Kenya Airways flew me firstly to Nairobi. The sight of Kilimanjaro’s
peak poking up through the clouds was simply beautiful; I tried to get
a picture but my little Canon was insufficient to capture the mountain’s
Nairobi Airport is a time warp leading back to the 1950’s, with Formica surfaces everywhere and no rubbish bins anywhere. (You try to throw your garbage anywhere but on the floor!) I wandered along a semi-circle of duty free shops, each selling something slightly different from its neighbour. All prices were in American dollars.
After two hours, I shuffled onto the next plane for a four-hour flight to Lusaka, seated right at the back in the farthest corner, next to the toilet, my leat favourite seat. I swapped with a Dutch couple to sit on the aisle where I could occasionally get up and walk. No in-flight movie on this plane – it was too old!
Scorching sun baked the solitary concrete runway as the aircraft spewed passengers into roasting Lusakan midday air. A long walk along a drab grey corridor brought us to immigration. The wait was too long for my stomach and I saw quite a bit of the ladies room whilst the queue crawled on, airline food had caught up with me!
At the immigration desk, two suspicious looking women studied my passport, overlooked by an even more suspicious looking older man. For \$35 or £25, the obligatory visa was awarded and I walked past a rifle-toting soldier into the baggage hall/bureau de change/customs post. It was pandemonium. Luggage crawled past on a squeaking, antiquated baggage belt, snaking its way in and out of the building, marching a deluge of luggage past a bewildered crowd of passengers. I set off into Zambia, passing a burly customs woman who asked me what I had in such a large suitcase, and then laughed aloud when I told her I had a tent and sleeping bag.
As the doors slid open, a placard claiming to be the official Solipse Festival transport was waved in my face. I waved the man aside, intent on changing money. At the bank, the teller wouldn’t change a traveller’s cheque without the supplementary receipt, and he refused directly to discuss changing guilders. The fact that you are advised by the issuing office not to carry these two items together was apparently unknown to the guy behind the desk. I was stumped.
The friendly Zambian driver who had welcomed me said he would take me into the city where many banks would change money for me, and we set off in a clean, new model nine-seat Dodge personnel wagon. The two men told me it would be \$15 to the festival, which was not supposed to be the deal; \$10 was mentioned on the web site. I smelled a rat immediately but was so glad to get somebody else to carry my bags that I went along with it. I was the only passenger.
Along the route to Lusaka, my companion, David, pointed out things
of interest, a school here, a church run collective there, a clinic on
the other side. His biggest attraction was the newly built shopping
mall complete with muzak to help you shop in westernised air-con comfort.
I got the distinct impression that the majority of the population could
not enjoy this homogenised consumer temple; they obviously lacked the necessary
Along the main road at a very busy junction, a pedestrian bridge spanned the highway in black metallic splendour. The pride of Lusaka, this is the only one of its kind in the country, and has, according to David, significantly minimised the number of accidents. A man sat on the railing at the second level absent-mindedly scratching his groin, looking as if he lived there all the time. Perhaps he does, I saw no homeless shelters.
The driver pulled into a parking spot by a dodgy-looking bureau de
change, packed full with locals. The crowd stretched out onto the
pavement. As David pushed me inside, the throng parted, allowing
me passage to the change desk. I realised all of these people were
waiting for some hard currency to arrive so that they could buy it.
Some things are only purchasable with hard cash, usually American Dollars.
Welcome to Africa.
Pushing £100 over the counter, I was rewarded with 475,000 Kwacha. Some of the brightly coloured notes were so dirty that the colour was uncertain. The bank customers stared at me jealously, judging me to be a rich tourist. I was glad to escape their resentful black gaze and climb back in the bus.
Now things began to unravel slightly. We were just going to call into their office, David said, it wouldn’t take long. The office was on the first floor of a complex with a central courtyard. On the far wall, someone had painted a beautiful mural of jungle animals, and some of the units were obviously homes. I was introduced to the two people manning the office phones, and sat in a comfortable armchair while calls were placed to their lady boss who instructed them to return me to the airport where I would be collected to go in her car to the site! The reason was obvious – a nine-seater bus taking just one passenger is hardly efficient use of the vehicle. I could understand their wanting to transfer me to a small car.
We’d waited in the car park for more than an hour when a blousy woman
drove up in a Toyota Corolla. She introduced herself as Cara.
My luggage was transferred to the car, we moved up to the terminal building,
and she disappeared inside. After 15 minutes I went inside to find
her waiting at the arrival point with the bus driver, apparently hunting
for customers. I’d had enough by now and insisted she take me to
the festival straight away. I’d now been in the country for over
three hours and had yet to see anything more than the airport car park!
Along the rubbish strewn verges of the two-lane highway, sad looking black men squatted next to little pyramids of oranges, large piles of stones, a couple of reconditioned tyres, or huge bags` of charcoal. You could almost taste their desperation. This was all they had to do all day, sit by the road, and wait for someone to buy.
Cara pointed out the same sights that her employee showed me earlier. The drive to Chisamba, some 60 Km to the north, took over an hour along a potholed road. We were obliged to stop occasionally at security checkpoints, which were merely a policeman standing in the middle of the road, staring into every vehicle for no apparent reason. Another fine example of African logic.
We reached the festival entrance and I handed my ticket in to a lovely SA man called Robert, in exchange for a fluoro orange armband. The cab then took me to the security gate, where we were greeted by four very official looking guards wearing long grey coats buttoned up to the neck, and maroon berets. I bet they were hot in this steamy heat. Unloading the bags and bidding Cara goodbye, I dragged my suitcase along a sandy track, a job made more difficult by the bloody suitcase occasionally falling off. A friendly security guard appeared at my side, carrying the burden for a good distance. In excellent English, he told me Zambia has 70 different languages, but English united the many tribes as one nation. He thanked me for coming to his country and hoped my stay would be a good one, and then left me, returning to his post, face wreathed in smiles.
On the left, I passed a whitewashed farm building that had been converted into a supermarket-cum-lock-up for valuables. I then spotted the chill-out tent on my left and the vital ambulance station further down the same track. I made my way past the cinema screen, to the market area, where a few kitchens and cafes were set up to cater to the hordes of partygoers expected at this shindig.
Resting my suitcase under a canopy next to the Hari Krishna kitchen, I asked an attractive young man with very long dreadlocks named Will, if he knew either Wayne or Aaron, my pals from London. To our mutual surprise, Wayne was camping with him and another friend, Alex, and he promptly led me to their camp. After big hugs and kisses, Wayne helped me bring my luggage up to the camp where I speedily erected my nylon home for the next 10 days. I took out my party companion – a backpack of LaLa the yellow teletubby, I’d brought her to carry my party essentials. You have to tote sunglasses, torch, water bottle and toilet paper at all times!
The three young men towered over me as we made our way to the dance floor to collect their free meal ticket, wages for helping humping speakers onto the stage the previous day. Walking around was treacherous, as beneath tinder dry grass, the hard packed sandy ground was littered with badly felled tree stumps jutting dangerously up from the earth to trip unsuspecting folk. I would come to hate these toe snubbing snares.
Bar drinks tickets were available from a neighbouring booth, with a rate of eleven tickets for 30,000 Kwacha (just over £6 or under \$10) Further along, the cocktail bar (where you couldn’t buy beer), sold a ticket of 12 drink units for 10,000 and made delightful alcoholic fruit milk shakes for 3 units.
It grew dark quite quickly, and the night air turned very chilly
so a swift trip back to camp was necessary to don warm clothes before setting
off again for dinner at Hari Krishna’s, the only hot food available at
that time. Curried vegetables Dhal and a strange African grain resembling
tapioca were on the menu, standard fare for this eatery. Will, Alex,
Wayne, and I made short work of the culinary bounty, sitting around a large
metal charcoal burner, seated on large tree trunks with other diners.
Looking up, I gasped, seeing the spangled canopy of the Milky Way moving above us. Here the centre of the universe is clearly visible, its mass of stars suspended in the blackest sky. I never expected to see the Southern Cross again so soon, and the moon appeared to be much larger. The night sounds of the bush faded in as the sun set, the familiar shriek of cicadas mixed with frogs, night birds and insects the size of a man’s finger.
At the cocktail bar, I introduced Lala to a posse of eight English folk and met a lovely lady from Berlin called Christine who lives in a yellow kombi-van and makes jewellery. Wayne and I walked over to the chill-out area from where haunting ambient music wafted. A massive, fantastically painted canopy stretched around a large clearing housing a café, a DJ section, and three fireplaces, around which small sacks wood shavings had been placed as seating. The canopy seemed to go on forever, and was easily the largest and best painted at the party. The tea and cakes looked scrumptious and the guy serving was just as tasty looking!
With nothing much happening in the way of entertainment, Wayne and I stumbled around in utter darkness trying in vain to find our friend Jo’s camp. After much wandering and more than a few wrong turns, we gave up and lurched to our own tents to huddle around the charcoal brazier keeping warm with brandy and vodka, which certainly helped get me to sleep. However, my sleeping bag is insufficient for these night temperatures; I lay in bitter discomfort until morning brought relief from the cold. My tent was drenched in heavy dew and I was very glad to feel the sun on my bones at 7 am.
Wayne and I watched the Sunday dawn come up, coaxing the fire back
to life to make tea. Our camp, bordered by a dry creek in front of
a huge hill, was close to the cleanest toilets on site. It was quiet,
and as near to private as you could get at a festival. The creek
prevented any vehicles from coming further, and discouraged pedestrians.
It did not, however, prevent our friends Jenny and Alex from finding their way to us. They rolled up mid morning to pitch their tent nearby. It was great to see my good friends again; I knew it was going to be a great festival.
Next to appear was Aaron. I heard his distinctive voice, then all hell broke loose as we recognised each other. My best party pal, (easily as mad as me) had arrived. Now I knew it would be a great festival. He dragged me off to his tent, which just happened to be at the same camp Wayne and I had tried vainly to find the previous night, and strangely enough was merely a few metres away.
Aaron and I spent our afternoon wandering from stall to stall, greeting old friends, and waiting for the music to begin. The chill-out had the only sound system operating, so it was there that we hung out, laughing so much I got stomach ache. Aaron took me to the pictures that evening; the cinema screened “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” which drew a large crowd (well, there was no other entertainment on offer) and had us in stitches. Sleep was much better tonight thanks to the thermal blanket that Jen gave me, I was as warm as toast wrapped in that!
Monday, and early up again. We took the 9 am shuttle bus into Lusaka for shopping. Lusaka is a bustling town with a 1940’s rundown appearance. Coca-Cola is everywhere but not yet MacDonald’s, thank goodness. I did notice a small fast food court in the main street which housed a chicken place, burger bar and pizza stall. Hippies were everywhere. In town I bought a warm blanket for less than £4 and a bag of groceries at a much-reduced price than the shop on site! I’d brought a camping chair from home with me, but as it broke first time out, a trip to the only camping store in the country was necessary for a replacement. At the air-conditrioned shopping mall I made the purchase and went to wait for the site bus at a filthy, urine soaked bus stop.
Within minutes a gang of shoeless street boys dressed in dirty rags surrounded me. Each had a plastic bottle stuffed up his sleeve or tucked inside his shirt. The entire gang were addicted to glue sniffing! As I spoke to them, the kids would lift their hands to their faces, surreptitiously taking a blast of solvent high. I asked these lads about their lives. Where did they live? What did they learn at school? The answers made me shiver. They slept in the railway station as they were homeless, and without family to support them, could not attend school if they wanted to. How sad. The bus came along, ending our chat. I’ll never forget the look of pleading accusation in those children’s adult eyes.
The return bus trip was a bit of a mix-up, but eventually Will, Alex and I returned to our little camp, stowed the shopping and went out for the first night’s music. At 1800 hrs the main stage thundered into life, calling all dancers from every corner of the site. The party was on! I took Lala out with me; all the people on the dance floor received her very well. Wanting to be awake for the morning session, I went off to bed fairly early at around 11.30 pm.
I woke into a grey Tuesday dawn around 5 am, stiff and aching. I breakfasted on buttered toast and tea, made in the glowing embers of last night’s fire. The blanket did its job, keeping me snug and warm; I did get into the sleeping bag fully dressed, mind you. I was on the dance floor in time for Stella Nutella’s early morning set at 6 am. Stella had some excellent tunes, and kept the crowd jumping until the next man, Pied Piper Paul, took over. He’s a mate of Wayne’s and gave us some excellent music for the next 3 hours. The sun grew hotter, too hot to sit in, and I badly needed a shower. Time to inspect the plumbing so to speak.
Two large shower areas had been erected from grass panels, which housed a line of ten showerheads and a rough-hewn wooden bench, plus washing line. The water was very cold but I managed to splash some on the bits that mattered. The Zambian toilets were better than any places I’ve partied. Individual woven grass stalls with doors hanging on them. Very well put together, I thought.
After a nice nap, Aaron came to collect me and we stumbled down the track avoiding tree roots, to find some food. A soup kitchen had begun to trade in delicious veg stews and big cups of soup, just what was needed on these cold nights. The main stage wouldn’t start until 2200 hrs, the Chill-out was the only place playing music, so it was there that we settled down to drink a cuppa around a blazing log fire. Passing the joint round, we glean information on Livingstone, where I intend to go after the party for a bit of R&R by the Zambezi River. Aaron suggests a trip to the bar, a far walk away. I was smashed enough but went to give moral support anyway, knowing my pal would need some kind of support before long. Sitting at one of the four fires blazing away next to the bar, we met Tristan and Mark Allen, two of the festival’s headlining Dj’s, both great pals of Aaron, and two of my personal favourites. What delightful people. We all sat around the fire sharing spliffs until midnight when I retired early in order to catch Tristan’s set at 0630.
Waking at 06.10, a pink streaked sky promised another hot sunny day. Today the great event would take place. I collected Aaron, and hurried him down to the dance floor just in time for Tristan to start the first track. Arguably the best Dj on the bill, I was very impressed with his performance, which was so good he stayed on into the late morning, ending his stonking set around noon. I was eager to get some photographs, however, my camera was not working, and I had to give up on the photography. The maestro was working well, so well that the later morning Dj was scrapped and he was asked to play on. I danced my ass off until it ached then I left the floor with aching limbs to sit down for the rest of the day.
Total Eclipse proceeded to play a remixed telephone conversation over the PA. The call featured Fish, the festival’s principle organiser, explaining how if the other party would not come to do this fucking festival it would come back on them in ways they wouldn’t fucking believe and they’d better not fucking let him down. Then they swung into some of the best music of the festival. What a response! The crowd went mad and danced even harder than before, if that was possible.
At 14.20, the music ended, with an explanation that nature should
have the stage while the eclipse carried on. The crowd wanted music
throughout the event but the organisers were adamant, and no music played.
Aaron and I joined Jo, Shabat, Ant, Jase, and the rest of the parachute
posse, to watch the big event in the centre of the field. Blankets
went down and champagne corks popped as we watched the day light become
grey and eerie. The air grew cold, and for 3 minutes 25 seconds,
it was night. I watched through welding glass given to me by a friend,
very adequate for the job. I had one of the clearest views of anyone
at the festival; the free solar glasses given out were too dark to really
see anything through them. People shouted and roared all through
the eclipse, a few howls spread around in the ghostlike shadow, and we
marvelled at the power of the universe. The moon in Zambia’s night
sky shows the imprint of a huddled rabbit; Zambians call the phenomenon
‘the day the rabbit eats the sun’. Nearby, I saw two guys perform
graceful Tai Chi, while others danced to their own silent, invisible music.
Everyone marked the experience in his or her own fashion. Most people lit up a chillum. I thought the event was awesome and perfect. I could see the diamond ring effect fully visible in the sky. I regret I took no photographs but my camera was broken. Still, I will never forget that wonderful sight.
During and after the eclipse, it felt as if the party had slipped away, as if the god of silence had swallowed up the spirit of the dance. Bored people wandered off, frustrated at being denied the chance to dance through the eclipse. We shouted for music but none came. Music finally happened after 16.30, long after the crowd of happy dancers had disappeared.
Already by Wednesday my head was full of the cold that had
cursed Jenny and now Alex, a sore throat, streaming nose and eyes, the
full Monty. I sniffed and coughed my way around the place, feeling
rotten. Jenny and Alex persuaded me to go to the medical centre for
the same treatment they’d received, antibiotics which worked well, judging
by Jenny’s swift recovery from the ague. That night was a long one
– I stayed up right through to catch the early morning Tristan set, unable
to enjoy it much due to the awful stopped-up feeling in my head. I tried
to put a brave face on it through the antibiotic haze. Lala and me
had a ball. Dimitri took over, giving the dancers a rare treat with
his fantastic live performance that ended about 14.50, long after they
wanted him to stop.
I was exhausted. That was enough dancing for me, I decided, and sat down for the rest of the day. Aaron would insist on fighting me for the chair!
I was looking forward to seeing the Orb Revival set, featuring Alex Patterson, Youth, and Greg Hunter. They made the error of playing Fluffy Clouds (my favourite track) right at the start of their set, so I missed what I deemed to be the best bit of the evening. I hung around the dance floor trying to find a rhythm, recognising one or two pieces here and there but was overall disappointed in my former heroes. I left before the set ended; it was so hard to dance. What we came this far for was trance – pure and simple. I can’t imagine what was going through the organisers’ minds Friday night through Saturday putting on two days of dub, but it thoroughly pissed off many of the punters. Everyone was complaining, everyone except the twelve people dancing throughout the performances of Zion Train, Dub Trees, and Unity Dub, that is. The rest went to bed early or sat around campfires drinking and smoking, bored shitless. I mean, dub is Ok if that’s your thing but I don’t think all-night dub sessions are the thing at a trance festival, I might be wrong but a separate stage for this genre could surely have been arranged…
Sometime in the previous two days we had acquired South African neighbours on the opposite bank of the stream, who were extremely witty, and very obliging with their tools. We dubbed them the mallet men and shared friendly banter for much of the festival. They told us our camp was better entertainment than the TV!
It was cheaper to cook at ‘home’ than continually spend at the stalls, plus the menu had become a little samey by this time. A routine of interesting early evening meals became the norm, before venturing out to the night’s delights. As the festival drew to a close, I began to scour the stalls for a little souvenir or two, finding malachite mixing bowl and carved lion.
By Sunday the music returned to normal, although many acts failed to show. The final two days were fun times for Lala and me! It was great going out for the day dressed to party. I saw some really lovely party clothes and met some lovely new friends for the email list. It was fun to party with the South African gang, and some really mad Brits too! The music lasted through Monday and was turned off abruptly mid tune on Tuesday morning, about 09.20 or so I think. Time to pack up our junk for the next party.
I said goodbye to my best mate Aaron, off with a posse of folks to
a beach in Malawi, lucky bugger. I drove off site Tuesday morning
with the parachute posse, who gave me a ride into Lusaka. I unloaded
the bags and bid them farewell. Paul, feeling very sick with the
flu, came along with me to the Maketti Hotel where Jen and Alex were ensconced
in the next room!
First th ings first – a hot shower! Next some laundry which the hotel boys hung on the washing line for me, and a smoke and chat with Alex and Jenny. I asked the boys to prepare me a meal; they had delicious lake Tanganyika perch. I ate in a dining room furnished as a throwback to 1950’s boarding houses in Britain. The TV was blasting BBC world – irresistible when you’ve been cut off from civilisation for 10 days. Paul was still very sick, the hotel lady gave him some medicine, which seemed to help immediately. He joined me to eat some steak, and then retired again to his bed to recover. I sorted out my dirty laundry and repacked the suitcase, falling asleep quite early in a comfortable bed.
Wednesday morning dawned bright rose and gold, looking like (surprise!) another sunny hot Zambian day. I wanted to leave for Livingstone as soon as possible, I must return here by Sunday lunchtime to fly home. Paul and I shared a cab to the airport where he tried to get a flight out and sorted out his visa extension. With no flights or train tickets available, I picked up a car from Avis for \$460 (for 4 days?); the opposition wanted \$675! I drove us back into Lusaka where a very disgruntled Paul bid me goodbye to take a cab to a hotel to wait for a flight out.
I stocked up with provisions for the 700 Km trip west, and got under way at 1400 hrs. Soon afterwards, a policeman motioned me to a stop at a police station in Kafue, for speeding. Oh dear. They wanted 66,000 Kwacha (£15) on the spot. I pleaded ignorance, showed them small change, and told them my cash was in Livingstone with my pals. It worked. I was told to be careful in future and allowed to drive on. Phew! That was a close one. I will stick to the speed limit from here on….
Rambling along the badly potholed road for some time, I stopped at another police checkpoint where I discovered I was on the southerly road to the Kariba Dam. How did that happen? What a waste of an hour’s travelling! Turning back, I sped on, finding the right turn at Kafue and at last settling in to driving along a fairly good road with apparently no potholes. The Zambians are very kind – they put up signs at the side of the road to warn you of the potholes rather than fill them in!
The long boring drive took 8 hours, the latter part of the trip in utter darkness. Despite there being a perfectly good tarmac road to drive on, it had been blocked off until the other end was completed, and by all accounts the road had taken years to build. The dusty dirt road on which we were forced to drive wound alongside and even occasionally crossed this magnificent highway in places. I was stuck for nearly 2 hours, crawling along at 40 Kph behind two massive trucks, which spewed dust all over my car. Toward the end, I decided to use this unblemished highway for a while, moving delicately past the stones and branches erected to keep cars off the brand new tarmac. It’s normal for Africa, the road is perfectly useable, but they forget to take the barriers down for a few months after completion, as if they don’t want traffic to mess up their new creation. Sod that, I saved myself more than an hour by taking that road!
Stopping at a red light wielded by a man in overalls, I’m told we must wait for three cars to come along the other way before proceeding along the single track of newly laid road. I then noticed the petrol gauge had not moved for a good while, when I turn the engine off, it seems to be stuck halfway. I enlist the help of the two men in a van behind me, one of whom said he was a mechanic. “No problem, lady, it’s a magnet, not the key that determines the level of the petrol gauge.” I am distraught at the idea of being stuck in the middle of the African bush without fuel and ask them to lead me to the petrol station. Also travelling to Livingstone, they agreed to stay in front to show me the way. Wonderful! Now the journey moved along a bit, I kept their tail lights in view and matched their speed, slowing down as their brake lights came on, to avoid the massive potholes at one section of the road. Our little convoy reached Livingstone at 2140 hrs; I thanked the men profusely, and drove around in search of a place to sleep.
Jen & Alex had flown down early this morning, and they were at the Papagaya backpackers. It took some finding and when I arrived, had no rooms. According to Jen & Al, it was a crap place to stay anyhow. It was now near 2300 hrs, and I went for the nearest option, a big old colonial hotel on the main road called the New Fairmont Hotel, room with bath for \$30. I quickly realised fast that this was the African hotel, used by travelling salesmen and the like, not so much of a foreign backpackers hostelry. The floors were highly polished, and upon entering my room, I slid to my knees on a bath mat, placed next to the bed on the skating rink of a floor. My right knee swelled up like a tennis ball and I went immediately to the bar for ice. The staff looked at me as if I was an alien and it took some shouting to get any kind of help.
Back in my room, the bath awaited, oh, what joy - a hot bath!
Turning the tap, no water came out. The hot water taps were not connected!
God give me strength! I had asked particularly for a bath when booking
in. More fool me to imagine these dolts would give me the kind of
service I am used to in the west.
At least there was English spoken TV, albeit with pretty bad sound quality. I found BBC prime and watched old Parkinson episodes while eating cheese and crackers washed down with vodka and juice. The bed’s mattress was still clad in its plastic cover; it felt like sleeping on a plastic bag. I made the best of it and slept like a log, waking only when a truck thundered past on the main road, which was more than once during the night.
Breakfast was dismal. Continental? Not any continent I’ve been on mate! I was glad to get going down to the backpacker lodge Fawlty Towers, where for \$30 I could take a cabin with bathroom, or for \$5 I could pitch my tent in the spacious garden under palm trees, near to the swimming pool. A bar/restaurant provided drinks and food, while the laundry service was \$4 a big bag. Quite a few party faces had already arrived; the after party would be held over the weekend on a small island in the middle of the Zambezi River. Jen and Alex were already in their room, and I pitched my tent near to their chalet, taking a long, hot shower before meeting my friends. The name of the game here is activity holidays, white water rafting, abseiling, gorge swinging, safari drives or rides, and microlite flights over the falls. The bridge over to Zimbabwe is not called Bungee Bridge for nothing! I was keen to try a microlite flight, but was informed that it was fully booked. We did end up booking a safari drive for later in the afternoon.
Having heard about the Waterfront from a traveller at the festival, I wanted to see the luxury complex on the riverbank. We drove along a pockmarked road, approaching a security barrier beyond which appeared to be a bush camp. Beautiful two storey cabins nestled in trees, almost hidden from view by tall palms and banana trees. A huge wooden deck stretched out from the bar, allowing guests to eat or drink while overlooking the river. Two big tour boats docked at the quay would take you on a sunset ‘booze’ cruise, all you could drink, and a barbecue on the river. We enquired about trips, finding they had three spaces on an elephant back safari leaving at 6 am next morning from the Zimbabwean border. The guy was also able to book me on a microlite flight for Saturday afternoon – perfect.
I drove to the falls, stopping to photograph local monkeys by the
fast flowing upriver stream. Naturally, I had to paddle my feet in
the clear, cold water! Monkey While
taking this picture, the little devil's relatives were busy trying to get
into the car behind my back!
Deciding to see if we could get a look at the falls, we drove to the Zimbabwean border, just down the road. Bungee Bridge spans the gorge, and when driving over the bridge the falls are visible for just a few metres, with a cloud of spray marring the view. We inspected the customs post and turned back toward Livingstone.
On the way into town, I spotted a sign – Crocodile Farm. Turning
into the well kept driveway, we parked and went to look at some of the
biggest and evil looking crocodiles I’ve ever seen, safely kept apart from
us in a specially built enclosure, below us. Albino
A young lady came to escort us round the exhibit, explaining everything about croc life. The biggest one was brought here after killing 25 villagers and looked like he would have one of us if we got too close.
While we wandered along the walkway, we watched a pair mating in the water, and then the randy male went for another female, same routine.Mating crocs This time of year is obviously breeding season! The girl then showed us the snakes, amongst which was a black mambo – the deadliest bite on the planet. Called the three step death because three steps are all a person can move before the poison takes effect, if the antidote is over three steps away, you’re in big trouble pal! Of course I had to get the python out for a feel, I love constrictors. Auntie and python This was a great way to while away an hour for only \$2.
At 1530, we were due to gather for our safari drive through the local park. A smiling Dennis, our driver, picked us up from Fawlty’s in an open-sided Landrover sporting four benches, capable of accommodating 12 people. Off we sped, a bottle of wine between our feet, clinging to the overhanging back seat. My camera was now working, allowing me to take some photographs at last.
In the Livingstone National Park, we first encountered a herd of elephants. The air was filled with the sound of camera shutters as Dennis reversed the jeep closer. The bull was busy felling a tree for the others to browse, and didn’t see us at first. The presence of a baby hiding amongst the legs of her huge family sent the bull thundering towards us in a fury, flapping ears and trunk waving. The driver gunned the gas and we moved pretty darn fast!
It was at this point I discovered the loss of my Raybans, and persuaded Dennis to drive back to search for them. I didn’t find them but did get a Guinea Fowl feather for my hat as a consolation prize.
Back at Fawlty’s to relax, shower, change, and head out on the town. Jen had news of a great eatery, The Pig’s Head pub, nearby. We walked into a colonial paradise, so like an English pub, complete with full size snooker table! Alex and I exchanged glances, debating if we were sober enough to play on such a monster. The landlord kept an excellent wine cellar, and served the finest Bream I’ve ever eaten, it was just a delight to the taste buds. After a couple of rounds we left for the Jolly Boys, where Alex 2 was staying. Inside, we joined Alex and pals at the poolside bar, staying later than we needed, with a 6 am appointment tomorrow in Zimbabwe!
Friday June 29th was another hot, sunny day in Zambia. Except that when the sun rose we were already in Zimbabwe. God bless Jen for getting us up, couldn’t have done it without her! Shortly after it opened at 6 am, we drove across the bridge to the border post, leaving the car there and walking into Zimbabwe. Waiting for the jeep to collect us, I made the mistake of looking for the ladies room. What I was directed to was the most disgusting lavatory that I’ve seen since watching ‘Trainspotting’. In fact this may have been the one in the movie. Uuurghhh! Don’t these people know about toilet cleaner?
The Elephant Sanctuary safari jeep took us to a very swanky looking visitors centre for more passengers. The toilets here would doubtless be superb, so I nipped in to relieve myself, walking into the biggest shock of the trip so far – an African themed gambling casino! You could have been in Vegas or Atlantic City, with all of the obligatory slot machines, roulette, dice, and card tables. Cleaners weaved amongst the tables, polishing them to the beat of Fat Boy Slim’s. ‘Right Here, Right Now.” I had to laugh. It was certainly not what I expected to be the first sight of Zimbabwe!
Collecting more passengers from other safari lodges, our party of
ten was soon complete. We drove to the sanctuary along well kept
roads with cat’s eyes (Zambian roads lacked even white lines). The
bush looked exactly the same as it did across the border. Our driver
pointed out an animal they called a Kudu, standing under a tree.
It looked to be a cross between a zebra and a horse, sort of a lanky mule.
Next the jeep stopped to view flock of cormorants poking about in a field,
and at last we reached the gates of the Elephant Sanctuary. At the
lodge, a thatched, open sided area overlooking the bush, tea and coffee
helped bring us awake. Gathering round a blazing charcoal brazier,
shivering in the cold early morning, and a warm welcome from chief warden
David explained what would occur. For 2½ hours we would ride
the elephants around the safari park, returning for breakfast, and to view
the video shot by his colleague, of our ride. Then he led us to a
clearing at the back of the centre, where eight large elephants stood with
their mahouts waiting for us. The handlers made them lift their feet,
checking for any damage, while David answered our questions about them.
Climbing onto a wooden platform, Andrew the handler hauled me up to sit
behind him on Jake, my pachyderm steed for the morning. Off we set,
Andrew explaining quietly about his elephant, and the chances of seeing
local wildlife. Whilst we trundled along, the elephants let out strong
farts, and dumped huge faeces everywhere. Andrew said it was the
perfume of the elephants; I'll stick to Chanel No 5 thanks
Huge vultures perched in a tree near where a wildebeest had been killed two nights previously; the elephants walked to the spot where we could see the remains of the carcass. A bone white skeleton lay in a grass clearing, now picked clean by the vultures, the beast’s hooves and forehead still clad in tufts of black fur. Andrew told me a pride of eight lions that had done the killing. I pictured the many TV pictures of such slaughter and shuddered. We passed a shallow watering hole, a stagnant pond, which in November would become again a huge lake. A lone Cormorant dried his wings on the opposite bank, photographed by a man and wife wielding a movie camera. That, plus two more photography pairs, were the only wildlife we saw all day.
I was glad to get back to dismount stiffly, legs aching somewhat. We were taken inside to feed the elephants by hand (another photo opportunity). They led us round the back again to see the baby female elephant. Abandoned by the herd after a year of traipsing around after the others with a withered back foot, she was brought into the sanctuary. Showing all the excitement of the young, she enjoyed our petting, and ‘felt’ us with her trunk, grabbing hold of my leg firmly! Baby grabs Auntie
The staff had prepared full fried breakfast for us, and laid out the long mahogany table. Excellent potato cakes. After eating, there was a showing of the video, offering a copy at \$40. I passed. It was midday before we left the elephants, walking back over the border to pick up the now roasting car. Thank goodness for air-conditioning!
On the way back to Fawlty’s I pulled into the Marimba, where Wayne was staying. Other familiar party faces also had chosen this quiet riverside spot to camp. Apparently the hippos and crocodiles come out of the water at night to sleep on the bank, only yards from tents and camper vans. Despite the danger this seemed a much nicer place to stay than our busy town centre spot. We chatted and smoked a spliff before returning to our base for a rest before the evening ‘booze’ cruise would begin. I slipped into town to get film and meet up with Matt and Zoe at the 48 hours pub, who are also on the booze cruise with us. Whilst there I made contact with Sjoard, a Dutchman I’d met at the party, who is on the same flight as me on Sunday. He needs a ride to Lusaka; I need a person to drive with, solving both our problems in one swoop. I felt the weight of responsibility lifting from my shoulders immediately; I wasn’t looking forward to driving back alone.
The cruise boys collected us, taking our little party to their boat. It was plain that their operation was small and personal; we were the only customers that evening. We boarded their little river boat which might I think have accommodated about twenty people, climbing on to the upper deck. At the stern lower deck, Sedi, the sole female member of the crew, prepared the barbecue for our floating dinner. Matt and Zoe wasted no time in getting the booze part of the evening going, and we soon were gliding along the river bank toasting ourselves in vodka.
We saw a few safari park animals as the boat floated by - a solitary elephant, and a rhino, visible between the trees, both oblivious to our presence. Simon the helmsman pointed out large crocs basking in the sun on the opposite shore, a large, sandbar of an island populated only by wildlife. Paul the bartender filled our glasses again as we strained to see lizards on tree trunks, and in the distance, a herd of hippos feeding in the water. Cameras clicked as the drinks flowed, and we were all having enormous fun after the fourth round.
Other, larger vessels were also pottering about on the river, but ours was the most exclusive tour of all. The sun began to sink as dinner was served. I’d discovered the wine by this time and was happily into my second bottle. The sight was just spectacular as seen in these pictures:
Sunset1 Sunset2 Sunset3
All too soon the boat returned to the river bank where we waited for our ride in what can only be described as a 70’s disco style bar, built in the grounds of the property. This was clearly a gathering place for the locals, complete with glitter ball turning in the ceiling. The music was naff, made worse by the ear-splitting volume at which it was being played.
Back at the Fawlty Towers I grabbed a lovely hot shower, changed clothes, and drove down to the Marimba. The family had lit a fire (naturally) and music floated out of a small sound system. Eager to see the hippos, I wandered to the creek, searching the dark vainly. If they were around, they were well hidden. Certainly the noise from the campsite would have scared away any animals, humans are incredibly noisy. I sat and chatted long into the night, it was after midnight when I returned to Fawlty Towers and a deep sleep.
In Saturday's mid-morning I broke camp and packed the car after breakfasting with Mike, another party pal and close friend of Jenny. He and his two lady companions wanted to see the falls, so I offered to drive us all down to do just that. We paid \$10 each to enter the car park, a veritable tourist market place full of wood carving dealers. Walking through a chain link gate led us along a concrete pathway to where a man was renting plastic coveralls for 3,500. Following advice from Alex 2, I took one. The others had brought their own protection. Setting off, we walked towards the sound of the Big Water, or as the Zimbabweans call it, ‘Mosi-Oa-Tunya’ or Smoke That Thunders. Nothing prepares you for the sight of the falls. Nothing. The vibration in the air is enough to tell you something very powerful is nearby. I love the force of nature – it humbles me to the core.
Victoria Falls Big Water
I followed the path as it wound around the small peninsula, taking the walker to both the waterfall side and the dry gorge, spanned by Bungee Bridge. Wow is all I can say. gorgeous and even more gorgeous
At the end of the walk, at the tourist market, I bought a sturdy walking stick, carved from local teak, my only purchase of the day. I drove Mike and the girls into town where we shared a few drinks at 48 hours before my microlite trip, at 16.30 hrs.
This was something I always wanted to try. I was an hour late
getting into the air and I was scared at the start, but my fears dispelled
pretty fast as we rose into the air and I saw river, falls, safari park,
river islands, all laid out below me. More wow. away
over the falls
The pilot, a cheerful Zambian who sounded gay to me, clicked the wing camera constantly, awarding me with a brilliant roll of film to remind me forever of that amazing flight. He even honed in on a lone elephant, quietly taking a shower in a deserted waddee far below us. Elephant bathing All too soon it was over. A flight of fancy never to be forgotten.
Michael waited for me at 48 hours, bless him, and after a quick bite, I took him to Fawlty’s where I said my goodbyes to Jenny and Alex, my dear friends who always show me such kindness.
Driving to Marimba, I was ready with my camera as darkness was falling, and sure enough, a herd of hippos came up into the creek, bellowing a warning to all watching. We moved back to allow them passage onto the grass, where they would graze and find protection through the cool night. It was time for me to leave, I should have collected Sjoerd an hour ago, and we must get on the road. I bid my esteemed nephew a fond farewell, and left.
Sjoard was waiting, he kissed his girlfriend goodbye, and we began the 700+ kilometre journey to Lusaka through the pitch black night, through a minefield of potholes. All went well until I hit the worst one on the road, flattening the onside front tyre. Bugger!!! As if by magic, five minutes after I hit the crater in the road, a car coming in the other direction hit the same pothole, causing the same damage to their tyre as I ‘d caused to ours. I cursed my luck as Sjoard pulled out the jack and spare, and from the utter darkness, like ghosts appearing on the edge of your sight came local people. Children at first, then men from the village, perhaps only yards away, invisible in the night. They jabbered together discussing us. The children stared and nudged each other, amazed at the sight of us. I was definitely the main topic of conversation, dressed in knee shorts and fluoro T-shirt. I bet these guys had never before seen a woman lift a tyre. The dark Samaritans brought more lights, and when the jack teetered and gave way, they lifted the car up to get it stable again. Without this small army of helpers, we would easily have damaged a vital part of the car. The kids clocked my hat on the back window, fascinated by its beads and badges. I pulled it out for them to see, holding it up in the torchlight. We waved goodbye and started the next part of the journey, with Sjoard at the wheel.
Reaching Lusaka at 3 am, all we could do was sleep. We went
to the airport and hung out on the grass verge, waiting for the flight
at 1230 hrs. I can recommend Lusaka airport for facilities.
I had a lovely hot shower for free, repacked my suitcase, and enjoyed a
last joint on the grass outside, before checking in. One of Jo’s
muesli balls helped with this process, Sjoerd and I floated onto the plane
and slept soundly for most of the journey to Nairobi.
Here I end where I began in the plastic airport of Nairobi where I had to wait for six hours before continuing home. What did I do to amuse myself? I wrote this diary of course!