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Travel in Africa

Traveling the Four Corners of Africa

Gill Staden, eTN  Apr 25, 2011

(eTN) - The Four Corners is a name which is often given to this part of the world because it is the only place where four countries meet at a point – Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia. They all meet in the middle of the Zambezi at Kazungula. I traveled through three of the four countries during the week.

I went over the border to Botswana at Kazungula, then through to Ngoma at the end of Chobe National Park Riverside. The following day, I went over to Namibia at the Ngoma border and then back to Livingstone via the Wenella border at Katima Mulilo.

My first comment is on the border at Kazungula. We should all be pleased to know that operations there have improved. There are signs up telling visitors what to do and where to go. And the border staff seemed more friendly than they were previously. So, well done for that. Comparing the Zambian Kazungula border with the others, though, it is clear that there is a lot more work to be done. I think the biggest concern has to be all the waifs, strays, and touts who patrol the border area – it is like a village.

If you go to any of the other borders, the only people you see are the uniformed staff and the people passing through. I am sure that the border officials at Kazungula will say that it is impossible to control all these excess people, because the border is so busy with trucks, loads of marketeers, and tourists. However, when you go onto the Botswana side, which obviously copes with the same amount of traffic, it is orderly, clean, and efficient.

For those who are interested, the ferry for my car (4x4) cost K56,000 (US$12); a normal saloon car costs K42,000 (US$9). For foreign registered cars, the charges are saloon: US$21, 4x4: US$28.

There is also a Council levy which is K20,000 for all vehicles – local or foreign - but as the Council staff rarely come out of the office, I would be surprised if they collect much. The lady in the office was busy munching on a loaf of bread, along with police officers, a guy in handcuffs, and a lady with her baby.

It took quite a while to get over the border, because it was busy; I think I caught the fourth ferry crossing.

The Pula (Botswana currency) I had taken with me to pay for the custom fees for the car was old notes so I didn’t have money to pay (they won’t accept foreign currency). I was sent into Kazungula to change some US money.

Fortunately, there are a lot of new buildings and shops at Kazungula now, and one of them was a bureau de change. I changed my money and trundled back to the border to pay. It was P240 (US$38), because I was going through to Ngoma and not coming back to Kazungula, otherwise it would have been P190 (US$30). I drove through to Ngoma, staying there overnight.

At about lunchtime the following day, I went down to the Ngoma border to Namibia - completely hassle-free until I went to start my car. It wouldn’t go. All the officers from the border post came out to see what the problem was. We all tried to get my car to start, but they were all as clueless as me, mechanically. Although, having said that, I do know my ancient car slightly better. I sat in the car and read a book for half and hour and tried to start it again... it started.

Then on to the Namibian border, over the bridge, which crosses the Chobe floodplain (the bridge in the header). In Namibi,a you have to pay Cross Border Charges for the vehicle, but they don’t do it at the Ngoma border – you pay in Katima Mulilo. So I just pottered through the border and took the 70 km tar road through the villages to Katima. Surprisingly, I came across two police roadblocks on the way (the police checked my driving license). So either the Namibians are taking a leaf out of Zambia and Zimbabwe’s books, or there is a problem there.

On arriving at Katima, I wanted to buy a hose pipe, and I needed some Namibian dollars. There are no bureaus in Katima, so I had to go to the bank. Currency controls there are extreme; my passport was photocopied, the cashier had to call the supervisor to approve the exchange, and then he generated three sheets of A4 paper, which he scribbled all over. Finally I was given my money. Thank goodness Zambia has moved on from all this paperwork. Can you imagine all the trees, which have to be cut down so that tourists can change a bit of spending money in Namibia?

I got my hosepipe and headed for office to pay my Cross Border Charge – Nam$240 (US$38) – and then to the Wenella border to Katima Mulilo in Zambia. Painless on the Namibian side. I went to the Zambian side. "Oh my goodness me," I said to myself, "I can’t find my Zambian Temporary Export Permit for the vehicle." I realized that I had left it the previous day at the Kazungula border. I thought of all the scenarios when I went to Customs:
"You can’t bring your car in to Zambia," "You will have to go back to the Kazungula border to get your TEP," "You will have to leave the car here and go and get a police report." The list of possible problems went on in my head. The last thing that I thought of was what actually happened. I went to Customs and told the officer my story and she said, "You can go." Another well done to Zambia.

While I was at the border, I checked on the Council levy. It is only applicable to foreign vehicles and is K30,000 (US$6).

I was a bit late and knew that I was going to travel part of the distance of 200 km to Livingstone in the dark. Very stupid, but it was because of reading my book at the Ngoma border and waiting for my cantankerous car to start. The first stretch of the road was horrid. The road is full of potholes. I hit one and knew that had I been in a less robust car, I would have ended up with bits falling off. Fortunately, I made it through pothole heaven and reached Kazungula where the road improved but dark descended. The taxis flew down the road from the Kazungula border. Zoom, zoom, zoom - one by one they overtook at high speed. Finally going through the National Park, the taxis were still flying, trucks, too. I thought of the animals in the park and hoped that they were safe because surely the drivers had no care for them.

I got to my house... to no electricity... power shedding... welcome home.

Traveling the Four Corners of Africa
Photo from Gill Staden

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