Two weeks ago, Rik and I drove to Lusaka in Zambia to pick up my mom and sister from the airport. The drive from Lilongwe to Lusaka was about 9 hours, and we also had to cross the border which would take us about 1,5 hours, so we decided in advance to cut the trip in two. We stayed at Luangwa Bridge, so the next morning we would have to drive only 3 hours to get to the airport.
It all started with getting up early. ‘Rik, come on, wake up. You really have to wake up now, because in 3,5 hours they will arrive at the airport, and it’s still a 3 hour drive!’ Needless to say, Rik isn’t really much of a morning person, but eventually he managed to open his eyes and get our of our van a little past 6 in the morning (oh yeah, we bought a minibus which we are converting into a small camper, but today I won’t go into much more detail regarding that). Because it didn’t seem like our breakfast was ready yet, we slowly started packing our stuff. When we were done there was still no sign of breakfast. However when we went to the other side of the building we found out that they had been waiting for us, before starting breakfast, because they didn’t think we were ready. Oops!
When we finished breakfast we quickly paid the bill and wanted to leave. When we got into the car and tried to start it, we suddenly lost power. What happened? We opened to hood to check out the batteries when suddenly the car started beeping again. Luckily the car did start this time (we later found out the the battery was almost dry and we had to refill a lot of battery acid). At this point we realised that the manager of the lodge – who had asked us earlier that morning for a ride down to Lusaka together with his wife – didn’t come back yet. After 10 minutes we figured out that he lived on the way to the main road and that he was waiting for us there.
We saw that the fuel level was getting quite low, so we asked him whether we could get petrol in the village. The answer was no, and yes. There was no gas station in the village, but we would be able to get petrol on the black market. The next gas station was only in 75 kilometers, so Rik got out of the car and started negotiating a price for fuel, but petrol here was much more expensive than at the fuel station. In the meantime I decided to text my mom, informing her that we were probably getting late: ‘Car didn’t start for a little while, we took the owner of the campsite and suddenly had to buy petrol on the black market, so we’re running late. We’re probably there half past 10. If you have your suitcases and visa within an hour, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for a bit. Sorry and see you soon! X’
In the meantime, the price per liter of petrol was getting higher every minute and we quickly calculated that we should be able to drive 75 more kilometers with the amount of fuel we still had left, so we left Luangwa bridge pinning our hopes on the upcoming gas station. We tried our best to drive economically, which was not an easy chore with the mountainous road which was filled with holes and speedbumps. Because of this, we drove a bit slower than we normally would, so I was glad I had texted my mom as we would never make it in time.
In the distance we could see the gas station – we had made it! – when we realised that something was off. An employee explained to us that there was not a drop of petrol left. The nearest gas station was only in Chongwe, another 120 kilometers further, but our gas tank warning light was already on for a little while. We had no other choice than driving a few kilometers further until we reached a small village, were we had to try our luck on the black market again. What a disappointment! Rik was also getting very irritated because they were selling petrol just a few kilometers from the gas station with a 30% surplus per liter, but they knew they could do it because there was no alternative nearby. We really had no choice and so we get 15 liters. That would certainly have to be enough to reach Chongwe (which is very close to Lusaka)
At 10:30 – an hour after my mom and sister should have landed – I texted my mom again:
‘ETA is now between 11:15 en 11:30. Navigating towards Avis, because Lusaka airport is not on Google Maps. Hope everything went alright.’
We could drive at our normal speed again, knowing that there are many petrol stations in Chongwe and Lusaka, but in the meantime we were severely delayed. I hoped my mom and sister had to wait quite a while for their visa and suitcases, but half an hour later my sister texted me: ‘Hi Mel, is everything alright? Where are you? We have been waiting for a while. We are in the parking lot. See you soon! X Romana’
Oh no, this meant my mom had never received those texts so they couldn’t know what was going on. Instantly I texted back that we were on our way an that we were almost there.
When we finally arrived at the airport it turned out their flight was a bit early, obtaining a visa went quick and without a hitch and so they had been waiting in the parking lot for almost 2 hours! I quickly put it into perspective and thought: oh well, we made it and we didn’t end up on the side of the road with an empty fuel tank. Then they would have had to wait a whole lot longer.
Welcome to Africa you two.