On the (Paved!) Road

Fresh PavementFueled by reports of paved roads, rather than leaving at “sparrow’s fart,” we had a regular hot breakfast at the sun-splashed community table at Chanters. While some guests choose to eat indoors with the BBC broadcast on the TV, we soak up all the sunny fresh air we can get – it’s been a long, foggy summer on the Monterey Bay.

We settle our bill, present two soccer balls and pumps for the lodge staff, and head out to the Great North Road, connecting Livingstone with Lusaka. We will divert long before reaching the capital, and won’t see pavement again for ten days.

The road is remarkably, amazingly, thankfully well-paved, with much of it so fresh that the lines have not been painted yet. We pass a number of work crews with hand tools – much of this road has been built with Zambian sweat. The only machinery we see are two pieces: one to spread the asphalt, and the other to smooth it out.

As we leave Livingstone, we notice more signs and trucks with Chinese names and Chinese characters. Each road crew seemed to have an Asian face. As we had read, the Chinese have a big presence in Africa, and Zambia is no exception. Hungry for raw materials, the Chinese are here for the continent’s mineral wealth. We note that the freshest part of this road connects Livingstone with a quarry with a Chinese name about 20 kilometers outside of town. Zambia’s greatest mineral wealth is copper, and if we traveled north to the Copperbelt district, we probably would see more Asian faces.

As we travel north, we realize that we are paralleling a gravel track. If we made this trip two years ago, that would have been our route, not this freshly paved highway. We save hours of rattling road, thanks to the Chinese.

The other observation is that the vast majority of Zambians travel by foot and bicycle. Even though we are following a two-lane highway, there are pedestrians: ladies walking with bundles balanced on their heads, wads of kids in school uniforms, single men just walking. And then there are the bicycles – many of them loaded with bundles of firewood, baskets of produce for market, and passengers: young women riding side-saddle on the back rack. Livestock on the road are a regular sight: mostly goats and cows. We pass several ox-drawn carts. Where are these people from and where are they going? From the road, we can’t always see the peaked thatched roofs, but there are plenty of unmarked dirt tracks turning off the highway – signs that there are many villages along the road.

A transit service does run along the road: blue minivans, often sporting a proverb or quote, are largely the other vehicles we see on the road. They are usually stuffed (literally) with people – the passenger to seat belt ratio is easily 2:1.

We pass through several villages that are located on the road, but we are watching for Kalomo: our fuel stop where we leave the pavement for the road to the Dumdumwenze gate into Kafue National Park. As we turn off, we are now 126 kilometers from Livingstone. Stopping at the ZOT station to top off our tanks, we won’t see another fuel stop for four days.

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