Day 302: Back In Time

Tue. 11th June 2013

Though the line was actually said in Ujiji, TanzaniaWe have a mission today and we are a bit more worried about it than we thought we would be. We need to buy a pair of sleeping bags as our Acacia trip that will take us up to Dar Es Salaam is starting on Friday and we’re camping. Nights are distinctly chilly here (it is winter) so if we don’t want to be cold we need to succeed. We could have bought them in Victoria Falls but were advised that they would be cheaper and we’d have more selection in Livingstone. However, now we have got here we’re struggling. We’ve pinned our hopes on the big supermarket in the Fallspark shopping centre just outside of town.

A call to our new best friend, Annex the taxi driver, books our lift and we head off into town. On the way there we start chatting to him and tell him of our mission and our hopes for the big supermarket (that we were told about in the tourist office yesterday). He has good news and bad news for us. The bad news is that the big supermarket closed and relocated to a smaller building in town (that we discovered yesterday doesn’t sell sleeping bags). The good news is that he thinks that there is a shop in the centre that will sell them. And we are in luck. Although we have paid more than we would have done in the UK for poorer sleeping bags we do now have a fighting chance of keeping out the cold during our nights in a tent.

But in what way?Our (well, my) second priority is, of course, coffee. In most places we have been there are always coffee shops in shopping centres. Hah! Not only are there no coffee shops, other than our sleeping bag shop there is precious little in the shopping centre. It is not only the supermarket that has upped sticks. As we walk back along the road into town – some of us have a mountain to climb in a few weeks – there are a few restaurants but even these seem either to be shut or, when asked about coffee, respond with “not yet”. They don’t take their coffee sufficiently seriously here!

Doesn't matter that it got flattened, paint it anyway!There are a couple of museums in town and we have earmarked today as our day to go and visit them.  Having so enjoyed the Railway Museum in Bulawayo we are looking forward to visiting its counterpart in Livingstone. The contrast between the two museums couldn’t have been starker – in Bulawayo we were charged $1 which we thought to be so little we made a donation and bought some postcards; here we were charged $15 which we thought was more than enough. In Bulawayo the museum was packed with memorabilia and a curator who just wanted to show it all off. Here there were just a few engines on display. It was nearly as depressing as the Train Cemetery back in Uyuni (see here).

Nicely painted - but sadly never going to work againThere were a few display boards up but they really didn’t communicate the history of the railway. Indeed, we learned more from the Bridge Museum in no-mans land on the Victoria Falls bridge. The museum advertised itself with the tagline ‘Step back to 1874’ but we could find no mention of what happened in 1874 – the bridge, and hence the railway line down to Cape Town, did not open until 1905. Instead, the engines here were all freshly painted but otherwise have had no attempt made at maintenance. This was just a graveyard not a museum.

Looks like Gordon the Blue Engine!The other museum in the centre of town covers both Livingstone the person as well as the town itself. It was good to see the man being celebrated and to find a Brit whose reputation seems to have stood the test of time. The history lesson that is our trip continued and we learned more about his travels in Africa and his work as a missionary and as an anti-slavery campaigner (although slavery had been abolished in the UK, Arab slave traders were still active in Africa). It staggered us to think about how he travelled so far in Africa – not just with no Internet but with no mechanical transport and no modern medicines or anti-malarial drugs. There was also a display of his personal effects including a number of letters written in his own handwriting all in pull out sandwiches of glass for easy reading.

Inside the Livingstone museumThe museum also covered the history of Zambia from pre-historic times. I was surprised to find that they had some skulls of pre-human hominids on display. The displays talked about the migration of tribes around Africa and into what is now Zambia and then moving on through colonial times and to independence. As ever, it is fascinating to learn more about things that happened in my lifetime (such as Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence) and to learn about them from a different perspective than we were taught in school.

Our "luxury" accommodationHeads spinning, we decide that is enough for one day and head back to our (non) luxury “executive” lodge. Our final mission for the day is to eat out after the leathery steak that we had last night here at the lodge. That means another call to Annex and another taxi ride back into town (its only $5 per trip but it does mount up and does need to be added to the cost of the accommodation). Driving through town we notice that the street lights and traffic lights are out and sure enough, when we get to the restaurant there is no electricity and the waiters are putting candles on the tables. Fortunately, they use gas for cooking and so we were able to have our fish and chips but this does sum up our experience of Africa – nothing is quite as straightforward as it would be at home.

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