OK Doke: This is going to be chock filled. Long on content, short on witty commentary. (I know, why start now.) Lot of things to remember and not getting any younger.
Next day, excellent breakfast layout. (Deck) The morning is going to be centered around Livingstone and Victoria Falls. Sandy picks us up and we drive through a section of Livingstone to get to the Victoria Falls. We get to go through “the light”. (Livingstone has a population of about 200,000 but has only one traffic light). I think it was red. Eventually end up in parking lot of the Royal Livingstone Hotel. We walk through the open lobby on
the way to river side. This is what looks like a 4 to 5 star hotel which would be at home in any resort area in the world. Claire looks longingly at the actual rooms that are there and she knows, she just knows, that they wouldn’t make her get up at 5:00 in the morning. The moment passes and Sandy brings us to a small dock where boats are coming from and going to Livingstone Island.Livingstone Island is a small island at the edge of falls and is only accessible during low water season. We’re in low water season by the way. Travel arrangers never told us about that, did they? Double BTW. Victoria Falls claims to be the largest in the world. Not the tallest, not the widest but the biggest. Done a little research on that and I’d say that that is true only by inches compared to Iguazu Falls in Argentina. Both much larger than Niagara Falls. No comparison though really. Neither Igauzu or Victoria have miniature golf. Where was I? Oh yes, Livingstone Island. A group of six of us jump into a small motor boat that takes us to the Island. After disembarking, we wander over to the side that is really only a few feet away from the precipice. After taking a few pictures of each other leaning over the edge the other four go in the pool and do some falls edge dipping. Kind of fun-looking. Claire had no interest. I had no idea how much fun it was going to look like. After everyone dries off we go back to an outdoor dining
area (no deck.) Sat around chatting and being served very excellent eggs benedict, muffins, coffee and juice. First class. Got to know each other a bit. One of the girls was from Northern Ireland over here on a horseback safari. I mention her for our golfing friends because she went to the same school as someone named Rory from over there. Nice little trip. Very classy.
Back to the mainland and met by Sandy who gives us a walking tour of the falls. As you can tell we’re getting to be quite the falls experts having been to Iguazu a few years ago and Niagara just this summer. Kind of interesting. We were told how lucky we were to be here when there wasn’t much water flowing as we could see the rock formations better. And you know, we almost bought it.
Wrapped up our morning and went back to Toka Leya for lunch. Went through the light. (red). Have to rest up for our sunset cruise.
At 4:00 we meet Sandy at the dock by Toka Leya and we jump into a small motorboat. We’re going to spend the next couple of hours on the Zambezi. To tell the truth I’m not sure how enthusiastic we were. Aleady seen lots of animals, lots of water. What else was there? However, it was all part of the experience so we shove off. As it turns out it was a nice afternoon. We boogied down river towards the Falls. On the way saw crocs, interesting bird things, elephants, all kinds of stuff really. The highlight was an encounter with three or four elephants where we saw two of the young males playing fighting. Even Sandy was impressed. I’m going to try to upload the video where you’ll hear him saying how cool it was. Near the end of the video you’ll see one of the elephants approaching us effectively telling us to back off. At the same time you’ll hear Sandy futilely trying to start the engine as we continue to float toward them. Or if I can’t upload the video, you’ll have to imagine all that. Without ruining the suspense, we did get the engine started and we didn’t die. Press the play arrow to cofirm all that, if you’re interested.
On the back we stopped the boat and enjoyed some Mosi beer while drifting and watching the sunset. (Mosi is a popular local beer with a low alcohol content. Its slogan is “You can’t drink it fast enough to get a buzz on”. There’s a couple people I know in Cape Breton that might like to give it a go.) Back to the compound to freshen up and then be escorted back for dinner. Had another Mosi. Had dinner again with the two Susan; still Democrats. Then back to the mosquito net.
Next day. (We’re going to push on here, or we’ll never get home.) After breakfast Sandy takes us through Livingstone (green) to a helipad. Here we take a 15 minute helicopter
tour of the falls. Worthwhile. Victoria Falls is so irregularly shaped, it’s hard to get a good perspective on the ground. After buying the video we go back through Livingstone (red) for lunch. Afternoon, back into Livingstone (red), this time downtown rather than through the edge of it. Here we finally see an African downtown which we might have imagined. Many modern buildings but mixed in with lots of infrastructure from the past. Hints at relative prosperity but evidence of incredible poverty as well. But you know what? We felt safer walking through this frontier town than any of the so called developed cities in South Africa. Went to the museum (don’t bother!), to the permanent market
don’t bother if you want to actually buy anything but bother if you want to see where thelocals shop). Then we had two missions in life. We were trying to buy some soy milk for Claire and a souvenir stamp for a friend. We struck out on the first. Sandy didn’t even know what soy milk was so he wasn’t much help but we gave it a good try wandering around the local superstore much to the amusement of the other shoppers, none of which were the same colour as us. We did manage to get a stamp and encountered some of the African bureaucracy. In the post office we waited in line for a clerk who informed us that they couldn’t accept US or South African currency, but there was a currency exchange booth right next door. We lined up for that where we turned in 2 US dollars in return for 10,632 Kwacha. Back to the stamp booth, Kwachas in hand where we finally end up with a stamp and about 8,000 leftover Kwachas. (I brought these home to exchange but RBC is very short sighted about these things and wouldn’t cooperate. If you know anyone going to Zambia let me know and I’ll wire transfer them.) So a lot of work for a stamp. But don’t thank us yet Beth, because it didn’t actually make it home. It disappeared somewhere between there and here. However, we do have some Kwachas for you if you want. We’ve had enough of downtown Livingstone (it’s just about 100 degrees) and head back (green).
Lazy (hot) afternoon but one incident of note. Elephants have excellent memories. Toka Leya is built on what used to be a natural habitat including herds of elephants. To this day certain
elephants ignore the fact that it is now a camp with buildings on it and cut through to get to the river to drink. I’m not sure I believed that until I look out our window in the afternoon and see two of them returning from the water and passing our tent within perhaps 20 feet knocking a couple of small trees over on the way. And we thought we had problems with that stupid little dog in our yard in Florida!
That evening we go down for a Mosi and say hello to Moto Moto. (Hmm, I think I forgot to mention Moto Moto. He’s a hippo that spends his days in the water next to the camp. Their skin is very sensitive to sunlight and only come out when the sun is pretty much down. In the evening he comes up by on the river bank to eat, a few feet away from the bar area) Tonight things have changed. Susans have gone, as has the group of 18. We meet the only new guests; a couple and their adult daughter from California. We have dinner together. Sandy doesn’t join us tonight but Gibson and Jacqui, two other employees at the camp, do. Nice group. Turns out that the daughter who had her own tent has spotted a gecko in it. Apparently doesn’t like geckos cause now she’s bunking in with Mom while Dad is taking over her tent. Gotta watch those geckos. ( Each room is equipped with an air-horn to be blown in the event of some danger or problem. Staff is greatly relieved that the daughter is moving. They weren’t looking forward to responding to that air horn in the middle of the night and scrambling around looking for that gecko.) Escorted back to our tents. No geckos were going to get us.
Today is departure day but before we check out and head to the airport we’re scheduled for “an authentic village visit” Sounds pretty touristy eh. Not so. Pretty special actually. Toka Leya seems to do a lot of good work; foundation and so on. One of their interests is a particular village nearby. We drive off road for about 15 minutes to get there. Simonga is like a movie set for an African village, only it’s not a movie set. Five tribes of around 4,000 residents living mostly off subsistance farming call this home. They live in huts. No cars anywhere. When they want to fish they walk to the river, an all day trip. They recently received their second community well (remember 4,000 people) and a small school, both gifts from outside agencies. Dorothy agreed to show us around. So when we say tour, we mean the two of us and Dorothy walking around. The residents had nothing but didn’t seem to complain. Everyone we met smiled and welcomed us. We even had a visit to their “school”. Really a cross between a kindergarten and a lower elementaryschool housed in a one room structure. The kids tried their hardest to ignore us but finally gave up and eventually gave us a little song. Press the play arrow to listen.
After an hour we thanked Dorothy and rejoined Sandy who took us back to the camp. We were both quiet on the way back as we contemplated the difference in the futures of those children and those of Canada or any other developed nation. Sobering.
OK. Back to the camp. Pack up and check out. I’m presented our bill for incidentals. I don’t know what my credit card limit is but I wasn’t sure if the system could handle my bill for 2,614,140.00. It did though. (Wait until I get my aeroplan points) and we jumped in the cab (a real car, with a roof. First time in 8 days.) to the airport. Before we leave though, I want to say something about the Zambian people. We’ve done a lot of travelling. You’re always looking for professional services and sincere goodwill. Sometimes you get one, sometimes you get the other and sometimes you get neither. (Are you listening Toronto?) But in Zambia we found the best balance of both we’ve ever encountered. Every staff member at the camp, every single one welcomed us there as if we were best friends. Sandy, Jacqui, Gogo , Gibson and all the others treated us in a disarmingly sincere manner but at a professional level. I’m almost feeling bad about taking all the silverware. We liked these people a lot. I get the sense that this is a country that has been convinced that tourism is a key to improving their future and somehow they’ve been able to extend their natural native charm to these outsiders. I hope it lasts.
Travel day. We’re going back to South Africa and more safaris. Oh boy.
Question of the day. There’s a lot of need in this world. If we’d stayed any longer at Simonga we’d have adopted about 15 of those kids. Should we be putting our efforts in helping those that are half way around the world when we seem to have so many places that need help close to home? And I don’t mean disasters. I mean everyday community development. What do you think; fresh water, sanitary conditions and basic education for Africa or food banks in Halifax?
Great blog entry – especially the videos, but you left us with a tough question. I think the answer lies in your personal definition of community. Enjoy the rest of your trip.
I agree David. If your sense of community limits you to, say your local city, then the answer is probably obvious. But what if your sense of community is global, do you then reach out to the neediest or the closest?