Long Haul to Nairobi

10 August – 2 September 2010, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, and Kenya

After nearly a week in Botswana we drove north and crossed the border into Zambia, where we parked the overland truck for a four-day hiatus in Livingstone. Allison and I originally intended to end our tour in Livingstone but we were enjoying the company of our group as well as the convenience of overlanding. The tour gave us a break from seemingly endless planning, the truck was an easy alternative to otherwise difficult transport in Africa, and food and camping was much cheaper than if we’d been traveling solo. We decided to extend our trip, and continued northeast into Malawi, then into Tanzania. On September 2nd, 41 days after leaving Cape Town, we arrived in Nairobi, Kenya.

Most interesting during the second half of the tour might have been the contrast among the countries. South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana, visited during the first half of the tour, shared a similar feel. The highways were well maintained and the cities were clean and filled with modern buildings, houses, and supermarkets stocked full of fresh and prepared foods. We crossed borders quickly and without hassle. We noticed a marked change as we approached Zambia. Trucks lined up for miles waiting to board the ferry across the Zambezi River. We’d arrived very early and as a passenger vehicle we enjoyed priority, but we still waited for over three hours as other vehicles including shiny SUVs and another overland truck were inexplicably waved around us and onto the ferry. Once we finally crossed into Zambia we found a dustier place with dirt roads, smaller buildings and mud houses covered with thatched roofs. In particular contrast with sparsely populated Namibia, the streets teemed with colorfully dressed people. Women carried packages on their heads and babies on their backs. Crossing from Malawi to Tanzania was another interesting transition. Tanzania seemed wealthier; we saw more mud houses but many of them had metal roofs. We also started to see large scale agriculture for the first time since South Africa, with fields of wheat, corn, and tea stretching to the horizon.

One constant throughout all of our travels is the perceived magnificence of waterfalls. Waterfalls are considered to be the pinnacle of natural beauty, and gazing upon a waterfall is a mandatory component of travel. Invariably disappointing, we’ve now learned to avoid the waterfall excursion, although we occasionally let down our guard. In Turkey we were somehow persuaded to hike to a waterfall that wasn’t even flowing. However, when our overland tour took us to Livingstone, Zambia, we made an exception to the waterfall rule and visited Victoria Falls. Victoria Falls is on the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and by some measures is considered to be the largest waterfall in the world. It’s difficult to comprehend its sheer size and magnificence. During our hour of exploration we saw less than half of the crest and never really saw the foot of the falls, which was largely obscured by a constant spray.

Our visit to Malawi focused on Lake Malawi, the large freshwater lake that covers over twenty percent of the country. We camped four nights alongside the lake, which with its sandy palm-lined shores, dark blue water and crashing waves is more reminiscent of an ocean than a lake. Lake Malawi was a welcome break from the road, and while there we relaxed on the beach, walked to a nearby village, and went diving. By far our strangest experience in Malawi was shopping at a craft market outside of the campground. Malawi is known for wood carvings, particularly two-piece wooden chairs. Our tour guides mentioned that the merchants will sometimes accept trades in lieu of cash. We didn’t realize the full potential of this barter system until Annah, aka “Piggy”, traded her mobile phone for three chairs. We subsequently traded our phone, a five-year-old model that wouldn’t even work in Africa and that we’d intended to throw away, for one chair. Following these bizarre but apparently mutually beneficial transactions there was a flurry of activity as our fellow overlanders scoured the truck for random objects that could be exchanged for more chairs as well as wooden bowls, cups, and animal figurines.

Two excruciatingly long days of driving and two hours on a ferry brought us to Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania known historically for spice production and more recently for its white sand beaches. We spent our first two nights enjoying the beach on the northern tip of the island, and a third night further south in historic Stone Town. We toured a spice plantation and learned about the cultivation of spices including cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla. From Zanzibar another long day of driving brought us to Serengeti National Park. We spotted many of the same animals we’d seen in Etosha and Chobe, including a few lions. However, we missed the massive population of wildebeest that continually migrate through the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and into the Masai Mara in Kenya, following the rains and green grasses. They probably headed into Kenya in June and July, and were long gone from the Serengeti by the time we visited in late August. We found better game viewing in the Ngorongoro Crater, a 100 square mile volcanic caldera home to about 25,000 animals. There are several water sources in the crater and, unlike in the Serengeti, most of the animals are year-round residents. The crater presented stunning panoramas of pink flamingos strolling in pristine waters and thousands of wildebeest and zebra grazing in the green and gold grass.

Our last day on tour started like so many before it, as we woke before dawn, packed up our tents, and ate a quick breakfast. After we left Tanzania and crossed into Kenya we traveled over some of the roughest and dustiest roads of the entire tour. The sun was setting as we entered Nairobi, and after nearly two hours in gridlock we finally reached the city center. After the exhausting day of driving we said anticlimactic goodbyes and went our separate ways: some to the airport, others to a hostel outside the city, and a few of us to a hotel nearby. We were sad to leave the truck and our traveling companions behind but were also excited for the next leg our our travels, when we’d finally venture out alone again.

3 Responses to “Long Haul to Nairobi”

  1. Pam says:

    Hmm, this is the first time it has occurred to me, but are you two picking up much for souvenirs? I’m thinking of that chair, what did you do with it? I can’t imagine you have the ability to carry much with you but you have to be seeing some really cool things you might like to bring home. I would also think it would be expensive/difficult if you’re sending things home. Anyway….just nosy;-)

  2. Tom Nies says:

    They left the chair with Cheese on Toast :)

  3. Faheem says:

    You guys sure had an amazing time. I hope you have visited the various waterfalls that we have in Zambia especially the ones up in the Northern province.If you havent, then i say its one for the ‘things to do before i die’ list.

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