Zambia Part I – Borderjumping again and Victoria Falls


The road to Zambia took us from Livingstone’s Camp in Namibia to Katima Mulilo, back to Botswana and then to the pontoon, where we crossed the Zambezi River into Zambia, at Kazungula. The Botswana part was a bit of a surprise to us both.

There is a road straight to Kasane from Katima Mulilo, but our GPS took us on a joyride which at first seemed like our planned route. All of a sudden we were at a border post while we still had 99 km to go. We were totally confused and was even more surprised when it wasn’t the border to Zambia, but to Botswana. We eventually figured it out and got a bonus game drive through Chobe National Park, so we can tick Chobe with a pencil.

We arrived at the Botswana–Zambia border post in the late afternoon. Clearing the Botswana side for the second time that day was painless, although the queue of trucks wouldn’t agree with us. Someone told us it can take anything from two to four days for a truck to clear both sides and cross the river with a pontoon.

When we arrived at the queue, we didn’t know whether to fall in line or pass them to go to the front. We decided to go ahead to the offices and come back, should we have to. The queue snaked around the bends for more than 2 km, I guess. At Botswana Immigration, two guys approached us to help with the process, which we could decline politely as we were quite familiar with Botswana by now. It was the sixth time after all.

The ferry was another story. It seemed like utter chaos with trucks and people everywhere, three or four ferries and us. Luckily our two friends, George and Miles (sounds like the names of storybook British butlers), turned up again and after long negotiations started the process of getting us on the ferry. Petronella and the trailer were loaded first on the next ferry, followed by another private vehicle and then a massive truck and a crowd of people. It was quite an experience crossing the Zambezi in the late afternoon, just before sunset.

On the other side, even worse chaos greeted us. We felt like we’ve finally arrived in Africa. The South African, Namibian and Botswana border posts were very organised with all our “jumps”. Granted, we timed it, so we could cross on weekdays, and avoided public holidays like the plague. Thursday afternoon or not, this was the opposite of easy. Again, our English butlers came to our aid and disappeared with our passports and a lot of US dollars. Some time during our wait, Hugo disappeared as well and left me and the children in Petronella, parked between massive trucks. I never thought our vehicle would feel small, but I did feel a bit exposed there.

When one of the trucks in front of us had to leave, I had to reverse our train out, and no, not in a straight line. I had only a certain width of road I could use and of course it included turning the whole caboodle around. Just when I finished, Hugo turned up, minutes too late to view my achievement. Unbeknownst to me, I had a passenger on Petronella’s rear spare wheels. It was a drunken person who wanted money for taking such good care of us … Maybe next time, hey.

With our passports safely back and minus a few extra dollars on top of the required payments, we set off to Livingstone. Our Dutch friends from Nxai Pans kindly gave us the names of campsites (Maramba Falls and Waterfront), but Hugo drove straight to the Royal Livingstone, walking distance from Mosi-oa-Tunya (The Smoke that Thunders), better known as Victoria Falls. Where the prices made us gasp. Just across the road and part of the same group was the Zambezi Sun Hotel, with prices much more to our liking. We checked in and promptly ordered room service, after which I had a long soak in the bath. One thing about camping: it makes you appreciate the luxuries in life  ̶  like a hot bath, comfortable beds, electricity and crisp, white sheets  ̶  so much more.

The Royal Livingstone and Zambezi Sun Hotels are about 11 km from the town Livingstone.

Livingstone – The man, the myth, the legend

David Livingstone is one of a few European explorers who is still revered by modern-day Africans. His legendary exploits on the continent border the realm of fiction, though his life’s mission to end the slave trade was very real (and ultimately very successful).

Born into rural poverty in the south of Scotland on
19 March 1813, Livingstone worked in London for several years before being ordained as a missionary in 1840. The following year, he arrived in Bechuanaland (now Botswana) and began travelling inland, looking for converts and seeking to end the slave trade.

As early as 1842, Livingstone had already become the first European to penetrate the northern reaches of the Kalahari. For the next several years he explored the African interior with the purpose of opening up trade routes and establishing missions. In 1854, Livingstone discovered a route to the Atlantic coast, and arrived in present-day Luanda. However, his most famous discovery occurred in 1855, when he first set eyes on Victoria Falls during his epic boat journey down the Zambezi River. Livingstone returned to Britain a national hero, and recounted his travels in the 1857 publication Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa.

In 1858, Livingstone returned to Africa as the head of the “Zambezi Expedition”, a government-funded venture that aimed to identify natural resource reserves in the region. Unfortunately, the expedition ended when a previously unexplored section of the Zambezi turned out to be unnavigable.

In 1869, Livingstone reached Lake Tanganyika despite failing health, though several of his followers abandoned the expedition en route. These desertions were headline news in Britain, sparking rumours regarding Livingstone’s health and sanity. In response to the growing mystery surrounding Livingstone’s whereabouts, the New York Herald arranged a publicity stunt by sending journalist Henry Morton Stanley to find Livingstone.

After arriving in Zanzibar and setting out with nearly 200 porters, Stanley finally found Livingstone on 10 November 1871 in Ujiji near Lake Tanganyika and famously greeted him with the line
“Dr Livingstone, I presume?”.

Although Stanley urged him to leave the continent, Livingstone was determined to find the source of the Nile, and penetrated deeper into the continent than any European prior. On 1 May 1873, Livingstone died from malaria and dysentery near Lake Bangweula in present-day Zambia. His body was carried for thousands of kilometres by his attendants, and now lies in the ground at Westminster Abbey in London.

Directly after breakfast on our first morning, we walked to the Victoria Falls. The sight that greeted us was completely unexpected, even after all we had read and heard about it. We were too early to rent raincoats, so we walked as far as we could without getting soaked.

From Lonely Planet’s Guide to Southern Africa:

Seventh Natural Wonder of the World

Victoria Falls is the largest, most beautiful and most majestic waterfall on the planet, and is the Seventh Natural Wonder of the World as well as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A trip to Southern Africa would not be complete without visiting this unforgettable place. One million litres of water fall – per second – down a 108 m drop along a 1,7 km-wide strip in the Zambezi Gorge; an awesome sight.

Victoria Falls can be seen, heard, tasted and touched: it is a treat that few other places in the world can offer, a “must see before you die” spot.

And from

The Falls are 1,7 km wide with a volume of between 20 000 and 700 000 cubic meter per minute falling down a vertical drop of 100 metres. The spray of the falls can be clearly seen from a distance of 30 km and hence it’s name Mosi-oa-Tunya, The Smoke that Thunders.

I’m not the biggest fan of Lonely Planet’s travel guides, but I do wholeheartedly agree that Vic Falls is spectacular and that everyone should see it, if possible. The fact that we could hear the water from the hotel made it even more special.

That afternoon, we went on what is called “the flight of angels”. A helicopter flight over the falls and the surrounds in the national park. Breathtaking!

The sliding door of the vehicle that was sent to fetch us came off its railings and after a bit of a struggle, the company sent another one. Hugo graciously volunteered to hold on to the door so they didn’t have to send another one …

It was our first ever helicopter flight and we were looking forward to it since we met Douglas, a very passionate helicopter pilot, in the Kruger. Sophia was a bit apprehensive at first, but soon relaxed and was talking in our headphones all the time. The pilot sometimes switched over to Afrikaans to talk to her and Gustav and point out things of interest, like an elephant drinking water. We were all a bit disappointed when the flight ended all too soon.

Saturday we were back at the Falls again; this time with raincoats for all of us, including my camera. The rain protection comes in two layers: first a thin plastic one like those you get in amusement park water rides, and then a second, thicker layer. The children looked really cute with their outfits dragging on the ground.

This time, we could walk  ̶  or slide  ̶  all the way to the end. It was like walking in a rainstorm on slippery slime. On our way back, we went for a walk above the falls on the river banks, where I climbed down onto some rocks to take photos from above. Poor Gustav was in tears and very worried about me. It’s good to know there is at least one person in the family who isn’t really interested in my life insurance!

Back at the hotel, it was lunchtime with a live marimba band. Gustav and Sophia took turns entertaining the lunchtime crowd with their marimba “skills”. Sophia even danced with the band leader.

The hotel had a horse on the grounds that day and Sophia was on its back before we could blink. It is sad when your baby are suddenly so independent, not scared of getting on a horse without you and making friends everywhere she goes, also without us.

We had an early night, as Hugo and I had to be rested for my big challenge: white-water rafting in the Zambezi. Ever since I have been at varsity I wanted to do it. And it didn’t help that, when I met him, Hugo had a photo of him rafting in Zimbabwe. This time around, we are doing it in Zambia, but it’s the same river and rapids. Although Hugo was not too keen on it…

There was one big difference, though: the climb back up. You have to climb down a very steep cliff face in both countries, but in Zimbabwe you have to climb back up again. In Zambia, there is a cable car lift. That clinched the deal for both of us; not having to climb back up after facing fifteen rapids.
The climb down started well enough after a safety briefing. How hard can downhill get?

Pretty horrible. That’s how hard. Soon the incline got so steep that makeshift ladders covered the path. After a while, you (read: Dorette) had to turn around and climb down backwards like going down a ladder. “Some” people I know did it facing forwards, but that’s just showing off, I think. When, after an excruciating fifteen minutes, we finally reached the river, I could not for the life of me stand on my legs; they were all wobbly and rubbery. Luckily you don’t row with your legs. Ha! Not. You need them. Trust me, you need them.

We started at rapid number 10, as it was winter, and the water is at its highest mark then. Apparently it also means that the rapids aren’t as rough as they can be and the risk of capsizing is smaller. Not true. But there are much more water, so it’s much more dangerous if you capsize.

We were the only South Africans on the boat, our guide was a Zambian and the rest of the crew were Americans. One couple told us they had a few white-water experiences behind them and they knew what to do and how to row. Another lie. They had no clue. Then we had a young brother and sister and a friend. Between them, only the brother had some common sense and could follow orders. And usually the guides have two big wooden ores and sometimes the crew don’t even row. But. Our guide? He didn’t. He had the same short ore as the rest of us, and only one at that. It meant that we had to be able to help ourselves. We were eight and four of them were utterly useless. It made for extra fun.

The first few rapids were not too bad, but the water was freezing cold. We stayed upright, but the boat went all twisty and bendy (it didn’t have a solid bottom) and whenever we hit a rapid, a wave of arctic water would literally take my breath away. The Americans thought the water was refreshing. Shame, they probably don’t get out a lot.

Bravely we faced the water and the rapids, with some stretches of smoother water in-between to catch our breath. Often it was a close call. Our guide would just shout “down!” and we would all sit on the bottom of the raft, hanging on to the ropes for dear life.

The rapids have names like Judgement Day, Oblivion, Devil’s Toilet Bowl, the Terminator, Stairway to Heaven, the Washing Machine … Before each rapid, the guide told us the number and name of it, and frankly, it scared us. But you know how after a while you get used to it and become all cocky? Oblivion took care of that. We flipped. We were supposed to hang on when the boat capsized, but the boat landed on top of my head and there was no way I was going to hold on to something that was on my head.

So I let go. And although this was Oblivion, it felt more like the Washing Machine. I had to tell myself to keep calm; I have a life jacket on; it can’t keep on forever. It sure felt like it did. So when I surfaced and caught my breath, the rest was faaaaar away. Boat righted and all accounted for sans Dorette. [Ed: But did they at least worry about you?]

Luckily the rescue boat spotted me and picked me up. Plus I saved our guide’s throw rope when it drifted pass me  ̶  an expensive piece of equipment. They took me to our boat and once I was on board, we got going again. One of our American friends fell off on a stretch of smooth water. The mind boggles.

Another thing that mystified me was that almost everybody was overly eager when they got the chance to jump off a cliff. I get a burning building, but a cliff? One you have to climb beforehand? Even my dearest husband did it, and I probably held my breath longer than when I was actually under the water, waiting for him to surface.

When we almost reached the end of our trip, we were told that we could jump out and float down the river. Flippen hell, and people jumped out of a perfectly safe, floating raft. Into a freezing river. So I thought what the heck, and jumped in too. For the second time that day, I struggled to catch my breath in the icy cold water and immediately regretted being so stupid.

The ride in the cable lift back up felt like the riskiest, scariest part of the day, but it brought us safely to the top. We were dropped off at our hotel in our dripping wet clothes and went to find the children. They weren’t happy to see us. Told us to come back later; they wanted to stay with the sitter.

What can you do? We had a late lunch at Squires and hot showers before the kiddos were ready for us…

On Monday, 8 June, we finally said goodbye to the Zambezi Sun after four glorious days and a massive shock when we got the bill. Because of the post-traumatic stress, I could suddenly not walk up or down stairs and Hugo had to help me for a day or two.

It had NOTHING to do with the previous day’s exercise.

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