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…

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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.

Bike Touring Zambia
Taking off down a dirt road paralleling the Zambezi River.
Zambezi sunset
After arriving at a rustic lodge, we caught a glimpse of the afterglow of sunset on the river.
Zambezi River - Hippos
A pod of hippos gives us the evil eye before ducking out of sight.
Zambezi River
Amazing that folks have the balls to fish on these dugout canoes. Guys do get taken by crocs and battered hippos on a regular basis, though.
Zambezi River - Saddle Billed Stork
Saddle-billed Stork.
Zambezi River - Crocodile Zambezi River Zambezi River Zambezi River
A bird makes a quick exit as a hippo darts for the water.
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Weaver nests along the bank.
Zambezi River - Crocodile
A big one basks in the sun.
Zambezi River - African Fish Eagle
African fish eagle.
Zambezi River - Hippos Elephant at the Zambezi River
Elephant at the Zambezi River

Three male elephants put on a show that evening. They eventually start wrestling and playing in the water for about an hour. Here are a few other photos…
Elephant at the Zambezi River Elephant at the Zambezi River Elephant at the Zambezi River Zambezi River
Our boat driver for an afternoon trip down the river.
Zambezi Sunset
Another magical sunset…
Zambezi River

… and a pretty nice sunrise the next day as we wake up early to hit the road.
Zambia - Vegetable Market

A vegetable market on the road… best one yet. That night we made a massive stew.
Zambia vegetable market
Tomatoes galore.
Zambia portrait Zambia portrait Bike touring Zambia
Gin felt the rains down in Africa.
Zambia portrait
The children are a bit camera shy here.
Zambia portrait Bike touring Zambia
Our campsite in a village/bike parking area.
Zambia insect
A very strange insect I discovered hanging something to dry.
Bike touring Zambia
We spent a fair share of time at these bore hole wells that were installed across the country by various NGOs, including The Peace Corps.
Zambia portrait Bike touring Zambia
Our campsite in the bush on the edge of the Lower Zambezi National Park. We were secretly hoping to hear the roar of a lion or the crash of an elephant that night. No such luck… only dozens of bush baby eyes lighting up the trees as I rushed dinner to jump in the tent after dusk.
Bike touring Zambia - Surly ECR Bike touring Zambia - bananas
The best bananas I have ever eaten.
Zambia fish market
A fish market at the Luangwa bridge.
Zambia - South Luangwa Park Bike touring Zambia - bananas
More bananas please.
Zambia Monkey - South Luangwa Zambia - South Luangwa Park
Zebras in the South Luangwa National Park. We also got a glimpse of some very rare African wild dogs.
Zambia - South Luangwa Park
Zambia - South Luangwa Park
Zambia - South Luangwa Park

A baobab tree.
Zambia - South Luangwa Park
Luangwa River

A massive storm brewing over the river.
Zambia - South Luangwa Park

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