Zambia: Everything is Big Here
Tackling Zambia via the Great East Road proved the country to be full of surprises and much grander than we expected…
Zambia is a country that feels massive. Of course Africa itself is massive with vast and seemingly infinite spaces, but Zambia takes this characteristic to a special level. It’s not the expansive impression that comes from viewing a wide open flat plain; it is hilly in fact. There just seem to be huge spans of time and distance between everything here. It’s almost as if the rules of physics, or at least perception, are bent, amplified even. What looks like one kilometer is really five. A storm is visible hours before it hits. Animals, rivers, and even insects are larger. Massive volumes of space turn people into ants against the giant landscape.
After relaxing for a couple of days in a comfortable camp on the Zambezi, we were set to begin the extra long traverse across this behemoth. We were not quite sure what to expect. A Japanese bike tourist we met, heading in the other direction, said it took him nine days to make it from Chipata to Lusaka. A lady we met in Zim said it was boring. We figured we’d throw our bikes on a bus after a couple of days if it was indeed mundane. Rested and ready, we took off, battling the rains that occur almost daily this time of year.
Zambia, as all of the other countries on this otherworldly continent, has been full of surprises. Here are a few: It’s not boring at all. The people are some of the friendliest we’ve encountered, and some of the most interesting. The heavily forested mountains are all but flat and mundane. It seems like eighty percent of the population rides bicycles, so there is always camaraderie on the road. It’s expensive, even though it is very poor. Water is safe to drink from the NGO supplied bore holes that cropped up throughout our passage. There are a lot of elephants here, and they are far more dangerous to cyclists than lions (although I did meet a British expat whose wife treated locals around the South Luangwa National Park, several of whom had been attacked by lions while casually pedaling down the road). And, last but not least, Zambia is much much bigger than we anticipated.