Thursday, July 24, 2008
This week I embarked on a journey to Chipata, Zambia. Chipata is located very close to the Malawian border in the Eastern Province. There are about 300,000 thousand people and about 5 paved roads. Unlike Lusaka, Chipata is in a narrow valley between mountain ranges. The economy is agriculturally driven although there is a bicycle factory there. I have never seen more bikes on the road than in Chipata. There are more bikes than cars. But not like the fancy Mountain or Road bikes our weekend warriors ride, these bikes are about as old and broken down as you can imagine. Some bikes didn't even have tires (just the rims). There were no Taxis in Chipata only bikes equipped with a board extending over the top of the back wheel where a passenger would sit side-saddle. I can only imagine what commuting is like here during the rainy season. My flight from Lusaka to Chipata took about an hour. The airport in Chipata was just a step up from a crop dusting airstrip. There was no security and no baggage claim. They just unloaded the plane on the runway and you grabbed your bag from the opening in the back of the plane. As I was looking around at the scenery I noticed the other ten passengers began walking down a red dirt two track road. So, bag in hand, I followed. After a short walk through the bush, we came to a small clearing about 500 yards from the airport building. I soon discovered this was the parking lot and my transport was waiting. We then made our way to a local lodge (there are no hotels in Chipata). The lodge turned out to be someone's home. But, it had a bed, a bath and a TV so I figured it was not too bad. I unloaded my suitcase and got ready for some afternoon appointments I had with the local police and magistrates. I returned to the lodge about 3:45 p.m. tired and just really wanting to watch a little tv and relax. I went into my room turned on the tv and quickly realized it didn't work. Upon further inspection, I found out nothing worked. No electricity. I thought, no big deal, power outages are quite common in Africa. By nine p.m. that evening there was still no power. The power did not return until shortly before I finished up my candle lit homecooked meal. I quickly excused myself from the dining room and headed for the solace of my room. I turned on the tv and waited impatiently to see what entertainment awaited me. As it slowly came into focus, I could see that the station was ZNBC (Zambian National Broadcasting Company). ZNBC has some of the worst TV imaginable and is usually broadcast in tribal languages. So not only is the programming bad, but you can't even understand what anyone is saying! I quickly changed the channel only to realize there were no other channels. ZNBC was it. My five hours of tv anticipation was shot in one press of the remote button. Oh well, at least I brought my Sudoku book and IPOD. So I got ready for bed, snuggled under the mosquito net and began working my Sudoku. Just as I was finishing my first puzzle, the power went off again. When I woke up the next morning, there was still no power and it did not restore before I had to leave for that day's appointments. The next day was more of the same. Came back to the lodge, power out. Eat dinner by candlelight, power would come back on. Get in bed, power out. Wake up the next morning, power out. The flight home was uneventful. I can say that I departed Chipata with a higher appreciation for my temporary digs in Lusaka. However, I'm going to go out on a limb and not recommend Chipata as a travel destination for those of you so inclined. Call me bias, but that is just the conclusion I've come to.