Thursday, January 6, 2011

Livingstone I Presume?

One nice perk of being a Peace Corps volunteer is that we get a few vacation days to use each year and can do a little traveling. Over the holidays, I set out with a few other volunteers to go to Zambia. We spent the first few days in a town called Livingstone. To get to Livingstone from Francistown, you have to get on a bus going to Kasane which will drop you off at the border. The problem is that there are not any big buses that run that route, only small, 25 seat minibuses. I was worried about getting all of us in with our bags so we got up before dawn to make sure we got on the first bus at 6am. All went according to plan except the 6am bus never showed up (a not so rare occurrence here). The 7am minibus did show up (late) and we crammed all of our gear and backpacks in.

We saw about a dozen elephants on the drive up. I still am amazed by them. They are truly massive up close, even when you are sitting in a bus. We got to the Kazungula border crossing after about 6 hours on the bus and walked to the ferry. For many reasons, there is not a bridge at the border crossing between Botswana and Zambia, only a small ferry. This route serves as a major supply route between ports in South Africa and the interior of Africa and the road coming into the border was lined with trucks. The ferry can only accommodate one 18-wheeler and maybe one other small truck at a time. I have heard truckers can sometimes wait for a week or longer to get across. Luckily, we were able to walk right on. We cleared customs and hired a combi to take us to Livingstone, which is about 60km from the border.

I really enjoyed Livingstone. If you close your eyes and picture a small city in Africa, there is a good chance that Livingstone would be it. It was busy and noisy, but also very colorful and lively. Many of the buildings were old "African colonial style." Since tourism is the major driver of the local economy, the city seems to go out of its way to cater to tourists. It was very clean and safe, and there was a local market filled with crafts. You had to haggle a lot to get a decent price, but there were so many beautiful things to buy.

One thing that really struck me (and made me like it even more) was that, despite being a major tourist destination, Livingstone seemed to not have lost all of its charm like other tourist cities do.
We stayed at a backpacker's hostel called Jollyboys ( and it was great. It easily rivaled some of the better hostels I stayed in when I traveled through Europe. All throughout the grounds were mango trees and you could go and pick a fresh mango to eat for breakfast or for a snack.

We had really good weather and got to do all sorts of activities in Livingstone. It was tough to leave and I will definitely be back.