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Zambia to Botswana (& to South Africa) with the 1-armed driver from the Kazungula border

Ever been in a car with a one-armed man driving a manual? Nope? I wouldn’t recommend it. I had to be in South Africa in June to meet some friends but I was in Zambia and couldn’t afford to fly South. I was in quite a quandary in how to get there on the right date. Should I fly from Victoria Falls, Zambia to Johannesburg (too expensive), go through Zimbabwe overland (I would need another visa which I didn’t have) or go through Botswana (notoriously set up for wealthy tourists, and therefore expensive). I had heard a rumour that the visa for Botswana was free, so let’s go for it. And off we went to the dodgiest border crossing I have seen in a while.

Kazungula Border
Kazungula Border

Zambia/Botswana Border; Livingstone to Kazungula

I took a cab from Livingstone to Kazungula, the town bordering Botswana. From there my initial presumptions that this trip through Botswana would involve nothing more than a couple of buses through Francistown then Gaborone (the capital) in the south. Hopefully, from there I’d jump over the border and almost be in Johannesburg within a day or 2 from now. Perfect.

Things didn’t go according to plan. From the start I was confused. Upon reaching the border, I accidentally walked straight into Botswana, without getting my passport stamped out of Zambia. So the tone was set. Fortunately, though, I had inadvertently missed the hordes of Tswanas surging through the correct entrance but, predictably in Africa, the immigration officials didn’t bat an eyelid. He stamped me into Botswana without the exit stamp from Zambia anyway. 

He stamped the wrong passport though! The border guard who took the wrong passport. He looked at my 6 foot 2 English friend with black hair, then back to my passport photo, then at him again then nonchalantly shrugged and stamped him/me/us(?) through. The quirkiness continued when busting for the toilet, I realized I had no local currency to pay for the privilege. However, the toilet guard gives me a pass when he saw my friend’s guitar. The toilet duty guard to sing us a song on my friend’s guitar while everyone relieved ourselves.

“Welcome to Botswana, thanks for visiting my peaceful country full of joy” and so on and so forth until everyone was finished.

Kazungula Border
Kazungula Border

Zambia Botswana Border Crossing

Zambia/Zimbabwe/Botswana/Namibia border

Now stamped into Botswana, I had to get across the river into Botswana proper.  The border here is officially the ‘smallest international border in the world’ apparently. 4 countries separated by a very dodgy boat ride. Just 700ms of water separating 4 countries. Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia.

We managed to cross the river into Botswana finally. Where we were then told there were no buses going through Botswana after 8 am. Shit. It was now 9.30 am. We were stranded in Botswana. We got dropped off on the main highway hoping to hitchhike south through Botswana. We had no other choice.

The 1-armed taxi driver “here only for the whites”

We began to hitch-hike the 500km to the next destination Francistown. The search wasn’t looking fruitful. And crowds began to form around the 4 of us. Sitting on the dusty road with our thumbs out. No traffic to be seen.

An hour passed. We were thinking we may have to sleep on the side of the road until 8am tomorrow morning until a guy came charging up in his car. Music blaring. He flung open the door and the crowds around us sprinted to him. They too needed a lift south into Botswana.

As the Tswanans approached him for a lift he declared “No no no no, I am here only for the whites” and waved them away! Smiling, singing and laughing he marched over to us and said: “Welcome to Botswana!”. Instantly I noticed he only had 1 arm. I found out later that he had lost his right arm in a car crash a few years ago and now drove only with his left arm. He had demanded $300USD for the 500km ride south which was outrageous. Using his 1 arm as a bargaining tool we settled on $100, and our one-armed chauffeur was speeding down the dirt highway to Francistown.

Giraffe crossing the road in Botswana

One arm driving, on the phone

His driving wasn’t too bad. A little fast, and he spent quite a lot of time looking back and chatting, and not so much time looking at the road. But there wasn’t much traffic and we had managed to avoid the elephants and giraffes and boars and donkeys that insisted on crossing the road at the seemingly most inopportune times. 

We were driving a manual car. So with one arm, he had to switch between the gear stick and the steering wheel regularly. The road wasn’t flat so often he would have to hurriedly grab the steering wheel every time we began to veer off during a gear change.

Things got a bit hairier still when his mobile phone rang and HE ANSWERED IT with his left hand, going 120 km/h. So now he had no right arm, his left arm on the phone, and no arms on either the gear stick or steering wheel. Great. I asked him kindly to save the phone calls for when we reach our destination. He thought this was hilarious and carried on regardless.

After a few more occasions like these, we finally reached Francistown. We were dropped off at a campsite, pitched our tents, said goodbye to Daika our crazy driver. There was football on TV, so I was off to the bar to watch the football and do some work on my laptop. The life of a digital nomad.

Elephant crossing the road in Botswana
Literally crossed the road in front of us!

Hitching a ride to Gabarone with a professional footballer

The other guys watched outside on the big screen while I checked my emails inside alone.

In the bar, a group of people asked could they watch the football with me. Of course, I agreed. It transpired that one of the guys was the recently retired former Botswana football team captain, record caps holder with over 65 and national hero!

He had just come back from England last month where he was playing at Stamford Bridge and St James Park with John Terry and Alan Shearer. I spent the evening with these guys, they bought me booze, dinner. That evening his friend offered me a lift to the capital city 500km from here and I can stay with him and his family tonight. Tomorrow he will help me arrange my passage to Johannesburg. I hate to generalize but Tswanans do seem amazingly friendly, I really am falling in love with the continent of Africa!

Driving through Botswana
Driving through Botswana

My Route from Livingstone, Zambia to Johannesburg, South Africa, via Botswana!
Well, I made it. My schedule went like this:

DAY 1: Taxi from Livingstone to Kazungula. Cross the border. 1-armed driver to Francistown. Sleep in a campsite.

DAY 2: Hitched a ride with the footballer’s buddy, 500km south to Gabarone. Slept in the guy’s house. 

DAY 3: The guy took me to Gabarone bus station, and I took a 7-hour bus to Johannesburg for my 2 weeks in South Africa. Made it!

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0 thoughts on “Zambia to Botswana (& to South Africa) with the 1-armed driver from the Kazungula border

  1. That looks like a nice detour Johnny.. Cool pictures! Hope to get to Africa one day..

    1. Botswana is cool – just make sure u bring lots of cash!! Namibia, South Africa and Botswana seem to definitely be the most expensive countries in SubSaharan Africa. Although the infrastructure is much better in line with that too which is cool. Give me bumpy roads and cheap prices ahead of that every time tho 😛

  2. Johnny.. i’m sitting here beside your mother(proud as punch, she is..)showing me all your photos and commentry.. very good may i say and interesting.. she is mad jealous and I concur.. but my question is.. When are you going to stop roaming the world and settle down? I guess the answer is DON’T and NEVER…
    regards from Dreary old Norn Ireand

    1. hey Sean – i guess a day will come when i HAVE to settle down, but sitting here at the source of the nile in uganda nursing my bruises from white water rafting again – it seems a looooong way off! i know how lucky we are (i am) to have the opportunity to live a lifestyle like this and as long as its feasible then i plan to avail of it! I just hope my blog will inspire a few more people to follow suit and live the dream =)

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