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Kalongola pontoon


The road to Katima from the north
How to get there and getting around

Barotseland is generally accessed by the visitor either from the south via Namibia or Botswana or from the east along the road from Lusaka, to Barotseland/Western Province's chief town and provincial capital, Mongu. The usual mode of access is overland, either by car (best option a 4x4) or bus (buses operate from from Lusaka to Mongu regularly [see below], and from Livingstone to Mongu via Kazungula and Sesheke infrequently in the dry season). There are no metalled roads into Barotseland from Angola or from the north. The road from Livingstone to Sesheke has been completely rehabilitated and a new bridge over the Zambezi at Katima Mulilo opened in June 2004 replacing the pre-existing diesel-engined pontoon. Plans for a bridge at Kazungula, to replace the overworked pontoon connecting Botswana an Zambia are currently under review.

A new road is currently under construction from Mongu across the floodplain to Kalabo which, when completed, will bring to an end the isolation of the region close to the Angolan border. From Lusaka, the 615km road to Mongu is in reasonable repair though the stretch around Kafue Bridge is currently badly potholed. Elsewhere, the road is in fair condition though undulating at times. Care must be taken on the stetch through the Kafue National Park as animals do stray into the road, particularly before dawn and around dusk. There is a road (currently in poor condition) leading from the Lusaka-Mongu road about 5km after the Kaoma turn to Lukulu in the north of Barotseland. This is the only year-round route to Lukulu from both Lusaka and Mongu although it is possible in the dry season to access Lukulu directly from Mongu in a 4x4 by driving north across the Liuwa Plain.

The current options are explored in more detail:

From Lusaka
Buses of various companies depart Lusaka for Mongu from the relatively safe Inter-city bus station throughout the morning until around 13:00. Tickets currently cost around Kw 65,000 each way. The vehicles on this route vary in reliability. Journey time can vary between 6 and 10 hours. Breakdowns are a frequent problem but this is still the most reliable mode of transport into the heart of Barotseland, and, unless you have your own vehicle, the only one as mini-bus taxis do not ply the route beyond Mumbwa and there is no scheduled plane although Mongu does have an airport.

From the south
There are three obvious overland routes into Barotseland from the south. The first is through Zimbabwe from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls and over the bridge linking Zimbabwe to Zambia, then into Livingstone from a where a left turn onto Nakatindi Road takes the traveller to Kazungula, Mwandi and Sesheke. On crossing the Zambezi on a diesel powered pontoon or motorised canoe, a very poorly maintained unsurfaced north-south road is met, linking Katima Mulilo on the Zambia/Namibia border with Senanga and Mongu via another pontoon at Kalongola. For the foot passenger, a twice-weekly bus service operates between Livingstone and Mongu via Sesheke, Sioma and Senanga during the dry season (when the road across the Matabele Plain and between Kalongola and Senanga is not under water). A more frequent service operates from Livingstone as far as Sesheke and this is supplemented by mini-bus taxis along the same route. On foot, the best place to hitch a lift from Livingstone is on the Nakatindi Road when it reaches the outskirts of town, though the wait may be quite long. Trucks ply the route fairly frequently but they generally only go as far as Kazungula before taking the pontoon and heading south through Botswana.

From Botswana, a good tarmac road extends from Francistown to the pontoon terminal at Kazungula. A car journey from Gaborone takes a whole day and a pre-dawn departure from that departure point is recommended. The ferry operates from 06:00 until 18:00 but the wait can be quite long as heavy trucks and trailors use this route to avoid hassle in Zimbabwe. The ferry has the capacity to carry only one of these vehicles and maybe four or five smaller vehicles at a time. Long lines of trucks are often encountered at either terminus. If unable to get on the ferry before the evening cessation of sailings, there are good campsite and hotel facilities in nearby Kasane on the Botswana side. In 2001 the ferry charged 40 Botswanan Pulas (approx. 5/$8 at that time) for a light vehicle to cross. Charges are made in foreign currency (Pulas, Rands or Namibian dollars) for vehicles registered outside of Zambia. For Zambian registered vehicles, the charge is considerably less(Kw 6,000 in 2002).

An alterative route from Botswana is via the aforementioned road from Francistown but turning left just before arriving at the Kazungula ferry and driving west past Kasane and through the Chobe National Park to Ngoma Bridge, the border crossing with Namibia. This brings the traveller into Caprivi which once formed the southernmost portion of the old Lozi kingdom before the British Government gave what became known as the Caprivi Strip to Germany in 1890 as part of the Anglo-German Agreement (without explaining the implications to the Lozi king Lewanika whose son, Litia ruled over part of Caprivi at that time). At the time of writing the road into Caprivi is in excellent condition and connects directly with Katima Mulilo, the only town in Caprivi from where a road extends to the Zambian border where the aforementioned north-south road from Mongu,Senanga, Kalongola and Sioma ends.

From Namibia, a good tarred road north from Windhoek and Grootfontein turns east at Rundu and skirts the Namibia-Angola border crossing into Western Caprivi over a bridge spanning the Okavango River and later the Cuando (another name for the Chobe) before arriving at Katima Mulilo (which means fire extinguisher in Silozi). The road from Rundu to Katima Mulilo is tarred and in good condition for most of the way. The journey from Windhoek to Katima may take upwards of 15 hours.

The road north from Katima to the pontoon at Kalongola is in very bad condition and is really only a track with frequent corrugation that will shake every fibre of the body and deep sand which tests even the most hardy of 4-wheel drive vehicles. Long vehicles such as buses and lorries even with a high wheel base are liable to grounding. This route is impractical for journeys to Senanga and Mongu during the flood season, approximately January to May/June although it is usually possible to get to Kalabo district west of the Zambezi providing the section across the Matabele Plain is not under water and the bridge is usable, which it was not at the time of writing, resulting in the use of a ford which varies in water depth. There is an unmetalled road in poor condition which connects Matabele Bridge and Shangombo on the Angola border which is of particular relevance to the UNHCR refugee camp near the banks of th eZambezi at Nangweshi, just south of Matabele Bridge

For all practical purposes, the best route by road into the heart of Barotseland is the Lusaka-Mongu road. Thus travellers from the south are advised to travel first to Livingstone and then on to Lusaka before turning west. Drivers should be aware that there are frequent police roadblocks at which vehicle and driver documents are regularly inspected as are vehicles themselves for signs of unroadworthiness. Contraventions are usually punished with instant fines.

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