+1
marker
map

Escape from Lukulu

Tuesday, June 26th 2001

If we hadn’t got out of Lukulu the next day I would have snapped, but our luck returned to us in spades on Monday morning. We walked out of the resthouse at 7.30am to find two people outside who we’d spoken to briefly the previous day. They had a very comfortable-looking 4-wheel drive, and they were going to Kaoma. I almost laughed hysterically. And they left almost straight away, defying the normally very reliable ‘Zambian hour and a half’ rule of how the time people tell you you’ll leave relates to the time you actually leave.

The journey to Kaoma was long and tiring. The six hours down the sandy road to Kaoma became indistinct, the monotony interrupted only at a town called Nkulo, where the villagers had a roadblock, and extracted a toll from any Zambezi fish traders passing through. At 2pm we arrived in Kaoma, and drank Coke for the first time since Zambezi. I had become horribly addicted to the stuff - there was no coffee to be had at all in western Zambia, so coke was my only caffeine fix. After a couple of hours, the Mongu bus came along, and on we got. There were no seats, and we sat squashed into the aisle. As night fell, we headed south.

Mongu was like a dream. We checked into a hotel more expensive than usual, just because it was right next to the bus station, it was dark when we got there and we didn’t feel like wandering around Mongu in the dead of night looking for anything cheaper. So we shelled out an outlandish (or so it seemed at the time) £6.50 each for a room. In Lukulu we had been sleeping in a mud hut with a thatched roof, so we could hardly believe where we found ourselves - in a room with a carpet, sheets on the comfortable beds, and even a television. I felt like we were in a different country.

Much restored, we left Mongu the next morning. We were running several days behind schedule and we were in a hurry. We bought ourselves four loaves of bread for our coming journey, and headed for our next destination - Ngonye Falls. We got a minibus to Senanga, which restored our faith in the Zambian hour and a half rule, and was also ludicrously crowded. After a two-hour journey in the Black Hole of Calcutta we arrived in Senanga, and found ourselves a lift in a land rover heading for Sioma, the nearest town to the falls. I went to a nearby shop to buy a couple of drinks, and chatted to the two ladies behind the counter. When I told them we were leaving in about half an hour it provided the best laugh they’d had in weeks. When they’d recovered control of themselves, they told me I wasn’t likely to be leaving Senanga before the morning. Images of Lukulu drifted through my mind. But when I got back to the land rover, the engine was started, it filled with passengers and off we went. Cynics! I never doubted the truck people for a moment.

Now we were on surely the worst road in Zambia. When the potholes are much bigger than the vehicle you’re in, I can’t see how the road could be any worse. It took us a couple of hours to cover the next 20 miles, and there were several moments when I feared for my life as the land rover came within a couple of degrees of rolling over. We passed two buses which simply could not go any further, and we were glad we’d found a lift. One of our fellow passengers was carrying about thirty large plastic gerry cans on the canvas roof of the landrover, and as we bounced uncontrollably along the road, they soon began to work themselves loose of their moorings. Their owner was sat at the back of the land rover, and soon began to look extremely resigned as a bunch of gerry cans repeatedly swung into the truck and smacked him on the side of the head.

After two hours we reached the Zambezi river once again at Kalongola. We crossed on the pontoon as the sun set, and drove on the other side. Before long we stopped at a place called Nangweshi, where most of the passengers got off. We thought we’d be heading on to Sioma, but the truck owner decided he wanted to spend the night here in the hope of picking up more passengers in the morning. This was an unexpected delay, but I wasn’t too upset. The truck guys lit up a fire, and cooked the remaining passengers nshima, made us some coffee (my caffeine nerves, hitherto calm, twitched furiously once more), and were generally extremely hospitable.

As the night wore on and the fire burned lower, I had a long and fascinating conversation with one of the truck guys, about Zambian politics, the history and culture of the Lozi people (for we were in Barotseland, their homeland), and the civil war in Angola. It was now that we discovered that Nangweshi is actually an Angolan refugee camp. We were not many miles from the Angolan border, and in Nangweshi some 20,000 Angolan opposition supporters are gathered. I was wryly amused that while the truck guy insisted that there was no racial tension in Zambia (“White guys, black guys, Asian guys - all humans, aren’t we?”, he said), he and the others were not happy at the number of Angolans who escape into Zambia every year, accusing them of abusing Zambia’s hospitality. At around midnight, we turned in and went to sleep under the stars.

« The Dullest Town In The World | Southern Africa 2001 | Going to Ngonye »