Zambia is not one of the most popular cycling destinations in the world, and with long stretches of monotonous bush, it isn’t too much of a surprise, really. Most of the country’s natural beauty (and from what we hear there is a good deal of it), is located in national parks far from the main roads and only accessible with a four-wheel-drive. We did hit up Victoria Falls, and can vouch for that park at least – it is truly spectacular.
The country is the size of France, Ireland, and the UK combined, with just 10 million people, and so villages can be few and far between, probably the greatest challenge to any cyclist. We entered the country in early May, and left at the end of June, the beginning of the winter there. By the time we left, the nights were becoming quite cold, and local talk of frost seemed credible – bundle up, and watch out for that wind!
Route: We entered Zambia from Tunduma in Tanzania, and then headed along the road to Isoka before cutting through the bush to Kasama. From Kasama, we followed the Great North Road to Mpika, Serenje, and Kapiri Mposhi (the only real towns with shops and restaurants along the way). The traffic grow as you get closer to Kapiri, and the winds were largely from the Southeast – a real pain heading out of Kasama, but something of a help as we neared Kapiri.
From Kapiri, we put our bikes on the bus for the last 200km into Lusaka – the prospect of fighting a vicious headwind along a road of bumper-to-bumper 18-wheeler traffic somehow didn’t interest us…
From Lusaka, it was back on the tarmac to Livingstone, a not-too-busy road in the process of getting a bit of a Chinese-sponsored face-lift. This section is a common ride for cyclists heading from Victoria Falls to Malawi, and we met our first other tourers in six months just outside Livingstone (party!).
From Livingstone we followed another good tarmac road with next to no traffic to the Namibian border at Sesheke. Our guide book had given us the impression this road would be rough dirt, but that is just typical Lonely Planet stupidity, the road is quite nice actually. There is a lot of excellent information on specific routes in Zambia on the ibike website: www.ibike.org.
Roads: All tarmac roads were quite good, and if you don’t have a ton of time to spare, they are really the only option. Secondary roads get sandy fast, tertiary roads are basically footpaths.
Dogs: No problems! No problems with any animals actually – poaching has taken such a toll in Zambia that to see anything wild, you have to pay to get into a national park.
Food: Restaurants are hard to come by in Zambia, so expect to carry food for three meals a day most of the time. When you do find a restaurant though, make sure you stop, because Zambians are actually quite good cooks! Chicken and Nshima was the staple, and the chicken was usually cooked to perfection and served with a good sauce; Nshima is like the Kenyan Ugali but much lighter and fluffier, a bit bland but still quite good.
Sleeping: Gone are all the cheap Tanzanian guest houses and plentiful Kenyan campgrounds. Most nights we slept in the bush, other nights we asked in villages, though the population of roosters far outnumbers that of people, so ’sleeping’ in villages is a relative term sometimes. Still, the Zambian people are so warm and welcoming that these were some of the best nights of the trip in fact. Along the road to Livingstone there were some campgrounds, sometimes quite nice actually; in Livingstone, Fawlty Towers had beautiful cheap camping with free internet, free coffee, and yes, a free pancake every day at 3 pm – who could ask for more?
Things shouted at us along the road: Not a whole heck of a lot actually since there weren’t a whole heck of a lot of people. When it was anything, it was just the standard “How are you?” which we have gotten so used to by now that we hardly even notice anymore