A Travellerspoint blog


Day 81 – Finding Benjamin and Saving Joseph

12th December 2011

semi-overcast 27 °C

Benjamin Mibende had visited the Livingstone Museum yesterday morning. He had been present as we entered, in actual fact we had probably walked past him. Yesterdays sleuth pursuit had resulted in a phone number. By the time we had found a way of dialling it, only to find it didn’t work, the museum had closed.

The following morning, a nice receptionist informed us that Mr Mibende had indeed visited again that morning, not thirty minutes ago. We were close. The receptionist had the same number for him, but with her phone the number dialled. It rang. And it rang out. Our timetable loosely said that we would be in Zimbabwe by evening. We’d already put our border crossing off by a whole day to chase Benjamin and, on our broader time table, we’d overstayed Livingstone already. The receptionist gave it one more go; “It’s ringing.” Seconds passed as the phone rang, just as we lost hope, there came an answer. A short conversation later and we were informed Mr Mibende would be here in ten minutes.

Benjamin Mibende is a fascinating man. It was he who had organised the layout of the exhibitions in the museum, it was him that put those exhibitions together to start with, and drawing was how he relaxed. We spoke for half an hour as he talked about the meanings behind his work. He talked about his work to reduce deforestation in Zambia and repeated his maxim that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Our mission was accomplished. First he had to nip home to get the prints we so keenly wanted. When he returned the deal was done.

With that we turned tail and made for the Victoria Falls Bridge; our way across the Zambezi, out of Zambia and into Zimbabwe. But first we had a few spare Kwacha to get rid of, the market was two hundred metres from the border is there such a thing as too much tat?

As we pulled in to the market we were being watched. We’d seen him before. At least if we’d not laid our eyes directly on him, he must have been watching us when we first visited the market one week ago. He was watching us now. We had no idea of his existence. At least, his existence was not yet significantly different to any other in the market. His little plump belly and his skin, the colour of teak, somehow made the rolls of fat that hid his neck acceptable. We wandered the stalls a hundred metres away. Still, he was watching us.

As we wandered the market, we were tired. The previous night had involved little sleep, in part due to the weather and in part due to the continuing party in the bar from which we’d retired. Laura spoke politely with each man in trn as he came rushing to shake hands, make introductions, work out where we were from, sit us down and begin negotiating; whether we wanted anything or not. But as the hounding began I was rapidly becoming belligerent. I was approached by a guy trying to sell me Nyami-Nyami necklaces. (A mythical Zambezi dwelling dragon that eats people now idolised by a small carving on a necklace and sold fervently to all tourists.) I asked how much, taking care to tell him not to take the piss. He suggested the equivalent of nine dollars. It was worth between one and two. I carefully told him that he’d lost his chance to do business. He was acting silly and taking me for stupid. The necklace was worth one or two dollars depending on how hard I was willing to barter. I told him he’d sell more if he started reasonably and valued his product. He wasn’t a happy bunny, ‘silly’ was a grave insult. I didn’t quite realise that I’d just angered most of the stall holders within a twenty five metre radius. To be fair, I’d lost my humour and had stopped playing the bartering game. But he had to know that at least one white guy gets pissed off when told fifty pence is worth four pounds fifty.

Across the market, behind the hanging curios, he stood silently, still watching. His height was unremarkable but he probably still weighed at least seventy kilograms, maybe even eighty. He must have seen me arguing with my stall holder. But he hadn’t moved.

It was ten minutes later that we came face to face. I was looking at a walking stick when Joseph, the gent looking after the stall, introduced our mysterious and stranded observer to Laura. His name was also Joseph, and he was for sale. How could we even think of paying for him, we wouldn’t have enough money and how would we get him into Zimbabwe, even with Redvers we might struggle, hiding him fully would be impossible. We laughed, sadly, before apologising and continuing. But our minds couldn’t settle. Joseph was stuck there and we had done nothing. We had to do something. Anything was better than smiling and pretending he didn’t exist. Joseph Snr had wanted a thousand dollars for him. We didn’t have that sort of money. What could we get him down to? What could we afford? How big a burden would he be? We thought a while before going back and asking for a quiet word with Joseph Snr. The bartering began. We bartered hard, we had to.

Joseph Junior was silent for the duration, he was fifty yards away and had no idea his future was being bartered for. Finally we found a price. We handed the money to Joseph Senior and he turned to his cronies instructing them to bring Joseph to the car. It took four men to drag him out and hoist him inside Redvers. As we saw the eighty kilogram solid teak hippo nestle in the back of Redvers we burst out laughing. Myself, Laura, Redvers and Colin (sat phone) had a new friend, Joseph Junior. He’s too big for us to lift between us, he occupies most of the back of the car and he’s been rescued. He’s coming home at all costs. I’ve never seen a wooden hippo so big.

Laura drove sedately over the Vic Falls bridge; it was a cinematic moment and a bridge you can’t drive over quickly. Whilst I took pictures I tripped on the railway lines making a huge thud as I landed camera first, followed by elbows and somehow, arse. Smooth Beamish, smooth. Women cried out ‘Sorry!’ as if they were responsible. I dusted myself off, smearing the blood on my arm and then legged it after Redvers. That was how we entered Zimbabwe.

Posted by ibeamish 04:40 Archived in Zambia Comments (2)

Day 80 – Christmas Cards and Booze

11th December 2011

overcast 24 °C

We visited the Livingstone Museum which was both fascinating and very well laid out. It taught us all about the cultures and history of Zambia and Africa as whole. A large section on David Livingstone including many original letters that brought to life the idea of arriving here as the ‘first white man’ to see the falls when only a series of small villages existed. Also in the museum we saw some prints of work by a local artist that Laura fell in love with. They were too expensive at the museum though and so began a mission to find one Mr. Benjamin Mibende.

Outside we wandered the markets for Christmas cards and interest. We bought hot corn on the cob from a street seller and stopped for an early beer in a random bar, much to the bemusement of the locals. We bartered for a couple of bottles of wine, one a Casillero Del Diablo for five dollars and the other, a Zimbabwean blend, 2005 vintage, for the same price; cheaper than Tesco’s. We had a chat with the guys and drank some ‘Shake-Shake’ Chibuku with them, commercially brewed maize beer with bits still in it. It went like this: drink, wretch, chew, screw face, drink more to prove you’re not weak, chew, fake smile, hold on to your stomach as it rises to your throat, re-chew those bits that just reappeared, then slug off the rest taking care not to breathe, chew or taste. Next, wipe your mouth, smile and say “That’s blinkin’ disgusting... you should drink more wine.”
Back at the hostel we drank one bottle of red, corked, Zimbabwean wine from 2005. At least there was no chewing involved.

Posted by ibeamish 04:37 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Day 79 – Roadside Recovery Part Two

10th December 2011

rain 24 °C

For twenty kilometres from Sioma camp back towards Katima-Mulilo the new road was open. It was heaven, perfectly surfaced and brand new; the cambered road seemed to draw us back to Livingstone, but our dream road soon ended and we were back in the mud. Somers had attempted a bit of driving further on the road, which although cheeky on her part, seemed justified as the road was as finished as the open section. We soon encountered trouble though; an oncoming truck started swerving violently to block our path, its lights flashing at us whilst two faces looked sternly from the cab. As we stopped Numbers one and two leapt out of the truck like Somalis toward an oil tanker; with rich pickings in their eyes they moved like sharks towards us. Number two stopped, stood squarely as if trying to impose an air of power or control he’d control the perimeter whilst Number One tested the prey. Number One approached us vociferously complaining about our actions. We protested meekly, the ‘road closed’ sign had been removed from its position and we’d been told that this section was open. Their anger may have been justified but they lost their high ground the second Number One said, “Maybe you have something for us since you are wrong.” The shark had nibbled the bait. “No chance,” I said. Somers turned Redvers around. Number Two lost his impetus a little and looked unsure of what happens next as we turned around. Number One threw his hands first to the sky in anger and then to the ground as if he’d missed out. I shook my head at him as patronisingly as possible and gave Number Two a thumbs up. We were back in the mud.

Only a few kilometres on and we found another stranded Toyota, another saloon again, bald tyres and he reckoned a few litres of fuel. We offered help, the chap was keen and said that we only had to free him from this section and he would find another way. Perhaps past Numbers One and Two. He was accompanied by a guy who said he was stuck further on and could we help him out after the first guy. It seemed the least we could do. We got the first guy out and our new found friend hopped on the back as we drove to his car. The poor guy was covered, head to foot in grey mud. He showed me a flat tyre. When we tried to inflate it air hissed out from between the rim and the tyre. He had no spare, naturally, and so we put the pump away and attached our ropes. I pulled over on a dry section a kilometre further on. I asked what his plan was. He told me a friend could fix his tyre ten kilometres down the road. This meant another half hour to forty five minutes of driving with him in tow. In for a penny and all that we continued. Fifteen kilometres later we had stopped only once, to pick up a solitary soldier, as well as his rather large Bergen and his all important AK-47. At this point I got out to ask what was the plan. The driver told me that he was low on fuel and that just fifteen more kilometres and he could sort it out. The soldier suggested it was more like twenty kilometres. We had started the precedent as Samaritans and we reckoned we could manage another hour of laborious driving. We dropped off our armed escort and continued for twenty two kilometres. By now our fuel was running low, and we still had two hundred kilometres to travel. It was now half past three and even at full speed we wouldn’t be back before dark. A line was starting to appear in the sand and when our driver added that he thought his engine wasn’t working, and clarified that his tyre and fuel friends were all in Sesheke, fifty kilometres (four hours towing) away, I started to lose my patience. I explained carefully that he’d lost my trust, by not telling me his true situation to start with. I explained our fuel meant we couldn’t afford to take him all the way, and that night driving wasn’t particularly safe especially for mazungus. We dropped him and his car off at a large village that had an adjoining Chinese base for the road works; they would have petrol and tools, he just had to work out how to get them. We departed, unsure of our current moral stand point, had our good actions outweighed leaving him behind, would we have done the same to George and Ethel from Doncaster in their Series 2 Landy had it been them we’d met? The answer is probably not, but we had done something, I’d like to think more than most, and now it was home time.

We arrived back in Livingstone an hour after sunset. We worked out that we’d still have been in the mud if we hadn’t bailed out when we did. Our worries soon dissipated as we ate fresh pizza at Olgas, an Italian NGO (non-government organisation) inspired local initiative to get the locals running a successful and profitable business that benefits the community. Our satiated bellies thought it was a complete success.

Posted by ibeamish 04:35 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Day 78 – Ngonye Falls

9th December 2011


The aluminum hull of our boat broke the glassy water as the sun made easy work of tearing apart the storm cloud that had lingered above us all morning. The banks were made up of huge chunks of volcanic basalt rock that appeared almost man made, as if they’d been placed to protect the shore line from flood waters. They were interspersed by white sandy beaches that clung onto Mokoro canoes at their edges, whilst men fished and women washed. Twice we rushed up rapids, the hollow thud of the hull shaking our bodies as we went. Finally we could travel up stream no further. Our passage blocked by a set of voracious and forceful rapids. We moored on the eastern bank just downstream from the convergence of the two branches of the river and we continued on foot.

The rocky banks of the river where made from huge slabs of basalt. A massive volcanic eruption, millions of years ago, had covered the area in this molten rock. As the rock cooled, it cracked, and began forming what we were walking on, gigantic paving slabs cracked in huge jagged rifts, glossy on their surface and decorated with impressions of fossils, each piece weighing several tonnes.

We rounded a few more corners, crossing through smaller tributaries, all the while the white noise of the water was increasing. Finally we turned a corner and they opened up before us. Perhaps six or seven metres in height from top to water they were nowhere near as big as Victoria Falls but they were majestic in the extreme. The bold unending symphony came at you like a huge wall, deep rumblings that descended beneath our hearing range up to the hissing of small jets of splashing water, our eardrums were all consumed in the cacophony. Words and pictures will fail to sum it up, but we sat for almost two hours in almost silence, watching, listening, absorbing. Laura and I, with Jackson, our guide, were the only humans there. This place felt like it was ours.

On the way home we pulled over onto the bank where a father and son stood with their days’ catch. We bought a red bellied bream from them; it would go nicely with some cherry tomatoes and rice. A camp fire, fish supper and a humid evening finished off a settling day in a Zambia more real than we’d seen so far.

Posted by ibeamish 04:34 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Day 77 - Roadside Rescue

8th December 2011

rain 23 °C

There are another set of Falls two hundred and seventy kilometres west and then north west along the Zambezi. Livingstone had visited them two years before arriving at, well, Livingston and the then named Mosi Ao Tunya.

It had been raining again and as we whipped along the road towards the border post with Namibia at Katima-Mulilo we noticed a small Toyota Spacia at an awkward angle on the side of the road with a large plank of wood appearing from underneath it and seven people hanging onto the end trying to lever out the car. We drove on half a kilometre before my brain worked. “Shall we see if they need a hand?” I said. “Err yes,” said Somers who had been reading the guide book.

We pulled up and asked them could we help. “Yes please we are stuck,” was the unified response. That made life easier than a puncture or a breakdown. Redvers turned and positioned his bum next to the smaller back end of the Spacia. We hitched up a tow rope and pulled them back onto the tar road. In low range I didn’t even notice we were towing, the car came unstuck easily. Much gratitude, shaking of hands and smiles ensued, we were happy to help. The guys gave more thanks and as we pulled away one woman shouted over for ‘food or something’ from us. It soured us slightly, but the group of guys waved us off with big smiles so we chose to ignore the sour cherry in the Sundae of an episode.

The main road performs a right angle at Katima-Mulilo and promptly turns into a mud path. The Chinese have won the tender for building a new road to link to Mongu but they’re still building it. The makeshift road they ploughed at the side was thickening into a chocolate fudge slop with every drop of rain that came. It wasn’t long before we pulled car number two out. A Corolla, with no tread remaining on the wheels, hopelessly spinning on the spot. There gratitude showed in their smiling eyes we had that lovely fuzzy feeling of an enormous sense of well being. It worked nicely; firstly, they would think us English are a nice bunch, and secondly; they think Land Rovers are the best cars in the world. Win, win.

Our towing and the deteriorating road conditions turned 270kms into a six and a half hour drudge. We arrived at Sioma camp late. Our main concern was that Ngonye Falls are best viewed from a boat and two years ago, when Bradts writers were there they had struggled to find one. Our worries were alleviated when we found that there was a boat and Skipper at Sioma Camp and we could hire them both the next day.

Posted by ibeamish 04:32 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Day 76 – Devils’ Pool

7th December 2011

sunny 27 °C

The following morning we still had belly ache from all the sugar we’d eaten the evening before. We had to make the most of our sugar levels as today we were visiting Victoria Falls. Entering the Falls we took the path farthest from the Falls first. They were resplendent even at a time of year where the rains are only just appearing. It would be another three months before they raged in all their glory, it takes time for the water to collect from the mountains of northern Zambia and Eastern Angola and makes its way down stream. They were spectacular enough at first sight but each time we moved closer they became even more magnificent.

Another round of bartering at the stalls outside yielded some of our best returns yet. We have so much tat that we don’t need any more. But by the time they’d sat us down, and started chatting they were selling quite talented carvings for three or four dollars each. Moreover, money wasn’t all they were after, they quite happily wanted to trade. An old pair of binoculars that didn’t belong to me, thanks Michael, were traded for eighty billion Zimbabwean dollars. I’d have got a trillion if we’d pushed but greed wasn’t the essence of the occasion. Walking sticks, bookends and statues followed. A pair of standard issue RAF woollen socks in woodland green were traded for a small ebony statue. Thank you Michael and thank you British tax payer. Sadly we were running out of Michaels’ stuff to trade so our purchasing power soon dwindled.

The afternoon promised great things. We had booked a guided walk across the top of the falls to Livingstone Island. The walk would include a swim in the Devils Pool. Our guide, Kelvin, was incredibly knowledgeable on practically everything, from conservation to the history of continental Africas’ languages. We wandered along the falls, at times less than a metre from the edge. We waded through deeper channels as he advised us that when the river flows at its peak, elephants get washed over the edge, we added that even though the levels were a lot lower, we didn’t want to slip as the current might sweep us over.

As we approached the main section of the Falls, just past Livingstone Island, plumes of spray wafted up and over the ledge. The local name for Victoria Falls is ‘Mosi-Au-Tunya,’ ‘The Smoke that Thunders.’ We were seeing why. The plumes of mist gave the perception of smoke rising from the water as it thundered over the edge. On reaching what appeared to be an impassable section Kelvin piped up, “Now we must swim across. Leave your valuables here. Richard will take your camera so that it doesn’t get wet. Make sure you follow me and swim next to the current, not in it. Or you may die.” With that, a second guide Richard promptly appeared. We stripped down, piled up our gear and slipped into the Zambezi about five metres from its precipitous edge. We swam upstream following Kelvin, petrified of slipping into a place we didn’t want to be. He stopped in the middle of the river. “Now we must swim across the current, follow me.” We swam through the water that rushed towards the rocky edge. The force naturally pushed us closer to the edge; slowly, but in our position, disconcertingly. We made it to the rocks we’d aimed for and clambered out on to a stone promontory walking a few more metres until we were only three metres from the edge. Ahead lay the ‘Devils’ pool’ as water spilled from it and tumbled one hundred metres down to the canyon below. “Don’t jump to the left, you’ll hit the rocks, don’t jump to the right, you’ll hit the current, and don’t jump too far, or you’ll be swimming down the river” said Kelvin grinning. “Just follow me.” “Jump – Towards the edge – Into the water fall?” questioned Somers. “Yes you will be fine, do what I do,” reassured Kelvin. “Jump...” Somers reaffirmed. “And smile, Richard is taking photos.”

The still pool betrayed the hellish place in which it lay. Water cascaded over its edge to meet the rising misty remains of the water that had fallen before. To its right lay the main current of the river bowling over and over in an endless aquatic assault on the rocks beneath. The rocks to the left looked like they’d give you a nasty graze or worse; they were a nice option. Our jump lay before us with only the pounding of our hearts to slow us down. Kelvin was asking us to jump into the water directly towards the fall. While our brains said no a little Devil on our shoulder said ‘This’ll be fun.’ In fact, the mention of photos had snapped Somers back into action. Kelvin splashed in and stopped sitting on the actual edge of the falls. If he leant back he’d disappear. He turned asking Laura to jump towards him but she was already airborne, ker-klink, ker-klink, ker-klink, the camera shutter snapped as Somers leapt, heels tucked up to her bum. Arms stretched sideways, fingers extended. Her open mouth portrayed a scream as she looked at the camera, but there was only the noise of the Falls. With a splash she disappeared. A second later she surfaced beaming from ear to ear in a shocked smile. I followed and then all three were in the water, simultaneously in the Zambezi and in the Victoria Falls.

“Now for the action!” exclaimed Kelvin. I shimmied around and jumped up onto the rocky ledge. The water was only a few inches deep on the ledge, the pool itself was about three metre deep but its natural contours turned it into the most amazing and natural ‘infinity’ pool ever created. The water rushing past my chest disappeared into the white mist and I rolled onto my belly noticing the layer of green algae formed on the ledge that I was lying upon. “Move further out.” “Err, no thanks Kelvin.” “Don’t worry, I have your feet,” he said with one arm loosely around my ankles. The water tickled my sides as it ran past and into oblivion. My belly suddenly became super sensitive, tensing it was futile, a tensed belly had less purchase. Rather I tried to relax it hoping that it would seep into every depression increasing my contact. “Move out and lift your arms up,” came the instruction. I relaxed a bit and the poses began. My head and shoulders were facing down a hundred metre drop, my feet were being tickled by fish nibbling at them and Kelvin was chatting away. My feet in his arms were about third on his list of importance I reckoned. Thankfully my turn came to an end and Somers was up. Having seen it play out and knowing that her weight was far easier to hold onto than mine she showboated. Back arched, fingers on lips, arms out in front or by her sides, it was all natural. The whole affair was something too surreal to comprehend. It felt genuinely dangerous and almost safe at the same time. There was no tight wrap of the bungee around your ankles, no man with a parachute attached to your back and no life vest hugging your body, just your swimmers and a Kelvin with varying degrees of grip around your lower limbs. Pardon the pun.

He turned and asked where we strong swimmers, I answered yes for us both whilst Somers was still thinking. We swam across the pool to a ledge where we sat and posed again, fingers on lips in a ‘quiet’ or ‘shush’ pose. Apparently during the recent elections, when the new President, Michael Sata, realised he was winning, his catch phrase was a finger on his lips “Shhhhh, don’t tell them.” Mr Sata seems very popular, he promises to change the country in three months, he has until Christmas, no one seems upset yet.

We swam back across the river and had cokes after drying off. Walking back across the falls as the sun sank, we slowly began to realise what we’d done. It only started to seem real as we walked away.

Posted by ibeamish 00:10 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Day 75 – High Tea

6th December 2011

sunny 33 °C

Laura loves her tea, but she especially loves 'taking tea'. Accordingly she has a nose for these things and she had discovered that one could take High Tea at The Royal Livingstone Hotel between three and five. What better way could there be to satiate that peckishness one gets between lunch and dinner?

The black, deep treaded wheels of a sparklingly clean Redvers crunched along the long bush lined driveway and across the not inconsiderable grounds of the Royal Livingstone Hotel. I adjusted my shirt and looked down at the shoes I’d polished with pot pourri scented furniture polish the week before. They’d have to do. Somers was looking as lovely as ever in a pretty top, trousers and a pair of designer sunglasses. As we approached the front of the hotel a small grassy roundabout lay ahead of us. In its centre stood a marble sundial, its metal shaft winking at us in the afternoon sun. Towards the roundabout edge lay a circumference of palm trees gently rolling in the mild, humid air, amongst these a zebra grazed. My God, this place was so fancy they employed Zebra as part of a welcoming party. We slowed to check it wasn’t chained there, we paid particular attention to its hooves to see if they were nailed down. They weren’t, apparently even Zebra like a touch of class and the Royal is the place to be. We parked our own car and as we reached the reception, circumventing the Zebra, we were greeted by the uniformed porters, khakis and safari helmets and smiles so wide and white that Somers had to keep her sunglasses on. We were shown through a large marble reception with huge heavy luxurious wooden furnishings, wooden fans hanging from the ceiling gently folded the thick air. I looked myself up and down again wishing my shoes smelt of proper polish, I took another glance at Somers, sublime. The reception led out onto a perfectly kept lawn, to our right, the pool and the spa that lay at the waters’ edge. To our left was a lawn with swing benches hanging from the trees and vervet monkeys playing among the leaves, beyond the lawn there was a bar on the river bank. We were shown to our immediate right onto a covered veranda. A selection of armchairs and rich leather covered benches and stools lay in pairs, each pair accompanied by a small table, dressed with an ornate embroidered cloth. We looked at each with restraint, trying hard to hold back beaming grins. Our wide eyes and pressed lips betrayed our true feelings. Inside we were shown silver racks of quiches, pastries and cakes; each tier holding something sweeter and more scrumptious than the one before. Bright colours, rich chocolate browns and delicate icing set our mouths watering. Cocoa, lemon and sugar scents filled our nostrils. We were Hansel and Gretel in the house of sweets and we didn’t know where to begin. We looked at each other no longer able to hide our huge grins. We should do this more often.

Outside, two pots of tea arrived, delicate fine bone china with tea cups that forced you to raise a little finger as you drank. Green tea for me and blackcurrant for the lady. Our plates were stacked with éclairs, wild berry coulis, chocolate fudge, lemon tart, miniature quiches and black cherry gateau. And that was just the first helping. After an hour and a half of sweet grazing we waddled across the lawn and sat on a swing bench, the chains strained as we lowered ourselves into them. Another hour passed before we could squeeze in another drink as the sun set once more on the Zambezi. Mr Livingstone never had it this good.

Posted by ibeamish 00:08 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Day 74 – Team Zambezi

5th December 2011


On gaining its independence in 1964, Zambia took its name from the great river that flows through it. Previously called Northern Rhodesia it had been another huge section of Henry Cecil Rhodes monstrous British South Africa Company. When in Zambia, one has to see the Zambezi. Watching the river tumble over Victoria Falls would probably not be enough; and one of the plethora of tourist activities on offer was a full days rafting. (For your information you can fly over it in a helicopter, plane or micro-light. You can travel down it on a raft, a kayak or a fancy lilo. You can cross it on a bridge, a raft or a zip line. You can jump towards it on a bungee or a swing, you can spend your time fishing on it, booze cruise on it, safari on it or you can walk across it and hang off the edge held only by your ankles; all for just a few dollars more.) Rafting was our ‘must do’ item and we were collected from the hostel at eight o’clock in the morning and began our journey to the falls. We’d met a girl called Georgina at Jollyboys backpackers, a place ignorant of the fact it sounds like a bar in Brighton and our then current abode. A nice name like Georgina allows you to understand instantly that she was both English and lived south of the Watford Gap.
We also met a guy called Eddie. Tall, slim, good looking with an Afro and of Afro-Asian descent he was from Angola, studying in Windhoek and holidaying on a moped. He was cool. For the first ten minutes. After those first blessed minutes all I could think was “How have you not taken a breath yet?“ We’d seen the map of his trip, we’d seen the photos he’d taken, knew all about his university course in graphic design, the miles to the litre he was getting and that he’d rafted the Zambezi twice before but it was ’just so awesome’ that he ‘just had to do it again.’ Now he was in our bus coming to spend the day telling us how it compared to his previous sojourns. Splendid.

We collected a Glaswegian couple; a sommelier and a sous-chef at a Michellin starred restaurant. They were travelling Africa before heading to work in Oz. I made a mental note that we’d need a few beers speaking to them later on.

We also met a group of four Americans, a family of four from South Africa and a few others that all in all made three boats worth of tourism that would be bobbing along the Zambezi that Monday. A protracted safety briefing ensued with a comedy guide called Tembo. Our guide, Babyface, had a complicated African name that my white tongue is too simple to repeat and he picked Georgie, Somers and I and the group of Americans as ‘Team Zambezi’ and we set off down the slopes and into the gorge. As polite conversation flowed I discovered that the US contingent were actually a group of doctors working in Rwanda and holidaying in Zambia. They comprised an orthopaedic surgeon, Josh, his wife Emily, an anaesthetist, and their two friends whose names escape me right now. They’d left their fifth companion Ali at home feeling ill. We mate a motley crew and conversation was to be none stop, water allowing, for the duration. As we clambered aboard our vessel at the ‘Boiling Pot’ rapids we joked looking at the fairly big waves in front of us. Finally, after two attempts of trying to get into the rapids we set off.

It was an absolutely brilliant day. We hit many waves and rapids, all with ridiculous names like ‘The Gnashing Jaws of Death,’ ‘Oblivion’, ‘Gullivers’ Travels’ and ‘The Washing machine.’ We always choose the most difficult or ‘dangerous’ route that was raftable. Twice we hit insurmountable waves that flexed the boat, stopping us in our tracks and lifting us first upwards and then back downwards, more upside down than we had been on entry. Hitting the water in the middle of the rapids was shockingly good fun. You’d get dragged under, the light dimmed, bubbles and muffled sounds whizzed past and then you’d hit the surface, rushing water and shouts, shocked faces and then more muffled water, some of which was in your mouth and in your airway forcing you to cough it back out and gasp for air when the light and the sound returned. Like I said, it was great fun. The buoyancy aids meant you couldn’t really go under for more than five or six seconds and being a confident swimmer they just had to be ridden until the calm water arrived. The first was a shock to the system and everyone re-boarded the boat with a true appreciation of what the river feels like. The second time we went over was in the first wave of a rapid called ‘The Mother.’ It happened quickly but there was a point when the boats angle became terminal and you knew it was game on. Then the water and the noise came. I’d hung on to the edge of the boat, so had Somers, but she decided to let go. I felt a leg under the boat kicking out but going nowhere so I grabbed it and at the end of it was a gasping Georgina. As she said thank you I watched Somers drifting around a separate corner to the one we were and couldn’t help but wonder if I’d saved the right one.

It turned out things weren’t so life or death. Laura had drifted into a little pool around the corner and the support-guy in a kayak had nipped around and was guiding her back to the boat as she held on from behind, kicking him forward, smiling as she travelled through Grade Four rapids. For the whole day we paddled down a gorge flanked by hundred metre basalt walls; we swam, we saw crocodiles, and we jumped off rock ledges into the river and generally had an absolute ball. Back at the ranch they braai’d us chicken and sausages and showed us the DVD and photos of the day. At thirty dollars apiece, they were pricey and came accompanied by a spiel about guides working on tips and piracy being naughty. Team Anglo-America worked together beautifully; five dollars each and an array of laptops and software later we had what we wanted. We gave Babyface the tip of his life and went to the bar, still discussing Land Rovers, surgery and rafting. In that order.

Elephants swam in the river as the sun set and the beers sank. We laughed at the sommelier who couldn’t get past a good beer and the sous-chef who couldn’t beat a Big-Mac. We agreed that if we can make it to Rwanda before mid-March we’d catch up with the Doctors on tour.

Posted by ibeamish 00:07 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Day 73 – Orphange Football

4th December 2011

semi-overcast 30 °C

We’d arrived in Livingstone in the late afternoon on the previous day. Police Engagement #6 had been easy, at a road block our smartly dressed attending officer had asked if we had organised all the papers we needed to at the border. He didn’t seem interested in our reply and, before we could answer he was asking why our doors were missing. (Redvers is a three door as opposed to the conventional five door defender.) He burst out laughing at his own joke, we laughed with nervous appreciation and nerves; mostly the latter.

The day would have been just another office day, sorting our itinerary out. But there was an advert in the hostel for a game of football at the local orphanage. I immediately leapt at the chance of slotting a few past another unsuspecting child goal keeper and was already reminiscing about Lesotho as I signed up. Laura would be welcomed by the girls and so our afternoon visit was arranged.

We were the only ones who signed up for that particular Sunday. On arriving at the orphanages’ entrance the huge steel doors opened onto a dusty courtyard. Our taxi pulled up and we hopped out and were escorted by a young boy to the office. We sat for half an hour talking discussing, mostly being educated about, Zambia. They’ve recently appointed a new President, Michael Chilufya Sata, the refreshing thing was that when he won the elections, the incumbent president Rupiah Banda, stepped down and handed over the power to Mr Sata.

After discussing the orphanage we found that there are thirty four kids here who have lost their parents either permanently or temporarily to HIV or to border police respectively as Congolese mothers get caught in Zambia illegally. They try to flee the conflict of the Congo by passing through Zambia but get caught attempting to cross the border into Botswana at Kazungula. This misdemeanour gets them six months in prison and the protracted bureaucratic impossibility of Zambia and the Congo liaising as to what happens next.

We toured the grounds. A large vegetable patch allows the children to grow their own maize, tomatoes, kale and various other vegetables. They have a sun oven to bake bread (a set of six foot mirrors that concentrates the sun onto a series of solar panels tubes that get super warm.) Their bedrooms were sparsely furnished concrete walled dwellings. Clean and comfortable, each child had a bunk bed with mattress and their own small wardrobe filled with clothes. The kids were taken to school each day and the care workers put in long hours meaning they became semi-parent like in a world with few elders. Family members visited on occasion and were available (in both senses of the phrase.) Given the circumstances it seemed an acceptable outcome and one far preferable to the street and the downward spiral that invariably comes with it.

My recollection of playing the Lesotho kids was not be recreated. I was a complete outsider and try as I might I found it extremely difficult to break into the protective clique these kids lived in. The standard Liverpool chat came out and I taunted the kid in the Real Madrid shirt, that did get a few smiles, I reminded Barcelona that we’d beaten them in 2001 at Anfield when Gary MacAllistar put away a penalty and Jamie Carragher turned Rivaldo upside down, but given that the kid was about eight and had probably had very little access to a TV for most of his life that one may have been lost on him.
As the time came to pick teams I accepted the inevitable and I stood meekly, my hands behind my back, a grown up amongst boys, my eyes begging silently not be picked last. God gave me a little smile and I only got picked second last. The boy they were about to pick-on came last and that only made me feel worse. Last Pick got put in goal, his sub-four foot frame was anything but imposing and his position was less than ideal as he was afraid when the ball was kicked at him. Things only worsened for him when a penalty was given after one of his players hand balled in the imaginary area. When the ball came flying from the spot, Last Pick covered his face. His team mates threw abuse, hands flashed the air, Last Pick swallowed his tears, forcing his eyes to stay open as long as he could, until it was too much. His hands shot up to his face to hide the tears, he turned and ran across the field and behind the storage container. His team mates turned back to the game now only quietly berating poor Last Pick. I’d forgotten how hard it is being a kid. I remembered days just like it from my childhood. Surely there is nothing worse.

Back in the game, despite being in enviable positions clear on goal I couldn’t convince a pass to come my way. The white guy was too insignificant to pass to and was even too insignificant to mark. I took matters into my owns hands a few times and garnered a bit of possession in mid-field once putting in a superb forward ball to leave Barcelona through on goal. After that, things picked up a little but it wasn’t exactly full throttle bonding. After ninety minutes they still had the energy of kids where as I was tiring a little bit. I’d been playing bare foot and the gravel was stinging my bruised and tender feet. (They’re delicate at the best of times is what I seem to be learning on this trip.) I retired like some sort of third rate UN-ambassador, having never really played a part. I hobbled over to meet Somers who had been talking to one girl and her sister who had lost their parents to HIV/AIDS. She’d spoken about their lives and families and the Christmas they were planning on spending with their aunt but even that, she said, had been hard work.

It had been an afternoon of trying, probably of trying to do too much in too short a time. But regardless of our actual achievements we thought it had been worthwhile. From a selfish point of view at least we’d seen inside Zambia.

We had been told to find a taxi home, but it was only four kilometres and we’d clocked the way on our journey there. We set off walking; we stopped for a bite to eat and got charged double for a bread snack on the side of the road, 12p instead of 6p. The stares came and the shouts or whispers of ‘Mazungu’ (literally ‘white guy’ but imagine every way you could say ‘black guy’ and the range of the statement becomes apparent.) At one point we felt a lot more comfortable, almost a tinge of ‘local’ as Prosper, the guard from the backpackers, shouted over at us to say hello on his way home from work. We’d paid him a few dollars earlier on for turning a ball of mud into Redvers again. We stopped for dinner in a cafe. Pasties and cokes all round.

Posted by ibeamish 00:05 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Day 72 – Into Zambia

3rd December 2011

semi-overcast 31 °C

The Chobe River meets the Zambezi River at roughly the same place that four southern African countries meet. The border between Botswana and Zambia is bounded by the combined rivers, now known only as the Zambezi, and as a thing of necessity there is a ferry (think pontoon) that shuttles one lorry and two cars per journey across the few hundred metre stretch of river. Lonely Planet suggests that it is one of the shortest border crossings in the world; which appears to be both ignorant and ridiculous. Firstly, who measures these things, and secondly there are several hundred border crossings that don’t have a huge river in the middle of them and so are indeed significantly shorter in distance. Sensationalist journalism drives me to distraction and its all LP knows. If anyone is travelling abroad, buy the Bradt guide, because apart from the fact that everywhere seems, according to LP ‘one of the best experiences you’ll have in southern Africa’ it only requires reading more than two pages of the book to find out that it is painfully inconsistent. It may actually have been written by the Vervet monkeys that were trying to steal our peanuts, they seem to find everything exciting.

We drove past a queue of lorries two kilometres long all waiting for the same ferry we would be taking. As we pulled up near the ferry, only two vehicles were in front of us and within thirty seconds our first ‘fixer’ was approaching. “Hello, my name is Peter, you come see me on the other side and I will make things easy for you, OK.” He wore a smart shirt and digital watch. He was a young man in his early twenties and his white teeth smiled only half heartedly. The excess length of his well worn slacks concertinaed itself on top of a pair of highly polished loafers. “Peter,” I said, “Go away. We don’t need you.” My words should have been stronger but politeness and mild fear censored any expletives. I looked him in the eyes hoping he’d get the point, he didn’t. “I can take you through customs, I can change your money,” he protested. He carried on talking as Laura and I did our very best to be entirely rude, we ignored him, we talked to each other, we stared forward, we stared past Peter, I even looked him square in the eye and then in an exaggerated manner slowly closed my eyes, feigning a half yawn before finishing it with another “Go away.” This helped a little as he did back off, but we doubted that we’d seen the last of him.

On the ferry, it was a blur of people asking to help us on the Zambian side whilst we tried to root out the dollars we needed to pay for the ferry ticket. I deliberately kept moving around the car to make sure the doors were not being meddled with. Every border creates paranoia. Redvers becomes a huge box of personal possessions that requires protecting. Every border is filled with ne’er do wells attempting to fleece the unsuspecting tourist of whatever they can and we’re still novices. Money exchangers at international borders will be essential at some point, they’re quite often much better value than central banks, but you can’t stop concentrating for a second. They’ll give you sheets of newspaper in return, they’re maths is deliberately inaccurate or they’ll switch real dollar bills for couinterfeits. When David Livingstone crossed the Zambezi, he probably just had his men doink a few of the locals’ heads together to arrange passage, we needed Benjamin Franklin adorned, green dollar bills. We wouldn’t need Peter or any of his cronies.

Suddenly something was thrust in my hand, I looked down to see some reflective stickers, I looked up to see ‘Joseph’ “I will show you customs and then you change money yes.” “No.” I pocketed the stickers, he’d want money at some stage but if I had the chance I’d get away with them. The ferry guys themselves were really very nice guys but in all the mêlée we missed the convergence of the two rivers upstream from us and before we knew it we were landing on the Zambian side. We drove up to a car park and from there our tour d’offices began. We’d need to go to Immigration first, after that we’d then need to clear customs with the carnet, in another office we’d need to buy road tax, another office could provide us with carbon emissions tax and then we’d need compulsory third party insurance outside the gates. Whilst we ran this bureaucratic gauntlet we’d need to fend off several money changers that had a habit of following like a bad smell. Dollars flowed like an hay fever-ish nose in a pollen storm. We sat in the insurance office and the lady explained we could pay in dollars but our change would be in Kwacha. This would work nicely for us. Peter interjected, (yes, he was somehow in the office with us,) “She has no change and so you will have to change your money with me first.” “Do you have change?” I asked the lady. “Yes.” “What’s your exchange rate?” “Four thousand five hundred Kwacha to the dollar.” “Peter, what’s your exchange rate?” “Four thousand one hundred Kwacha to the dollar.” “Right so you’ll cost us more dollar for less Kwacha, we’re dealing with this lady, now sod off.”

The chap in the road tax office was a hero. We’d figured out that all cars have four reflective stickers, two on the front, two on the back. It was these stickers that Joseph had given me earlier on. He appeared again and asked for five quid for these postage stamp sized stickers. “You can sod off too.” I gave him the stickers back and even though he dropped his price he’d already lost his audience. The road tax guy gave us a letter saying that we would get stickers in Livingstone and he told us that the police, if they questioned us, would have to heed the letter. He arranged our tax so that we could travel anywhere and leave anywhere; he gave us his mobile number in case we had any issues and his e-mail address. Like I said; a proper hero. We gave him our sim card from Botswana, it hadn’t been used and still had some credit; he deserved a bonus.

We got back into the car with a sheath of stamped, embossed and hologram adorned forms; only for someone at the exit to ask for our bloody ferry receipt. We had no idea where it was. We made our excuses and drove on.

Posted by ibeamish 00:12 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

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