We made the relatively short drive from Mbeya to Tundumu with high hopes and low expectations. What we encountered upon arrival was much lower than anything we could have imagined. Semi-trucks lined up and down the road, rain, no signs, no lanes, no officials anywhere. With no idea of what to do or where to go we became concerned. Cue Paul, a random man with one of the deepest voices I had ever heard and some sort of official-looking badge dangling from his neck. Paul was eager to show us the way to all of the windows, doors, and people we needed to see in order to cross the border. He obviously wanted to help for a tip (they all do) and we were fairly happy to accept but we had our suspicions. From that point on, 6-foot-2-inches tall Paul was with us the whole way.
There are people walking everywhere and there's no clear boundary between one country and the next. It's muddy, raining, loud, and chaotic. We first walk into some building, sign in, walk to a room then are told we need to walk across the border and get our passports stamped. So we drive to the car parking lot, enter a building that has customs agents for Tanzania on one side and Zambian agents on the other. We are immediately greeted by a health inspector informing me that I need a yellow fever vaccine. Now, I called my doctor and thoroughly researched if I needed this vaccine before departing the USA and nowhere did I find that I needed it for entry into Zambia from Tanzania. I think they may be getting their information from the yellow fever map that hangs on their wall dated 2005 but what do I know. The nice doctor walks me back to the Tanzanian building we just came from, takes me to the front of the line and leads me into a tiny, crowded office. Here I met a man I will never see again but will never forget. I paid my $50 for the vaccine while he filled out my vaccine card. Then, in walks a man with a cooler on his arm and inside is the vaccine vial. It is here, in this tiny, crowded office that I was to receive my vaccination. After the most miniscule bump of something that I'm hoping is some form of disinfectant, he inserts the needle and pumps what feels like a basketball into my left shoulder. That was that, all was done but I knew my body. No lunch, not much water and a hot, crowded office plus a needle to the arm, all led to hearing loss and almost fainting. I had to sit on a bench outside for a moment to come to grips with what just happened and repeat to myself that I wasn't going to get an infection. After my little episode we went back to the two-sided customs building where I get my exit stamp for Tanzania. I then head to the Zambia side while the Tanzanian agent gives Killian flack for having two passports. I get the Zambia stamp, pay the $50 visa fee, then I head back to the Tanzanian side to deal with the vehicle transfer for Zambia.
The man at the vehicle counter was absolutely useless. He had no idea whatsoever what to do and was busy juggling 3 cellphones trying to get in touch with someone who did. Also note that there was no sign informing us his counter was the place to go. Eventually a man came who knew what to do and knew how to fill out the forms. Turns out, he had walked all the way from the buildings on the Tanzania side which meant he had to walk back in order to process our forms. So we waited for 45 minutes. He returned with the form and we then proceeded to a door which was locked since EVERYONE was out to lunch. THIS IS AT A MAJOR BORDER CROSSING! So we wait for another 45 minutes. At this point Killian and I needed some food so we wait in the car and eat while some little boy stares at us through the window trying all of the tricks that usually get tourists to cough up the dough (some pun intended). Not today little man, not today. Paul came out to lead us to the bank where we would pay the road toll tax. Killian would later learn from Paul that this step is needed because the agents used to pocket the money. After paying the road toll tax, we went to check on the locked door and it was as we left it. After another 10-15 minutes they returned from lunch and we finally met someone who seemed to know how to get things done. After a bit of misunderstanding of how long we were staying in Zambia before entering Zimbabwe we received some piece of paper needed for the vehicle.
Back outside, we were then informed by Paul that we needed car insurance but I explained that the COMESA card is my insurance. He said it wouldn't work so I got on the phone with Andrew at Roadtrip Tanzania and asked. He wasn't entirely sure but told me to get it anyways and he'll reimburse me. I also informed him of the peddlers pushing little red and white reflective stickers, and he said to get them as well just in case. During the call, Killian went off with Paul to get the official Road Toll tax document, you know, the thing we paid for at the bank because of corruption. He soon returned and I agreed to buy insurance across the border. We drove over, parked, and were then informed that the road toll document needed a stamp and signature. Now, here's just how disorganized and unlabeled this border crossing is. We walk BACK to the Tanzania side to this small tin shack that is tucked into some obscure corner and has a tarp for a roof. This is where the road toll document got stamped for entry into Zambia!!
We then walk back to Zambia to a van sitting off to the side of the road with big blue letters that read, "FOR ALL YOUR GENERAL INSURANCE NEEDS". Inside sat two men and a woman, of whom took my paperwork and filled out the insurance forms. While waiting we had a lovely political conversation which involved them asking who I voted for in the US election and the words "Donald Trump is a racist" to which I wholeheartedly agreed.
We were finally done but not before I paid the man for the stickers, another man for watching the car and of course, Paul. Despite the fact that he told Killian he was a forger as an occupation and that I was probably tricked into buying unnecessary insurance from him and his friends, he turned out to be not such a bad guy. Yeah, there may be African Cody Howards traveling across the globe in the near future thanks to Paul's hard work but a man has to make a living somehow.
While I spent a lot of money that I hadn't planned on spending in order to get across, there is one great thing that happened before leaving Tundumu. Killian and I finally got to purchase some roadside bananas. 2 kwacha for 3 bananas so we bought 4 and happily ate them as we drove away.
P.S. - Just in case you haven't figured it out, I'd never recommend using Tundumu to cross between Tanzania and Zambia.