After a calm and relaxing evening cruise on the Zambezi, and an actual night’s sleep in a horizontal position (as opposed to a coach seat on an airplane), we’ve got lots to do: pick up the land rover, change money, grocery shop, and we’d also like to see the falls. We have no idea how long everything will take to do, but we know that we have a full day’s drive tomorrow, so there’s no putting things off.
We had a great breakfast with the Aussie gentleman in the room next door, who is headed to Greater Kruger for some volunteer work. Our ride arrived with staff from Waterberry Lodge (where we pick up the rover) and Chris from Zambezi Company. He says he’s been asked to help us with our routes and maps as part of our briefing.
The land rover is practically new and quite spacious for just the two of us. Kevin, Waterberry’s manager, and Chris walk us through all the equipment, including jacks, tools and pumps, as well as the stove, the rooftop tent, and Engel refrigerator. Frankly, we’re more worried about driving on the left more than anything else. The good news is that we have probably the best maps that exist for Zambia. In the days to come, we largely relied on the GPS, and hand-drawn maps people would make for us to our next destination.
Back on the road to Livingstone, we discover that we need to purchase diesel too. We thought we were getting a full tank, but hey, we’re in Zambia now. Our first stop was the Bureau de Change. We tried to figure out how much we needed in kwacha – largely to buy diesel. It seems that everywhere else we will be able to use American dollars. As we pulled in, we had at least 3 or 4 men standing very close to the vehicle, and then to us, trying to get us to exchange money with them. They dogged us all the way to the door of the bureau. And, they dogged us all the way back to Rover. It was a little unnerving only because we were carrying thousands of dollars, and millions of kwacha. (The exchange rate is 4800 kwacha to the dollar.) [In retrospect: this was one of a very few moments we felt uncomfortable – these guys were on us and in our face, but it never happened again].
We then navigated our way out back to the main street and to the ShopRite across the street. Steve got a little flustered trying to negotiate the turn-in driveways from the left side of the road, but we got in and parked. Fortunately, I had made a shopping list before we left home so that we would not be wandering aimlessly for hours in this supermarket. Safari Drive had supplied us with more than I expected as our “starter pack,” so I pared down my quantities. We were in and out in about an hour – not bad, considering I didn’t know what to expect. Prices were reasonable, the market was spotless and similar to a modern US supermarket, and our only surprise was the military clad very young man who walked the aisles with a machine gun slung over his shoulder.
By now, Steve is hungry, so we have Zambian fast food at The Hungry Lion. Burgers, chicken, fries, sodas – the usual fare. But, they are known for their pies. We passed on the pies this time.
Money changed and groceries purchased, we found that we still had plenty of time to see the falls. We headed south on Mosi Oa Tunya (Smoke That Thunders) Road – we knew that if we got to the Zimbabwe border, we had somehow missed the turnoff to the Zam side of the falls. We found it easily. The parking lot was bordered by a series of stalls selling all kinds of crafts and knick-knacks. We only had a couple of hours, so we headed for the ticket gate. Inside, we paid our admissions, plus the fee for our foreign vehicle (Namibia registration). The gentleman there asked where we were from, and when we said USA, he asked, “How is Mr. Obama doing?” This was the first of many times we were asked throughout our trip. President Obama is quite popular with both the Zambians and the Europeans we met on our trip. No matter how remote we traveled, people asked about Mr. Obama.
The falls were spectacular, even for the dry season – it’s boggling to see the geologic forces at work that created this remarkable spot. There were few people there, and I think we managed to walk most of the network of footpaths on the thin block of rock that separates the falls from the next 180 degree turn in the river. The water was low enough that it is possible to walk across the rocks at the top of the falls, but we passed this risky (and prohibited) activity.
Our last stop before heading back to Chanters was to fill the land rover fuel tanks. But, we were delayed for a few minutes for an elephant crossing. Okay, we really are in Africa now! The Rover was handed over to us THIRSTY: the 105 litre tank needs 83 litres to top off: 610,000 kwacha. After fueling up, we headed back to Chanters to finish up our packing. We’re on the road tomorrow!
Our original itinerary had us staying at Waterberry Lodge. It seemed really lovely, and it’s right on the Zambezi, but at usual safari lodge prices, we figured we would be too jet-lagged to appreciate it. Chanters was closer into town, and was a quiet, clean bed for the first few nights. Nice garden, nice pool, basic restaurant, pleasant and friendly staff.
Chanters was fine. The room was basic, clean and quiet. Sheets and towels were a bit threadbare, but were clean. The staff was very friendly and helpful. Food was plentiful, but not great. Beer was cold.
Our choice of Chanters was consistent with our traveling style. Because we marathon the travel leg (some people lay-over a day to break it up) we arrive exhausted. We need a bed in a quiet location.
Wilderness Safaris on our 2005 trip to Botswana and Safari Drive on this trip suggested much more expensive accommodations for the first in-country nights. On both trips we felt safari lodge frills would be wasted on us these first days and we opted to save some money. To their credit, both WS and Safari Drive were OK with our decision-making. But in both cases we found our alternative accommodations and made the arrangements ourselves.
We arrived in Livingstone about midday. We were anxious to put down our bags and start thinking about organization. The friendly folks from Chanters Lodge greeted us at the door out of customs/immigration and whisked us off. The lodge is located more in a neighborhood, so the outside noises are more likely to be chickens and kids rather than city street noise.
Our plane had banked over the mighty Zambezi River as it cascades over the slot that creates Victoria Falls. We hope to see the falls tomorrow, but we had booked an evening on the Zambezi for our first day in Livingstone. With just 6 passengers, we had a lovely cruise, with birds, hippos, and crocs. There’s nothing like a relaxing boat ride, with a well-supplied cooler and great sundowner snacks. The river provided the rest of the entertainment. Little did we know that the two Americans on the boat were the last ones we would see for more than two weeks.