David Livingstone Memorial

The exact spot David Livingstone died. There used to be a hut here.

Reading this week:

  • Congo Journey by Redmond O’Hanlon
  • The Lost City of Z by David Grann
  • Vacationland by John Hodgman

So I went to the David Livingstone Memorial, which was a really amazing adventure as far as I am concerned and it was awesome. I woke up in Samfya after my hunt for the elusive Kongamato and boarded a bus heading south. This didn’t go so smooth at first because it was raining some and I managed to drop my bus ticket in a puddle, and then subsequently drop my wallet and glasses trying to get the bus ticket, and then the parking lot bus wrangler begged me for money (“cheap change” was his phrase) and there weren’t any yamayos selling fritters so I was hungry but eventually off we went.

With some help from the guy sitting in front of me, I managed to communicate that I wanted to get dropped off in Chalilo, which is a small village (really a stretch of shops) along the rode heading south from Samfya, and about 10km north of Kasanka National Park. I was worried because we were driving through some rain, but the bus was playing Drunken Master on their television which was a nice change from the gospel songs you usually get. I got dropped off in Chalilo eventually, bought a fritter and some bananas, and set off.

I was a little unsure of where to go at first because I was expecting a sign for the memorial, but there was none. There was a sign, however, for Chief Chitambo’s Palace, so I followed that. Eventually down that road there were signs for the monument so I knew I was going in the right direction. It is 26km from the roadside to the monument, and I was hoping that I would be able to hitch a ride with a car going my way. I quickly saw two vans going the opposite direction, which gave me hope there would be vehicular traffic, but alas, there was none. After walking for an hour, however, I got the bright idea to ask someone to rent their bike. So I walked into the next hut and spoke with the man there and we agreed on a price and off I went.

I should have been far more picky about the bike I chose. The one I got was really terrible. I didn’t realize how terrible until about 10-15km further on, when it broke. Since I was close (so I thought) to the memorial, I kept going on foot, after asking a dude to watch the bike for me. I think I walked for maybe two more hours. I got to the monument a little before 1400 after having set off at 0930 from the roadside.

The monument area is really well kept, and has a sign and a fence so it is easy to find. I wandered in and started looking around. The area has two markers. The first marks the actual spot Livingstone died. The second spot, where the large pyramid is erected, marks the spot where his heart and entrails were buried. To be able to carry his body back home, Livingstone’s porters removed his heart and guts and buried them under a tree before drying and salting his body. The original tree was cut down during a later expedition and is now in London, but the tree next to the monument is an offshoot of that original tree.

Also, in what I am sure is a comment on the current geopolitical landscape, on the site of the monument there’s a borehole sponsored by China Geo. I kinda wonder what Livingstone would think of that.

About the time I got to the pyramid the caretaker, Barbara, showed up. Barbara is a Zambian woman and is extremely friendly and has worked there since 2012 along with her assistant, Chabi. She collected my entry fee (8 ZMW) and had me sign the guestbook (I was the first guest in a week) and then we chit-chatted. I told her how I had gotten there (she hadn’t spotted a bike or car and was curious) and she was pretty astonished. She insisted on feeding me nshima and some local beer and that was pretty amazing. We talked about how she liked the job and about fish farming and it was all pretty awesome.

Since it was getting late in the day (1500), she tried to arrange a ride for me. The only car she knew of was broken, so instead she called over a dude with a bike. This was my only chance to get out of there, so I took it. I wound up riding most of the way back out sitting on this dude’s luggage rack as he pedaled us out of there. I think other people have had worse times travelling in Zambia, but there are also many people who have been more comfortable.

The view from the luggage rack.

Eventually I made it back to the roadside, bought some water, and then started walking south out of town. Barbara had warned me to not try to sleep by the roadside in Chalilo, and it was getting dark and a massive lightening storm was up ahead. Thankfully, probably right in time, I managed to flag down a truck and hop onboard.

That was a great end to an amazing adventure. It might sound a little unexciting, but I was so happy to have been able to traverse the African bush, talking to strangers to get where I needed to go and see a historic site not many get to see. As I was rocketing along in the truck towards a massive storm lighting up the sky, it is pretty amazing to reflect both how much has changed since Livingstone was there, and then again how little. On the journey there you still see women cutting leaves to make dinner and men thatching huts and the landscape has to look about the way it did to Livingstone. And to have been aided by the hospitality of the descendants of the same people that helped Livingstone in his final days is poignant, I think.