Falling For Livingstone - Butch’s Zambia Part 3
Before I know it, it’s Thursday; weeks are slipping past me so quickly I have to double-check to ensure I’m on the same day as the calendar. We are currently traveling most days which makes it impossible to write or post blogs hence the lateness of this blog.
Nostalgic memories and stories were coming back to Butch as we travelled the dirt roads, dusty villages and always friendly Zambians. He told me about Shorty, his guardian as a toddler, their dog Scotty and his dad’s border crossings, which have left scars on his psyche.
My clever phone geotags my photographs; we are in the Kazangula area/district now.
Mabula Game Farm was the ideal spot to regroup before heading to Livingstone.
Bright, the camp assistant, met us at the gate, showed us to our campsite and ensured we were comfortable before zooming off on his four-wheeler. Within two ticks, we were settled under the enormous indigenous trees, throwing off their autumnal leaves, which carpeted the lawn.
The Egyptian Paper tree caught my attention immediately with its satiny, smooth white bark. The shimmering is irresistible. My hands sparkled with tiny golden flecks after I’d smoothed my hands all over the powdery bark.
Sundowners were spent with our hosts, Chris and Terry and their delightful daughter, Sasha. Once again, Butch and I felt like part of the furniture visiting family and knew this stay would be one for the books.
We explored the ranch on our bikes and got hopelessly lost in the koppies. Uphill and down dale, we explored this vast game farm where Eland roam freely, and large herds of cattle are Chris’ pride.
We enjoyed our snack break on a large log overlooking the dam where waterbuck, impala and water birds entertained us. Our conversations centred on the privilege of having all this at your back door as we swept our arms in huge arcs.
Chris and Terry know Livingstone like the back of their hands and could give us valuable information about the best homemade pies, coffee and cake, a tailor, stationers and the bank.
They recommended camping spots and where to have lunch while enjoying the comings and goings of the mighty Zambezi.
When the goats became familiar with the truck they'd come bleeting over for a chat that's when Butch and I dragged ourselves off, unwillingly, after three nights. I would be hard-pressed to criticise any part of our stay. It was perfect.
Chrissie, Terry and Sasha, we fell in love with you, your farm and our campsite. Walking along the road to your homestead reminded me of my Oupa’s farm. The acacia trees, the Kalahari-like dirt road and the atmosphere, one can smell the dry earth, were nostalgic and brought back happy childhood memories.
Without Johannes, my Oupa’s right-hand man, he would not have been able to manage his farm the way he did, and I found that same mutual respect and camaraderie with your staff on the farm. Everyone is just so happy there.
Butch and I both hope our paths will cross again somewhere sometime. For now, our occasional messages will have to suffice.
Rural life in all its simplicity is beautiful and a reminder of a past we only see on dirt roads and rural Africa.
On our way out, we stocked up on fresh vegetables from the market ladies at the farm gate, where we were introduced to the local delicacy locally known as a Monkey Apple. I think it’s an acquired taste but improved once Butch had frozen some of the segments.
Google knows all about the Monkey Apple and has this to say: “Annona glabra is a tropical fruit tree in the family Annonaceae, in the same genus as the soursop and cherimoya. Common names include pond apple, alligator apple (so-called because American alligators often eat the fruit), swamp apple, corkwood, bob wood, and monkey apple.”
The ladies were invited to offer their opinions on the interior of the truck. They twittered, giggled and discussed every commodity I take for granted. I couldn’t understand a word, but judging by their body language and giggles, they weren’t impressed by our mod-cons, although I do think our shower got the nod.
Our mission to Livingstone was two-fold. Firstly, we were there to collect our new rims and tyre from Johannesburg, and secondly, we would explore the area while we waited.
Livingstone is a tourism hub and cultural and social centre for the Southwestern region of Zambia. It is situated a few kilometres from the Zambezi River and the borders of Zimbabwe. It’s a hub for visitors to the Victoria Falls. The adjoining Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park surrounds the Zambian side of the falls. The Livingstone Museum traces local history, archaeology, and the life of the Scottish explorer David Livingstone, after whom the town was named.
It was called a “frontier town” in colonial days. Two prominent figures are featured in these parts. On the southern bank is Rhodes in Zimbabwe, and on the northern bank is Livingstone in Zambia—two opposing sides of a coin.
The Waterfront Campsite was recommended by Katerina in her big blue truck for our five-day stay.
Our campsite on the property fence was spot on from where we could see the migration of a herd of elephants almost every day as they silently walked past us on their way to greener grazing along the river.
Vervet monkeys reminded us that we were nestled in their backyard and soon made themselves known to us by being their mischievous selves. They dived into the rubbish bins and sucked drips of water from the taps. Unless we were on guard, they soon took opportunities to raid our fruit basket, and on one occasion, one particularly spiteful snipe brazenly stole my Bluetooth computer mouse.
Not to be outdone, I chased him about, swinging a tea towel about to scare him. He was not concerned and, in two ticks, sat comfortably on a high branch glaring down at me, daring me to follow at my peril.
I watched in fascination as he disassembled my pink mouse with his nifty little fingers and razor-sharp incisors. It took him an hour of painstaking biting, fiddling and picking until he’d succeeded.
Like a child with a precious gift, he would not let the mouse go, tucking it away in his armpit, arms folded in satisfaction. He was even prepared to fight tooth and nail for it when a rival tried nicking it from him.
I found the discarded mouse under a tree, wrecked the following day.
Butch unpacked his catapult and collected stones. The sight of the catapult was enough to send them off in a squealing rage.
Staff and the owner, who came around during the afternoon to survey his kingdom, seemed quite unperturbed by the havoc they caused and allowed them free reign. Our neighbours, frequent Overlanders, just shook their heads, dismayed. We all agreed that Monkey-proofing dustbins were all the rage in SA, Namibia and Tanzania. It seemed news had not reached these shores yet.
On our bikes, we explored the village and enjoyed coffee and cake at the coffee shop. We stocked up on homemade pies as instructed and can vouch for them. They were the best since my neighbour’s flaky pastry chicken pies in Worcester. We’ve vowed we’d stock up on a dozen if we ever pass that way again.
Pushing bicycles heavily laden with goods to sell at markets in Zimbabwe we were reminded of the extraordinarily difficult time the majority of people in Zimbabwe still experience every day.
Flowering shrubs, trees or borders will always pose an irresistable photographic opportunity for me. In Livingstone flowers bloomed in abundance.
We treated ourselves to mini melt-in-the-mouth doughnuts at the colourful Doughnut house. Creatively curated, my camera clicked continuously, capturing all the interesting artefacts. The playful back garden was the perfect spot for an angelic photoshoot!
Livingstone is a town with all the well-known supermarkets, banks, and retail stores, and I’m sure there’ll even be a Wimpy tucked away somewhere. Pharmacies are well stocked, and we were able to stock up on a few medicine chest necessities. And Malaria tabs, should we need them later.
The informal market was a treat where I could stock up on spices, fresh vegetables, various dried mushrooms, a selection of dried beans, and locally grown rice and dried pumpkin leaves used in stews. Sorghum, rice, wheat, grains, beans, and soya is cultivated by subsistance farmers. An indigenous seed is used exclusively for brewing "house beer", unfortunately I've forgotten the name.
The fish market had fresh fish and dried and cured fish, a popular staple.
The lady selling the dried Mopane worms laughed when I persisted in declining her offer of a nibble to taste her delicious delicacies. I’m sure I ate them as a child in Hazyview because I know the tangy, crispy taste.
We can recommend the street food sold everywhere in Africa. We've never been disappointed with our tidbits nor have we been ill-affected in any way. We enjoyed our golden "vetkoek" with the crispy crusts with coffee later. Busy stalls provide the freshest produce and one can assume the cook knows her oats. Supporting local ensures a vibrant economy too.
"Pasella" is a unique and wonderful tradition in Zambia where sellers offer a client an extra item at no charge. When they do so the item is held aloft while making eye contact and then they say "pasella"!
While Butch went on a crusade to sort out our SIM cards at MTN, I went in search of a collectable at the tourist market—a very organised market with dedicated stalls.
I couldn’t decide about a few colourful cloths and clothes and would’ve liked to try a shirt or two but my time was limited. I shopped with my eyes and camera. I’ll remember the beautiful artefacts, clothes, and the welcoming stall keepers who encouraged browsing.
It was while we were wandering around admiring the gardens at the very grand Livingstone Hotel in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park that Butch asked me whether I could live there.
This is a question we occasionally ask each other. Butch, without hesitation, said he could and even started enquiring about properties to rent. I could live there for an extended period of three months. The climate, landscape, river, amenities, friendly people and access to parks and wildlife are an attractive drawcard. Although very tempting my heart belongs in the Boland.
After months of dust, dirt and drama, it was pure bliss sitting on the wide, cool veranda under a ceiling fan whirring gently while moving the air ever so slightly. Opulence and beauty surrounded us as we enjoyed our scones and coffee cushioned in cream linens cocooned in wicker. “This is the life,” I sighed as I spooned dollops of whipped cream onto my scone.
Before we retreated lazily to our bikes, I did a little snoop around the fabulous gift shop.
The black and white checkered tiles and fashionable jungle-themed wallpaper leading to the powder rooms were so pretty they warranted a photograph, too.
Months of being in the bush have not cured me of my love for beautiful things. I might not tweeze, highlight or pedicure, but my eyes still enjoy a touch of candy.
Childhood memories can stir the queerest emotions. Border crossings, no matter how trivial, scare the bejeesus out of Butch. It stems from his childhood, his love of biltong, and the convincing tales parents tell their children.
On one occasion heading to South Africa, Butch’s parents stocked up on delicious biltong to be enjoyed as snacks in the car, for picnics, and often to quieten a grumbling tummy before dinner. Butch loves biltong.
They were nearing the border post. Butch’s dad ordered everyone to get rid of their biltong, either by eating it or by sharing it with people they came across. Butch was not keen on parting with his stash and decided to hide his share.
As they neared the border post, his conscience started acting up, and fear got the better of him. Butch was cautioned of the dire consequences that can befall one should a border official catch you out doing something illegal. I’m sure the thought of the jangle of steel handcuffs almost caused a panic attack.
There Butch was caught between a rock and a hard place. How to get rid of his biltong without being busted by his siblings who would tattle tale without compunction, the wrath of his father and the customs official. Wedged into the corner, breaking out in a cold sweat, not making eye contact with anyone, he played invisible while sneaking sticks of biltong surreptitiously through a small crack in the window. Like a Chipmunk, he managed to save a few slivers!
His father had eyes in the back of his head, which made it impossible to lie. Butch knew he could not be interrogated. Before the battery cables could be clamped, he’d spill the beans.(Millennials would call our experiences "early childhood trauma". Boomers know it as “discipline” and sometimes “the making of a man.” Who knows who's right or wrong.?)
Fortunately, the Robertson children obeyed orders, not like his father’s friend, who decided to smuggle a clutch of Bantam chicks across the Rhodesian border. The father sternly warned the family to remain schtum and not to breathe a word about chickens while they were in the customs office.
After reiterating the orders, everyone in the vehicle nodded in understanding. All went well; passports were stamped, and the family returned to their car while the father proceeded to the vehicle authorities. After a while, he and the gate operator exited the office; he showed the family a thumbs up and was about to slip into the vehicle when one of the girls opened her window, stuck her head out and yelled, “What about the chickens, Dad?”
On this occasion we were assured that our passport was all we needed to cross the Zambian border into Zimbabwe. Of course, we double-checked a few times. We rode our bikes with one backpack and two water bottles filled with the last of our Mango and Orange Lo-Cal.
I was determined we’d not get cold feet before the crossing. Much to our amazement, everything went smoothly, and all that was required was a stamped pass from the official, which we handed over to the gate operator, and there we were in Zimbabwe.
On either side of the bridge, vehicles were lined up, waiting their turn to cross the suspension bridge. It is a sight to see the bridge on a walk, but to stand on it, suspended a hundred meters or more above the gorge, listening to the creeks and groans of steel moving ever so slightly as a heavy truck crosses, is something else entirely.
Our bikes are a constant talking point and often admired by passes by. Butch relented and allowed one of the guides to go for a spin on the bridge. He returned saying "this isn't a bike it's a motorbike!"
I was a little scared but also exhilarated (heights make me weak at the knees!). We declined the invitation to bridge swing. That would be a bridge too far, we assured the young guides who couldn’t suppress their glee. We were happy enough to make lasting memories with a selfie.
The sun was perfectly poised for a shadow to fall below when I craned my neck over the railings.
Victoria Falls is a World Heritage sight every tourist must see. We’ve been on a few occasions enjoying the sight from the Zimbabwe side or sitting sipping Gin and Tonics on the veranda of the stately old hotel.
We would enjoy exploring from the Zambian side for a few hours.
It was a hot day, the earth was dry, and the trees offered little shade. I had to remind myself to look closer, to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells. Capturing the essence and magnitude of the falls in a new way.
Tourists visiting for the first time were enthused about the magnitude of the falls and the sheer drop to the river below; they hoisted their backpacks on the final descent to sit on the rocks or cool off in the pools alongside the riverbanks as I descended. The youngsters were surefooted while I groped branches and grass tufts to ensure I didn’t slip or slide.
While Butch enjoyed the lushness of evergreen ferns, subtropical plants and rubber trees, I bravely traipsed behind a group of Americans who were sure their Niagra Falls were bigger and better.
For 365 days a year, a tonne of water flows down the Zambezi River, gathered from summer rains in the north. Year in and year out for aeons, this has happened without fail. That thought came to me while I watched the cascading water crashing into the boiling pots carved out of slippery, smooth rocks below us. That is awe-inspiring.
The bridge spans 156.50 meters across the Zambezi River, just below the Victoria Falls. The bridge is impressive 128 meters high and 198 meters in length. 1,500 Tons of steel work was used to construct the Bridge. The bridge was originally referred to as the Great Zambesi Bridge, later becoming known as the Victoria Falls Bridge.
My heart went out to the melancholic young man who came to sit beside us and opened up about his despondency and fear. In a few weeks, he said, he would leave his son, a toddler, born to a Zambian woman. She had no desire to continue her relationship with him and little affection for their son. Although the mother was willing to give up her child, allowing him to accompany his Dad to Alaska, where he was a salmon fisherman, he knew the bureaucracy, legal rigmaroles, and financial implications would make it impossible.
Sometimes, we are bound to listen, offer no opinion, yet be supportive. We understood that as we sat on a rickety wooden bench a few meters from the concrete feet of Livingstone. We realised instinctively that this young father needed a hug more than advice. We obliged.
We couldn't stop to peruse the basket stall because back at the Honey Badger, Vervet monkeys were having a field day. They had taken over and were cavorting all over our truck.
In Livingstone, one is sure to do the ABC of tourist activities. Here is our list.
- Art – galleries, shops and market stalls sell art, displaying local talent in all mediums. In gardens and parks, we unexpectedly bumped into sculptures and carvings. Accommodation is plentiful and to suit every budget.
- Biking – we’d take our bikes instead of packing up the Honey Badger to get to places.
- Curios – The curio market is colourful and vibrant, and stall keepers encourage browsing.
- Dinner – on the waterfront, we enjoyed a delicious pizza under the stars
- Elephant – every day, we experienced a troupe of elephants grazing a few feet from our campsite and one day, we crossed paths at the river on our bike ride.
- Frogs – at night, frogs come alive. As soon as the cicadas quieted down, the frogs took up a chorus. Food, glorious food a reminder of home.
- Generosity of spirit epitomises Zambian hospitality and is overwhelming and inspiring, showing that kindness comes at no cost. Gelato. We indulged of course. Is the Pope a Catholic?
- Helicopters whooped-whooped all day, taking guests on flights to admire the falls, gorges and scenic attractions. We saw a Harley Davidson at the airfield.
- Indian cuisine at the Golden Leaf restaurant is simply superb.
- Jumping. Other tourists joined in the fun and lifted our spirits while meeting new acquaintances. We were enthusiastic observers at the gorge, encouraging two English brothers before they plunged 100 meters south on a rope. Their blood-curdling yells were proof enough not to follow suit.
- King Charles has even glimpsed the falls. Meeting up with Katerina and her two littlies was lovely.
- Luncheons at the ever-popular Kubu Café never disappoint. We loved our pies. At the Farm Shop we stocked up on frozen pies for later.
- Maintenance work on the truck was professionally done within hours—Bennett’s Auto Workshop owner Russell Bennett. Butch always refers to him as “A lovely guy Russell Bennett” when he refers to Russell.
- Nights are warm, windless, and perfect for Al Fresco dining with a crackling fire and braai. There was a new moon.
- Oscar, one of the gardeners, befriended us. He helped us with monkey monitoring and used the stipend to buy chairs for his orphanage. His philanthropy and selflessness bowled us over.
- Passports. We could extend our stay in Zambia at the local immigration office in Livingstone.
- Quench your thirst with Six Dogs Gin. We are always thrilled and proud to see products produced in South Africa, especially from Worcester.
- Royal Livingstone Express – on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, the RLE will chook-a-puffer passengers onto the bridge for a gourmet dinner. The experience lasts four hours. We contemplated throwing caution to the wind but decided $700 was too rich for our blood.
- Summer all year round appeals to me: subtropical gardens, sultry evenings and stars most nights. Not to be sniffed at.
- Tranquil cruises on the river for sundowners. In my mind’s eye, I imagined being on a riverboat on the Mississippi, watching the boats ploughing the waterways. Trees. There are avenues of TREES. Jacarandas were in full bloom.
- “Unlock your spirit of adventure”, every poster and advertisement suggests. Livingstone is a gateway to Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Day trips can be arranged for game drives to National Parks.
- Van life is a thing. We met up with old friends (Katarina) and met new friends—overlanders in trucks, 4x4s, and motorbikes camped around us.
- Waterfalls and White water rafting. What can I say? Vic Falls is a World Heritage site, and every time I go, I’m in awe.
- Xenophiles will enjoy the locals’ friendliness, kindness, and compassion. Xylographs are plentiful and can be found in markets and parks. Xerus, we didn’t see!
- Yes, go to Livingstone. It’s pretty awesome. Yeasty doughnuts at the colourful doughnut shop were a treat; they were small and delectably yummy.
- Zebras. In Livingstone, Zebras can be seen in gardens, parks and even on pavements on the main road. They seemed darker. Crawshay’s zebra (Equus quagga crawshayi) is a subspecies of the plains zebra native to eastern Zambia, east of the Luangwa River, Malawi, southeastern Tanzania, and northern Mozambique south to the Gorongoza District.
I want to mention Proudmore (from RDM logistics), the truck driver who brought our new rims, tyres and the tyre pressure monitor from Johannesburg. Without the help of David Schmit and Tye, we would’ve been stuck in Livingstone indefinitely. Tye, who was en route to Europe at the time, arranged the whole transaction for us. Thank you. We are eternally grateful for all your arrangements and precious time and for assuring us this particular delivery was not inconvenient. You rock.
A decade ago, upon learning of our Great African Adventure, a special school friend recommended that we visit her cousin, who owns a lodge in Zambia. Jen-Jen, we did it. We went as promised all those years ago. But I’ll tell you more about all that in my next blog. While the huge diesel locomotive crosses the road we'll plan our next move.