This week’s mini gallery features some of my favourite snaps from Zambia which are also unfortunately some of the lower quality ones as they were snapped with my phone out the passenger side window.
Either way, they paint a mini portrait of the landscape and the reality of the country – giant shade trees, dwellings that range from brick to thatch, dirt roads, poverty, and sometimes being able to take some time to chat while selling your wares at the road side market.
We’re back in our home country, so I’m back to posting the photo of the week. From hereon in (partially as an excuse to go through more of our trip photos), I’ll also be including a tiny gallery to give you more context, or insight, or just more photos.
This week, we’re looking at elephants on the Zambezi during our canoe trip in Zambia. We managed to get pretty close to a few later on to get some sharper shots (as you can see below), but Moreno snapped the feature image of the elephants over the grass while I was afraid to even look in their direction, and I love how dreamy and hazy the photo came out.
Note: There was no colour editing done on the photos. The grays and greens always came out a bit heavier and deeper in Zambia for some reason.
We started the week in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. We weren’t there for touristic reasons, but the highway north went right through it, so it was a good place to camp for the night and then run errands in the morning. Africa might be preparing for Christmas, but after struggling in the 40°C heat, we opted to gift ourselves with a fan!
We rushed off to Zambia’s most popular park, South Luangwa, where we were told we’d be guaranteed to see leopards. Well, they weren’t quite falling out of the sky but we did see one just as we parked for a quick break.
There we were snacking on popcorn in front of the ranger’s vehicle, when his tracker said something in Nyanja, and the ranger gently suggested we snack on the far side of the vehicle instead – a leopard had come to a waterhole not more than a hundred meters from us and now was running past us back to safety! Ironically, I felt safer than I did around elephants, which we heard more horror stories about from the ranger (under his overarching theme of “Why I Don’t Do Walking Safaris.”)
However, none of the parks in Zambia are fenced so I was able to face my fear one more time as elephants came into our camp just as everyone started falling asleep. We had already locked up our food in the camp’s kitchen (we were told the elephants will smash windows when they smell food) and once I was sure the hum of our fridge didn’t piss the thing off (something I watched on When Animals Attack) I decided I was too tired to wait for it to come close so I could stare at it, and passed out trusting we’d be fine where we slept.
Mixed Feelings in Malawi
The animal sightings were great, but we were aching to get to Malawi to hit the beaches of its beautiful lake, the third largest in Africa, and so big that it looks like the ocean when you’re standing on shore.
We got into Cape Maclear, a teeny tiny backpacker beach town which was right in a village…and immediately wanted to leave. The reality was that as beautiful as the sunset on the lake was, as amazing as the mountains on the lake were, as quaint as the camp right on the beach was with its hawkers selling things to ‘please support their sister,’ we were exhausted, hot, and dirty, and what we really wanted, nay, needed, was a good dose of luxury.
Of Peace & Serendipity
Luckily, we found another site a few minutes away that was a bit more private and quiet and opted to stay in a chalet a couple of nights. The owner had been in the South African Special Forces (like our James Finch) and due to his connections was able to give us a lot of useful info on our proximate travel into Mozambique, after which he invited us over for drinks and a braai the next night.
Catamarans and Panic Attacks
The next day after some time on the beach, we set off for a sunset catamaran cruise on the lake. The lake is beautifully clear, and has some of the best fresh water diving in the world. But while Moreno and some of the other guests went snorkeling, I tried to come to grips with the steady panic I started feeling earlier that day: the potential dangers in Moz (which we always knew were there) all of a sudden terrified me and I could barely breathe, much less think straight. I knew my fear was irrational, but all I could do to not count down the days till we were home was distract myself with watching movies and sleeping.
The Roller Coaster Continues
After some wise words from Finding Nemo (“Just keep swimming…”), I got over it just in time for Moreno to come down with a fever. Nauseous, vomiting, and feeling weak, Moreno spent the rest of Saturday and most of Sunday in bed while I force fed him Ryvita crackers so he could hold down his malaria pill, and threw on episodes of The Pacific to help us both pass the time.
We found out later one of our neighbours had also been sick in bed for the past 24 hours and the only thing we could come up with was that both he and Moreno snorkelled that day off the catamaran (me and his wife did not), so perhaps there was something in the mouthpieces, or in the water there. (Note: The lake is known to house bilharzia, but these are not the symptoms we’d expect, nor would they come on so quick).
We will hang here until Moreno regains his strength and then we’ll head south into Mozambique for the gorgeous coast we’ve been craving for a few weeks of snorkeling, diving, surfing, and dhow-ing.
We started off the week with our second border crossing, this time into Zambia. We loved it immediately – it was more like the Africa we had been expecting. After a good hour going from window to window at the check point, and then a good hour driving on completely Swiss cheese potholed roads (another immediate change from Namibia), we rolled into Livingstone.
For the Queen
Livingstone – named after the “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” – is the base town for one of the biggest highlights in Zambia: Victoria Falls. There are a number of activities to participate in to experience the Zambezi (which flows into the Falls), so we signed up for a walk to Devil’s Pool (a natural infinity pool!), white water rafting in the gorge, and then a sunset cruise above the falls. Afterwards, we were sore, exhausted, and deliriously pleased with ourselves :P
The Decision to Drop Zim
Our next stop was going to be crossing over to Zimbabwe to see the falls from that side (Vic Falls is very much like our Niagara and straddles the border), and then head on to Mana Pools, a national park on that side of the Zambezi to do a three night canoe trip. However, after some more perusing of the guidebooks, we realized that we could do the same canoe trip from the Zam side (I know it <em>sounds</em> obvious):
1. We never planned on visiting Mana Pools per se, only doing the canoe trip on the river, so we weren’t missing out on anything by doing it from Zambia.
2. The camps on the Zam side are cheaper.
3. The camps on the Zam side are open year round (the roads don’t turn to slog in the wet season).
4. We save ourselves the driving time.
5. We avoid the extra Zim visa, road toll, temporary import fee, insurance, etc., etc.
So we scrapped Zimbabwe, but only temporarily.
Canoes, Bush Camps and Elephants
Our canoe trip was amazing, though we shortened that, too, from three nights down to just one. We floated right up to loads of elephants and then slept in the bush listening to lions grumbling somewhere across the river.
And that brought us to the end of the week, as well as to the capital of the country, Lusaka, where we stumbled on the Sunday Market and were finally able to find ourselves some souvenirs!
It’s ‘Go’ Time
From here on in, we head north to Zambia’s most impressive wildlife park and then into Malawi. Already! The last week was a lot of fun, but as our preferred ‘slow travel’ has inadvertently picked up more of a ‘group adventure tour’ pace, jumping from place to place tasting a tiny bit of everything, honestly? We’re exhausted.
We really love Zambia, but are now seriously craving some beach time, so we’ll probably be in Malawi and Mozambique in no time.
Zambia is beautiful. It is greener, lush-er, colourful-er than anything we’ve seen in the past nine weeks in Africa, the humid opposite of Namibia, and the Africa that we had come to see.
From the unorthodox air of formality at the border post –
an unclear order of a multitude of counters where we paid unexplained and unnamed fees, incorrectly entered information dismissed with the wave of a hand, breastfeeding with half the community present at the insurance window, and a suggestion box in the corner to let them know how best to run their border control
– to the fullness on the streets:
tall trees and bushes, semis swerving along potholed roads, children in tattered clothes running barefoot on the dirt, women in colourful patterns carrying something – everything – on their heads, and everyone on bicycles…
This is what we were waiting for.
Immediately Livingstone, the base town for Victoria Falls, felt familiar. It reminded me of Southeast Asia, a backpacker haunt, where the air is humid, the nights are hot, the music is on, and the chair is always in the lounge position if not actually a mattress. And I loved it.
But we entered after sunset, a bad idea for any town, and any camp: it is dark, it’s hard to get your bearings straight, you can’t see what anything really looks like, and inevitably the lights won’t work, the wifi will be broken, the water will be cold, and a dog around the corner won’t stop yapping. And being far away from the center, on an unlit road in a compound can only build on fear of what’s out there.
But the muezzin call woke me up at 4:45am and I loved it. And we moved camps to a backpacker haunt that’s off the main strip right where women in colourful patterns carry groceries home, children in white and brown uniforms walk to school, and silver taxis with a purple stripe carry business men to work, and it is exactly what we wanted.