Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Livingstone & Victoria Falls

13th September 2011

At last I think that I am on the mend! Yesterday we had a trustees meeting for Hands Around the World and I am beginning to realise how much work I need to do! My involvement in Zambia and wider issues in connection with HATW do not finish when I leave Zambia. In fact I am almost as busy back here in the UK. I am aware that I need to get back in touch with a number of people - I missed some calls from Jennipher yesterday and need to follow that up.

So lets complete my 2011 Zambia blog by filling in the final few days.

The days during the final week or so were characterised by the customary bright sun and clear skies welcoming the day. The early mornings being pleasantly cool (perhaps 14°C or 15°C) and the temperatures then quickly rising to the upper twenties and low thirties. In fact very pleasant and uplifting weather.

We decided to go to mass at the chapel on the Sunday, despite Fr. Kenan having to say a later mass at the Cathedral. We had already told the parishioners at Our Lady of the Wayside that we wouldn't be around. We didn't want to be rushing and, to be honest, a service of an hour in English was a more comfortable prospect than a two hour Chitonga mass.

The original intention was to leave at about 10 hours and get to Livingstone at lunchtime – in the event we left after lunch and it was nearly 14hrs before we got underway.

Fr. Kenan's car had a few few problems and he therefore arranged that we swapped his car with his sister's 4x4 when we got to Choma. At Pemba we picked up Jennipher, who was waiting on the main road.

Somehow I had forgotten to bring my driving licence, but I did share some of the driving. We had arranged to stay at a lodge suggested by Judy's brother. On arrival we sorted out rooms and had a chance to freshen up. It was a change to have rooms with en-suite facilities (and televisions – even if the channel choice was a bit limited!!)

I thought we should enjoy something of Livingstone in the evening, so Fr. Kenan suggested we had a take-away, before heading to the “Waterfront”. It immediately struck me that we had entered a different world where most of the people had light skins and were tourists. One guy, who probably had too much to drink, made monkey noises as we arrived. It was only afterwards that I realised that this was a racist gesture – presumably directed at my friends. It is sad that such ignorant behaviour is still present, especially when it is directed at the local people.

Ignoring this, we settled on some stools at the edge of the Zambezi and enjoyed a drink looking out at the boats and very different scenery to that which we had been accustomed. It was a pleasure to have Fr. Kenan and Jennipher with us – people who we have come to know over the years and who have become a very important part of our life and our worldwide family.

We relaxed for an hour or more before returning to the lodge. Fr. Kenan and myself chatted for some time while Dilys, Jennipher and Amy settled into their new surroundings. Fr. Kenan was not feeling on top form but felt he had things under control.

We had agreed to meet for breakfast at 8 hrs. We had planned a very full day and wanted an early start. In the event it was nearly 10 hrs when we arrived at the 'Game Park'. Somehow I knew that it would be a special day – the later than intended start didn't worry me. While I sorted out the entrance processes with Fr. Kenan, Jennipher joined Amy and Dilys watching hippos in the Zambezi! The vehicle we had proved ideal for the conditions we found. The roads were not too bad, but a four wheel drive with a high wheel base was a distinct advantage. The open roof was also a great benefit – allowing Amy and me to get a very good view from the top of the vehicle. Amy and Jennipher seemed to have exceptional eyesight spotting animals that took us a long time to see. Very quickly we saw herds of impala and had some good views, Fr. Kenan spotted a herd of buffalo not far away. On several trips to Lochinvar and previous visits to Livingstone I have failed to spot buffalo, so for me this was a particular delight. Jennipher was an expert at spotting Giraffes, which blended so well with the trees that it was only with patience that she enabled us to observe what she saw so clearly. At one time she told us that there were two giraffes – one a baby lying down. I couldn't see either, but eventually Fr. Kenan managed to manoeuvre the car to enable us to get a clear view. It's the first time I have seen a giraffe seated! The delights continued. I spotted some elephants, we passed some warthogs and came across a small herd of wilderbeest. We expected to meet some zebra but so far they had proved elusive. Fr. Kenan was debating which way to go and then decided to take a particular route, which felt right to him. I also felt we were going the right way and, sure enough, before long a small group of zebra were spotted not far from us. We continued for a while and then Fr. Kenan decided to turn around and try to find the wardens who would know where the white rhino would be. It had been a remarkable visit and I couldn't help recall the walks I used to do on the Cotswold Way. I had been used to doing circular walks – but this was not practical when following this long trail. I therefore got used to walking for 5- 10 miles, then turning around and returning along the same path. I grew to like this type of walk. In many ways the return walk was where the real benefit was. Though a bit weary, I would start back having left a lot of the cares and tensions with which I started. The journey became a bit familiar and comforting, but the perspective very different and it seemed that in many ways the walk mirrored my inner journey at that time. Turning around at the park again gave me hope – though I hardly thought that we could improve on our experience so far.

We were immediately rewarded with a herd of zebra very close to the car – we stopped for a while as they moved around us, crossing the road a few metres from the car. Eventually we found the park officers close to the Zambezi at one end of the park. One guy jumped aboard our vehicle with his gun and he directed Fr. Kenan. He told us to stop the car and asked if we could see the rhino. We saw nothing! He invited us to get out of the car and gave us some instructions about how to follow him towards the animals. Soon we spotted the rhinos in the distance. I had this experience in 2003 on my first visit and was not surprised when we gradually made our way to a place within about 20 metres of this huge animals. The warden called to them as we arrived and they raised there heads in acknowledgement.
It was a little difficult to realise that these were very powerful wild animals so close to us. Obviously the wardens know them very well and have even built up some sort of relationship with them. One of the rhinos was pregnant and the warden said they were increasing in numbers. He told me that they didn't attack cars. Though he then added that Gumboot – one of the animals I met last time – had died. Gumboot had taken to attacking cars and I think he had written off 49 when I met him!!

When returning with the warden we came across a herd of buffalo – some of us got out of the car to get a better look, but unfortunately they ran off before we could get close.

We said goodbye and headed out of the park, but not before we saw many more hippos – some on the island in the middle of the Zambezi and a small herd of elephants that were heading our way!

It was an unexpected delight for Amy to go 'on safari' – she was keen to let them know back home that she was experiencing something that friends had longed to have the opportunity to do.

On our way to Victoria Falls we met more elephants on side of the road. Fr. Kenan dropped us off and headed back to the lodge for an hour's rest. It was the first time for Amy to see the falls and Jennipher's first time to see them close – neither were disappointed by the spectacle. At this time of the year the amount of water can be disappointing, but perhaps because of the cooler weather and heavier late rains the falls were looking good. As Amy reminded her mother, these are the 'big' falls - beating Niagara in all aspects! There was enough water to produce the impressive rainbows for which Victoria falls are famous. There was also a pleasant spray which blessed us with precious water, which was refreshing and cooling in the hot sun. I couldn't help but look at very small sections of the waterfall and think how we would wax lyrical if we had something like that in our garden – here there were many thousands of such beautiful sections. In case we doubted that God was there offering his covenant, there was even a double rainbow at the end of our walk.

I was delighted to be able to share the experience with Jennipher, Amy and Dilys – it was a pity that Fr. Kenan wasn't up to joining us on this occasion.

The experience for Dilys was very different to that in 2006, when there was little water at the falls and we saw very few animals. The one animal that was absent from the Falls this time was the baboon. These had become a bit of a menace and I wonder whether steps had been taken to remove them.

We knew that we were cutting it fine when Fr. Kenan picked us up a little after 16hrs. He told us that he met a herd of elephants crossing the road on his way to the lodge – after waiting a while he followed the car in front which drove between them! We headed to the river to pick up a sunset cruise. There was not a lot of activity by the boat we had chosen. The site was pleasant with a small pool – which Amy looked at wishing she had come prepared for a swim – and tables overlooking the Zambezi. We were told that they did not intend to have a cruise that evening and we should have been in touch earlier. The staff rang a nearby cruise which was full and had left anyway. It appeared that we had missed out by ½ hour or so. I was a bit surprised that it appeared that the day would end in disappointment. Then we were told that it we waited a few minutes they would prepare the boat just for our small party! In the event a lady from Barcelona joined us to make a party of six people and three crew!

We were treated to views of hippos, elephants, giraffes, baboons and crocodiles as well as a variety of birds. The crew were very knowledgeable about the wildlife and we had their personal attention and traversed the river to get a better look at anything of interest. We had a brie (barbecue) of chicken and sausages and were supplied with any drinks we required. Altogether another wonderful and magical experience to complete a very special day.

We returned to the lodge very content. Fr. Kenan turned in early, while the rest of us enjoyed a game of cards.

We had intended visiting the museum and craft park on Tuesday morning, but unfortunately Dilys slipped on a mat and chipped a couple of teeth and Fr. Kenan was still suffering. I also had some things to do back in Monze, so we decided to go briefly into town and then make tracks back home. I was happy to do my fair share of driving and we tried to arrange to see Sr Christeta in Choma.

Sr. Christeta used to be in charge of the project for orphaned children at Monze Mission Hospital – Buntolo. Dilys met her in 2006 and they got on very well. She has since moved not far from Choma. Attempts to call her en-route to say we would be early failed. However, the Lord had everything in hand and, as we entered Choma, we noticed her walking along the road. She was with her sister and we all joined forces and went to a local café for a small meal.

It gave Dilys and Sr. Christeta a chance to catch up and for Amy to meet another amazing Zambian character. Sr. Christeta is the bubbliest Zambian I have ever met – probably the bubbliest person worldwide come to think of it! She seemed to be empowered by Dilys and her encouragement in the area of child bereavement. As a result of this Sr. Christeta has introduced some of the concepts into the work she does and has passed them on to the people now working at Buntola. Dilys started to realise just how much she was able to offer and with more time what she might be able to do. Maybe another year she will be able to follow up on some of these ideas.

We arrived back in Monze at about 16 hours and I immediately got to work. It was after 19.30 when we headed for the priests' house for supper. By this time I had covered a considerable distance visiting the hospital, District Office, convent and Mrs. Sianga's house (where I delivered a couple of laptops) among other places.

It was good not to have to cook in the evening, because there was still some packing and cleaning still to do.

I was up by 6 hrs on the Wednesday and, after mass, paid a visit to the bank, called around at the priests' house to say goodbye to Prudence and Gertrude who had looked after me so much during my stay, and tried to find Ireen who should have a couple of items ready for me. My activities continued non-stop until we left for the bus stop with Fr. Spencer at just after 9hrs. I found Ireen at the last minute but hadn't time to wait for her to sew on the buttons – I am sure we can cope with that little job!

Despite apparently booking seats on one of the buses we were told they were full and we were directed to another bus company recently established. In the event this turned out fine and before 10 hours we were on our way to Lusaka. A taxi took us to Longacres Lodge. I have a reasonable idea of taxi prices these days and negotiated the price at the top of my limit. The driver tried to get a tip but already had one as far as I was concerned. On the other hand the taxi driver who agreed to take us to the airport gave a very reasonable quote which I was happy to accept. Sometimes people will attempt to extract as much as possible from tourists – and this is understandable, but often they are very reasonable being happy to take a modest profit.

I was happy to help carry bags etc. all the way to our rooms, but having settled I felt only able to collapse and sleep. I suddenly realised that I had developed a nasty cough and cold and all my energy was sapped.

I had arranged to meet with Justina and she joined us for a drink in the afternoon when we discussed the emergence of LIFE Zambia. It was an opportunity for Dilys to meet Justina for the first time. Having eaten at lunchtime we popped across the road for a snack in the evening and I headed for my bed by 8 pm – something virtually unheard of.

We had no great rush in the morning but decided to order the taxi for 9.30 am after our breakfast. When we arrived at the airport we had to wait for an hour before checking in. The lift was out of order so I minded the bags while Dilys and Amy had a drink in the cocktail lounge. I swapped with Dilys for a short while and played a game of pool with Amy.

Unlike my experience last year, we checked in very quickly and passed our time in the departure lounge before getting ready to board. We had not been able to check in on line from Lusaka – though it was now possible to check in for the onward flight from Johannesburg. We took advantage of the Internet Café in the departure lounge. This was fine except they had run out of paper! So often the experience in Zambia is that there is something missing! Like lack of lights in the hotel bathrooms! Fortunately a friend of Amy's had given her some paper. This we straightened and used to print our boarding cards!

I suspect that they have been influence by the British obsession with targets, so at the appointed time we passed the gate ready to board. For the next 40 minutes we waited – many of us sat on the floor - before progressing to another security check, another waiting area and finally being allowed to board the plane.

We had a good flight to Johannesburg, but the hour's queue at the transit desk was not what I wanted and I needed a long sit down to recover. Fortunately there was a small band with African xylophones and drums that entertained us during our wait. We finally moved to some very comfortable seats looking out at the planes, where we enjoyed a final drink in Africa before our flight home.

The flight home overnight was long but uneventful and we arrived to find Baby already at the airport.

It was good to be back, but I was feeling a bit sorry for myself and the tiredness didn't help.

It is only now that I am ready to start accessing the trip. I think in many ways it will mark a new phase – you will have to wait a little for more thoughts.

Best wishes


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