambian side of the border was jarring and, for me, energizing. We sped to Livingstone, Zambia: the adventure capital of Africa and the jumping-off point to Victoria Falls and the Zambezi River. We spent two days meeting other travellers at Jollyboys backpackers and white-water rafting on the Zambezi.
We had planned to drive back to Botswana on Wednesday, a full-day trek that would get everybody back for work on Thursday morning. But wait – I didn’t have a job to get back to, right? And I have always did want to go to Zimbabwe, which is just next door… I waved goodbye to clan Wednesday morning, and quickly buried my nose in the guidebooks.
Then, around eight hours later, the Zambezi struck back. By the numbers:
3 – Jollyboys toilets with which I am intimately acquainted
45 – Visits to said toilets between Wednesday night and Saturday morning
3 – Hours spent awake on Thanksgiving
1 – Meals eaten on Thanksgiving Day (oatmeal, thanks to two motherly Swedish girls)
4 – Meals eaten between Wednesday and Saturday
3 – Failed attempts at a ride to Zimbabwe, GI protesting all the way
I have long wanted to travel to Zimbabwe, ever since my brother’s aborted summer plans in 2000. The Zimbabweans I have met are wonderful, and if there is a “least of these” in Africa, Zimbabweans are it. All that – on top of the failed attempt to go to Lwala, Kenya this week – kept me waiting at Jollyboys from Wednesday to Saturday on the hopes that I would finally be able to make it.
When my ride to Bulawayo fell through again on Saturday, I finally gave up the ghost. I had fasted since Friday afternoon, packed up and checked out – but his parents’ passports had been mis-stamped, and they wouldn’t be leaving until Monday. There was a group of travellers headed across the Botswana border just as Tony was breaking the news, so I hopped in with them, my traveller’s tail between my legs. I was bummed – both about not getting to Zim and about having “given up” on going. I needed something to lift my spirits, and fast.
That “something,” it turns out, was a covered African Express pick-up travelling between Kasane and Francistown, the second leg of my journey back home to Gabs. I waited at the bus stop in Kasane, watching the other hitchhikers to pick up on the routine, and then hustled with the crows toward the pick-up as it slowed down. “Only two,” said the driver. I was unlucky number three. I made motions to walk away when another hitchhiker looked at me, then at the truck that was accelerating away, and said, “Do it.”
That was all the encouragement I needed. I ran after the truck, opened the doors and pulled myself in. The two Batswana in the back started laughing, then exploded as the truck slammed to a halt and I went flying headfirst into the front of the compartment. The driver came around to the back, scowling. But when he saw the white boy rubbing his head, he started laughing too – and I now had myself a dark, smelly, four-hour lift to Francistown (along the way, we would pick up one more passenger: a guinea fowl who slammed its own head against the grill of the truck, coming out less alive than I). After a sleepless overnight train from Francistown on which I was the only white person out of about five hundred, I finally made it home at 6:00 Sunday morning. I gave thanks, went to the bathroom, popped a Malarone and an anti-diarrhoeal, and slept like a baby. Who knew Botswana would start feeling like home?