A Trip to Zambia: Can You Travel Southern Africa by Bus?

So Zambia is a fair way away from Cape Town and if you know me, traveling by sea is always the first choice… Hmmm, Zambia is land locked. So plane, bus, or road tripping, take your pick. One chap did ride all the way from Cape Town on his motorbike! Honestly I was thrilled to be gifted with bus tickets. When folk heard I was traveling by bus there would be stunned silence, followed by a pause and then “Shame…” I have to say, ever the optimist, I was looking forward to it. I haven’t traveled far and wide in Africa and I would love to see what’s out there. Of course a bus trip is not a road trip in the road tripping sense of the word – so you don’t get to stop and linger at places of interest. You have to go where the bus goes. Well… mostly. Connections are typically a couple of hours apart. If your bus is late you don’t really have time to linger and explore and typically bus depot’s are not in the best part of town anyway. Anyway, I was so keen and set off with enthusiasm…

se7en - 010715 - 0154

Cape Town to Windhoek

Armed with a slew of tickets I headed for the bus depot at the crack of dawn on the day of departure. I have never caught anything other than a neighbourhood bus before and I haven’t travelled with more than hand luggage either. If you follow along you will know that I naturally travel light. But in the spirit of taking some care of myself for a change, I had a bag of luggage with my sleeping bag, and a couple of cables, including my Nikon battery charger… and new jeans and a couple of T’s and gifts from my sweet family. Gardening gloves, a sun hat, a camping towel… and heaps of hiking socks. Anyhow, I was worried my luggage would weigh too much – um… no!!! Folks had huge bags packed with stuff, all shapes and sizes… it appeared that what ever you have gets popped on the trailer and you are good to go. Everyone arrives at the last minute and I have no idea how the bus leaves on time, but they do. Then we were off… very pleasant – a sleep liner is a fairly fancy thing… double story, plenty of leg room, and a couple of hours into the trip it broke down. We sat for four hours on the side of the road – it was extremely pleasant. As Shrek says, better out than in – a fellow two seats down had been eating pickled fish sandwiches, you cannot begin to imagine the delicate aroma. Definitely a case of better out (the bus) than in.

se7en - 020715 - 4734.jpg

No one complained, we were out in the country, the view was spectacular, and the weather balmy… and the air fresh!!!

se7en - 020715 - 4737.jpg

Eventually another bus arrived and our driver decided to try out the bus we had been sitting beside – it turned on, we got on, and we went on. On until nightfall… and on into the night. The buses stop every couple of hours and there were two fairly yackety gals in the seats alongside me keeping me entertained.

se7en - 030715 - 4743.jpg

I wasn’t expecting quite such a hectic border crossing – but then something about border crossings is always a little stressful. The South African side was a quick stamp… The Namibian was a lot more formal and a search of our luggage, ourselves, our pockets. And then it was pretty much straight on until Windhoek, past a glorious sunrise and on into the following morning.

se7en - 030715 - 4751.jpg

Naturally because of the breakdown, my couple of hours waiting between buses was… minimal. My vision of Windhoek was a glance at the station…

se7en - 030715 - 4747.jpg

And 4X4’s and taxis everywhere. Carrying my luggage, almost from one bus to the next without pause.

se7en - 030715 - 4745.jpg

Windhoek to Livingstone

Back on the Bus at lunchtime and heading to the very north of Namibia… I have never even heard the names of some of these places before… just to say folk “onned and offed” the bus continuously. In fact throughout the night the bus stopped and started. The one guy next to me was a ranger who “worked with leopards and stuff in the wild” and he was going home to his girl for the weekend. A man of few words, he went straight to sleep and got off some time during the night. Yet again the aromas of weird and maybe not so wonderful sandwiches filled the air… and it appears that the whole of Northern Namibia has places to be, other than where they are, on a Friday night.

se7en - 030715 - 4749.jpg

Next morning the landscape had changed dramatically from desert to scrubby woodland and we arrived uneventfully at the border post. I literally walked into Zambia, they appeared pleased to see me. Literally a quick look down my throat, that was the Ebola check, and a stamp in my passport. Other folk took hours, for once there was an advantage to having a South African passport in hand (all those hours at Home Affairs paid off). The folk from further afield definitely had a slightly harder time getting into Zambia and there was a lot of last minute trying to find dollars to pay for Visas going on. The one big advantage to traveling by bus, rather than on your own, is that the bus driver somehow knows everyone who works at the border posts and keeps everyone rolling through. It took at least three hours of driving through potholes and avoiding goats before we reached our destination of . And I was fairly excited that the bus took us through a game park… ever the optimist hoping to see actual wildlife – not domesticated goats mind you, something a little more wild. Needless to say there was nothing wild and I got to Livingstone unscathed. There were some delightful Greenpop folk there to meet me and alas… no luggage of mine appeared to be on the bus.

se7en - 060715 - 0042.jpg

This, folks, is exactly why I normally only travel with hand luggage. I can say that at all the stops the bus company opened up the luggage compartments, and folks took their bags, and there was not a lot of checking bags against baggage numbers at all. In fact the only time they checked my baggage number on the entire trip was when I claimed my bag wasn’t there. At which stage I had to prove I had put my bag on the bus. I can say that the driver said he would look into it and then gave us his phone number. Only it wasn’t his phone number (like seriously the oldest trick in the book). So there I was in the middle of a busy Saturday morning market, crazy hectic stuff going on all around me, after forty eight hours on a bus. Frankly it is just stuff, but it was stuff that friends had treated me with – not to mention I can no longer charge my camera, unless I spend a heap of cash on a new battery charger (blogging is going to be slow without a camera folks!!!). Honestly, my personal campaign to take a little extra care of myself was being thwarted right at the start. It took everything in me not to think “that’s what happens when you take care of yourself…” I was determined to stay on track and fill up my bucket… even though that niggling voice was saying, “don’t bother.” I put the voice to rest, and I did fill my bucket with sleep and good food and hard work and making friends. I can tell you that it is possible to survive ten days of tree planting and camping, in exactly one pair of jeans and one t-shirt, we won’t mention socks and undies. Just saying… it can be done, but you may not want to sit next to that person on the way home afterwards.

se7en - 040715 - 4752.jpg

Insert a Week of Treemendous Fun

se7en - 100715 - 0627.jpg

Livingstone – Bullawayo

After a week of the best fun ever I had to wake up on my day of departure at 04:45… I will not mention what time we got to bed the previous night on account of the Earth Fest Event… but I was very glad that I would have a bus trip to recover on… and on… and on. I didn’t take the same route home, I love that. I am a firm believer in seeing as much as I possibly can. My next bus trip was actually departing from over the border in Zimbabwe, yes, a number of countries meet at the magnificent Victoria Falls. So about a 45 minute drive from camp, with the heater on max, I cannot express how cold the nights are, took me to the border, and this time I was traveling a lot lighter. If I haven’t mentioned before, then now is the time… Zambia is the friendliest country I have ever been in. And when the cab driver saw that the border post wasn’t open yet he waited with me until everything was up and functioning. I am eternally grateful. Over the border took literally a moment. And another taxi, across the famous bridge… to the Zambian border, I was well pleased that I had hung on to a couple of Kwatcha (Zambian money), because I hadn’t taken that little ride into account… but in the pitch dark and loads of trucks all around, I wasn’t about to walk it. Needless to say passing the Victoria Falls in the dark of the night and just seeing this wall of white emerge and retreat is one of my best life “gasping” experiences ever.

se7en - 120715 - 4817.jpg

From the Zimbabwe border crossing to the Livingstone Hotel you will need another taxi ride… these are all 2km-ish rides and perfectly walkable in the day. The cab drivers here want US dollars, they will ask for 20 but the going rate is 10. It is perfectly acceptable to discuss a price before you get going. I can say that absolutely nothing was happening at the Livingstone Hotel at the break of dawn, not even coffee. But a bus arrived and a couple of travellers got on… followed by a spectacular drive through Northern Zimbabwe… a really beautiful part of the world and I would definitely head back there for more than a “visit-in-transit.”

se7en - 120715 - 4818.jpg

Bulawayo – Johannesburg

The bus arrived on the streets of Bulawayo at lunch time and in typical Zambian and Zimbabwean style a fruit cart provided lunch. I traveled beside an elderly gentlemen from Livingstone to Bulawayo… easy chatting, and it is quite good to have a friendly face that ensures you are back on the bus before they take off from a stop. Otherwise, every time the bus stopped in Zimbabwe seemed to be at a “Fried Chicken TakeAways!!!”

se7en - 120715 - 4822.jpg

I had bottled water and biscuits to keep me happy, I just couldn’t face fried chicken… and on through the really beautiful country side of Zimbabwe. I have no idea why, I never expected Zimbabwe to be so colourful and vibrant and beautiful. I sat next to a really nice guy from Bulawayo all the way to Gauteng, we chatted and dozed, and I was very glad to have someone who knew what was going on at the border with me. The bus stopped at about 5 in the afternoon for a last pit-stop before the border crossing, by then it is dark, the lights were out and the entire bus went to sleep… we needed too. The border crossing from Zimbabwe into South Africa was something to behold. We got there at eight in the evening and only passed through border control at about 01:30 in the morning. Let’s just say, these guys make Home Affairs look helpful. It was absolute chaos, thousands of people literally mobbing the counters with their passports and I made full use of my grey hair, and “elderly status” to clear a path to the counter. There are so many folk passing through the border that they literally don’t even have a chance to glance at passports before stamping them. Then you wait out in the freezing cold for your luggage to pass through the one and only screen. No wonder it takes hours. Back on the bus and we were off… well except for a burst tyre things were uneventful before arriving in Johannesburg in the morning traffic.

se7en - 130715 - 4829.jpg

Johannesburg – Cape Town

I had a couple of hours in Johannesburg. I was feeling particularly grubby after more than a day on the bus already, not to mention wearing the same pair of jeans the entire week I was in Zambia… because ahem, no luggage. I thought I would freshen up in the bathroom before meeting my marvellous friend Marcia, in the station. Let me just say one of the worst bathroom experiences I have ever experienced. EVER. Filthy dirty, I get no loo paper, I kind of expect that… but doors on the cubicles would be nice. Actually, I am just going to say grim. And if you find yourself needing a bathroom at Johannesburg station… go elsewhere. Even smelly as I was, it was so good to meet up with a friend, oh my, I was now in the home straight, and longing for home…

se7en - 130715 - 4832.jpg

I am guessing that only in Johannesberg can a taxi that looks like this drive past you, while you are on a bus. Seriously. Otherwise the view from the bus was pretty much rooftops… I have to say that this was the only part of the journey that I didn’t feel particularly safe… in fact I slept on top of my bag, because I didn’t think it would be there when I woke up otherwise. The truth is you can’t always be surrounded by well wishing travellers.

se7en - 130715 - 4833.jpg

Until we hit the endless open road of the Free State.

se7en - 130715 - 4835.jpg

And another glorious African sunset.

se7en - 130715 - 4845.jpg

The Question Is, Can You Travel Through Southern Africa by Bus?

The answer is a galactic yes, it was fun, it was leisurely, I got to see so much more than I would ever have seen on a plane. I also got to meet some really lovely folk from all over Southern Africa and I loved that. I did lose my luggage and it doesn’t look like the bus company will do anything about it… other than tell me I should have a police report. That’s a whole ‘nother story, but I did spend my last morning in Zambia trying to get a police report. The fact is you can have your luggage stolen on any form of transport. If I was traveling by plane, then the automatic travel insurance would have covered me when I bought the ticket, I didn’t by the bus ticket myself and it appears that bus companies don’t have the same policy. So no camera charger, no sleeping bag, not to mention my ZANA bag that I won last year. Lesson learnt, I will never travel with more than hand luggage again. But I would definitely travel by bus again, in fact I would definitely take all my kids and their hand luggage, on a bus trip across Southern Africa. Fact is, this confirmed my belief that one doesn’t actually need a car. If you are keen to go on a great African Safari… just hop on a bus and enjoy the ride!!!

se7en - 130715 - 4831.jpg

14 Replies to “A Trip to Zambia: Can You Travel Southern Africa by Bus?”

  1. oh my goodness, what an adventure!!! It was so good to see you – I felt like I was on The Amazing Race, running to the station from the Gautrain and back again… ALL WORTH IT TO SEE YOU!!!

  2. Oh Marcia, It was so good to spend time with you and a friendly face… just one little bus trip makes you so aware of just how hard those races are. I hope you have a good week sounds like you have been running about like a mad thing for weeks already!!!

  3. What a journey! But what you write about seeing more, meeting more people I completely get – this is one of the reasons I’m so passionate about walking and cycling for my family (though obviously neither was an option here!!)

  4. Yes Zoe, isn’t that the truth… it is all about the people you meet and what an amazing collection of people I met while I was there… Have a fabulous weekend!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *