Photo of elephants in Botswana by Michael Bennett on Unsplash
How Google helped this traveller revisit a distant locale.
A glossy travel brochure from McGill arrived in the mail, titled Journey to Southern Africa. To entice alumni to sign up, the text is dotted with spectacular photos. Having enjoyed a similar McGill trip in 2008, its itinerary triggered memories – both glorious and heart-breaking. The scenery was phenomenal; seeing animals up close on game drives was awe-inspiring.
One especially heart-breaking experience comes to mind.
My Time in Southern Africa
After about a week in South Africa, we 36 tourists flew from Johannesburg to Livingstone, Zambia, to visit the spectacular Victoria Falls. The next day, our bus drove along a good two-lane highway to tour Chobe National Park in Botswana, where we expected to see elephants, zebras, and African buffalo.
As the road approached the Zambezi River, separating Zambia and Botswana, we suddenly came upon about 70 tractor trailers, parked on both sides of the road. Just parked with engines silent. Drivers cooking on hibachis meant departure was not imminent.
Photo of trucks in Zambia by Pat Butler
“What on earth is going on here?” someone asked our guide, as the driver inched along in the centre of the road.
“All these trucks are waiting to take a ferry across the narrow Zambezi River,” came the reply. “The four countries that meet here, Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Namibia, can’t agree on where a bridge should go, who should build it, and who should collect the tolls. The only way to cross is by ferry, which can only carry two trucks at a time. There are just two ferries.”
“How long do the drivers have to wait?”
“The wait can take up to two weeks! Refrigerated trucks with perishables go to the front of the line.”
What patience these folks need! I thought, What a terrible waste of time! How can African productivity ever improve with this bottleneck?
After disembarking from our bus, we found ourselves enveloped by a crowd of pedestrians clutching documents to take the ferry across to Botswana and waiting to be processed by immigration. Nothing was computerized, officials worked through mountains of paperwork at a snail’s pace, and throngs waited patiently to be processed.
Being a privileged white tourist was embarassing, so I avoided making eye contact with those waiting patiently. We just breezed through with our pre-completed documents and boarded our small private boat. During the 12-minute trip, we passed a ferry carrying one truck, two vans, and about 20 pedestrians.
Photo of 2008 ferry on Zambezi River by Pat Butler
Although the rest of that day was spent marveling at African animals in the wild, the frustration of every single truck driver, while waiting their turn, has stayed with me.
Does the Bottleneck Still Exist?
It’s now 2023. What’s going on there now? I wondered. The miracle of browsing on Google did not let me down. A map of Zambia led to the existence of the Kazungula Bridge...which led to photos of said bridge.
Photo of Kazungula Bridge from YouTube
How thrilling to read that those two rickety pontoon ferries have been replaced by this gorgeous piece of engineering! It took 6 years and $260 Million USD to construct the Kazungula Bridge, opened in May 2021. It is owned and operated by Zambia and Botswana. It was purposely designed to miss Namibia and Zimbabwe. I wonder how long those negotiations took? What an incredible accomplishment for all concerned.
There's on article on www.bigthink.com, "Why Africa’s newest super-bridge is in the continent’s weirdest border zone."
From this article, I quote:
- “The Kazungula Bridge has turned a cartographic near-miss into a geopolitical marvel.
- It’s where maps show the world’s only quadripoint, and the bridge is built across the world’s second-shortest border.
- The bridge has the potential to completely revamp Africa’s economy and transportation situation from Cape to Cairo.” (Bolding is mine.)
Magnificent. Sincere thanks to McGill Alumni Travel for jogging my memory.