Something that is normal to hear if you go hitchhiking in Zambia:
“Run away to the Congo with me! I can hide you in the cargo!” -Texan the Zimbabwean truck driver
Lol can you imagine? Sorry, mom, but can you rescue me? I got into trouble while sneaking into the DRC…
Though tempting, I obviously didn’t go only because I didn’t have a Yellow Fever Vaccination…
I decided to try to write some sort of a post about hitchhiking in Zambia.
I hitchhiked all around the country (and in Mozambique, Lesotho, Botswana, and Namibia), and had a grand old time. Sometimes I hitchhiked with a buddy, but I primarily did it alone.
Also, hitchhiking is very dangerous. I am not writing this post to try and force you to go hitchhiking in Zambia, and I am not writing it to solicit opinions about me hitchhiking. I am just writing this because I sometimes like hitchhiking and maybe it will make you smile or maybe it will appeal to other curious hitchhikers. So don’t go and blame me for anything.
Do whatever you want at your own risk.
So here’s a little story I decided to write up about hitchhiking in Zambia:
Safety and trucks
I primarily solicited rides from big cargo trucks. They move more slowly, but you are high up and can see all around the spectacular countryside.
The truck drivers are also working, and so they don’t need to pay for their gas. They do appreciate tips though and I was happy to give them a little money to thank them for driving me around.
Be sure to check out my fabulous Zambia page for all my posts about Zambia
Most of the truck drivers told me that they are afraid of hitchhikers in Zambia because there have been a few instances where some hitchhikers murdered some truck drivers.
Apparently my unshowered, goofy self did not seem threatening to them…
They told me there were no instances of truck drivers murdering hitchhikers. “We are working why would we put our job in jeopardy?” Fair enough, but obviously I wasn’t going to really let me guard down.
But I generally prefer truck drivers to private cars when I hitchhike alone.
Finding a ride at the border
Borders are some of the best places to hitchhike. In Southern Africa, there will always be a long line of trucks and cars waiting to pass through.
You can just talk to the drivers on your way and ask where they are going and if you can go with them, you can also use this time to root out creeps and weirdos.
That’s how I met Texan the truck driver. He was a Shona-speaking Zimbabwean man, and so I am pretty sure his name wasn’t actually “Texan” but probably something less, well, patriotic American.
He was a grandpa type just hanging out in line in his semi truck. When I asked him if he was going to Lusaka and if he could take me he smiled and give me a big smile and a high five. He was on his way to the DRC/ Zambia border for the copper mines. He had some crazy stories!
Now I messed up already. He wasn’t at the front of the truck line and so I had to wait almost an hour for him to pass through.
This is on top of the fact that I already waited way too long to get going during the day. If you find yourself waiting, go sit with the other guys hanging out because apparently the baboons at the border station are really aggressive.
I learned my lesson…if I am hitchhiking anywhere now I get started at the crack of dawn.
I have never had a time in my life when I so enthusiastically and regularly woke up at 5am! But unfortunately this happened after my hitching experience that day.
I am eternally grateful for my time taking the trains around Zimbabwe and making Shona-speaking friends. The tiny bit of Shona that I learned to speak always made me fast friends, especially since Zimbabweans live and work in countries all over the region (since their own country is in an economic crisis).
Why did I hitchhike?
Well, part of it is rooted in my absolute hatred of taking taxis. In a truck I could skip Livingstone and just get going to Lusaka. Also, I missed the day when the train ran between Livingstone and Lusaka. I would have taken the train in a heartbeat but I couldn’t wait around.
I was going to backtrack through Livingstone in the next few weeks so I didn’t need to see it then.
We drove by ant hills that were the size of houses. These truck drivers know everything about the landscape because they drive the routes so often.
The day went on uneventfully, except for when it was late afternoon already and, according to my Google maps, we were still quite far from Lusaka.
Trucks have slower speed limits than regular cars on the roads and they stick to them. By 5pm, Texan told me he was going to stop soon.
He was carrying cargo that was deemed “potentially hazardous” and was not allowed to drive the truck after 6pm.
The sun was big and burning red in the horizon. Usually this was a magnificent sight, but that evening it was horrifying.
I’m stuck in a truck and it’s about to be nighttime so that basically breaks about every rule of hitchhiking and traveling alone as a girl at the same time (don’t do stuff alone after dark).
So yes, you can now shake your head and say wow that girl is an idiot!
Texan was more than happy to offer to let me sleep in his truck. He said he would sleep in his friend’s truck. HELL NO.
In hindsight, we did pass a few guesthouses in the towns next to the road. I could have easily stayed there and gone the rest of the way in the morning.
As he was explaining the situation to me, we passed a little restaurant/ rest stop on the side of the road in the absolute middle of nowhere.
Sitting in the parking lot was a big, modern bus named with “Shalom” painted on the side. Texan stopped the truck for me to go and ask if they were going to Lusaka.
No, they weren’t. UGH.
BUT! The bus going to Lusaka would be there in 15 minutes. My sorry ass was saved.
I said bye to Texan and give him ten dollars, which in hindsight was a very generous tip. I don’t care I had fun with the guy.
Then I had to deal with all the drunks waiting around at the bus stop. I know that there are a lot of problems in Zambia and so I don’t want to just complain, but there always seemed to be a group of drunk young men waiting to bug me around every corner!
Thankfully, while hitchhiking in Zambia, I didn’t run into any drunk drivers. Though drunk driving is a problem there, especially at night.
Arriving in Lusaka
Texan’s tip plus the bus plus the taxi upon arrival in Lusaka meant that I ended up spending way more money than what the trip would have cost if I had just taken the dumb taxi into Livingstone and taken the bus. Womp Womp. My fault.
I still had fun hanging out with Texan and learning about his life.
I made it to Lusaka late in the night and took a taxi to my host’s home. I’m not a spiritual person but either I got extremely lucky or someone or something was looking out for my idiotic sorry ass.
I learned my lesson. 🙂 Well, I didn’t stop hitchhiking in Zambia, but I just was always sure to get started a lot earlier!
Also, I stayed with a host for one night in Lusaka, but for the rest of the time I stayed at Lusaka Backpackers and loved it!