New Year’s in Lusaka

[note: the next few posts will be jumping back a bit]

Who needs a city fireworks display when you can experience a city-wide fireworks extravaganza? That’s pretty much what happened in Lusaka at 12:00 on Jan 1, 2013.

I should have known as much when I saw the dozens of street vendors walking by our vehicle selling fireworks in the New Year’s Eve afternoon traffic. Most memorable were the long tubes boasting a dozen or more rockets in one convenient container. But instead I was slightly incredulous, since I have never seen a firework sold in such a casual manner. Especially in Africa. In fact, I assumed large-scale fireworks were illegal everywhere but in those off-the-highway warehouses in South Carolina, and that the ‘rockets’ being sold along the street in Lusaka were nothing more than fancy firecrackers.

Apparently not.

We didn’t make any plans to herald in the new year, since Steve and I had a bus to catch the next morning for Kapiri Mposhi. So we went to bed early. But it seems that when you are in Lusaka, sleeping through the new year is not an option. At midnight I was woken up by the sound of an all-out military assault on the city. Artillery exploding, missiles whistling through the air… it took a moment for me to register that these were all the fireworks I had seen just a few hours before, now joyfully exploding all over the city. I was too tired to get up and try to view the fireworks, so I contented myself with imagining what they must have looked like.

I’m not sure if it was the rain that started up, or if everyone began to run out of their fireworks, but the noise finally began to subside and I drifted back to sleep with visions of a thousand fireworks sparkling over the city.

ok, this is not lusaka, but it’s pretty much how the fireworks looked in my imagination.

It’s times like this that I am reminded of one of the things I love about Africa (at least, the part of Africa I am familiar with, which is small). It’s that all-encompassing and unplanned, yet somehow ordered chaos, so creative and expressive. Maybe I’m used to it, but it doesn’t feel overwhelming to me, only alive and grandly uncontainable.

I think back to my experiences with fireworks in the US. Fifteen minutes sitting on a lawn watching a well-planned and neatly-executed fireworks display is nice. It begins on time and ends with a bang. But imagine the splendid chaos of a thousand families lighting up the city with their own personal display. Starting a few minutes before midnight, of course. Completely uncoordinated and unpredictable, but magnificent, nonetheless.

Of course, there is a downside to this kind of chaos – in the case of fireworks, there are valid public health reasons to restrict and control their usage (take the club fire in Brazil, as a tragic example). But for the areas that aren’t such a big deal, in the daily-life kinds of things, I prefer dirt to concrete, and an overgrown plot of wildflowers and vines to a city park. More room for surprise, improvisation, imagination. This part of Africa is full of that, and I miss it every time I leave.

[photo compliments of my dad]

[photo compliments of my dad]

Kapiri Mposhi to Dar Es Salaam

Sorry, there are a lot of photos from our trip. But the idea was to give you a sense of the change of landscape as we travelled north.

Day 1 : Jan 1, 2013

I only got some photos of an awesome thunderstorm we saw while waiting at a station at around 9 pm.


Day 2 : Jan 2, 2013

Half the day in Zambia, the other half in Tanzania, with an extended 2 hour stop in Mbeya (Tanzania) to do some maintenance on our engine.


Day 3 : Jan 3, 2013


For our return to Tanzania, we decided to take the train. This first necessitated a 3 hour bus ride north of Lusaka, to the small town of Kapiri Mposhi, since there is no direct train from the capital of Zambia to the capital of Tanzania. Don’t ask me why.

As soon as we stepped off the bus in Kapiri Mposhi, we were literally mobbed by taxi drivers offering their service to take us to the train station, which is a kilometer or two from the bus station. Thankfully we had read the blogs about this particular trip, so we knew what to expect. The trick is to not let them carry any of your stuff. Otherwise you have no choice but to go with that taxi driver and hope he offers you a good price. So we staggered through the mob with our 1 suitcase, 2 backpacks, 2 boxes, and my purse, and managed to find a reasonable taxi to take us to the station.

The Tazara train station is a relic of the 70s, and probably hasn’t been touched since it was built. The entire project – stations and railway line – was completed in 1975, and was completely financed and executed by China. I love old buildings, so I wish I had been bolder with my camera. But sometimes one can get in trouble for taking photos of official buildings in Africa, so I didn’t pull my huge DSLR out. However, Steve did manage to get some photos with our point and shoot.







When we bought our tickets, we had to purchase a second class sleeper compartment because the first class compartments were already full. This meant paying for 6 beds instead of 4. I had tried to set my expectations relatively low about this train ride, but was still surprised by the cramped dimensions of our compartment. This feeling was compounded by our luggage, which was starting to feel excessive at this point.




Imagine our dismay, then, when four more people (well, five, if you count the child that one of them had) filed into our compartment over the course of the boarding time, holding tickets for our same compartment! We learned later that Tazara had reserved the entire first compartment in our car for some of their employees (upper-level staff, no doubt), who were riding for free (read: no tickets). There had obviously been a miscommunication somewhere, and we were looking at sharing a 6 x 4 space with 5 other people for the next 42 hours.

Thankfully, since we had proof of our purchase, the conductor affirmed that yes, indeed, we had paid for the full compartment, and that he would find a place for the other passengers. So after about 4 hours of sitting awkwardly across from our unexpected cabin-mates, we had the compartment to ourselves.

I’m glad it worked out, but not before creating a super uncomfortable situation for everyone.

Everyone except the passengers in compartment 1. They looked pretty comfortable.

(photos of the trip in the next post)

A hike down to Rapid #10

Right after Victoria Falls, the Zambezi River runs through a deep and narrow gorge. Many people go white-water rafting down this gorge, where there are 23 rapids, many of which are class 4 and 5, and a few class 6. (The rafts portage around the class 6 rapids as they are too dangerous.)

On our last full day in Livingstone, we hiked down into the gorge where we were told there was a great swimming hole of sorts right after Rapid #10. Some people from Overland Missions had hiked there before, so they knew where to go and joined us. Rapid #10 is also where some of the rafting expeditions begin, so the path into the gorge has been improved with the construction of wooden ‘ladders’ at the steepest points.

At the top of the gorge
at the top of the gorge



the swimming hole (lower left) is only accessible during dry season - once the river reaches its maximum level, it covers that entire area

the swimming hole (lower left) is only accessible during dry season – once the river reaches its maximum level, it covers that entire area

Our descent
we begin our descent

Ladder? Stairs? Not really either, or maybe both.

ladder? stairs? not really either, or maybe both.

It was certainly easier than sliding down loose dirt and pebbles…

it was certainly easier than sliding down loose dirt and pebbles...

…but it still wasn’t easy.

... but still a challenge


Needless to say, our quads were SORE the next day

needless to say, our quads were SORE the next day


At the bottom.

if you look closely, you can see two from our group in the lower left corner

if you look closely, you can see two from our group in the lower left corner

looking towards rapid #10

looking towards rapid #10



The swimming hole was green from algae, but as it was surprisingly clear, the group decided it was still swimmable.



Steve and I found a spot along the river to swim in.




We startled a really interesting lizard, and Steve managed to get some great closeups of it.

we startled a really interesting lizard, and Steve managed to get some great closeups of it


Also, for you geology enthusiasts out there, the black rock surrounding the swimming hole held a wealth of geodes.

for you geology nerds out there, this black rock held a wealth of geodes.


i probably could have spent the entire day admiring their various shapes and sizes.

I probably could have spent the entire day admiring their various shapes and sizes. I was hoping to find one with amethyst crystals in it, since Zambia does mine some amethyst. But I didn’t. Just white quartz, I think.

We started back up not long after lunch, but I only snapped two photos of our ascent. It was too grueling to take more. It didn’t make me feel better that we were quickly passed by two Zambian fishermen, who I’m pretty sure didn’t stop to rest the entire climb. Amazing.

starting the climb back up. i didn't have any energy to take photos of our ascent.

Victoria Falls

On Thursday we went to Victoria Falls. We had originally planned to ride the elephants, so we woke up super early. But when we got to the pick-up point for this activity, we realized it would only be an hour-long ride instead of the anticipated 3-hour ride. So we decided it was too expensive for such a short time and went straight to the falls instead.

Because of this, we got to the falls much earlier than we would ever have done otherwise. But it worked out extremely well because I’m pretty sure right after sunrise is the perfect time to view the falls. I didn’t realize that the rainbow created by the mist moves with the sun, so the angle of the early morning light made for some incredible photos.

my first view of the falls. i will never forget it.

my first view of the falls. i will never forget it.


Looking down from the top of the Eastern Cataract:

at the top of the Eastern Cataract



Facing the falls and walking along the Zambian side (only one half of the falls – the other half is in Zimbabwe):

facing the falls




i loved the constant rain shower created by the mist

i loved the constant rain shower created by the mist


looking across to the zimbabwe side of victoria falls

looking across to the zimbabwe side of victoria falls

Victoria Falls is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the world and is three times as high as Niagara Falls. Its average volume is less than that of Niagara and IguaƧu Falls, but that is only because the Zambezi River, which feeds it, is a very seasonal river. At the end of the dry season, around October or November, there is hardly a trickle across the entire mile-wide face of the falls; at the end of the rainy season, around April or May, you can’t even see the face of the falls for the mist created by the huge volume of falling water. We came at a really good time – not too much water, but enough for an incredible experience and some beautiful photos.