The first thing that struck us on the taxi ride from the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport to the city was how green everything around us looked. To eyes that were accustomed to desert and semi-desert surroundings for the past few weeks, the sight of swathes of fresh green grass and tall deciduous trees with big broad leaves all along the road was both refreshing and welcome.
The capital of Zambia is not a very large city. The main street in the center of city, Cairo road, is bookended with the North End roundabout and the South End roundabout and is lined with shops, cafes, banks, change bureaus and supermarkets. Some distance away is the area where all the embassies are clustered. With few notable buildings, monuments or sights that one would be compelled to visit, the city proved to be a perfect place to enjoy some much needed downtime after the unexpectedly harrowing sequence of events on our way from The Gambia to Zambia.
When we were not catching up on sleep, we strolled down Cairo avenue soaking in the ambiance of this distinctly African but modern city. The Africa Cup of Nations 2013 (soccer) was underway and there was major excitement in the streets for hours prior to the playoff game against Nigeria that was scheduled for later in the evening. Chipolopolo supporters, and everybody around seemed to be one, donned green jerseys and waved tiny flags. The sound of vuvuzelas added to the overall racket created by enthusiastic youngsters. On a taxi ride from the bus station (where we had gone to buy onward tickets), the driver explained that Zambia had won the championship the previous year and had a young, cohesive team, so the prospects were good.
The backpacker hostel we stayed at had a fully stocked sports bar and restaurant and was a popular local hangout. That evening the regular menu was replaced by a special poolside BBQ to keep the soccer fans fed and happy as everyone watched the game on TV. The game had its exciting moments - loud cheers and groans emanated from the large crowd that had gathered. But the final result was a draw and both teams split a point each. It was wonderful to see how the entire population seemed to be behind their national team.
When we did manage to venture out of the hostel, we ate at the food court of a nearby mall, the first we had seen since leaving Spain. We tried to organize trips to South Luangwa National Park or alternately to Kafue National Park, premier wildlife viewing opportunities in Zambia, but drew a complete blank. Since it was rainy season, most of the lodges were closed. Just getting to the few that were open posed logistical difficulties. After checking at a few agencies and at our hostel, we gave up on the effort. We knew that we would have other opportunities in the countries we were eventually heading to, so did not want to stretch too much to make it happen.
The country was going through an interesting transition during our time here. Zambia launched its rebased currency on the 1st of January 2013. The new currency, which continues to be called the Kwacha, simply lost three zeros. New currency notes and coins (Ngwee) were brought into circulation and informative posters about the change were seen everywhere. The old currency will remain legal tender until June 2013 and prices everywhere are quoted in both new and old currency. Technically, the rebasing was intended to simplify transactions at a time when the currency is relatively stable. It was billed as "New money, same value". While prices of goods and services were expected to stay unchanged, there were complaints in the newspapers on how merchants were making money rounding off their initial prices to the nearest higher number. As for us, the transition just meant we had to put aside not one but two sets of currency notes into our souvenir currency collection!
Didn't you go for the game ?????? What an opportunity lost !!!
Reading your posts in sequence. Can't wait to hear of your adventures in Southern Africa. From , on Feb 26, 2013 at 09:22PM
@Ramesh - The ACN was actually being held in South Africa this year and I believe this particular game was being played in Nelspruit. So it was out of the question. From, on Feb 27, 2013 at 06:41PM