The Long Road South

Long bus trips are part and parcel with travel, but we were looking forward to the “freedoms” i.e. ability to stand up, and go to the restroom when you have to, that train travel offered. With this in mind we boarded our bus in Kigali, bound for Dodoma, the sleepy capital of Tanzania from where – supposedly – a train runs to Lusaka. So started a fairly tortuous journey towards South Africa, where a ‘no train situation’, border crossing issues, surprisingly good coffee, and a chance to catch up with friends coalesced to an interesting journey southward.

Checking out the only “sight” in Dodoma


Departing Rwanda as the sun rose, illuminating the mist that hugged the hills, was a serene and smooth exit from a beautiful country. Entering Tanzania on the other hand, revealed, if nothing else, we had taken for granted the immaculate road conditions at hand, as we bumped our way from the border inland. We were heading to the capital, Dodoma, by way, it seemed, of every village and hut along the way. The scenery was in stark contrast to Rwanda’s green hills as dry dusty flat farmland stretched out in every direction, in the month before the rains arrived for the parched landscape.


IMG_20190324_111809After arriving in Dodoma only 5 hours late, and a 22 hours journey, we slept in the bus in the curiously located bus stand, some 15km away from the city, which might seem understandable in a thriving metropolis that is starved of space. Dodoma however is the antithesis of this, a sleepy low rise place with dusty streets (and a seemingly perfectly located closed bus stop in the centre of town) and very little going on. This was fine, our plan was to come here and catch the next train to Lusaka, the capital of neighboring Zambia. The only problem was, this particular train line doesn’t actually join to one that goes south, as we had been led to believe. We spent that day and the next arranging a bus ticket south to Mbeya, where we could apparently get the train. As we wandered the busy market area and surrounds, the locals looked bemused at our presence. In the end, despite being deprived of any sights – or anything really bar street food – to do, it was a nice place to chill.
IMG_20190325_112313Heading south, we arrived in Mbeya, a fairly glib looking town after a spot of rain it must be said, although it did have some very good coffee. Unfortunately, as nobody at the Dodoma train station had been able to tell us about the trains to Lusaka we arrived in Mbeya only to find that the next one wasn’t for 4 days, and we were not going to wait it out here for 4 days. While the people were friendly, there wasn’t a lot to it, and the people couldn’t quite overcome its post-apocalyptic charms. With slightly gritted teeth, it was another bus, and a total travel time of 30 hours from when we left our accommodation in Mbeya to when we arrived in Lusaka.


IMG_20190325_120119After taking a little local bus, we got dropped in the border town, and a short walk to the border post, and we were stamped out of Tanzania, how easy was that? Well…


Welcome to Zambia

Mark had been trying to use his British passport to get around the extortionate visa for his NZ passport to South Africa. Unfortunately, this isn’t easy at land crossings in Africa, but seemingly the lovely customs guys didn’t question it and went ahead writing the visa out for the UK passport. When he came to stamp the passport however, a concerned look grew on his face, talking with superiors before hauling us into the office, where we begged for them to just put a teeny weeny little stamp on it. With them saying we weren’t going to be let in to Zambia, Mark could be a spy, and BREXIT might change everything, although one assumes Zambian passport rules are pretty far from Downing Street’s agenda at the moment (unfortunately there were far too many officers present to bribe them all with our dwindling USD stash). Oddly enough, 2 hours later they flouted their own rule that apparently the visa written for the British one wasn’t valid for the NZ, and let him in on the NZ one, it was confusing to everyone, presumably just to get us cheapskates out of their office. But the clusterf8*&ery didn’t end there, as upon exiting customs we were pounced on by seemingly every man in Nakonde, the Zambian border town.

Your chariot awaits

Being ‘helped’ to the bus stop by roughly 15 guys offering services from money changing and bus tickets, phone cards to, rather strangely commercial freight import services, didn’t endear Zambians to us right away. Nothing was simple, even the money changer didn’t actually change money, with people grabbing money out of our hands to ‘help’ us pay for snacks for on the bus. We were looking forward to just getting our seats on one of the so called luxury Zambian buses. It was a complete circus, the isles were completely full of sacks of any number of foodstuffs, slabs of soft drinks, and auto parts, it was perhaps most surprising it wasn’t loaded with humans. Despite this and a short delay due to a container that had “slipped” (see, not secured at all) off a truck in front us, the journey wasn’t punishing as it could have been given the 1300km we had to cover. It was great to get to spend time in Lusaka with family friends of Mark, spending time with the kids in the pool and having some amazing home cooked meals, courtesy of our wonderful hosts, it really did feel like a small pit stop at home for a couple of days. (Thank you, again!)

If at first you don’t secure your load, it will fall off, block traffic, and you can crane it half back on and try again

In light of the drama surrounding Mark and his passport issues, we decided to defer heading through Zimbabwe at the risk of being turned back at the South African frontier, and instead fly from Lusaka to Johannesburg. Not ones to do anything the easy way however, we opted for our flight to leave at 2am, and rather than go straight to Jo’burg, to bounce through Nairobi, just for fun. 9 hours later though, we had arrived in South Africa, a little tired and pensive, thinking we might not get our rental car due to debit card issues, but in the end, as it tends to with travelling, all has worked out.

We hope you’ll join us for our trip through the rainbow nation, where our first port of call is the fabulous Kruger Nation Park! Until then..

..@catchustravelling in South Africa on Instagram


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