Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Zimbabwe to Zambia

 Livingston Zambia

Dear Dorothy

Let's channel W. C. Fields for a second or two -

Ahhh, yes. I remember it welllll. We wrecked on the lower Zambezi. We lost all of our supplies and had to live for two weeks on nothing but food and water.

Well let me tell you there is no lack of food, water OR liquor on the lower Zambezi today. I moved from the rough of a bush camp in Zimbabwe to the lap of luxury in a tent on the Zambezi in Zambia. So nice that you could take this place anywhere in the world and have a 4 star hotel... that had people sleeping in tents. The only thing tent like about this room is that it has a canvas roof. Heck it even has wood framed sliding glass doors!

Ok back to things in chronological order.

Davison's Camp - Hwange - Zimbabwe

Yesterday after killing a couple hours in the afternoon Godfrey and the two other tourists and I went on the afternoon game drive. This time we went to a different and I believe a locale that Godfrey doesn't generally go to. The morning was good for critters, but I was getting a little bored. The animals were the same ones as I had seen on the previous 4 drives and I was even beginning to recognize one pile of elephant poop from one I had seen the day before.
So anyway we are driving down this road that is lined with trees and pretty dense underbrush. Just cruising along more in a transit mode from the camp out to the other savannah when suddenly almost like a girl Godfrey cries "LEOPARD!" Fuck a duck if there isn't a leopard 50 yards ahead of us in the low brush on the side of the road. She was just sitting there where you could see her through the grass with her tail occasionally flicking out towards the road. We sat there for three or four minutes before Godfrey said "Do you want to see if we can get closer?" We all assented and as we got closer instead of walking into the brush she starts walking away from us in one of the wheel ruts of the road. - Now keep in mind Godfrey has been guiding in this area for over six years and this is the second leopard he's seen.  - So, Godfrey let's out the clutch and we idle along behind the cat for about half a mile before another vehicle comes towards us and the leopard turned off the road and walked in.

I am so wound up about that still. I had never even given any thought to seeing a leopard because they are so shy and so scarce. So of the "Big 5" I've seen four. Lion, Cape buffalo, Elephant and now leopard. Just the Rhino to complete the list. Then there are the "Little five" The Ant Lion, Buffalo Beetle, Leopard Tortoise (sp?)... I don't know the other 2... Yet.

Then we cruised past a Honey Badger and the ubiquitous (sp?) (I gotta get spell check) elephant, Zebra, Kudu and the Chevy Impala. Odd that they would name an animal after a car... huh?

The ride back to the camp was in the dark and Godfrey was using the red spotlight the entire way. No Leopards in the trees to leap upon us in the dark. A couple of owls and rabbits but mostly it was long and uneventful. Dinner and bed followed by a game drive before I had to fit forty pounds of stuff I probably won't need the most of into a 20 pound bag. I did lighten my load a little by leaving a book behind with the staff. Barnes and Noble stores are not convenient it seems.

Brian the head guide drove me to the airstrip. He is a white Zimbabwean and though his English is better than Godfrey's I am sure glad we had Godfrey as our guide. Brian is just a little too serious, knowledgeable but very serious.  Once he found out I was former Customs the conversation turned towards U.S. gun possession laws and that lasted for 45 out of the 60 minutes of the drive.

We got to the air strip... maybe I should say "air lawn" and there waiting was a group of maybe 15 to 20 other tourists from another camp. Yea!! I get to ride in a big plane. A Cessna 208 Caravan landed, followed by a Cessna 206. Both reasonably sized airplanes. We didn't move. The engine in the Land Rover didn't start. We sat there watching. Then I heard the bee drone of the next aircraft. The same leettle Cessna 182 that I had arrived in. Same pilot too. Alex buttoned me into the plane, taxied to the end of the grassway and turned around. The little Volkswagen got the propeller whirring and we started to roll. It rolled and bounced like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride for miles (ok it was half the field) before the wheels lost traction and we got to about 10 feet and stayed there. Like a gnat on a pond we flew straight for the trees at the end of the runway. Only after waving to the people on the ground and giving then a good photo op of me wetting myself did he pull back on the yolk and start gaining altitude. Well that was until he got to about 50 feet (maybe it was more) then he dropped the wing on his side of the to make a banking turn north. I didn't realize that someone could be so scared they forget how to scream.

The rest of the ride was fine. Cruising along about 3500 feet above certain death with the occasional bump. But over all a good flight. By good I mean we didn't crash. On the ground in Victoria Falls the ramp representative for Wilderness Safari's met me and turned me over to the driver representative of Wilderness Safari who drove me to the Zimbabwe/Zambia border got me through Immigration and Customs who then turned me over to Zambian driving representitive of Wilderness Safari who got me through Zambian Immigration and Customs. Christ! I felt like a piece of mail on the Pony Express before I got to the camp in Zambia.

Toka Leya - Livingston - Zambia

The staff was awaiting my arrival with smiles, greetings damp towels and the offer of a drink. My check-in was a bit rushed because Jacqui had a boat waiting to pick me up and take me on a sunset river cruise. I was the only person on the big river skiff with the bazillion horsepower Mercury on the back. We slowly eased away from the landing area and then he 'punched it" so we could catch up with the current. Mucho birds along the way. Wrong lens in my camera. Along the way he pulled under some overhanging trees and pointed out my first glimpse of a Crocodile. All this ado about crocs what a bunch of hooey. This guy was only about a foot long. You might, might lose a finger but nothing worse. A few hippos and a flotilla of big 'Booze Cruise" boats going out to watch the sunset. We turned around about 2 miles downriver before we "bungee jumped the falls without a rope" Where upon I was offered white wine, red wine, gin and tonic and too many choices of soft drinks to remember along with three kinds of snacks. Then we headed back upstream to the camp.

On the way back I had some tree sap on my hand and also wondered how warm the water was so I dipped my fingers into the 70 degree river. Only to be admonished by the skipper "We have crocodiles and hippos in the water" - and he was serious. We did pass a couple hippos and he stopped for me to watch them. It was near sunset and the light was waning but as I had my camera on them one of them jumped-up out of the water. I got a couple clicks in and will see what I got when I get home.

Back at camp (camp like the Waldorf Astoria is a motel) (We will go on a tour later) two staff members were waiting with more smiles and a glass of sherry on a tray.

I don't remember what I did between the sherry and dinner at 8 pm. Maybe just walked around my tent gawking. Dinner was a choice of fish or chicken. I sat down to do this journal entry as I ate, when a staff member came over. Pulled out a chair and said "Hello. My name is Sam, and I am having dinner with you" F**k there goes my alone time to write and be myself. The people at the Wilderness Safari are so solicitous and client oriented I guess a guest is not allowed to get lonely, even if they want to be alone. A friend and mother back home was talking about a book named "Go the f*ck to sleep". You can imagine the title of the book I'm going to write when I get back.

The meal was gourmet. Seriously gourmet. Chicken wrapped around pesto with a wonderful white sauce. Beautiful presented and tasting appetizer. Mellon sorbet for dinner. Accompanied by sparkling water and two choices of wine, followed by the obligatory coffee.  Cappuccino if you want it.  Sam and I had a nice conversation. Small talk that he didn't listen to much more than I didn't listen to his. About 10 I was escorted back to my room and symbolically tucked in for the night.

I tried to write some but the day had been long so I quit after a paragraph or two and went to sleep. I had a 6 am wake-up requested and awoke just as the sun was coming up. I could see light through the cracks in the curtain. I got up made some coffee and after about 1/2 a cup I booted up the computer to write a few lines and found out it was 4:45 am. That sunlight was the nearly full moon lighting up that side of the tent. It was too much coffee by that time so I stayed out of bed and just killed time before going to breakfast and Wi-Fi around 7:30.

Breakfast was akin to dinner, but no Sam. Omelets and an array of cereals, breads, meats and cheeses. Plus yogurt and three kinds of fresh juices. Oh, and eggs Benedict too.

Near the conclusion of breakfast Sam arrived. He was to be my guide to Victoria Falls this morning. He brought me a choice of five pairs of Crocs (the shoes not the critter) to choose from because they didn't want me to get my shoes wet on the tour. My companions were a couple from Northern Ireland. Once (within the first 3 minutes) they informed me they were Catholic and I related a story told by an Irish friend wherein he called his boss' prig of an English wife the "C" word, we were fast friends. They were good companions. Didn't take themselves too seriously even if he did sell his company for 433 million Pounds. Smokers to boot!

We donned our plastic foot wear at the falls and started walking towards them. The group of us started huddling closer and closer together to hear Sam over the roar of the falls. A short walk and they were there. I'm not even going to try and describe them. I'll try to add a photo later. At their 90 percent of maximum flow they are breathtaking. And I'm not using that as a figure of speech either. A half dozen clicks at two or three view points and then the cameras and anything else not water proof went into those thick rubberized rafting dry bags where the top folds down and the snaps into itself. Then the ponchos went on and we entered the hurricane of mist - but not mist - it was a downpour. So much spray that vision was obscured after about 10 feet. That is if you could keep your eyes open against it. And we were on the other side of the gorge from the falls. Think of your shower at home and start putting those little 2's for exponents behind that thought. Talking was impossible. Breathing was, well not hard, but you were aware that you were breathing more H2O than O2. I would love to see it in then ‘winter' when the river is lower and you can actually see the entire falls.

At the end of the walkway we looked at the 135 meter bridge over the gorge and Sam said "Look someone is going to bungee jump" We watched from a different vantage point out of the worst of the spray. Then the body fell and fell and fell and just before hitting the water was saved from proving that Darwin was right the cord tightened and they were launched up again to see if the cords actually held by falling toward certain death again. There was a Wyle Coyote moment where they reached the top of the first bounce and just sat there in mid air for a second or two before Isaac Newton pulled then down again. They slinkey'ed up and down a few more times before being winched back up.

Then back to the Land Rover and off to the required village and school tour. Mud walls, sticks for roofs, ladies squatting down over an open fire cooking... yadda... yadda. Been there got the T-shirt a few times. Again... kill me for not being politically correct I'm not Oprah or Angelina.

Back at Toka Laye more soft or hard drinks. Lunch of about anything you could order in any restaurant. Soup, sandwiches, salads and even pizza baked in their pizza oven outside.

And now we are caught up to date. It's 3 pm. 3:30 for tea and 4 pm game drive where I hear there is a chance to see a Rhino. Gawd it's a tough trip the past 4 or so days.

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