Saturday, February 16, 2013

Bad roads and border crossings

Namibia - Border crossing at Katima Mulilo

Our plan was to head out after an early breakfast so we could hit the border crossing early.  Unfortunately, the rear door on Oswald wouldn't open due to some corrosion in the lock and it wasn't until a very small member of the Waterberry staff was able to climb through a window that we were able to get underway.  The first leg to the border was a little over 200 kilometers (120 miles) and we had been warned that the road "deteriorated" a bit as you got closer to the border.

It is often said that the concept of maintenance is foreign to most Africans -- it has to be taught.  The roads in Africa range from excellent (comparable to what we have here in the States) to virtually non-existent.  Some countries, like the Congo, had well established networks of roads under colonial rule but since independence, the roads have virtually disappeared and look like this:

The first 50 miles of pavement from Livingstone were in generally good shape and we made great time. But we started to encounter potholes, actually more like ditches, that would span the entire width of the road.  Some were 8-10 feet wide, 2-3 feet across and often a yard deep.  Traffic would simply drive into the bush to avoid them.  Since they were randomly spaced, we were constantly trying to anticipate them and I got pretty good at seeing the alternate routes previous vehicles had taken well in advance.  We also started seeing the carcasses of what used to be automobiles, completely stripped of usable material and laying by the road.

There were people and animals everywhere walking along the road, in the road and across the road.  One cardinal rule in Africa is never drive after dark and I can only imagine what that must be like.

Border crossings in Africa can truly be a "Hey, it's Africa" experience.  I have read accounts of people planning an entire day just to navigate their way across one border, dealing with the paperwork, bureaucracy and random fees and taxes that are assessed.  Oswald was registered in the United Kingdom and as such, was required to have a Carnet de Passages to transit across the border.  A Carnet is essentially a document that allows for the temporary importation of a vehicle, and looks much like a very large coupon book.  We had been advised that the folks who had used Oswald prior to us had not gotten the Carnet stamped correctly so we really did not know what to expect.

When we arrived at the Zambia border checkpoint, we were ushered into a small and very hot office and told to wait.  Eventually, a gentlemen arrived and I explained the situation about the Carnet.  Surprisingly, he didn't think it was a problem, stamped our passports and the Carnet and directed us across the border.  100 yards later, we had to repeat the process in Namibia.  You visit immigration first, then customs, you pay a Carbon tax and have the Carnet stamped.  You then drive about 10 yards, park your car, and enter a small guard shack where you are directed to a huge ledger book.  The book reminded me of something you would probably have seen in Elizabethan England.  In that book are pages and pages of hand written entries dating back who knows how long that included all kinds of required information -- vehicle number, engine number, etc.  It would have been fascinating reading had we had the time.   Total elapsed time was about 2 hours, amazing by African standards.

We were now in Namibia and the roads improved instantly.  There aren't a lot of paved roads there but what they have are maintained.  After stopping for gas and groceries, we headed to our first campsite in the Bwabwata National Park located in the Caprivi Strip, a narrow strip of land bordered by Angola, Botswana and Zambia.  Nambwa Camp was developed by local communities in partnership with the National Park.  The drive in was quite muddy but well worth it as there are only 6 campsites and we had the place to ourselves.

We also started seeing animals.


Large herds of Springboks

And of course, another amazing sunset.

No comments:

Post a Comment