We had a perfectly civilized morning departure from Joburg to Zambia. Our travel would have been seamless if it hadn’t been for the one hour and 30 minutes we spent in an immigration line at the airport in Zambia. While we weren’t required to apply in advance as US citizens we still needed visas for entry to Zambia. That was done at the airport. The processing was done by one dude who had to process the 100 or so passengers that flew with us. It entailed, photos, digital fingerprints and a credit card transaction that wasn’t exactly electronic. This is where I expect the worst from GM. He cant stand lines, inefficient processes, especially of the bureaucratic variety and he really hates it when he has to pay for the privilege for all this perceived futility and stupidity. Despite some early huffing and puffing he did manage to keep it together. Even the car that picked us couldn’t believe we had been detained so long and was concerned we hadn’t made our flight.
Our driver for our time in Livingstone was named Calvin and he was an encyclopedia of information about the area, his country and the wildlife. He was a great driver and a really nice guy. He took us to the Chudukwa Lodge which is on the Zambezi River. We stayed at a pretty and rustic cottage with beautiful river views. The house was staffed by some really nice guys from the local village that cooked and attended to us. We had a nice light lunch, got some laundry sorted out that needed some serious sorting and enjoyed a visit from some local elephants. They are big and beautiful and need quiet and respect. We heard hippos through out our visit as well although. They pretty much stayed in the water, which is a good thing as we learned much later they are vicious.
We had some quiet time, showers before our introduction to a wonderful African tradition, the Sun-downer. It’s a cocktail for the grownups (scotch and bourbon for GM and I, and the usually prohibited soda pop for the kids. Also there is usually some sort of salty snack. In this case there was popcorn and cheese and salami. We spent this sundown on a boat on the river with Levi, the houseman and elder of the local village that visited later in our visit. We visited an island where we saw baboons and egrets as well as the omnipresent sound of the angry hippos. We returned after cocktail hour to a fire that was most necessary because it was freezing (not usual). We had a lovely dinner and went to bed promptly as we were tired and cold.
It should be said here that since we had been on the boat in Tahiti, we had been on a very non-O’Connell schedule of waking and sleeping. Surely it had to do with our consistent creeping westward to earlier time zones and some of it was certainly that we were busy during the day and nighttime was more for sleeping. I really have enjoyed waking early (6:00) and going to bed early 9:00. I have been walking up voluntarily and well rested. I am definitely feeling more clear headed and more often than not I don’t have to say all 4 of the kids names before I nail the right one. I go to sleep often reading a book. I am sure that the fact that I am not cleaning house, organizing meals and constantly connected, helps me find my bed at the end of the natural day.
We spent two full days in Livingstone. Livingstone is the city located on the Zambia side of Victoria Falls. The town is named after Dr. David Livingstone who appears to be a much loved Englishmen who came to the falls not to rape the land or expand the slave trade but to help protect the locals from other Europeans and spread some Christian religion along the way. He seems to be an OK guy especially compared to Kruger and Rhodes.
The falls are spectacular; they are the longest on earth (several kilometers long). They fall into a deep rocky gorge (no thrill seekers riding barrels here). And while they are not particularly high, they make up for in accessibility. With a guide you can walk out to the edge of the falls. When the water is much lower you can actually swim in pools that go out like infinity pools out to the edge. Not for the faint of heart. What we did was thrilling enough. We also had a nice brunch fall side and then went and walked the falls boardwalk in the National Park. After we finished touring the falls we went to an “adventure center” where you had your choice of repelling, flying fox and the gorge swing. We all did the flying fox (long zip line that you ride so you are horizontal to the ground, which is really far down. Henry Georgie and Owen chose to try out the crazy assed Gorge swing where you are basically doing bungee with out the spring up and down, but swinging back and forth. There is a guy that pushes you off the platform and you free fall and then when there is no more slack left you swing. For some reason Cal , GM and I opted not to do it. I have to say I did regret not doing it. The afternoon was spent at a Wildlife restoration project where you can spend some time with Cheetahs or elephants that are being raised for release into a some wildlife reserve some rich Arab (that’s what our guides called him) is funding. Currently fences are being installed and while they wait they are raising money to maintain them until they can be release into the wild. It was really cool. While we were able to touch and pet three young (around a year old) cheetahs and walk the animals one of the handlers gave us an informative talk all about cheetahs. They are gorgeous animals that are quite fragile despite their speed. They are much smaller than the other big cats like the leopard and lions. They are quite placid and not at aggressive with humans. They were beautiful and it was a great preview for our safari. After a nice dinner back at the lodge we were in bed early.
The next day we spent the morning visiting two local and very different schools. Levy gave us a walk through his very simple but tidy village. There is no electricity or running water. We understood that most of the men were employed at the several lodges in the area so women in the village are busy with the washing and cooking. Only the youngest children remained at home. The other children either walk the 5 km to the local public school or attend the make shift preschool that operates out of the church. We visited the kids and the director, a man named Edwin, who was trying with very little to give the kids a head start with their academics and free up the moms of child care so they have more time for the never-ending cooking and cleaning. This was a joyful and poignant experience for all of us. Especially my kids. They were very quite at first then they really started to interact with the village kids. After playing with the kids for a while we talked to Edwin about what he needed. He needed everything, food for the kids, clothes, books, writing materials, money for his salary….It was overwhelming. After saying goodbye we went and visited a very different school
The Tongabezi School (http://www.tujatane.com/school.htm) has been a huge success. Started in 1996 by the wife of a lodge owner for the employees’ children the first graduating class is now post college (95% college graduate rates) with some stunning outcome: doctors, lawyers and pilots. Its heart breaking to think about how much potential there is in these small villages with few of the kids ever having the opportunity. But its so inspiring to see what a difference a good funded school with access to trained teachers and current materials can make. We are not talking about some of the private day schools in the states that look more like day spas. This was a simple school with a clear mission and teachers dedicated help the kids and help the parents help the kids with their education.
Our afternoon was spent back at the animal reserve, this time visiting and riding elephants. They are fascinating animals but not very comfortable to ride. We enjoyed out last night dining back at the lodge cottage and one last campfire on the Zambezi.