Tag Archives: Zambia

Livingstone, I Presume

Livingstone is the city on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls, the largest and most famous waterfall in Africa. The falls are a major tourist attraction, and are a highlight of many people’s journey to ‘the dark continent’. Victoria Falls is about one kilometer across, where the entire Zambezi River drops into a gorge about 400 feet deep.

We arrived in Livingstone after crossing, from east to west, almost all of Zambia by bus in a single day. It was dark when we arrived, but our preferred guesthouse was only a couple of blocks from the bus stop. Unfortunately, it was full, so we found a local guesthouse (i.e. no tourists) where we got a room, with shower, for about 70,000 Kwacha (about $12 US). We switched rooms for each of the next two nights, eventually ending up in the ‘honeymoon suite’ at Jollyboys Backpackers, a thatched cottage with a double bed, a mosquito net, and a shared shower and toilet about 50 feet away in the main building. We either need to resign ourselves to getting up once or twice a night, or curtail all beer drinking by 6 PM!

There we met up with Mark and Chloe, the young couple who survived the hair-raising hitchhiking experience, and who only had a single day to spend in Victoria Falls. They were booked on the infamous Victoria Falls sunset river cruise that evening, so we agreed to join them. Later in the day, we met up with Bart and Evelyn (the Dutch not-really-a-couple who we’d spent time with in NKhata Bay, Malawi). They signed up for the all-you-can-eat-and-drink in two hours booze cruise also.

We first visited the falls around mid-day. The recent rainy season has had the highest rainfall in 40 years, so the falls are running more powerfully than they have in many decades. They are quite spectacular when viewed from the side of the falls, where the view isn’t masked by the spray that shoots up from the bottom of the gorge.

As you progress from the side to the edge of the gorge opposite the falls, it becomes progressively wetter. Many people rent a rain poncho. We decided on a different approach.

It quickly becomes very wet — more like swimming than walking in the rain. The water is so powerful that it ricochets more than 400 feet from where it impacts at the bottom of the gorge, and sends clouds of moisture an additional 200 feet into the air, above the level of the top of the falls. The water falls back to earth in a heavy, drenching rain, and as the trail gets close to the edge of the gorge, is augmented by sheets off spray blasting up from below. It’s the best shower we’ve had in Africa!


Later that day, on the sunset cruise, we met a group of four recently graduated British doctors who had just completed their residency in Zambia. The pontoon barge put in upstream of the falls, and was equipped with a single outboard motor. I briefly wondered what they do if the motor fails, but quickly washed that thought from my mind with a couple of gin and tonics. The body count was as follows. The names have been removed to protect the innocent, but none of them was Diane or Patrick, who had been warned by a man with a broken leg that had been on the cruise a few weeks earlier, and who sustained his injury while jumping from a moving vehicle after the event:
· one woman had to be sent home early, carried back to the bus by Patrick
· one British woman was taken back to our guesthouse bar by two of her three friends, where they needed to rescue her from the arms of two different men
· one British man was missing action. We knew that he’d made it to shore, but after several searches he couldn’t be located, and his friends went back to town without him. He made it back safely in the middle of the night after waking up alone in the darkened men’s bathroom of the outdoor beach club where our boat docked. He had the highest concentration of mosquito bites that we’ve ever seen, but only on the side of his face that wasn’t pressed against the wall as he slept.

The next day, we were surprisingly not hung over. Perhaps it was our regular training regime of afternoon and evening beers? So, we headed to the bridge over the Zambezi which forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and exists in the no man’s land between the two border posts. It is possible to head out onto the bridge, without officially leaving Zambia, to enjoy the view and the activities available there.

Patrick started off the Bungee Jump. 111 meters (about 350 feet) from the bridge deck to the bottom of the gorge. The third highest in the world. Four seconds of freefall before the bungee comes tight, which feels about two seconds too long when you’re doing it.

Then the Gorge Swing. Similar to the bungee jump except that you are attached to a static rope, not an elastic bungee, that is anchored at bridge level over 300 feet away to a cable crossing the gorge. The drop is the same, but at the bottom, instead of springing back up, you swing out in an arc. It’s more frightening than the bungee because you don’t dive, but merely walk off the side of the bridge and fall over 300 feet.

In both cases, after you stop moving, a guy is lowered from the bridge to retrieve you, and then you’re winched back up to a catwalk below the bridge. You then walk to the end of the bridge, up the bank on the Zambian side, then back out to the center of the bridge. Bart and Evelyn also did the bungee, but Evelyn stopped after that.

The triple feature was completed was a zip line across the gorge, from the Zambia to the Zimbabwean sides. This was the tamest of the three, and a nice relaxing way to wind up.

Our timing in visiting the falls was perfect, because the next night was a full moon. On the night of the full moon, the falls open again after dark, to experience something very rare – a lunar rainbow. On full moons with clear skies, a rainbow is visible when the light from the moon hits the mist above the falls. It’s much fainter than a regular rainbow, and less colourful, but it is clearly visible with the naked eye. Here’s a photo taken with a 30-second exposure in the darkness.

We had a great two days in Livingstone experiencing part of what Victoria Falls has to offer. In our next posting, we’ll fill you in the rest of it.

Things never work out quite the way we planned

We arrived in Zambia about a week ago, and spent the first five days in South Luangwa National Park. Like many of our stories, this one started off with a transportation challenge. South Luangwa is about 120 kilometers from the small town of Chipata, and there isn’t any regularly scheduled public transportation to the park. There is often one minibus that covers the rough dirt road per day, but it leaves when full, which can take many hours. Some friends from Holland boarded this minibus at 8 AM, and waited until 4 PM for it to depart! Hitchhiking is the preferred alternative, and the one utilized by most locals. In more remote areas of Zambia, hitchhiking is an accepted form of transport, with many routes having established rates. Unfortunately, you often end up riding in the back of a pickup or on a flatbed truck.

We left Chipata in the early AM and were waiting at the side of the start of the road to the park at about 8 AM. We got a ride three hours later, in the open back of a small truck. A number of local people shared the ride with us, including a woman, her mother, and her two- year-old child, sick with malaria and on the way to the hospital. The road was rough, and once again we were struck with the double flat tire and only one spare scenario, so we waited in the heat of the afternoon by the side of the road, battling the flies. The driver and another guy took both flat tires and started rolling them down the road, heading for the nearest village, which may or may not have had the facilities to repair the flats. The mother and sick child had no water, so they asked and we shared ours.

Vehicle traffic on this road is limited, and we flagged down every vehicle that passed. One was a USAid non-governmental organization (NGO) vehicle, that wasn’t allowed to take any passengers that were not employees. Another was a car with five young men, all drinking heavily, who insisted that we could both squeeze in. We passed. After two hours, a vehicle from Land and Lakes safari company came by, and we pleaded our case. Luckily, they had two empty seats, and one of the passengers was a young Canadian woman from Vernon, who saw the Canadian flags on our backpacks standing in the back of the pickup. They gave us a lift to the park, and we ended up staying at the riverside camp called ‘Croc Valley’ where some of them stayed. In fact, we ended up spending the next two days with them, going on daytime and nighttime game drives, and sharing early morning breakfast and mid-day brunches.

The park was terrific, and we saw a wide variety of wildlife from our open safari vehicle. The driver Godfrey was very good, and he did his best to manage our expectations while catering to our preferences. We had good luck, and saw everything we wanted to. I’m saving the pictures, so as not to spoil things for my friends who are coming to meet us for a safari in Tanzania in a few weeks. Here’s a picture of us on safari.

By staying an extra day in the park, we were able to catch a ride back to Chipata with the same group. Unfortunately we arrived too late to obtain onward transport to Zambia’s capital city of Lusaka, so we headed back to the guest house run by the municipal government where we had stayed previously. The young woman from Vernon (Chloe) and her traveling companion from England (Mark) had only a few days left on their trip, and were pressed for time, so they caught a cab to the edge of town at about 3 PM to try to hitch a ride for the eight hour trip to Lusaka. We briefly considered joining them, but thought that hitchhiking with four people would be difficult. We met up with them two days later in another city, and they told us their tale.

They waited at the side of the road with a local man, and all three got a lift in the sleeper compartment (behind the driver and passenger) of a semi-tractor pulling dual gasoline tankers. Their ride was fine for the first two hours, until they stopped for food. After about 45 minutes, the driver and front seat passenger returned to the vehicle, and had been drinking. In addition, they brought a bucket of beer with them. By now it was getting dark, and they were in a truck stop in the middle of nowhere in Zambia. They decided to continue, but spoke to the driver, and asked him not to drink any more. He only had one or two more beers while driving, but the passenger was downing them rapidly, and had about eight or ten. This was OK because he wasn’t driving. About 11 PM, after a long day, Chloe and Mark nodded off. When they awoke, the passenger and driver had switched places! In what appears to be a case of seriously bad logic, they had switched places so that the previous driver could also drink (without driving). Amazingly, they arrived safely in Lusaka about 2 AM.

This was one ride that we were glad that we had the better judgment not to take!