The Lower Zambezi



Livingstone is about the first major place you hit after the border and it is a bright and popular destination. The town is a bit disorganized but it is very tourist friendly. Actually, having visited most of Zambia now, Livingstone is fairly unique in the level of tourist development. It receives a lot of overlanders and is a centre for adrenalin activities on both sides of the falls. The poor political situation in Zim has definitely added to its success. 

There are many places to stay, mostly camp sites attached to lodges. T4A directed us to a likely spot but true to form it did not exist . Happily there was a spot nearby and so all was not lost. The mosquitos were quite hectic but that’s the Zambezi valley for you. We were already well into our malaria prophylaxis as this year the malaria had been quite rife. Another sign of the early rains perhaps. Some of the lodges are on the river and so there is an opportunity for an evening river cruise. We were hot and thirsty when we rolled into our camp, the border crossing had taken its toll. We elected for a beer on the deck as we watched them prepare the river boat.

Victoria Falls

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We decided to explore Vic Falls before moving on. We have seen the falls from this side twice before, once in dry and once in wet season. The wet season would have been spectacular if we had been able to see more than 1 m into the mist. The dry season is less impressive especially as the Zambian view is a somewhat oblique one to the falls. We were definitely in dry season but the walk along the falls was still worth while. The “ best photographic point” is a bit of an over exaggeration as the view is obscured by tree and bushes in most areas, but we saw down into the pothole where the boats were readying themselves for the white water trips with safety drills.

The bonus about viewing a chasm like this is the golden light rule does not really apply quite as strictly. Unless you come in the dark and shoot long exposure (but the park is not open!) you have to come in when the sun is high enough to penetrate and illuminate the valleys.

It makes for a later, more leisurely start. Livingstone’s statue stands guard towering over the path. He remains a popular patron in this country despite his colonial connections.

There is a thriving market just outside and the hustling began as soon as we emerged. The quality of the artifacts is good, worth haggling for certainly, and the banter friendly. They could sell snow to eskimos, with a smile and oozing charm. I found myself buying way more than I intended and being subtly relieved of all portable goods in exchange, despite vigorous bartering. They would have had the clothes off our backs if I had not persuaded them it would have left us naked! We travel light.!! Decorated with Nyaminyami, the Zambezi River God, we limped back to the car. Nyaminyami has the head of a fish and the body of a snake and is said to sustain the Tonga people during difficult times. Carved from a special stone harvested from the falls in dry season he commands an inflated price but he is the Zambian equivalent of throwing coins in the Trevi fountain as he ensures your return. Best to be optomistic.

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Lake Kariba

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Next stop was Lake Kariba. The road started out good but soon deteriorated to rutted dirt. We headed for the Western, less populated shore. The camp site still existed at a lodge there (believe me by no means a certainty with the accuracy, or rather inaccuracy, of the T4A information), but the lodge was very run down and we were invited to camp on the lawn overlooking the dam, rather than on a camp site, and use a chalet for ablutions. The cows strolled across the gardens and there were no other visitors. As we sheltered under the porch of the chalet black clouds gathered over the lake and the water was whipped into white horses by strong gusts of wind, tossing the small fishing boats perilously. The lightening cracked and the rain came down in sheets, clearing the dust and humidity from the air We sipped wine and drank soup and admired the show. The sun rose the next day to a clear blue sky and flat blue water. 

This end of the lake is decidedly undeveloped. The lodge was run down and with no chance of a boat trip we turned east to move to a more populated spot along the back roads. The area is rural, the road excruciating, liberally potholed with a top speed of 20 km/hour.

The people were busy but friendly, the homesteads neat. The schools were reassuringly plentiful. The children were all industriously present in the class rooms or in the yard, sometimes the lessons were under a tree and the whole class greeted us with waves and smiles. They have a shift system in the schooling so you go for an assigned period of the day, usually 3 hours, and then the next shift come in. There are certainly a lot of youngsters everywhere you look, walking to and from school, and far out numbering the adults.

Many of the homes were brick built and they make the bricks from clay of the river bed which is baked in a home made kiln. They were happy to pose for pictures amongst the smoke and ash. This is real physical labour.

5 hours into this journey and our first Beastly problem arose. The smell of diesel alerted Dudley and a leak was found in the fuel pump. Further thought of bundu bashing dissolved and we turned north to the main road and a garage.

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The diagnosis was confirmed at the first town. A seal had gone and a spare must be sought. Unfortunately that’s where the easy part ended. No spares to be found except in Lusaka. So the Lower Zambezi tour turned into a city mini break.

Lusaka is a bustling African city. Smoky, dirty but vibrant and colorful. The Chinese influence is prominent, in building projects and signage, in hotels, restaurants and a plethora of casinos. Still there are a few quiet and scenic spots to rest your head, at Europa camp site where the giraffe and zebra stroll through camp and at Pioneers camp, favoured by the trans Africa community. The beer is cold and the burgers tasty. We woke early to get to the Toyota garage first. The streets were surprisingly quiet but it was only at the garage we found out why. It was a bank holiday, their version of Independence Day and everyone was closed. Oh dear. Still a day catching up on email in the Mug and Bean and relaxing in camp is not so terrible. We booked an appointment for the next day.
was seriously inflated but beggars cannot be choosers, only the best treatment for the Beast. I wish he had a medical aid. The city traffic, as the day advanced, was horrendous. Definately time to shake the dust of Lusaka off our feet.

We were planning on Lake Kariba and the Lower Zambezi National Park but time was ticking, we could smell the rains coming and the fates seemed to be directing us elsewhere. We decided it was time to head to a much anticipated attraction for this trip, the Luangwa Valley. (You see I avoided calling it a destination!)

There are quite a lot of new shopping centres in Lusaka with all the South African brands making an appearance. There is some local disgruntlement because it takes a lot of trade from the Zambian shops but, as this is mostly spazas, hawkers and traders on the road, they will probably lose out to the greater choice and comfort of the foreign investors even if they complain. For now the foreign malls are only in the bigger towns.

Next day we arrived early at Toyota. The city was waking up and the hustle and bustle beginning. We were directed to a tractor agency for the repair, apparently a expert in fuel pumps, and they fixed us up in 2 hours. The cost