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Zambia and Zimbabwe

Zambia’s Capital, Lusaka, has a different feel to a lot of other big cities I’ve visited in Africa. It was somewhat ordered and didn’t seem so crowded. Suburbs are fairly well defined between the rich and poor. It’s a reasonable size, but doesn’t feel huge. The central city isn’t big at all.

At the same campsite were a couple of Italian guys with their Unimog overland camper. I had only met one other overlander since the start of my trip, so it was great to have a chat about their adventures. They had done the west side of Africa. I was surprised to hear the DRC’s roads were manageable. We exchanged stories and gave advice.

James, a Community Liaison Officer for Children in the Wilderness, (a part of Wilderness Safaris) drove from Livingstone to meet me. We went to Mumbwa together, a town in Central Zambia. The drive was easy, the road was flat and had a good surface. We left my truck in Kasula outside the police station, and went on in James’ vehicle to check out the school where I would fly from a couple of days later, and then on to Mumbwa Air Force Base to speak to the Colonel.
The primary and secondary schools in Myooye are combined, and the two principals were more than happy to have us there. It’s a boarding school with 120 kids. The school has a roll of 1300.
After around 30 minutes, we left for the air force base. The Colonel was free, so we were shown to his office and explained who we were and what we were doing. We had a very interesting chat and he was supportive of what we were doing.

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We headed into Mumbwa for lunch and then on to a school. James was meeting one of their sponsored children. He was taking her to Livingstone the next day to meet her sponsor.

James dropped me back at my truck and I stayed in Kasula by the police station that night. I had a really interesting chat with some of the local guys in the evening. They told me about their challenges. Most were not earning a livable wage, and explained to me what they could potentially do if their salaries were just a bit higher. I was shocked to hear that quite a number of people in the area only earn about US$20-S30 a month, (that’s if they were lucky enough to be in employment). They commented on how much prices had increased in the last couple of years, but the wages hadn’t. They would be happy if they could earn $100 a month, which was enough to live on, plus enough to invest in a small business for example.

Another guy I talked to was a Community Liaison Officer for Child Fund Zambia. He explained how everything worked and how children were selected. His job was to make sure money was being spent in the right way, advise families and keep track of the sponsored children. It sounded like they were doing some really good work.

The local police were very friendly and I parked right outside the door of the station. They said it was the best place. I was parked next to an impounded truck, which had been involved in a fatal collision the day before.

I waited for the flight permission to come through the next morning. When it arrived around midday, I drove the 11kms down the bumpy, dirt road to the School.

I met the ‘Madam’ who was looking after things as the Principal was away. She showed me around the school, before I was shown around the village by the Head Boy and a few of the teachers. I was warmly welcomed by the community and enjoyed seeing what was there. The village is very small, but is lucky enough to have a medical clinic and a few shops. It serves the community in a 10km radius.

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They invited me for dinner, which was a very typical African dish: a kind of maize dough, and beans to go with it.

I spoke to the kids during their prep class after dinner. They do two hours of prep in the evening everyday, powered by a generator as there’s no electricity running to the school.
All 120 boarders fit into one class for prep. They have a healthy respect for teachers and listen attentively. Class sizes generally range from 50-150 students for many schools in Africa.

I encouraged them to follow their dreams and explained my story to them. They asked lots of good questions and it went on for a good 45mins or so.

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I was happy to see a number of strong guys willing to help set up the balloon early the next morning. 150-200 people came to watch the balloon take off. I managed to fly a number of kids on tether before taking off.

Two Captains from the air force base came, and one of them accompanied me on the flight. They were both fighter pilots with quite a bit of experience. I was very lucky to have the support to fly in the area because it is usually out of bounds for all civillian aircraft as it’s restricted airspace belonging to the military.

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The surrounding area was flat with small hills in the distance. We flew over small villages, dry fields, (as it is the dry season) and clumps of bush. It was a beautiful day for flying.

I lined up a village called Senzo, and found a good field to land in. As with my other flights, 200-300 people came from nowhere to have a look. They couldn’t believe what they’re seeing. Even after warning them that I will turn on the burner, they scatter as soon as it’s turned on. They always come back again though, usually laughing.

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The other Captain and one of the teachers came in a car to pick us up. We packed the balloon away and I saw a van had come. I asked if I could put the balloon in the van to take back to Myooye, (for a fee). He said I could, but it didn’t fit. Another guy offered his ox and cart. I was happy to take that, so off he went. He came back about 45mins later with a truck, the same brand as mine. He said his cart had broken, so got the local truck instead. We loaded up the balloon and off we went on the back of the truck down sometimes small and very rough tracks. We transferred the balloon at the school, and after, both one of the Captains and I spoke to the kids.

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After saying our goodbyes, I made my way back to Lusaka and on to Livingstone, 600kms away. The road was perfect, except for a 50km of badly potholed road. I couldn’t work out why they had done nothing to it when the rest of the road was good.

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Outside of the big cities there is not a lot of traffic as car ownership is low, (in most of Africa), so it makes driving easy. The road across to Livingstone was fairly flat and I reached Livingstone a couple of hours after sunset. The fires along the road were impressive during the night. (I assume they were controlled burn-offs).

I was met by James and parked in the Wilderness Safaris compound for the night.

I took it easy the next day, looking around Livingstone and getting the flight permission ready for Zimbabwe. I thought Livingstone was a big tourist town, but it didn’t feel that way. As it turns out, Victoria Falls township on the Zimbabwe side is much more touristy.

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I left for Victoria Falls township early the following day, only 15kms away. I spent a bit more time on the Zambian side than expected because I was supposed to pay a $20 road tax on entry into Zambia, but they had missed it, (as well as all the police who had checked my documents at the checkpoints along the way). I paid the $20 and crossed the impressive Victoria Falls Bridge and completed Zimbabwean Immigration and Customs, which wasn’t too much of a drama.

I headed for the Wilderness Safaris headquarters and parked there for the night. It was nice to meet the guys at Wilderness Air, who have been helping with flight permissions in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. I also met the guys at the regional office for Children in the Wilderness. Everyone has been great to work with.

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I was dropped off at the famous Victoria Falls in the afternoon. What a sight! I can definitely see why they are one of the seven wonders of the natural world. They are so wide, You have to see it to believe it.

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I headed 350km south the next morning to the small village of Jakalasi. The road was much better than expected, even the 50km of dirt road had been recently graded. The only bad thing was the police. I’d been warned about them before coming to Zimbabwe. They will fine you for any small thing. My rear number plate light wasn’t working, so I was fined US$20 for that, (the Zimbabwean economy runs on $US as their own currency is considered to be junk). They tried to fine me for other things along the way, like having no reflectors on the front for example. I refused to pay and played their game. I was told I was under arrest twice at two different check points. You just have to be patient until someone lets you go. It’s not much fun, and certainly does nothing to enhance tourism. I’ve never paid a bribe this whole trip, and don’t intend to either.

I was greeted by one of the teachers at Jakalasi Primary School, and had a look around. The kids had finished for the day, so only a few people were there. The school has a roll of 256 kids and 5 teachers. The village was quiet, so I went for a walk in the afternoon.

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I spoke to the school at their final assembly before two weeks of holiday. They all seemed keen to come to see the balloon a couple of days later.
James had come down from Zambia and met me the next morning. He’d also picked up the local Children in the Wilderness liaison officer from a nearby village. We sorted out the final flight preparations and drove to two villages. The first was the main centre of the region, where we met the police chief and got his support. James also had to fix his exhaust at a local welder’s place. It had broken right off.

The next village was very remote down a narrow, tree-lined, sandy track. We arranged for a vehicle to pick the balloon up from where we land. I need to take care of my truck as I’m in for some a number of repairs in either Botswana or Namibia. The less I do off road, the better. African roads have really taken their toll on the truck, especially the terrible one in Tanzania.

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James headed back to Victoria Falls and I watched some kids play football in the late afternoon.

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Nights here are pitch black as there’s no electricity. The night sky is amazing. Tomorrow I fly.

About the author: Andrew Parker

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