VICTORIA FALLS AND CHOBE NATIONAL PARK
VICTORIA FALLS, LIVINGSTON: JAN 2007
January 2007 - wow! Seems like yesterday everyone when was worried about Y2K! Everyone here says that Vic Falls is a ‘must see’ so we decide to head in that direction. We leave on a rainy day along with another car with Claire and Kelly (2 colleagues) and Claire’s mother and aunt visiting from Canada.
I still have to adjust to “Africa thinking” - we had assumed that the road connecting the two largest cities in Zambia (and Livingston being a big tourist destination) would be in good repair. Wrong! All roads in Zambia are 2 lane except for a short stretch outside Lusaka, so that was no surprise. About half the road was OK with pretty good surfacing and shoulders, about one quarter was excellent (you would think it was a road in the US), and the last quarter was terrible filled with rough surfaces, no shoulders and potholes, a few of which could do some serious damage to a car. It is said that this portion of the road is on the list to fix; hmmmm is that like the proverbial check that is in the mail??
Anyway, with great relief we arrived in Livingston after 6 hours at our place for the next 2 nights. In this part of Africa most places to stay are either self camping sites or luxury lodges. This was a refreshing change: we stayed at a lodge on the Maramba River in a safari tent - mounted on concrete with 2 beds, small table and electric light under a thatched roof. One could either prepare their own food or eat at the outside dining area. Monkeys abounded outside our tent and we spent some great time watching their antics in the trees around the tent (and sometimes on top of the tent!) Signs warned of watching out for elephants and crocodiles, but we didn’t see either in the camp.
We could see the spray from the Victoria Falls long before we arrived there. The “Water that Thunders” in an African language is appropriate. We saw the falls at a good time of year - in dry season there is not much water flow and after the full rainy season the falls are so heavy that you can’t see much through the mist. It is an all inclusive sensory experience, the water thunders, the mist soaks you and it’s hard to believe that the quantity of water just keeps falling and falling and falling.
We had thought about taking a helicopter ride over the falls, but then the opportunity of a ride in an microlight aircraft presented itself - not a hard choice! Billy, Ann and Claire arrived early one morning all primed for our ride - a beautiful day presented itself with blue sky and a few puffy clouds. Running late we waited somewhat patiently for our turns. There were 2 microlight aircraft each with one pilot and one seat for a passenger. Finally it’s my turn - decked out in a one-piece flying suit - one size fits all that makes me feel like a clown in a saggy baggy suit, but once up in the air am grateful for the wind and cold protection. The aircraft runs down the grass/dirt runway and lifts up into the air. We circle the field and head out over the river and up to the falls - now this is the way to see the falls! We are above the rainbow made by the spray of the falls, we can see the entire expanse of the falls and the gorge leading out of the falls, the wind roars around us as we float up and down, side to side moving with the air currents. We circle around the falls on both the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides and just watch in amazement as the water cascades down the cliff sending up plumes of spray and then roars down the gorge. It is over much too soon and we head back to the runway - on the way back we get an unexpected gift of the sight of 6 or 7 elephants crossing the river upstream from the falls.
We take a dinner cruise up the Zambian river - it’s a relaxing couple of hours watching the river ease by and catching glimpses of hippos and elephants. I wonder what it was like for the first people to be on this gentle river with no idea that the gigantic falls are just a ways ahead!
Livingston is turning into an adventure vacation spot. There is bungee jumping off the bridge above the falls, zip-lines over another part of the gorge, gorge swings, jet boats and other. We walked out onto the bridge and watched the bungee jumpers - NOT for me! The thought of throwing myself off a bridge with a big rubber band tied around my ankles is not my idea of fun.
Oh, I forgot to mention our lunch on the way down to the falls. We stopped in a small town along the way and found a clean reasonable looking restaurant. We ordered tea, french toast and nshima with sausage. Nshima is the staple food in this part of the world - sort of like a cornmeal that is cooked to a stiff consistency. We had the tea and french toast - our first surprise as the toast had onion and bell pepper on it - more of a lunch dish than the sweet breakfast that we are used to, but still good. Everything in Africa takes a long time, so we just enjoyed the wait for the nshima and sausage. After awhile the waitress comes and takes our tea and toast dishes and all silverware away. Then she returns with a jug of warm water, a small basin, soap and towel. With much amusement at our not knowing what to do, she instructs us to wash our hands. She then serves the nshima and sausage and again with much amusement she shows us how to eat the food. You take a bit of the nshima which is stiff enough to pick up and roll it around in the sauce, add a bit of sausage and eat. Not hard to do (a lot easier than chopsticks!) but the hands do get messy. At the end you do the wash hand thing again. All this enjoyment for about $5.
After a couple of days, it’s on to Chobe National Park in Botswana.
CHOBE SAFARI LODGE, BOTSWANA: JAN 2007
We are sure that animals all over the world have heard rumors about the Chobe National Park. They know about the wide open spaces, the endless sky, the wide river and they tell their children about this amazing area. The children sit with rapt attention as their elders describe this place and they wonder if they will ever get lucky enough to live in Chobe...
We cross the Zambezi river and enter Botswana. Our first impression is that the infrastructure of the country seems better than in Zambia - the roads are better and the houses seem a bit more upscale than the huts of Zambia indicating a better standard of living. The highway bulletin boards about AIDS prevention show us that this is a huge problem here, similar the Zambia.
The Chobe Safari Lodge is located in Kasane, Botswana not far from the border of Zambia on the Chobe River. We settle in and explore the premises. Our room looks out over a large grassy area in front of the river. Monkeys again serve as free entertainment as they run and jump through the trees, in the grass and sometimes up to the balconies of the rooms. They just make us laugh and laugh. A small pack of warthogs comes out to the grassy area and decide to have their afternoon nap there in the sun. The cuddle up and sleep for a couple of hours. When they awake the young ones are ready for play. There are 2 sets of youngsters and they are so cute - they meet head to head and play pushing each other back and forth. The scamper around and around. Then the monkeys join the act - the monkeys chase the mongoose, then the mongoose chase the monkeys! (See the short movie clip in the movies section.)
The next day our game drive leaves at 6:00 am and for the next 3 hours we continually scan the environment for birds and animals. We have arrived during the ‘green season’, not the best for animal viewing as there is more vegetation than in the dry season and more water throughout the bush so the game does not have to come in to the larger water holes. The driver can guarantee nothing more than seeing impala, but also says that the bush is always full of surprises, you truly never know what you will see.
Large herds of cape buffalo move slowly along the plain munching their breakfast of green grass. In the background are dots of brown and yellow, the ever present impala. Large birds watch from the trees and swoop overhead. Small mammals play on the ground. A huge mother hippo and her baby wander through the grass on the way to the river. A small pack of elephants has a mud bath party off in the bush. Crocodiles lounge by the river. A solitary warthog wanders by. Monkeys and baboons play in the grass and trees. A couple of toucans pose in a tree. We stop for a tea break down near the river and get out and stretch legs. Impala, impala and more impala. Back to the lodge, we are well satisfied with our experience. It’s so different to see animals in their natural environment, rather than in a zoo or small enclosed park. Now, I must admit to a bit of “safari envy” as our friends took the same drive the next day and saw lions, leopard and giraffe!!! Oh well, it just whets the appetite for another experience.
Later on in the day we take a 3 hour river cruise. This was fabulous! Hippos, hippos and more hippos - swimming, bathing, all along the river. The hippo kills more people than any other animal in Africa - they are vegetarians, but definitely don’t like people in their personal space! It’s amazing to see how fast they can swim - that huge bulk of animal can make some good time in the water. The fish eagles sit in the trees waiting for fishing time. Kudu and impala dot the shores. The big crocodiles look so lethargic on the banks of the river - looks can be deceiving! The big treat for the day - a solitary elephant wanders down to the river for his bath. He gives an amazing show - dunking under the water 3 or 4 times, shaking his enormous ears and trunk and has a great time, before lumbering back up the bank and off into the bush. The ever present monkeys along the shore amuse us. It’s back to the lodge.
We head back to Livingston for one more day before making the drive back to Lusaka.
Photo Gallery: click each to see a larger image.