Randomness (r_ness) wrote,

Jollyboys International Backpackers

Jollyboys Backpackers is one of those social backpacker hostels where you meet people you have long conversations with, end up exchanging email addresses, and actually exchange email after you get home. My theory, from not very many data points, is that the harder it is to get to wherever you are, and the fewer other lodging options there are in that place, the more likely it is you end up talking to and really connecting with other people. Jollyboys is the place I had those fun conversations about driving across Africa.

Jollyboys International Backpackers
PO Box 61088
street address: 559 Makombo Way Road
(may have moved to new location at 34 Kanyanta Road, a few blocks away)
Livingstone, Zambia
tel/fax: +260.3.324229
email: enquiries@backpackzambia.com
(Visited October 2003)

the front entry of the hostel

Jollyboys was once a brothel--thus the name--but now it's a bit more sedate, and hosts the international backpacker crowd, who generally either arrive with bedmates or find other backpackers to sleep with. It was actually the second backpacker hostel in Livingstone I stayed at. The other hostel (Fawlty Towers) had better facilities but I felt really isolated there. Later I was told by someone else staying at Jollyboys who had once worked at Fawlty Towers that most of the people over there at the time were aid workers staying longish-term. For some reason I never actually fathomed, aid workers are not interested in talking to backpackers. The same guy also said that some months back, Fawlty Towers was the place that was really great socially, and that Jollyboys was totally dead. So these things go back and forth.

Jollyboys charges US$6 per night for their dormitory beds, air-conditioned or not. These are a bit rickety--grab a lower bunk--and only one of the rooms is air-conditioned. Its ancient window unit struggles to lower the temperature a handful of degrees. More importantly, because of the existence of the air conditioner, we residents of the air-conditioned room are usually fanatical about keeping the drapes shut, which blocks the blazing African sun during the daytime. These two factors are crucial, at least in the hot, dry season. At one point a refugee from one of the non-airconditioned rooms came in desperation to see if there might be space in the air-con room; there was an open upper bunk--the shakiest one--and he gratefully took it.

There are also double rooms available, at US$10 per person per night. As I was travelling alone, I didn't stay in one. In any case these are not air-conditioned.

On the other hand, there is an in-ground pool, which is a godsend during the day. There are usually people lounging around the pool as long as the sun is up.
the pool, with no one actually in or around it

One measure of how hot the days can be: I went a couple of blocks down Senanga Way, past the long-distance taxi rank, to the Shoprite supermarket (no relation to the ones in New Jersey, but part of the South African chain) and bought a frozen two liter bottle of Zambian drinking water. At the end of the fifteen minute walk back to the hostel the ice was mostly melted. Though I had been using it as an ice pack this was still an absurdly short time for nearly two liters of ice to have melted into water.

Most things in Livingstone are within a few blocks of Jollyboys. Both the old and new locations are a block from the main drag. Livingstone isn't a very big place, even though it is Zambia's tourist hub.

If walking to Shoprite doesn't appeal, you can buy beer and soft drinks at the bar, which is a few short steps from the pool. There's a markup, of course, but you could certainly pull up a barstool and drink all evening for a dollar or two a bottle.

Jollyboys also serves dinner, made by the African domestic staff. This is overpriced, at $3, but tasty and extremely convenient. Each night features a different meal, usually a medium-sized dinner plateful. One night it was alligator stew over rice, which was pretty good. Also, none of us got sick eating at Jollyboys, which was more than could be said of some of the lower-end eateries in town.

(They serve breakfast, too. It's not included in the price of lodging. I think a bowl of cornmeal porridge was a dollar.)

If you are interested in trying some of the better places, like the local Ocean Basket franchise, you can usually find someone interested in going with you. At least, I always did. Folks staying here were reasonably gregarious.

The hot water is only supposed to be on certain hours of the day. I never figured out when these were because anytime I wanted to take a shower there was ample hot water, despite it being outside the hours people claimed hot water was on.

The hostel fridge is small and anemic. I never did manage to refreeze my water bottle in the freezer, and there was damn little room left to wedge a 2L bottle into with everyone else's stuff packed into it already. It works reliably enough but isn't very cold.

There's a popular pool table. It's in pretty good shape, too.
the pool table

Two really useful services provided by Jollyboys and their competitor Fawlty Towers are pickup (free) and drop-off at the airport (not free, something like $10) and best of all the free visa manifest service. The visa service is particularly useful. It works like this: normally, if the Zambians say passport holders from your country need a visa to enter Zambia, you have to visit a Zambian consulate and pay them to obtain a visa. For American passport holders, this fee is US$30.

However, if you make a reservation at least 24 hours in advance with an organization (like Jollyboys) which offers a visa manifest service, you are on an "organized tour", and you neither have to go to the consulate nor pay any fee. When I arrived at the airport, I told the officer I was on the manifest. He handed me the clipboard and asked me to point out my name. Lo! and behold, I was actually on the list! You learn not to expect efficiency like this in Africa so it's a pleasant surprise when you get it.

Jollyboys also has a free daily shuttle service to the Zimbabwe border, stopping at the Zambian side of Victoria Falls, which is the biggest attraction in the whole area. The truck leaves in the morning. You can also arrange pickup from the border in the evening. This service is also quite handy; the trip down is only a few miles but it's apparently not unusual for people to be mugged trying to walk or cycle down the road. Tourists, including backpackers, are at particular risk because they're all unimaginably rich by local standards. (Estimates vary, but by most accounts Zambia's per capita GDP works out to significantly less than $5 per day.)

One of the trucks used as a shuttle, filled with more people than I ever saw sitting in it: a converted bakkie

Kim and Sue, the desk staff, who are from Canada and the UK, respectively, are efficient. It takes a little bit for them to actually warm to any particular guest--they see a lot of people passing through--but once they do their friendliness is genuine. They're a great source of information about most things you'd want to do in the area.

There's secured parking next to the hostel, and a security guard at the gate. If you're driving your own vehicle, you definitely want secured parking.

If you're moving on from Livingstone, not only will Kim and Sue be able to help you with information on how to get to places like Malawi, Botswana, or Tanzania, but it's possible if you hit it off with one of the overlanders they may be willing to give you a ride.

No group tours stayed at Jollyboys during the time I was there. There's usually somewhere you'd be able to stay, although you'll probably end up in one of the non-aircon dorm rooms if you don't reserve ahead. You can ask for the aircon room when you reserve.

All prices are posted in US dollars, but they will take Zambian kwacha at the prevailing rate. Zambia is a country where your ATM card probably won't work in the local ATMs, and where getting a cash advance on your credit card requires some standing in line and some paperwork, so it's useful to have some US$ cash as backup.
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