November 2, 2008
We caught a mid-day flight from Johannesburg to Lusaka, Zambia.
Sales Tax Refund?
At the airport we noticed that there was a line to get the 14% sales tax refunded (VAT). We started kicking ourselves for not collecting receipts all along (and we wondered why all the gas station attendants kept asking us if we wanted a receipt!). At least we had the receipt for the car rental, which was the single biggest purchase we made, so we stood in line. This was, honestly, the slowest line I ever stood in, ever. Why? Because people were standing there with big stacks of receipts, and the refund clerks had to manually type information about each one. Ugh! When finally got to the front of the line we found that tax is not refunded for car rentals, only for certain goods. Waste of time, oh well.
Janice and Kishore
On the flight I struck up a conversation with a couple of people sitting next to me. On my right was Janice, a Zambian. She was coming back from Australia, where two of her kids now attend University. She said she and her husband have a 6 year old business building communication towers, and that they are somewhat responsible for the technological improvements in the country (e.g. cellphone coverage). Nice. On my left was Kishore, and Indian guy living in Dubai doing banking stuff – he comes to Zambia often enough to know it pretty well. Both of them said that there’s not much to see in Lusaka and that we should focus on Victoria Falls and the parks. That seemed to be a theme with everyone we spoke to.
The visa is how much??
At the Lusaka airport we were greeted by a nasty surprise – the entry visa cost $135 each! That’s a special price reserved for US citizens. The guy at the desk told us that while the price is high, we enjoy a benefit – our visa allows us to enter as much as we want for 3 years. Great! In hindsight, we really should have used our Israeli passports – that visa would only have cost $50. Yes we’re kicking ourselves about that.
Another surprise was the currency exchange. In South Africa it was roughly 10 to 1 (it fluctuated a lot while we were there), so it was pretty easy to figure out if something was cheap or expensive. In Zambia the rate is about 4500 kwacha for one US dollar. It also appears to fluctuate a lot. Prices in most places are specified in US $ and each vendor has his own exchange rate in case you want to pay in kwacha (which they do readily accept). We’ve seen these conversion rates as low as 3600, which works to our advantage.
Anyhow, we grabbed a taxi into Lusaka and checked into the Ku-Omboka hostel. Not the best hostel we’ve stayed in so far – the people working their had this attitude like they just wanted us to pay and get out of their way, and the dorms were tiny. Also, it was really hot. But the other place ([Chachacha Backpackers]) was booked, so what can you do?
We took a little walk around the city, but it wasn’t all that nice:
In fact, the two people I met on the plane said that there’s really not much to do in Lusaka. So we stepped into an internet cafe and made our plans to leave the next day.
Bonus photo – all you Hebrew speakers will appreciate this, it made us laugh: