October 16, 2007

Leg Three: The Luangwa Road

The Bradt Guide, the generally crap but singular guidebook devoted entirely to Zambia, described the road from Chipata to South Luangwa Park as more of a goat path than a vehicular thoroughfare.

Since the author of the book just happens to be a safari tour operator, he’s happy to exaggerate the dangers of independent budget traveling to shill for one of his company’s overpriced all-inclusive vacations. With decidedly low-clearance Toyota Corollas in Chipata claiming to make the trip in the standard three hours, all the talk of fording rivers and German tourists dying of thirst turned out to be more hyperbole.

Waking up at an unholy hour on Thursday morning, I immediately regretted my decision to gallivant around town to all hours with my co-workers the night before. I packed it in ‘early’ after having a drink spilled on my crotch at 2:30am, while Binion et al drank straight whiskey and stayed out until 5:00am.

My roommates from Lusaka had arranged for us to go up to Luangwa with an English guy who they randomly met at a campsite. It was amazing as Alan, the affable gardener from Winchester, just happened to be going everywhere we were, even all the way back to Lusaka when it was all over. The five of us would spend the better part of 24 hours crammed into his truck over the next five days.

True to Bradt’s fear mongering, the most dangerous thing about the gravelly road wasn’t the potholes or wash-outs, but the bossy South African convoys that overtake you in an epic cloud of dust, stop up ahead and take photos with the damaged black Africans, let you pass them, then repeat the process all over again. Hey, breu!

But far worse than dustin’ up the other drivers on the road, it was obvious that travelers like them were having a deleterious effect on the locals that lived in the quaint, if materially poor, round-hut villages dotting the landscape. As (usually) well-heeled tourists are the main travellers that ply the road, drive-by handouts have left their footprints on the mentality of entrenched poverty.

Stopping for a pee in a seemingly deserted stretch, they pop up out of nowhere looking for the ubiquitous ‘sweets’. Slowing to pass through the one village, the small children line up shoulder to shoulder, begging hand extended, and began fake-crying on cue. Through the wailing, whatever they were asking for was obscured into the morass of one imperceptible wretch.

Unsurprisingly, how to spend your safari money so that it actually gets recycled back into the local economy – instead of going to the foreign owners of the lodges and tour companys – isn’t covered in the guidebook either.


Scott said...

Does Lonely Planet not have a Zambia guidebook? Or is that company too commercial for your tastes?

B. Scott Currie said...

Naw, just a horribly generic 'Southern Africa' one that covers something like 12 countries in 500 pages. The Bradt guide is extensive (over 600 pages) but just needs updating and a better author