It's the third evening of a five night stay in Livingstone, Zambia and although The Cough is back (thought I was on the mend after Round One but I've seemingly picked it up again in Round Two), it's been surreal so far. Not only have I white water rafted the 'mighty Zambezi', I've survived. Yes, fancy that. That was followed by an unexpected ride in a jet boat, a rather sedate Booze Cruise and a drum lesson! I was so tired by 9pm that I was unable to construct sentences! Then today it was another early start and I spent the morning with lions and this arvo with white rhino in the smallest of Zambia's national parks which I think all that went agreed is the best guided walk we've done on the trip.
Our days in Livingstone were packed. Planning to spend four nights at Grubby's Grotto (awesome guy, awesome place), Suse graciously gave us an extra night so we could fit everything in. Only two people had to decide between one activity or another but everyone else's schedule worked. Most blew their monthly budget in less than a week and
I'd say all agreed it was worth it.
A shout out to the women I met from The Book Bus. An organisation I hadn't known of, they visit schools in their mobile library and read and do arts and crafts with the school children. I'm told they also have a bus in Malawi, Ecuador and starting next year, India. Definitely something I want to look into.
So! A rundown of the insane amount of activities I crammed into four days!
White water rafting
Rafting will probably go down as one of the bestest, scariest things I've ever done. Twenty five rapids at the height of the season when the water is nearing its lowest and like sandboarding, I didn't put enough thought in. I was apprehensive signing up but everyone raved about it so much and coupled with the notion that I'm not afraid of water and can actually swim fairly well, I went for it.
I think if I hadn't been thrown out on the first rapid I would've been less nervous. As it was, it took our raft four attempts to get through it as it was L-shaped and we needed to cross it. Exhausted
before we'd even really began, all of a sudden I found myself in the water being tossed about as if in a washing machine. Kicking like mad and trying to keep my mouth shut and the panicking to a minimum, I had to wait for my life jacket to take me to the surface. It felt like an absolute eternity. My first gulp of air was as I was being hauled into the boat and to be honest, if they'd asked if I wanted to quit then (and if it were possible), I know I would've. As it was, we continued through the beautiful scenery, getting the hang of it until rapid number seven known as Gulliver's Travels. At 125 metres it's the longest rapid on the river and from what the other raft said, we flipped in slow motion. I held onto the side for as long as I could before riding the rapid down to the safety boat where they plucked me out in time for the next rapid.
It was a great day in hindsight and I am glad I went. Our guides were truly fantastic as were the crew in the safety boats and kayaks. The
company we went with, Rafting Extreme are, as far as I know, the only company with a 100% safety record. So when they tighten your life jacket to the point where a corset feels like it might be a more comfortable option, don't complain. It's for your own good.
Upon finishing the rafting, we saw Suse on the shoreline waiting for us. Upon hearing she was in town, an old friend of her's rang and offered her a lift to meet us, mentioning that a Chinese film crew were in town and wanted to see his jet boat in action. Guess who the lucky guinea pigs were! I've been on one in New Zealand so I was definitely keen. Off we went, grinning and waving at the camera like mad, holding on while we did 360 degree spins and hugged the rocky shoreline. Over the rapids we went with much more ease than we managed less than an hour before and when we turned and came back through, he dunked us under a large wave. Having all just dried from our swimming, we were once again soaked to the skin. It was brilliant.
The cable car that
carried us out of the gorge is also in place thanks to him and none of us could even imagine having to walk out (like they do on the Zimbabwe side).
The day was still young. Some of us had signed up for a combo deal and the sunset cruise was part of it. Being dropped off on the Upper Zambezi and meeting a boat fully stocked with a BBQ and alcohol should've been the perfect way to end an adrenaline packed day. It was, but I was too tired to want to do anything except chill. Two glasses of wine, some food, a few hippos in the water alongside us and a gorgeous sunset and moonrise and I was ready for bed but wait, there's even more...
A drumming lesson was also included in the combo and armed with a drink and a drum, we sat around a huge bonfire to await instruction. In all honesty I thought we were going to listen to people play but instead we were instructed in the art of drumming. Most of us were able to follow and repeat the tune and there was no end to our
amusement. I think I would've enjoyed it more if I hadn't been so exhausted (I couldn't construct a proper sentence!) but all I wanted was my bed. Soon after, my wish was granted and I'm sure I fell asleep before my head hit the pillow...
The following morning those going on the lion walk were up relatively early. All the activities seem to be in the same general vicinity and we were driven to an area not far from the border. There, after filling out paperwork to say we wouldn't sue if a lion took a more than usual interest in one of our limbs, we head out to meet two cubs who were already out with their keepers. Turns out 18 month old cubs are MUCH bigger than I thought; they were practically the size of a fully grown female! I admit to being slightly disappointed when my dream of rolling around in the dirt with a tiny cub I could pick up dissipated before my eyes...
But that was most definitely short lived. When the female flopped down in front of us and we were encouraged to take turns patting her, I melted. I'd scratched
a cheetah behind the ears in Namibia and now I was running my hand along a lion's back! Scratching hard enough to not feel like a fly and tickle them, she turned to look at me and yawn, just as Britt snapped some photos. The result makes it looks like she's snarling at me, teeth bared, and I didn't realise how it looked for other people until comments were made on FB!
After climbing a tree, sharpening her claws and looking for a bit of love from her handlers, she was ready to walk. The male who is a white lion, had little to do with most of us and I didn't pat him. He was beautiful and had the beginnings of a mane appearing around his neck although the spots on his (and her) belly and legs were still visible and would fade as they grew.
For me, the highlight was walking along a path chosen by the lion, holding its tail. Yup, I held the end of its tail as casually as if holding the end of a rope - although one wouldn't usually have a ridiculous grin plastered to their face if all it was was rope!
It was over too soon but I had the chance to scratch a caracal behind its tufted ears and watch cheetahs have their daily exercise, stretching their limbs as they chased a small pom pm of sorts. Once finished, they were rewarded with a piece of meat.
The park is relatively new, having only opened in 2007. Land has been purchased and set aside with the idea that the animals will be released and their litters will grow up without the human interactions their parents currently endure. Staff are enthusiastic about their jobs and knowledgeable not only about the animals but the flora and Zambia itself which I loved.
Possibly one of the best afternoons ever. Heading out in two groups with a guide and armed guard each (the eight rhinos in the park have 24/7 security due to poachers), we walked through the scrub trying to avoid acacia thorns unsuccessfully. Being unaccustomed to tracking white rhino in the wild, the guide had spotted the eldest male (there are only two) while we (or at least I) still thought we were looking at a rock. We left him to bask in the spotlight of the other group's
cameras and veered right to where a mother and her eighteen month old hid from the hot sun under the shade of a tree. Standing with her bum to us, the youngster eventually turned to nudge its mum to a standing position, obviously bored and ready to move. We gave them space and backtracked, coming across the younger male under a tree nearby! Four of the eight rhinos in such a small space of time! We spent time observing them and were about to head back when the older male visited the 'post office' to drop off some 'mail'. They going to the toilet in the same areas to let the others know that they've been there. He wandered off and the younger male moved in and we watched in amazement as he seemed to challenge his elder, getting to the point where they were horn to horn; the mother and her calf looking on nearby. We were also close, behind a fallen tree in case one should charge and it was reluctantly that we walked away when the guide ushered us back towards the vehicles.
An afternoon snack on the banks of the Upper Zambezi (with warnings to steer
clear of the shoreline due to crocs!) was followed by an unexpected game drive. Again, Suse's charm and the fact that she is friends with the owner of the company meant we were given more than we expected. Sitting on the back of an open vehicle, the guides pointed out flora and fauna and were by far the most fascinating guides we've had. Most have been great but they were heads above everyone. Also enthusiastic about their jobs and the animals meant it rubbed off on us and we were treated to elephant, antelope, warthog, baboon, giraffe, zebra and buffalo sightings, the later being a huge herd only metres away. It was a fantastic end to our second day and one we raved about for many more.
Then next day five of us went on a microlight flight, with others going in the late afternoon. Doning a stylish jumpsuit, helmet and headphones and sitting behind the pilot, we took off for a flight over Vic Falls, turning around at evil rapid number seven (that didn't look anywhere near as bad from above), into Zimbabwean airspace and over the national park and Upper Zambezi. The falls were stunning and
I can't imagine how it must look after the rains. I'd definitely like to come back and see. We looked down on hippos, huge crocs, a flamingo, herds of elephant (and saw the destruction they cause to the trees) and because no cameras or any other hanging objects are permitted (there's a camera fixed to the end of the wing that the pilot uses to take photos), I could relax and just enjoy the scenery. Definitely not the cheapest thirty minutes I've ever spent but definitely worth it.
Only available when the water is at its lowest, Livingstone Island is a small island (funny that) where David stood as the first European to view the falls (known as Mosi-oa-Tunya, 'the smoke that thunders' in the local dialect) and later commented that "scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight."
After a short boat trip from the fancy pants Livingstone Hotel (they have giraffe and other animals that wander around their grounds!!) we walked to the edge of the falls and were rewarded with a rainbow in the mist. Denise and her fear of heights kept her a safe distance from the edge
while I tried peering over it. It was a beautiful sight and I was looking forward to seeing it from the Zim side the following day.
Then it was swimming time. Devil's Pool is a small area right on the very edge of the falls. The water was bloody freezing as we swam across the current before letting it take us to the rocky ledge bordering the pool. They weren't joking when they said it was right on the edge. Water gushed over the rocks, tumbling the 108 metres below and I was suitably apprehensive until the guide did a back flip into the water. Lowering myself in, the water pushed me to the rock barrier and as long as you keep yourself vertical, it's perfectly safe.
Having to get out far too soon, we pulled ourselves in on a rope and then swam back the way we came, changing at the 'loo with a view' before a delicious lunch with an unbeatable view. Highly recommended if you're there at the right time of year.
We went to Zim for the day! First watching Britt and Alexis bungy jump from the bridge that separates the two countries, we
walked across, stopped for the visa and Alexis and I walked into the Victoria Falls NP. I felt the $USD30 entry fee was a bit steep but once we found the falls I forgot all about it. They were stunning. A fine mist cooled us as we walked under the trees, stopping at the various lookout points.
From there we walked towards town, withdrew US dollars from the ATM machine (Zim deal in USD only and we needed them for upcoming borders) and met others at the equally fancy pants Victoria Falls hotel. Talbot and Maria were sharing afternoon tea and we followed suit, soon rewarded with sandwich fingers, warm scones with yummy jam and clotted cream and delectable cakes. Washing it all down with several cups of tea, I was very content.
A couple of cocktails later (and a thinly disguised marriage proposal for an Aussie visa), we made our way further into town and were picked up by a transfer to Boma restaurant. Considered one of the best game restaurants, we had our cheeks painted with tiny dots, were dressed in local cloth and treated to live music and dancing before even getting to the front door! By
the end of the night I'd had my future told by a witchdoctor (coincidentally my future is almost identical to that of Cecilia, Britt and Denise) and tried guinea fowl, bream, crocodile, buffalo, eland, more springbok and my new favourite meat ever, ever: warthog.
Then, it was a mad dash for the border. We'd almost left it too late to get there before it shut at 10pm and as it was we were cutting it close. Jareb ran ahead to tell them we were with elderly men who couldn't walk fast and those who could, jogged on. Britt and I were stopped at the bridge by a soldier who seemed keen on her and then ran across in the dark with only the moonlight and the sound of the falls accompanying us.
Clearing customs, officials pointed out elephants just feet away from us, separated by only a wire fence. Fascinated to be so close and naively forgetting they're wild animals, we took a step or two forward only to have the largest and closest one spin so silently and so quickly around and remind us that they are indeed dangerous animals. We hightailed it to Grubby's waiting vehicle and headed
back to camp, ready for bed before the border crossing tomorrow.
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